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CNN Obtains Tape Of Trump Talking Classified Documents; Ex- Trump White House Lawyer Says, Tape Bolsters Government's Case; Report Shows Secret Service Agents Testify In Jan. 6 Case; Putin Addresses His People On The Armed Rebellion; Trump Talks About Classified Documents In An Audio Tape. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired June 26, 2023 - 22:00   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: And thanks so much for joining us, on the breaking Donald Trump news tonight of CNN's exclusive reporting of his audiotape. "CNN TONIGHT" starts right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Kaitlan, thank you. And don't go too far. We will see you in just a couple of moments.

But good evening everyone, I'm Abby Phillip, and we begin with that major breaking news exclusive and what is likely a key piece of evidence in the federal case against Donald Trump.

CNN has now obtained an audio recording of the former president, in which he is heard discussing classified documents in the presence of others and apparently holding and referencing a secret Pentagon document that obtains plans to attack Iran.

It is the tape that could be at the center of Special Counsel Jack Smith's case against Trump for allegedly mishandling classified information. And the recording was made almost exactly two years ago in July 2021 during a meeting at Trump's golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he was taking part in an interview for people who are working on that memoir, of his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

Now, listen in to what he said exactly on that tape.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: These are bad sick people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was your coup, you know, against you. That --

TRUMP: Well, it started right at the --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like when Milley is talking about, oh, you were going to try to do a coup. No, they were trying to do that before you even were sworn in. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trying to overthrow your election.

TRUMP: Well, with Milley, let me see that, I'll show you an example. He said that I wanted to attack Iran.

Isn't it amazing? I have a big pile of papers, this thing just came up. Look. This was him. They presented me this, this is off the record, but they presented me this. This was him. This was the Defense Department and him.


TRUMP: We looked at some. This was him. This wasn't done by me. This was him. All sorts of stuff, pages long, look. Wait a minute, let's see here.



TRUMP: I just found, isn't that amazing? This totally wins my case, you know. Except it is like, highly confidential, secret --


TRUMP: This is secret information. But look, look at this. You attack, and --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillary would print that out all the time, you know, her private email.

TRUMP: She's send it, no, she she'd send it to Anthony Weiner.


TRUMP: The pervert.


TRUMP: By the way, isn't that incredible?


TRUMP: I was just thinking, because we were talking about it. And you know, he said, he wanted to attack Iran and what. These are the papers.


TRUMP: This was done by the military and given to me. I think we can probably, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know, well, we'll have to see. Yes, we'll have to try to -- figure out -- TRUMP: Declassify it.


TRUMP: See as president I could have declassified it.


TRUMP: Now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Now we have a problem.

TRUMP: Isn't that interesting?


TRUMP: It's so cool. I mean, it's so -- look, her and I, and you probably almost didn't believe me, but now you believe me.


TRUMP: It's incredible, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, they met a war they didn't want.

TRUMP: Hey, bring some Cokes in please.


PHILLIP: In just a moment, a former Trump White House lawyer will join me live to respond to this. But, first, I do want to dig into this now with CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Paula Reid, two reporters who have been at the forefront of all of this from the beginning.

Kaitlin, folks at home can probably go and put some headphones on and listen really closely to what you are hearing there, because the shuffling of the papers is almost like a silent character in this audiotape. What does it mean for the former president to hear what actually transpired in that room?

COLLINS: It's remarkable, because, I mean, Paula and I and our other colleague Katelyn Polantz, and really our whole team, we have been reporting on this for so long and trying to report this out.

And we have known about the transcript obviously when it came out. So, when Paula got up, but also the indictment, but to actually hear, the former president's words and to hear the tone of this conversation, I think, is what could potentially be really damaging to Trump here, especially if this is something that is played in a trial for jurors to hear, because they are talking about it so casually and also the defense that Trump has used even in recent days with Fox News but also with me, on whether or not he showed it to anyone. When he tried to say, that it wasn't a document per se, but sounds very clearly like he is referencing a specific document in this audio in showing it to people. Now, of course, we know people in this room have been brought in before the grand jury. So, they've spoken to them. They have asked them, of course, what has happened here. It's unclear what exactly they said. But also you can tell, and then you can also hear him moving this paper around and showing it to them.


And so the idea that he is showing it to people, who we know do not have security clearances, I think that is one of the most striking parts of it, is just -- and when it comes to whether or not it is damning information, and he is so clearly talking about this document here, not casually referencing something but very clearly talking about this.

PHILLIP: Yes. He says, look at this, as he is moving papers around.

