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Ron DeSantis Facing Legal Trouble Over Shipping of Migrants?; Video Reveals Trump Allies Accessing Georgia Voting Machines; Trump Team and DOJ to Meet With Special Master; White House Surging Disaster Assistance to Puerto Rico. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The tent is already up on the South Lawn.

The celebratory event is called -- quote -- A Night of Hope -- When Hope and History Rhyme. John played at the White House back in 1998 during a state dinner for then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He also happens to be playing at Nats Park here in D.C. on his farewell tour Saturday night.

Thanks for your time on INSIDE POLITICS today. We will see you tomorrow.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thank you so much for joining us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Today, the rush to help Puerto Rico. Hundreds of thousands of people are without running water and power after Hurricane Fiona strike. President Biden now sending the director of FEMA there, as the scope of devastation gets clearer.

Look at these images, bridges washed out, homes underwater, roads crumbling. Fiona is now the first major hurricane of the Atlantic season. And it is still getting stronger. It'll likely track near Bermuda before moving out to sea.

Let's get right to Leyla Santiago in Puerto Rico for us.

Leyla, you just got back from touring some of the serious damage with the National Guard. What all did you see?


Well, we actually got our first chance to get into the interior part of the island. We went to go Ciales, where we could see that mudslides were blocking the road and keeping some communities out there isolated, so we went in with the National Guard as they try to clean that up.

And I got to tell you, where I am right now, Ana, we're in the southern part of the island, Ponce, Puerto Rico, and the cleanup here continues. I mean, take a look at the mud on the ground. You can see as these cars kind of go by what folks in an area that was completely inundated just a few days ago are dealing with now.

And that is because of the water. Let's talk about the power, because that's something that the governor just addressed minutes ago in a press conference. He says that he feels pretty confident that a good chunk of the island will have power by the end of tomorrow, one exception, the south, where we are right now, because, remember, this is where Fiona came in and really took its toll in terms of the water number.

So this is the area that is really going to see the impact over the next few days and still has no clue as to when they will be able to get power or water. They still don't have water. And they are just like the majority of the island, still about 60 percent of customers here without water.

And I cannot end here, Ana, without noting the timing of this. This is September 20, 2017. That is a date that sticks with this island, because it is five years to the day that Hurricane Maria struck this island and left many people with months -- or excuse me -- without power for months, in some cases up to 11 months. So that's almost a year without power.

So when you talk to people out here, they will speak of the anxiety, the trauma, the fear that comes with a day of cleanup on the day that many lost power and so much more, lives changed forever, five years ago today.

CABRERA: OK, thank you for that update, Leyla. It's so nice to see the sun shining and the rain stopped, at least in that area where you are. As we know, the flooding damage is still very drastic. I appreciate your reporting.

Turning now to the fast-moving legal fight between Donald Trump and the Justice Department, the former president's lawyers have just told an appeals court that the criminal investigation and declassified documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago should remain on hold. And they argued that letting it proceed is akin to chaos.

Meantime, in less than one hour, for the first time, we will hear from Judge Raymond Dearie. He's the special master who will review all these documents. Trump's lawyer say Dearie has requested something they don't want to give him. Trump has claimed he declassified some documents, so Dearie is saying show me, which ones? And Trump's lawyers are pushing back.

CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz is tracking all of this.

Katelyn, first, because it just dropped, fill us in right now on how Trump's team has responded to the appeal from the DOJ.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Ana, they're opposed to it, to put it simply. But the Trump legal team right now, they like that the criminal investigation from the Justice Department is on hold. They like that they have a special master in place. So the two things that are happening right now, they like how things are. They don't want an appeals court to step in.

And then on top of that, they really do indicate that they like the ambiguity around whether or not 100 documents that have classified markings on them are indeed still classified. Right now, the Trump team hasn't been willing to say in court whether or not Trump actually declassified them, which ones.

And the Justice Department -- they're saying that the Justice Department hasn't been able to prove whether those documents are classified yet too. This is a great state of affairs for the Trump's legal team. They make that clear in their filing.


They write that: "The Justice Department argument to the appeals court right now assumes, without either side presenting any proof, that the documents are, in fact, classified."

