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FBI Search Related to Nuclear Weapons; Police Kill Armed Suspect Trying to Breach FBI Office; Secret Service Accused of Impeding Probe. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 12, 2022 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It is Friday morning. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim has today off.

And just remarkable developments overnight after an extraordinary public statement from the Attorney General Merrick Garland. And today we could learn more about what the FBI was looking for inside of former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. The former president now saying he approves the release of the search warrant and the property receipt from that search at his Florida residence. That was, of course, first requested to the judge from the Attorney General Garland. The request to unseal the warrant before any charges are brought really marks a significant and notable step outside of DOJ norms. Now, Trump's legal team has until 3:00 today to formally respond in court and make clear if they have any objections to unsealing that.

We're also learning stunning details about why the FBI may have been looking for these documents so urgently. According to "The Washington Post," federal agents sought classified documents related to nuclear weapons. That's right. And "The New York Times" reports officials expressed concerns that allowing those highly sensitive documents to stay at Mar-a-Lago could leave them vulnerable to access by foreign adversaries. And then there's the ABC News reporting overnight that the information the FBI sought was so sensitive authorities felt it had to be taken back immediately.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The mind runs wild here. For me, what on earth was the motivation for (INAUDIBLE) this kind of data from the White House into a completely unsecured area like Mar-a-Lago.


HARLOW: That was a former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

Our team in Washington is following all of these developments. So let's begin with our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, good to have you.

You were on all around the breaking news of this Garland press conference yesterday, sort of explaining to us how momentous it was. And then we learn all of these developments that I just ticked through last night. So, what can you tell us now that we didn't know 24 hours ago on this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, I think the context is important here. And I think it really does -- "The Washington Post" report really does explain perhaps why the federal government, why the FBI, the National Archives, and all the intelligence agencies have been so exercised to try to get these documents back from the former president's beach house in Palm Beach.

"The Washington Post" says that these were documents that were related to nuclear weapons programs. And as we reported yesterday, we know that at least some of the documents that were being disputed over were documents that were classified at the highest levels. These are special access programs, nuclear weapons programs would be part - would be among the type of things that would be labeled SAP. These are the government - these are the U.S. government's most closely guarded secrets. And so that explains a lot about what the activity has been going on for well over a year to try to get these documents back from the former president.

We know that Mar-a-Lago has a history of having foreign nationals trying to gain access. There have been court cases on this. So, that's the reason why all of this activity has been going on.

And, of course, we also know now that this has been a much more contentious process behind the scenes despite the fact that the former president and his team claim that there has been so much cooperation, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right. And we learned also from reporting overnight that there was that subpoena in there.

PEREZ: Right.

HARLOW: So, thank you, Evan, very much for that reporting.

Our senior crime and justice reporter, Katelyn Polantz, also following this story.

Same thing, Katelyn, you were all around this big presser yesterday, helping us understand what exactly was in these documents that now Garland is asking to be unsealed. What do we know about - I mean when I saw 3:00 p.m. today, I thought that was pretty fast, right?


HARLOW: So how -- when could we get the documents?

POLANTZ: Well, Poppy, we did have this statement from Donald Trump last night saying he was not only opposing -- he was not going to oppose the release of the documents. He also was encouraging them to be released. But right now it is a wait and see situation where we have to keep our eye on the court record. This is a court process. Trump could post these on his own. He could release them himself. But because the Justice Department did go to court and they are trying to get this formal response from Donald Trump's legal team that does have a deadline that the judge set by 3:00 p.m., we are waiting for that.


I just checked the court record a few minutes ago. There has not been a filing yet from the Justice Department announcing exactly what the position of Donald Trump's lawyers will be here. And it might be taking them a little bit of time. We did realize - we, through our reporting, that they were caught off guard by this statement from the attorney general yesterday. And there's a lot of things that they have to take into consideration here, both political and legal. They have to think about how this is going to play with the judge, what position do they take to get a favorable ruling, or to not, you know, open other cans of worms with this judge that has already signed off on the probable cause, the reasons for this search warrant and for the search could be conducted.

We also know that they have to think about how it plays politically. I mean Donald Trump is a person who built his political career around chants of "lock her up" for Hillary Clinton, who he was accusing of mishandling potentially information from the government on a private email server.

And then, finally, the search warrant isn't the end of this process. And so the lawyers for Donald Trump are thinking about what to do here, but they also have to think about what this is going to do as they figure out how it plays with the Justice Department, who are continuing to investigate this as a criminal probe that could result in an indictment later down the line potentially.

HARLOW: Well, that's a great point, so many threads here.

Katelyn, thanks very much for the reporting.

Joining me now, Elliot Williams, former deputy assistant attorney general, and Andrew McCabe, former deputy director of the FBI.

