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Special Master Holds First Hearing on Government Documents Found At Mar-A-Lago; Biden To Address World Leaders At UN General Assembly Tomorrow; Fiona Strengthens Into Atlantic As Category 3. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 14:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to "CNN NEWSROOM."


Right now, a crucial hearing is happening in the case of the documents the FBI took from Donald Trump's home, Mar-a-Lago. The Special Master, now that's the independent overseer of the evidence, is holding his first session to lay the groundwork on how this review process should be handled.

CAMEROTA: The special master was at Donald Trump's request, and Judge Raymond Dearie was the Trump team's choice for the job. But the former president's attorneys already do not like one of Judge Dearie's requests. The judge wants to see specifics on what Trump claims to have declassified.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Katelyn Polantz is here with the details. Katelyn, first, what are we expecting today from this hearing?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME & JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Alisyn, what we are expecting today is to see how this judge, that's now the special master, Raymond Dearie, how he interacts with both the Justice Department and the Trump team. We're listening for tone. We're also listening for timing. How fast this review process is going to be where Dearie works with these parties to go through all of the documents that were seized out of Mar-a-Lago, and especially those a hundred documents that are marked as classified and could still be classified?

So Judge Dearie, right now, he has proposed a plan to both sides. And the Trump team has indicated they have some concerns with that. So that's a possibility that could come up in court today. They're a little concerned about the timing he's proposing. He wants everyone to move really fast to get through the documents in two weeks or so. He also wants some information. He wants the Trump team to disclose specific information about the declassification of documents. That's something that the Trump team hasn't been willing to say in court. But we really are going to be watching the judge. This is the first time we're going to see him speak publicly. He is a judge that is very well respected, has a lot of experience on national security information. He's been on a bench -- on the bench for a long time since 1986. And so we're going to watch how he has control of his courtroom, and whether or not the Trump team is willing to push back against him.

CAMEROTA: So, Katelyn, let's turn to a new filing today by Trump's attorneys. They're defending this court-ordered pause in the federal probe while the Special Master does his job. How are they making the case that this is in the interest of national security somehow?

POLANTZ: Right. Well, they're saying a couple of different things in this appeal. So right now, they are defending the special master, Dearie, this person that they wanted. They wanted the special master, they want to Dearie specifically, they want him and they are saying that it is a sensible preliminary step toward restoring order from chaos to have a special master. So they're trying to push back against the Justice Department wanting to get their investigation unstuck, unpaused because that's what's going on right now. And they don't want an appeals court involved.

And then the final thing is they really do emphasize how much they like the ambiguity around these documents that are marked as classified. They haven't said whether or not Donald Trump declassified them, at least in court. And they're also highlighting that the Justice Department too, hasn't had to prove whether or not these documents are classified.

They write the Justice Department on appeal assumes without either side presenting any proof that the documents are, in fact, classified. And of course, whether or not these documents are classified, whether they are national security information, whether they are federal records, that is all at the heart of whether or not an indictment could materialize out of this ongoing investigation, Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Katelyn Polantz, thank you very much. Let's bring in CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig. He's a former federal prosecutor. Elie, can we just start with the choice of Judge Raymond Dearie, OK? Because chances are the Trump team didn't just pull this out of thin air. Chances are what we know about the way Donald Trump thinks, they chose Judge Dearie, thinking that he would somehow be on their side or favor their arguments. So do we know why they think that and do we know if they had any preliminary conversations with him before he was chosen?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So I think from Donald Trump's perspective, he saw a couple of things in Judge Dearie. First of all, he saw a 36-year veteran of the federal bench who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, so Republican, a conservative back in 1986. But somebody who also has sort of cross-ideological appeal whose reputation has been built over the past three plus decades to the point where he's almost universally esteemed and respected.


And I think, in that, they saw somebody who maybe they would be in their way but also would be palatable and acceptable to DOJ. We also have seen reporting from Axios that they believe -- Trump's team believed that this judge may be a little bit skeptical when it comes to the FBI because he's one of the FISA judges, the Foreign Intelligence judges who signed off on the Carter Page warrant. Perhaps the thinking goes, according to this article, he felt like he maybe got burned by the FBI. And really, the key question here is, do you trust the FBI, or do we need a special master? Yes.

CAMEROTA: And but also, would they have spoken to him? Would they have vetted him somehow?

