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Secret Tapes Revealed at Oath Keepers' Trial; Trump Urgers Supreme Court to Intervene; Residents to Access Sanibel Island Today; Biden Extends Disaster Declaration; America's Debt Surpasses $31 Trillion. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 05, 2022 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's the top of the hour. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim has today off.

And we are following several major stories this morning.

First, a secret recording played in court during day two of the sedition trial of five members of the Oath Keepers. The tape released by the Justice Department comes from an alleged November 2020 Oath Keeper meeting where they discussed bringing weapons to the nation's capital and being prepared to fight on behalf of former President Trump.

Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know you raised your freaking right hand. You swore that oath. You don't get to back out of it and run to freaking Belize or Costa Rica or anyplace else. You've got to fight. So, we have a chance to get President Trump to fight as commander in chief. If you're going to have a fight, guys, you want to start now while he's still commander in chief. You've got to go there and you've got to make sure he knows that you are willing to die to fight for this country.


HARLOW: Also, former President Trump making an emergency request to the Supreme Court, asking the high court to intervene in that dispute over materials the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago over the summer. Trump's lawyers are requesting that the 100 or so documents marked as classified become part of the special master's review.

And, in the next hour, President Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will head to Florida to survey the destruction in the wake of Hurricane Ian that has so far claimed 109 lives. The president will meet with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Also, he'll speak with homeowners, business owners, people who have just been wiped out by this storm. We'll get to that in a moment. But first, let's begin with our CNN law enforcement correspondent

Whitney Wild on the -- this - what was a secret recording played in this second day of the Oath Keeper's trial. What more can you tell us, Whit?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, this was a huge moment very early on in the trial. And the DOJ is passing this audio recording as proof that these five people who are on trial for seditious conspiracy began their planning toward violence for months leading up to the riot January 6th.


WILD (voice over): A new recording released of the Department of Justice of an alleged November 2020 planning meeting of the far right militia group the Oath Keepers.

STEWART RHODES: You gotta be willing to go to D.C. and street fight Antifa. And you gotta get them to street fight. Cause they're gonna try to attack people. Don't be afraid, you know. Go there in large numbers. That's why we need to be there.

WILD: Federal prosecutors played the secretary recorded audio during the second day of the trial of five associates of the Oath Keepers facing seditious conspiracy charges. All five defendants have pleaded not guilty.

This is the first major piece of evidence presented at the trial that prosecutors have used to support their allegation the group planned to descend on Washington to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

RHODES: If the fight comes, let the fight come. Let Antifa go - if they go kinetic on us, then we'll go kinetic back on them.

I'm willing to sacrifice myself for that. Let the fight start there. OK. That would give President Trump what he needs, frankly. If things go kinetic, good. If they blow bombs up and shoot us, great, because that brings the president his reason and rationale for dropping the Insurrection Act.

MIKE GERMAN, FORMER FBI AGENT: One of the things you have to prove in a conspiracy case is that there's an agreement to commit a future crime. And this tape actually is that agreement occurring in real time as it's happening. So, it's very powerful evidence.

WILD: In his second day on the stand, the prosecution's first witness, FBI Agent Michael Palian, confirming the authenticity of the audio Tuesday, testifying that meeting lasted two hours and was secretly recorded by an attendee. Palian confirmed during cross-examination that the audio does not state January 6th as the date the group wanted to go to Washington, but instead was referencing a march in November 2020 that saw no violence. The audio predominantly features Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes who advocates for pressure on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, and tells members they should be prepared to fight. RHODES: We're not getting out of this without a fight. There's going

to be a fight. But let's just do it smart, and let's do it while President Trump is still commander in chief and let's try to get him to do his duty and step up and do it. So, that's why you guys got to have discipline. Don't make it easy for them to pop you with a conspiracy charge.

WILD: Also on the recording is Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs discussing what weapons are legal in D.C.

KELLY MEGGS: Pepper spray is legal. Tasers are legal. And stun guns are legal. And it doesn't hurt to have a lead pipe with a flag on it.

WILD: Palian testified the person who recorded the meetings sent the tip to the FBI later in 2020 but was not contacted by agents.


The person resubmitted the tip in March 2021 and it was then investigated. One defendant in the case, Thomas Caldwell, says he was not an active member of the group. Palian testified that he was, quote, part of the group, even if he did not formally pay dues.

Caldwell spoke outside the courthouse.

THOMAS CALDWELL, DEFENDANT, ALLEGED OATH KEEPER: It went well. It went well. There's a - there's a long way to go and the truth is going to come out. The truth is going to come out. And I have all faith in my Lord and Savior Jesus Chris. It's going to be fine.


