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Trump Lawyer Claimed in June No More Classified Documents at Mar-a-Lago; U.S. Lawmakers Visit Taiwan on Heels of Pelosi's Recent Trip; Al Qaeda Presence Not "Reconstituted" in Afghanistan. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 10:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga.


This morning new details about the leadup to the FBI search of former President Trump's estate. Sources tell CNN that a member of Trump's legal team had signed a statement back in June claiming there were no more classified materials at the Mar-a-Lago. We have since learned that was not the case.

GOLODRYGA: According to the "New York Times," the DOJ also subpoenaed surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago including views from outside the storage room where documents were held. A source telling them the footage, quote, "showed after one instance in which Justice Department officials were in contact with Mr. Trump's team, boxes were moved in and out of that room."

We're also monitoring the former president's evolving response to this search. He now says the documents taken fall under attorney-client privilege and that he wants them back immediately.

SCIUTTO: Let's begin with CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz.

Katelyn, a lot of developments and things that move very quickly since last Monday. Tell us what the latest is in this investigation.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim and Bianna, one of the most important things that we learned just in the last few days since we saw this search warrant is that in June we have a little bit more of what happened there that led up to this. So in June a lawyer for former President Donald Trump did attest in writing to the Justice Department that there would be no more classified documents that could be found at Mar-a-Lago.

At that time, the Justice Department was also subpoenaing everything that they had trying to get it back. Still, the Justice Department did find it necessary to go in and do this search on Monday. They clearly believed that they would find something when they went into the property and indeed, they did. They were able to recover 11 sets of documents marked as classified at every level of classification, confidential, secret, top secret, even the type of documents that are specialized compartmented so they should never be outside of a secured room, a SCIF.

And so now the Justice Department is going to be working through all of those boxes. We know that those boxes and the documents in them will become evidence in this ongoing criminal probe. Also, any of those interactions that would have taken place between Trump's team and the Justice Department, those will all become part of the Justice Department's possibility of bringing a case, if they want to charge a case. They also will try and figure out who may have touched these things, who may have seen them especially if they didn't have a classification status.

And then finally, there is Donald Trump. He is out there. He's speaking about this, but the one thing he said so far, he said I respectfully request that these documents be immediately returned to the location from which they were taken. That's something he said on social media over the weekend. He has not had his lawyers file anything in court that would indicate that they're going to demand a return from the Justice Department or demand that it go through a special process to make sure those documents are OK for the Justice Department to look at.

And we also know that he and others around him have tried to claim that he declassified everything in this collection when he was still president. Now that is immaterial related to the specific laws that are being looked at here, and I know Adam Schiff, the House Intel chair, he was on CBS on Sunday, he also had a comment on this. This is what Schiff had to say.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The idea that 18 months after the fact Donald Trump could simply announce well, I'm, you know, retroactively declassifying or whatever I took home had the effect of declassifying them is absurd but nonetheless, the statutes the Justice Department are asserting in the search warrant don't even require that they still be classified. If they would be damaging to national security, it's a problem. It's a major problem.


POLANTZ: So Schiff is one of these lawmakers now in the House that is asking for both a classified briefing and a damage assessment on how severe this breach was, if there was indeed a breach of classified information, being done by the intelligence community and leadership there -- Jim and Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Katelyn Polantz, thank you.

Well, joining us now to discuss is David Shapiro. He's a former FBI agent and currently a distinguished lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

David, great to have you on. So I would imagine that one big part of this investigation will be the former president's intent. How will his evolving story line weigh in on that investigation, given that he initially said he was cooperating with the DOJ, then he claimed that they planted these documents, then he said that he declassified them and now he's citing attorney-client privilege?


DAVID SHAPIRO, FORMER FBI AGENT: Well, in many respects his intent might not matter for some kinds of information and documents. However, the activities and omissions of Mr. Trump to date strike me as a high level legal chess game going on and I think the public is in for a wild ride, especially in light of the confidentiality and secrecy of many of the underlying documents and information.

SCIUTTO: To the argument that the president can declassify and he somehow had categorically declassified all these documents, we've heard from John Bolton who had served earlier in his term as president's former National Security adviser, saying he was aware of no sort of standing order. And we also know that the standards or the practices are, to go through a process to do that just doesn't happen automatically. But legally, what does the law say on that question?

SHAPIRO: Well, many of these documents would need to be declassified by a meeting or cooperation with agency heads that might have prepared and obtained the intelligence in these documents, so it would be highly unusual for the president to be able to declassify information that was classified as top secret, and especially, the sensitive compartmented intelligence and information by other agency heads. It's a cooperative process, Jim.

GOLODRYGA: What do you make of the DOJ subpoenaing the video for 60 days surrounding outside of the president's office there? What could they possibly be seeing or have they seen in this video and what does that tell you about any potential sources that they had close to the president?

