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Judge Unseals Trump Mar-a-Lago Search Warrant; DOJ Searched Trumps Home for Violation of Espionage Act, Obstruction and Removing Government Records. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 12, 2022 - 15:30   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, we're getting even more information now related to the documents around the search of Mar-a- Lago on Monday. Back with me now, Katelyn Polantz, Evan Perez, Elie Honig. Katelyn let me start with you. Because we've learned from "The New York Times" that the statutes we have been looking for in the documents, they have them. What do you know.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME INJUSTICE REPORTER: We have been waiting to see whether the statutes would be included in the search warrant, they apparently are. According to "The New York Times," there are three criminal laws that are part of this investigation where federal authorities were seeking evidence of and that they had probable cause to believe that they would find evidence of these crimes at Mar-a-Lago.

They are first and foremost, a violation of the espionage act, gathering, transmitting or losing defense information, so that's the mishandling of documents. That could hurt the national defense, be used to injure the United States in some way. The maximum penalty for breaking that law is ten years in prison. There's also an obstruction of justice statute that are under investigation. The maximum penalty for that is 20 years in prison.


That is obstruction. We talk about obstruction quite a lot. Donald Trump has been investigated for obstruction of justice before in the Mueller investigation, was not charged. And in this circumstance, this is the statute governing the destruction, alteration or false falsification of records in a federal investigation.

And then finally, the third law that is being investigated here, whether there's evidence of it is the concealment, removal, or mutilation of federal records. A criminal law governing federal records, and that crime, if it is charged and a person is convicted of it, it does carry the clause that the person must forfeit the office -- any office that they would run for in the United States and be disqualified from holding office. We do not know. It's never been tested whether that would apply to the presidency given that that is something governed by the Constitution. But there is that provision in that law if it is charged. I should say, Victor, right now this is a search warrant. We are not

at the end of this evaluation investigation. No one has been charged with any of these statutes at this time, and the other thing that is important to note here is that none of these three things under investigation specify that there is a mishandling of classified documents, investigation going on here. The charge that is being used apparently to investigate this instead is the Espionage Act. It's not necessarily about classified records. It's about whether or not these records being at the property of Mar-a-Lago could be harmful to the United States.

BLACKWELL: Katelyn Polantz, thank you for the reporting. Stay with us, I want to go now To Elie Honig. And walk us through. We've got section 793, 1519, 2071, give us some more.



HONIG: In three words, espionage, obstruction, and destruction. So, starting with the first one. 793, that is part of the Espionage Act here, and that applies to anybody who gathers or loses or destroys defense information, but this is the really important part, with the intent or reason to believe or reckless of the likelihood that that information could be used to injure the national interests of the United States. That's the first one.

The second one is obstruction, essentially, it's obstruction of justice. Destroying, moving, concealing a document in order to interfere with some sort of ongoing investigation.

And the third one is destruction of a federal document.

A couple of really important things to keep in mind, though. These are the charges that prosecutors wrote out and said we have probably cause. Here's our probable cause. We don't have this document, brought it to a judge who agreed. It is a lower standard of proof. It's probable cause. It's not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Also, nobody is bound by this. If the proof ultimately is not there on any of these charges, prosecutors don't have to and won't charge it. If prosecutors find evidence sufficient to charge other crimes, they can do that too. So, this is a starting point. This is for the search warrant only. But it still tells us quite a bit about what the proof is and where DOJ is interested in looking.

BLACKWELL: CNN has now obtained the search warrant and the property receipt. Evan Perez, let me come out to you. And what are people to make of, you know, the urgency for this search warrant was based on the existence of classified documents there. But that these three statutes aren't bound to there being a necessity of being classified documents on site at Mar-a-Lago.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Victor, I think what you're seeing is a bit of the lawyering that's going on behind the scenes at the Justice Department. Because we know for a fact that Donald Trump and his legal team are going to argue, well, I declassified this stuff. I'm president and when I say it, it's declassified. Of course, that's not exactly how it works. At least from even the time when Trump was president, the Justice Department in other litigation, in other legal cases said just because the president tweets it or because he says it, doesn't make it so. That there's a process that -- there needs to be in order that is issued by the White House counsel's officer. There's a whole process that that goes through this.