All right, gentlemen, another stunning, you know, series of events and a whole new - a whole new story to wake up to this morning in terms of what this was about.

I mean, Elliot, the fact that "The Washington Post" is reporting that these documents were potentially tied to nuclear weapons, how does that completely change the calculus when the DOJ, when Garland makes a decision, which he said he approved, to go in, and to go in in this fashion?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, to be clear, Poppy, we don't know what's in the documents.

HARLOW: Right. WILLIAMS: Big picture. Most importantly, however, what we do know is

that if a document is marked top secret, and, look, it's been a few years since I handled top secret information, but the definition is that it's disclosure to the public or outside of government could cause grave harm to American national security. That's the legal definition of it. So regardless of what's in the documents, someone high up in government has deemed these -- might have deemed these materials to cause harm to the United States if they were disclosed. So, whatever might be in there was quite alarming to someone in law enforcement or the national security or intelligence community. So, it's quite serious.

Again, I think there's a rush to sort of pooh-pooh what might be in here and say these were just love notes to other world leaders. And that very well may be the case. But something triggered enough alarm within the intelligence and law enforcement communities that has led us to this point today.

HARLOW: Andy, you ran the FBI. I mean you had to be at the top making these incredibly hard decisions. Can you explain to us the significance of what it means that our reporting at CNN is that some of the boxes retrieved from Mar-a-Lago had materials that were part of the, quote, special access programs, or SAP, however you guys term it, the acronym. Why does that matter?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: We love our acronyms. So, typically, people refer to them - refer to it as SAP information. So, Elliot's absolutely right about top secret information and what the threshold is for that. That determination is made by someone who's - who has been designated an original classification authority. There's a limited number of them in government. I was one when I was in the FBI.

All top secret information is very serious, but it's all not equally serious. And the most sensitive, the absolute most crucial for our national security is held in special programs that even people with regular top secret access can't get to. So, once you have top secret clearance, you then have to qualify for access to special program information. And then, on a case by case basis, you are read into specific programs because you have an essential need to be able to access that information.

So, this is stuff that even within the FBI, in my office was a SCIF. I could - I could store classified information in my office. But SAP information, not -- no chance.


MCCABE: People would bring it to me to read. I would have to sign for it. And it would go back to our security office where it was stored. This is very, very (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: Even you as deputy director of the FBI?

MCCABE: That's right. And I certainly didn't have access to every special program. [09:10:03]

It's limited to what your need to know is, essentially. And in the case of, for example, nuclear secrets, there's really very little in the federal government that's as important and sensitive to our safety and our security as information about the nuclear weapons programs.

WILLIAMS: You know, to just add to that.


WILLIAMS: You know, it's a very, very important point that Andy's making there. I too had one of the highest levels of security clearance when I was deputy assistant attorney general. I would have - would not have gotten near any of the information he's talking about because there wasn't a need for me, in my role at the Justice Department, to see it. And that's the case across whether it would be the Defense Department or the FBI or anywhere else. It's case by case. If someone needs to have access to, they will go into a very secure room and have access to it. It's not just people have security clearance and every - it's a free for all.


So, Elliot, let me ask you about what happens today. So, the - so if if the judge does - well, the judge can make their ruling at any time today.


HARLOW: Trump team has to get their decision in by 3:00, but it could come right now. We don't know.


HARLOW: But if this judge decides to unseal, and so far at least Trump says there's no objection to it, talk to me about what it will include and what it will not include, because it won't unseal the affidavit.

WILLIAMS: Correct.

HARLOW: But how much of the underlying potential crimes that they presented to the judge to get the warrant will be revealed?

WILLIAMS: Yes. Yes, so, a few things. It's the judge's decision here, right?


WILLIAMS: And what you're seeing is are the parties going to agree to make the materials public or to say to the judge, go ahead and do so. The government said so. They're giving Donald Trump's attorneys an opportunity to say so.

Now, what will be revealed here is, number one, of the locations of the places searched, number two, the items seized. Now, like along the lines of what Andrew and I are talking about, you probably won't hear with specificity which - exactly which documents there are, but it might say, these are a bunch of classified boxes which right there that is valuable information. Sort of inventory of things.

And then the sort of administrative aspects. The document that a judge signed and so on saying that there is a search warrant and we believe that there's probable cause there.

The affidavit that you're talking about, Poppy, where an FBI agent, like my friend Andrew McCabe, would have detailed over 20 or 25 pages the reasons and the bases and the law and why they think a crime was committed here, that will stay sealed in all likelihood until either someone's charged with a crime or the case is dismissed or dropped.

