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Informant Tipped off FBI about Classified Documents at Mar-a- Lago; Secret Service Warned about Cell Numbers; Gas Falls Below $4; DOJ Charges Iranian Operative in Assassination Plot. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 11, 2022 - 09:00   ET



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

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We're glad to have you again, Alex. I'm Poppy Harlow. Glad you're all with us.

A lot happening overnight, including new details about what led up to the FBI's search of former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, laying out how the investigation escalated over the past two months.

According to "The Wall Street Journal," an insider with knowledge tipped off investigators. They say, quote, someone familiar with the stored papers told investigators there may be still more classified documents at the private club, closed quote. That signals that there was potentially additional material there of interest to the U.S. government, even after Trump turned over those 15 boxes to the National Archives earlier this year.

MARQUARDT: And last night the director of the FBI, Chris Wray, he refused to answer questions regarding this search. Instead, he expressed real concern surrounding violent threats against FBI agents.

Take a listen.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Any threats made against law enforcement, including the men and women of the FBI, as with any law enforcement agency, are deplorable and dangerous.


MARQUARDT: And this morning, CNN has learned that some within the Justice Department believed that the department should have provided a public statement on the search.

So, let's start right there with our CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, we've been talking a lot this week about the real escalation from a meeting that investigators had back in June with Trump lawyers at Mar-a-Lago, leading up to this very dramatic search. It now appears that that escalation happened because of what "The Wall Street Journal" is calling an inside tip.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alex and Poppy. Look, I think what we've all been wondering is what escalated this beyond the interactions that we know were going on for months and months between the Trump lawyers and the prosecutors of the Justice Department. And we're told, as "The Wall Street Journal" first reported, we're told that in addition to other evidence that the investigators had, there was someone, a witness, who told the investigators that they believe there were still additional classified materials being stored there at Mar-a-Lago despite the fact that the archives had gone there and retrieved 15 boxes full of classified information and other presidential records that should have never gone to Mar-a-Lago and were supposed to be the property of the U.S. government, should have been held by the National Archives.

Obviously, there's a lot more into this investigation, not just a witness, but it really goes -- does sort of give us a sense of how things kind of fell apart between the Trump lawyers and the prosecutors as they were trying to figure out how to retrieve these documents and these items that clearly should never have been taken to Mar-a-Lago, at least according to the investigators.

HARLOW: So, I mean, Evan, as I understand it, you also have some reporting about this debate within Department of Justice, not outside about DOJ, but within DOJ -

PEREZ: Right.

HARLOW: About, you know, whether they should come out and make a statement. And I just want to preface this question by telling folks what Attorney General Garland said just a few weeks ago in this speech earlier this year. He said, I understand this may not be the answer people are looking for, in terms of why they don't go public with stuff like this, but we will, and we must, speak through our work. Anything else jeopardizes the viability of our investigations and the civil liberties of our citizens. I mean part of it is also protecting someone if and until they're charged.

PEREZ: Right. Absolutely. And, of course, I mean, we can't talk about this without talking about the ghost of - or the shadow of James Comey, right, from 2016. And it really does inform what the Justice Department is doing. They've tightened the rules about when to speak about investigations.

That said, obviously, you know, the FBI did this investigation, did this search in perhaps the most polite way I think is the way I described it to you guys. You know, they went in without the typical FBI raid jackets. They went in, you know, close to 10:00 a.m. in the morning, not in the predawn hours as they typically do searches, they were trying to not cause a scene. And, of course, Donald Trump went out with a statement later in the day as the FBI was leaving and that's how this became.

[09:05:03] There's a lot of debate about saying something to answer some of the criticism you're hearing from the former president that this was essentially a plant - there were evidence being planted there.


Evan, thank you for the reporting on both fronts very much.

Let's talk about this big picture with Elliot Williams, former deputy assistant attorney general, who joins us now. Also, Joe Walsh, former Republican congressman from Illinois.

Thank you both for being here.

Joe, I actually want to begin with you because you say yourself, these are your words, that you were at one point previously in your career part of the quote/unquote right wing media machine. So, I want your read on the impact now that we've seen these threats against folks online, threats saying that Garland should be assassinated. Someone posted that. I mean, my God. To what you're hearing not just from random folks online, but from Republican lawmakers right now against the Department of Justice. I mean Paul Gosar saying destroy the FBI.