And so, even during the Trump presidency, you know, it didn't make it so. So, that's one of the things that by pursuing this search warrant under these three laws that don't turn on classification, you know, you see where the Justice Department is going with this.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's go to Sara Murray now. These documents have been unsealed. You have them. What do they say.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we obtained them from a source. I think we're waiting for the judge to officially unseal them. But you know, we can see through the list of items that were seized. I mean, there are a number of points in the document where it points out there were miscellaneous secret documents, miscellaneous top secret documents.

Again, miscellaneous top secret documents, confidential documents. It also notes that they found an executive grant to clemency for Roger Stone Jr.

And then as we talked about earlier, various classified top secret documents on here. So, there is about I think 33 things -- 33 items in this list of things they took when they searched Mar-a-Lago. We also have the actual search warrant here, and all of these documents are signed by Christina Bobb. And I think as you guys were just talking about, it laying out the various statutes of the potential, you know, crimes that they believe could have occurred, the reasons they were there to investigate.

BLACKWELL: Elie, the description of miscellaneous top secret, miscellaneous classified, that is the degree of both specificity and generality, you suspect, because they're not going to list what the top secret documents are, right, because they're top secret.

HONIG: So exactly. Understand what the document is. It's a receipt that the FBI hands to the person who's just been searched, usually on the way out the door or a few hours after saying, here's a record of what we took. You are not going to have the time to go through 8, 10, 12, however many boxes of documents. Several hundred documents in each box. So usually, you will see this a at a high level of generality. Typically, I would see this in my normal cases -- this is not a normal case -- as 20 boxes of documents. Here, they did go a step further and specify that some of these are classified and what levels of classification. But the substance is something that we've still -- we're not going to get from these documents.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Katelyn Polantz if you're still with us. What's remarkable is we just heard from Sara, that there are 33 items on this list. This is after boxes were taken in January, after a subpoena going into the meeting in June, and still there were items that belonged to the federal government.

POLANTZ: That's right. That's what this appears to be. I mean, it's clear that if you're looking at these documents, the way that the Justice Department drafted it is that they are very aware that there could be presidential records that would pertain to the national defense in this collection.

I mean, they describe -- they call Donald Trump FPOTUS, so that's former president of the United States in the attachments here when they're describing his spaces at Mar-a-Lago, including his office. They also are describing in some of these descriptions of what they're looking at, under each criminal law they are specifying there could be government records and/or presidential records. And so, these are things that are being described as important to both the presidency, documents that would belong to the general public, but also secret, classified, top secret, really significant information that would be kept at an unsecure location at this time, which is Mar-a-Lago.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Sara Murray, you're going through the list, and I now have a copy as well. Some of the descriptions are quite interesting. A leather bound box of documents. Of course, we've talked about the information about the president of France, but as you're going through what do you see, what stands out?

MURRAY: Oh, I mean, I think, you know, there is -- there's a lot here that unfortunately does not provide a lot of detail. You know, you see box labeled A30, A32, A35, you know, we would love to know even more about what was in those documents.

I think the most striking thing of this list, to be honest is just how many of these items specifically say top secret, confidential, secret, I mean, they were very clear also, as Katelyn was pointing out in this search warrant, where they were going to search on the premise. It talks specifically about how they're going to go into the 45 office, the storage room, other rooms or areas on the premises used or available to be used by the former president or his staff in which boxes or documents could be stored.

So, they are pretty explicit in where they are looking for these things. You know, I think we all wish that they were a little bit more explicit in exactly what they took with them when they left.

And you know, we're already getting statements, we should point out, from the spokesperson for the former president trying to down play what's happened here. You know, they're saying the Biden administration is in damage control, and they're down playing things like, you know, saying the FBI came in for a picture book and a handwritten note, and declassified documents. That's the big argument the Trump people are making trying to say the former president declassified these documents when we know there was a process to go through.

