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DOJ Files Motion to Unseal Search Warrant, Trump Says He Won't Oppose; Multiple Former Trump Cabinet Officials Engaging with January 6 Committee; Today, House Votes on Sweeping $750 Billion Health Care, Climate Bill. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 12, 2022 - 10:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Unique this situation is.


The fact that it came before any charges have been filed, if any will even be filed, this is significant departure from Justice Department Norms.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the bedrock principle of a Justice Department and of our democracy. Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly, without fear or favor. Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing.


HARLOW: All of this comes as new reporting pours in about what the FBI was looking for in that Monday search at Mar-a-Lago. The Washington Post says federal agents sought classified documents related to nuclear weapons. ABC News reports the information was so sensitive that authorities wanted it back immediately. And according to The New York Times, officials were concerned that leaving highly sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago could make them vulnerable to access by foreign adversaries.

We are staying on top of this story. Let's begin in Washington. Let's begin first with our senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, good morning to you again.

Tie all these threads together, because those three headlines I just read all came after Garland's really extraordinary press conference -- not press conference, statement.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRSEPONDENT: Statement, right, exactly. Look, I think --

HARLOW: You wish it was a press conference.

PEREZ: We tried to make it a press conference, and he wouldn't bite. But as you pointed out, look, the context here is important which is that this has been a fight that's been going on for about 18 months, the former president took documents that should never have left the U.S. government's possession and ended up at his beach house in Palm Beach. And the FBI, the National Archives have been trying to get it back for all of that time.

And among the documents, according to The Washington Post, that the FBI has been trying to get back is documents -- are documents that have to do with the U.S. nuclear weapons programs.

Now, we reported yesterday that at least some of the documents that have been in dispute that the FBI have been trying to get back were documents that are classified as special access programs. These are the most sensitive documents in U.S. government's possession. These are the most highly sensitive programs that are protected by the highest classification, and, of course, nuclear weapons programs would be among those types of things.

And the idea that the former president and his legal team have been back and forth resisting turning over some of these things has been part of what has driven the story and why we got to the point that we did on Monday with a search. The question for the FBI has always been, you know, how do we get these back, and also how do we prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. And we know that Mar-a-Lago has a history of having, let's just say, lax procedures, where you have foreign nationals having access to places that they shouldn't, and we also know that there are certainly plenty of stories of the former president waving around documents that he should not be doing so.

The other part of this is the former president absolutely denies that there is anything related to nuclear programs that were being held at Mar-a-Lago. We'll see what he does today, later today, as part of this court filing. Poppy?

HARLOW: Important inclusion there, Evan. Thanks very much for that reporting.

And now let's go to our Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz on the story this morning. Can you talk about the former president making it clear that he's fine with and actually encouraging these documents to be unsealed? One would assume his attorneys would agree with him, but they don't always. And, by the way, it's ultimately -- no matter what both parties say, it's ultimately going to be up to this judge, right?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Exactly, Poppy. So, last night, late at night, Donald Trump posted on his social media account that not only he would not oppose the release of the documents, he was encouraging the immediate release of them. It's about 10:00 right now. I am watching the docket in the Southern District of Florida where this filing needs to come in from the Justice Department indicating the position Trump's legal team is going to take. There has not been a filing yet. We're in this wait-and-see pattern.

I mean, if you look back at the history of Donald Trump, we have been in this position before. He has announced on social media -- in fact, he was declassifying things, things like the Carter page warrant, which still is not entirely declassified, and then when people really pressed on it, on the legality of whether he had made those choices, it ultimate came down to other people who were advising him said, no, we're not actually declassifying those things.

So, we're in this position again of waiting and seeing what the Trump team actually does. They do have this deadline at 3:00 P.M. And the big question here right now for us as we wait this -- for this is what are we going to learn in these documents. Will they say a lot of about what is being investigated here, or will the Justice Department be fairly reticent about that? We know that one of the key filings we're going to be looking for here, if they are unsealed, is the receipt that Donald Trump was handed about what was seized and how specific that is.


Does it say, you know, boxes with classified markings on them, or does it just say boxes were removed from the property? That is a big question.