SHAPIRO: Yes, that's a brilliant investigative technique and perhaps the source or sources would be identified in the affidavit for the search warrant. But I have to respect that sort of investigative technique. It may suggest the state of mind, the motives, the plan of Mr. Trump and his team and arguably it may just as well indicate perhaps innocence without convicting the individual earlier.

Arguably, he could have been moving in documents and oops, I should have had these in there, and moving out documents that were, quote, "executive privileged."

SCIUTTO: That's a good point. I do want to ask you given that you yourself were a former agent for the FBI, what your reaction is to seeing the targeting of these agents right now, the criticism of the agency, the doxing of agents as it's known? What's your reaction to see that as someone who served in the bureau?

SHAPIRO: Well, it's feckless conduct. Shooting the messenger has never worked for thousands of years in our world. It's a red herring, it's a distraction, it's an insult to the integrity of agents and this is not to suggest that every agent has a high level of integrity. You know, I'm not naive, but I mean this attack on the rule of law tangentially is suspect to me.

GOLODRYGA: Where do you see the investigation moving forward now? Now the president is arguing and claiming attorney privilege. I mean, what do you expect to see out of the DOJ next and do you think that there will be pressure enough to have them release the affidavit in a redacted form?

SHAPIRO: Well, Bianna, that's a good question. The pressure will be intense but I don't believe it will be effective. Affidavits are not normally released. If no charges are filed, it won't be released. If charges are filed, the underlying information will be released to the Trump team and it will be up to the Trump team perhaps to publicize it. But the establishment of probable cause when we take a step back is something that is tested in the courts.

So this will have a resolution, though, with the nature of information of underlying intelligence, I suspect that many of us will not get that closure because what we really want to know is what the heck is in there? You know, what is this National Defense information, you know, the details? But I'm not sure we'll have a legal right and opportunity to view those.

SCIUTTO: Yes. David Shapiro, thanks so much for helping us understand. We appreciate it.

Joining me now to discuss the effects on intelligence here, central of course to the investigation, former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

Director Clapper, thanks for joining us this morning.


SCIUTTO: So first, with the caveat that none of us know the true extent of these documents. We do know some outlines, you know, the categories of intelligence included right up to the level as it's known top secret-special compartmentalized information.


You served in intelligence for decades. Based on what we know so far, what is the potential danger to national security? Is that something folks at home should be concerned about?

CLAPPER: Well, potentially it is, Jim, but as you alluded, we actually don't know the content of these documents. You know, we have a general -- a generic listing of them and as you know in the case of intelligence, what's really critical here is often the source or method of the acquisition, the means by which the information was collected, and in the absence of knowing that and the content of these documents, and I'm speaking specifically exclusively here of intelligence, there are other kinds of data, information that are subject to the same levels of classification but it's a different criterion than it is in the case of intelligence. So potentially, in the case of top secret documents, which, you know,

exceptionally could cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security, it's potentially and I emphasize that word quite concerning but in the absence of knowing the content, you know, it's really hard to say.

SCIUTTO: To that point, we actually have both the Democratic and Republican Senator Mark Warner, Marco Rubio now calling for the administration to release more details on this. Warner, of course, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rubio, the panel's top Republican.

You have competing interests here, right, because on the one hand, folks want to understand why the FBI, DOJ took this step. On the other hand, you have sensitive information. That understandably intel agencies don't want floating around out there.

If you were in a position to advice on this question of to release more details about the documents contained in those boxes, what would you advice the president? Would you say that's a good idea, that's acceptable?

CLAPPER: Well, actually, I do think it's appropriate at this point for the Intelligence Oversight Committees both in the House and the Senate to ask for a damage assessment of the intelligence documents, and what that would entail then would be the originator of those documents then would have a say, a prominent say in the level of sensitivity and the potential damage that could accrue if those documents were exposed.

That would be within classified channels, though, within the committee. So it would not necessarily nor should it mean public revelations. So if I were rendering advice, I'd say that's an appropriate thing to do as long as that assessment process abides by the original classification of those documents.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's a good point because of course the members of that committee would have security clearances themself.

I wonder if you could share with us during your time as DNI and other times you were involved in presidential decisions to declassify classified intelligence in particular circumstances. What does that process entail and has it ever happened as the president seems to be claiming here kind of automatically as a standing rule?

CLAPPER: Well, my experience in those cases as DNI was that such process was very disciplined and for sure involved the originating element.


CLAPPER: Particularly did involve the intelligence committee and generally the result would be that if the originating agency agreed to declassify or declassify with, say, certain selected redactions, my experience was in the Obama administration that the president would agree with that but that's subject to a process not just a wave of a wand and say this is all declassified. SCIUTTO: Yes, and you know, sometimes the public has seen those

declassified documents with redactions, with all those blacked outlines lines.

