Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Judge Appoints Special Master To Review Docs Seized At Mar-a- Lago; Judge Rejects Bid To resume Criminal Probe Into Classified W.H. Docs; Biden: Republicans Are "Playing Politics With Human Beings"; Today: Biden Meets With Families Of Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan At W.H. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2022 - 09:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Wonderful and to learn more, go to

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I love the babar reference in there, which of course is two Bs B-A-B-A-R just not right next to each other.

KEILAR: That's right.

BERMAN: Which is a flush reference for anyone out there.

KEILAR: CNN's coverage continues right now

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

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

And we are following several major stories this morning. First, a setback for the Department of Justice. A Florida federal judge issuing a series of orders overnight appointing the Trump team's pick a special master to review documents seized from Mar-a-Lago and effectively pausing much of the criminal investigation.

SCIUTTO: Plus, the continuing political battle over immigration. President Biden is now criticizing Republican governors in Florida and Texas for transporting migrants to the northeast, accusing them of, quote, "playing politics" with human beings.

And at the White House today, the president is expected to personally meet for the first time with the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. The Biden administration repeatedly saying it securing their release from Russian custody is top priority for him.

HARLOW: So let's begin this hour with our colleague Katelyn Polantz on the appointment of the special master to review the documents. I mean, it is sort of a miracle, as many have pointed out that they agreed on someone, Judge Dearie. I think the real contentious issue here that's going to lead to this appeal is, you know, what DOJ can and can't do, as the Special Master goes through this stuff, right? KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. And also what this judge is able to do, whether she can or cannot do the things that she's already done in this case. So the criminal investigation is paused. That's one thing judge Aileen Cannon did.

And the other thing that she has done is she has appointed special master Judge Raymond Dearie. He's a senior judge, a very experienced judge, a very well respected judge out of the federal court in Brooklyn.

And what he's going to do now is he's going to work with the Justice Department and with Donald Trump's legal teams about Donald Trump's wishes, essentially, to protect or try to protect some documents that were seized out of Mar-a-Lago from this criminal investigation. He's going to be making decisions, making recommendations to Judge Cannon, she'll then make the call on that. But one of the things that happens first here is the Judge Dearie will look at all of these records along with the parties and focus first on these about 100 classified records out of all of those boxes seized out of Mar-a-Lago or rather records that were marked as classified. Those are the ones that are going to be prioritized here.

The Justice Department has been very alarmed about those records. They have wanted to make sure that they get access to them first, that they can look at them, that the intelligence community can look at them, and one of those things, those are not exactly -- we don't know how long that will take. But judge cannon, whenever she wrote this last night, she did cast a little bit of doubt on the Justice Department's alarmism here.

She wrote, "There has been no actual suggestion by the government of any identifiable emergency or imminent disclosure of classified information arising from plaintiffs or Trump's allegedly unlawful retention of the seize property. Instead, and unfortunately, the unwarranted disclosures that flowed in the background had been leaked to the media after the underlying seizure."

So she's saying there that the issue might actually not be that any of these things were shared with anyone. Maybe there was no harm there in how these were being treated at Mar-a-Lago, she's raising that point. But now we are waiting this morning to see if the Justice Department is going to go to an appeals court above Judge Cannon to ask for emergency help. Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much.

Let's be now with Paul Callan, CNN Legal Analyst, former New York City Prosecutor.

First to that point that Katelyn highlighted there, the judge says, in effect, the Justice Department hasn't proven that these classified documents were shared with someone else, although we know and we've read the filings, the concern is the risk right of that. I mean, is that a fair legal opinion to say, well, you have to prove that it's been compromised for there to be a legal argument, that there was a risk here that it broke the law in effect? PAUL CALLAN, FORMER NYC PROSECUTOR: I'm not buying the judge's argument at all. You have these 100 documents, classified documents being stored at Mar-a-Lago in a storage room that's under where the kitchen and the dining room is upstairs, you have support staff, you know, going down to get plates to take him up to the dining room next to classified documents that are, you know, protected by a single lock. I think there's a real danger that that maybe things were disclosed. So I'm surprised that the judge says that.

But I also think that this review by Judge Dearie, who by the way, is an excellent choice, a very surprising --


CALLAN: -- that Trump lawyers went along with this.

HARLOW: Because of the FISA.



CALLAN: He's the FISA judge.


CALLAN: He's actually been involved in some rulings that were adverse to Trump in prior investigations, the Carter Page case.


HARLOW: Two of the Carter Page.