And then the other thing that we're waiting for here is just the -- any indication of what else is happening in this investigation. I mean, that might not be an answer we get for several days, even months, but remember a search warrant is not the end of this process. It is just investigative step to collect evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation. We know this is an ongoing criminal investigation. And so, Poppy, the question remains, will there be an indictment at the end here.

HARLOW: Huge question. Katelyn Polantz, great reporting, thanks very much.

Joining me on all of these threads, former assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Wehle and form state and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig. Great to have you both.

Elie, let's, for the sake of discussion, assume that this judge complies with what it appears both parties want, and that is unsealing, then what do we see and what do we not see?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, the judge has told the Justice Department, you have to let me know by 3:00 P.M. today if Donald Trump's lawyers are in or out on this.

I do want to say, by the way, it's not valid for Donald Trump to say, I wanted to but my lawyers wouldn't let me. It is the client's decision, not the lawyers' decision. Putting that aside. The DOJ will let the judge know. If the answer is they're okay with releasing it, we want to release it, then the judge could say, very well, here you go, unseal it. We could see those documents by 3:15 P.M. today.

If in the alternative Donald Trump objects, then DOJ will tell the judge, hey, we want to release it, Donald Trump does not, then the judge will probably set a briefing schedule and say, I need to hear from both sides here. HARLOW: But the judge would -- the Trump team, if they do object, would have to explain why they object, which I think makes it a whole lot more interesting and informative. The affidavit, though, can you talk to the fact that since that would not be unsealed, what we wouldn't learn?

HONIG: Yes. So, the affidavit is the long narrative document that lays out all the details, all the probable cause. That's not in play here. Donald Trump does not have that, DOJ is not seeking to unseal that.

The documents that what we will see today, Katelyn Polantz just referred to them, we're going to learn three things of interest. First of all, how did DOJ and FBI describe the premises to be searched? Do they specify areas in Mar-a-Lago? How specific are they? Second of all, what items did they seize? As Katelyn just said, that can be at a very high level of generality. That can be quite specific. And then, third, we should get an indication in one of the attachments as to what specific criminal laws DOJ believes were violated here. That's to me the most interesting, that's where I'm going to go right away.

HARLOW: Sure, of course.

Kim, good to have you, as well. The fact that some of these -- sources tell CNN that some of these boxes that -- of materials retrieved from Mar-a-Lago were part of the special access program, something that includes documents so highly classified that Andy McCabe, the former FBI director, told us last hour even he couldn't, for example, keep in his office. They'd be brought to him, he'd look at them, sign something, and they'd go back to the more secure location. How much does that raise the stakes here, and does that help you understand why the DOJ took the approach that it did?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Absolutely. I think the fact that Merrick Garland not only made statement but accompanied it with this motion. I think that's the critical piece, that he called Donald Trump's bluff, Donald Trump who likes to spill the beans, is now informing the public of the severity of this situation, and we're no longer talking about whether DOJ did the right thing or not.

A couple of things. First, the Presidential Records Act does not allow Donald Trump to bring a single document out of the White House. So, it doesn't matter whether it's classified or not. He shouldn't have done that. It doesn't have its own enforcement mechanism, but there are a number of federal criminal laws that could apply.

Number two, if it's classified, of course, that's a different standard, and there are other levels of classification. He will argue and some of his people have said, well, he can automatically declassify things, there's actually a process for that to make sure that it doesn't get into the wrong hands by not having it designated properly as unclassified.

And then the third thing is, you know, Donald Trump has told us this now for years, his hostility toward law enforcement, his own national security apparatus when he was president. He kind of gave a nod to Vladimir Putin's people as more trustworthy. We also know from the Mueller investigation that he was in coordination with -- not conspiring but in coordination with the Russians to get into office in 2016. None of this should be a big surprise.

So, the question is what happens to Donald Trump, of course, but also what happens to the safety and security of America moving forward. Can this puzzle be put back together and secured? And I don't know that we'll know an answer to that any time soon, even in the next few years, frankly.


HARLOW: Elie, some of the reporting, just remarkable reporting from CNN teams, from The Washington Post, from The New York Times and ABC, all these different -- ABC News, all these different threads after the Garland presser, and included in one of those threads is the reason that DOJ felt they had to go in immediately was because they were concerned some of these documents could potentially be acquired by foreign adversaries.

