Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); Nuclear Documents at Mar- a-Lago?; Congress Set to Pass Inflation Reduction Act; Trump Facing Deadline to Oppose Release of Search Warrant. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 12, 2022 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. Alisyn is off.

Soon, we may be able to see key documents to give us an insight into the FBI search of Donald Trump's home. His lawyers have one hour left before the 3:00 p.m. Eastern deadline to oppose the release of the search warrant and property receipt in connection with Monday's search at Mar-a-Lago.

A new report says that FBI agents were searching for classified documents related to nuclear weapons. Now, that detail comes from "The Washington Post."

And just in, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that 11 sets of classified documents were removed from Mar-a-Lago, including documents at the highest top-secret level. All of this could explain the urgency of the unprecedented search of a former president's home.

Now, this also raises the stakes of his standoff with Attorney General Merrick Garland, who revealed that he personally signed off on the search warrant. Former President Trump says he too wants to search documents to be made public. But we will soon see if his lawyers will contest the motion in court.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz and Jessica Schneider are here.

Katelyn, let's start with the newest reporting, this from Wall Street -- "The Wall Street Journal" just a couple of minutes ago. What are they reporting?


Alex Leary at "The Wall Street Journal" appears to have obtained or at least seen a good amount of the documents here that would be within this search warrant case, the search warrants itself, as well as the receipt handed to Donald Trump and his attorneys when the FBI left, seizing items.

Specifically, "The Journal" is reporting that it is 11 sets of classified documents that were removed from Mar-a-Lago on Monday. If you break it down, if you look in the story, it says one set of documents marked as various classified TS/SCI documents. That's sensitive, compartmented information.

That is a very high classification of classified information, where only special people in certain circumstances are able to access those sorts of records, TS/SCI.

There's also four sets of top-secret documents that were removed from Mar-a-Lago, three sets of secret documents, and three sets of confidential documents. Those are different levels of classification in the system.

We also know from "The Journal" reporting is that they are saying that the search warrant itself authorized the search of the 45 office, so Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, as well as all storage rooms and all other areas -- rooms or areas within the premises used or available to be used by the former president and his staff, and in which boxes and documents could be stored.

So that is the new reporting. And we still are awaiting seeing whether this is indeed exactly what the document says, if there's anything else in those documents as well.

BLACKWELL: All right, Katelyn, stand by.

Let's go to Jessica now and this "Washington Post" reporting. The FBI searched potentially for documents related to nuclear weapons. Tell us about that.


So everything's really dovetailing here, what Katelyn reported, with what "The Wall Street Journal" has said was in these documents in these boxes. What "The Washington Post" said was that this is all related to nuclear weapons.

Our team was told that investigators, they had this evidence that potentially classified documents were still at Mar-a-Lago. And that was even after the National Archives retrieved those 15 boxes of documents back in January. So investigators believed here that the documents that remained at Mar-a-Lago had national security implications.

We're seeing from "The Washington Post" related to nuclear weapons. And we also learned from our team that some of the boxes had information that were part of special access programs. This is a classification that severely limits who has access to this information, since it is so hypersensitive.

So all of this dovetailing with what "The Wall Street Journal" now reporting about these 20 boxes of items, 11 sets of classified documents, "The Washington Post" saying agents specifically sought these classified documents related to nuclear weapons.

So, Victor, given these huge national security implications here, that's likely what prompted this court-sanctioned search on Monday. And as the attorney general said yesterday, the Justice Department usually seeks alternatives to a search like this. But our team has reported over the past few days that investigators had been to Mar-a-Lago in recent months, they talked with Trump's attorneys, and then those attorneys were even told to secure a storage area at Mar-a-Lago, likely because of the concern that even more classified documents remained.

So, a lot of likely national security concerns here, and, of course, looking at that looming 3:00 p.m. deadline and potentially getting more detail about what those agents took once it's determined whether or not the Trump team is going to fight unsealing the search warrant -- Victor.


BLACKWELL: All right, let's take that back to Katelyn.

And the detail here is that the judge asks Trump's attorneys not to come back to him, but to alert the DOJ by 3:00. Is that correct?

POLANTZ: That is correct.

This is a case that was opened by the Justice Department and it was under seal initially. It still is under seal, all the documents in it. And so what was happening is, the judge said, Justice Department, talk to Donald Trump now that you have requested to unseal these documents in the search warrant and let me know, because you -- they are the controlling attorneys right now in that case.

So they -- we are still waiting. We are within the hour of the deadline. It's 2:05 right now; 3:00 is the deadline. We have not seen anything from the Justice Department or from Trump's team, other than a late-night statement from Donald Trump on social media saying he was encouraging the immediate release of those documents.

