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Soon: Attorney General Merrick Garland To Speak; Soon, Garland To Speak On Unprecedented Search Of Trump's Home. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 11, 2022 - 14:30   ET



ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Those folks who are hoping that he'll get out and kind of correct the timeline or say things in response to the president's statement are going to be disappointed.

I expect that he might speak more generally about search warrants and how the department and the bureau approach those issues and work with the federal courts to ensure that the subjects of investigation's rights are protected and everything is done according to the law. And I would expect he'll say that's the way it was done in this case.

I hope that he addresses the current state of threats and overheated rhetoric that's currently going around on social media and in other places that is literally creating a threat towards members of the department and the men and women of the FBI in a very real way.

We don't know what was motivating the individual who approached the FBI field office in Cincinnati today.

But it certainly seems coincidental that you had an attempted attack on an FBI field office in the days following this horrible, baseless attacks on the FBI and the way they conduct themselves at Mar-a-Lago.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Elie, the rhetoric has certainly intensified over the last several days to the point now you've got a sitting Senator, Rand Paul, who suggests that the FBI potentially planted evidence in this search.

Just talk about, if you would, how this attorney general could approach some of these concerns about threats of violence, threats against agents, and accusations of misconduct.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Victor, I think those could be precisely the concerns that are motivating Merrick Garland to come out today and speak, if he does speak about Mar-a-Lago.

Generally speaking here, I see three categories of types of statements that we might hear from Merrick Garland in a few moments.

One, I defend the integrity of the men and women of DOJ and FBI. And I assure you everything was done correctly and by the book in this case.

Number two, threats against judges and other officials are intolerable, and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

And then number three, and I agree with Andy, I do not expect Merrick Garland to go into this. But number three would be to give some detail about this search warrant, the timing, the reasoning.

I think that is a very dangerous path. I think it is very unlikely that Merrick Garland steps into that particular lane.



BLACKWELL: Go ahead, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: The White House did not know Merrick Garland was going to make this statement. That is something they have been very clear about this week when the search was done on Monday.

They said, no one in the White House knew that was going to happen. They did not get a heads-up on that, certainly not President Biden himself or anyone on his staff.

And they really went out of their way to be clear about that, because that is something you've seen Biden try to do ever since he took office, which is really say, what the Justice Department is doing is up to the Justice Department, and we don't have any bearing on that.

We're told they did not know Attorney General Garland was going to be making this statement today. The president is actually in South Carolina, spending a few days there with family.

There aren't a ton of staffers operating in the sense of a press briefing happening today or anything like that. So it's relatively quiet here. So this is a surprise to the White House.

Obviously, likely, should be a surprise to the White House, that they're not coordinating this with the Justice Department.

But I think it goes to show, on Monday, they found out about that search like the rest of us did. And they'll be waiting to hear what Attorney General Garland has to say.

BLACKWELL: Again, on the right side of the screen, we have the podium there. We're expecting the attorney general, Merrick Garland, to come up and speak.

Again, I want to moderate expectations. The Department of Justice has not said what will be the topic of his remarks. However, as we're discussing, there's the pressure to say something about the search warrant executed on Monday.

Let's expand the conversation. Bring in Katelyn Polantz, reporting from Washington. Also anchor and CNN correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Katelyn Polantz, let me go to you now. On the reporting about the deliberations inside the DOJ about whether or not this attorney general should say something, considering all of the pressure and all of these growing accusations.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, well, Victor, there has been justice officials that have wanted Garland to make a statement since this search on Monday being done by the FBI.

And this week, if we step back and look where we are now, minutes away from him speaking, this really has been a test of Merrick Garland, as attorney general, the entire week, how politically adept is he?

This is a man who is a former federal judge so esteemed in that field, he was nominated for the Supreme Court. He's a former prosecutor, has been in the public eye with the Oklahoma City bombings that he prosecuted previously.

But this is a totally different ball game. Partly because politics with Donald Trump is a totally different ball game.

