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Biden to Sign Bill Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pit Toxins; Now, Trump Being Deposed by New York Attorney General; CNN Reports, FBI Search Came Amid Suspicions Trump Team Not Honest About Documents. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 10, 2022 - 10:00   ET




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

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Alex, we're so glad to have you. I'm Poppy Harlow. Glad you're all with us. We have a lot going on this hour as follow several major stories this morning.

At any moment, President Biden is expected to sign a PACT Act. It's a major piece of legislation aimed at expanding resources and benefits for millions of veterans exposed to those burn pits and other toxic substances. We'll take you live to the White House in just a moment for the signing.

MARQUARDT: And it is just an extraordinary legal week for former President Donald Trump as he faces several major investigations. Right now, former President Trump is sitting for a deposition with the New York Attorney General's Office, and this is in connection with a civil investigation into his businesses' finances. And it does come just two days after the FBI search his Florida home known as Mar-a-Lago.

Now, we're learning this morning that the Justice Department was concerned Trump had not returned sensitive documents. And we do have new details about how the former president may frame his defense.

So, let's begin this morning at the White House where President Joe Biden is about to sign that extraordinary legislation, the PACT Act. CNN's John Harwood is there.

John, in the last hour, we spoke with Rosie Torres, who really helped push for this legislation. She's there at the signing at the White House today. What more are we expecting to see?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, Alex, this is a very important piece of legislation that expands access to V.A. care for large numbers of veterans who were exposed to toxins that are admitted by those burn pits. It changes the presumption for certain medical ailments that establishes the presumption that it is service-connected if they were exposed to burn pits. It also expands research. Now, this ended up having large bipartisan support. Of course, veterans are a very celebrated constituency of the United States, but it was a long slog to get the legislation through and the effort to push it over the finish line was not just led by celebrities like Jon Stewart, it was also led by people who experienced -- the family members of the people who experienced those toxins, including, as you spoke to Rosie Torres, about the widow and daughter of Heath Robinson who was a combat medic who died of a rare form of lung cancer.

They walked the halls of Congress trying to make this happen and those two are going to be introducing President Biden before he signs this today.

HARLOW: Yes. We will bring those remarks, John, to everyone live because this was a 13-year fight, a battle just to get in the doors, into the offices of members of Congress to make this happen. Thank you for being there for us, John Harwood, this morning.

MARQUARDT: Yes, a real victory for everyone there at the White House this morning.

Now, former President Donald Trump is sitting this morning for a deposition with the New York's A.G. Office.

HARLOW: Kara Scannell is following all of this. Talk to me about the scope of this deposition. I know it's been a long time coming. And what kind of questions the former president could face and if he'll answer them?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, this investigation has been wide ranging but it's really focused now into whether the former president and the Trump Organization provided misleading financial statements that include the values of different properties, to banks, to insurance companies and to tax authorities, and whether in doing so, those individuals and those entities were misled.

So, the questions here are expected to focus on the financial statements and what the former president's role was in the preparation of them and then the ultimate providing of them to these different entities.

Now, the big question of the day is will the former president answer the questions or will he use -- exercise his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself and decline to answer the questions.

Now, sources tell me that he has been advised that he should answer the questions because he has also addressed his role in preparing these financial statements in previous civil litigation. Other sources say that he's also getting some advice that he shouldn't because of a looming criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the D.A.'s office can use the testimony that Trump gives today as part of their investigation.


The stakes here are very high. As you noted, this has been an extraordinary legal week for the former president with the FBI executing a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago on Monday and then an appeals court saying the House Ways and Means Committee can receive the former president's taxes. He, of course, has been trying to shield those taxes from anyone being one of the only presidents to not release them after being elected?

So, a really big week, a lot of investigations that he's still facing with the House January 6th investigation as well as the Justice Department's investigation into the activities around January 6th and efforts to interfere in the transfer of power. Alex, Poppy?

HARLOW: Six different probes, as we just showed the viewers. Kara, thank you for the details on this one.