HARLOW: So, just quickly, Andy, to build on Elliot's great point, normally, right, normally you wouldn't even get this stuff unsealed if and until charges are brought. But these are not normal times, and this is not a normal situation. So, even though it would be abnormal for an affidavit to be unsealed prior to any potential charges, is it - is it prohibited, meaning, could we get to a place where also the affidavit becomes public prior to any potential charges?

MCCABE: It -- Poppy, it's theoretically possible but I think highly unlikely. So, in making this decision, the judge is going to weigh all kinds of different factors. And one of the biggest factors that keeps judges from unsealing affidavits is the release of those sort of factual statements and allegations in the affidavit can be prejudicial to the subject of the investigation. So, you don't really want people kind of, you know, trying the subject of the search warrant, somebody who hasn't even been charged with a crime at this point, you don't want people kind of just adopting the government's position from this -- from the affidavit.


MCCABE: So, I think it's unlikely that that will happen.

Also, we've heard that there may be informant information in the affidavit. And so to protect the identity of informants that -- another factor that leads judges to be reluctant to turn that stuff over at this point.

HARLOW: Thank you, both.

Andy, stay right there. We've got more questions for you on the other side.

Elliot, thank you for your brilliant legal analysis, as always.

Ahead, the FBI director is calling threats to his organization, quote, deplorable, in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search. And just yesterday, an armed man tried to enter the FBI's field office in Cincinnati. We'll have details on that standoff that led to police fatally shooting the suspect.

Also ahead, the House set to vote this afternoon on the largest climate investment in U.S. history.

Plus, the CDC ends its social distancing recommendations to prevent the spread of Covid. What else has changed as our children go back to school across the country.



HARLOW: A really disturbing development, and we have new details this morning about the armed man killed during a police standoff in Ohio after that man attempted to enter the FBI's field office in Cincinnati yesterday. He's been identified as Ricky Shiffer, according to three federal law enforcement sources, an account bearing his name on the Trump social media platform, Truth Social, includes violent rhetoric, references his attempt to storm an FBI office, and encourages others to prepare for an armed rebellion.

Our Brynn Gingras has been following all of this.

What more do we know about him and about - I mean just imagine if he had been successful in this attempt?



GINGRAS: And it's sort of just a real life example of the consequences of what we've been hearing all week, that this could happen.

Now, listen, let's talk about this Truth Social account. It details a person who clearly believes the election was stolen in 2020, who admits to being in D.C. on January 6th, and really who wanted to wage a war with the FBI. And as we just talked about, this account bears Shiffer's name. And a source tells CNN the account picture matches, you know, their government ID of the man killed after that hour's long standoff and shots exchanged with authorities in rural Ohio, ending in Shiffer's death.

Now, CNN has not confirmed the account belongs to the suspect.


But, listen, there's this, a post minutes after, sources tell us, Shiffer walked into the Cincinnati FBI field office with an assault rifle and a nail gun. And this is what it said. Well, I thought I had a way through bulletproof glass and I didn't. If you don't hear from me, it is true, I tried attacking the FBI and it will mean either I was taken off the Internet, the FBI got me or they sent the regular cops while -- and that post ending abruptly because a pursuit then ensued as we know.

The user of this account also fixates on pushing violence against the FBI, including one on Monday after news broke about the search of Mar- a-Lago. Now, this poster encouraging people to actually go to Florida, writing this, this is your call to arms from me. Get whatever you need to be ready for combat. Then tyranny becomes the law, rebellion becomes duty. Kill them, referencing actually FBI agents in that last kill them part.

So, again, just a disturbing look into the possible mind of Shiffer, now dead. We don't yet know exactly why he tried to breach the FBI building. That's something that's still under investigation. And it's possible it came out during the hours long negotiations before he was killed.

But, again, this is an account, possibly what happens after all this violent rhetoric is out there and law enforcement is looking into this. And there's a lot of questions that we're still posing to them. Did - and we know that they're looking into is, did he have any ties to right wing extremist groups, if, in fact, he was there on January 6th, was he already on the FBI's radar as someone that they were looking into and this prompted him to go to that office and take out his anger?

HARLOW: Right.

GINGRAS: A lot of questions. But, certainly, it's disturbing.

HARLOW: Terrifying.


HARLOW: Terrifying. Brynn, thanks for the reporting very much.

GINGRAS: All right.

HARLOW: Let me bring back in former FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe.

Look, look at Brynn's reporting, look at what almost happened there in Cincinnati, and just look at the increase in violent rhetoric critical of DOJ and FBI online in the wake of Monday's Mar-a-Lago search. How related are the two?

