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CNN This Morning

Feds Inform Trump He Is Target Of Classified Docs Probe; Wildfire Smokes Shifting South To D.C., Baltimore; Air Quality Plummets As Smoke Blankets East Coast. 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 08, 2023 - 08:00   ET



KYLE MARTINO, SOCCER ANALYST, TNT AND MAX: I can only take the natural inertia of this great game growing in this country and just put wind in its sails. And so, you know, for me like I just turned back into the nerd soccer fan. I'm no longer called the former player or analyst on T.V. I'm just the kid, the soccer nerd that wants to, you know, go to the stadium and feel the energy of that.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I get to call myself a soccer mom because I take Luca to Super Soccer Stars now.

MARTINO: Yes. We're going to Miami.

HARLOW: I'm proud of it.



HARLOW: We are definitely going to Miami.

MARTINO: I got -- I got it guys.

MATTINGLY: Kyle Martino, thanks so much.


MATTINGLY: Appreciate it. CNN THIS MORNING continues right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's kind of scary out here. Like the apocalypse is about to happen. And it's hard to breathe. It feels like I'm at a campfire that I don't want to be at and there's no s'mores.

HARLOW: Amen to all of that. It's not the apocalypse, but it sure looks it. Good morning, everyone. It's at the top there. We're glad you're with us on CNN THIS MORNING. Phil Mattingly is here. Good morning.

MATTINGLY: Good morning. There's a lot of news.

HARLOW: There's a lot --

MATTINGLY: A lot of important news. More sounds good. But let's focus on the news first at this point in time.

HARLOW: Let's focus on the news including this. Flight delays at New York City's LaGuardia Airport is thick smoke from Canadian wildfires. Smother the East Coast. We'll tell you where the smoke is heading this morning. And which cities could see the worst of it.

MATTINGLY: And it is the clear sign yet that Donald Trump could be indicted over his handling of classified documents. Sources telling CNN the Justice Department has informed the former president that he is a target in the special counsel's investigation.

HARLOW: And happening right now. Joran van der Sloot is on a flight to the United States. He will face justice for allegedly trying to extort Natalee Holloway is family. This hour of CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

This is where we begin this morning with new developments in one of the many investigations facing former President Trump's. Sources say the Justice Department has informed Trump's legal team that he is a target of Special Counsel Jack Smith's criminal investigation into the possible handling of classified documents. The target letter is the clear signal yet that Trump is likely to face charges.

Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. He argues he declassified papers when he was president but that is not really at the heart of all of it. Let's get to CNN's Sara Murray with more. This is a critical development extremely significant and something that has never happened to a former U.S. president.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, Poppy. And, you know, it would be such a historic development if in fact, Donald Trump is indicted. But that's skipping ahead. You know, what we know from multiple sources is that Donald Trump's legal team received this target letter. You know, we didn't see a copy of the letter. It was described to us. And we know that this is the strongest signal yet that Donald Trump could face an indictment.

It's not a guarantee, it's possible. In some cases, people would receive target letters and not be indicted. But look, this is a pretty clear signal of the direction this is heading. And it really does crystallize that prosecutors in this case are focused on the behavior of former President Donald Trump not just focused on the behavior of those around him. And we know, we've been reporting for weeks that there are signals that this investigation is winding down.

That prosecutors have spoken to dozens of witnesses, including people like Mark Meadows, who is a very important witness. Donald Trump's former White House Chief of Staff in this investigation. So again, this is a hugely significant development in this case, Poppy.

MATTINGLY: You know, Sara, obviously, we've known how serious this was to some degree based on the reporting, it seems to certainly ramp that up to some degree. How is the Trump team responding to this?

MURRAY: Well, we haven't heard, you know, a lot from the Trump team other than from Donald Trump himself who has taken to his social media platform to say, no one has told me I'm being indicted. He goes on to say he shouldn't be indicted, because he's done nothing wrong. Of course, we're not saying that prosecutors called up Donald Trump and said, hey, you're going to be indicted, we're saying that prosecutors have sent this letter to Donald Trump's legal team informing him that he is a target of a criminal investigation.