CALLAN: Correct.

HARLOW: Yes, yes.

CALLAN: So, he's an unlikely choice for a Trump lawyers. And I will tell you, New York lawyers love Judge Dearie. He's a fair guy. He's a bright guy. He can take, you know, fighting parties and get them together and settle cases, tremendous respect, and he's a FISA judge on that foreign intelligence security court.

So, perfect choice to do this. He'll get it done fast. That's my bet.

HARLOW: One of the things that I thought was interesting reading her decision, Judge Cannon's decision yesterday, is that she said that Judge Dearie should look at those classified documents, 100 plus of them, and then, quote, "thereafter, consider prompt adjustments to the court's orders necessary." Meaning, I think what she's saying there is go through them as quickly as you can so that DOJ can have access to them again.


HARLOW: Right? CALLAN: I think it means that and I think she's saying, if you find a questionable document that's important, get back to me right away.

HARLOW: Right.

CALLAN: Maybe I'll change my ruling. Because remember, he's really only looking at two things. One, are their attorney client privilege documents among these classified documents? Well, for a document to be protected by the privilege, it has to involve a legal issue being discussed by Trump and a lawyer. These are classified documents involving national security, there are no legal issues involved with respect to those.

The other issue, of course, is whether executive privilege applies to any of the documents? And courts have kind of universally said, when you're out of office as President Trump is or he doesn't have the right to assert executive privilege.

SCIUTTO: So this will likely be appealed by the Justice Department?

CALLAN: Well, I think they'll appeal it because even though they're probably happy with Dearie and -- doing the job, that they don't want to set a precedent for the future --


CALLAN: -- that would be damaging to us security. So I think they might feel an obligation to appeal it.

HARLOW: And do you mean a precedent on that executive privilege point? Because you think all the way back to Supreme Court, you think back to U.S. versus Nixon, and that interpretation of executive privilege is very different than the way that Judge Cannon is interpreting executive privilege.

CALLAN: Absolutely. And you raise a really good point, Poppy, because in the Nixon case, of course, the tapes were seized. And those tapes involve presidential discussions detailed once --

HARLOW: And to Congress, not to a former president.

CALLAN: That's right. And all of that, the court said, no, it's got to be revealed. Because the court has this principle, generally, if criminal activity is involved, those privileges are all waived, because even the attorney client privilege can be waived by what's called the crime fraud exception to that privilege, so.

SCIUTTO: On the issue of appeal, there's that issue, we're not on Mariota (ph) makes the point that the judge seems to, in the language of this decision, carve out an exception to the law for the precedent here. I mean, there's a line in there saying that consideration of this is inherently impacted by the position formerly held by the plaintiff. That is the precedent.

I mean, in terms of precedent here that both provides perhaps an opportunity for appeal, but also shows the broader implications of this case, is that carving out to say, well, former presidents are different?

CALLAN: It certainly feels like that. And it also feels like this judge has kind of stepped back and is looking at a big picture here saying, well --


CALLAN: -- a lot of people are upset about this, so maybe we have to be super careful and treat him differently. So that is a legitimate point. He is being treated differently by this judge and maybe that's wrong, because the law is supposed to treat everybody the same way.

HARLOW: Equal justice under law.

SCIUTTO: That's the idea.

CALLAN: That's what they said.

HARLOW: So it says above the Supreme Court.


HARLOW: Thank you, Paul Callan. Great to have you.

Well, this major headline that the battle over immigration is continuing as President Biden is accusing some Republican governors of playing politics with human beings instead of working on solutions,

SCIUTTO: His criticism came the same day the Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent two buses of migrants to Washington, D.C. where they were dropped off right in front of the Vice President's residence. I drove by yesterday morning.

Governor Ron DeSantis sent two planes with 50 Venezuelan migrants all the way to Martha's Vineyard.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We are not a sanctuary state, and it's better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction, and yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.


SCIUTTO: CNN Senior National Correspondent Miguel Marquez is in Martha's Vineyard this morning. You've been speaking, Miguel, we've seen it to these migrants. I'm curious what you're hearing from -- a key question is, did they know where they were going?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They did not. We spoke to over a dozen immigrants here between myself and our CNN Espanol counterparts and none of them really knew what they were doing. From what we understand, they were all in Texas, all from Venezuela, they were contacted by several -- a few people that had been talking to them. They were at a refuge or a location there where they were being cared for a shelter.


