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Primaries Set Up Key November Races in Florida and New York; National Archives Wanted Intel Community to Assess Damage of Classified Documents Retrieved from Mar-a-Lago in January; Today, Biden Makes Announcement on Student Loan Forgiveness. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2022 - 10:00   ET




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

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're so glad you're with us.

It is the final sprint toward the midterms, voters in three states punching ballots yesterday giving insight into how voters are feeling ahead of November. In New York, Democrat Pat Ryan projected to win the state's 19th district's special election. His campaign pushed hard on the issue of abortion, offering insight into the potential impact of overturning Roe versus Wade heading into the midterms.

And in Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis will face-off against a former member of his own party, Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, winning over Democratic voters, as they look to slow DeSantis ahead of 2024.


REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL): I'm going to beat this guy.

And as long as we do what is right, tell the truth, get help from friends across the country, because if you want to help Joe Biden get a second term, we need to shut Ron DeSantis down in Florida now.

You come help me now and you don't have to worry about him in '24 because this show is going to be over on November 8th.


SCIUTTO: We're going to have more on that race and others in just a moment, but we're also following this.

Overnight, CNN has learned that more than 100 classified documents comprising some 700 pages were found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago home back in January, that prior to this recent FBI search. The National Archives told to Trump's legal team months ago they wanted intelligence agencies to conduct a damage assessment as a result of these documents being where they were. We're going to have those details ahead.

Let's begin though this morning with the political news, and CNN Political Director David Chalian. So, David, you look at this New York 19th congressional district special election potentially as a bellwether race. It has been. It moved back and front from Trump to Biden. But this race, Ryan winning by a greater margin than Biden did in 2020. And I wonder if you see that as being telling here.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, certainly, Democrats see this as an optimistic moment that perhaps in a post-world after that Dobbs decision came down overturning Roe v. Wade, that they have found an issue that ignites and motivates their voters.

And we're seeing that not just in this battle ground district, which you rightly note, it was an Obama district, then a Trump district, then a Biden district now. It's a true kind of really contested, these are rare in American politics, districts where both sides put money in. And it's exactly the kind of district, Jim, that if there was a big red Republican wave in front of us here right now before our eyes, this is the kind of district Republicans should be flipping, and that didn't happen.

And what we've seen now since the Dobbs decision in four House special elections, the Democrats have not won all of them like they did New York 19 last night but they have significantly cut into the margins that Republicans had their previously. They have over performed, if you will, what Democrats did in 2020 in each of those districts and that's giving them a sign of hope.

HARLOW: David, I found those remarks from Charlie Crist in that interview with Kaitlin this morning really interesting that we just played, where, you know, he's like I'm going to beat him and, by the way, I need the nation's support. I need national support because this isn't just about me. I'm paraphrasing here. This is about if you want Joe Biden in office again, you got to get rid of DeSantis now. What do you make of that?

CHALIAN: I make that Ron DeSantis has $130 million in his war chest and Charlie Crist --

HARLOW: 132, David.

CHALIAN: Charlie Crist is just coming out of a competitive primary that he had with Nikki Fried and he's looking to raise as much money as possible. And one way to do that is expand and try and get sort of a national donor base going in if he can make Ron DeSantis into this national Democratic priority.

So, yes, it has the benefit of being true, of course. I mean, Ron DeSantis, should he fall in his reelection bid to Charlie Crist, his presidential prospects would probably be dimmed, Poppy. But, to me, what I heard Charlie Crist saying is, please donate. [10:05:01]

I think he mentioned his website in that interview no fewer than four times.

SCIUTTO: Imagine that, a politician looking for donations.

Another race in Florida for the Senate seat held by Republican Marco Rubio. I spoke with Francis Rooney, former Republican congressman for Florida, as you know, last hour. And he actually said Val Demings has a better, the Democratic challenger to Rubio, has a better shot than Crist against DeSantis, and I wonder if you agree with that.

CHALIAN: Yes, it's a tough assessment to make in two different races. I didn't hear exactly what Congressman Rooney sort of based that on. It is, I think, fair to say that Demings, first of all, would make history, first African American female senator coming from Florida. That would be a big deal. And her profile perhaps has the opportunity to build more support out of the gate from the Democratic base than maybe Charlie Crist does.

