Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Trump Lawyer Claimed In June No More Classified Docs At Mar-a- Lago; FBI, DHS Warn Of Jump In Threats After Mar-a-Lago Search; Taliban Fighters Celebrate In The Streets Of Kabul; House Republicans Issues Scathing Report On Afghanistan Withdrawal. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 09:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Local people get. We've had a lot of news but there obviously is going to be a lot of, you would expect, public support to get home. Nine years in prison. That sentence is very long.

BERMAN: Ridiculous sentence.

All right. Glad to see you. You get no days off. You had to work Sunday, you're back here today.

KEILAR: It was fun, though. It was great to have a long week this week.

All right, CNN's coverage continues right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Bianna Golodryga. Our top story this morning, more fallout from the FBI search of President Trump's Mar-a-Lago home. Sources telling CNN at least one of the former president's attorney signed a written statement back in June claiming there were no more classified materials at Mar-a-Lago. Something we now know to be false.

Now that letter raising new questions about the number of people who may have exposure in the ongoing investigation into Trump's handling of classified documents.

SCIUTTO: And now after last week's FBI seizure of 11 sets of classified documents, some of which were marked as top secret SCI, the highest level of classification, top Democrats are asking U.S. intelligence leaders for a congressional briefing as well as damage assessment.

Since last Monday's search, the former president's response to the search warrant has shifted. His latest claim that any documents taken from fall under attorney-client privilege and should be returned immediately.

Let's begin with the latest this morning surrounding the investigation. CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz, she's been covering this from the beginning.

So, Katelyn, first, new details this morning about what exactly was in these documents, but also questions about who had access to them down there.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, Jim, what might be in these documents we don't actually know because if they are still classified and remain to be classified, we may never know what is exactly in them. But over the weekend we did hear from two different House committees led by Democrats calling for both classified briefings to explain what was found here. And also they want a damage assessment to be done by the executive branch, by the intelligence community, the director of National Intelligence, in fact.

So I want to go back to what was found at Mar-a-Lago because it's very important. What we know is that there was a lawyer who attested in June, who was working for Donald Trump, who told federal investigators that there was no more classified information left there to be found. But then whenever the FBI did go in on Monday to do the search of the building, they found 33 items, 11 of which had sets of classified records in them. And they were labeled at all of the different classified levels within the federal system.

So even the ones that are the most secret should never be contained anywhere outside of very secure rooms. And so now the Justice Department is going to look through what is in those boxes. They're also going to be looking at all of that communication that they had with the Trump team over the past couple of months. That will play into whether or not they decide they want to bring charges. And then finally, as mentioned, they're going to want to look to see if anyone had access to these documents or looked at them or talked about them that was not supposed to. People that wouldn't have had clearances.

GOLODRYGA: And Katelyn, we continue to hear from Republicans going back a week now since we first heard that the FBI had searched the former president's home there at Mar-a-Lago, that they're not satisfied with how forthcoming the DOJ is being. They were calling the Attorney General Merrick Garland to testify then. They continue to do so, even though he unsealed the warrant.

POLANTZ: That's right. Well, of course, the warrant isn't the end of the story here. We still have not seen the narrative, the affidavit. But Representative Mike Turner, he was on "NEW DAY" yesterday. He is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, so he is the top Republican on that committee. He seemed to agree with these calls to want to learn more. But he also cast a little doubt and was downplaying his belief that there would be something serious in these documents. Here's Turner yesterday.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): Attorney General Garland needs to provide these materials. You have bipartisan calls to do that. Put the materials in a room, let us see them and then we can tell you what our answer is and what our, you know, discernment is of whether or not this is a true national security threat or whether or not this is an abuse of discretion by Attorney General Garland.

KEILAR: Do you take home documents marked special access?



POLANTZ: Now, remember, Attorney General Garland when he spoke publicly in that unusual statement from him did make clear that he believed that this sort of step would only take place and he would only approve something like this if it was absolutely necessary to seize back these items. And remember, too, whether or not these are classified, any federal records in the possession of Donald Trump, a private citizen, are no longer his to keep.

SCIUTTO: Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much for covering.


Joining us now to discuss David Laufman, he's former chief of counterintelligence at the DOJ, and John Dean, who served as White House counsel for President Nixon, testified to Congress as a witness during the Watergate scandal.