Obviously, the FBI was, you know, very concerned about the status of these documents, and we can see in the list, that there were documents listed as classified, documents listed as top secret.

BLACKWELL: Joshua Skule still with us, former agent with the FBI. Are we to conclude because some of these documents give -- some of these itemized descriptions give some details.


Like Element 1, executive grant of clemency regarding Roger Jason Stone, Jr. But then we go to item 5, binder of photos, 6, binder of photos, or box labeled A-1A, if there are no details describing what it is, is it appropriate to conclude that that is classified information if they had details that are unclassified or declassified, that they would have listed them here?

JOSHUA SKULE, FORMER FBI EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR INTELLIGENCE: I think it's both, Victor, to be honest with you. I think the box could have other information in it or it could be unclassified. To your point earlier, they're not going to list out the top secret SCI document. Some of these titles are classified in and of themselves. So, not just the document but even the title or the code word.

And so, I think when you're doing a search like this, sometimes you're taking documents, you're putting them into a box, you're labeling it, and you'll give them a more details account at a later date, knowing that you did not go through and label every single document. It depends on the volume.

BLACKWELL: Evan Perez, you have certainly in your beat, seen and covered these documents before in other cases. I don't want to lose the forest through the trees here. I am holding a search warrant for the home of a former president of the United States.

PEREZ: Right, exactly.

BLACKWELL: And items that were taken as part of a search. When you see this document, in whole and in specific, what stands out?

PEREZ: Well, look, I think it's astonishing. I think it's really important what you just said, which is to just pause and think again what we're talking about here. We're talking about a search of the former president of the United States' home. We're talking about an investigation, according to these documents, that has to do with potential violations of the Espionage Act, of obstruction of justice, of the mutilation and removal of federal documents. That's what we're talking about, and this is a process. This is something that has been in the works and in dispute for roughly about 18 months.

Where, you know, the National Archives has been asking for these. The Justice Department and the FBI have been asking for these documents. They served a subpoena, received some of these documents, and yet, on Monday, when they went, they took away apparently about 20 boxes, 11 different sets of documents of various levels of classification.

So, over, Victor, over the period of months, we're talking about the former president was hanging on to documents that, you know, according to this -- the receipt that they got, you know, includes very sensitive information.

I guess secondly, I would point out that, you know, trying to maybe counter program to what the former president has been saying about how the FBI disrespected his home. You know, it really does describe here where the FBI was allowed to go, his office, storage rooms, and other rooms that were part of the premises that were -- you know, the jurisdiction of the former president. It specifically says you can't go everywhere in this property.

I think that's very important because, again, the portrayal that you've had for the last few days is that FBI agents run amuck. And it's clear that there was a lot of deference that was given because this man is the former president of the United States. Donald Trump may not think that there was any, but you can tell from what they did that there was a great deal of deference given to him because of who he was.

BLACKWELL: Caroline Polisi, we've talked about these three statutes, the criminal statutes, also the Presidential Records Act, any presidential records created during the term. I assume you too have a copy of this. What stands out to you?

CAROLINE POLISI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, this is just more confirmation that this goes far beyond a mere violation of the Presidential Records Act, which really is a toothless act in and of itself. It doesn't have an enforcement mechanism. These are heavy hitting criminal statutes, espionage, obstruction of justice, as was noted, the maximum prison sentence for just one of these crimes is 20 years in prison. So, this is a very big deal, and just more confirmation of what, you know, we knew all along which is that, you know, Merrick Garland wouldn't have taken this by all accounts extraordinary step if it weren't absolutely necessary for the protection, you know, of the country.

BLACKWELL: An update here, Sara Murray obtained this from a source at the top or near the top of the hour. We now know that the judge has unsealed the document, and we'll be able to share more of it with you.


Again, the judge has unsealed the warrant and the receipt for property after this search of the former president's home.