Of course, if these documents are classified and the Justice Department, the Biden administration could confirm that, they, of course, would not beat Donald Trump's to keep. And that could spell big problems for Donald Trump about these documents that are at the heart of this case.

CABRERA: But, again, Trump doesn't want to say which ones he declassified eve, though the special master in this case is also asking them to specify that.

And a reminder, Trump's lawyers chose Judge Dearie for the role of special master. And now they don't want to ask -- or do what he's asking for. So what could we learn at this meeting between all three parties in the next hour?

POLANTZ: Well, we're really going to be watching in court to see how the Trump team reacts to Judge Dearie and how he reacts back to them.

So Judge Dearie did propose a plan to the Justice Department and Donald Trump's lawyers about how he wants to work through all of these records. We haven't seen that plan publicly. But one of the things that the Trump lawyers indicated was in that plan was the Judge Dearie wanted the Trump team to say which of these documents were classified, that that is a key thing moving forward as they work through the documents.

They have really been very unwilling to say in court, because, in their filing last night, in this proceeding, they're writing that this could be a fact that could become part of a defense in the future. And so they don't want to get ahead of things now that they have a special master. They also indicate they may be a little concerned with the speed that Judge Dearie wants to progress in. He wants them to go through all the documents in two or so weeks. We're going to have to see, though, in about an hour exactly how the tone of that hearing plays out -- Ana.

CABRERA: Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much.

Let's bring in defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu now.

Shan, OK, there are these two different balls related to this issue of whether the documents are classified and what should be done with these documents.

First, what do you make of Trump's response, that formal response by his lawyers to the DOJ appeal?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think, true to form, it's a little bit muddled.

But what has become quite clear is they can't really conceal the fact that their only coherent strategy is delay. And I think Katelyn's reporting was spot on, because they're very happy with the current status, which is things are ambiguous, they don't have to commit anything, and the criminal investigation is stalled, probably they're hoping until past the midterms.

CABRERA: So the special master has asked Trump's lawyers to specify which documents may have been declassified, as Trump has claimed publicly and continues to do.

Trump's lawyers are arguing that doing so then risks showing their hand for any potential defense argument. Do you buy that?

WU: I buy that as their strategy. I mean, they want this to be a one- way street. I mean, this is really an unprecedented use of a civil action to get criminal discovery, when there's no criminal case yet.

And so they want to get as much information as possible to look at those documents, because those might be the basis for a criminal charge, but they don't want to have to commit ahead of time to saying if their client even declassified any of them. So it creates a very silly conundrum, frankly, for the special master.

And he's perfectly right to ask them to specify that. And as far as their argument that the Justice Department hasn't done anything to prove that they're classified, this is not a trial about whether they're classified or not.


WU: They're classified. That's what they have said. They're in these folders that make them classified. So that's a little bit of a red herring. But it all goes to their idea of just muddling things up and delaying.

CABRERA: They do have the classification markings, as we saw in some of the photograph photographs that have been revealed when the DOJ unsealed some of their evidence.

The DOJ lists three potential crimes in the Mar-a-Lago search warrant. And I do think it's notable that they don't use the word classification anywhere. I mean, Espionage Act violations, obstruction, criminal handling of government records, again, those don't hinge on the materials being classified. So where does classification come into play in a potential prosecution?

WU: Well, in the prosecution, Ana, I think it comes into play to show that these documents are very sensitive and relate to national defense and are national defense materials.

At this point, I think where the classification problem emerges is that, if you let Trump's team see the documents, it allows a couple of things. They can be preparing a defense, which is a little bit problematic, but also it further heightens the problem with exposing the documents.


The whole point some of these sensitive documents is to not have them very widely distributed. Some of them are apparently some of the most closely held ones. So by widening the universe of who gets to see them -- not to mention some of these lawyers may be witnesses or even subjects in what they represented to the government.

So it's very dangerous at this point to allow his team to see them.

CABRERA: It'll be interesting to see how the special that master was selected handles all this.

Shan Wu, stay with us, because we have some new reporting confirming that pro-Trump operatives spent hours inside a restricted area of a Georgia elections office the same day a voting system there was breached.

Previously, we saw the footage of them entering the building. This is the day after the Capitol riot. And now we have obtained video showing what they did once inside that building.

