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President Biden Signs NATO Ratification Documents For Finland and Sweden; FBI Searches Trump's Mar-a-Lago Home. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 09, 2022 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell. welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. Alisyn is off today.

First, any moment now, we expect to see President Biden sign the Senate-approved expansion of NATO. Now, this includes Sweden and Finland. This is an historic and harsh rebuke against Vladimir Putin. It adds more than 800 miles to Russia's border with the alliance once Finland is formally admitted.

Now, we will bring you the president's remarks as soon as they began.

But, first, there is still so much we don't know about the unprecedented FBI search and seizure at Donald Trump's home, the first time that's happened to a former president. Investigators executed a warrant at Trump's Florida estate Mar-a-Lago Monday. And his attorney confirmed that papers were removed.

Three sources tell CNN the search has to do with the treatment of presidential documents, including some that are classified. Now, President -- former President Trump, who was in New York, confirmed the search in a statement after the story first broke, writing in part: "After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate. They even broke into my safe."

Now, top Republicans are rushing to condemn the move, which was likely approved by the leaders of the Justice Department, including Christopher Wray, the FBI director, who was appointed by former President Trump.

Now, we have got this story covered from Florida and Washington.

CNN's Gabby Orr has more on what led to the warrant.

And we're going to begin, though, with CNN's Leyla Santiago. She's near Mar-a-Lago.

So give us the details first of the search of Trump's home.


Well, it's been more than 24 hours now, Victor, since that execution of that search warrant by the FBI right behind me right at Mar-a-Lago, the primary residence of the former President Donald Trump.

So here's what we know. And there's a lot we don't know. But let's get to the details that have been conformed -- confirmed, rather, by sources that are familiar with this investigation.

We understand that the FBI agents that went in with this search warrant were focused mostly on the personal quarters, as well as the offices of President Trump. That is where they were emphasizing most of their time. We also understand that Donald Trump was not at the home at the time.

We have no reason to believe that he is there today. And we also know -- and this was confirmed by his own attorney -- that they did take documents from there, that they were -- that they did leave with boxes of documents. What exactly those documents are, we still need to get more details on.

But we do understand they were documents related to the presidential records, including classified information. I also want to touch on what I have seen here since we have been here last night, hours after the president himself announced that the FBI was here at Mar-a-Lago.

We started to see supporters coming out, waving those flags, caravans of trucks with Trump flags, American flags, some choice words for President Biden seen out here. So this really speaks to not only what happened within the walls of Mar-a-Lago, but the impact this is having on his base.

This is a move that is absolutely going to rile up his base because we are already seeing it here, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Leyla Santiago there.

Let's go to Gabby Orr.

Gabby, walk us through the broader story here, what led up to this execution of the warrant at Mar-a-Lago.

GABBY ORR, CNN REPORTER: Well, Victor, there's a helpful timeline that breaks this down.

And if you can believe it, this actually goes back to May of 2021, when the National Archives and Records Administration first reached out to former President Donald Trump about records from the White House that they believed were being kept, either knowingly or unknowingly, at his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Fast-forward to earlier this year. After conversations between Trump attorneys and Archives officials, there was a moment when Archives officials went to Mar-a-Lago and left with 15 boxes, later announcing that some of the documents that they carried away from his residence actually did contain classified information.

Now, from that period to this summer, this investigation that Archives had asked to DOJ to begin was sort of slow-burning. There wasn't much movement on it. That ended in June of this year. That is when Donald Trump's attorneys met with counterintelligence officials who were caught up in this investigation looking for whether or not classified documents were being mishandled at his residence. They met with him at Mar-a-Lago.


And sources tell us that, during the course of that meeting, some of Donald Trump's aides actually showed these agents a spot in a basement at Mar-a-Lago where these records were being kept. Now, shortly after that meeting occurred, aides to the former president received a letter asking them to keep that basement more secure, and they added a padlock.