WILD: The defense has tried to recast quite a bit of this evidence that the DOJ has presented, saying actually what these comments show is that these people were working very diligently to stay within the law. They were hyper conscious of the legality, for example, over bringing certain weapons to Washington, Poppy. Again, that's how the defense is trying to reframe all of this. At one point, one of the defense attorneys saying these comments, while bombastic, do not mean that there was something illegal.

Back to you.

HARLOW: Whitney Wild, thank you very much for tracking this trial very closely.

Meantime, former President Trump filing an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court. He's asking the high court to intervene in this fight over classified records seized at Mar-a-Lago.

Our Katelyn Polantz joins me now with more.

I mean it's interesting, Katelyn, it's a pretty narrow request. I'm not going to ask you to get into pendent jurisdiction, but this is really technical stuff here. What's the big picture? KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Poppy,

this really is a targeted effort, as you say, for Donald Trump to turn back the clock. He really wants to go back to that time period when Judge Aileen Cannon was controlling everything, all of the documents that were seized at Mar-a-Lago this summer, and that they were going to be reviewed by a special master, potentially Trump's legal team as well.

What's at issue in this particular appeal is the 100 documents that are marked as classified, that were found in all of those boxes that the FBI took out of Mar-a-Lago. And what Donald Trump's team is arguing is that right now, while the Justice Department is looking at them, the intelligence community is looking at them to assess any national security risk, he's saying, oh, this is chaos. That there should be restored order here. And what that means to his team is that the special master should be able to preside over what happens with these 100 documents marked as classified. Essentially, they should get to look at them before the Justice Department goes through them and sees how much harm is being done here. He wants there to be transparency. That's another key piece of the argument.

Now, the Justice Department, on their side, we haven't seen what their response is yet, Poppy, but we really do know that they are probably going to say there's no way that these documents are Trump's. They're marked as classified records. And it's not harming Donald Trump at this point in time for the Justice Department, the intelligence community, to be looking at them for possible national security leaks. What the harm really could be would be to the United States and the federal government.

HARLOW: Katelyn, can you just explain, so it is Justice Clarence Thomas who has purview over this initially but that's because, you know, the 11th circuit is assigned to him. That's what would happen. However, can you explain to people if he will be deciding alone or if a majority of the justices would decide if they take up this case.

POLANTZ: Well, that remains to be seen. Right now Justice Thomas is the person on the Supreme Court who is designated to oversee anything that comes up through the system out of Florida. So, the 11th Circuit, he's the one that gets to review emergency actions like this from Trump's team. These sorts of situations, when they involve a former president, it often becomes something that the rest of the Supreme Court will decide whether or not they want to take.

But they're going to have to make a really tough choice. Does the Supreme Court want to get involved in this stage? Do they believe that there was an appropriate appeal of Judge Cannon and what she was doing with the special master at this point in the process? Those are all questions that the Supreme Court is probably going to be looking at.

And, of course, we do know that there will be a response from the Justice Department in one week.


HARLOW: That's right. All right, Katelyn Polantz, thanks for all the reporting.

Let's talk more about this with Elliot Williams, CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor. Also he served as deputy assistant attorney general.

Elliot, it's great to have you.

And let's just get to the central question here. Let's assume, for arguments sake, that the Supreme Court says, OK, we're going to consider this. We'll take - take this up. Even if Trump were to win, does that fundamentally change what DOJ can do here with these documents?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: At this stage, absolutely not because this would not affect the Justice Department's ability to use the documents in their criminal investigation, which at this stage, right now, that's what this is all about.

Now, look, Poppy, there could be a day when somebody wins or lose here's and takes the whole thing to the Supreme Court, the whole civil case we're looking at here. And, yes, that may change the outcome pretty significantly.

As of today, right now, no, nothing big changes even if Trump wins here.


HARLOW: I do -- I do want to ask you, though, about a part of the argument Trump's lawyers are making to the Supreme Court that I think is interesting. So, DOJ says, no, these classified documents can't go to the special master because that could harm national security. What Trump's lawyers are saying is, how can you make that argument while at the same time arguing you want to be able to use these documents to present to witnesses, to present to a grand jury? You know, how do you square the two? Do you think they have a -


HARLOW: What do you think?