CNN's Drew Griffin has more.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The newly obtained surveillance video shows a Republican county official and a team of operatives working for Trump attorney Sidney Powell inside a restricted area of the local elections office in Coffee County, Georgia.

Among those seen, Cathy Latham, a former GOP chairwoman of Coffee County who is under criminal investigation for posing as a fake elector in 2020. Latham previously claimed she was not personally involved in the breach, but the video appears to undercut that claim, showing her inside as a team of Republican operatives work on computers near election equipment and proceed to access voting data. Scott Hall, an Atlanta bail bondsman and Fulton County Republican poll

watcher, is one of the people who spent hours inside the restricted area. And in audio obtained by CNN, Hall later described what he did.

SCOTT HALL, ATLANTA BAIL BONDSMAN: I'm the guy that chartered the jet to go down to Coffee County to have them inspect all of those computers. And I have heard zero, OK? I went down there. We scanned every freaking ballot.

GRIFFIN: The Georgia secretary of state's office calls what happened in Coffee County criminal behavior, and a state criminal investigation is under way.

But election experts say the damage could be even bigger than the illegal accessing of voting equipment in Georgia and other parts of the country. These operatives may be undermining the security of elections in the future.

JESSICA MARSDEN, COUNSEL, PROTECT DEMOCRACY: One of the key defenses to an attack on electronic voting machines is that, in most cases, to complete a successful attack, you need physical access to the machines.

And so these efforts to unlawfully gain access to the machines opens up a new sort of threat that we haven't seen in the past.


CABRERA: Some great reporting there from Drew Griffin.

Let me bring back Shan Wu.

Shan, your reaction to that reporting? Do you see any potential criminal activity there?

WU: That is a smoking, smoking gun.

There's no innocuous reason for them to be granting physical access to that area. And the idea that they're in there with computers, accessing the election data, I mean, it's really just outrageous. That, I really think, should pressure somebody into pleading guilty at that point, and then being able to flip them, then go up the chain as to who gave them those kinds of instructions. Very damning evidence.

CABRERA: Thank you so much, as always, Shan Wu. Good to have you here.

WU: Great to see you.

CABRERA: A new twist in an increasingly ugly fight over immigration. A Texas sheriff now launching a criminal investigation into the Florida-backed effort to send migrants to Martha's Vineyard. Why he says someone lured these people onto the flights under false pretenses.

Plus, President Biden today heading to the United Nations. As the war in Ukraine enters a new phase, will the world come together to further punish Vladimir Putin?

And slapping a football player in the face is just a bad idea all around, especially when you don't have pads on. Las Vegas police now looking for the fan who delivered this smack to Cardinals Q.B. Kyler Murray.



CABRERA: An escalating immigration battle and now a criminal investigation.

In Texas, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar has just launched a probe into how migrants went from Texas to Florida and ultimately Martha's Vineyard. He claims migrants were lured, exploited and hoodwinked. Salazar says someone was paid to recruit the migrants from a resource center, that they were lured to a hotel for a couple of days, and promised work after they arrived at Martha's Vineyard.

Now, attorneys who are repping some of those migrants say their clients were given highly misleading brochures, which listed out a number of refugee services, such as cash, housing assistance, job training, help registering children for school, and more.

But there's one big problem here. Most of these migrants are asylum seekers, which means they're not eligible for those refugee services. Florida's governor, who is taking credit for these flights to Martha's Vineyard, disputes that the migrants were tricked.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They all signed consent forms to go. And then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha's Vineyard. It had the numbers for different services on Martha's Vineyard.

So, it was clearly voluntary. And all the other nonsense you're hearing is just not true. And why wouldn't they want to go, given where they were?



CABRERA: When you look at the big picture, the numbers really are staggering.

For this fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection encounters have topped two million for the first time ever. And that's a big jump over last year's record, which was 1.7 million. So we're talking a 600,000 difference.

So what's driving up those numbers? Migrants from countries ruled by communist regimes, like Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. And while migrants are coming from different countries, one aspect does seem to remain the same. The journey to the U.S. isn't easy.

Molly O'Toole is the immigration and security reporter for "The L.A. Times" and is an author with an upcoming book with Penguin Random House.