And that is really what precipitated this search yesterday at the former president's property. We know that there were classified markings on some of the documents that agents saw during that June meeting. And we suspect that, during the course of the search yesterday at Trump's residence in Palm Beach, Florida, more documents were carried away.

In fact, we know that. As Leyla said, that was confirmed by an attorney for the former president -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: So we're not hearing anything from the Justice Department about this search warrant. What are we hearing from the former president?

ORR: Well, the former president has leaned into his possible 2024 campaign in the midst of this, I think recognizing that there has been, as Leyla said, sort of this flame lit beneath the GOP base, and especially his supporters.

He posted a video to his TRUTH Social media platform this morning sort of teasing out a 2024 announcement, saying that the best is yet to come. This was very much a campaign-style video that Donald Trump posted on TRUTH Social. And he's been on the phone almost all day today with Republican allies talking about whether he should run in 2024 and, if he should, when he should announce a presidential campaign, I'm told.

BLACKWELL: All right, Gabby Orr for us there in Washington, Leyla Santiago near Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, thank you both.

Let's bring it now CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig.

Elie, lots of questions for you.

Let's start with, what's necessary to get to this point, to get the approval for a search warrant on a former president's home?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Victor, lots of questions, like you say.

Here are some things that we do know for sure. Any time a prosecutor gets any search warrant, you have to establish what we call probable cause that a specific federal crime was committed. You have to write it out in an affidavit. It's a long, arduous process. You have to give details. Here's our evidence.

You have to show that evidence will likely be found at the location, in this case, at Mar-a-Lago. And, importantly, you have to get that affidavit approved by a federal judge. So we know that not only did DOJ believe they had probable cause here, but a federal judge agreed, yes, I find that there's probable cause.

Another thing we know virtually for certain is that a search warrant of this level of political sensitivity almost certainly would have gone to the very top of DOJ, including to the attorney general, Merrick Garland.

BLACKWELL: So, why a search warrant and not a subpoena?

HONIG: Yes, it's really a question of trust. Prosecutors have some discretion here.

If, as a prosecutor, you believe, you have faith that you're going to get the documents, they're going to be given to you fully and intact, you serve a subpoena. That's just a piece of paper that says, you are hereby commanded to give me these documents. If you have questions about that, if you don't believe you're going to be given all the documents you're entitled to in good shape, then you do it the hard way.

Then you do a search warrant. So DOJ made a decision here at some point between the meetings that Gabby was just talking about and yesterday that they needed to do it by search warrant. They didn't trust the subpoena to do the trick.

BLACKWELL: All right. So what happens now?

HONIG: Well, one of the big questions now is, what specific crimes might DOJ have alleged in the paperwork, which, who knows, could result in a charge someday? We don't know that by any means.

But what potential crimes might DOJ have put out in that affidavit? First of all, destruction of a federal government document. That means anybody who willfully, meaning intentionally, conceals mutilates or destroys an official federal document has committed a crime.

Now, the punishment here, Victor, maximum is three years. But, also, this is really interesting. A person who's convicted of this has to forfeit his office and is disqualified from holding any future office under the United States. But important to know, there's a question about whether that is actually constitutional, whether that would actually hold up.

There's a separate crime for removal of classified information. Any federal official who knowingly removes or destroys classified information or documents without proper authorization, that too is a crime.

And, Victor, really important to know, whatever crime prosecutors allege in order to get in the door for the search warrant, in this case, perhaps those document crimes, it doesn't matter. If you find evidence of other crimes, hypothetically here, relating to January 6, you can still use that evidence in any type of prosecution.

BLACKWELL: OK, so some of this evidence could find its way to the January 6 investigations, you're saying?

HONIG: Yes, even if it might be completely unrelated. They might have grabbed these boxes and been surprised to find evidence relating to January 6, relating to anything.

It's all in play for DOJ.

BLACKWELL: So this is one of many legal concerns for the former president.

HONIG: Yes, it's getting hard to keep track.