WILLIAMS: Well, sure. You know, there's nothing uncommon in the Justice Department -- I worked there for six years throughout my career. There's nothing uncommon in there being both national security and criminal justice interests in the same piece of evidence. And the mere fact that something might affect national security doesn't mean the prosecutors or grand juries are going to see it. There are all kinds of laws and regulations and rules governing the security of that information, even when used in the criminal justice system. So it's a little bit cute to say that merely because a grand jury might see it that somehow it's now a risk to national security. That's just not accurate.

HARLOW: If the - if the Supreme Court agrees to take up this emergency request, they need -- you know, they have -- they have certain criteria they have to check off to grant a stay. WILLIAMS: Right.

HARLOW: And one of those criteria is that they agree that this could cause, quote, irreparable harm to the former president if they deny a stay. How high a bar is that?

WILLIAMS: Yes, it's a - sorry.

HARLOW: That's OK.

WILLIAMS: No, it's a pretty high bar. It's a few things. It's, number one, a likelihood of success on the merits that they think he would win anyway. And, two, irreparable harm. No what could be the irreparable harm here to an individual who doesn't have a personal property interest in these documents? These are -- no matter what you think of the former president or anything else, these are marked national security documents. They are not his personal property. So, you can't really make the argument that by taking them away he's harmed in some way that it would be if, for instance, it were a passport or, I don't know, birth certificate or something like that.

HARLOW: Right.

WILLIAMS: It's just not the same type of document.

HARLOW: Just finally, Elliot, if you look big picture, this is not the first time the former president has wanted to go to the Supreme Court. He's gone to the Supreme Court and he's been frustrated to say the least at his lack of success with arguments before the court. Explain how this argument is different than what he's taken there before.

WILLIAMS: Yes, look, you know, at the end of the day, most -- when we think about the Supreme Court being a conservative court, it's on these social issues, hot button things, abortion, affirmative action, things like that. On these matters of tension between the branches of government, or should a president bend the knee, in effect, to the criminal justice system, he really hasn't done quite well. Number one, when there was a question of Congress having access to his tax records he lost and so on. So, this is sort of a strange bedfellow's case. It's not the kind of straightforward thing that might line up on political lines like we're used to.

HARLOW: Elliot Williams, thank you for making us all smarter, as you always do. We appreciate it.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Next hour, President Biden leaves for Florida to get a first- hand look at Hurricane Ian's destruction. CNN is on the ground with updates on power outages, school closings and the long road ahead to rebuild.

Also, Ukrainian troops set fire to a Russian flag as they continue to make advances in the south. Even Russia is admitting things are not going to plan. We'll take you live to Kyiv. And, later, Elon Musk revives his bid to buy Twitter for, well, the

original offering price, $44 billion. Now he's tweeting about what he might want to do with the platform.



HARLOW: Happening right now, residents in Sanibel Island in Florida are returning to what is left of their homes, of their businesses after Hurricane Ian ravaged parts of the state. This as Governor Ron DeSantis is prioritizing repairs to the Sanibel Causeway.


DAN SOUZA, SANIBEL CITY MANAGER: It's going to hit home. It's going to be emotional when they see their properties up close and the amount of damage that the storm inflicted upon them.


HARLOW: Let's go to our colleague CNN anchor and correspondent Boris Sanchez. He joins us again this morning in Ft. Myers Beach, Florida.

Boris, you're about 30 miles east of Sanibel. Residents, business owners, they're actually coming home. And it is -- just to see, not to - not to live for many of them, but just - I mean it has to be so different to go and see the destruction than to just see images of it.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: No question, Poppy. When we've heard from officials here in Lee County, they've told us that a lot of places in Sanibel Island are unrecognizable. They can't make out different structures or where different homes or businesses were because essentially much of it is just debris thrown around on the ground. So, it will likely be very emotional for residents getting back to Sanibel Island for the first time today.

As you noted, Governor Ron DeSantis vowing that he will expedite construction of a bridge connecting the mainland to Sanibel Island to help get supplies and people in and out of there.

We do have crews, we should note - CNN has crews going there with those residents for the first time today. So, stay tuned for footage from there.

For now, I want to set the scene where we are in Ft. Myers because officials are trying to sort out the cleanup here. And as I step out of the way and you get a clearer look at some of the damage on this highway, you can see, this is across the street from a marina that essentially was washed into the ocean. And parts of marina, pieces of a docks, ships, vehicles, have been thrown into this mangrove swamp that is just to the side of the highway.

I should note, something that you can't see from our images, the smell here. There's a pungent smell because there are fish that got picked up by the storm surge and got dumped into the street. And now a week after the hurricane made landfall, they are rotting. It is an unreal view of what the destruction from Hurricane Ian was like.

