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Mar-a-Lago Pool Flood Raises Suspicion in Documents Probe; GOP Presidential Field Gets More Crowded; Second Flight of Migrants Arrives in Sacramento; Ukraine Blames Russia For Breach To Critical Dam; White House Warns China Against "Growing Aggressiveness". Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 06, 2023 - 08:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The Republican race for the presidency about to get more crowded. Chris Christie set to announce that he is running today, and we're expecting Mike Pence to jump in tomorrow.

This hour of CNN This Morning starts right now.

So, this is where we begin this morning, because what is happening in Ukraine is very, very significant. This is CNN exclusive reporting. We'll get to Ukraine in a moment.

But this is where we begin in the United States, because sources say that a Mar-a-Lago maintenance worker flooded a computer server room where surveillance video was stored when that worker drained the club's pool. This happened in October, and it's just raising a lot of questions in the special counsel's probe of Donald Trump and his handling of classified documents.

We are told this is the same maintenance worker who was spotted on surveillance footage moving boxes before the FBI executed a search warrant and found hundreds of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. It's not clear if the surveillance video room was flooded intentionally or if this happened by mistake, but our sources are telling us it happened during a string of incidents that federal prosecutors at least find suspicious.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Now, it has become very clear surveillance video is a key piece of evidence in the special counsel's probe. Prosecutors have been investigating whether Trump and his staffers tried to hide the classified documents from federal agents.

Let's bring in CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez. And, Evan, prosecutors have been asking questions about this flood, whether the surveillance video was tampered with. What's their endgame as far as you know of right now on this issue specifically?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Phil, this is one of the data points that prosecutors are working with. There is obviously the moving back and forth of boxes around the time that prosecutors were down there to visit and to try to retrieve some of these documents that were being stored at Mar-a-Lago. And so for prosecutors, they're asking witnesses about this flood. And the timing is the key here.

This, of course, came after there was subpoena for the production of these documents. It came after the FBI did the search in Mar-a-Lago in August, and then this happens in October also after prosecutors had sent another subpoena for additional surveillance video. And then they finally sent a preservation order at the end of August.

Again, all of this driving towards the idea of whether anyone else besides the former president, whether those workers who were moving boxes, anybody, was involved in trying to obstruct this investigation. Obviously, we don't know whether there's going to be any charges, but the picture we're getting, certainly, is the activity that prosecutors are driving towards is to try to wrap up this investigation. And so trying to get the answer to some of these questions is very key.

I will note that the sources told Katelyn Polantz and Kaitlan Collins that at least in some testimony that prosecutors received, they said there was no damage that was done to this I.T. room where some of this stuff happened.

HARLOW: In terms of your point about are we getting to the end of this, what do you know about the meeting that happened yesterday between Trump's legal team and high ranking officials at the Justice Department, including Jack Smith, the special counsel?

PEREZ: Right. They wanted a meeting because they said that they believed that there was a prosecutorial misconduct. They ended up getting a meeting not with the attorney general, Merrick Garland, or with Lisa Monaco, the deputy attorney general, but they did meet with the top career official at the Justice Department. They also met with Jack Smith, who I don't think they really wanted to see. After all, their complaints are all focused on the conduct of Jack Smith's office.

Again, we don't know their exact complaints, Poppy and Phil, but we know that prosecutors have obtained material that they're very concerned about, the Trump team is very concerned about, including things that they believe are attorney/client privilege materials that almost never fall into the hands of prosecutors. They did so, of course, because a judge declared that it was something

prosecutors needed to see under the crime fraud exception.

HARLOW: Evan, thank you for that reporting.


PEREZ: Sure.

MATTINGLY: Well, also this morning, two more of Donald Trump's former allies are getting ready to take him on in the race for the White House. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is expected to join the race today. Remember, he was an early and very high-profile Trump endorser back in the 2016 race after he dropped out. And Trump's own former vice president, Mike Pence, is expected to announce tomorrow after filing his paperwork.

Now, joining us right now, Abby Phillip, CNN Senior Political Correspondent and the anchor of Inside Politics Sunday, and Astead Herndon, CNN Political Analyst and National Politics Reporter at The New York Times.

Abby, I want to apologize to you.


MATTINGLY: When I was in Japan and did your show and you talked to me before the show started, and I just woken up three minutes prior after only having slept like once in the 36 hours.


I don't think I was very nice. I was like kind of short and I apologize. It's been bothering me and I forgot to text you. I literally just remembered, and I was like, oh, my God, I forgot to text Abby and apologize for that.

On that note, Astead, welcome.

HARLOW: Phil is capable of being mean. If short is your mean, I'm here for it. No problem.