We are learning this morning that the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago came after authorities believed the former president or his team had not returned documents that they had requested and other materials that were the property of the government.

MARQUARDT: CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is with us now.

Evan, the two sides, the feds and Trump lawyers, have been speaking for quite some time. We know they had a meeting with Mar-a-Lago back in June. President Trump insisted in his statement that they are cooperating. So, how much of a surprise is it, really, this raid at Mar-a-Lago?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It really strains credulity that these guys were claiming how much of a surprise this was. If you go back to the timeline, I think we know back in May of 2021 is when the Archives first approaches the Trump team to say that they believe that there were boxes of classified information that should have been returned that were not and they needed to know where it was.

And so you can take through the next year or so where you have this discussion again in June where they are told again that they believe there are documents that needed to be returned to the National Archives. These are presidential records. These are classified information, the Justice Department believed, that had not been properly returned.

And, obviously, even since then, we know that now that there was a subpoena for surveillance tapes of the area there where these records were being kept. Again, prosecutors wanting to make sure what was the security around this classified, this sensitive information.

So, obviously, that's what leads to this search and why the Justice Department takes this extraordinary effort to go and retrieve what we now know to be an additional 12 boxes, not including the 15 that were brought earlier. It really tells you that they've been having all of these discussions and they were not satisfied that either they were not being told the truth or that they were going to be able to get these documents that they needed to receive. HARLOW: Do you have any details, Evan, any reporting on how the former president and particularly his legal team may frame his defense?

PEREZ: Yes. You're beginning to see a little bit of this, and his allies are going out there talking about how obviously he's a former president, he had, when he was president the power to declassify information. And so they're saying there were no classified documents to be retrieved.

Listen to Kash Patel talking --


KASH PATEL, FORMER TRUMP ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I can tell you definitively is that President Trump was a transparency president.

President Trump, on multiple occasions at the White House, declassified whole sets of documents, including, I'll remind you and your audience, that around October of 2020, he issued a statement from the White House declassifying every documented related to not just the Russia gate scandal but also the Hillary Clinton emails scandals, not to mention his follow-up actions in December, I believe, and January, at the top of my head, before he left, where he issued declassification orders at the White House.

And when the president says that, that's it. He's unilateral chief, commander-in-chief, and the sole authority on declassification.


PEREZ: I'll remind viewers that when the president says it, it doesn't just make it so. The Justice Department went to court later on and said, just because the president tweeted this didn't mean it was actually declassified. That's his own Justice Department that went to court and said that.

So, look, it is going to be their legal defense and it will be interesting to see what prosecutors believe they have evidence to prove that this is not so, that these documents that they went to retrieve, that the FBI went to get at Mar-a-Lago this week, Poppy and Alex, are still classified and are still sensitive national security information.

HARLOW: Likely if there are charges end up being, that will be a fact question for a jury to determine. Evan Perez, thanks very much.

Let's bring in Abby Philips, CNN Senior Political Correspondent and the anchor of Inside Politics Sunday, and David Gergen, former presidential adviser to four presidents, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

Abby, let me just begin with you and the Republican response. It has been very loud. There have been people calling this a banana republic, to Marco Rubio saying, I don't think they were looking for documents, I think that was an excuse, which is notable given his position on Senate Intel and the fact that we know that part of the reasoning went in for these documents was for national security reasons. But I wonder if you think any of that will quiet at all without some answers from DOJ, without some unsealing here of details about what led to this warrant.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm not even sure that the Department of Justice providing a whole lot more information will change the fundamental reaction that we've seen from Republicans. What Republicans are recognizing, especially the establishment Republicans who we know, based on their past statements and their private statements, are not huge fans of Donald Trump, but they're recognizing that this is not something that is going to be tolerable to the Republican base, to the Trump base.