JOE WALSH (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, Poppy. Here's the impact. Because I come from that world, I hear from Republican voters every day. And, Poppy, just yesterday I heard from hundreds of Republican voters that the FBI planted evidence down at Mar-a-Lago. Hundreds of Republican voters told me that yesterday without any shred of evidence. I'll hear the same thing today from more Republican voters.

And I'm also hearing threats and real dangerous, irresponsible talk from Republican voters. And, Poppy, they're getting it from everybody in right wing media. I know what Justice Department protocol is here to stay quiet, but, my God, this is a dangerous time and this lie now that the FBI planted evidence has fully taken hold in the Republican Party.

MARQUARDT: And, Elliot, there is a vacuum of information.


MARQUARDT: And into that vacuum is pouring all of these accusations that this is the politization of the FBI and the Justice Department. There are all kinds of voices calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to say something. We all agree that this is an unprecedented situation. This is a unique situation. So why shouldn't the attorney general or the FBI director do something out of the norm and offer some clarity?

WILLIAMS: Yes. So, look, so let me just first explain why the norm exists. It's not just because the Justice Department likes being secret. It's that anytime you crack open the door to providing information about an open investigation, you run the risk of further information getting out, number one, about where evidence is, number two, about who you're investigating, number, three, about who your witnesses might be and so on. Any of that, once those questions start at that press conference, look, Merrick Garland is very good at fielding questions. He was a prosecutor for years and a judge. But, at the same time, you run the risk of information getting out.

So, what you have here, though, isn't just a question of talking about investigation, it's the integrity of the Justice Department. And perhaps what the attorney general could do is say, look, I'm not going to answer any questions about the warrant that has been executed at Mar-a-Lago. However, let me talk to you about the integrity of the men and women of the Justice Department. And let me talk to you about the lies and filth that are being spewed and how this is toxic to us as a nation. You can kind of separate those two issues out. Don't talk about the investigation but defend your folks, and perhaps the attorney general could do that, or the FBI director.

HARLOW: Elliot, let me get your read on this "Wall Street Journal" reporting overnight that is very important. So, what they report, not only in addition to this insider tip apparently that led to this search, they say that the -- we know the last conversation between the chief investigator for DOJ on classified information and the Trump team was an email exchange on June 8th saying please lock up these documents more securely, the Trump lawyer responds, OK, we got it. And then "The Journal: says there was no other communication between the teams, either verbally or by email.

WILLIAMS: Right. Right.

HARLOW: How significant would that insider tip have had to be to lead to not a subpoena, we don't know, but to lead to an unannounced search?


Yes, so I think, number one, in that June meeting, something probably set off at least yellow flags for the investigators where they thought, you know, something doesn't seem fishy here. Let's try to get this material secured.

Then, in that period in between, something further must have triggered them. Now, look, you know, it's a little complicated. They may not have issued a subpoena for the documents themselves because they're not the president's documents. Like you can't -- you wouldn't issue a subpoena to an individual for property that's not theirs. It's the property of the United States government. So, you would issue a subpoena to go in -- pardon me, you would have a search warrant to go in and search for the documents.


That said, it looks like some -- between what they got from that informant and between what they were sniffing out, not just from that June meeting but meetings going back well before that with the National Archives Administration and Justice Department officials who had gone to Mar-a-Lago, something didn't smell right and that's why they went there. MARQUARDT: And, Joe, as so many leading Republicans are calling on,

you know, DOJ and AG Garland to say something, there is one person who has a lot of information about this, and that is the former president, who was served this warrant. We understand that there is an inventory of what was taken from Mar-a-Lago. So why are people not clamoring for more information from the former president?

WALSH: Because they know that. Look, this is the position Donald Trump loves to be in. And this is why, again, within the Republican Party this has strengthened him. DeSantis, Pence, everybody has to side up to him because Donald Trump is a victim again. The deep state is coming after him, the FBI is trying to take him down. My GOD, that's all I hear, all day now, from Republican voters.

And what's really concerning to me, Alex, is, it's not just his hard core supporters who are saying this, who have been saying this the last couple of days. I'm hearing from mainline Republicans who are angry about what happened and, sadly, this has united the party around Trump and he's going to use that to his advantage.

MARQUARDT: Yes, playing the victim, it's really concerning, as you say, and potentially dangerous.

Elliot Williams, Joe Walsh, thank you so much for your time this morning.


MARQUARDT: All right, well, new this morning, the Secret Service -- members of the Secret Service are being warned that their personal cell phone numbers could be used in a criminal probe. And that's in connection with deleted text messages from January 5th and January 6th of last year. That, of course, is around the insurrection at the Capitol Building.

Now, those numbers were released to officials investigating the insurrection.

HARLOW: Our law enforcement correspondent Whitney Wild broke this news, along with Jamie Gangel.

It's significant. What more can you tell us?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is causing a lot of anxiety among Secret Service agents. And so much so that the professional association that advocates for federal law enforcement agents felt compelled to warn members of the U.S. Secret Service on Tuesday that their personal phone numbers that have been handed over to oversight bodies will likely be used in a criminal investigation.

This morning appeared in a letter sent to members of that organization. That organization is again the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, commonly known as FLEOA. Last week CNN reported that the personal phone numbers of Secret Service agents had been provided to oversight entities. It's a highly unusual move. Again, as Alex said, it comes after weeks of scrutiny over missing text messages that we should point out were not exclusively limited to January 5th and 6th, but instead would have included those key dates. And, actually, the deletion lasted over about a month time, something that the agency has said was the incidental and really unfortunate result of an ill-timed data migration that happened after January 6th, but prior to the DHS inspector general's request for records.

But, again, back to this letter, because it is so significant. Here is a quote directly from this letter, making clear what this warning is. Exactly whose numbers were provided to whom and for what purpose have yet to be determined. However, the information will likely be used for a criminal investigation into the USSS employee. The letter reminds Secret Service agents that the attorneys, on behalf of the organization, on behalf of the agency, are there for the agency. They are not there for the individual. And, instead, encouraged them to seek FLEOA legal guidance if somebody asks them about their personal phone number or personal records.

The Secret Service did not respond to the specific concerns laid out in the letter, but instead reiterated its commitment to cooperating with all investigations underway.

Meanwhile, again, FLEOA really blasting this decision by, you know, agency officials to release these personal phone numbers, saying this is a classic demonstration of self-preservation and a desperate attempt by leadership to cover up for their own failings at the expense and the trust and security of their employees. Personal information should be protected at all costs by agencies, not leaked when convenient to cover up leadership errors.

So, the story goes on here. But clearly people are very concerned. The real data point that I think has so many people worried here, Poppy and Alex, is that it was about three weeks ago that CNN first reported that the IG told the Secret Service this is a criminal investigation. So, any information coming out, you know, understandably, is nerve- racking for the agents.

Back to you.

MARQUARDT: Very important reporting. Whitney Wild, in Washington, thank you very much.

HARLOW: Thank you, Whit.

Still ahead, average gas prices below $4 a gallon for the first time in five months.


Some relief there. We'll talk about the overall impact on inflation next.

MARQUARDT: Plus, the former national security adviser for President Trump, John Bolton, he is speaking out this morning about a plot to assassinate him and the former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Now, multiple other officials are stepping up their security measures. And later, CNN is back on the ground in Afghanistan for the first time

since the Taliban took over, seeing firsthand what a new report finds that 97 percent of Afghan families are struggling to put food on the table.

That's coming up.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is food that you can buy. The market stalls are full. But the conversations that we've been having with vendors make it clear that for the vast majority of people it's become unaffordable.



HARLOW: All right, just in this morning, two key indicators on the state of the economy and on inflation. Weekly jobless claims rose to 262,000, up a little bit from the previous week.


And what's known as the Producer Price Index, or PPI, that just shows the prices that are paid to producers for their goods and services, that fell in July from the month before, though it's still painfully high. This news comes on a better day for drivers. Your gas prices, folks, are now below $4 a gallon on average for the first time since March.

Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans is here.

OK, so good PPI - well, relatively good PPI number. Relatively good CPI number this week.


HARLOW: And the gas prices. So, the president's very happy, as we saw yesterday.


HARLOW: Have we peaked?

ROMANS: It's a reprieve from runaway inflation. That factory floor number inflation level, I think, is really important. And much of that is because of gas prices. The fuel prices for, you know, for the factory input were down.

But when you look from month to month, when I say from June to July, factory inflation fell 0.5 percent, I haven't been able to say that in a really, really long time and it's because of the numbers you're seeing on your screen there, because of gas prices. And the chart for PPI, the factory level inflation, very clearly shows a rounding out even more clearly than on the consumer inflation number that we saw.

So, these are two numbers this week that I think are pretty encouraging. Taken with the jobs report from last week, it shows you an economy that is still strong for people who are in the job market, but for consumers, runaway inflation seems to be cooling. We were joke earlier, to say 9.8 percent is good news, I never would have believed I could say that in my lifetime.

HARLOW: I know.

ROMANS: These are still very, very high numbers. But the point is, where are they going from here?

HARLOW: But does it mean the Fed doesn't have to raise rates as much?

ROMANS: Maybe. But the Fed still has a lot of work to do.


ROMANS: And it will be a long time before you get back to 2 percent inflation, which is what we consider to be something healthy and sustainable. So there's still a lot more work for the Fed to do here.

The feeling is, if you look on Wall Street, I mean the feeling there is that the Fed might not have to go 75 basis points in September. But it's a long time between now and the next Fed meeting. I wouldn't - I would not be guessing right now what the Fed does in September at all.

HARLOW: Wise woman.

Christine Romans, thank you very much.


MARQUARDT: Well, an international assassination plot has been thwarted. The Department of Justice has charged a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, accusing him of trying to pay someone here in the United States to kill former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton.

HARLOW: I mean it's just a stunning story. Officials say the effort was likely retaliation for the January 2020 air strike that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. Bolton tells CNN these charges sheds light on exactly how Iran operates.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think what's important to understand is just how detailed the work was to send me off to the great beyond, and really the extent to which the government of Iran had thought this through, was engaged in planning.


HARLOW: So, let's go to the State Department. We find our national security correspondent Kylie Atwood. This wasn't the only hit that this operative had in mind. It wasn't

apparently just John Bolton.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, it was also, according to what we're learning, the former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. That is according to a source familiar with the investigation and a source close to Pompeo.

In these DOJ documents that came out yesterday announcing these criminal charges against this Iranian who is a member of the IRGC, they referenced a second job that this Iranian was looking to carry out for $1 million. As you said, there were about $300,000 that this Iranian was willing to pay for the John Bolton assassination. There was $1 million he was willing to pay and we're told that the target of that second plot was the former secretary of state.

But it is really interesting that we are learning a lot of details in these DOJ documents. This Iranian had a place where he wanted to carry out this murder. That is the office garage of John Bolton here in Washington, D.C. He allegedly had money that he was willing to actually give to this FBI informant, $300,000. He sent images of bags of that money to the informant.

Now, we should note, this Iranian is still at large, presumably still in Iran. And we are hearing response from the Iranians. And I want to read to you what the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Quote, the Islamic Republic of Iran strongly warns against any action against Iranian citizens under the pretext of these ridiculous accusations and emphasizes that it reserves the right to take any action within the framework of international law to defend the rights of the government and the citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Now, we should note that we also heard yesterday from the current national security adviser. Of course, John Bolton was the national security adviser during Trump. We heard from Jake Sullivan yesterday saying that there would be severe consequences if Iran were to attack any U.S. citizens, of course, including any former U.S. officials.


Poppy. Alex.

MARQUARDT: And we are learning from our colleague Barbara Starr that numerous former officials have personal security because of these Iranian threats. So it goes beyond just Pompeo and Bolton.

Kylie Atwood, here in Washington, thanks so much.

Now, still ahead, the White House is previewing an aggressive attack plan for President Joe Biden. How the administration is going to be pushing ahead with the midterms in mind.

That's coming up next.