But I just think it's sort of apples and oranges. DeSantis is more popular than Rubio right now in the state of Florida broadly, so that may have something to do with his strength less so than sort of a comparison between Crist and Demings.

HARLOW: David Chalian, thank you very much, good to have you.

CHALIAN: Thanks, guys. Sure.

HARLOW: All right. So, former President Trump has until Friday to clarify to a judge that he appointed, interestingly, why he wants a special master to oversee the review of evidence seized in the Mar-a- Lago search two weeks ago. A Florida federal judge ordered that Trump's lawyers need to explain exactly what Trump is requesting and why the court has the ability to step in right now and to explain what Trump is requesting.

SCIUTTO: To be clear, there is already what's called a filter team going through these documents to look for things that may be covered by attorney/client privilege.

We also learned this. In January, more than 700 pages of classified material were retrieved then from Mar-a-Lago before this more recent search. And newly released letters reveal the National Archives at the time wanted the intelligence community, as a result, to assess any potential damage for where those documents were stored in the president's home.

CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz joins us now. I mean, the headline here is that, I mean, there were more even documents that he was holding there and that you can reasonably say there was warning, right,. because they removed some a number of months ago.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Warning, for sure. So, what this National Archives letter that was released yesterday, it's giving us a back story, a back story of how this escalated to the point where the Justice Department felt it needed to go in there and what this letter is. It's May 10th. So, that's before a visit to Mar-a-Lago, before a lot of the other subpoenas we saw.

The National Archives was writing to Donald Trump's lawyer in the spring and recounting that we were looking through these 15 boxes that you gave back to us that we've been trying to get for a year and we looked and saw there were classified documents in that.

And, in fact, this letter reveals that the Archives found 100 classified documents, more than 700 pages in total marked as classified. That include things labeled as SCI, SAP, really the highest levels of classification, the types of things that have very specific regulations on who can access, when they can access, where they can access.

SCIUTTO: And where? It has got to be in a secure facility.

POLANTZ: Exactly. And so once the Archives realize this and lets the Justice Department know, the FBI and intelligence community both want to make sure that they can look at these things to continue the criminal investigation and also to assess whether there is damage being done to the national security. And so, there is a negotiation that goes on because you can't just give over presidential records from the Archives.

The Biden White House wanted to stay out of it. That's represented in the letter. And the FBI keeps saying, we need this, we need this, we need to see it. And the archives, they want to get their legal ducks in a row. There are some delays given to the Trump team and, ultimately, they say this is it, guys, we have to turn these over now.

And all of this illustrates how tricky this was for the Biden administration and also how concerning it was even months ago. All of this would become part of that criminal investigation now and what would be laid out in that affidavit backing up the search.

SCIUTTO: We see from the timeline, it goes back a year. That was the first time they informed about missing documents. Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Let's talk about all these major headlines from this letter overnight. Joining us is Attorney Paul Rosenzweig. He was senior counsel during the Whitewater investigation. He was also formerly the deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security.

So, you've got a huge amount of documents here, over 700, 100-plus classified documents that the National Archives retrieved from Mar-a- Lago in January. And what we know about them from this letter is that you had some of them marked sensitive compartmented information, meaning they had to be viewed in that secure facility or a skiff and special access program documents that are really, really, really highly classified in terms of who can actually ever see them. How does all of this impact how the Justice Department acted from the subpoena, to the calls with Trump's lawyers to the eventual FBI search?


PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL, WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION: Well, at the highest level, I think it makes it clear that the Department of Justice proceeded rather cautiously and perhaps even too cautiously, in my view, in dealing with Trump, and thus it retrospectively seems to have lent greater justification to the search itself. They had tried literally every other possible method of retrieving these highly sensitive, highly classified documents and Trump had just stiffed them.

I think the other thing that the letter shows, of course, is that almost everything Trump said about the search since the search turns out not to be true. He said he cooperated, obviously not. He said he declassified the documents. Obviously, he didn't make that claim to the archivist. He said the FBI planted the documents but we now know they were there long before the FBI came on the scene.