HARLOW: Not only are there so many questions about when this might happen, questions about where it could happen? What do we know?

MURRAY: Yes, that's right. I mean, a lot of our reporting has really focused on what has been going on with a federal grand jury that's based here in Washington, D.C. But we've also learned that in recent weeks, there's a grand jury that is in Florida, that has also been hearing testimony from witnesses. So, this raises a big question of if prosecutors are going to move ahead with this indictment, which venue, are they going to seek to move it in?

Is it going to come in Washington, D.C.? Is it going to come in Florida? And again, you said, the question is when? We know from the activity around prosecutors that it looks like this case has been winding down. But that of course doesn't give us a clear timeline of whether we could see something, you know, in the next couple of days or whether it could be longer but as you guys might expect, we of course have teams in Florida and in Washington, D.C. and we're looking for any developments today.

HARLOW: Sara, thank you very much. You guys have been working around the clock on this reporting. We really appreciate it.

MURRAY: Thanks.


MATTINGLY: Well, joining us now is former attorney general and former White House counsel to President George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales. He now serves as the dean of Belmont University College of Law. And I think it just want to start with -- to pull back a little bit because there's so many elements of this. So many disparate threads of this. A target letter, how significant is this, particularly in the context of a former president?

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it is historic, which -- in the context of a former president. But a target letter is very significant. It's -- I think it's more likely than not, it's -- actually it's quite likely that a diamond is coming. Of course, as everyone has been saying. Legal experts have been saying. There's no guarantee here. But I wouldn't want to be the subject of a target letter.

And so, I think that president -- former President Trump and his team are properly preparing for the war and getting ready to fight the charges that are likely becoming.

HARLOW: The -- Elie Honig did a great job of laying out sort of what a target letter would mean, and just some of the language used by the Justice Department substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who in the judgment of a prosecutor is a putative defendant. Is it rare that someone would not be indicted after getting a target letter? Isn't that pretty rare?

GONZALES: Yes. It would mean that something has happened, something has been uncovered. Perhaps a witness has recanted or said something different that has caused the department to step back. But as a general matter, the department has done its job. It's to start -- it's made the decision that we're about ready to go forward. Yes, it would -- it would be unusual. I'm most interested as a former attorney general about, you know, the discussions that have occurred between Jack Smith and the leadership of the Department of Justice and the mechanics of how this is going to roll out if in fact, there is an indictment.

Very curious about how that's going to work. I think what you're likely to see -- I think, as this process moves along, the deputy attorney general has had conversations from time to time with the special counsel to make sure that the special counsel is following the rules and procedures of the Department of Justice. The day-to-day supervision is not being conducted as you might normally have by the leadership over this investigation.

But nonetheless, the Special Counsel is required to follow the processes and procedures of the department and which as an example of that, you've got the target letter. That is what the Department of Justice does. And then, of course, the Deputy Attorney General's likely to have conversations with the Attorney General about where the -- where the investigation is, how comfortable they are with respect to the process.

But the actual determination of whether to move forward, it lies in the hands of Jack Smith. And they're going to defer that judgment. And Jack Smith at the appropriate time will tell the deputy attorney general, you know, I'm ready to go. The deputy attorney general will then have a conversation with the attorney general. The attorney general may want to have a direct conversation with Jack Smith just to hear him out talk about the case.

And then probably at the appropriate time, maybe an hour or so before the end -- before the department issues its announcement. There'll be a conversation probably between the bag and the White House counsel about what's about to happen. I don't think the White House will get much notice in advance of that. But generally, that's the way that it would have operated on -- in the Bush administration.

MATTINGLY: That was actually a remarkably concise breakdown of the entire process and answered several of my questions about said process. But the one that I kind of still have right now is, you know, the attorney general, you make a great point. There are very specific rules and regulations that the special counsel as drafted will have to follow throughout this entire process has had to follow.

