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CNN This Morning

New Recording of Former President Trump Indicates He Knew Limits of Ability of U.S. President to Declassify Documents; Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) Interviewed on His Decision to Vote against Debt Limit Bill Recently Passed in House of Representatives; Gulf States Prepare for Hurricane Season; Hurricane Season Begins As Communities Rebuild; NYT: Trump White House Aides Subpoenaed In Chris Krebs' Firing; Trump Captured On Tape Talking About Keeping Classified Documents. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired June 01, 2023 - 08:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: One thing that I find really striking is that Amazon has said and just recently reiterated as recently as January that privacy is foundational to its business. We had the Vice President of Trust and Privacy talking about that. And now the question is, what more can be done to protect them?

LANCE ULANOFF, U.S. EDITOR IN CHIEF, TECHRADAR: Again, when you have these cases, which started in 2018 and are just wrapping up now, a lot has happened in between. I have gone to a lot of Amazon events where a huge part of it is about security and privacy, constantly. But then they do something like Sidewalk, which uses all the devices and creates a little mesh network. And they initially did it and didn't tell everybody that they were sort of opted into it and had to say, no, OK, you guys don't have to be a part of that.

So Amazon is learning. By the way, with the Ring thing, what happened there, they bought that in 2018, right? So after this had happened and, of course, Ring again, oh, let's put video cameras throughout the house? What's that going to be like when thousands of people can see the data and we don't really have -- they didn't have encryption. They didn't have two-factor authentication. They added all of that actually back in 2018, 2019, 2020.

HARLOW: Thank you. We'll track this closely. We appreciate it.

ULANOFF: Pleasure.

CNN THIS MORNING continues right now.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Did you ever show those classified documents to anyone?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Not really. I would have the right to. By the way, they were declassified --

COLLINS: What do you mean, "not really"?

TRUMP: Not that I can think of.


HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. We're glad you're with us. It is Thursday, June 1st. My friend Erica Hill is here. Good morning.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to be with you. And it's your mom's birthday.

HARLOW: Happy birthday, mom. She's probably awake and watching now. I hope you are, hope it's a great one.

Let's begin here with the news. That was former President Trump being asked about his handling of classified documents when he left office. Now federal prosecutors have Trump on tape acknowledging that he held on to a classified Pentagon document, and telling people he can't share that material. What this new audio recording could mean for the investigation.

HILL: Plus, the debt limit deal now heading to the Senate. What to expect with just days remaining until the projected default date.

HARLOW: And a daring rescue below Mount Everest summit when a Nepali sherpa saved a climber that he found clinging to a rope. It is amazing. We can't wait to tell you about it.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

Here is where we begin this morning with first on CNN reporting, sources tell us there is a tape of former President Donald Trump admitting that he held on to a classified document from the Pentagon and suggesting he wants to share the information but that he is limited by his post-presidency ability to declassify records.

CNN has not listened to the recording, but Special Counsel Jack Smith has it, and sources describe it as an important piece of evidence in the possible case against Trump. Here's why it undercuts his argument that he just declassified everything, and it shows that he knew he wasn't supposed to share sensitive information with others. We are told the recording is about two minutes long from July, 2021, and in it Trump talks about a document involving a potential attack on Iran.

CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid helped to break this story. She has all her reporting on it. Why is this so significant?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's so credibly significant to the special counsel investigation because investigators can hear Trump in his own words confess that he has a classified document at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and then he also acknowledges that there are limits to his power to declassify once he left the White House. And those statements undercut every public defense he and his lawyers have ever given.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) REID: Federal prosecutors have obtained a recording of former President Donald Trump acknowledging he held on to a classified document about a potential attack on Iran after he left the White House, according to multiple sources. The recording is of a meeting at Trump's Bedminster golf course in July 2021. Among those in attendance were Trump aides and two people working on an autobiography of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Meadows was not in attendance, but at this time Trump was having aides record conversations with writers and journalists, so he was aware he was being taped.

CNN has not listened to the recording, but multiple sources have described it and say it indicates Trump understood he retained classified material after leaving the White House despite what he has said publicly.

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 are the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it's declassified, even by thinking about it.