Elie Honig, you've got a new development here.

HONIG: A small point and a big point. Here's the small point. If people are looking at this -- and it's now available on the Internet -- and wondering why would the FBI be so general. Why would we just see box labeled A-35? Why wouldn't they give us more detail? Because this is an on the spot document. It's the receipt that the FBI hands over to the person who's just been searched.

And we have confirmation of that because we see that it was signed the way you would sign an invoice by Christina Bobb, the lawyer for Donald Trump, 6:19 p.m. on August 8, the day of the search. That's before we even knew about the search. So, that's the nature of these documents. Nobody should conclude the FBI or DOJ was trying to hide something. These are on the spot receipts.

BLACKWELL: That an important point. Because if you were there and you were just kind of writing down -- and I've been in places, I remember I was at, gosh, the San Bernardino shooter's home and they took some items and left the receipt on the table. And it was very hand written, general of what was there. This is what is produced on site before they pack up and go.

HONIG: Exactly, when you're talking about documents, you can't possibly delineate all the documents. If you seize tangible items in a drug case, guns, you say however many kilos, however many guns, that's easy. But in a documents case like this, really the best you can do is box of documents. So, nobody is trying to hide the ball here.

The bigger picture pointed to what you and Evan were seeing. Not only is this a search warrant of the former president of the United States. The crimes that are not even quite alleged -- that's not even the way to put it -- but the crimes that Justice Department prosecutors went to a judge and made a showing of probable cause here, that's significant. That's not what you need to charge, but that's significant. Espionage, destruction of documents, and obstruction of justice. I mean, if you do step back, that is a remarkable moment.

BLACKWELL: Is ambassador Norm Eisen with us as well? Ethics czar, the Obama administration. Is the case that they have to prove as simple as these documents were classified, they were at Mar-a-Lago, there is the violation. How far -- how difficult is it to prove that the former president is guilty of these statutes?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, three points, Victor. Technically, each of these three crimes as to which probable cause has been found by a court, has a set of elements. And technically, yes, it's as simple as that. But it's never really as simple as that when you're going against a former president. They're going to have to show serious offenses. And that's why the volume of what we have here, these approximately 20 boxes, these 11 sets, the top secret SCI, our nation's most sensitive information that is the most dangerous for our national security. And the pattern that we've heard about of the Justice Department trying and trying to get them, even subpoenaing them, they're held back. That's why all of that is so important to build a powerful case.

And one other point. On that 15-19 potential, 15-19 obstruction charge, that is for the destruction of documents potentially. So, it may not just be the case that we have -- we know there's been reporting about a potential informant. This may not just be a case about what they got, which is bad enough. A potential knife strike against the heart of our national security. But it may be about what has been destroyed. And others have been prosecuted for that, including the former national security adviser in the Clinton administration, Sandy Berger.

So, this pattern of charges, we laid out an in depth analysis this weekend, just security of what the crimes as to which probable cause only have been found, important to remember, what they might be. Very important details that are emerging as we speak.

BLACKWELL: Let's go back now to Sara Murray. Item one, as I mentioned before, this executive grant of clemency for Roger Stone. I understand Roger Stone now has something he wants to share.

MURRAY: Yes, the first item listed there, a spokesperson for Roger Stone is saying this.

Mr. Stone has no knowledge as to the facts surrounding his clemency documents appearing on the inventory of items seized from former President Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago.

And you know, we should remind people Roger Stone was convicted of lying to Congress some years ago. Donald Trump granted him clemency when he was leaving the White House. So, we don't know if that's what this is, that past grant of clemency. If this is, you know, another new document that perhaps never came to light. We just don't know exactly what this line item is referring to. But obviously, Roger Stone through his spokesperson is saying hey, don't look at me. I don't know what this is about either.

BLACKWELL: Carolyn Polisi, we just heard from Ambassador Eisen. This 15-19 speaks to the potential destruction of documents.