HONIG: So it's a good question. I think you have to talk to a candidate. You have to say, hey, we're going to put your name forward. Are you available? Are you willing? It wouldn't surprise me if both sides talk to both candidates they put forward. It'd be sort of odd to just throw a name out there not even knowing if the person was willing. Anything beyond that, I think would be inadvisable and inappropriate. We don't know whether there was anything beyond that.

BLACKWELL: So we've now got this filing from the Trump attorneys in which they say the government argues incorrectly that President Trump cannot have a possessory interest in documents with classification markings.


BLACKWELL: We've talked about this that there could be this overlap in the Venn diagram that things are both classified and covered by executive privilege.

HONIG: Yes. If I had to boil it down to a sentence for each side, I think DOJ's argument here is these documents are classified. Hence, he has no interest in them. I think Donald Trump's response is, how do you know and why should we trust you, DOJ? And to put a third sentence on that, why not bring in a special master? Why not put every precaution on this possible?

But you're right, Victor. DOJ's argument essentially is well, if these docks are classified, we say they're classified. Donald Trump has not shown that they were declassified then he has no interest in them. However, there could be a crossover here where documents both classified and subject to executive privilege, in which case Donald Trump will say we need the special master to look at those and weigh in on those.

BLACKWELL: We also say in his filing that we shouldn't even be going to an appeals process at this point anyway. Explain that.

HONIG: Yes. So this is the last point that Trump makes in his brief that he just filed an hour ago. And I think it may actually carry the day for him possibly. He says this is what lawyers call an interlocutory appeal, meaning we're in the middle of this process. Typically, you can appeal only at the end when there's been a verdict for or against you, or when you've been convicted as a defendant. It is rare.

You can under exceptional circumstances where an appeals court will say, OK, you're in the middle of your process, we will take the appeal. But usually, a Court of Appeals will not do that. And so Trump argues here, hey, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, we're in the middle of this. This is what we call interlocutory. There's no exceptional circumstances here. You should just decline to hear it. And I'll tell you, judges often like to avoid ruling, especially in dicey cases if they can.

CAMEROTA: There's also new reporting today from our friend Maggie Haberman of The New York Times that one of Trump's lawyers, the end of last year, 2021, Eric Herschmann, tried to tell him and in fact, did have a conversation with him about the seriousness of keeping government documents and classified government documents at his home. So he knew.


CAMEROTA: I mean, obviously that -- first of all, no one -- no one ever made a bigger deal than Hillary Clinton having some sort of government -- you know mishandling he said of government documents. So, of course, Trump knew. But this is our think our first confirmation that there was an actual conversation warning him not to do this.

HONIG: Yes, it's great reporting. It's also really important, potentially to prosecutors because the hardest part of any criminal case for prosecutors is proving that knowledge and that intent. And if -- this is, in fact, the testimony from Eric Herschmann, and if a jury believes it, then you argue to the jury, OK, right there, he knew he had these documents. And when it comes to intent here, he had a reliable lawyer telling him you cannot hold on to these. You don't have to know the specific law that you broke, but you have to know that generally what you're doing is wrong and illegal. So if that evidence pans out, DOJ may want to subpoena or talk to this, Eric Herschmann that can be crucial in making the case here.

BLACKWELL: All right, we'll see what comes out of this courtroom today.

HONIG: Thank you both.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Elie.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

HONIG: See you in a bit.

BLACKWELL: Short time from now, President Biden will head to New York to speak at the United Nations General Assembly that's happening tomorrow, where he will address leaders on the world stage. The in- person gathering is back after three years of virtual meetings because of the COVID pandemic.

CAMEROTA: CNN's Senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us now. Phil, what do we expect?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know this is a high-profile annual address. The White House has been working on the president's remarks over the course of the last several weeks. And White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says the president will put Russia and its invasion of Ukraine front and center, an effort to rebuke Russia for its, according to Sullivan, naked aggression that we've seen over the course of the last half year or so. And also try and continue to rally the world against Russia and that aggression that has played out.

Now, this comes, guys, at a very interesting moment for an administration. The administration that is watching Ukraine, certainly have victories on the ground, but has also worked over the course of the last several months to really rally particularly Western support for Ukraine and against Russia in an extraordinarily effective manner when you talk to officials both here and in Europe. That is something that the president will hope to seize on, to utilize, to boost, but also to underscore that other countries that perhaps aren't in alignment, certainly Russia but also countries like China are in a very different place.


The wind is not at their back. It's a very different moment, guys, than last year when the president was coming off a very unsettling departure from Afghanistan, the United States, the president in a different moment, and very clearly trying to capitalize on that when he heads up to New York in a couple of hours.

BLACKWELL: Phil, we have some new reporting about state officials in Delaware preparing for the possibility of a chartered flight of migrants being brought to that state. The president was just asked about it. What did he say?

MATTINGLY: Yes. And, Victor, the state officials are in communication with White House officials preparing for that possibility. As you note, the president was asked not just about the potential for those flights, but also the sheer scale of the problem at the border, more than two million arrests at the border, a record in just the first 11 months of this fiscal year. The President was asked why. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's on my watch now is Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. And the ability to send them back to those states is not rational. You could send them back and have them wait. We're working with Mexico and other countries to see if we can stop the flow. But that's the difference. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) sending migrants to Delaware, do you have any comment or response to that, sir?

BIDEN: He should come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline.


MATTINGLY: A bit of a dismissive and also sarcastic response from the president to what -- White House officials have made very clear they believe is a political stunt. Guys, just to contextualize what the president was talking about, about the overall numbers of the more than 200,000 arrests in the month of August, roughly one-third of those were from Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. That's 175 percent higher than the year prior. Those are obviously countries the U.S. has very strained relations with.

It has made deportations very difficult. It also makes asylum claims typically have a lot of merits. That's what the administration is trying to grapple with right now. It's obviously an extraordinarily difficult situation and is certainly accelerating what has been a significant problem at the border for the better part of the president's time in office, guys.

BLACKWELL: Phil Mattingly at the White House. Thank you, Phil.

Hurricane Fiona is building strength in the Caribbean after already wreaking havoc on Puerto Rico. Where it's heading? We'll talk about that.

CAMEROTA: And there's a disturbing new CDC report that reveals four out of five pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable. We have all the details ahead.



BLACKWELL: Hurricane Fiona is now a deadly powerful Category 3 storm, the Atlantic's first major hurricane this season. At least four people are reported dead. Right now, it's turning through the Caribbean over Turks & Caicos.



CAMEROTA: It's already slammed the Dominican Republic, destroying roads as you can see, tearing apart buildings, more than one million residents there do not have running water. And in Puerto Rico, catastrophic flooding. It's reminiscent of Hurricane Maria, which hit exactly five years ago today. More than one million residents are without power, and two-thirds are without running water. CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray is tracking the hurricane's course for us. So, Jennifer, could this become a Category 4?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It could. We're talking about a Category4 storm possibly tomorrow or Thursday morning. It has winds of 115 miles per hour now, a gust of 140, moving to the north northwest at nine. As it pulls away from the Turks and Caicos in the next couple of hours, it will be in a prime environment for strengthening and that's what we're going to see over the course of the next 24 hours.

We still have hurricane watches and warnings in place. Turks and Caicos, still very much in this, five to eight feet of storm surge. That's the threat. We have video out of the Turks and Caicos and you can see the palm trees are blowing, the surf is very, very high. The conditions though will start to improve in the coming hours. I think they have seen the worst of it. And as the center of the storm continues to pull away, we still have several more hours of very, very rough weather. But once it starts to pull away later this evening and to tomorrow morning, conditions will drastically improve there and then we'll see Hurricane Fiona strengthen.

By Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center has this as a Category 4 storm, making a very close pass to Bermuda as a very powerful storm. And then what's interesting about this is we could see a Category 2 storm in Canada. The last time we saw this was 2003, so very rare for a storm that strong to impact Canada. So this is basically the rain forecast on the satellite. And we're seeing rain all the way through the weekend as this heads to the north, Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Now, FEMA reps say that its biggest challenge in Puerto Rico is the rain that won't stop.

GRAY: Right.

BLACKWELL: What are the totals and is there any relief coming soon?

GRAY: Well, we saw more than 30 inches of rain across portions of Puerto Rico. Here are the storm totals, a lot of areas top 20 inches, so incredible amount of rain. Luckily though, things are improving. We're still seeing a couple of tropical downpours, so if you get under one of those, you are going to get some rain from it. But the radar looks completely different than when we talked to you guys yesterday. So things are looking better and better for Puerto Rico, Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. Jennifer Gray, thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: Well, the Coast Guard is assessing the damage in Puerto Rico, many people CNN spoke with there say that this hurricane has brought in more devastation than 2017's Hurricane Maria. One positive note here, the governor says that the federal response is much better this time around. C. Yulin Cruz was the mayor of San Juan five years ago when Hurricane Maria struck. She's also the Weissman Fellow at Mount Holyoke College.