REID: Sources say he can also be heard acknowledging the limits of his ability to declassify material after leaving office. The remarks appear to be in response to this "New Yorker" article published days before the meeting, claiming that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, was concerned Trump might set in motion a full- scale conflict that was not justified with Iran. Trump appeared to be angered by this report and said he had in his possession a document that showed Milley's plan to attack.

CNN is told that the document was not produced by Milley. His spokesman declined to comment to CNN. It's also unclear if Trump actually showed the document during the recording. Trump's former national security advisor says he absolutely should not have had that document.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: I have very little faith in Donald Trump's credibility. He could have had a rolled-up carry-out menu in his hand waving it around, saying it was an Iran draft war plan.

REID: The recording is a key piece of evidence for Special Counsel Jack Smith. His investigators have questioned witnesses about it, including General Milley himself. Trump's attorney Jim Trusty was asked multiple times whether there was any evidence that Trump had declassified this document. He would not answer.

JIM TRUSTY, COUNSEL FOR FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The president under the Presidential Records Act has unfettered authority to do what he wants with documents that he has 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.

REID: He also would not say how this document wound up in Bedminster.

TRUSTY: I am not going to try the case that's being set up by leaks that I don't believe are accurate.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: How did -- has the document been returned to the National Archives?

TRUSTY: Same answer.


REID (on camera): The story was not the result of a leak. It was the result of dogged reporting by our entire team. Up until now, most of the reporting has focused on classified documents found down in Florida and Mar-a-Lago. But this new reporting reveals at least one classified document was for a time in Bedminster, New Jersey. Now, this new recording, this really shows the extent of the legal jeopardy the former president is facing.

HARLOW: Paula Reid, to you, to the whole team, you, Kaitlan, the five women who worked on this story did an incredible job. Thank you, Paula.

HILL: The bipartisan debt limit bill that just cleared through the House is headed to the Senate. And if it passes there, it would then be signed into law by the president and allow the country to avert a default, and in turn a global economic crisis. You see the countdown clock there. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy taking a victory lap following the bill's passage in the House last night.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER: I wanted to do something no other Congress has done, that we would literally turn the ship, and for the first time in quite some time we'd spend less than we spent the year before. Tonight, I hope we proved to you again that we put the citizens of America first.


HILL: President Biden congratulating McCarthy and Democratic leaders, writing in a statement, "I have been clear that the only path forward is a bipartisan compromise that can earn the support of both parties. This agreement meets that test. I urge the Senate to pass it as quickly as possible so that I can sign it into law and our country can continue building the strongest economy in the world."

So what's in this bill? Just a reminder, Republicans fought hard to expand work requirements for food stamps and to make cuts to IRS funding. Democrats blocked the implementation of work requirements for Medicaid. The debt limit, of course, will also be suspended. That's through 2025. Non-defense spending will be capped. Student loan payments restart the end of the summer. So now having passed the House, the big question this morning, will

this pass in the Senate? Joining us now is Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. He also serves on the Appropriations and Foreign Relations committees. Senator, good to have your with us this morning. You have said you will -- thank you. You have said very clearly you will be voting against this bill, going so far as to say "I fully recognize the debt default would be a disaster for working families, must never be allowed to happen, but that there is virtually nothing in here to match what the people of Oregon care about. I can't throw them under the bus. I will vote no." Has the president reached out to you personally in an effort to change that vote?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): No. No, he hasn't. His team has. They lobbied quite heavily. But listen, there are three fundamental problems with this bill. One is that it reinforces a cycle of hostage taking. Now we know that instead of having a legitimate negotiation, we'll end up with the Republicans whenever there is a blue president saying we are going to do this again.


This is the sort of battle that should happen over the fiscal year 2024 spending bill and the revenue bills that we pass, not over an artificial debt ceiling where the threat is to throw the economy off the cliff.

The second big problem is that it goes against everything Oregonians are telling me. I've held over two dozen town halls, and in those town halls just this year, two dozen town halls, people are saying you've got to take on day care, you need to take on mental health, you need to take on fentanyl, and, above all, the cost of housing. This structure does damage to everything Oregonians are concerned about.