Molly, it's great to have you and your reporting with us today.

These are people we're talking about. They aren't just numbers. They aren't things or objects to be shipped. You just spent a couple of months traveling with migrants in their journey to the U.S. Tell us about them. What kinds of stories did you hear from people on your journey?

MOLLY O'TOOLE, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Really incredible stories.

And something to really emphasize that I think a lot of people are only realizing sort of for the first time, especially in the broader American public, is that people are really coming from all over the world. The American public tends to sort of think in terms of a political contexts, people coming to the U.S. Mexico border from Mexico or from Central America.

And, increasingly, what we have been seeing -- and it's accelerating really dramatically -- is people coming from much further away. So, right now, a significant number of people at the border, as you mentioned, are coming from Venezuela, for example. It's one of the biggest refugee crises in the world.

But it's not getting a lot of attention, maybe perhaps in part because it is here in the Western Hemisphere. I met people who came from as far as China, from Nepal, from Ghana, from Nigeria, really from all over the world, and then a significant amount of people coming from South America, from Venezuela, from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru.

So, increasingly, what you're seeing is people coming from further and further away. They're often making a journey over maybe perhaps as many as between a dozen and 20 countries, if they're coming from Asia and Africa. And they're traveling -- traveling through an incredibly difficult terrain, sort of most infamously the Darien Gap, which is the section between some of the most dense, rainiest jungle in the world between Colombia and Panama.

And they all share this American dream, unshakably so. They're all headed to the U.S.-Mexico border, the vast majority, often to reunite with family in the United States already. And they have incredible stories, whether it's the things that they're fleeing back home or the trials they have been through along the way, braving everything from corrupt officials, to kidnappings, to the kinds of lies and manipulation that people try and subject them to in order to get money from them.

They're incredibly vulnerable. Sometimes, they don't speak Spanish. They don't speak the language. There are a lot of cultural differences, and a lot of physical obstacles and dangers that they're overcoming, and so incredible stories that I have been hearing over the past several months. CABRERA: I mean, I can only imagine how desperate these people must

be for them to risk the dangers of the journey.

I want to put up a map, because you mentioned the Darien Gap, which is one of the most dangerous migration routes here on the border between Colombia and Panama, rain forests, steep mountains, swamps in this area.

I mean, you talk about some of the dangers. And I understand that you got -- you experienced death firsthand, that you saw somebody die along the way. Tell us more about how dangerous this is.

O'TOOLE: I mean, really, you couldn't come up with sort of a laundry list of more risks that you face in this section.

And a lot of people are forced to migrate irregularly, especially as legal avenues are sort of shut down around the world. People are forced into these irregular routes. Both administrations Republican and Democrat in the United States, the policy, the immigration policy, for the past 30 years or so has essentially been prevention through deterrence.

If we make it difficult enough for people, they won't come? Well, the Darien Gap is a perfect example of how that policy is not working, if your goal, as policymakers often state, is to stop people from coming, because these are -- it's the most dangerous tract of land on the planet. It has three or four of the most venomous snakes on the planet.

It's one of the rainiest places on the planet, so the rivers flash- flood in minutes. You're seeing more children and families that are crossing this gap than ever before. So you can just imagine the vulnerabilities there. There was one man who did pass away trying to cross with a group of about 500 people, which is just a sample of how many people are also making this crossing right now.

And he was diabetic, a very young man, but was lacking insulin. And that is the kind of desperation that you confront here, that this man was lacking insulin, knew potentially that there was a chance that he wouldn't be able to make get through. But this was what he felt like it was his only -- was his only option.



O'TOOLE: And so the desperation that you're seeing is difficult to -- is difficult to confront.

CABRERA: It's incredible.

I'm so grateful for you sharing some of those stories and helping us understand better what people are going through just to get to the U.S.. And then to be treated in this way, shipped off as if they're cargo, is obviously something that's concerning.

Molly O'Toole, thank you for sharing your reporting with us. I appreciate it. And I look forward to reading your upcoming book.

O'TOOLE: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CABRERA: As Ukrainian forces advance, Russian-controlled areas in that country say they are holding votes this week to formally join Russia. What this signals about Moscow's strategy.

And we are live at the U.N., where world leaders are gathering to take on global crises.