MCCABE: Oh, Poppy, I mean, they're very clearly related. I mean this is exactly what we've been thinking about, worrying about for the last year. There have been repeated warnings by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI about this rising tide of political violence and extremism in this country that could result in violence. And here you have, you know, an example of it. This is an individual who we believe, from early reporting and from analysis, that social media analysis, like the sort we just heard from Brynn, that this person was deeply affected by what he saw in the lawful search warrant execution on Monday and decided to take it in his own hands and go to an FBI office and try to cause some sort of mayhem.

You know, FBI agents and law enforcement officials -- folks around the country, they're not hiding behind bulletproof glass every minute of every day. They are out there in the communities, knocking on people's doors, talking to people, talking to victims and witnesses of crimes, trying to do their jobs. And, you know, we're just lucky that this person did it in such a audaciously stupid way that he almost kind of doomed himself from the beginning. But that may not be the way it plays out in other cases.


So, we heard and read that statement from FBI Director Christopher Wray that Evan, our colleague, obtained yesterday with basically this message to employees, I've got your back, I'm with you, right? I know who you are.


HARLOW: You're not these horrible things people are saying about you. Then Attorney General Garland defended the agencies yesterday in the public remarks.

Is it enough statements, you know, both public and in writing, is it enough? Is there more to do?

MCCABE: You know, this is a tough one for me. I definitely appreciate the director's effort to message directly to his workforce. He should be doing that. You know, I remember running the FBI at a very, very hard time after the firing of Jim Comey.

HARLOW: Right.

MCCABE: And I realized then that part of - part of my responsibility was to get up in front of every FBI person as often as I could and talk to them about the importance of who they were and how they were performing the mission and staying focused and that sort of thing.

But I have to also feel like at this moment, when those people are under so much stress, so much scrutiny, so much wildly inaccurate baseless criticism about their integrity, about the way they do their work, I would really like to see a forceful defense of FBI people by the FBI director in public.

I thought the attorney general's comments yesterday were pretty good. I like the fact that he ended them by saying that he was honored to serve with the men and women of the Department of Justice and the FBI. I just think it would be a real shot in the arm, a much needed morale boost for a workforce that we can't afford to lose, right? We can't afford for those people to not do their jobs at the highest level every single day.


And, you know, a full-throated public endorsement I think would be - it's been too long in coming.

HARLOW: Yes, go a long way.

All right, Andy McCabe, thanks very much on all these fronts this morning.

MCCABE: You're very welcome.

HARLOW: CNN has learned that later today former National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien is going to appear virtually before the January 6th committee investigating the insurrection. And he's not the only former Trump official cooperating with the panel. Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently sat for an interview. We've just learned that. Also, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been in talks with the committee about potential testimony as well. There are also new details this morning about how the committee could have found out about the missing Secret Service text messages from those key dates around the insurrection over the summer.

CNN law enforcement correspondent Whitney Wild is reporting on this.

Whitney, what more do we know on that front, the Secret Service text front?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a lot of information coming out to suggest that inspector general investigators knew a lot more and were prepared to tell Congress a lot more about the roadblocks they were encountering as they were trying to get what they believed was really crucial detail out of the Secret Service. This is according to a draft memo that was obtained by the project on government oversight. It was shared with CN. And, Poppy, it lists several ways that investigators believed the Secret Service was stalling, really stalling the efforts from the inspector general investigators to try to get, again, these key documents, these key text messages.

So, the document listed several ways that was happening. They believed that the Secret Service was sort of arbitrarily stalling their ability to get documents. They said that they would not identify the people who were actually conducting the internal review within the Secret Service. When the IG actually did get documents, they were heavily redacted.

Later on, the redactions were lifted. But the investigators said that that, you know, caused them to lose what was really crucial time as they were trying to cobble together all of this information.

Meanwhile, Poppy, as inspector general investigators were trying to get these key documents, we know that the Secret Service had been undergoing this data migration and in the process lost text messages in the many weeks that were leading up to January 6th. And what this detailed draft memo said was that the Secret Service wasn't up-front with inspector general investigators about the totality of the loss.

So, the point here, Poppy, is that inspector general investigators were prepared as of April of this year to go to Congress with these detailed complaints. This was supposed to appear in a final report that was sent to Congress in June. But, Poppy, sometime between April and June that information was scaled down considerably and instead all they told Congress was they were having some problems and they were trying to work it out with the Secret Service.

Meanwhile, the Secret Services, Poppy, says they've been cooperating. As far as the delay in documents, they couldn't just hand over documents. They had to get a special review for a list of reasons.


HARLOW: Well, it's a big change between what was in that initial draft and what ultimately ended up in the report that the folks in charge saw. So, it matters a lot.

WILD: Right.

HARLOW: Whitney, thanks very much for the reporting.

Still ahead, dramatic changes, real significant changes from the CDC this morning regarding Covid-19 protocols. What you should do if you're exposed, how long you should quarantine and a lot more. Those updates, next.