And so, in some ways, they don't have a choice but to raise questions about the wisdom of this action on the part of DOJ, but also to rally behind Trump. And it's really put them in a tough position because it's accelerated, by many accounts, Trump's thinking about when he might announce for president and it's also likely to harden the support that he has with his base. And I don't really think that anything the DOJ can say --

HARLOW: Abby, I apologize for interrupting you, but I do need to get to the east room of the White House for a very consequential moment. The president is about to sign the PACT Act. But right now, you're going to hear from Danielle Robinson and her daughter, Brielle (ph), of course, her husband, Heath Robinson, sergeant first class, died as a result of his exposure.

DANIELLE ROBINSON, WIDOW OF SGT. FIRST CLASS HEATH ROBINSON: -- family again. But ten years post-deployment from Iraq, my husband, Heath, began the biggest battle of his life, a terminal stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis due to toxic exposure from a burn pit in Baghdad, a word that became the biggest nightmare of our lives. We quickly learned about warriors who battled their own burn pit illnesses before Heath and the warriors who were still fighting for their lives alongside him.

Today, I want to remember Heath for the man he was, an immediate friend to anyone who crossed his path, the person who would instantly drop what he was doing it help a friend or a stranger on the street, the guy in the room who had a special glow and warmth to him, a soldier as strong as an ox, physically and mentally, the ultimate cuddler and protector to our sweet little girl, Brielle, and a leader with a strong warrior ethos to all those who served under him.

I'd like to thank every member of Congress who supported and voted for the Pact Act, all of the veterans organizations who helped raise our voices on Capitol Hill, and all of the advocates, like John Field and Jon Stewart, for your support.

We could not have done this without you all. Ours is just one story, so many militaries have had to fight this terrible emotional battle. So, many veterans are still battling burn pit illnesses today. Too many have succumbed to those illnesses as well. And I am honored to be with the father of another military family that understands the ultimate sacrifice like we do, our commander-in-chief, President Joe Biden.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Please -- please have a seat. Danielle, thank you.

Before I begin today, I want to say a word about the news that came out today relative to the economy. Actually, I just want to say a number, zero. Today, we received news that our economy had zero percent inflation in the month of July, zero percent. Here's what that means. While the price of some things go up, went up last month, the price of other things went down by the same amount. The result, zero inflation last month, when people were still hurting with zero inflation last month.

The economists look at a measure of inflation that ignores food and energy prices and they call it core inflation. That's about the lowest amount in several years, several months. When you couple that with last week's booming jobs report of 528,000 jobs created last month and 3.5 percent unemployment, it underscores the kind of economy we've been building. We're seeing a stronger labor market where jobs are booming and Americans are working and we are seeing some signs that inflation may be beginning to moderate.


That's what happens when you build an economy from the bottom up from and the middle out. The wealthy do very well and everyone has a chance. It gives everyone a chance to make progress.

Now, I want to be clear, with the global challenges we face from the war in Europe to disruption of supply chains and pandemic shutdowns in Asia, we could face additional headwinds in the months ahead. Our work is far from over but two things should be clear. First, the economic plan is working and the second is building an economy that will reward work. Wages are up this month, provide opportunity, help the middle class and still have work to do, but we're on track.

The second point I want to make is we need to pass the Inflation Reduction Act right away. That's the most consequential thing that Congress can do to keep our progress on inflation from getting better -- from getting worse and moving in the right direction. It will bring down the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance premiums and energy costs. It's going to make big corporations just pay their fair share, nothing more than their fair share. It's going to reduce the deficit without raising a penny in taxes and people making under $400,000 a year. But it's far from done in an effort to bring inflation down, but we're moving in the right direction. So, some good economic news today and some work ahead.

Now, to the reason we're here and the most important reason that we've assembled in this room in a long time. Danielle, when you were here for the State of the Union, I'd hoped that you'd be back for this bill signing. It turns out, that's working and mom, I remember how strongly supportive you were of this from the very beginning all of the way when I met you at a book signing a long time ago. And I am just in awe of your family's courage. I really mean that. Through the pain, you found purpose to demand that we do better as a nation, and today we are.