If that is what is alleged, would we find that in the affidavit and necessarily not here if that's specifically why that's relevant?

POLISI: Definitely not going to find it in what is going to be unsealed today. Potentially, you might have hints about it in the affidavit, which again, could be a very lengthy document which we will not see unless there is an indictment at some point in the future. Laying out all of the investigative steps that the DOJ and FBI took prior to submitting the warrant for sign-off by a magistrate in order to get to the probable cause standard in order to search Mar-a-Lago.

Now obviously, if we're talking about destruction of documents, one needs to have known about those documents existing at some point in time. So, one would have to have information regarding the existence of those documents.

I would just note, in general, you know, when you're talking about the criminal law, criminal statutes, there is a knowledge requirement and you know, Donald Trump has been very adept at saying I didn't know, I didn't know, or I was unaware, or burying his head in the sand, as it were. This type of information is not the type of information that just winds up at a beach club in Florida from Washington, D.C. So, it's going to be very difficult for him to deny the knowledge element of all of these potential charges.

BLACKWELL: Josh Skule, I think that's an important point that alleged that something had been destroyed, one has to know that it existed. Is it clear that or should -- I should ask the question this way -- should authorities know the full universe of documents that exist so they know what is missing? Essentially, these have been in a beach club for a year and a half. We've asked the question about why they didn't know that they were missing or where they were up to this point. But if documents had been destroyed, do they know specifically which ones those likely are?

SKULE: I would say Victor they could know which ones they are, right. If they have had other reporting or had viewed them at another time as was reported I think in May, and they are no longer part of the records that were taken during this search. They could conclude that they were destroyed. They could conclude that they were moved to another location. We don't know. And I think that's important.

What triggered the search warrant in the time leading up to from the meeting in May to now, what was the urgency associated with it. Also, to the former president's point that he declassified many of this, as many of your guests have said, the president is the ultimate declassification authority and he can decide to declassify. It's really whether he should. Anyone can put our secrets at great risk. Sources and methods at grave risk.

BLACKWELL: Headline here, Elie, the Espionage Act. I mean, that has been -- that is the top of the list here of the statutes relevant.

HONIG: Yes, let's run through exactly what that means. Because espionage, obviously a big word, a loaded word. All sorts of connotations, denotations. But here's legally what would have to be proved. And again remember, this is something that prosecutors establish probable cause without being contested by Donald Trump or anybody else, to the satisfaction of a federal judge. It basically means to destroy or remove or hide or conceal or any of those synonyms any information that is defense information with the intent or that reason to believe that the removal of that information will be harmful to U.S. national security interests. So that's what it means. It is a very, very big deal. And that means DOJ was able to establish this at least to the satisfaction of a judge by probable cause.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and as we move forward, the next steps here. You expect that we're not going to hear a whole lot from DOJ now after this until they make a decision. This was rare enough, but for there to be another step publicly would be highly unlikely.

HONIG: Yes, legally and publicly, putting aside the politics here, the next time anything to do with this search would surface is if -- and we have no idea whether this will happen -- but if somebody is charged. And what happens then is DOJ will produce to whoever that person may be, say hey, we did a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago on August 8th. Here's the evidence we got. That defendant will have an opportunity to challenge it -- surely, he will.

He'll make a motion, a fairly standard motion with the judge saying they violated my rights. This search went too far. The search was not justified, et cetera. And then the judge in that case will decide yes or no. And if the answer is it was fine, then DOJ can use the evidence. And if the answer is they violated some rights, then they cannot use the evidence. But unless and until there's a charge putting aside further theatrics and politics, we probably won't hear much on the legal record about this search warrant for quite a while.

BLACKWELL: On the legal side, but politically.

HONIG: Politically, it's all in play.


BLACKWELL: We're going to hear all of it. Listen, we have had a flood of new information come in today, the top of the list, the unsealing of this warrant and the property receipt. Including one set of the most classified federal information, three sets of secret documents, confidential documents as well.

Our coverage of this unsealing continues now on "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper.