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Appeals Court Rules Against Trump, Ending Pause On Docs Probe; Blinken: Putin "Shredded" International Order He Swore To Uphold; Monitor: More Than 1,300 Arrested In Protests Across Russia. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired September 22, 2022 - 14:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Victor Blackwell. Welcome to "CNN NEWSROOM." Alisyn is off.

Donald Trump has had a rough 24 hours. A federal appeals court sided with the Justice Department in the case of classified documents found in his Florida State. That ruling came down hours after New York's Attorney General hit the former president with a lawsuit, accusing him, his family, their firm of years of fraud.

Now, in the Mar-a-Lago documents' case, the appeals court ruled the DOJ can now resume its review of classified documents seized from Trump's home, and that overturns an earlier ruling that had paused their criminal investigation. Let's go to CNN's Jessica Schneider. Jessica, the appellate court, they had problems -- several problems with arguments from the Trump attorneys.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they did. And this was a unanimous, three-judge panel, including two Trump appointees, and they really did, Victor, seems to take down the arguments from Trump's legal team on every level. So the first thing they did is they said that by not allowing DOJ to incorporate these one hundred classified documents into the criminal review, the court said in their words, it would impose real and significant harm on the United States and on the public since as the DOJ said, they were working with the FBI hand-in-hand with intelligence officials to determine any possible risks national security from this material being kept at Mar-a-Lago unsecured for such a long time. So that was the first thing.

And then the judges also blasted Trump's really unfounded claims that he declassified everything. So they wrote in their opinion this. They said plaintiff suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was president. But the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified. And before the special master, plaintiff resisted providing any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents.

So, really blasting the president and his repeated claims unfounded that he declassified everything. And also, Victor, the ruling also talks about the special master's involvement in all this. It makes clear that he is now restricted along with Trump's attorneys from gaining access to any of this classified material. That was a sharp turn with -- from what the lower court judge has said. And she was actually forced to amend her original order today.

So definitely a victory for what DOJ wanted here. But, Victor, it's very likely that Trump's team would appeal and that would actually put it before the Supreme Court. We could see that at any point now.

BLACKWELL: All right, we'll look ahead to that next step. Let's switch to another Trump investigation. This is the House 1/6 investigation into the attack on the Capitol. We know now that the members of the committee will get to speak with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's wife, Ginni Thomas.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. So this is actually coming from our Jamie Gangel and she's learned from a source that Ginni Thomas has, in fact, come to this agreement with the committee. She'll be interviewed at some point in the next few weeks. And this is a victory for the committee because they've had a lot of questions for the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas.

In particular, we've reported on this extensively as well, you know, text messages that Ginni Thomas had sent to Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows before January 6, encouraging an overturning of the election. Also, the fact that e-mail surfaced where Ginni Thomas seems to be encouraging state lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin to overturn Biden's win in their states.

So she'll talk with the committee. You know, her lawyer previously said that there is nothing to uncover here. This is the statement that he put out last night. As she has said from the outside, Mrs. Thomas is eager to answer the committee's questions to clear up any misconceptions about her work relating to the 2020 election. She looks forward to that opportunity.

So there'll be talking with her at some point in the next few weeks. And of course, Victor, this comes as the committee is preparing to present what could be their last hearing at 1:00 p.m. next Wednesday. Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Jessica Schneider for us in Washington, thank you.

Joining me now is criminal defense attorney Carolyn Polisi, a former Trump White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, and CNN Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger.

Let me start with you on the legal question here, the 11th circuit court of appeals. It really was a takedown of the decision from the lower court from Judge Cannon on the classified documents specifically. They are marked classified, so we will treat them as such and proceed accordingly. What's your biggest takeaway?


CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Biggest takeaway? DOJ won on all fronts. Remember, we're only talking about a specific subset of those classified documents, one hundred documents. The Special Master, Raymond Dearie, will still be reviewing about 10,000 additional documents. But this was really a holdup in the DOJ's case. Remember, they had argued that, you know, the special intelligence inquiry and the criminal case were inextricably linked, and they couldn't proceed under this order. They got the stay lifted. They've got everything they wanted.

BLACKWELL: What are the options for the Trump team moving forward from here?

POLISI: So they could appeal on bunk, meaning with the whole circuit court. It's unclear whether or not the 11th circuit would take that on, or, as Jessica noted, could they -- they could go to the Supreme Court.

BLACKWELL: Gloria, let me come to you on Ginni Thomas. She obviously had the text messages with Mark Meadows around the election, reached out to Wisconsin and Arizona lawmakers trying to encourage them to move forward with their own slate of electors. Put her piece into this puzzle.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, she's not a huge part of the puzzle. But because she is married to a Supreme Court justice, she looms large. I mean, she was sending text messages, not only to Mark Meadows, but to state election officials, and this, of course, all plays into the fake electors' issue. And why -- and the question of why was the spouse of a Supreme Court justice doing this?

And there should Justice Thomas, at some point, if it should come to that, have to recuse himself from any legal issues that come up regarding this case because of his wife's position? I think the committee did not seek her out originally. But once these text messages really became public, they had no choice but to try and to -- and to come to some arrangement without having to subpoena her. And that's exactly what's happening.

BLACKWELL: Gloria, I think we get desensitized to the detail that this is the wife of a Supreme Court justice.

BORGER: I'm not desensitized.

BLACKWELL: -- Who was trying to get people to overturn the presidential election.

BORGER: Yes. I -- look, you can't -- you can -- you can't understate that. It's so important. I mean, Supreme Court justices are allowed to have opinions and their spouses are certainly allowed to have opinions. But when you are politically active in this way trying to overturn an election that was free and that was fair, I think it takes it to a whole other level. You can make the case, as I'm sure she will, and I'm sure her husband would if you were to question him about it.

You know, did you ever have conversations with your husband about this, etcetera-etcetera? And I think they would both say, no, no, no, no, we never talked about business. And he may not have known about these texts and these e-mails, but you know, it strains credulity here to say that he didn't know that his wife thought the election was rigged.

BLACKWELL: Stephanie, the former president, we heard a bit of his defense last night in an interview to this lawsuit from the New York Attorney General. Here's what former President Trump said.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a disclaimer right on the front. And it basically says, you know, get your own people. You're at your own risk. This was done by management. It wasn't done by -- it was done by management. So don't rely on the statement that you're getting.


BLACKWELL: I mean, essentially saying, oh, yes, you believe the building was worth $750 million, you should have done your due diligence. You shouldn't have just trusted the number on the sheet. What do you hear there?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes. I mean, it's just -- it's so typical Trump pushing it off on other people, it's always other people's faults. Seeing some clips from the interview last night brought back a lot of memories of just sitting in the room with him and, and knowing all of these things that he's saying are wrong or false. And you just have to sit there as he goes on and on and on knowing you're going to have to clean it up later. I can't imagine what his attorneys were thinking. These are pretty high- stakes times. And I'm shocked that he actually was doing an interview like that.

BLACKWELL: Let me come back to you on -- Caroline, on the declassification and another defense we heard from the former president last night on how he can declassify these documents not by writing it down, not even by telling another person. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: If you're the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it's declassified even by thinking about it because you're sending it to Mar-a-Lago or to wherever you're sending it.


And there doesn't have to be a process. There can be a process but there doesn't have to be. You're the president. You make that decision. So when you send it, it's declassified. We -- I declassified everything.


BLACKWELL: You can just think of it like an episode of Bewitched, I have now declassified these documents.

POLISI: I was just going to say. Yes, you actually have to wiggle your nose and pop your head to do so.


POLISI: He's wrong about that. Courts have continuously noted that, although the president does have broad discretion to declassify documents, there at least has to be some sort of policy or procedure that has gone through so that the rest of the world knows that they're declassified. Now, the 11th circuit had something to say about this too recently, they said, look, you know, it looks like a duck walks like a duck. There's nothing to disprove that these documents are classified.

Trump's attorneys aren't willing to say it in court. He's willing to say it on air, which is a very dangerous thing for him to do. Those statements can be used against him later. But no attorney is willing to make that argument.

BLACKWELL: Stephanie, you ever witnessed -- I mean, you can't witness the man thinking I just declassified all those documents in that box. But anything short of a process that he says, oh, yes, we're taking those to Mar-a-Lago and I declassified now.

GRISHAM: No. The short answer is no. And I think to put it kind of into layman's terms, maybe for your viewers, imagine if he thought about declassifying something and then didn't tell anyone and that document had to do with a human asset somewhere in another country and then suddenly, it's declassified. And this human asset is out there and has no idea that this has been declassified. And basically, their cover is blown.

So the fact that he said that, I don't know if he was just rambling. I mean, he sounded -- granted, he sounds unhinged a lot. But last night's interview sounded just rambling, rambling, rambling. And like he didn't even know what he was saying. And I have -- I saw a couple of times when he caught himself when he said there doesn't need to be a process. There could be a process. That's him catching himself. So it was a really interesting interview.

BORGER: Can I -- can I just --

BLACKWELL: It's also important to say that his attorneys are not making these arguments because I can't imagine you go into a courtroom and say, well, Judge, he just thought about declassifying it, and now these documents are declassified. Gloria, go ahead.