And then these individuals said, do you need help? Do you want a job? We can do this, we can do that. And so they signed on. I mean they had bad little else to do, so they said, you guys are going to help out? Absolutely.

They took them to another location. They were -- they stayed there for several days, a hotel in Texas. And then on a couple of days ago, planes arrived, they were all taken to an airport put on these two planes. The plane stopped a couple of times along the way, once in Florida, then once in the Carolinas, no one got off, no one got on, and then they landed here in Martha's Vineyard. Some of them thought they were going to land in Boston, others had no idea where they were. They were extremely happy to get here once they landed.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): There were three options, he says, Washington, Utah, here in Massachusetts, whatever was available, the plane left and brought us here. When you step on American soil, you feel at ease that you're here and well protected. You lose the stress of the journey we had to go through in seven countries. Very stressful across all of Central America.


MARQUEZ: Now the question is, what's next. Their immediate needs are being met. We're seeing a lot of the folks here with suitcases. They are packing up, the officials here and lawyers have been meeting with them. Officials here say they'd like to move them onto the mainland so they can -- they have, you know, they have asylum cases, they have friends, family, some of them that they want to get to. These are trying to be worked out now. It's difficult.

Fifty people on Martha's Vineyard is not an issue. The fact that they showed up here with nothing and have no real plan, that's the issue that they're trying to grapple with now. And we expect either by the end of today or certainly tomorrow, most if not all of them, will be on to other places. Back to you guys.

HARLOW: Miguel Marquez, thank you very much to you and the whole team for being there and bringing us that reporting.

Let's talk more about what Miguel just reported on. Joining me now is Julia Gelatt. She is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute working on U.S. immigration policy. Thanks very much, Julia for the time this morning.


HARLOW: So, you heard Miguel's reporting. Many of them are happy to be there in Martha's Vineyard. This is just one example of what's been going on in New York City and Washington, D.C. and on and on. But they didn't know where they were going and Martha's Vineyard didn't know they were coming, so wasn't prepared, so is now scrambling to set up facilities to be helpful and to aide in what they might need. What is your reaction to that?

GELATT: Right, this has been the problem with the busing from Texas and Arizona all along is that the places that migrants are going aren't being notified, there's no coordination, they don't know what time of day the buses are coming, when to show up in the middle of the night. There's no information about who's coming, how many, what needs they might have. Some people are arriving with acute medical needs that need attention right away. So this lack of coordination is really making it difficult for these communities.

And then, adding to that, Martha's Vineyard is not a place where, you know, migrants often go. There's not a network of social service providers and immigrant service providers like there are in some of the other cities. So that adds extra challenges.

HARLOW: This is certainly achieving, you know, arguably one of the objectives, which is raising the national attention to it and focusing on what it takes. But my question to you is, as someone who works and spends your career working on immigration policy in this country, which has failed to reach bipartisan consensus for so many years, I wonder if you believe these actions are in any way helping facilitate any progress on that front?

GELATT: Right. This isn't the way I think that one should go about trying to achieve bipartisan consensus on immigration reform that we need pitting, you know, Texas against D.C. and New York. And now Florida against Martha's Vineyard is not a way to reach consensus.

I think one thing that kind of has succeeded of this initiative is that now there are, you know, northern blue cities that are also asking the government for more funding and more assistance in dealing with migrants. That's something that border cities have long wanted as more assistance. There -- you know, the border cities are doing the hard work of receiving migrants, helping them get to where they need to go and providing extra support for the people who need it.

Now, there's kind of more voices calling for the fact that there's no more funding needed. But ultimately, to get out of this situation that we're in out of the high border arrivals, we really need to reform our immigration laws, and that is going to --

HARLOW: Right.

GELATT: -- take Congress, and that is just something that doesn't seem to be in the cards in any kind of near term way.

HARLOW: You did say something that I wanted to get into a bit, Julia, and that is you had said the end result here of this busing may actually be better for some migrants. How so?

GELATT: Many of the migrants that are being bused to Chicago, New York, D.C. they're trying to get to those cities anyway or somewhere near those cities. Most migrants who come to the U.S. know someone here already, a family member, a friend, might be a distant cousin, a neighbor, but they have someone that they're trying to get who will support them while they wait for their immigration court date.


The buses are providing them a free ride to the place that they're trying to get anyway, and they probably would have gone anyway, absent the, you know, all of the funding that Texas and Arizona have put into these buses and might have fallen to nonprofit organizations to pay for those buses or, you know, people would have tried to scrape together the money in some other ways. So, in some cases, it is a free ride to the place that the migrants were headed anyway.