Brielle, you know, I know you miss your daddy, but he's with you all the time. He's inside you. He's going to whisper in your ear lots of times when you have hard decisions to make. You're going to wonder what daddy wants you to do and he's going to be there. He's going to be there for you.

You see that little guy who's sitting next to? That's my grandson. His daddy lost to the same burn pits and he knows what you're going through. But guess what? You're going to do this and you're going to be really, really strong. It's hard to take care of mommy and a grandma, but you've got to do it, okay? All right.

To the veterans and families here today and for all those around the country, we can never fully thank you for your service and your sacrifice, and that's not hyperbole. That's literal fact. Less than 1 percent of you, less than 1 percent of you risk everything to defend 99 percent of the population, 1 percent risk 99 percent. We owe you. You're the backbone. You're the steel. You're the sinew. You're the very fiber that makes this country what it is, and that's not hyperbole. That's a fact.

As a nation, we have many obligations. I've been saying this for a long, long time. We have many obligations and only one truly sacred obligation to quip those we send into harm's way and to care for them and their families when they come home. That's -- we have a lot of obligations and that's a truly sacred obligation we have.

Today -- today, we're one step closer to fulfilling that sacred obligation with the bill I'm about to sign into law. This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during their military services.

You know, Secretary McDonough can tell you, I was going to get this done come hell or high water. This was something -- the first thing when I -- as a lot of staff knows, that's true. It's part of my agenda that I announced in the State of the Union Address. I announced four things that all Americans can agree on. One was beating the opioid epidemic. Two is tackling the mental health crisis we face as a nation as a consequence of the epidemic. Three was ending cancer, as we know it, which we're going to do, come hell or high water, again. And, three, supporting our veterans, big issues that unite us.

We're always being told that Democrats and Republicans can't work together. When I ran, I said one of the reasons I was running, one of the three reasons was to unite the country, and I was roundly criticized for being naive. That was the old days, Joe, you used to be able to do that.


Well, guess what, I don't believe it. We never have failed to. There are a lot of issues we can disagree on, but there are issues we can work together on, and this is one of those issues. So many of you here today remind us that we have fought for this for so many years, veterans, surviving families, surviving family members and advocates like Rosie Torres and Jon Stewart.

And, Jon, I want to thank you again. I wanted to come up and hang out in the Capitol steps and the Secret Service said I would be a pain in the neck, they wouldn't let me do it. So, at least we did a little video on there, but what you've done, Jon, matters and you know it does. You should know. It really, really matters. Your refusal to let anybody forget, refused to let them forget, and we owe you big, man. We owe you big.

And all the rest of you, you never gave up the fight. You never quit. You never stopped no matter what you were told. Think about it. Think about how distant this looked five years ago, seven years ago.

I also want to thank Senators Tester and Jerry Morgan. By the way, if you're in a fox hole and you want someone with you, you want Tester in that hole with you. Where are you, John? Is John here? The only problem is John may try to bring his combine in that fox hole with you.

Also John Boozman and Kirsten Gillibrand and Dick Blumenthal, Representatives Takano and (INAUDIBLE), and all of the other members of Congress who supported this bill, many of whom are here today, I like you all to stand. All the members of Congress, please stand.

You know, we learned a horrible lesson in Vietnam which many of you fought. After Vietnam, how harmful effects to exposure of Agent Orange took years to manifest itself in our veterans, leaving too many veterans unable to access the care they needed and deserved. That's why back in 1991, I along with others co-sponsored the Agent Orange Act, supporting veterans exposed to toxic substances in Vietnam. That laid the groundwork for how the V.A. addresses environment exposure and the bill that I'm about to sign.

