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Sources Say, Federal Prosecutors Obtain Tape of Trump Discussing Classified Documents He Kept After Leaving Office; House Passes Debt Limit Deal, Bill Now Heads to Senate; GOP Challenges CBO Analysis of Work Requirements. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired June 01, 2023 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And be talking about plans for a possible military invasion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Recordings are like gold to prosecutors.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The House voted to pass the debt limit bill, a huge relief for President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the global financial system.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Democrats kept our promise.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We all made history. This is the biggest cut and savings this Congress has ever voted for.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Russia's war is increasingly spilling into its own territory, even the Kremlin calling the situation in Belgorod alarming.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're seeing as a completely new phase, they're launching it and they're launching it in Russia.
JOHN KIRBY, STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: We have been very clear with the Ukrainians that we do not support attacks inside Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The 2024 GOP presidential race is about to get more crowded. Mike Pence will throw his hat into the ring.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chris Christie feels that he is the only candidate that is willing to take on Trump directly, head-to-head.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are they going to get in the race and actually say something about him, to him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had to carry him on our backs with difficulty.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A Nepali Sherpa guide saved a climber's life, hauling him down Mount Everest for six hours in a death zone rescue. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was important for us to rescue him. We have saved his life by quitting the summit.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. See? Miracles do happen at Mount Everest. I love that story. We'll get much more of that ahead. I'm happy to be joined by Erica Hill. Good morning.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to be with you this morning.
HARLOW: Nice to have you.
We start here this morning with first on CNN reporting. Sources tell CNN federal prosecutors have obtained recording of former President Donald Trump acknowledging he held onto a classified document about a potential attack on Iran after he left the White House. The recording is from a meeting Trump had with two biographers of his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
This happened at his Bedminster Golf Club in July of 2021. CNN has not been able to listen to the recording, but multiple sources who have describe its contents to us. And they say in it, Trump is discussing a document about a potential plan to attack Iran. Papers can be heard ruffling on the recording. It's unclear if Trump actually showed anyone in the room the document in question.
The special counsel, Jack Smith, who is leading the Justice Department investigation into Trump, has focused on the meeting as part of the probe into Trump's handling of national security secrets. And prosecutors have questioned multiple witnesses before the grand jury about this recording and document.
According to sources familiar with the investigation, the recording indicates Trump understood that he retained classified material after leaving the White House despite his public claims otherwise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I have no classified documents. And, by the way, they become automatically declassified when I took them.
If you're the President of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it's declassified even by thinking about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Now, Trump was reportedly outraged by a report in the New Yorker that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, was concerned Trump might set in motion a full scale conflict that was not justified with Iran after he lost that 2020 presidential election.
The episode has generated enough interest for investigators to question Milley, who is, of course, one of the highest ranking Trump- era national security officials questioned about the incident. Milley's spokesperson declined to comment to CNN.
Trump's attorney deflected when asked about this new information.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM TRUSTY, LAWYER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: The President, under the Presidential Records Act, has unfettered authority to do what he wants with documents that he's taken from the White House while president.
I am not going to sit here and dignify leaks that are incomplete, that are unfair and that are dishonest. This is a leak campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Let's bring in CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent, one of the reporters who broke this story, Paula Reid, also joining us this morning, former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, Senior Correspondent for Time Charlotte Alter and former Watergate Prosecutor Nick Akerman. Good morning to you all.
Paula, first, walk us through your reporting.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, I want to respond to the suggestion that this was the result of a leak. It was not. I mean, this was dogged reporting done by our colleague, Katelyn Polantz with Kaitlan Collins, myself and our colleagues Sara Murray and Kristen Holmes. It's taken us quite some time to gather this information.
And what we've learned that this was a meeting at Trump's Bedminster Golf Club in 2021. And in attendance, among the people in attendance, a few Trump aides and two people working on an autobiography of former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
Now, that is significant because even though Meadows wasn't there at this time, Trump was in the habit of recording conversations with journalists, writers, anyone working on a book. So, he knew that he was being taped.