So, does that help explain to you why attorney General Garland said yesterday that, you know, yes, it's standard practice to use less intrusive measures, but essentially that wasn't an option here?

HONIG: Yes, I think that's exactly the point the attorney general was trying to make. We always look for the least intrusive measures. So, if a subpoena will do it, we don't like to do search warrants. We try to respect people's rights. And so the point he was making was this was necessary. We had to do this by a search warrant.

And I think the question is going to be what was the basis for that. Perhaps they did learn for the first time that there were documents relating to nuclear secrets in there. Perhaps they got other information. But that's going to be one of the big questions that has to be answered. How do you justify, and I mean legally but also politically going in by a search warrant?

HARLOW: Is it justified -- okay. So, we know from The Times reporting that a subpoena was issued to the team for more of these boxes, but that was prior to the June -- early June meeting that the feds had with Trump's team. Does that justify not issuing another subpoena between June and this search on Monday?

HONIG: In my view, yes. You try to subpoena once, you got some documents, but then apparently they learned not all of them, meaning somebody in Donald Trump's camp said, hey, give them these but not those. You don't have to try again with a subpoena once you've already failed. So, yes, I think that would justify a search warrant given all the circumstances here.

HARLOW: Kim, what happens now, just process-wise, if this judge does agree to unseal these documents? What then?

WEHLE: Well, I just want to make one point on the subpoena. I agree with Elie. Keep in mind, normally, when you subpoena information from someone, that is in the possession legally of the person being subpoenaed or the party being subpoenaed. Here, Donald Trump did not appear to legally have this, so that justifies more, I think, assertive action, as well.

As far as what's next, I mean, we'll see. You know, Merrick Garland did indicate there will be some redactions. What does that mean? We'll see stuff blacked out. And, of course, the Justice Department has to be very careful to not give out information that could be classified. So, you know, what -- that process will unfold one way or the other in terms of what is actually made public.

And then I think the Justice Department will go back in its business, back in a confidential process of investigating all of these things relating to Donald Trump from January 6th to the fake electors, to what's happened with the Presidential Records Act.

And, hopefully, I should say, Poppy, that the American people and the press, we can all keep our eye on this story and not let it get eclipsed by other things, which I think will probably be the focus of the Trump team and people on the far-right of the GOP, to try to take our eye off this ball. And this ball is a very important one because what's at stake here really is the integrity of democracy moving forward and the legitimacy of the Justice Department among many other things. So, I hope we can focus on what's important here.

HARLOW: Kim Wehle, Elie Honig, thanks to you both very much.

The FBI search of Mar-a-Lago led to an increase in violent rhetoric online, but one man in Ohio attempted to break into an FBI field office in Cincinnati armed with an AR-15.

Plus, first on CNN, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao meets with the January 6th committee, and another Trump official is expected to talk to the panel today.

And happening now, the House is in session and expected to vote on the $750 billion Inflation Reduction Act already passed by the Senate. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer joins us next.



HARLOW: Welcome back. CNN has learned that later today, former National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien is expected to appear virtually before the January 6th committee investigating the insurrection. Other senior officials are also talking with that panel. Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently sat for an interview, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been in talks with the committee, as well.

Let's go to Melanie Zanona, our colleague on Capitol Hill, with more. Who else is this committee talking to or in discussions to officially talk to?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. Well, the select committee has its eyes on a number of high-profile witnesses. And, so far, we know that they have engaged with at least nine cabinet-level officials.

As you mentioned, CNN has learned that they've already interviewed Elaine Chao, the former transportation secretary, and wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Elaine Chao is someone who resigned one day after the January 6th attack on the Capitol and she was also known to have explored invoking the 25th Amendment to remove former Trump from office.

Now, we have also learned the committee is in talks to bring in two other key witnesses. That includes Betsy DeVos, the former education secretary. She also resigned on January 7th and she also talked about using the 25th Amendment, and then John Ratcliffe, the former director of National Intelligence.

But, first up today, the committee will virtually interview Robert O'Brien. He was Trump's former national security adviser. He considered resigning post-January 6th, ultimately did not. And while he is not a cabinet-level official, he is someone who was known to have talked about invoking the 25th Amendment.