Is there any situation where you as a former attorney general could see the attorney general going the opposite direction of whatever his special counsel recommends or says he wants to do? GONZALES: Well, the only situation that I think that the attorney general would perhaps disagree with moving forward is if he's convinced that in fact, the normal processes and rules and procedures of the department were not followed. Because they're intended to ensure that everyone is treated the same. And we want to make sure in this particular case, that no one can make the claim that Donald Trump has been treated any differently than any other merit or any other person in our criminal justice system.

So -- but that's the reason why you would have intermittent conversations between the special counsel and the DAG, the deputy attorney general about, you know, what is the process? What are we doing? What have you found? What are your conclusions? So, it would be extremely unusual and quite frankly, politically dangerous for the attorney general to disagree with the recommendation or decision of the special counsel. And it would take extraordinary circumstances for that to occur in my judgment.


MATTINGLY: Yes. There's a lot to play out on. This one was very helpful and detailed explanation of the process ahead. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you, Mister Attorney General.

GONZALES: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Now to what you are seeing, many of you outside of your window. Tens of millions of Americans waking up to this. Thick smoke from Canadian wildfires continuing to smother the East Coast and much of the Midwest. Air quality is deteriorating quickly. It is so bad right here in New York City, that it is currently the most polluted major city in the entire world. The haze is so blinding.

There was another ground stop at LaGuardia airport this morning and the FAA says flights will be delayed on average about an hour. Take a look at Washington, D.C. right now which is 200 miles by the way, south of New York City. The bulk of this smoke is shifting south to the nation's capital. Also, the cities like Baltimore. You can see how bad it's already getting there.

Brian Todd joins us in Washington. What does it feel like? What does it smell like?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, you can actually -- you can smell it. You can smell smoke in the air. It's almost like being near a campfire here in Washington, D.C. You mentioned New York City. The Air Quality Index right now at this hour puts us at about the same level of poor air quality that New York is experiencing. I'll step out of the shot here. Our photo journalist Steve Williams will turn his camera down toward the U.S. Capitol.

You can see just how hazy it is. Now the difference between now and an hour ago when I joined you is that the sun is more prominent in the sky right now, of course. And the sun is out. There are no clouds covering the sky. Normally, it would be a beautiful day out here. But look at it. It is incredibly hazy, incredibly smoky down Pennsylvania Avenue. This view that you're seeing here normally, you can see the Capitol very, very clearly, even when it's raining.

But look at it. You can barely make it out against this kind of white- yellowish sky in the backdrop and if Steve puts his camera down at street level, you can actually see what pedestrians, commuters and others are up against as they try to make their way around the city. The visibility is not great. We see a lot of people out here wearing N-95 masks from the COVID days because it is kind of tough to walk along the way.

They are advising people do not do anything strenuous outdoors. It is a code red air quality alert. We can give you some other updates too as to what's going on in this area. We just got word that the Fairfax County School System has canceled all outdoor activities today. That means recess for the kids not happening outside. You got to do it inside. Sports activities canceled. Marching band practice canceled.

Even mowing operations are canceled for Fairfax County Schools. The Washington Nationals Baseball Team here did not cancel their game last night against the Arizona Diamondbacks. We know that Major League Baseball games in New York and Philadelphia were canceled last night. The nationals have a 1:05 p.m. start slated against the Diamondbacks today. I frankly be surprised if that game went ahead of schedule, given the air quality behind us.

What officials are saying is stay inside, you can use your air conditioners, make sure that your air intake valves are all closed to keep that smoky air from getting inside. Don't do anything strenuous. People with lung conditions, pregnant women, older people got to stay inside today. Don't even bother venturing out. It's just too dangerous. And this kind of smoke and haze is extending all the way into the Carolinas at this point, Poppy.

So, it's just -- it's just getting much worse and it may not -- we may not get any relief here as far as rain or anything, maybe until this weekend.