BORGER: Yes. No, I mean, that's -- I want to speak to that very point. The Special Master said to Trump's attorneys, look, you can't just insinuate that these documents are declassified because they haven't come out and said it because they wouldn't. But he said at some point, you are going to have to prove that these are declassified i.e. in a sworn statement. Now, the lawyers have avoided it because in court, if you swear to something and it turns out not to be true, you can be prosecuted for it. So his lawyers' heads are probably exploding because if Trump is saying, well, I did this in my head. Did he tell anybody?

I mean, we did a large story at CNN, "18 people on the record who know about such things who worked with Trump as well as I'd say about a dozen others on background saying he cannot do this." There is a process and there is no way he declassified these documents without some kind of a signature, without a process, and so far, we haven't seen it. And I don't know if his lawyers know anything about what happened.

BLACKWELL: And we'll see if this claim of you can declassify in your head complicates it all, the next step in this case of the 11th circuit with this decision.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLACKWELL: We just heard from the court of appeals, Gloria Borger, Stephanie Grisham, Caroline Polisi, thank you all.

BORGER: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: New CNN reporting reveals Russia's military is increasingly divided over how to overcome Ukraine's latest counteroffensive. And we're seeing a slew of arrests as Russian protests. They protest Vladimir Putin's massive military mobilization. We have more on this next.



BLACKWELL: This weekend, pro-Russian authorities in four occupied regions of Ukraine will vote on whether to join Russia. Western officials believe the elections are a sham and could be used as a pretext for Russia to try to annex those areas. And members of the UN National Security Council widely condemned the votes today. That's where Secretary of State Blinken -- Antony Blinken accused Putin of shredding international order.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We can expect President Putin will claim any Ukrainian effort to liberate this land as an attack on so-called Russian territory. This, from a country, that in January of this year, in this place, joined other permanent members of the Security Council in signing a statement affirming that "nuclear war can never be won, and must never be fought," yet another example of how Russia violates the commitments it's made before this body and yet another reason why nobody should take Russia at its word today.


BLACKWELL: In Russia, an independent monitoring group says more than 1300 people had been detained for protesting Putin's partial draft initiative. A New Social Media video shows traffic jams. Look at this.

[14:20:00] Car's bumper to bumper trying to leave Russia, similar scenes are happening at several border towns. We're also getting a new video of this mobilization praying -- playing out in real life. You see here the tearful scenes of mothers saying goodbye to their sons who have been called up to join this war.

CNN's Senior National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt joins us live now. So, CNN has new reporting, Alex, about how Russia's military is now divided over Putin's new directives. Take us through it.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Victor. Well, clearly, Russia's war in Ukraine is not going well. That's why you're seeing that mobilization effort of up to 300,000 reservists, Putin says. Of course, in the past few weeks, Ukraine has managed to take back thousands of square miles in a counteroffensive that now according to this new reporting, Russian officials are divided over how to respond to.

Now one source told our colleague, Katie Bo Lillis, that there are intelligence intercepts that show that Russian generals and officers are squabbling amongst themselves over what to do next, how to counter this offensive, how to shore up their defensive lines, where that should be done, whether it's in the south where there has been a push by the Ukrainians as well as in the east where Ukraine has made formidable gains. We understand from sources that there are also calls from Russian officers back home to friends and family complaining about the direction or really the lack thereof, from Moscow.

And then, Victor, perhaps most remarkably, one source telling CNN are -- several sources rather telling CNN that President Putin himself is involved with directing the military efforts on the -- on the ground ordering generals -- Russian generals in Ukraine to carry out operations in the way that he sees fit. That, of course, is remarkable that Putin -- President Putin would wait in that way.

Now, this mobilization effort is already underway in Russia, Victor, as you showed that video there. It is deeply saddening for many Russians. It is infuriating. It is scary. We have seen protests all across the country, more than 1300 people, as you noted, detained just yesterday. We have some sound of the reaction to this mobilization order. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking in a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't understand what's there to fight for. Why did we invade Ukraine? I'm against it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking in a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking in a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'd rather go to prison. I won't fight for this government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking in a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I receive a draft notice, I'll go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking in a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking in a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To defend the honor of our country.


MARQUARDT: So you are seeing a reaction there on both sides. But, of course, there is a lot of anger. That anger is expected to continue. Victor, we should note that among those who were detained on Wednesday night, according to that independent monitoring group, several people were ordered to enlist immediately, were drafted immediately. And so that is raising fears that this mobilization order will go beyond just the people who have experienced fighting -- with combat experience, people in the military reservists, which is what Putin had said initially in his speech, and that this mobilization could in fact be broadened out to include many more Russians, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Alex Marquardt with the reporting for us. I'm going to start right there with our next two guests. Thank you, Alex. Evelyn Farkas. She's the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. Evelyn is also the executive director of the McCain Institute. Also with me, retired U.S. Army Major Mike Lyons. Good to have you both.