But just as a recap of some of the most serious threats currently facing the former president, we have a criminal investigation down in Georgia, the district attorney in Fulton County. That investigation appears to be proceeding quickly.


DOJ, we know about the documents investigation. We also know they're starting to look around the White House in relation to January 6. We have had reporting in the last couple of weeks they're talking to inner circle White House people, Pat Cipollone and others.

The New York state attorney general, Letitia James, she has an investigation that appears to be a civil investigation of potential fraud relating to Donald Trump's businesses. Of course, the January 6 Committee, that's not a criminal or a civil investigation, but that is an ongoing congressional investigation. There are civil suits as well.

Donald Trump has been sued by E. Jean Carroll and others for defamation. He's got a world of legal problem stacking up here.

BLACKWELL: Are you expecting any public-facing actions from the DOJ between now and the midterms?

HONIG: Certainly not relating to this search warrant.


HONIG: So, first of all, people are calling on DOJ, you have to explain yourself. They won't do that. They shouldn't do that. It would interfere with an ongoing investigation.

Also, DOJ has a longstanding rule that you don't take politically sensitive actions, announce indictments, do search warrants, within 90 days of an election. Some people have learned -- I learned it as 60 days, but other people learned it is 90.

BLACKWELL: OK. HONIG: If you're going 90 days, today is essentially 90 days out from the November 8 midterm.

So I would expect DOJ to not take moves like this, to make a big public political splash between now and midterms.

BLACKWELL: All right, Elie Honig, thanks for helping us to understand it.

HONIG: Thanks, Victor.

All right, the former president's family and some key Republicans were quick to pounce on this news. Eric Trump said he broke the news about the search to his father.


ERIC TRUMP, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: They will probably find a note for me telling him how proud I am of him and what a great job he was doing as president. They might find some pictures of my kids, maybe some nice headlines, maybe a nice from you, Sean.

This is banana republic antics, having a home of the 45th president in the United States raided by FBI agents, safes broken open. This is not who we are as a democracy.


BLACKWELL: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also condemned the surge.

Here's his tweet: "The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization. When Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department."

He added this: "Attorney General Garland, preserve your documents, clear your calendar."

Stephanie Grisham served as the press secretary and communications director in the Trump White House.

Stephanie, good to see you.

Let's start here with the documents. You told Erin Burnett that you saw the former president mishandle documents. What did you see?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, in that instance, when I was on Erin's show last night, I was talking about a time on an airplane where I watched the president just going through many documents.

I don't know what they were, but going through many documents, throwing some away, ripping some up and throwing them on the floor, ripping him up, putting them in his pocket and not ripping some up and putting them in his pocket. And the reason I remember that so vividly is because I kept wondering,

like, how does his filing system work? What's going on in your pocket and what's being torn out? That was really interesting to me.

So, in that regard, I saw him mishandle public records, federal documents. I also want to clarify I think that the whole country has seen him mishandle classified or sensitive information. I have got many examples of that. But one would be the very publicized dinner with the former Prime Minister Abe, when Japan came to, of course, Mar-a-Lago, which is ironic.

And, at dinner, documents were thrown around and members were putting things on Facebook, talking about Kim Jong-un and North Korea doing some missiles. Same with al-Baghdadi. When he made the announcement with al-Baghdadi, he went off-script, as he always does. And he talked about highly classified information and actually some tactically military information that made people very, very nervous.

So it's been done his entire presidency. He never handled classified or sensitive information properly.

BLACKWELL: On the documents, though, official documents, but no evidence that you saw that they were classified, there was classified information there?



GRISHAM: I wouldn't know what the documents were.


GRISHAM: But I have got to say, we didn't have a culture of compliance in that White House, watching him do things like that.

BLACKWELL: So no culture of compliance.

Was there anyone who was telling him, Mr. President, you can't rip up the documents, you can't shove them down the toilet, you can't stuff them in your pockets and maybe take them back to Mar-a-Lago?