HARLOW: And that's what Dr. Sanjay Gupta said to us. The people that really have to worry are the young and the old. Brian Todd, thank you. Phil?

MATTINGLY: We'll show you how thick this smoke is. We're going to put together some before and after photos of New York City's iconic landmarks. Look, I've spent many an hour next to this beautiful beast, breaking down, very complex data from election night. Sometimes it's just pictures that tell the best story of all. Take, for instance, the Chrysler Building, this is a before, this is clear Chrysler Building. This is normal.

This is in the current state of affairs. What about the Empire State Building? Clear Empire State Building. Beautiful skyline? What about now, over the course the last 24 hours? That's your view? World Trade Center. Right there. The Freedom Tower, you look clear. Now you look. Not clear. Look, I understand this seems very simplistic, but the binary view of what's going on here gives you a sense of what's been happening. Beautiful blue skies.

This is the moment we're in weather wise, season wise. This is what New York has been experiencing about the Brooklyn Bridge, beautiful. What about now? Can't even see it. A lot of people are wondering, could we start seeing more of this? This isn't just a New York thing. This is across the East Coast, but particularly because of climate change, what we've seen out west, what we've seen up in Canada, coming down.

Canada is already on track to have its worst wildfire season ever. And it just began last month. CNN's Chief Climate Correspondent Bill Weir is live in Brooklyn. And Bill, this is -- as I noted, the sort of thing you would expect on the West Coast, not here.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Not at all, in fact, this is frightening as the air quality levels were yesterday here. They were nowhere near what it was in San Francisco and Seattle last year in those epic wildfires out there. And unfortunately, this is something that the East Coast may have to get used to now. Because, you know, we thought maybe that fires were a Western phenomenon, you'd like to think that that's someone else's problem. But on a connected planet, this is proof now. New science shows that 60 percent of this smoke pollution, people are breathing in the United States is coming from a different state that's far away from them.

And so, you really can't escape it now. It's just the beginning of fire season. Up north you can see this morning, it's cleared out a little bit a lot better than yesterday, I woke up the air quality index was about 191 this morning. Yesterday had hit 484, this is a scale of zero to 500. Now, this is also a big reminder, this incident, Phil, of the glories of the Clean Air Act. Because in Asia, the big cities in Asia, especially India, what we've been seeing here is just an average day. In China they had an air apocalypse back in 2013 with air quality index was over 700 and people were literally trapped inside their houses.

And then, China decided to clean up and now they've had a record clean air. Meanwhile, India, which still burns a lot of coal has unchecked motor regulations, they burn their fields for agricultural purposes. Their life expectancy in India is nine years shorter as a result of their air. New Science is looking at wildfire smoke as a compared to other emissions. In some cases, it can be 10 times more hazardous it's PM 2.5 particles right now. So, we're going to have to learn the way we had to learn how to deal with COVID and those sorts of things. This may be a smoky summer on the East Coast, as we understand the connection with our overheating planet.

HARLOW: Maybe, by the way, the wake-up call that everyone needs on that. Bill Weir, thank you very much.

MATTINGLY: Happening today, Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the murder of America teenager Natalee Holloway will arrive in the United States. Here he was just moments ago. New details on where his case will go from here. HARLOW: Also, Vice President Mike Pence making his strongest public rebuke yet of his former running mate and partner Donald Trump, saying Trump should be disqualified. But could trump ever get his support again? We'll tell you.



HARLOW: Well, this morning, Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the 2005 disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway left a prison in Lima, Peru for the Air Force Base. He will board a plane headed for the United States. He has been -- he has been serving a 20- year prison sentence in Peru for the murder of a Peruvian woman. Now, this plane will fly to Birmingham Alabama and that is where he will face new federal charges of extortion and wire fraud in connection with a plot to defraud Natalee Holloway's family. Our Jean Casarez has been following this case for years. She is live at the airport in Birmingham. Jean, good morning.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. We do understand that Joran van der Sloot has arrived at Peru's Air Force Base. It is there where he will become the custody of the United States. He will be in the hands of the FBI. Now, we are here in Birmingham, we are here in Birmingham, Alabama is Airport. This is where Natalee Holloway was from, this is her community. And this is where Joran van der Sloot will be brought to face those charges of extortion and fraud.