Veterans of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan not only faced dangers in battle, they were breathing toxic smoke from burn pits. Because I was vice president and chairman of the Foreign Relations Community before that, I was in and out of Iraq over 20 times, and all of those places and you could actually see some of it in the air, burn pits the size of football fields, an incinerated waste war, such as tires, poisonous chemicals, jet fuel and so much more I won't even mention. And a lot of the hooches, a lot of the places where our soldiers would sleep in were a quarter mile, half mile away from it and where they ate their chow. I mean, it was there all of the time, toxic smoke, poison spreading through the air and into the lungs of our troops.

When they came home, many of the fittest and best warriors that we sent to war were not the same, headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son, Beau, was one of them. Beau's son, Hunter, is here today, as I mentioned earlier, and his father-in-law, a good friend of mine going all back to high school, Ronnie Olivier (ph), along with General Frank Vavala, who was the commander of the National Guard when Beau was there, and I want to thank them for being here, as well. To us and to many of you in the room, if not all of you, it's personal, personal for so many people like Danielle and Brielle. Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, just 39 years old, 39 years old, and they held his hand for the last time at age 39.

The PACT Act is the least we can do for the countless men and women many of whom may be in this room, for all I know, who suffered toxic exposure while serving the country. The law expands access to health care and disability benefits for veterans harmed by toxic exposure. It empowers the Department of Veterans Affairs to move quickly to determine service members' illness and related military service to see if they qualify.


And for families of veterans who died from toxic exposure means a monthly stipend of $2,000 a month for a surviving spouse with two children. It means access to life insurance, home loan insurance, tuition benefits and help with health care. It means new facilities, improved care, more research and increase hiring and retention of health care workers treating veterans.

This new law matters. It matters a lot. It matters a great deal because these conditions have already taken such a toll on so many veterans and their families. I've directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to treat all 23 presumptive conditions as in this law as applicable the moment I sign this bill.

I'm urging the veterans of those decades of war to promptly file for your claims. The V.A. will move as quickly as possible to resolve your claim and get you the benefits and the care you've earned.

And now I want every member, every service member, every veteran, every family member to know how to access the law. Just go to, File the claim and apply for your V.A. health care now or go to your local V.A. hospital or reach out to the veterans service organizations many of whom made this happen as well with disabled veterans, Americans -- disabled American veterans to the American legion, to veterans of foreign war. And if you need additional assistance, if you need additional assistance, just call, call.

This law becomes on top of my administration's efforts to pioneer ways to link toxic exposure to diseases and help more veterans get the care they need. We're building a more comprehensive database for the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs that track and assess exposures, expand the eligibility for veterans suffering from the three respiratory conditions and nine rare respiratory cancers.

Earlier this summer, I signed nine veterans bills into law that will do everything, from providing mammograms and screenings for veterans who serve near burn pits, to compensating veterans who develop cancer and medical conditions from our World War II nuclear program.

We're not stopping just here. Secretary McDonough and the Department of Veterans Affairs are a part of my cancer moon shot initiative to end cancer, as we know it. And today, I am proud to name Dr. Monica -- let me get it right, Doc, Bertagnolli. I better get it right because I married Dominic Giocoppa's daughter. So, I got a problem, okay? But she's a leading cancer surgeon from a family of generations of veterans, and as my new director of the National Cancers. So, please stand, Doc.

They're all working as one team. We may be in separate departments, but it's one team.

And perhaps one of the most important things we're doing, we're working to bring down the rate of suicide among service members and veterans. An average of 17 veterans die by suicide every single day, 17. It's an absolute tragedy. It demands not only a whole of government approach but a whole of country working together.

So, let me close with this. As commander-in-chief, I've always had your back, I promise you. That includes finally delivering justice to al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's leader and bin Laden's deputy during 9/11 and this includes -- it includes always fighting for the care and benefits you've more than earned and more than deserve.

This law, this law is long overdue and we finally got it done together, together. And I don't want to hear the press tell me Democrats and Republicans can't work together. We got it done and we got it done together.

So, god bless you all. You are the backbone, the very spine of this country. And may God protect our troops. Now, I'm going to walk over and sign that legislation.

That's okay. All right.