And while we have not heard this recording, multiple sources tell us that on this recording, not only does the former president reveal that he is still in possession of at least one classified document, a Pentagon memo describing a possible attack on Iran. But he also suggests that he would like to share this, but he acknowledges that there are limits on his power to declassify once he's out of the White House.
And that, as you noted, that undercuts everything he and his attorneys have argued publicly about why he was not intentionally keeping some of the nation's most sensitive secrets.
HILL: There is so much in there. Not just the fact that it was being recorded and that it sounds like the shuffling papers are there, but the fact that, Nick Akerman, based on the reporting, he knew that he couldn't share this information and was somehow acknowledging that. That could be particularly damning, one would think.
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Totally. I mean, once you have a defendant on tape like this, it is absolutely significant in the sense that this is a direct admission. It makes the defendant become the chief witness in his own trial.
Now, keep in mind, this is just one aspect of the evidence that the special counsel is gathered in this area, but it's certainly significant, and by itself, it's a crime. It is a crime to actually reveal classified information, which is what he was doing.
It also raises the question of what was this document doing in Bedminster when he had moved all these documents to Mar-a-Lago? Were there other documents at Bedminster? Was this document one of the documents that was seized in the search in August of last year? And if not, does that mean that there are other documents at Bedminster that we still haven't yet retrieved or the Department of Justice hasn't retrieved?
So, this is a pretty significant document, and there's no doubt that lots of people are going to be going into the grand jury to explain how this got to Bedminster and what happened and what were the circumstances surrounding Trump's reading of that document.
HARLOW: Chairman Rogers, to you. I mean, you were the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. And knowing that the people in that room in Bedminster with the former president after he left the White House, had no security clearance whatsoever, and the fact that this was about a potential strike on Iran, four pages of that. And I should just note that Trump had said that it was written by Milley. Our reporting is that it was not written by the Joint Chiefs chairman. What pause does that give you?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Very significant. It's the cavalier nature of which he, A, had the document, which is also a crime if he did, in fact, and, secondly, was causing the information in that document to be disclosed to people who are not authorized to hear it.
And the very nature and sensitivity of the topic that was in that particular document, as described, is very, very concerning. It has ramifications with our adversaries and certainly even our friends who would partake in the planning of something like that, even if there was no intent to follow through. So, it showed his intent.
And the one thing about having, as an old FBI guy can tell you, the one thing about having a tape with your voice on it, the only better piece of evidence that is a guilty plea at the end of the day. It is really significant.
HILL: Charlotte, to that point on the tape, what's interesting about that, too, is we're not just talking about witness testimony, which it's easier for somebody to come out and say, sure, that guy says that swore under oath, but I'm telling you, I was there, and that is not how it happened. A tape does change things, a recording.
CHARLOTTE ALTER, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, I think it depends on what you mean by changes things. I mean, certainly, legally, it creates a lot of trouble for him, but with his voters, I'm not so sure that it's clear that it changes things for them. There have been other cases of Trump being caught on tape saying things that should, would potentially be considered to be disqualifying in an American presidential election. I mean, you remember there were tapes that were released during the 2016 election of him talking about grabbing women. That didn't seem to bother his core base of supporters that much.
So, I think one of the things. To remember here is that there is the legal implications for Trump, which are actually significantly different than the political implications for him, because the people that made Trump president have had seven years to get used to ignoring stories like this. And I think it remains to be seen whether this is going to break through to them.
HARLOW: Politically. But, legally, Paula, and not only are you a dogged reporter, you're a lawyer. Does this broaden the risk here for Trump beyond obstruction?
REID: Yes, absolutely, Poppy. That's such a great question because I think so many times, even on this show, we've talked about the legal jeopardy. And I have noted that a lot of the focus has been on obstruction. But this Justice Department has been reluctant to bring charges just of obstruction. They prefer to have an underlying crime charged as well, sort of a belt and suspenders, have the strongest case possible.