GRISHAM: You know, we did have White House counsel. They were very careful with training us every year and telling us how to handle things.

I don't know what kind of a briefing that the president got. It's been widely reported, of course, that people would rush into his office, the Oval Office, after he left and tape things back together. So if he was briefed, he clearly ignored it.

I think that when it came from the top, we watched our boss, who happened to be the president of the United States, kind of play fast and loose with classified or sensitive information, the Hatch Act, many other things. It was difficult for a lot of senior people, like I said, to feel that the rules applied to many of us. [14:15:05]

BLACKWELL: Stephanie, we have heard now from the former Vice President Mike Pence.

He tweeted this, I'm going to read the thread: "I share the deep concern of millions of Americans over the unprecedented search of the personal residence of President Trump. No former president of the United States has ever been subject to a raid of their personal residence in American history. After years where FBI agents were found to be acting on political motivation during our administration, the appearance of continued partisanship by the Justice Department must be addressed.

"Yesterday's action undermines public confidence in our system of justice, and Attorney General Garland must give a full accounting to the American people as to why this action was taken. And he must do so immediately."

He and the former president had been on opposite sides politically during the primary season. Why do you think he weighed in here?

GRISHAM: I think he had to politically.

I think that it is unprecedented. But, also, I think it's unprecedented that a former president has been in the middle of so many investigations or lawsuits. I worked for a state attorney general. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice move slow, a lot slower than any of us would like.

So I agree. I hope that the DOJ and that the FBI were all buttoned up in what they're doing. I do believe it's going to tear this country apart if they didn't go in there with actual knowledge of a crime being committed. I hope that we can find out about it sooner, rather than later.

But I also understand that to build a case and to build a winnable case, you don't need to worry about public opinion. And from everything I have heard about Merrick Garland, he really is trying to keep things completely separated politically. I'm understanding the White House, the Biden White House, had no idea this was going on.

So I don't think he's going to succumb to the public pressure. And one thing that does bother me about what Pence and many other Republicans are saying is that they're pretending like the president, former president, is above the law. The rule of law applies to all of us. That's the American judicial system.

That's the institution doing its job.

BLACKWELL: The RNC is fund-raising off this, sending out text messages, trying to raise some money.

How do you think this, I guess, reconfigures, realigns the Republican narrative going into November? Because, up to this point, they were saying this is not about investigations. It's about the economy. It's about inflation. And now this happens.

GRISHAM: Yes, absolutely.

I think that for everybody saying that this was such a terrible thing done to the former president, which, again, we don't know much about that, to be honest with you. I think this is a win for Republicans, because either they're going to find something that was criminally done, and Republicans will have an excuse to distance themselves from the former president, or nothing will be found, and I believe they could hand not only the midterms to Republicans everywhere, but to Trump in 2024.

I knew immediately yesterday when he put that statement out he was getting ahead of what was being said and done. That's the playbook. And so I think that the next step is, of course, going to be fund- raising.

I read his statement yesterday, the former president's, as kind of a call to arms for Republicans everywhere. And you're seeing the rhetoric and the scare tactics, especially on FOX News, saying, if this could be done to him, it could be done to anyone, which, again, I want to reiterate, yes, it can be done to anyone. That's the rule of law.

And that's the judicial process.

BLACKWELL: All right, Stephanie Grisham, always good to have you. Thank you.

GRISHAM: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Much more on this unprecedented move by the DOJ. We will speak to a former FBI agent about what it takes to get approval for this type of search.

And, again, any minute now, President Biden will sign the NATO ratification ushering in Finland and Sweden to the alliance. We will discuss the global ramifications.



BLACKWELL: President Biden is speaking now at the White House about the ratification of the expansion of NATO, including now Sweden and Finland.

Let's listen in.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... showing the world that the United States of America can still do big things.

This nearly unanimous bipartisan ratification sends another important message. The United States is committed, the United States is committed to the transatlantic alliance. Together with our allies and partners, we're going to write the future we want to see, the future we want to see.

