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Attorney General Garland: DOJ Files Motion to Unseal Search Warrant of Trump's Home. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 11, 2022 - 15:30   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: The warrant has already been executed.

They say here on the same page.

Given the intense public interest presented by a search of a residence of a former President, the government believes these factors favor unsealing the search warrant, its accompanying Attachments A and B, and the Property Receipt, absent objection from the former President.

Katelyn Polantz, what they're saying here is, listen, we didn't want to make this public. We didn't want to talk about this with the entire country. But the former president forced our hand.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME INJUSTICE REPORTER: That's exactly right. I mean, Garland here is lining up the law behind him to make this argument that there is this interest that Donald Trump's council will be able to take their side on whether they want this out there or not.

But one thing I wanted to go back to from Garland's remarks that is so -- it's the one thing we haven't really dug into right now. In this motion there isn't much that really moves the ball forward about the search itself. But at the end of the remarks, Garland said that he personally approved this search warrant. But he mentioned another thing. He said they did this and they would have done this less intrusively if they could have.

And so, that is him tipping his hand just a little bit to the point that we've been asking this whole week. Why this search? Why did they need to do this search? And he appears to have said during those remarks there that they needed to essentially. They really had to go in and do the search. It wasn't going to help them just to continue to subpoena or negotiate with the president's legal team -- Victor.

Yes, certainly the question of was this unprecedented search necessary, could another conversation, a subpoena have sufficed. The Attorney General there answering the question preemptively, no, it would not have.

Listen, everybody stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. But continued breaking coverage of this decision by the Attorney General to request the unsealing of a search warrant and property receipt related to that search of Mar-a-Lago on Monday. More after the break. [04:35:00]


BLACKWELL: A short time ago Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke for the first time about the first time ever the FBI searched the home of a former president. The Attorney General said he personally signed off on the search and the Justice Department has filed now a motion to unseal the warrant. And Garland ended with a strong defense of his investigators who have faced a firestorm of criticism and conspiracies for entering the former president's home.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked. The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants.


BLACKWELL: And CNN is learning a lot more about what led the Justice Department to this point, including a witness tip that was part of the evidence to search Mar-a-Lago.

Let's bring in the team now. Pamela Brown, Katelyn Polantz, Kaitlan Collins, Elie Honig, and Evan Perez. And Pamela let me start with you because Katelyn Polantz right before the break ended with a point that I think is salient here. In which she says that in these remarks he would have been less intrusive with this if possible. And you've got report being how many steps over many months the DOJ took to try to get these documents without going to the level they hit on Monday.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It's been more than a year. I think the argument could be made that the DOJ has been more deferential, has taken more time, has taken more less intrusive steps before it reached this unprecedented step of executing a search warrant on a former president's home.

And what I'm total through sources, along with Evan Perez and Gabby Orr, is that there were at least two subpoenas issued. There was one subpoena before that meeting in June with the FBI at Mar-a-Lago asking for documents that could be classified. The FBI went to Mar-a-Lago as well, met with Trump's representatives, took away some documents at that time, as well, after there was another subpoena issued to Trump Org for Mar-a-Lago footage.

And we know that the FBI has interviewed several witnesses, several people in Trump's orbit, representatives, over the spring. They interviewed multiple according to sources I've been speaking with. And Evan has reported that at least one witness gave evidence, gave information that was at least in part behind this extraordinary step.

Now I do want to make a point for our viewers to understand. With this motion the Justice Department is now making the case, hey, we want this unsealed. We want this warrant unsealed and the receipt of what was taken from the property. And Trump's lawyers are likely right now deliberating, figuring out how to respond. But ultimately, it's up to a judge to decide whether to unseal it. And it should be -- and I'm not 100 percent on this, Evan, you may know. But typically, it would be the judge that let the search warrant go ahead, that approved the search warrant. And that judge has been under a lot of fire. Had to take information down from the district court website of his number and office address because of all of the violent rhetoric that has happened in the wake of the search on Donald Trump's home on Monday.


BROWN: Worth noting.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, I don't know whether this is the same judge that's going to end up making this decision. The judge who signed the warrant was a magistrate judge. And so, this is going to eventually have to be litigated in front of a district court judge. So that judge may end up being the one who makes a decision.


But I do think that it is -- it is one of those things that the Justice Department is essentially trying to -- you know, I think Elie puts it perfectly. That they've taken the opportunity to essentially take the heat off themselves after the last 72 hours where the former president and his team have been relentless.

I've heard him, you know, some of his family members on Fox News and other channels saying that they did not have access to the receipt, to the warrant, that Donald Trump himself had not seen it. Sort of suggesting that the FBI did not do this the right way. Suggesting that this was done, you know, in some sort of extraordinary fashion.

Everything, like the Attorney General was saying, everything was being done by the book, and they did this step only because they had to. And I think just -- you know, stepping back for me covering this Attorney General now over the past 18 months or so, you know, it's kind of a remarkable step to see him, you know, bend to the pressure that was coming from inside this building, as well. There were people here who were saying that the department needed to say something because there was so much bad information out there that it was getting to the point where it was detrimental to the interests of justice, detrimental to the public interest, for President Trump and some allies to be making these statements and for them to remain unanswered -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Katelyn Polantz you've got something to add.