And so, we really have watched Merrick Garland come in after January 6th, that enormous, unprecedented situation of crime, 800 cases being prosecuted out of D.C. related to the capitol riot.

And then there are also these investigations that are ongoing related to the Trump presidency.


And so there's a question here about what Merrick Garland will say, how does he handle this, and how does he respond from anything that comes from the right, including from Trump himself?

BLACKWELL: Pamela, this attorney general, when he took office, said that he was going to return this department to its previous norms, that he was going to return it to an apolitical organization, suggesting what we saw happen during the Trump administration.

But as Katelyn just said, this is a different era, and this is an unprecedented moment.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR & SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It absolutely is. And when you're dealing with a situation like this, where you have a criminal investigation having to do with mishandling of classified documents, potential mishandling involving the former president, you have that.

And then you have another investigation involving January 6th. And then the other investigations we have been talking about. It's hard to put politics aside.

No matter how apolitical you want to be, when you're dealing with the former president, such as Donald Trump, it's a different ball game, as Katelyn said.

As we wait for Merrick Garland to speak, the attorney general, it is notable just how significant it is, given his desire to stay behind the scenes. In fact, yesterday, Victor, there was a high-profile indictment.


BLACKWELL: Pamela, let me interrupt you just for a second here.

We just got reporting from Evan Perez. He's confirmed that these remarks will be about the search warrant executed on Monday at Mar-a- Lago. So, we now know the topic of these remarks.

Continue. My apologies.

BROWN: No, I mean, that is significant, to be hearing from the attorney general, and a recognition of how significant this moment is and the amount of pressure that the Justice Department has felt.

What it seems to me, because this happened on Monday and now it is Thursday, and we're hearing from the attorney general, is that the amount of pressure and heat the department was feeling was too untenable.

They realized it was too untenable not to speak. They had to come out and say something. What they're going to say is still unknown. What we're going to hear from the attorney general is still unknown.

But it's a huge signal, Victor, that they realize how significant that search warrant execution was and that they need to talk to the American people today.

BLACKWELL: Andrew McCabe, let me come back to you.

I think we discussed this. If you and I did not yesterday, I know I had this conversation with Ambassador Norm Eisen about the other option to disclose some of the details of what happened on Monday.

Not come out to a podium but go up to Capitol Hill and speak with the relevant lawmakers, confidentially, to give them some insight.

What do you think about -- and we don't know that that's not going to happen -- but taking this route, potentially instead of that one?

MCCABE: So, Victor, that is a practice that folks in the department typically take advantage of when they have to brief Congress on a particularly sensitive national security matter that may be part of an ongoing investigation, but clearly has immediate national security concerns.

And it typically takes place in what they refer to as a briefing of the Gang of Eight. And that's essentially the leadership in the House and in the Senate, and the leadership and ranking members from the relevant Intelligence Committees.

It's supposed to be a very, very small group with the highest levels of clearances. And typically, that is a group that can be relied upon to maintain the confidence of those briefings. I'm not sure that would work in this situation. I'm not sure that

that's what Congress is looking for from the attorney general right now.

It seems like there are a lot of members of Congress that want to ask the attorney general probing questions about what happened.

And then let -- and that, of course, would all be inconsistent with keeping the confidentiality of this ongoing case.

So there's, I think, a bit of -- there's a possibility, but there's some tension around it as well.

BLACKWELL: Elie Honig, back to you on the only narrative we have at this point is from the former president and his statement that was released.

He says that agents went into his safe. He says that -- and that's been a point of conversation up to this point. But there's no evidence from any other source that that actually happened.

Do you expect that we're going to hear a counternarrative at all, or we'll still be working off the set of accusations from the former president after we hear from the A.G.?

HONIG: Victor, I don't expect to hear a clear counternarrative. I don't expect to hear a point-by-point refutation of anything that's been said publicly.