Major, let me start with you on what Alex just reported there that some of these 1300 protesters have been conscripted directly into the army. Now, there was obviously a morale problem, a training problem before, but if you have people who oppose this war in the army now, that obviously doesn't solve the problem.

MAJ. MIKE LYONS, U.S. ARMY, (RET): Not at all. And we know that starting from the Russian military there. The bottom line is Vladimir Putin has to get as many bodies as he can to Ukraine as fast as possible. This is about a mobilization drill. He's going to go through 11 Time Zones in Russia to get as many people as he can to the front. He's -- the original number is 300,000. He'll try to get 50 to 100,000 there in the next four weeks. If he doesn't do that, then Ukraine has a real opportunity to overrun certain areas that Russia has been holding for the past six and seven years. So that is the key right now, is people to the front.

BLACKWELL: But doesn't adding people who oppose this war to the fighting force guarantee sabotage, guaranteed defections?

LYONS: You know, Russia doesn't look at it that way. They look at it as power. They look at it as destruction. They just look at it as reinforcing the situation there on the frontlines. They don't have the same level of, you know, emotional intelligence about what we would have about our military. Sure. If we had that kind of dissension in our ranks we would not accomplish anything. They have not been able to synchronize their fires on any strategic level. And at the tactical level, from their perspective, they just need bodies on the front.


BLACKWELL: Evelyn, I want to talk to you about the rush to get out of the country. Yesterday, we reported that the international flights out of Moscow were filling up and now we're seeing this traffic at the borders. I think we have video here of the traffic. There's so much that the Finnish Prime Minister has now announced that her government is ending travel and tourism from Russia. She says they've got to figure out how to do this, but they're doing it. What's your take on the reaction from the Russian people and how this could destabilize this region?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE & EURASIA: Yes. I mean, clearly, this new mobilization has created some panic, Victor, among the Russian people. What's interesting is when you look at the composition of people demonstrating, I think it was one of your reporters, actually, on your website that pointed out that there's a high percentage of women. And if you look back in history, one of the big things that caused the Soviet Union ultimately to fall was the opposition of mothers, and they actually organize Mothers Against The Afghan War. And so this is probably a worrying sign I would imagine for Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

And clearly, people are questioning whether the government is going to hold its word on -- with regard to this new conscription because they said that it would be just reservists who would be called up. But apparently, the language in the actual piece of paper that calls for this mobilization is broader. And so men, women, you know, they're panicking. Of course, men are all -- are going to be the ones who serve. But they are all panicking, thinking, when am I next?

Now that people -- the demonstrators who were sent off to serve, there are a lot of questions to be answered there. Were they -- were the people who were, you know, subject to the draft because we have in the United States, and they just hadn't gone to their post office? They were protesting it. Were these people reservists with military service? You know, if you -- we know that they have been drafting prisoners and sending them to the front. So if they just start pulling people off the streets, again, this is the kind of thing that causes general panic, and frankly, could bring down the government of Vladimir Putin.

BLACKWELL: There was, of course, this address that started all of this, the announcement of this partial mobilization, but there was a portion in which Putin issued this veiled nuclear threat as well. There are other referendums that are coming out in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson and in the Donbass and Luhansk, and Donetsk. If those are air "past and annexed," does that make those areas -- how do I ask this? Does Putin then cover those with this threat of this is now included in the motherland, and if you come into Luhansk or Donetsk, you could face this wrath?

FARKAS: Well, this is the thing, Victor. Putin is trying to set the terms of this war and set the terms for how we should consider it. We the West, the United States, our European allies, and other allies around the world who are helping Ukraine fight Russia. He's now trying to intimidate us out of continuing to provide our assistance by saying, well, I'm going to annex these areas, of course, we know it won't be free and fair elections, you know. And annexation is illegal, just as he did in Crimea. It's no more legal now. And so he will say these belong now to Russia, this is Russia territory. But we should not overreact to this nuclear saber-rattling.

Yes, of course, Russia has a military doctrine that allows it to use nuclear weapons. But Vladimir Putin must know full well that if he uses a nuclear weapon, even just detonates it in a demonstration, you know, in the Siberian, you know, area where no one's living, that it will be a game changer. The international community will be outraged. And as President Biden himself said, there will be consequences. And those consequences cannot result in Vladimir Putin still being in office. He knows it will probably cost him his government.

BLACKWELL: Yes. As the president, President Biden has said that no one wins a nuclear war. Evelyn Farkas, retired Major Mike Lyons thank you both.

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