POLANTZ: I'm looking at what we could potentially see in this warrant if it is unsealed. And you know, there is a lot of information that we could learn about this search if a judge agrees with Merrick Garland and the Justice Department to make this public for the public's benefit. I mean, when you are applying to a search like this, the Justice Department has to file a lot of paperwork. It's often several pages long even without the supporting affidavit for probable cause. That's the piece of papers that Trump's team wouldn't have access to and that is not one of the things that Merrick Garland wants to unseal right now.

But the types of documents that would be in there would be a description of exactly what is going to be searched. What they -- where they can go. Where they believe they need to go, address, and any people in there that they also may want to search physically potentially. Then they also have to describe what they want to seize and why they believe they should be able to seize it. What they're going to do with it once they get it. So, there's a lot of description in there.

One of the things that, you know, the president and his lawyers have been out there talking about, what they think is under investigation, what they know is under investigation, that's because in some of these it actually describes the possible crimes that could be charged. The things that are under investigation. Not all warrants have that in the paperwork that the defense team gets, but it's entirely plausible here that there are specific things laid out number by number, criminal code by criminal code, that we could look at potentially if this is provided to the public to see what is under investigation more than potentially even what we have reported so far.

BLACKWELL: Yes, important detail there Katelyn. Elie, to you, we know this request is to unseal the warrant and the property receipt, but there's also mention of Attachment A and B, that's as specific as they get. How significant could those two attachments be?

ELIE HONIG, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That's so important, Victor. That's exactly what I was looking for as soon as the motion came through. Here's why. A search warrant itself is a one-page form. You can see it on DOJ's website. It's essentially a checklist. Sometimes prosecutors just fill in that form.

So, one of the questions on the form is, where are you going to search. And it gives you about three inches of space where you can try to type it in or you can say see Attachment A. So, Attachment A here is going to describe the premises to be searched. Now it could just say Mar-a-Lago, but I think it's going to be much more detailed than that. I would look for what rooms, what areas, does it specify the basement, does it specify a safe. We're going to learn that if this gets unsealed. That's going to be Attached A.

Then the question for Attachment B is what items will you be looking for. And again, it gives you maybe three inches of space, sometimes you just type in all documents, computers, whatever, but sometimes you say Attachment B. And if you use Attachment B, that's the first place I'm looking. Because that's going to say here are the specific federal crimes that we believe we've established probable cause of. That's the first place to look if and when this gets unsealed.

And then it will describe with varying degrees of particularity here's the evidence we're looking for. And again, it could be very broad, all documents, papers, computers, phones, devices, or it could be more specific than that. But the biggest thing I think we will learn if and when this gets unsealed is what specific laws did DOJ establish probable cause on and did the federal judge agree that there was probable cause on. [04:45:04]

BLACKWELL: Elie, considering the scrutiny that agents knew would be around this search warrant even down to what they wear, the time of day that they showed up for this, would you expect additional specificity because there would be so many questions by why they would have to go to the lengths of searching a former president's home?

HONIG: Yes, I can see that either way, Victor. Clearly DOJ and the FBI have made it a point to say, we played this as low profile as humanly possible. They say in their brief and then they say essentially Donald Trump did the opposite. On the one hand, yes, I think you want to be as specific as possible so you're not accused of going on a fishing expedition. It would be quite broad, quite possibly legally overbroad to just say we want to search all of Mar-a-Lago and grab anything we see. I don't think a judge would approve that. And if he did, I think the judge may throw it out down the line.

So yes, I think for that reason you may want to see some specificity. On the other hand, you want to be as broad as you can so that you enable the agents to get whatever evidence they need. But I do think we're going to see a certain degree of care and specificity for those reasons -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: The former president's attorneys will have an opportunity to respond in court. Kaitlan Collins, to you at the White House. Have we heard anything from the former president on his social media platforms of choice?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not yet Victor. We have not heard any kind of response to what the Attorney General just announced. We have obviously reached out to him and to his spokespeople to see what their comment is. Because ever since Monday, as Merrick Garland noted there, his attorney has these documents and could answer these questions, could make them public themselves. And of course, they have not done so since Monday night. Now they have the opportunity for Trump to object.

So, where this goes from here is that we don't expect to immediately see anything. Because now Trump has the opportunity to respond to potentially object to unsealing this warrant and making it public. And so, we are waiting to hear what tack his attorneys are going to take and which direction they're going to go in.

But I also thought it was notable that when Attorney General Garland came out, he went out of his way several times to note that Trump was the one who confirmed that the search had happened at Mar-a-Lago. And that is how the world found out on Monday when Trump issued that lengthy public statement talking about what had happened and confirming that, yes, the FBI had been at the property at his primary address on Monday.