Paula, can you remind us, because I think that some people have questions about this tape, why did this tape even exist, and do you have a sense of how long the Trump legal team has been aware of this full context that's out there?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: He has a great question, Abby. So let's go to the summer of 2021. Now, during this time period, the former president was in the habit of having his aides report any conversations that he had with journalists, any members of the media, even if they were friendly or people working on a book.

So, this is a meeting at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club in July, 2021, and he was speaking with some folks working on an autobiography for former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Now, two of his aides were recording this. It's our understanding the audio biographers will also recording this. So, he knew he was being taped.

And one of the things that just really surprised me here is that he knows he is being taped and it's such a casual conversation. There is laughing, right, juxtaposed with what appears to be a discussion of some incredibly sensitive national security information.

That's really what struck me is this isn't him being like, come here, I've got something to show you, on a secret recording. I mean, this is very conversational, very collegial. It will be interesting to see how that hits a jury at any eventual trial.

PHILLIP: Yes, exactly. I mean, you hear them exclaiming, wow, as he says here, look at this. Kaitlin, can you tell us what is the reaction from the Trump campaign to this being revealed tonight?

COLLINS: Yes. I just pulled it up on my phone, because this was texted to us earlier. And this is their view.

Now, this is, I should note, not from a Trump attorney. This is not a defense that they are using in the courtroom for Todd Blanche. We will see, of course, have beside to handle that. But, politically, this is how the campaign is handling it. And they say, quote, the audiotape provides context proving once again that President Trump did nothing wrong at all. They say that he is speaking rhetorically and quite humorously when he references Anthony Weiner there. And they have criticized the DOJ, the Justice Department.

And then they added, and this was texted, additional from Trump, meaning the former president himself, as we have been saying from the moment President Trump rolled and the golden escalator, the president did nothing wrong.

And so they are saying, essentially, it proves the defense. But I think if you are looking at it from the legal perspective and what the defense attorneys here are going to have to argue when they are in court in Miami, it is going to make it difficult for them. And our sources have acknowledged privately that when they found out about this audiotape, which they didn't know about until March, whenever Margo Martin, an aide to Trump, went into the grand jury, that is when they found out about it. It made their case a lot more difficult.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, that is clearly the legal lens of all of this. I mean, he does say, not rhetorically, that these documents are secret, that he didn't declassify. That is all actually in pretty black and white text. Kaitlin and Paula, thank you both very much for joining us.

I want to turn now to some legal analysis, to address some of the things that Kaitlan just raised. I'm bringing in former Trump White House Lawyer Jim Schultz and former Federal Prosecutor and National Security Lawyer Paul Rosenzweig. Thank you so much, both of you, gentlemen for joining us.

So, James, he is saying out loud, as I was just saying, that he can't declassify these documents that he had when he was no longer in office. Does that full context of the tape, as you hear all of it, change anything for you in terms of the strength of this evidence for the special counsel?

JAMES SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: No. Really, if anything, it bolsters it, right? If this evidence is admissible, and I imagine that they are going to try to challenge on a number of different fronts, I am not sure where they make their argument here to exclude this evidence, but if it is admissible in court, it's certainly troubling for their defense, at least for Trump's defense in this. I means, it bolsters the government's claim under the Espionage Act.

It also bolsters her claim under the obstruction case. Because, you know, one of the things he has been saying all along is that he can just wave a magic wand and these documents are declassified. And in this instance, in his own words, he's saying it is not declassified. So that is very troubling for him, no doubt about it.

And, you know, I think the only matter -- you know, the big question is going to be what comes in at trial under the Classified Information Procedures Act. Is this all going to be admissible? Probably so, and it is going to be a big hurdle for them to get over.

PHILLIP: And, Paul, Jim says that this bolsters the defenses' case. [22:10:03]

Do you agree with that?

PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL, WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION: I think Jim actually said the other opposite of that it bolsters the government's case, and I agree with him.

PHILLIP: Oh, I'm sorry, I apologize, to bolster the government's case.

ROSENZWEIG: Yes. No, and I agree with him to that. The elements of the espionage charge are willful retention of national defense information. And if the tape is deemed, you know, accurate and admitted, President Trump admits that he knows that it is national defense information, i.e., a plan to invade Iran. And, two, it demonstrates that he knows that he is retaining it. It's not like it was accidentally kept in a box where she was unaware. It was on his desk as he was being interviewed by the people who were doing the Meadows autobiography.

So, he's giving them essentially, you know, nine-tenths of the proof of his criminality on the Espionage Act. And as Jim also said, there is no, I don't want to give it back exception to the obstruction charge. He has it, he knows he has it, he's ordered by the grand jury to produce it, that is pretty damning evidence of that as well.