And finally, it's devastating in terms of fighting climate. It puts in a Mountain Valley pipeline exempt from any environmental law, and it says if there is a court case, we are going to change the venue. That precedent directly attacks the integrity of our judicial system. So all of this together is a big problem. I am going to stand up for the people of Oregon. I'm going to vote against this bill.

HILL: In terms of that Mountain Valley pipeline, specifically your colleague Senator Tim Kaine has talked about proposing an amendment that would strip that out of the bill. We know that if there are votes and amendments, of course, if they were to pass, this would send this back to the House. This is a further issue when it comes to timing, but is that an amendment that you would get behind even if you knew that it may not change things?

MERKLEY: I absolutely support that amendment. It would solve two of the really egregious provisions of this bill. And there are going to be amendments voted on. The Republican Senate members are going to insist on amendments. I think this is a legitimate amendment. And by the way, that was the one thing in this bill that came more from the Democratic side due to the side deal that had been pursued by the president earlier. So Republicans voted against it before, so it should do nothing if we pass this to damage the repassage of this bill in the House.

HILL: As we look at where things stand this morning, do you believe this bill -- I know you are not voting for it, but do you believe it will ultimately pass?

MERKLEY: Yes. Yes, it will pass. The votes are there as demonstrated in the House, a parallel situation in the Senate.

HILL: But you are staking your claim on this. I am going to leave the debt ceiling there and the debt bill there, because I do want to get you on a couple of other notes, because you are on foreign relations. What we have seen in terms of an uptick in activity in both Ukraine and in Russia has obviously been a hot topic this week. We are talking about the drone strikes in Moscow area in addition to further activity in the Belgorod region on the border with Ukraine. We spoke with John Kirby yesterday who said, while the White House of course supports Ukraine's right to defend itself, they do not support Ukrainian attacks inside Russia. We don't know that Ukraine was behind the attacks. They denied any involvement. Do you have any information on who may be responsible?

MERKLEY: No, there is nothing more I can share on that. We did have these reports of Russian troops themselves turning and attacking other Russians, and that's very troubling, obviously, to Putin. And Putin wants to shelter the Russian people from a sense that there is much going on there. So he has controlled the media. And then to have drone attacks on Moscow, this changes the dynamic and the conversation inside Russia. There is a lot of concern about just how it would manifest itself. Maybe it increases support among the Russian people for the war. Certainly, it draws it to their attention in a way that Putin has been trying to prevent.

There are also questions about if Ukraine were behind attacks, if weapons that had been supplied by the U.S. or NATO members had been used in that attack, what that could mean. Does any of this give you pause in terms of U.S. commitments to continue to supply Ukraine with weapons?

MERKLEY: It would be a big mistake to use our weapons in a fashion that's not allowed because we have been working so hard to maintain the coalition with Europe. Listen, we are defending a republic against a KGB thug dictator, and if we fail in that, it will encourage other dictators around the world to take over adjacent land, maybe including Russia to take over more adjacent land, China to launch a military assault on Taiwan, and so forth. We have to stand with the people of Ukraine, and they have to use the weapons in accordance with the rules we have set out for them.

HILL: Senator Jeff Merkley, appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you.

MERKLEY: Thank you. Thanks, Erica.

HARLOW: Great interview.

Today marks the first day of hurricane season. But some communities are still picking up the pieces from last year's major storms. That includes, of course, hurricane Ian, which wiped out major areas around Fort Myers, Florida, in September of last year. This year NOAA is predicting a, quote, near normal system. Five to nine hurricanes is what they are estimating. Our Derek Van Dam is live in Fort Myers this morning. Gosh, I can't get those images from last September out of my head. Communities destroyed, boats on top of restaurants. I mean, they are still picking up the pieces.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and what I have seen here is a group of very resilient people that are trying to get back to some sense of normalcy after the costliest hurricane to ever -- one of the costliest hurricanes to ever strike the U.S. coastline.


Hurricane in just eight months ago, I'm at ground zero, where 11-foot storm surge a 155 mile per hour winds came in, off of the Gulf of Mexico, which is directly over my shoulder. And now, what looms heavy over the minds of the residents here within Fort Myers Beach and Lee County in particular, is yet the start of another Atlantic hurricane season, which is today.