MATTINGLY: Sorry. I literally just remember.

PHILLIP: you are forgiven.

MATTINGLY: Thank you, my friend.

And with that, two new entrants into the Republican race, Abby, your sense of what this does, if anything, to a growing dynamic that has been kind of moving in this direction for the last several weeks.

PHILLIP: it's just making the field a lot bigger. I mean, I think that's really mostly what it is. There's been a big question for me, and I think for a lot of people watching this, how big is it really going to get? And will that in and of itself give Donald Trump a hand up in this race?

And I think that we're getting perilously close to that point where you're looking at a sizable field that is pretty similar to the last time around when he utilized the rules of the nominating process on the Republican side that make it really easy for someone like a Donald Trump who's getting 30 percent and above to sweep because it's a winner take all system. Once you get a plurality in some of these states, you can take all of the delegates, and they keenly understand that.

So, while all of these candidates have some rationale in their own minds for running, the real question is going to be down the road, at what point do they get out? Because I think it's going to be one of those situations where they have to just look at the numbers and the math and determine whether it's possible for them to win. I think it's more interesting from a perspective of the primary what Chris Christie is going to do, because I think that he is a little bit of an X factor in this race.

HARLOW: So, let's talk about Chris Christie. But to your point about when they get out, I think that was so interesting that Governor Sununu of New Hampshire, he's not running, told Dana Bash yesterday, everyone who's in has to be keenly aware of how quickly they get out if the numbers aren't there for them.

Chris Christie, are people underestimating his ability in this? Not just Republicans, many pundits across the border saying he's there to bulldoze Trump and that's it? I mean, is that dismissing how he ran the state of New Jersey and the margin by which he won?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is somewhat dismissing what is a long record of someone who, I mean, at the original stage of kind of Chris Christie's career, he was seen as someone who could embody a new version of the Republican --

MATTINGLY: He was the guy.

HERNDON: He was the guy. And that has flipped so quickly, partly because Trump has transformed the party so quickly. That's what he's going to be up against.

And so I think people are really putting him in a kind of Trump antagonist role in this race. That's partly because there hasn't really been evidence that he's been able to make kind of inroads among a Republican electorate.

I think when we think about the Pences and the Christies, they're all kind of running like ideological test cases in this race. Can you be anti-Trump and still have some level of support among Republicans? And for Pence, is that evangelical wing? Is that kind of pro-life wing still driving a lot of the Republican activism? He's someone who has a lot of trust among that group of people, but it's not very clear that that means he's going to be prioritized over others, particularly when he crossed Trump on things like January 6th and the rest.

And so I do think that these new candidates in the race are testing kind of theories about the electorate, but we don't really have a sense that they're really able to build those type of coalitions. Because I think to Abby's point, this year is really about can you break into that top tier? And so if you're DeSantis, you have to be looking at these type of people getting in the race and saying, are they kind of cobbling up 2 or 3 percent that I might need to cross Donald Trump's threshold, because, as she said, those winner take all states mean that his high floor in that 30s and 40s becomes really, really important in this race.

PHILLIP: And here's the case for Chris Christie doing something I think a little bit different from some of the other candidates. Frankly, Christie has just proven that he's a more dynamic personality, someone who thinks on his feet pretty quickly. And when you are talking about a Donald Trump, there's really -- look at the field. There's really not that many other candidates who could kind of go toe-to-toe with him in that way.

And that will start to matter, especially once we're talking about debates, especially once we're talking about the attention of Republican voters. People discount the degree to which Republican voters like Trump because he is entertaining. He catches their attention. He knows how to suck all the energy out of the room. And for all of the policy differences between all of these candidates, not many of them can really match Trump in that way.

And I think that's one of the things that Christie thinks that he can try. I mean, we, the other day, played a montage of all the times on the debate stage when he went after Marco Rubio, and it was a legendary takedown in that way. And I think he's kind of banking on a similar ability to really go frontally against Trump and do it in a way that catches people's attention and makes headlines.


If you want to stop Trump, somebody is going to have to do that.

HERNDON: Yes. If I was Trump, I wouldn't want Chris Christine in that debate. But I wouldn't want Chris Christine that debate if I'm the other candidates either. I think that he really provides a kind of wild card factor. He's someone who can perform on that big stage. And to the Marco Rubio point, you do not know who was going to be the kind of opponent on the other side of those attacks. I think that's a real X factor.

MATTINGLY: That was a gasp worthy, like could not catch my breath watching that happen in real-time. People have forgotten it because of everything that's happened since.