And so, clearly, that topic is of keen interest to the select committee.

We also know earlier this week they interviewed Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state. And CNN has learned that the 25th Amendment was a topic of conversation. And so, clearly, the committee is trying to learn just how serious those conversations were and just how concerned were these cabinet-level officials. Poppy?

HARLOW: Yes. Melanie, thank you very much. Clearly, the committee still hard at work, for sure.


HARLOW: Up next, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will join us live as the House meets to vote on a groundbreaking health and climate bill.



HARLOW: Welcome back. A significant day on Capitol Hill where Democratic lawmakers are poised to give President Biden another big legislative win, the House returning early from its recess today to vote on what is titled the Inflation Reduction Act. It is a sweeping $750 billion bill that marks the largest climate investment in U.S. history. It gives Medicare the power to negotiate certain drug prices also for the first time.


REPORTER: To what extent do you expect the inflation bill to help Democrats during the midterms once it passes, Mr. President?

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Do I expect it to help? Yes, I do. It's going to immediately help. For example, most seniors will have -- on Medicare, will have bills of more than $2,000 per drug, no matter what the costs are. That's a big deal. It changes people's lives. There's a whole range of things that are really game changers for ordinary folks.


HARLOW: With me now to talk about it, House Majority Leader Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer. Thank you for being here.

I know you're smiling ear to ear today because this is a -- a big deal. This is a big day for you guys.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): That's what the president said. It's a big deal.

HARLOW: Right. But I just want your take on -- out of all these things, the health initiatives, the climate -- major climate investment, what do you believe, sir, is the single-most important piece of this legislation that folks watching at home are going to feel and feel soon?

HOYER: Well, I think all parts of it are important. But one thing they're going to feel is we're going to see the Affordable Care Act provisions in the bill that we sent over to the Senate extending from December 31st for another two years, the premium help and the -- bringing the costs down, the Affordable Care Act, for people is going to be the most immediate effect, free vaccines also going to be another one, vaccine rebates for those on Medicare for drug prices that are increased beyond inflation. Those are the three things that's going to happen immediately.


HOYER: So, I think they are probably the most important, but also we're going to start bringing down the deficit. And I think that's important, and we're going to have an extraordinary, historic investment in dealing with climate change and alternative energy sources.

HARLOW: Deficit reduction, for sure, and a big step toward accomplishing the climate goals that a lot of people didn't think was possible, you know, 30 days ago.

I do want to ask you, though, about the impact on inflation because you guys named it the Inflation Reduction Act. And analysis across the board, whether you look at the Wharton analysis, which said it will slightly increase inflation until 2024, and then the inflationary impact statistically indistinguishable, their quote, from zero. The CBO says it will have a negligible at best impact on inflation. And Moody's found the impact on inflation as small.

And I get why names of bills are often political, but, specifically, how will this actually help people right now deal with 8.5 percent inflation?

HOYER: Well, specifically, health care costs are a significant cost to the American consumer. And this, unarguably, is going to bring down costs of health care for people. Some in the short-term, as I just said, will maintain the subsidies that we give so that people's insurance rates will not go up from their standpoint in terms of the cost that they have to incur. Making vaccines free will bring down costs.

We've passed other pieces of legislation, like the food and fuel legislation to try bring down -- make sure that prices aren't -- price gouging does not occur in terms of gasoline prices. We've seen gasoline prices come down over $1 since that legislation. Whether that legislation caused it or not is problematic and questionable, obviously, but we want to bring the food supply chain back.

So, what we're doing is, with this bill, is we are bringing some of the most significant costs to Americans down, and we're bringing them down in many respects now so that I think it's appropriate to call it Inflationary Reduction act because one of the biggest inflations has been in drug prices.

HARLOW: Well -- okay. You're not disputing analysis from these three highly regarded sets of economists that I laid out, right?

HOYER: It's not a question of disputing what they say but --

HARLOW: I want to level with the American people who go to the grocery store and their bill is a lot higher.

HOYER: There's no doubt about that. We need to be very concerned about not only gasoline prices but prices at the grocery stores, and also the supply chain.