So, it's an interesting moment in time and the letter, I don't understand why Trump released it because it does nothing good for him.

SCIUTTO: Okay. So, it relates to how the DOJ went through this deliberately, but in terms of Trump's potential legal exposure here, two headlines, one, there were more classified documents taken to Mar- a-Lago and held there in unsecure conditions and there was warning that these needed to be returned and it still took the Trump team many months, and, of course, they didn't in the end before that search took place. Does that increase his potential criminal exposure here?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, it certainly does. I mean, one of the things he might have said was I didn't realize what was in the documents themselves. I didn't realize I had classified information. We saw some of that in suggestions last week that the departure from the White House was helter-skelter. But now, he's on notice as to the classified nature of the documents in his possession and the crime is the willful retention of national defense information, willful being deliberate and knowing, and he's steadily losing the ability to credibly claim that he was unaware of the contents.

Indeed, I saw reporting today that suggested that he may have personally gone through the documents and shows him which ones to give back and which ones not to, which, if true, would be more damming of Trump's intent to retain the documents himself.

HARLOW: Paul, it's interesting that the judge appointed to oversee this request for a special master to go through the documents, a request from Trump's team, was appointed, I should note, to the bench by Trump, that district court judge, Aileen Cannon. But the judge is asking for a number of things, right, for the Trump lawyers to explain, you know, why the court should step in right now two weeks after the search, explain exactly what Trump is asking for here, and also whether the Justice Department had been served with a motion about this special master.

It's notable that the judge is asking for these things. Do you think that they'll all be granted what the Trump team is asking for here or does this look like a roadblock for them on that request?

ROSENZWEIG: The Trump team is not going to get relief. I mean, the judge is asking for clarification but you really can't clarify mud. This is a suit that was filed in the wrong place. It should be in front of the original magistrate who issued the warrant. It doesn't specify the relief that's being asked for. It doesn't even specify the law that would authorize the judge to grant the relief that is being asked for.

Now, you can kind of clarify that. There are procedures for seeking to -- seeking the appointment of a special master, seeking the return of privileged documents, but they haven't followed any of those procedures so far. And given the fact that they're two weeks late probably to a great degree, the horse is already out of the barn and a lot of the documents have already been reviewed by the FBI.

SCIUTTO: And we've noted on this broadcast, noted that there is already a filter team or taint team that are looking at those documents to filter out what would might involve attorney/client privilege.

I do want to ask because you have a court appearance today by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is fighting a subpoena to testify in the Georgia investigation of election interference, basically telling that the judge that he shouldn't have to answer questions on any topic here because of his position as a legislator, and I wonder what you think of that argument legally.

ROSENZWEIG: Well, he already lost that argument once in the district court, and the 11th circuit gave him another shot. They said don't go for the whole thing. Give us some specifics about the things you really don't want to talk about and he's missed an opportunity here to at least argue for a limited disclosure by saying no, I want the whole (INAUDIBLE), it's all or nothing, and I predict he's going to get nothing in the end.


HARLOW: Well, counselor, we'll see if you're right on those predictions. Thanks very much.

ROSENZWEIG: Worth what you paid for them, I'm afraid.

HARLOW: Still to come, how Congressional Oversight and Intel Committees are responding to concerns about how these highly classified documents were stored and handled. We'll be joined by Congresswoman Jackie Speier later this hour who is obviously on the Intel Committee.

SCIUTTO: Just moments ago, President Biden took off on Marine One to return to the White House as he is set to make a highly anticipated announcement on student loan forgiveness today. What it could mean for many Americans saddled with student debt, what it could cost, what are the political implications.

Plus, a study you will want to remember. Boston researchers say they have found a new way to help the brain store memories.



HARLOW: Today, President Biden is expected to fulfill a campaign promise with a long-awaited decision on student debt relief. CNN has reported the White House is leaning toward canceling up to $10,000 in debt for borrowers who make less than $125,000 a year. Officials have also considered additional debt forgiveness for borrowers who qualified for Pell Grants.

SCIUTTO: We should also learn today if the administration will extend the current pause on most federal student loan payments.