Can I just ask, if you're Ron DeSantis and you're looking at the people coming into this race, and I'm thinking you've made a really interesting point about on the evangelical side of things, which is kind of Mike Pence's lane, DeSantis is making a clear play for them, including in Iowa this week, if you're Ron DeSantis, who are you looking at in the broader field and saying, I need them out quickly?

HERNDON: Everyone who is not Donald Trump. I mean, he needs to go into 2024 as that clear kind of other alternative and really coalesce those other options. I mean, I think somewhat the growing nature of the field is a reflection about a donor class, about a Republican class that feels a little more unsure about Ron DeSantis than they did after the midterms.

There was a sense of coordination after the midterms, that they had chosen the kind of guy who was going to be the alternative here. What that has shifted is allowed people to come back into the race. You have people like Glenn Youngkin openly thinking about it. You have the North Dakota governor. This has opened up partially because people --

MATTINGLY: Doug Burgum, he has a name.

HERNDON: Yes. I'm sorry, (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: Astead knowns his name.

HERNDON: He's just rolling in real-time. This is -- I'll give an apology next time.

MATTINGLY: (INAUDIBLE) more about politics than I'll ever know. I'm just messing around.

PHILLIP: I was going to say about Glenn Youngkin. If I were Ron DeSantis, probably Glenn Youngkin is the only person who could enter the race who would have a shot at somewhat of a lane. I mean, he's a governor, he's a culture war guy, but he --

HERNDON: Independent money, too.

PHILLIP: Yes, independent money. But also, I think, in some ways, Glenn Youngkin doesn't have the sort of personality problem that Ron DeSantis has or Ron DeSantis has to convince people that he's personable and that he can do the glad handing and the retail politics. Glenn Youngkin doesn't have to do that.

So, it would be interesting to see how those two kind of compete for the same types of voters if the theory of the case that they have is correct, which is that Republican voters really want more than anything else a huge culture warrior in this race. And I think that remains to be seen, too.

HARLOW: Can you move here in New York so we can have you two here with us every day? It brings such nice energy. Thank you both very, very much.

MATTINGLY: To be very clear, Astead knows (INAUDIBLE). I want to be very clear about this. And Abby apparently wants a bigger field and more candidates. I feel like we've accomplished a lot.

HARLOW: Yes, thank you, guys, every much. It's good to have you.

Tomorrow, our very own Dana Bash moderates the CNN Republican Presidential town hall. This is live from Iowa with former Vice President Mike Pence. That starts 09:00 P.M. Eastern only right here on CNN.

MATTINGLY: A second flight of carrying migrants from El Paso, Texas, arrived in Sacramento on Monday. Now, according to the state attorney general, the flight was chartered by a company contracted by the state of Florida, causing California's Department of Justice to launch an investigation.

The state's attorney general says he does not believe the migrants were fully informed and the relocation was not fully consensual.

CNN Correspondent Isabel Rosales is live in Atlanta for us. And, Isabel, do we know if any other flights carrying migrants are expected at some point in the future?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Phil, good morning to you. So far, California and Sacramento officials have said that they are not aware of any plans for more flights to arrive in California. However, the mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg, says it's a reasonable expectation that these flights will continue, saying that the city is prepared to receive these migrants.

Now, CNN reported that back in May, the Florida Division of Emergency Management selected the company Vertol to execute its migrant relocation program, but it also selected two other companies. So far, we've only heard from the attorney general of California Vertol chartering these flights. So, it really raises the question, are more flights coming?


ROSALES (voiceover): You a political tug of war wages on between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and California Governor Gavin Newsom after a private plane carrying 20 migrants arrived in Sacramento on Monday. This was the second trip this plane had made to Sacramento in recent days.

MAYOR DARRELL STEINBERG (D-SACRAMENTO, CA): We have been working together over the last 48 plus hours to make sure that, first and foremost, that the people who are scared, who are vulnerable, who are flown here under some lure of jobs and/or services that they know that they are safe and that they will be well cared for.

ROSALES (voiceover): According to interviews conducted with the migrants by California's Department of Justice, all migrants arrived in Sacramento with paperwork saying the plane was chartered by a private company based in Florida, Vertol Systems, contracted by Florida's Division of Emergency Management.


Individuals approached the migrant speaking and quote, Broken Spanish, asking them to sign forms to take them to Sacramento, but not all understood where they were going or sign the forms. The migrants were initially approached in El Paso, then were transported a hundred miles away to an airport in New Mexico and flown to California.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, I've said it many times from here repeatedly, from this podium that bussing or flying migrants around the country without any coordination with the Federal Government is dangerous and unacceptable.

ROSALES (voiceover): DeSantis has not commented on the flights. But California officials are accusing him of trying to bolster his campaign for president.