Good to have you both on. David, I wonder if I can begin with you because you have direct experience with these kinds of investigations, including the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and that involving David Petraeus' handling of classified information. What happens next in this investigation, particularly on the line of what the risk was to these documents and who might have had access to them while they were in the president's home?

DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER CHIEF OF COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, DOJ: The Department of Justice prosecutors will take a new line of investigative activity. They will closely review these classified materials recovered from Mar-a-Lago. They will confer with U.S. intelligence agencies that generated the collection, resulting in the preparation of these reports, they'll conduct whatever additional interviews they need to, to determine how it was these documents were brought to Mar-a-Lago in the first place, who was involved in the decisions at the White House to bring them there, to what extent was the former president involved, who made these key decisions, who had access, if anybody, to these documents, while they were at Mar-a-Lago.

Why they were sent there in the first place. So there's a whole mini investigation that will now commence based on what they recovered from Mar-a-Lago.

GOLODRYGA: And John, it is important to note that none of the three laws that were applied to this warrant actually require there to have been classified documents on the premises in Mar-a-Lago. So, in some cases this could actually be seen as a red herring from the former president's part. But let's stick to this argument because on the issue that he declassified all material, as he said that he did, I want you to react to this question posed on FOX News over the weekend.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Famously President Nixon said if the president does it, then it is not illegal. Is that not truly the standard when it comes to classified documents?


GOLODRYGA: You would know best, John. Your response to that.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: He made that statement in an interview to David Frost after he had left the presidency, and he was doing it to justify a number of national security matters. It is not the standard. It is not the law. He was deeply criticized for the statement.

For the Republicans to now pick this up as their standard is to take the worst of the Nixon presidency and make it the basis of their action. God, I hope they don't do that.

SCIUTTO: David, you have smartly made the point that there is -- the presidents do have the ability to declassify documents, but there is a process to do so in conjunction with intelligence agencies, et cetera. In other words, that it doesn't happen by waving a wand or just as a matter of fact. Can you explain to folks at home if a president makes a decision to declassify, which happens, how that would then have to play out?

LAUFMAN: Well, there's no executive order or statute or regulation that prescribes the procedures, the mechanical procedures by which a president must declassify, but from custom and practice we know that any decision to declassify sensitive intelligence information is a considerable action, which would be contemporaneously memorialized. I mean, from the time they did it, it would be reduced to some writing of some kind.

They would be discussed with U.S. intelligence agencies, especially the agencies that generated that intelligence. That decision would be flown down to other executive branch officials so they could flow it down to other officials. And there would be a considerable body of contemporaneous memorialization and corroboration for some post (INAUDIBLE) rationalization like we're hearing now out of former President Trump. It just doesn't happen in his head and it's nothing, obviously, that he can do after he leaves office.

GOLODRYGA: And, John, that is the point made by the former president's former National Security adviser John Bolton over the weekend where he said that he had never heard of the so-called standing order to declassify it. And he calls it almost certainly a lie. And he went on to say, "I was never briefed on any such order, procedure, policy when I came in. If he were to say something like that, you would have had to memorialize that so people would know it existed."

And John, I'm just curious to get your reaction to that from somebody who was in the know, in the room with the president as he was handling this classified information as opposed to what we're hearing a lot of other Republicans say coming to the president's defense quickly, casting doubt on the FBI, given that they weren't there and they actually don't know what the president did with this information.

DEAN: That's true. They do not know and they're being very critical of an institution that has the job of serving these search warrants. Trump cannot after the fact explain his facts if he's done nothing to memorialize them, nothing to record them.


Maybe he can find a witness who will attest to his practice, but if the National Security adviser, John Bolton, was unaware of this policy, there was no policy. So this is something that doesn't surprise me out of Donald Trump. That he makes up explanations. And I suspect we'll hear more. He's also claiming now that this is subject to executive privilege and attorney-client privilege, which is not going to make any difference either.

SCIUTTO: John Dean, David Laufman, thanks for walking us all through it.

An unsettling warning in the wake of the search at Mar-a-Lago. This morning the FBI and DHS officials are giving law enforcement and government personnel a heads up that they could be the target of violent threats. Authorities say those threats appear to be mostly occurring online, but across multiple platforms.

GOLODRYGA: And among the alarming remarks, a threat to place a so- called dirty bomb in front of FBI headquarters.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is following the story.