And I have cautioned that while there does appear to be some evidence that prosecutors are weighing about obstruction, it wasn't clear if they had enough to charge any of the underlying other crimes they were looking at. This changes that.
Look, that will be up to the special counsel prosecutors to decide whether they want to charge the former president or anyone else, but this reporting, what we've disclosed here, absolutely changes our understanding of the legal jeopardy facing the former president.
I'll also note the other big thing it reveals is we've all been focused down in Florida on the classified documents that were found down there. But, clearly, based on this new reporting, there's also at least one classified document that was in Bedminster. We do know from our reporting the former president's lawyers searched there late last year, and so they did not find.
HILL: Picking up where Paula left off there, Nick, if we look at this, Bradley Moss in our last hour said to him, this is clearly a violation of the Espionage Act. You were saying that there is more legal jeopardy now, in your view, this morning. Would you agree with that assessment?
AKERMAN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it's not only the possession of classified information, which he had, but it's also the dissemination of classified information. So, you've got him violating two criminal statutes. And the jeopardy is heightened by the fact that it's his own voice on tape admitting to what he's doing.
I mean, this is like what's happened now in Georgia with the three or four tapes they've got on Trump there, the tape they've got on him in the D.A.'s case in New York. I mean, this is quite amazing that you've got three prosecutions going forward soon that have Trump actually as a star witness in each of those cases.
HARLOW: Chairman Rogers, I think it's interesting that this CNN reporting follows the really exceptional reporting by The Washington Post a week-and-a-half ago or so, laying out that the boxes with classified documents were moved at the direction of someone at Mar-a- Lago on June 2nd, the day before -- you're a former FBI guy -- the day before the FBI came down there to search, and it was known that they were coming. This wasn't the surprise August search. They knew they were coming on the 3rd June, the boxes removed on the 2nd. When you tie that reporting to this reporting, what does it leave you with?
ROGERS: Clearly, his intent was to disclose information and use it for his own personal gain, which I find disturbing. Classified information doesn't belong to any person. It belongs to the country writ large. And something as sensitive of this shows in his mind, and to me, that he holds these things as a trophy.
From the description of the tape, he holds it as, this is why I'm special. I have this information. It makes me special, and I'm willing to share it with you. I don't know if I can show it to you. And so you don't know if he had follow up conversations on it. So, the pattern of activity here clearly shows he had the intent to take these things not for any good purpose but for a purpose other than that.
And, again, I think he thinks of these things as a trophy. I think he thinks that he doesn't have to follow the rules on classification, and that's dangerous because of the seriousness of what was in this document, clearly.
And if you have, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which, given all of the things going on in the world, has to go down to the grand jury to testify about this particular document at this particular time, it shows you, A, the severity of it and why it's dangerous to have people who don't respect or understand the importance of classified information and why it needs to be classified.
HILL: Charlotte, to your point, there are the legal and the political, right? This morning, we are really focused on the legal for obvious reasons. And yet when we look at the political implications, when we look at how the former president will be responding here and whether or not it sticks, there's also the history of the comments that have been made.
I know in the past there have been comments that the president made that there were then contradictory. Does this change anything based on the evolution that we've seen from him in terms of what he believes he can do with classified documents? Has any of that broken through? ALTER: I mean, I really think that there's sort of two universes of people here who are voting. There's the people who are paying attention to the story and who understand the legal implications of it and the nuances of it and understand why taking classified documents is not okay. And then there are voters who are just not going to believe anything that Trump is accused of. And it's very, very difficult to penetrate that. They've had seven years, really, since two 2016 to develop that worldview that's nearly impossible to pierce.
And so I think a lot depends on what happens with the rest of the Republican field, because the more people who run against Trump, the stronger Trump's campaign is because it splits the vote of the people who are paying attention and perhaps alarmed by this story.
HARLOW: Charlotte, thank you, Paula, great reporting. Chairman Rogers, Nick, appreciate all the analysis, see where this goes.