DARRELL STEINBERG (D), MAYOR OF SACRAMENTO, CA: What matters is the tactic of using the most vulnerable people as your political opponent.

ROSALES (voiceover): Newsom tweeting to DeSantis that he is a quote, "Small, pathetic man." And suggesting this could constitute kidnapping under California law.

ROB BONTA (D), ATTORNEY GENERAL OF CALIFORNIA: We believe the State of Florida is behind this. And we are investigating now to see if there are any criminal or civil laws that have been violated.

ROSALES (voiceover): Last fall, DeSantis claimed credit for orchestrating two flights carrying 48 migrants from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard. The Bexar County Sheriff's Office is now recommending criminal charges involving those two charter flights. Florida spent over $600,000 on those flights and spent over $1.6 million last year on its migrant flight program.


ROSALES (on camera): An investigator will be looking very closely not just at the documents that these migrants were carrying with them. But also, their cell phones were told by the California Attorney General's office that some of these migrants actually took pictures and videos of their journey capturing the images of the people who led them to California, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Isabel Rosales, great reporting thanks so much.

ROSALES: Thanks.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also, this new overnight, Ukraine accusing Russia of blowing up a critical dam. The Kremlin is rejecting those accusations but dramatic drone video shows water gushing through a gap in the wall, forcing hundreds to evacuate. We'll take you live next to Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: Plus, China blames the U.S. for what it calls Blatant Military Provocation after a series of close encounters in the South China Sea. We'll speak with Senator Chris Murphy about all of these developments coming up next.



HARLOW: This morning, water pouring out of a critical dam in Ukraine. This dam sits on the frontlines of the war in a Russian controlled area of the Kherson region. Ukraine says it was blown up by Russian forces in what they're calling a quote, panic. The Kremlin quote strongly rejects that accusation says, this is deliberate sabotage from Ukraine. Regardless of what happened, this is the result, the surging waters flowing and flooding towns forcing more than 800 people from their homes this morning. Sparking fears of large-scale devastation and also fears of an environmental disaster. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy holding an emergency meeting with top officials about this crisis. Sam Kiley is live in Kharkiv, Ukraine with more. Good morning to you, Sam, what can you tell us?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the first thing to say is that the Ukrainians have not offered any kind of proof at all for, this being an explosion that caused the breach in the dam. The dam had been dangerously holding back a very large amount of water in the river and Lake above it. And there were deep concerns that it could be breached. In just in the last few days, that indeed happened on a limited level with the road across the top, giving way and the waters pouring over the top of the dam.

There have been explosions subsequent to the breach, which may be attributed to the mines and other explosives that the Russian occupiers had left at that location. But nonetheless, 80 settlements and villages, towns and others are under threat, eight have been completely inundated. According to the Ukrainian authorities Nova Kakhovka, the town right next door, under Russian control. The Russian authorities have admitted has been inundated. There is a threat to Kherson city, but the greater threat is actually to the Russian forces who occupy the East side of the bank. That is the location, those are the locations from which they have been using artillery and rockets even direct fire from tanks to attack.

Ukrainian civilians and military on the other side of the river and they are in the lower ground, much more vulnerable to flooding. The Kyiv issue then, will be whether or not they had pre warning that this breach in the dam was going to happen or whether they too have been caught up in this. But either way, it's a deep humanitarian disaster for the Ukrainian population on both sides of that river, with the Ukrainian Government in Kherson ordering evacuations, offering evacuations, rather evacuation trains and exhorting people in the low- lying areas to get out of their homes, release their pets and flee with their essential documents.

MATTINGLY: Sam Kiley, has been doing great reporting for us on this all morning. Thanks so much.

HARLOW: Sam. New this morning, China blaming the U.S. for what it calls quote, "Blatant Military Provocation." After recent encounters in the South China Sea. As we've been covering a Chinese warship cut in front of an American vessel on Saturday. This happened notably in the Taiwan Strait. The Pentagon says the U.S. ship was forced to slow down to avoid a collision.

MATTINGLY: And just days ago, Chinese fighter jet made an unsafe maneuver close to a U.S. spy plane. These near misses underscore, why U.S. officials want a high-level dialogue to restart the military-to- military bases. Here is with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley told CNN in an exclusive interview.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: And I personally don't think that war between China and the United States is inevitable. I don't think it's imminent. But it needs to stay in a status of competition. In order to do that, countries have to talk to each other. And in times of crisis, it's necessary to deescalate.


MATTINGLY: Joining us now is Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Thanks for your time, Senator.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Nice to be back up here.