James Clapper, it's great to have you on to share your expertise.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim.

GOLODRYGA: Well, still to come, a second group of lawmakers is now in Taiwan. Why China is calling this unannounced visit an ambush? Plus why is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stumping for two Trump-backed candidates in the key swing state of Arizona?


SCIUTTO: And later, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency will be here with us live. How much will the law known as the Inflation Reduction Act really affect climate change? How quickly, to what degree? We're going to discuss that and much more.


GOLODRYGA: Well, China has now launched another round of military drills after what it calls an ambush visit by U.S. lawmakers to Taiwan. A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Democratic Senator Ed Markey made the unannounced visit to Taiwan overnight. Now of course it comes on the heels of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taipei nearly two weeks ago which also angered Beijing and triggered Chinese military exercises near Taiwan.


CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns joins us live.

Joe, Markey says this visit is to show support for Taiwan. No one is really questioning that but where is the administration and the president on this? He had been a bit uneasy behind the scenes about Nancy Pelosi's visit, even saying that military officials had warned against it. Have we heard anything from the White House on this visit?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Nothing new on this visit. But the significance, Bianna, of this is that Senator Ed Markey heads up a subcommittee that deals with East Pacific as well as Asian security issues, and this is the second high-profile congressional delegation in just about two weeks to visit Taiwan.

China of course sees Taiwan as part of China, while Taiwan sees itself as an independent country. A military leader for China put out a statement in part on social media which says China will take all necessary measures and resolutely defend national sovereignty.

What we do know about this congressional delegation is headed up by Markey. It includes also a couple Democratic members of the House of Representatives from California, one member of the House of Representatives from Virginia as well as the congressional delegate from out in the Pacific. Now, Senator Markey also has put out on Twitter his own statement

saying he's there for peaceful purposes. However, he also said on Twitter he's there to reaffirm support for Taiwan. The Biden administration previously did call the reaction of China to the visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi an overreaction and also suggested that it was essentially provocative. The Markey visit is expected to end sometime today.

Back to you.

GOLODRYGA: Joe Johns, thank you.

And Jim, as you know, the party most critical here to watch and the most to lose is Taiwan itself and they clearly are welcoming these visits.

SCIUTTO: That is no question and there've been a series of visits from bipartisan delegations to Taiwan.

Well, another international story we're following this morning, it has been, if you can believe it, one year since Kabul fell and the Taliban reclaimed power in Afghanistan after nearly two decades but U.S. intelligence assessment found that al Qaeda has not regrouped in the country since then. That prepared after a U.S. done strike killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri last month in or near downtown Kabul.

The death of one of the world's most wanted terrorist leaders raised questions about the growth of al Qaeda in Afghanistan a year after the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand joins me now, reporting this story. I mean, this was a real concern after the U.S. withdrawal that the Taliban would welcome al Qaeda back in effect and that they would regroup. So something of a surprise, I suppose, that they have not at this point.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is especially because senior Biden administration officials were saying just a year ago that they believed that al Qaeda could regroup in Afghanistan in one to two years. So clearly something has changed here.

The Biden administration would say that the intel has shifted because they've just been watching, right, over the last year about what the group has been doing and while the strike on Zawahiri did raise questions about the Taliban harboring a top terrorist figure, the leader of al Qaeda in the country, the Biden administration is now saying that that was kind of a one-off, that he was the most senior figure of al Qaeda that is in the county that went there after Kabul fell, and that fewer than a dozen al Qaeda figures remain in the country, key al Qaeda figures remain in the country.

So what they're seeing now in this declassified report that was prepared after the Zawahiri strike, and a summary of which was provided to us, is that they do not see al Qaeda having the capability to launch an attack on the homeland, nor the desire. They say that these fewer than a dozen key al Qaeda members that remain in Afghanistan are not plotting any kind of attack on the homeland. Now there is a really important caveat to that, which is that their

affiliates, they say al Qaeda's affiliates outside of the region could be planning an attack. They could be driven by core al Qaeda there in Afghanistan to conduct some kind of attack on the homeland. But as of right now, the U.S. says that they see no evidence that there's any kind of attack planning here. Of course, it raises questions about, well, we have much less of a footprint on the ground in Afghanistan obviously so our intelligence capabilities robust enough to kind of sniff out any plot that might be brewing. The U.S. says yes, that is made clear by the fact that we successfully did this strike on Zawahiri.

SCIUTTO: Wow. Remarkable. 12, 12 senior fighters there. That's a remarkably low number.

Natasha Bertrand, thanks so much.

GOLODRYGA: Well, up next, the odds are not in favor of Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney in tomorrow's Republican primary.


We'll take you there live with details on what might be next if she loses.


GOLODRYGA: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is making a four-state campaign swing this week to boost Trump-backed candidates. His first stop was in Arizona last night appearing with Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for governor, among others.