Joining us now, Catherine Rampell, CNN Economics and Political Commentator and Opinion Columnist for The Post, Alayna Treene, Congressional Reporter for Axios. Good to have you both on.

Catherine, if I could begin with you, is forgiveness or extension of a moratorium on loan payments, in the simplest terms, is it good economic policy?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECNOMICS AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think from an equity and an inflationary standpoint, it's not the best use of taxpayer dollars here. There are a lot of people who will benefit who appear to have relatively low or moderate incomes today but will have very high expected future earnings. I mean, going to college is generally considered an investment. If you are someone like a medical resident, for example, you will benefit from this because your income is moderate today but your future earnings are very high.

So, I think there are better ways to target the people who are actually suffering from student loan burdens who are less likely to ever be able to pay off their debts, you know, maybe because they never actually achieved a degree or they got a degree that was ultimately worth less. There are more targeted ways to do this that Biden has also pursued, something more broad-based. I think it's going to will cost a lot of money and may end up going to a lot of people who don't really need the help.

HARLOW: I mean, it's a good point. Only 16 percent of this would go to households making under $25,000 a year, the poorest if you look at the Urban Institute.

Could you most listen to what Marc Goldwein? He heads the Committee for Responsible Federal Budget. He doesn't like this at all, no surprise, but here is why. Listen in with us yesterday.


MARC GOLDWEIN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND POLICY DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE FOR A RESPONSIBLE FEDERAL BUDGET: The Inflation Reduction Act saves maybe $300 billion in the first ten years. If we cancel $10,000 of debt and just extend the pause a few months, we're going to be at about that much in terms of new cost. So, all the deficit reduction is going to be wiped out.

At the same time, we're probably going to do more to increase inflation from debt cancelation than any inflation reduction from the Inflation Reduction Act.


HARLOW: Alayna, I think -- I mean, that's a big reason why even Democrats are split on this. Not all Democrats think this is a wise or prudent decision at all.

ALAYNA TREENE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Now, that's exactly right, Poppy. And I think -- I mean, there's a reason President Biden has detailed making a decision on this for several months now, but, really, I mean, this deadline is coming. He said he wanted to do this before the end of August. And it's a tough and really risky, I think, political decision on the Biden administration's part.

I mean, if there is a political goal, it's to motivate progressive and young voters ahead of the midterm elections but at the same time, we are really seeing a split among voters and Democrats. You're exactly right on this issue. There is many progressives and people like the NAACP who think that Biden needs to make good on his promise of eliminating as much student debt as possible.

I have some reporting that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke with Biden last night to urge him to cancel as much student debt loans as possible. But at the same time, you have people, more moderate Democrats and those independents and in swing states who are really worrying about the economic side of this and what it will do potentially to inflation and also adds, you know, more fuel to Republicans' fire in claiming that Democrats are stoking inflation.

And so it's a really difficult, I think, and tricky landscape for Biden to navigate and it could have the result of leaving most voters unsatisfied. A lot of progressives wish that this would be a bigger announcement, canceling more student debt, whereas others think that it's not the right time to be making this announcement.

SCIUTTO: Listen, everything being viewed to the prism of those midterm elections.

Catherine, just big picture as we talk about inflation, what direction is inflation going right now? It seems like every month there are White House officials and others who say we're going see this cool off. Are you seeing any evidence of that?

RAMPELL: Well, the last month of data was actually reassuring in that month over month we saw no change overall inflation because, basically, the decline in gas prices completely offset the increases that we saw in other categories that are also really important to Americans, like gas and shelter. So, I guess that's encouraging.


The challenge is that there is so much uncertainty now. We don't know what is going to happen with supply chains. We don't know if there are going to be some other major shocks, whether for energy or anything else. So, we don't know.

On the point about student debt forgiveness, by the way, I think the effect is likely to be modest directionally. It will probably add a smidge into inflation, which is not the direction we want to be going in, but it will probably be quite small either way.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Well, I'm sure we'll have you back on when those numbers come out. Alayna Treene and Catherine Rampell, thanks so much. Good to have you both on this morning.

TREENE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, many students in Ohio starting the new year online as teachers in the state's largest school system go on strike. Up next, a look at what it will take for teachers to return to the classrooms there.