And in a moment when Putin's Russia has shattered peace and security in Europe, when autocrats are challenging the very foundations of a rule-based order, the strength of the transatlantic alliance and America's America's commitment to NATO is more important than it's ever been.

That's why, in June in Madrid, at a pivotal NATO summit, all 30 nations came together to invite Finland and Sweden to apply. It was a display of allied unity, allied strength, and allied resolve, proof that NATO's door remains open to countries in Europe that share our values and that meet the high standards of our alliance.

Putin thought he could break us apart when this all started. He believed he could break us apart, in my view, weaken our resolve. Instead, he's getting exactly what he did not want. He wanted the Finlandization of NATO, but he's getting the NATO-ization of Finland, along with Sweden.


BIDEN: I really mean it.


BIDEN: In seeking to join NATO, Finland and Sweden are making a sacred commitment that an attack against one is an attack against all.


It's Article 5 of the Washington Treaty and the core, the very core of our alliance. And our allies committed to Article 5, and it's stronger than ever, that commitment.

The only time in history Article 5 has been invoked was on 9/11, when the United States was attacked, and all our allies rallied to our side. The United States will never forget that, and we will never fail in our pledge to defend every, every, every inch of NATO.

That's why, together with our allies, we're taking steps to reinforce NATO's eastern flank and strengthen our deterrence against any threats of aggression toward the alliance.

You know -- and we're going to be...

BLACKWELL: All right, President Biden there speaking ahead of signing the document supporting the expansion of NATO, adding Sweden and Finland.

Let's go to CNN's Jeremy Diamond at the White House.

Jeremy, a big day for the alliance, and certainly in the context of the war happening in Ukraine.


You heard President Biden there talking about the fact that Russia had hoped to drive a wedge in NATO with this war in Ukraine, and, instead, what has happened is that NATO has, in fact, been strengthened by the addition of Finland and Sweden to the alliance, which President Biden is about to sign a document confirming the ratification of those two countries into the alliance, a process that has to take place throughout all the members of that NATO alliance.

It was, of course, overwhelmingly approved 95-1 in the United States Senate, so certainly sending a strong message.

But the bigger picture here is also the fact that this is just an incredible week for President Biden on the legislative front. We have watched President Biden now become quite a successful president when it comes to legislative achievements.

And I think we can show you just a few of those accomplishments on the board now. It began, of course, with the American Rescue Plan early in President Biden's term, then the infrastructure act as well. And if you look at just those last four pieces of legislation there, those are all items that the White House has accomplished just in the last six weeks here, really, beginning with that bipartisan gun legislation bill.

And then, of course, earlier today, we saw President Biden sign this CHIPS and Science ACT, investigating $280 billion to try and boost the U.S. semiconductor industry, which is not only an economically focused bill, but also one that has major national security implications as it relates to the U.S.' competition with China.

Tomorrow, we're also expecting President Biden to sign the PACT Act into law, which will, of course, addresses this issue of toxic burn pits, ensuring that veterans who are affected by those burn pits can get disability benefits -- benefits through the VA.

And, of course, we're now looking at the likely imminent passage of that Inflation Reduction Act, which will be the largest ever investments in fighting climate change in American history, passed the Senate just a couple of days ago, and is expected to pass the House, and then head to President Biden's desk.

So, certainly, this is a week where you see, as the president is sitting down now to sign this ratification of Finland and Sweden to join the NATO alliance, again, where the president is racking up these legislative wins.

Of course, we will see whether or not that moves the president's approval rating, which over the summer has really sat just below 40 percent, certainly not something that the president wants heading into the midterm elections.

But there is a sense of optimism here at the White House that, with all of these legislative wins, this will improve Democrats chances in the midterms and perhaps even bring up the president's own approval ratings -- Victor. BLACKWELL: Jeremy Diamond for us at the White House.

Jeremy, thank you.

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