And "The Wall Street Journal" report doesn't really indicate where they were able to obtain access either. It is just citing documents reviewed by "The Wall Street Journal." So we still don't even know what final position Donald Trump and his team will be taking in court, whether they actually support the release of these documents or not.

BLACKWELL: All right, we will know in just minutes, of course, that deadline not far away.

Katelyn Polantz, Jessica Schneider, thank you both. We will bring you back when you have new reporting.

Let's bring in now CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig. He's also a former federal prosecutor. And Joshua Skule, a former FBI executive assistant director for intelligence, he is now president of the Boll Weevil LLC -- Bow Wave -- I'm sorry -- LLC.

Thank you for being with us, both.

Elie, let me start with you. I want to get to process later. Let's start with this reporting from "The Wall Street Journal." Your biggest takeaway from this list in this new reporting? ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, the biggest takeaway, Victor, is

that the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago documents of all different levels of classification, from the lowest level, which is confidential, up to the highest level of the normal classification chain, which is this SCI, sensitive compartmented information.

That is a big deal. We have heard reporting along these lines for the last several days. According to "The Wall Street Journal" now, there are documents confirming that. The B story here is, in the description of the areas of Mar-a-Lago that the FBI wanted to search, that is very general.

It essentially says any rooms other than the guest rooms. It's not as specific as we had thought it might be. There's no specification of the basement. There's no specification of the safe, again, according to "The Wall Street Journal" reporting. So it seems they went in there with a fairly broad mandate.

BLACKWELL: Joshua, let me come to you now.

One set of these documents marked as top-secret SCI, what documents are in that echelon, the very top of the pyramid of classified documents?

JOSHUA SKULE, PRESIDENT, BOW WAVE LLC: So, Victor, that would be the most sensitive secrets of the United States, likely classified to protect sources and methods.

It would dovetail with other sensitive reporting we have seen regarding -- the capture of nuclear information would be in there. Certainly, significant signals intercepts would be in there as well, or could be in there.

BLACKWELL: So when there are questions about whether this had to be a search warrant executed, when you have this breakdown, the list of these 11 sets of classified documents, these are the types of documents that you go in and retrieve. You don't wait to ask, can you hand these over? You get a judge to approve them, so you can bring them back to the U.S. government?

SKULE: I would say that it'll be interesting to read what triggered the search warrant.

It looks in the timeline that the former president's lawyers were cooperating and turning over these documents, and then sometime between may and the execution of the search warrant, there seems to be something that triggered that, because if they were aware in May that there was sensitive material in that room, one might think that they should have acted sooner.

BLACKWELL: One more for you.

This top-secret SCI, do you know -- and maybe you don't -- this is just something I considered on the walk up here -- if a former president still retains the clearance to view information at that level. Of course, when he is the executive, he has that clearance. But after he leaves the office, does he retain it?

SKULE: So he likely -- yes, he retains his clearance level.

But in order to have access to classified information, you need two things. You need the clearance level and the need to know. Now, often, former executives in the intelligence community, certainly the president, may have that need to know and have the classification.

We won't know until we see the documents.

BLACKWELL: You talked about this. I want to get a little more into it about the breadth of this search warrant, not just a few locations.

We know that there was a retrieval of documents in January. There was another subpoena that was obtained before the meeting in June, and then this informant, as we reported yesterday, who said there's more here.


This warrant looks like the DOJ said, we need to go and find whatever's left to clean it up once and for all.

HONIG: Yes, so this isn't enough detail to put in a search warrant, just legally. If you bring it to a judge, he's not going to say -- he or she is not going to say, well, I need you to be more specific.

They say, we're not going to go into the guest rooms. We're going to go into the working areas, the offices, that kind of thing. What they don't say is the basement, the safe, this particular room.

Now, that could be for one of two reasons. It could be because they just didn't know, the FBI did not have that level of specificity. Or it could be because they did have that level of specificity. They knew where to look, but they didn't want to potentially expose or out the C.I., because maybe the thought was, well, if we know to go in this one particular very specific room or location, that could tip people off that so-and-so is the informant here.

When I say C.I., I mean, confidential informant.


HONIG: So there could have been one of two tactical reasons for that.

BLACKWELL: All right.

Joshua, let me get one in more -- more to you and then back to Elie on process.

These documents, as sensitive as they are, once set at the very highest level, four sets of documents that were top-secret, have been at Mar-a-Lago, a beach club, for a year-and-a-half. How is that possible? Is there no survey of these documents, the strict controls over them? How have they been there so long?

SKULE: That's an excellent question, Victor. I don't know.