And so, that is the question now. He has had the opportunity for days now to make this information public himself. That's been one question that we and other news outlets have raised several times to his team about making it public. They have not chosen to do so yet. This is obviously a test now to see what direction they want to go. Do they want to object to this and lay out their reasons for why they don't think that this information should become public? That remains to be seen. And so, we are still waiting to hear from him on this front as he has certainly publicly framed this in a certain way, but not actually put out the documents himself.

BLACKWELL: Yes, there are a lot of players in this saga. We're expecting to hear from, of course, one of them the former president, as well. Katelyn Polantz, Kaitlan Collins, Evan Perez, Elie Honig, thank you all.

Listen, will continue the coverage of the breaking news. Live shot of Mar-a-Lago here. We just heard from the Attorney General at the top of the hour. Now requesting to unseal the warrant and the property receipt of what was taken from this resort on Monday. We've got more after the break.



BLACKWELL: More now on the breaking news. Attorney General Merrick Garland announcing that the Justice Department is requesting to unseal the search warrant and property receipt connected to the search of former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago home. Let's bring in now Olivia Troye, she's a former homeland security, counterterrorism and COVID adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence. And former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman, who served as lead counsel for one of Donald Trump's impeachments. He is running for Congress in New York's 10th district.

Welcome to you both. I want to start with just reaction to the remarks and the filing from the Attorney General. Olivia, you first.

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY, COUNTERTERRORISM AND COVID TASK FORCE TO VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Look, I think he made some very important statements. First and foremost, I really think it was important to defend the integrity of the FBI given what we have been seeing. And also, look, the right wing machine has been going after the FBI and it endangers lives when they do that. And so, I think it was important to say I'm standing with my workforce, this needs to stop.

I also thought that he took the wind out of the sails that of the right wing machine and Trump. I mean, he gave the former president the courtesy and privacy that he would allot to any private citizen in this situation. Trump had the choice, he could release the information himself, he gave him that opportunity. But clearly, you know, we'll see how this plays out. It will be interesting to see how the messages flips now, but DOJ has called their bluff and said, OK, then we will file a motion to unseal it. It's your decision now.

BLACKWELL: I definitely want to come back to that point, but first Daniel, I want you to way and your first thoughts on what we heard and saw? DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Look, as a former DOJ

official for ten years, I thought the Attorney General's remarks were pitch perfect and spot-on. He A, took responsibility for what happened. And B, he really did stand up for the officials that have been involved in this case, and every other case.


And he pushed back hard on the baseless allegations, especially by the Republicans in the House, that this is somehow political because it was a search of Donald Trump and his house.

And then the motion to unseal is a very smart move. If Donald Trump is going to try to maneuver and mislead with disinformation, then it is incumbent upon the department to use the tools available to them to make public what they -- what Donald Trump should have been making public himself if he wants to talk about it. And so, I think it was a really strong and important speech, and I also think it is a tactic and a very smart move, to move to unseal the search warrant.

BLACKWELL: Olivia, I want to understand why you are confident that this decision takes the wind out of the sails, this deflates the conspiracy theorists -- of course at the top of the list, the former president himself. They have been given facts for a year and a half now about the 2020 election, and still don't believe it. Even if everything that the AG requests is approved and unsealed, what supports your confidence that will then lead everyone to say OK, we get it, it makes sense?

TROYE: A valid point, and maybe I should clarify on that. For rational individuals and human beings like you and myself, you know, we understand it and we'll see that narrative sort of fade. Because now they can't stand on that. What I think will happen now is they'll pivot. Now it will become likely a narrative of, oh, this was an invasion of privacy, right. I think that's where they will pivot to or they'll draw on another conspiracy and say that the documents have been falsified and it's a different thing than what he had or something like that. So just wait for that. Because it's whatever gets the most dollars in the door for the committees to fundraise that they will pivot to, regardless of the rule of law and justice and accountability, which is what really matters right now for our country.

BLACKWELL: Daniel, I had Elie Honig and Andy McCabe in the last segment and they did not say that this is precedented, but it is exceedingly rare. Are you concerned about the creation of a precedent, of -- if there is a hotly contested or debated case, that now people will say, well, Garland requested the release of the warrants and the property receipt, we should do that in this case, as well.

GOLDMAN: That very well may happen. But I think the circumstances here called for something like this. I thought what he said as well about how we don't take this search warrants lightly and we look for every other avenue. But prior to a search warrant in order to get the materials that they have gotten, and there's now reporting out -- including by CNN -- that the Justice Department issued a grand jury subpoena to Trump and to the -- actually to the Trump Organization that runs Mar-a-Lago for information.

So, they had an opportunity to turn over these documents. And then after they didn't turn over those documents, then a witness, as I have said since Tuesday, which we should all have expected, a witness identified additional documents that they had been obstructing the department from getting. And that is the reason for the search warrant. That is a very proper way of going about this. If Donald Trump is not going to comply with the subpoena, then a search warrant is warranted. And so, that will start to come out more, as well. Of course, that could be included in the affidavit.

All right. Daniel Goldman, Olivia Troye, thanks for jumping on with the breaking news here.

"THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper picks up the breaking news coverage after a short break.