Jessica, just how serious are officials taking these threats?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Bianna, very seriously. Now the FBI Security Division here in Washington, they've even instructed the FBI's nearly 40,000 employees to remain vigilant when they're working at FBI facilities. And, you know, we saw that joint bulletin from FBI and DHS. And they're saying that online threats have intensified. And specifically they're saying this, it includes a threat to place a so-called dirty bomb in front of FBI headquarters and issuing general calls for civil war and armed rebellion.

You know, these threats they've only increased since that search warrant was executed at Mar-a-Lago one week ago last Monday. And our team is now being told, the FBI is actually investigating an unprecedented number of threats against bureau personnel and property. And that includes threats against two of the agents who were listed in those court records as being involved in the recent search at Mar-a- Lago.

The agents' names were actually redacted from the official copy that was released from the court, but their names were actually listed in the leaked copies that were put out earlier in the day on Friday. Now in addition, we're told that the FBI has noticed an uptick in what's called doxing. This is when online actors they publicly post the personal information of FBI employees. And, you know, FBI agents in particular, they're vulnerable to their identities getting out there because they operate under their true names, they routinely sign their names on court filings.

And, you know, to that end we also saw the personal information of the magistrate judge in Florida who approved that search warrant. His information was removed from the court's Web site since he had actually also become a target of violent threats.

So, you know, Jim and Bianna, you know, we've seen the FBI director, Chris Wray, he's addressed in the past week his employees, it was in a safety memo and he said that their safety and security were his primary concerns. He urged all FBI employees to remain vigilant. I've reached out to the FBI. They told me, in fact, they're asking the public for help. They want the public to report any threats before these violent actors lash out in what is a very heightened threat environment right now for the FBI. All 40,000 employees across the country -- guys.

GOLODRYGA: It's worth noting that we haven't heard from the former president in terms of trying to calm the temperatures nationally issuing out a statement as well.

Jessica Schneider, thank you.

Well, this morning authorities are searching for answers after a man shot and killed himself near the U.S. Capitol. Police say the 29-year- old Delaware man killed himself shortly after crashing a car into a barricade early Sunday morning.

SCIUTTO: After the crash, the man's car caught on fire. Police say the man got out and then fatally shot himself when authorities approached. Officials say the man did have a criminal history from over the past 10 years or so. They say there is no information right now to indicate a motive or political ideology.

Still ahead, a critical day in Georgia's investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election. What we are expecting in court as Senator Lindsey Graham and a former Trump attorney fight their subpoenas to testify in front of a grand jury there.

GOLODRYGA: But first, we'll take you live to Afghanistan, one year after the fall of Kabul. CNN's Clarissa Ward is there and she spoke to the Taliban about the U.S. drone strike that killed the leader of al Qaeda.

Also ahead, actress Anne Heche's family says that she has died at the age of 53 just over one week after her car crashed into a Los Angeles home. What we now know about her intentions to be an organ donor. That's straight ahead.



SCIUTTO: Time has passed so quickly. Today marks one year since the fall of Kabul and the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan. Taliban fighters celebrated in the streets of Kabul this morning. A CNN crew there witnessed groups of Taliban fighters driving through the city, carrying their weapons, waving the white flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as it's now known.

GOLODRYGA: The collapse of the country's capital city came during the rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and led to a rush and chaotic evacuation of thousands of Afghans. It was the end of two decades of war. But it also proved to be a turning point in the Biden administration.

Joining us now, CNN's Kylie Atwood is live from the State Department. But we begin with CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward in Kabul.

Clarissa, you're there on the streets there of the city. How have things changed after one year of Taliban rule?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianna, just sorry, we were being moved there by the Taliban because this area, this central round-about in Kabul has basically become a gathering point for Taliban fighters. They've been streaming through here all the day to mark the one-year anniversary, it's a national holiday. They're celebrating what they call a defeat for the U.S. forces and the victory of Afghanistan's jihad.


And so it's been pictures like this all day. You can see them, they're waving their flags, they're carrying heavy weapons. But I want to be very clear about something. Not everyone in Kabul here is celebrating. In fact, many people are doing quite the opposite. And across the country, Afghans are facing a whole array of different, very serious problems from the economic constraints that they are facing to the human rights abuses that have been going on, the repression of women, girls above sixth grade no longer allowed to go to school.

The Taliban has said again and again that it would lift that, calling it a temporary suspension. But as of now, girls still can't be educated for secondary education. The repression of minorities, women being very limited in terms of what they can do. So, it is a very mixed picture here. I would say the one thing that does unite Afghans on this day is a very real challenge in the face of economic hardship and in the face of hunger.