HILL: Well, the U.S. is getting one step closer to averting a catastrophic default. This after House lawmakers did pass that debt ceiling deal.
So, what can you expect as the bill heads to the Senate? That's next.
HARLOW: Also, Amazon settling two federal lawsuits for violating the privacy of Alexa and Ring users. A major price tag for the new tech for the tech giant, ahead.
HILL: This morning, the debt ceiling deal heading to the Senate after house lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the bill on Wednesday and with just days to spare, of course, before a potentially catastrophic default.
The high-stakes negotiations over the bill have been a critical test for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who took a victory lap after that deal passed the House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCARTHY: I wanted to do something no other Congress has done, that we would literally turn the ship, that for the first time in quite some time, we'd spend less than we spent the year before. Tonight, we all made history because this is the biggest cut and savings this Congress has ever voted for. And it's not that we're just voting for it.
This is going to be law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill this morning. I feel like you've moved in there, Lauren. So, we are half way there. The big question this morning, of course, will this pass in the Senate?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, there's definitely momentum coming out of the House of Representatives. That vote was overwhelming last night with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy getting more than just a majority of his Republican majority. That was really important to him and his leadership team, as they obviously were dealing with a lot of concerns and consternation in their right flank.
Now, this heads over to the U.S. Senate. The expectation is that it is going to pass eventually. It's just a question of how quickly the Senate can move. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear yesterday he would hope they could get a time agreement to begin this process as soon as today, hoping that maybe they could even get out of here before the weekend.
Senators always are motivated by those jet fumes usually on Thursday afternoons but they do need to get some kind of time agreement. And, already, you're hearing from a number of Republicans and Democrats who want to have votes on amendments.
Here's the key issue, though. None of those amendments really can pass because, otherwise, they'd have to kick it back over to the House of Representatives. That would push you past the Monday, June 5th deadline where Janet Yellen says the country could default.
So, this is going to be something that moves hopefully quickly out of the Senate. That is the expectation of leadership. But they do have to secure that time agreement first. We're going to be watching for that and any signs avoid smoke coming out of the Senate later today. Erica?
HILL: Watching for those, indeed. Lauren, I appreciate it. Thank you.
HARLOW: Joining us now is Harvard Economist Jason Furman. He was a top economic adviser to President Obama, was at the negotiating table in 2011 in this debt ceiling fight then, when we came within 72 hours of default. Jason, good morning and thanks for joining us.
JASON FURMAN, PRACTICE OF ECONOMIC POLICY PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Good morning.
HARLOW: First of all, Kevin McCarthy's claim that this is historic it's the biggest cut in savings Congress has ever done, and it's law, essentially saying you can't change it, does that all add up?
FURMAN: Not really. But, look, I'm glad he thinks it. I'm glad he's able to say it. I was glad he got two thirds of his caucus. But, no, that's not close to true.
HARLOW: You have some interesting analysis that struck me, and it's different than what a lot of other are focusing on, because you really point to even if they pass the Senate, even if this gets done by Monday and signed, the economic turbulence it's already caused, explain.
FURMAN: Yes. Look, this outcome is fine. The process was terrible. You saw jitters in markets. You saw pretty much historically unprecedented rise in the cost of insuring against a default on the U.S. debt. You had lots of financial institutions wasting all sorts of time figuring out contingency plans. So, this is really sort of no way to run a railroad. I think we need to not take the lesson away from this if the system worked, but take the lesson away from this. We need to really permanently fix this, ideally get rid of the debt limit or make it effectively automatic.
HARLOW: Well, you say get rid of the debt limit, and there's other folks that agree with you. We have the head of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, Neel Kashkari, on last week who said we have to at least look at that. President Biden keeps saying no. He's called it irresponsible to do that before. He doubled down this week saying it's not a good idea. We've also seen Mick Mulvaney, who served as a director of OMB under Trump, point to the 2011 debt ceiling deal and said, I think what the debt ceiling does is force us talk about why we need to borrow more money. Why are they wrong, in your view?