There are folks that have access to classified information certainly at the highest levels, TS/SCI. Those documents are required to be maintained in a SCIF or be escorted. I don't know the answer. And I'm sure, in the coming days, we will be finding out more and more, certainly when they release the affidavit, certainly as we continue to read other reporting that's going on and how that got mixed in and was not separated when the president left the White House.

If I might, on the document search warrants, to your -- to Elie's point...


SKULE: ... it reads like a normal document search warrant. It is someplace where -- any place that these documents could be stored or located. That's how I interpret that.

BLACKWELL: All right, Elie, let's talk process because we're coming up about 50 minutes from this deadline now.

If both sides agree, if there is no objection from the former president's lawyers, how long until we see the documents?

HONIG: Well, so, first of all, it's up to the judge.

Theoretically, even if both DOJ and Donald Trump agree, yes, Judge, you should release these, the judge could still say, no, I think it's a bad idea. I think it's bad policy.

I think it's very unlikely. I think, if both sides agree, I believe the judge is much more likely to release the documents. At that point, it could be at 3:01 p.m. It could be at 4:30. But it's really within the judge's control. But it could be very quick.


BLACKWELL: You think it could be today?

HONIG: Absolutely.


HONIG: I think if both sides agree it should be released, then I don't see any reason why the judge would delay, unless he wants to think about it more.

But, by all means, if at 2:58, we get a filing from DOJ saying, we agree with Trump's lawyers, please release it, the judge at 3:04 p.m. could say, here you go.

BLACKWELL: Let's say that the attorneys object on the former president's behalf.

And let's make people aware of this. The president doesn't have to listen to his attorneys. He says that he wants them released. He could say like, with the taxes, oh, but my attorneys make -- don't want me to release these.

HONIG: The client is always in charge.

Attorneys advise. Clients are free to take or ignore that advice. Now, it's perfectly fine for Donald Trump or anybody to say, my attorneys have advised me to do this and that's why I'm doing it. It's not quite accurate, though, to say my attorneys will not permit me.


Now, if they disagree, if there's an objection, what's next?

HONIG: So, the judge at that point has this dilemma now, right?

DOJ says, please release it. Donald Trump says, please don't. I think it's very likely that the judge will then want some briefing, particularly from Donald Trump. We already saw DOJ's brief. He will give Donald Trump a reasonable amount of time to put together and file that brief.

I would imagine you would have him on a short schedule, a week or so. May give the government, DOJ then, a chance to reply. And then the judge will have to rule, either, yes, I'm releasing, as you want, DOJ, or, no, I'm not, as you want, Donald Trump.

BLACKWELL: And there could be appeal after appeal after appeal.


We are at the magistrate court level here. So people understand, that is sort of a half-level below the standard federal trial court, what we call the district court. So if Donald Trump loses in this hypothetical, he might say, hold on, Magistrate Judge. I would like to appeal to the district court.

And, if he loses there, theoretically, he could say, hold on, I'd like to appeal to the court of appeals, and, theoretically, he then could try to go up to the U.S. Supreme Court. I don't think it will go that far.


HONIG: But we know Donald Trump knows how to and benefits from delays. So...


BLACKWELL: Yes, he knows that game.

All right, Elie Honig, Joshua Skule, thank you both.

A short time from now, the House is also expected to vote on landmark legislation that would be the largest climate investment in U.S. history and the most significant win for President Biden since he took office.

And award-winning author Salman Rushdie, he was just attacked during a lecture in New York.


We have got the latest on his condition.


BLACKWELL: Happening now on Capitol Hill, congressional Democrats are on the verge of delivering a major legislative win for President Biden.

After hours of debate, the House is expected to vote on and pass the Inflation Reduction Act. This is a monumental $750 billion bill. It targets the climate crisis, health care, spending. Once approved, it will go to the president for his signature.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is covering this for us on Capitol Hill.

Melanie, where do things stand now?


MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, the House is debating the bill as we speak.

They have about an hour of debate time left. And then they will move to final passage, where we are expecting this bill to pass, despite Republicans being united in opposition. And that is because Democrats have rallied around this bill. Even though it is not everything they wanted, they ultimately decided to take what they can get.

And what they got, Victor, is pretty substantial. Let me remind viewers at home what is in this bill. It includes a historic investment in the climate, nearly $370 billion worth of climate and energy provisions, including some tax credits.

It also would allow Medicare for the first time to negotiate some drug prices. It would extend Obamacare subsidies that were set to expire in the fall. And it also includes a 15 percent corporate minimum tax.

But I think we should point out that some of these benefits, Victor, are not going to be immediately felt. The provision, for example, that allows Medicare to start negotiating drug prices won't kick in until 2026. And so, for Democrats, a lot of this comes down to the messaging and the sales job that they're going to be doing on the campaign trail.