The U.N. saying that more than half the country is in a state of acute hunger. Food prices have just soared throughout the course of the last year. And many here are arguing that the U.S. should unfreeze those funds that would allow Afghanistan to sort of recapitalize its banks, but as we know, the U.S. has said, particularly in the wake of the killing by the U.S. of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri right here in downtown Kabul just over two weeks ago, that that is increasing unlikely.

And we actually challenged the Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesperson about what exactly al-Zawahiri was doing here. Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ABDUL QAHAR BALKHI, TALIBAN SPOKESMAN: We've made it very clear that the government of Afghanistan was unaware of the arrival of presence of Mr. Zawahiri in Kabul. So far we have been unable to establish as a fact, as a matter of fact, that Mr. Zawahiri was indeed present in Kabul.

WARD: Isn't that almost more frightening, though, the idea that you're claiming potentially the leader of al Qaeda was here in the center of the city and you didn't even know about it?

BALKHI: Again, we contend that notion that he was even present here, but even if he was, these types of incidents happen everywhere in the world.

WARD: But they really don't.


WARD: One thing that the Taliban has been able to improve here is the security situation. According to the U.N., three times fewer civilians were killed in the last 10 months as compared to the seven months that were preceding the Taliban takeover. And so there are a lot of Afghans as well today who are just simply happy that the war is over and who are now focused on the pressing issue of trying to put food on the table -- Jim, Bianna.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Just remarkable scenes from there today. Great to have Clarissa there. Kylie Atwood also with us from the State Department.

There is a report out from House Republicans, a scathing analysis of how the Biden administration handled the withdrawal. I wonder if you could tell us the highlights of those findings. And also I'm curious, do the Democrats have a similar investigation underway?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so what this report does is it paints a picture of what it calls complete lack of proper planning by the Biden administration for this Afghanistan withdrawal. And when it comes to the big picture, it says that there were outdated plans that the Biden administration had started to draft in early 2021, even before President Biden made that announcement that the complete withdrawal would happen by September later of that year. And that some of those plans were outdated by the time that the withdrawal happened.

Also some specifics, for example, saying that at the height of the evacuation from that Kabul airport there were 36 State Department officials on the ground who are able to process the Afghan documents to try and get on those evacuation flights. That's about one of those State Department officials for every 3,400 evacuees. Just to give you a sense of the dearth of resources that they say were on the ground there.

And they also talk about the fact that according to statistics, that they were able to get their hands on, 25 percent of the people on those evacuation flights during that time out of Afghanistan were women and girls. Of course, that is alarming because there were concerns that women could be stripped of their rights if the Taliban took over. And of course, we have seen that bear out in some form on the ground there since the Taliban have taken over.

Now, the administration is pushing back. They are saying, this is cherry-picked, they are saying this is a partisan investigation. They're also pointing out that about 43 percent of the Afghans who came to the United States and were resettled are women and girls.


That's a bit of a higher figure than what we're seeing in terms of those flights that were going out of the country. But we should also note that the administration itself said it was going to do reports into lessons learned from this withdrawal. And we have yet to see any of the findings from the State Department report into the withdrawal or the Pentagon report.

GOLODRYGA: Kylie Atwood, thank you. And so important to hear Clarissa Ward there push back against that Taliban spokesperson who happened to say and suggest that there are terrorist leaders around the world, in major U.S. capitals, that's a commonality. It clearly is not.

Our thanks to both of them.

Well, this morning attorneys for Brittney Griner tell CNN that they have filed an appeal after a Russian court sentenced the American basketball star to nine years in prison for carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Over the weekend a Russian Foreign Ministry official confirming that the names of Viktor Bout, that convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year U.S. prison sentence, Brittney Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan are being discussed in a potentially prisoner swap.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead this hour, attention focused on Congresswoman Liz Cheney as she battles to keep her seat in Wyoming. Will Republican voters there remove her from office for voting to impeach President Trump? We're going to break down the numbers as we know them.

And we are moments away from the Opening Bell on Wall Street. Stocks pointing lower after lagging economic data out of China overnight. China makes up the world's second largest economy. The country saw retail sales, industrial output and investment all come in lower than economists expected in the month of July. China's central bank also cut rates unexpectedly.

What signs that inflation in the U.S. peaked earlier this summer have investors hoping the Fed will raise rates at a slower pace starting in September. Lots to watch.