I think what we're going to see is Merrick Garland trying to thread the needle. As Kaitlan Collins reported, Merrick Garland has made a point of keeping DOJ out of politics, separate from the White House.

I think that's a virtue. I think that's a good thing, to keep prosecution away from politics.

But as Pam and Katelyn reported, this is the real world. There's enormous interest in this from the public. And there's a political element to this case, like it or not.


So, this may well be Merrick Garland's way to try to say something, to have a presence, perhaps to stand up for the people who work for DOJ and the FBI and to assure us, I believe, probably in conclusory general terms, that everything was done standard and by the book and correctly here.

But I don't expect him to say, here's why Donald Trump's take on this has been wrong.

BLACKWELL: Elie, let me stay with you for this one.

We spoke the day after the search at the home. And I asked if there would be any public-facing actions by the DOJ. There's that guidance to do nothing within 90 days of an election. Do you think this runs afoul, or is in conflict with that guidance,

hearing from the A.G.?

HONIG: It's an interesting question, Victor. We are now in the 90-day window. I think we are 89 days out from November 8th.

And by the way, some people -- I was always taught it's a 60-day window, but some people have heard 90 days. Would this violate that policy if we're in the window? Not necessarily.

The policy basically says, you don't indict and arrest people if it may be politically sensitive within that time frame, and you don't take overt investigative steps, a search warrant being sort of the number-one example, again, if there may be political sensitivities within that time frame.

If we are about to see a statement from the attorney general about Mar-a-Lago, then I think that sort of falls into a different category.

And I think the attempt here will be to try to tamp down the tone and tamp down the politics, if anything.

BLACKWELL: Katelyn Polantz, we're framing this as Garland will speak. He's going to deliver remarks. Are we expecting that he'll take questions?

POLANTZ: I actually -- we're going to have to watch and see what Garland is going to do here at this press conference. There are reporters in the room. You can see on camera there. I'm sure they're going to want to get some questions in.

But remember, as everyone here on this panel has been talking about, the politics here for Merrick Garland. We are watching this. The public is watching what he will say. The political classes, Donald Trump will be watching what he will say.

But also, remember, the employees of the Justice Department are going to be watching what Merrick Garland has to say right now. And there really is this effort that Garland has made to try and restore normalcy to the department.

We are in such an abnormal time that the Justice Department just doesn't comment on ongoing criminal investigations.

When you ask about them -- and we do all the time, can you comment? - the response is, no, we cannot confirm nor deny, even the existence of an investigation.

So, it really is going to be -- as Elie said, he's going to be threading the needle. He's going to be walking a really fine line here to make sure that he is taking care of the department that he is entrusted to protect and to make sure that the people there trust him as their leader.


BLACKWELL: Go ahead, Pamela.

BROWN: If I can just jump in on what Katelyn said and Elie, too.

I think what you're going to hear from the attorney general is that the FBI did everything by the book.

We have reporting, myself, my colleague, Evan Perez, and Gabby Orr, that the Justice Department issued at least two subpoenas, one subpoena for documents before that June meeting when the FBI agents went to Mar-a-Lago, and another subpoena to Trump Organization for video footage at Mar-a-Lago.

And this came after months and months of discussions with aides to Donald Trump, with representatives, with lawyers. So after these months and after the archives took the 15 boxes, the FBI then took these other steps.

And I think what you're going to hear from him is, look, we took all the steps by the book here. We have done everything according to the rule of justice, and we have handled everything properly.

BLACKWELL: Kaitlan Collins, at the White House, you are well tied in with the Trump orbit who now believes that, after this search, that this is the time at which the former president should get into the race, that he is trying to politicize this investigation and ride that into an early announcement of a run for president.

COLLINS: He's fundraising off of it, Victor. I've gotten several texts. Of course, reporters are signed up for these texts so they can monitor and see what the fundraising texts look like.

Normally, they talk about gas prices and inflation. This week, since Monday, since the search happened, almost all of the Trump fundraising texts have been focused on the search warrant on his home, which he is referring to as a raid, saying Democrats broke into his home.

Even though the FBI director, who, of course, led the search, given it was FBI agents there on the ground, was appointed by Trump himself. He has later come to regret that and is very public about that.

But it is -- he's trying to frame it in a certain way that obviously is not what's happening. It is FBI agents who conducted this search.

So he certainly is using it to his political advantage. He hosted Republicans at one of his private clubs in New Jersey the day after this search happened.

And Republicans walked away from that conversation and from other conversations that they have had with him on the phone believing now he is definitely going to run. It's just a matter of when he is going to announce that.


And they have been urging him and his allies to hold off until after the midterm elections and see what happened there. But now it's an open question of whether or not he would actually wait until November.

Because he does feel boosted by this. He has been boasting to people about all the Republicans who have come out and supported him and criticized the Justice Department for this search.

That is, a number of them that have come out and said something and called on the Justice Department to explain it. That's Republicans. So, certainly, he is using this to his political advantage.

But I think, also, this is still a legal situation. It is still his attorneys who met with investigators at Mar-a-Lago back in June that we first reported on who were having these conversations about the material he took. And so, yes, I understand that the former president is using it.

But I think it's also -- there are a lot of unknowns here about where this is potentially going to go, because we just don't know. But clearly, it rose to the level that the Justice Department felt like they needed to have this search warrant to go into his property.

And I think one of the big conversations that we had on Monday when this first came out was that you heard from people like Andy McCabe and Elie that said they did believe this is something that would be approved by the upper levels of the Justice Department.

Because it is so delicate and so sensitive in nature to execute a search warrant on a former president's home. And so, that is another factor in all of this.

But, yes, for Trump, for himself, in these few days, he has been fundraising off of this. He has been using this to his advantage and, of course, portraying it not as a search warrant conducted by the FBI but claiming in fundraising texts that Democrats broke into his home.

BLACKWELL: Again, we are now about 16 minutes after the scheduled start time of these remarks by the attorney general, Merrick Garland.

Our Evan Perez has confirmed that the attorney general will speak about the search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago, former President Trump's resort.

I'm sorry, give that to me again. OK. All right.

So, we are standing by to bring you those remarks as soon as they happen.

Let's go to Evan Perez. He is there at the Department of Justice.

Evan, get us up to speed on what we should expect.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Victor, I think, you know, the attorney general has been under a lot of pressure, really, including from inside the department, to say something. Especially because, you know, the last couple of days, we have seen attacks against the FBI, people questioning whether the FBI would plant evidence.

And I think that's one of the things he wants to respond to. He wants to respond to the idea that this was done in some kind of rogue fashion.

We also know that, obviously, there's been some reporting out there about whether he was even aware of this. We know that's not true. So, we expect that we're going to hear a lot more about how -- why this was done.

We're not going to hear, obviously, very much detail about the investigation that's ongoing. But the attorney general, you can expect, is going to stand behind the law enforcement people who work under him and who are really the ones who are doing this investigation.

They're doing it by the book. They're trying to do everything by the book, is the message he wants to try to send.

BLACKWELL: Andrew, do you think that the FBI director, Chris Wray, should be there with him today?

MCCABE: I think that would be very helpful.

You know, let's remember that in addition to the threats that are circulating online, targeting people -- targeting the criminal justice system, but specifically targeting federal agents and judges, these -- both of these men have a responsibility to address those.

But beyond that, they are facing potentially a crisis within their own agencies. Department prosecutors and FBI agents are listening and watching everything their leadership says. It's a very hard time for them to be under attack by a former president, simply for doing their jobs.

And so, I would like to see both of them take the podium and send a message out, if for no other reason than to kind of buck up their own troops, to kind of keep people focused on accomplishing the mission and not getting caught up in, you know, the politics and the news coverage of everything else.