Mayor, thank you for spending a few minutes with me. First, five years later and you're seeing these pictures and the devastation. Maria was more of a windstorm. This is about the flooding. What goes through your mind when you see Puerto Rico going through this again?

C. YULIN CRUZ, FORMER MAYOR OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: My heart breaks. My family is in Puerto Rico, my daughter, my parents, my brother. On a day like today, five years ago, I would have been at the largest shelter in Puerto Rico with about 800 people waiting for the storm to die down to start assessing immediately the damages. But my heart breaks for a couple of reasons.

Number one, because, of course, the loss of property and the potential loss of lives if the electrical grid doesn't come back up with all of the implications that that has. But also because it seems like there has been five years wasted of not putting permanent solutions on recurring problems.

We know that hurricanes are going to keep coming back, especially with what is happening with climate change. And we need to ensure that resiliency is not only a word But that the tools -- and not only the money, which, of course, is greatly appreciated but the tools that are needed.

For example, I'm talking to mayors and they say I need a Vacmaster to clean the streets. I need a digger to get all the mud out and start cleaning. Those are our actionable tools that need to get to the ground very quickly, in the next 72 hours for this to begin and change from just a rescue mission to a mission of beginning to look for a path forward.

BLACKWELL: Before we talk more about the path forward, you mentioned your family is there. How are they?

CRUZ: Well, they're fine. No loss of property. My father is bedridden. My mother has a lot of mobility issues. And the issue is that as many people, they lost power way before the Fiona hit Puerto Rico. And this is something that happens continuously in Puerto Rico. I'm going there Friday. I'm going to spend about 10 days in Puerto Rico before I come back to the Weissman center. But it happens in Puerto Rico, often almost every day. They even have a name for it, Victor. They call it power relays, you know as if they were taking the power from one place and relaying into another.

What people are getting really desperate about is that there is no end in sight of when the electrical grid is coming back up. I heard this morning the spokesperson for Luma, the privatizing company, and said I don't want to be optimistic. Those were his words. I don't want to be optimistic because I don't want to fail. But in many areas, it's going to take a long time. How long? The people of Puerto Rico need to know so that the government, the central government, and the municipalities can take whatever action they need in order to avoid loss of life.

BLACKWELL: You were very critical of the Trump administration in 2017 about the slow recovery efforts and support for Puerto Rico. Are you seeing an improvement here from this current administration? You tweeted out that there is money but there is no will. Are you seeing the lack of will from this administration?

CRUZ: Well, the money is there and the will is in the central government of Puerto Rico. And the reason why I say that is the money should be directed right away to the municipalities, 78 municipalities from both main political parties. There are some minor political parties in Puerto Rico that are in municipal assemblies. They should also be part of the distribution of aid. So this is not an issue this time of money so much as an issue of having the will not to -- not to take all the power at the central level and to distribute it along the 78 municipalities.

I am seeing a difference. The director of FEMA yesterday mentioned that the main objective is to save lives. That is a stark contrast to what we saw under the Trump administration. Money that had been held up under the Trump administration has been released under the Biden administration. What is important is that bureaucracy does not take over. Sometimes organizations have a way of saying no this is the procedure. Procedures need to be adopted to the Puerto Rican reality.


For example, things need to be translated into Spanish. FEMA told a week ago that there was some difficulty in the capability of municipal governments because of the lack of English proficiency.


CRUZ: Well, that's something that's a hurdle that needs to be jumped very quickly before the money starts getting stagnated. The other thing is rules cannot change. Under the Trump administration, they would give municipalities a role and in 24, 48 hours, the rule would change. We're seeing --

BLACKWELL: Yes. I can -- I can imagine how difficult it would be to consistently get the resources to the communities that need them if the rules change halfway through the process.

CRUZ: Yes.

BLACKWELL: Former Mayor C. Yulin Cruz, I thank you so much for your time.

CRUZ: Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: And the perspective as we now watch Puerto Rico again deal with what hit them so hard just a few years ago. Thank you for your time. For more information about how you can help the victims of Hurricane Fiona, go to

CAMEROTA: So as the political battle on immigration rages on, there are new records being set at the border. More than two million arrests and encounters have been made this year alone. We're going to speak to a Texas lawmaker about solutions. Next.