And fit in with June 1st, is unfortunately, the potential of development. New this morning from the National Hurricane Center, a 50 percent probability of tropical depression or tropical storm forming in the waters that you saw behind me in a moment ago. Look at this, you can see structures that have been completely removed off of their foundations still overturned vehicles that is from the force, of what was a category for monster hurricane. We are on location at this beach Baptist Church on Fort Myers Beach, which now serves as a food pantry.

And you can see the destruction here. There's 50,000 residents and commercial buildings that were impacted by an eight months ago. And get this, Lee County alone has cleaned up an estimated 11 million cubic yards of debris, that's concrete and wood pallets. That is equivalent to filling up 3,000 or more Olympic sized swimming pools. I spoke to a manager of a restaurant here, on Fort Myers Beach about how they feel, about this upcoming hurricane season. Have a listen.


DANNY SANCHEZ, KITCHEN MANAGER, YUCATAN BEACH STAND: We're just hoping it doesn't happen again. It'd be really bad luck if it did, especially after we just opened up to the public again. So, hopefully it just stays away. It doesn't make me nervous. I mean, I've lived here my whole life. But, right now, everybody's just kind of excited that we've opened back up. So, everybody's ready, they just get back in there.


VAN DAM: You know, I spoke to a resident here, who lives in Fort Myers Beach about this upcoming hurricane season, and she said, looking straight into the eyes. We're not participating in this year's hurricane season.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: We are not available.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Best answer ever.

VAN DAM: Not available.

HARLOW: Oh, my goodness.

HILL: I may not either. I'm so very late.

HARLOW: No storm, right?


HARLOW: Derek, Thank you.

VAN DAM: Exactly. We'll just skip right over to January.

HILL: Yes, let's go blizzard --

HARLOW: Thank you.

HILL: So, new reaction this morning to CNN is reporting about a tape of former President Trump admitting, he held on to a classified Pentagon document after leaving the White House.

HARLOW: Also, Trump fired the government's top cybersecurity official days after Chris Krebs declared the 2020 election quote, the most secure in American history. And now, the special counsel has questions about that. New reporting from the New York Times ahead.



HARLOW: Welcome back to CNN this morning. Former President Trump is no stranger to making a lot of comments. It make a lot of headlines caught on tape between the Access Hollywood tape that emerge just before the 2016 election. To the recording of him asking, Georgia election officials to quote, find votes to help him change the results of the 2020 election.

HILL: And now, his history of potentially damaging audio tapes, adding a new chapter. As we've been reporting this morning, Federal prosecutors have obtained a recording of Former President Donald Trump acknowledging he held onto a classified document, about a potential attack on Iran after he had left the White House. And also, he suggested in that recording that he wants to share the information but was limited in his ability to do so by his post presidency ability to declassified records.

Joining us now CNN Political Analyst and Senior Political Correspondent at the New York Times, Maggie Haberman, Maggie, great to have you with us. So, the way this has detailed to our team of reporters when they broke this about the recording, there's sort of three parts to it, right? The fact that there was this document, reportedly that there were conversations about it. And that the Former President acknowledged in those moments, he wanted to share it. But there were those limitations that really gets to a number of the, you know, quote unquote, explanations that we've heard from the Former President, and these jobs swear.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Now look, there's been a lot of news breaks in this document's investigation. Various news outlets, we've had some you guys have had some this one is very meaningful, and it's a big deal. For the reason you just said, there it gets to number one documents that were in his possession. Documents and he had with him at administrator. Which is a different location in Mar-a-Lago, where the search had been focused. But more specifically, whatever that document actually was, because Trump is not the most reliable narrator about what that document was. And, you know, we know, and you guys have reported Mark Milley did not actually produce this document.

HILL: Right.

HABERMAN: What matters is Trump most is Trump saying, again, I haven't heard the tape no one has yet. But our reporting is also that Trump says something about the limits of his classification abilities. You know, he expresses some regret about not having declassified this particular thing. While he was president that undermines the excuse that they have made over and over again, that he had this, you know, ability to the automatically declassified everything. I saw Jim Trusty on his network last night, Trump's lawyer, saying exactly that. And then, specifically not answering whether this document was declassified. And yes, and so I just I don't see --

HARLOW: And Kaitlan's question, by the way, is it now with the National Archives.