HARLOW: Julia, thank you very much for your expertise. I know this is what you do day in and day out. So we're glad we could have you today.

GELATT: Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, later today, President Biden will meet with the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, two Americans still in prison in Russia. Are they any closer to being able to come home?

SCIUTTO: Plus, Ukrainian troops have discovered mass graves in a newly liberated town right on the front lines. This as the U.S. announces it will send another $600 million in equipment and ammunition, weapons to help the fight. I'm going to speak to General David Petraeus about the state of the war in the battlefield.

And court begins in about an hour in the civil damages trial against Infowars host Alex Jones in how much he was profiting off his lies about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.



HARLOW: Later today at the White House, President Biden will meet with the families of two Americans that are still detained in Russia.

SCIUTTO: Former Marine Paul Whelan has been in prison for more than three years on what the Russians say are espionage charges. And WNBA star Brittney Griner detained since February was recently sentenced to nine years in prison on drug charges.

Joining us now, CNN's Jeremy Diamond and Kylie Atwood.

Jeremy, let's begin with you at the White House. So, these meetings are notable here. Has the White House given any indication as to why they're meeting with them now? Is it a sign of hope?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, listen, that would be -- the hope is that there could be some kind of progress here announced during these meetings. But the White House says that that is not the case, that people should not hold their breath for any kind of major breakthrough or an announcement today that the Biden administration has secured the release of a Paul Whelan or Brittney Griner

Instead, what the White House is saying is that this is meant as a gesture on the part of the President to show and to demonstrate to these two families that their cases are front of mind for him. The President, I'm told gets updated every single day on the progress in the status of these negotiations during his daily intelligence briefing. But -- and he has spoken on the phone with the families of Brittney Griner, with Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner's wife, as well as Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan's sister. But today will be the first time that he actually meets with them in person and the White House Press Secretary saying that she hopes that this shows -- that these cases are friends of mine for the President and that this administration is committed to trying to secure their release, but unfortunately, no major signs of progress or breakthroughs expected today.

HARLOW: I mean, and Kylie, one of the keys here is what kind of swap might the U.S. agree to. We know what Russia wants, and that includes a convicted Russian arms dealer Victor Bout. I mean, what is the sense from Russia on any potential progress here?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, listen, a senior administration official describe the status of these negotiations right now and saying that there has been movement, but no breakthrough. And also saying that U.S. officials have urged Russia to put a serious counter offer on the table. But you'll recall that that is similar to what Biden administration officials were saying back in July.

So, even though it appears that there has been back and forth according to this official at multiple levels by multiple officials, through this channel that was set up to discuss this matter, it doesn't seem like the Russians have very productively engaged. And this administration official explained that what Russia has been putting on the table is repeated efforts to try and get the United States to do something that, in the words of this official, the Biden administration is just not capable of delivering on.

So that is where things stand now. But I do think it is important to note that this official underscored that these conversations are happening very clearly with the blessing of the top levels of U.S. government, clearly indicating that President Biden has signed off, of course. And with these meetings today, the President is making clear that he himself is personally engaged in this.

And I do think that this is one of the issues that we will watch closely as we head into the U.N. General Assembly next week, because the Secretary of State, Foreign Minister Lavrov are both going to be in New York. The State Department hasn't said that there are any plans for the two of them to meet at this time. But of course, they will be in the same place at the same time. So it's something that we'll watch closely. Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Remarkable timing, maybe notable timing. Thanks so much, Kylie Atwood, Jeremy diamond to both of you. Still ahead, CNN inside Ukraine where forces have pushed back at Russian advance. And as they do, they uncover a mass grave in a recently liberated city. See some of the pictures there.

I'm going to speak with General David Petraeus, as the U.S. announces another round of security assistance. That's coming right up.



SCIUTTO: Overnight, the White House announcing an additional $600 million in security aid to Ukraine, these have become regular events. It now brings the total amount of U.S. military assistance to more than $15 billion since Russia began its invasion a little more than six months ago. That announcement came the same day as the Ukrainian president announced a mass grave was discovered in the eastern city of Izium, one of the areas recently liberated from Russian invaders. Ukrainian authorities say they found 440 graves there, some of them fresh. The bodies buried mostly civilians.

Joining me now to discuss the state of the war, Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus, former Commander of U.S. Central Command.

General, good to have you on today.


SCIUTTO: So that mass grave is the result of what is positive progress for Ukrainian forces taking back territory after a very.