MATTINGLY: My usual places in Washington. I want to play some sound from National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who spoke to our colleague Fareed Zakaria. This past weekend, President Biden has been talking about a thaw, has repeatedly said, not only does he want to speak with Xi Jinping but that he's going to be speaking with Xi Jinping. This was how Jake framed things.


JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We will -- I hope soon see American officials engaging at senior levels with their Chinese counterparts over the coming months to continue that work. And then at some point, we will see President Biden and President Xi come back together again.


MATTINGLY: I think the question I've had -- I think there's a difference between military and military engagement. And obviously, there have been engagements, some on the economic level, we had U.S. officials in Beijing meeting as well. The question I think, has been, what is the rationale from your perspective as to why China has not engaged on the military-to-military side? And why Xi has not seemed to show any interest in having a conversation President Biden very much wants.


MURPHY: Well, the Chinese explanation for their reluctance to engage their Defense Ministers relative to sanctions that the United States has on China. But it's consistent with this broader decision that she has made to keep engagements at a lower level. And I think he notices the fairly bold steps that the Biden administration, along with Congress have taken to try to put the United States in a better position to compete. You know, this isn't the temper tantrums of the Trump administration. This is really strategic thinking and direction on behalf of the administration.

For instance, the Congress with the President's support passed the CHIPS Act, which seeks to start a new microchip industry in the United States so that we are not dependent on China nor Taiwan. The United States has upsurge military support to Taiwan to make sure that Taiwan can defend themselves in the case of a Chinese invasion. And obviously, that ruffles feathers in Beijing. And I'm sure that China wants to send a message to the United States. And the Biden administration that there's some diplomatic price, at the very least, to pay for Biden's decision to really get serious about a comprehensive strategy to manage China's rise so that it doesn't hurt U.S. interests.

HARLOW: I'm interested then in your perspective on what Congressman Mike Turner, who's the Chair of the House Intel Committee had to say on Sunday. About where he thinks the administration is falling short vis-a-vis China, here he was.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): What we're seeing is an unbelievable aggression by China. If you look at the balloon that flew over the United States, the Chinese police stations, the aggressiveness against our both planes and ships and international water, you get this sort of sense of permissiveness, that I think the administration needs to step up and make clear that China has identified itself as an adversary, and we're going to treat it as such.


HARLOW: Is there more the administration could do there?

MURPHY: I think the administration took some pretty definitive steps including canceling a high-level trip by the Secretary of State, that, I think, is in part what has aggravated China, so that they are responding with this denial of meetings of military leaders. We have also sanctioned innumerable Chinese high-level officials for their conduct in Xinjiang.

Their cooperation with Russia, and as I mentioned, the Biden administration has a suite of policies that standing up and ability to combat China's economic and military rise. I understand that there's a lot of Republicans out there who are, you know, interested in our entire relationship with China being one of confrontation. I just don't think that's smart, because what we are trying to avoid is a direct military conflict, which would be disastrous for the world for the United States and for China.

And so, I think you've got to have a policy of strategic competition while you're also pursuing some ability to deconflict and cooperate where we can cooperate. And we shouldn't forget that there are places where we can still work together, whether it's on North Korea or Iran or climate, we can't give up opportunities to try to find common cause where they exist with the Chinese Government. Those are limited, but we shouldn't forsake that opportunity.

MATTINGLY: Can I ask one quick one on that and we'll shift over to Ukraine? Do you feel like lifting the sanctions on Secretary Russia's counterpart would be a helpful element?

MURPHY: No, I think it's an excuse from the channel.

MATTINGLY: No, I understand that. But do you feel like that should be on the table for the administration to consider?

MURPHY: No, the Chinese have cooperated with Russia, helped Russia's war in Ukraine, and any country that is assisting in the obliteration of international norms has to pay a price for that.

MATTINGLY: On Ukraine, you were also one of the point people in the Senate Democratic Caucus. I think you've been over there constantly.


MATTINGLY: Since you've been in the Senate to some degree. What's your sense right now, given what we're seeing, at the dam, what we're seeing in terms of more kinetic action over the course of the last several days? What do you think is happening on the ground?

MURPHY: So, I don't have any independent confirmation that this was a Russian operation. It's certainly possible that this was a natural breach. But it certainly would be consistent with the way in which Russia has been operating. They have been in panic mode for nearly the entirety of the conflict launching attacks. Deliberately targeted against civilians and civilian infrastructure is a way to try to sow dissent inside the Ukrainian population to try to get them to come to the negotiating table too early.

But they are also panicked about this Ukrainian offensive that is reading. I don't know how successful it will be. But there are all sorts of signs that Ukraine is going to be in a position to take back some significant territory and that would be, at the very least a devastating public relation.