There are several ships in that swamp that we were able to access with some of the boat owners when they went in there over the weekend.


I counted more than a dozen. Many of them stacked atop each other.

The silver lining here, Poppy, the good news, in the last few moments, officials from the Florida Department of Transportation and as well as Florida Power and Light started arriving here. They are now going through debris that has been in the street or near the highway to try to begin clearing it. I'm not sure how well you can see the heavy machine that's there in the background. But right across the street, there are utility vehicles trying to restore power to this area that was badly, badly hit by the storm.


HARLOW: Those are some of the heroes in all of this, that's for sure, working around the clock to try to get people back up and running.

Boris, thanks very much.

Next hour, President Biden is wheeled up to Florida. He is set to tour storm damage. He will also meet with Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis. This is after Hurricane Ian slammed so many parts of that state last week.

Our White House correspondent Arlette Saenz is following it all.

Good morning, Arlette.

We just heard in the last few moments President Biden is extending the disaster declaration by 30 days. So, what does that actually mean for folks in Florida and what is on the president's agenda there today?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, President Biden is set to leave the White House in the next hour. And just before departing for Florida, he made that amendment to the disaster declaration which is extending federal funding and federal assistance for an additional 30 days. That's going to be a total of 60 days where the federal government will be covering things like debris removal and other emergency protective measures.

This comes as it's expected to be a very long recovery effort down in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian. And for the second time this week, the president is about to see firsthand the damage wrought by a hurricane when he travels down to Florida.

He and the first lady will both be traveling down to Ft. Myers, Florida, where they will be taking a helicopter tour surveying some of the storm ravaged areas down in Ft. Myers. The president and first lady will then receive an operational briefing from federal, state, and local officials. And it is there where he is expected to be briefed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Of course, the two men have many political differences between the two

of them, but the White House has insisted that this is a moment where they're going to put politics aside and focus on the recovery and rescue efforts that are underway in Florida. The president will also be meeting with small business owners and individuals who were impacted by this hurricane and also thank local, state, and federal officials who have been working tirelessly on the ground there. He's also expected to deliver some remarks while in Ft. Myers.

But certainly this is a moment for the president to once again put on his consoler in chief hat as he visits with those who have been impacted by this storm. And also sees firsthand the damage that has been wrought by Hurricane Ian. The president, of course, has said that this is not just a crisis for Florida, but it's an American crisis and has pledged that the U.S. and federal government will be there every step of the way in the recovery efforts.

HARLOW: There's no question about that. What a crisis.

Arlette, thank you very much. We'll watch the president as he arrives in Florida a little bit later today.

Ahead, America's national debt now over $31 trillion for the first time and it comes as the United States is facing historically high inflation, rising interest rates and real economic volatility. We'll have a live update, next.



HARLOW: So, America's national debt hit a new milestone this week. This comes at a time of historically high inflation, real economic uncertainty. Take a look at this from the Treasury Department. Total public debt outstanding, $31.1 trillion as of Monday, climbing nearly $8 trillion since the start of 2020.

Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans joins me live.

I mean -



ROMANS: You know, America runs on borrowed money. And this is a really important reminder. No matter who's in Congress, no matter who's in the White House, this pile of debt, these are - these are bills, these are -- this is money that's already been spent to run this country, that just gets bigger and bigger.

We first crossed the $10 trillion mark under George Bush. And then when Barack Obama came into office, it was $10.6 trillion. And then, look, it rose. There was a housing crisis that turned into a full blown financial crisis. There was stimulus spending. That was all borrowed money. And that number rose. And then former President Trump took office, it was $19.9 trillion. He

pledged to eliminate it in eight years. Instead, there were big tax cuts for companies, right, that were not paid for. That added to the deficit which adds to the debt.

And then we had a crisis, a health crisis, that required all kinds of borrowed money to try to prevent a depression. So that number got even bigger. And now there's a new president in office, and a new Congress, and the number continues to climb. More pandemic spending added to that pile. Also, these big, huge, congressionally approved spending packages. And now you've got student debt relief, which the CBO says will add another $400 billion over 30 years here.

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: So, rain or shine, this number gets bigger and bigger and bigger. It's hard -- it's hard to cut debt and deficits. And, you know, it's very hard, and we haven't really been able to successfully do it. The problem here, interest rates are rising. That means it will cost even more to finance that debt.

HARLOW: That's right.

ROMANS: And that leaves a government, a country, less wiggle room to spend on other things.


HARLOW: Well, just a reminder, these are hard choices that American families, average folks have to make every day or else they have serious consequences.