We need these folks to keep doing their jobs in a careful and considered way. And those two leaders could do a lot to make sure that that happens.

BLACKWELL: Pamela Brown, let me come out to you.

And the new reporting on the process, the attempts over many months to try to get all of the classified documents that are the property of the federal government back from Mar-a-Lago, that led up to this search on Monday.

[14:50:00] We've learned that there was a subpoena obtained ahead of that June meeting where additional documents were taken then.

BROWN: That's right. And just to help our viewers understand sort of the timeline here, this is an investigation that has been going on for more than a year.

My understanding in talking to sources is that. earlier this year, this was after the archives had this, was after the archives had the documents in hand, and there was a realization that there were classified documents in those 15 boxes.

After that point, that is when the FBI started interviewing former White House aides who oversaw document preservation, aides that worked for Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. So that is when you saw more activity in this investigation.

And then the FBI issued the subpoena -- our reporting indicates from myself, Evan, and gabby, issued the subpoena for documents that might be classified. So that happened.

And then you have the June meeting where FBI agents went to Mar-a- Lago, met with Trump's representatives, and actually saw the former president there himself who popped in to say hello.

Saw the basement where documents were being kept, and actually walked away with some of the documents, a source tells my colleague, Evan Perez. So all of that took place.

But what is interesting here is, after that June meeting, that is when another subpoena was issued to Trump Organization for footage of Mar- a-Lago.

So clearly there was an escalation between June after the first subpoena for the documents, the meeting at Mar-a-Lago, and this execution, this extraordinary step of an execution of a search warrant on the former president's private residence.

And one note on that is I can tell you our reporting indicates the FBI also, as I pointed out, interviewed those former aides and representatives of Trump.

A witness provided evidence as well that ratcheted up this investigation and also was a big factor in executing the search warrant. What evidence that witness provided is unclear.

But a source tells me that there was concern that there were still documents at Mar-a-Lago that had national security implications. And that some of the people the FBI had been talking to had not been fully forthcoming with what was left there.

BLACKWELL: Crucial reporting there.

And, Elie, let me bring it to you.

With all the people who were asking what justified going to take this unprecedented step on Monday, how does this new reporting fill in or answer those questions that led up to Monday?

HONIG: This is crucial new information because, before we knew this, it appeared that this went from zero to search warrant in a very quick period of time and without really any explanation of why.

Why would they go immediately to really the most drastic step. Now we know that, in the intermediate period, they used a subpoena, which is a far less intrusive method.

Just so people are clear, a subpoena is a formal -- piece of paper that orders the person, through a grand jury, says you have to turn over this evidence. It is much less intrusive, much less invasive than a search warrant.

We now know that DOJ tried the subpoena route first. They got some documents but learned they hadn't been given everything. And then they went to a search warrant.

So I think that makes DOJ's course of conduct in deciding to go with the search warrant much more understandable.

BLACKWELL: About the search warrant that was obtained before that June meeting, would that likely have been broad to say all classified documents, all documents belonging to the federal government?

Or would it have been narrower, pinpointed to documents they learned were in the president's possession through interviews over the spring?

HONIG: I've seen it done both ways, Victor. Typically, when you're writing up a subpoena or a search warrant, as a prosecutor. you want to be as broad as possible. You want to cover yourself. You want to cover your bases.

You want to enable your investigators, the FBI agents, who go in to do the search, if it's a search to grab essentially anything they can that might fall within the ambit of the subpoena or the search warrant. You do want to phrase it broadly.

There's a boiler plate that we all use that basically says any document, record, laptop, phone, it goes on and on for 20 or 25 different synonyms that basically say any record, any document, anything.

And that's usually seen as the safest way to do it because you give yourself the most leeway. And you're the best covered if it's ever challenged later in court.

BLACKWELL: For people just joining us, we are awaiting remarks from Attorney General Merrick Garland. About 25 minutes behind the scheduled time. Coming up close on the top of the hour.