Now, what we do understand what happened this morning, the President of the Penitentiary Institute of Peru had told us that Joran van der Sloot would leave Lima's prison that it'd be put in the custody of Interpol. Interpol would then take him to Peru's Air Force Base where we do know he is now. And what will happen is that the FBI taking him into custody will put him on the FBI executive jet, the 550. This is the one that is used for foreign transport of those that are in custody.

They will fly from Lima direct here to Birmingham's Airport. This is when he'll touchdown, we believe it will be this afternoon. He will be taken into custody in Alabama, will go to a holding facility where he will be kept for the night. Tomorrow, we will believe that in federal court will be his arraignment. His initial proceeding, where he will have to say before a magistrate judge if he is guilty or not guilty. And then, proceedings will begin in the federal court here in Northern Alabama. Poppy?

HARLOW: Jean, we're glad you're there, tracking us all. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well, the 2024 Republican race getting crowded and getting a little fiery. How Chris Christie responded after Trump posted a video mocking his weight.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: It's so childish. It's so juvenile. He is such a spoiled baby. (END VIDEO CLIP)




MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Let me be clear that no one's above the law. I would just hope that there would be a way for them to move forward, without the dramatic and drastic and divisive step of indicting a former President of the United States.


MATTINGLY: Former Vice President Mike Pence last night to our Danna Bash, addressing the Trump legal developments. CNN learned minutes before that Town Hall that the Justice Department is telling Trump he is a target in the classified documents probe. Meaning prosecutors may be moving closer to indicting the former President. Now, Pence said no one is above the law. But in contrast that a former President should not be indicted.

HARLOW: Regarding January 6, Pence said Trump should be disqualified based on his actions around that day. But then he also pledged to support whoever becomes the Republican nominee.


PENCE: If anyone who puts themselves above the constitution should never be president in the first place. And anyone who has anyone else to put them over the constitution, should never be president again. And I've always supported the Republican nominee for President in the United States. And I'll support the Republican nominee in 2024.


HARLOW: What's missing from the first statement is the name Trump. What may be missing from the second statement is the name Trump and what will he do if that's the case? Let's talk about all of this on what we saw last night with Pence and a lot more. Joining us now CNN Political Analyst and National Politics reporter for the New York Times, Astead Herndon. He also has a fabulous podcast called the Run- Up and CNN Senior Political Analyst and the Anchor who's all equally fabulous --


HARLOW: -- John Avlon. Good morning, guys. Let me begin with you. You have a really interesting column coming out. I got to see -- we got a sneak peek.

AVLON: Eminently.

HARLOW: Eminently, here's the first line. If a perfect Republican candidate was created in a lab, it would look a lot like Mike Pence. But.

AVLON: But, and that's the problem. He's actually uniquely suited to sort of bridge everything from the bush here to the tea party to the Trump era. Earnest Evangelical Fiscal, Social Conservative National Security Hawk, but the base doesn't like him because they're actually not being motivated by those traditional coalition policy politics. It's in the wake of Trump become about who can articulate the accumulation of my resentments. And that's not the kind of politician that Mike Pence is also, he is a talking point automaton. I mean, he is incredibly disciplined as a messenger and that doesn't read to some people as authentic even though he's undeniably Earnest.

MATTINGLY: Astead, can I ask you the idea of nobody who's above the constitution should ever be president. Yes, dude, I'm totally in on whoever the nominee is.


MATTINGLY: Including if it's that guy that I've said explicitly was above the Constitution and asked me to throw the Constitution is that like, I understand to us like threading that needle doesn't make a tone of sense. Is that a needle that --