FURMAN: So, first of all, no other country has this. Second of all, there're other forcing mechanisms. They would have needed to agree to almost everything they had in this deal by September 30 as part of the regular annual appropriations process for the budget. And, finally, people don't want to get rid of the debt limit entirely. There's bipartisan legislation that would basically require either Congress or the president to put a plan forward to cut the debt in exchange for raising the debt limit.
The plan wouldn't need to pass. As long as they put that plan forward, the debt limit would automatically go up. So, maybe that could be a compromise to get us out of this mess that I think we continue to be in.
HARLOW: Fair, we do continue to be in it and compromise would be a good thing. I have been struck over the last 24 hours by Republicans, including two of them on this program yesterday in the House saying the CBO got it wrong, saying, show us your work, the math is fuzzy here. Because we know the Congressional Budget Office came out and said, yes, this cuts about $1.5 trillion. But because you added more veterans and people who are homeless to SNAP food assistance, cash benefits, you're actually possibly going to add 2.1 in spending, so more than the 1.5 cut. What do you say to those folks who are saying the CBO got it wrong?
FURMAN: Look, the truth is this is a hard thing to estimate. There's going to be a big group that's subject to work requirements that didn't used to be. And there's a big group, as you said, veterans, homeless, former foster children that won't be subject to them. CBO thinks that second group is bigger than the first group. I think that's a reasonable guess. But there is an error margin around that.
And so to a first approximation, this is roughly a wash for the SNAP program, nutritional assistance, but probably it's a bit more likely that it did increase it. And, yes, I think whenever you're arguing CBO is wrong, that's not the best argument to be in. HARLOW: Well, let's listen to some of those arguments that were made just yesterday by Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): I respectfully disagree with the analysis by the CBO on this.
They're not looking at things that will happen tomorrow, that will happen the next day. They're not looking at the potential growth in the economy.
REP. TOM EMMER (R-MN): That came out last night. The math is wrong.
HILL: You say the math is flat out wrong?
EMMER: We need to see their homework on this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Can you just -- I mean, the CBO is the best we've got, right, at estimating these things. It was set up by Congress. It's nonpartisan. I just wonder if you could remind people -- they talk to all sorts of economists, think tanks, et cetera, right. This isn't just like a partisan guessing game, right?
FURMAN: Yes. CBO has an enormous amount of data that it's relying on. It is doing a lot of math. I don't think either of the people you just showed in interviews there had done any math at all on this question. They just had an answer they were hoping was true. But hope isn't a great strategy. That's my thing.
So, by the way, stepping back, let's understand why we're in this position. The White House had negotiators that were steeped in the details of this program and really cared about the outcome. And when you have both of those, you do better in a negotiation. I don't think this surprised the White House. I think they knew exactly what they were doing when they struck this deal. And I think to the degree, they got the better of some parts of it. It shows their preparation and their caring really paid off.
HARLOW: Just quickly, Jason, though, do you think that with hindsight, which is always helpful, do you think the White House should have sat down with Kevin McCarthy a lot sooner on this?
FURMAN: Look, I think it all worked out fine. I think it was a little hard to explain why they weren't sitting down with him at an earlier stage. I think there're arguments on both sides. I probably would have been in favor of them sitting down, but I might have been wrong.
HARLOW: Right, but you say it all worked out fine, but you point to the market turbulence it caused because we came to the brink again. So, there's that.
FURMAN: Right. The question is, could the Republicans especially, or any side, really, have agreed to something with three weeks to go when all their members would say, oh, no, take another week and get a better deal, we're not voting for this yet. So, I don't know.
HARLOW: Something about getting to the 11th hour is something Washington is particularly good at, I suppose. Jason Furman, thank you very much.
FURMAN: Good seeing you.
HARLOW: Good seeing you. Erica?
HILL: Power of the 11th hour in Washington, it is real.
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