We have confirmed -- Evan Perez has confirmed that these remarks will be about the search of former President Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago on Monday.

Of course, that investigation about classified documents that were held there for more than a year and a half post inauguration, 2021.


Let me go to the White House now.

Kaitlan Collins, these remarks, who do they satisfy? I understand that there are likely several audiences here, but who is appeased by what we're expecting to hear from the ag?

COLLINS: I think a lot of that depends on what Attorney General Garland comes out and says.

Do I think he's going to speak for a few minutes and that's going to satisfy the Trump allies, who have been saying that the DOJ needs to come out and explain why this search warrant was granted for the former president's residence? Probably not.

Because, of course, they are working to amplify what the former president has been pushed. which is that the Senate is a political -- politically motivated attack on him. That is ever since he was the one who confirmed this.

I will note that the reporting takes time, and we have been reporting this out of how exactly this happened, what were the interactions that Trump's attorneys had with DOJ officials and investigators before this search warrant was executed.

But from Monday night, when we first learned about this, a lot of this was coming -- this information was coming from Trump himself who put out that lengthy statement saying they had conducted this raid on his residence.

Of course, it was a search warrant that was executed on the residence for several areas near where his personal quarters are at Mar-a-Lago.

His office, his bedroom, his safe he said was accessed, as well, by the FBI. Officials, agents who were on the ground.

So, so much of this has been driven by Trump himself, pushing this information out there. Of course, saying that he believed the FBI was putting incriminating evidence there with no basis of fact behind that, no evidence behind that. So a lot of that has come from him.

So it will be notable to actually hear from the attorney general himself on what has happened here in this search.

BLACKWELL: Evan Perez is on the phone. He's at the Department of Justice.

I understand you have a development for us.

PEREZ (via telephone): That's right, Victor. I mean, we obviously know that there's been a number of threats made against FBI employees as a result of the -- the search that happened.

And so the FBI director sent a message earlier today to employees to sort of reassure them that, you know, he is standing by them and maintains their trust.

I'll read a part of it.

He says, "There's been a lot of commentary about the FBI this week questioning our work and our motive. Much of it is from critics and pundits on the outside who don't know what we know and don't see what we do."

"What I know and see is an organization made up of men and women who are committed to doing their jobs professionally and by the book every day. This is no exception."

He goes on to talk about his pride in the work that the agents are doing. And really it's not really a commentary on the -- the search that happened at Mar-a-Lago today, rather this week.

But more of a commentary on the state of things that we see nowadays with the former president essentially suggesting that FBI agents will be planting evidence and referring to the search that happened on Monday, which really should not have been a surprise to them. But him describing it as a siege when it really was not that.

So I think you see what you're seeing both from the FBI Director Wray and Merrick Garland, who you're going to hear from soon, is an effort to try to have the back of these people at the FBI, who are under a hot of pressure and really a lot of criticism that they believe is so unfair -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: Andy, when you hear what Evan just reported, the statement from the FBI director, Chris Wray, what do you think?

MCCABE: You know, Victor, I think it's a good half measure. I think it's great to communicate directly to your people internally on systems that stay, you know, that by definition are supposed to stay internal.

But I think that this situation calls for a public defense of the men and women of the FBI.

And look, maybe Chris Wray and I see that very differently. I think that -- you know, I've had certainly my own experiences serving as director of the FBI at a tumultuous time when the men and women of the organization felt that they were under great attack.

And I felt like it was appropriate to stand up in public and set the record straight about the work that they do. And I think I just -- I personally think that would be helpful to those people today.

So I would like to see some sort of public acknowledgment and defense by the director of the FBI of his people.

BLACKWELL: I'd imagine it's something he's considered.

Why do you think we have not seen that publicly in front of the camera from Director Wray?


MCCABE: I don't know the answer to that, Victor. I wish I knew.

I don't think it's -- you know, knowing Director Wray somewhat, having worked with him for quite a few months there in 2017.