But the White House is wasting no time on that front. They have already started an August messaging push, describing this bill as a big win for the American people and showing that Democrats can deliver, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Melanie Zanona with the details for us on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Let's talk about that sales job now and bring in Congressman Ro Khanna, Democrat from California, also the deputy whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

He is smiling.

Congressman, good to see you.

A quick math question. You got the votes? Democrats have the votes to pass this?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Yes, Victor, we do.

And it's going to pass overwhelmingly. It's one of the biggest achievements, not just for this president, but in the last 50 years. As you pointed out, it is the biggest investment in climate this country has made. And it's about making things in America. We're going to now make electric vehicles. We're going to make solar. We're going to make wind turbines.

A lot of that was being made in China. This bill is going to allow us to start making that in the United States.

BLACKWELL: So, when will people start to feel the benefits of this bill? It's called the Inflation Reduction Act. It's not going to reduce inflation soon.

The Congressional Budget Office says that it's not going to do much in that area this year or next. So when will people start to feel the benefits?

KHANNA: Well, some of the benefits will be immediate, in terms of the manufacturing that's going to come here, both between the CHIPS bill we pass this week and this bill, because, as we make more things here, that's going to have a deflationary impact. And it's going to mean good jobs in communities.

But I'm not going to spin and say that, suddenly, this is going to reduce inflation next month. This is about an investment in our country, in our manufacturing. And, over time, it is going to have a deflationary impact.

BLACKWELL: So what's the impact on the midterms in November? We have talked about at the top of this block that this is a big legislative win for the president. He's not on the ballot. You are.

What does this mean for Democrats in this environment over the next 90 days?

KHANNA: Well, it energizes young people.

I mean, young people have been organizing across this country demanding we do something about climate. They were losing hope. They thought that we were not doing anything in the Congress. So, this is a big message and a big win for them.

I have been talking to them around the country. They're going to show up in record numbers. And then, when you look and you combine this with the votes we cast to

try to codify Roe and the fact that the Republicans are blocking it, the votes that we cast in the House to have an assault weapons ban, and the Republicans are blocking it, the fact that we passed bringing manufacturing back to the United States, I think the choice is going to be clear that we're a governing party getting things done, and the Republicans have been standing in the way of some very simple, meaningful legislation that many Americans support.

BLACKWELL: Let's turn to the breaking news, both the developments from "The Wall Street Journal."

They're reporting 11 sets of classified documents retrieved from the former president's home as part of this search on Monday, but also "The Washington Post" reporting that some of the documents pertained to nuclear weapons.

You are on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee in the House. Your reaction to some of these documents being, as I said a few minutes ago, at a beach club in Florida for a year-and-a-half in the former president's home. What do you think?

KHANNA: Well, Victor, on this matter, I honestly think that the less the politicians say, the better.

I have full confidence in Attorney General Garland. I have full confidence in the FBI director, Wray. They are conducting an independent investigation, following the law, protecting our classified information, as they would for anyone, whether that was a member of Congress, whether it was a staff person, whether it's a former president.

And I think that they -- we should just trust the independence and the rule of law, and not have politicians from either side get involved.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you a basic question about the classification of documents, because we're hearing from a fellow member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Congressman Mike Turner, that there are some documents pertaining to nuclear weapons that are classified, but not classified-classified.


Here's what he said.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): I can tell you that there are a number of things that are classified that fall under the umbrella of nuclear weapons, but that are not necessarily things that are truly classified.

And many of them, you can find on your own phone as we stand here.


BLACKWELL: Is that true? I mean, can I look up classified documents on my phone right now about nuclear weapons?

KHANNA: You know, I have never in my briefing in the House been told that there are things that are classified, but not classified.

I have been told, when something is classified or secret, you got to go down in the SCIF. You have to give your phone away. You can't leave with any documents out of that SCIF. And, basically, you're read the riot act.

And if you do anything even departing from that, you will be in serious trouble. So members of Congress of both parties take this very, very seriously. And I have never heard of this that some documents are classified, but not classified.

I don't understand why this is a partisan issue that the Department of Justice is trying to make sure that our nation's secrets -- or nation's secure documents don't get in the wrong hands. And whether that's in the wrong hands up a Democrat or Republican, former president or a person who just is in civil service, that's a valuable service. We want our secrets of this country protected.

BLACKWELL: Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks for your time.

KHANNA: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, there are new details about the gunman who was killed by law enforcement after he tried to storm in FBI field office. Investigators now say that he'd been on the FBI's radar. And FBI Director Christopher Wray says his primary concern right now is the safety and security of his agents.

We will talk more about the threat next.