HABERMAN: That's right. Yes, and there's -- I understand why he doesn't want to answer those questions, but then don't go on T.V. to say, I'm not going to sit here and not answer these questions. You know, other than making the client happy. This tape is multiple sources have described it as very problematic for Trump. Now, again, you know, this investigation is still ongoing. We don't know where it's going to end up. But of all of the evidence that we know of, this is the most damning I've heard of. And it reminds us, there's so much we don't know about what prosecutors have.

HILL: So much we don't know and so much else that can be out there, especially when it comes to recordings because recordings were made often with the Former President.

HABERMAN: Well, so, actually, either -- I think another piece that's really striking to me about this. Number one, Trump is very paranoid about people taking notes. And he's very paranoid about tapes. He was notorious when he was a businessman for claiming he was taping other people. People at Mar a Lago always thought that, you know, conversations were recorded. This was he knew that he was being taped, that his own aides were taping because they -- HARLOW: It's for a book.

HABERMAN: -- it was -- it was for Mark Meadows' book. That and there's an irony to the fact that this relates to Mark Meadows, who's, you know, sort of existence has been central to investigators in various parts of the January 6 investigation and so forth. And he had not been a key part of the documents investigation that we knew of before, this is -- this is significant. But Trump was aware that they taped routinely his aides because they were taping all of these book interviews, my book interviews with him that same year. Were all taped, he was aware of it. So, it's not as if this was some secret recording. But he has this impulse, you know, in certain settings to sort of show off. And that's really what this seemed like.


HARLOW: You have some really interesting new reporting you and Jonathan Swan in The Times. About the particular interest, Special Counsel in the Federal probe Jack Smith, has taken around Trump's mindset when he fired Chris Krebs. This was after Krebs said, look, the 2020 election was the most secure election we've had. He was the top cybersecurity official under Trump. Why does Jack Smith want to know what Trump was thinking when he fired Krebs?

HABERMAN: Well, what we believe he's trying to do, as is the case of the documents case, as well and part of why this tape is important. It goes to mindset, it goes to what exactly he was thinking when he made certain decisions. And so, is the idea, you know, that these subpoenas relate to personnel office officials in the White House. You know, who would compile this dossier about, you know, misdeeds that Krebs supposedly committed. Which, you know, I think a lot of people looking at it would have a different view. But that's basically something that Smith is looking at. He's trying to figure out how the White House interacted with Krebs, with the DOJ as various actions were being taken by Trump in relation to his efforts to cling to power.

HARLOW: That's the other probe, the Jack Smith.

HABERMAN: Sorry, yes.


HABERMAN: Yes, correct. There's -- Jack Smith's team is up to a lot. And so, you know, the documents investigation is the one that is sort of, I think, the most distilled and narrow. FactSet because it's clear, we know what we're talking about the January 6 investigation and to your question about, why does he care? There are so many different offshoots of that investigation, and this is one of them.

HILL: And part of that too, in your reporting in this piece. You also mentioned this quote unquote, loyalty test, around that same time. That's important too, when it gets to mindset when it gets to where everyone was.

HABERMAN: Exactly. And they have been asking questions about this loyalty test, which my colleague Jonathan Swan, broke the news of when he was at Axios that this thing existed. But they were basically trying to with political appointees, and Krebs was a political appointee. Trump had, you know, appointed him, Trump had the right to fire him. But, you know, trying to figure out whether this person was personally loyal or any random person was personally loyal to Trump. Versus, you know, the government at large is part of what Jack Smith team has been asking questions about.

HARLOW: Pretty solid, Byline, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan.

HABERMAN: I'll take it. I'm really happy about it.


HARLOW: Thank you. This is really interesting, Maggie. We appreciate it.

HABERMAN: Thank you, see you this morning.

HILL: A simple question for you. Are your airplane seats too small? Now, two Senate Democrats are calling on the FAA to take action.

HARLOW: Also, what immigrants across the country are doing today to protest a new Florida law signed by the Governor and Republican Presidential candidate now Ron DeSantis.