PHILLIP: Yes. And, Jim, look, the Hill is probably going to be tough for the Trump defense to climb here, but Trump has put forward this idea that perhaps he was waving around something that maybe wasn't actually the document. Does the government need to prove that he actually had in his possession what he claimed to have? And if so, how would they go about doing that?

SCHULTZ: Look, this is all information that was probably shared during the grand jury. You would have had witnesses that go into the grand jury that testified about the -- in that particular encounter. And they probably talked about all the facts surrounding that, what documents were in that room. And I think, you know, you are going to have -- that's going to be a problem for the defense in this case. Because the government, look, they were very clear, they put that in the indictment for a reason, and the quote in that speaking indictment for a reason, because they wanted to emphasize the strength of their case on that point. That doesn't make its way into that indictment if they're not solid in the grand jury on their facts.

PHILLIP: And, Paul, this document ended up not at Mar-a-Lago but in Bedminster, all the way on the other side of the country. How significant is that to you, that the document ended up in a different place, specifically to prove in Trump's mind a point that he was trying to make about the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley.

ROSENZWEIG: Well, I think it has a couple of pieces of significance. First and foremost, it certainly suggests that President Trump was aware of the contents and the nature of the document he was transporting. It seems as though he purposely brought it to Bedminster because it was an important document to him, that it meant something to him, that it was relevant to his ongoing dispute with General Milley.

The second thing it means to me, which is quite interesting, is that it suggests that there are at least some additional charges that might have venue in New Jersey. We have talked about the challenges of bringing this case in court, where most of the charges had to be brought. But this one document makes at least one possible charge that could be brought in New Jersey as a supplement to the existing charges.

PHILLIP: And, Jim, you can hear in the tape, Trump's is -- and the guests in that room are making jokes about Hillary Clinton's emails, as he is in possession of rooms full of boxes that he seems to know he shouldn't have. What is your reaction to that?

SCHULTZ: So, I think that really hurts him, right? And here is why. I mean, look, there is this whole whataboutism that folks are making all over the news at this point, anybody who was interviewed talks about, well, what about Hillary Clinton? Well, the issue is you are not talking about whataboutisms when you get before a jury. When you get before a jury, they are going to have specific instructions as to the elements of the case and whether those elements are met by the facts.

And the fact that they are kind of being very casual or laissez-faire if you will, about this whole issue when you have national defense information or alleged national defense information right before the former president and other folks in the room who don't have a right to look at this information, that becomes very troublesome to some of them, and the prosecution is going to seize on that for sure when they are talking about the gravity of the issue before that jury.

PHILLIP: Yes, that's really interesting. I also thought it was notable, if you read the indictment, that little part about Hillary Clinton is not in there, perhaps to keep the indictment as clean as possible.


But if this gets into a court of law, perhaps that full context will be there for the jury to consider.

Paul and Jim, thank you both very much for joining us on all of that.

And up next for us, Maggie Haberman joins me to react to this major piece of evidence. What she is hearing from Trump allies.

And, more breaking news tonight, new developments in that crisis in Russia, as Vladimir Putin's power is threatened by an armed rebellion. The leader of that revolt is breaking his silence and Putin himself has a message for Russians.


PHILLIP: And back now to our breaking news. CNN has obtained what is likely a key piece of evidence in the federal case against Donald Trump it is the audiotape of a 2021 conversation about the classified documents that he was keeping. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I was just saying, because we were talking about it, he said he wanted to attack Iran and what. These are the papers.


TRUMP: This was done by the military and given to me.


I want to bring in CNN Political Analyst and Senior Political Correspondent for The New York Times Maggie Haberman. Maggie, you have also been reporting extensively about this tape and this conversation that went into the indictment. What was your reaction to actually hearing Trump's voice on this tape?


MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is interesting Abby. One of the things that we have been hearing from people supportive of Donald Trump is that the tape is not going to be as explosive as people thought after looking at the indictment, that the tape was not necessarily as bad as it seemed. Trump himself told Fox News that he was not really holding a document, he was not showing something. It certainly sounds like it on the tape that he is showing people in the room some kind of a document. You can hear papers rustling and you could argue that papers could be anything, but they all seem to be, just, again, based on the reaction, looking at something.

And it is interesting what they chose to put in the indictment versus not, because from that full audio you can see that there are certain pieces that aren't. But he is clearly -- at least appears to be clearly pointing to some kind of material and he appears to be trying to pressure the people who are writing Mark Meadows' book and working on it to include some of this. That was my big takeaway.

PHILLIP: Yes. I noticed that he said, this wins my case, which seems to tell you a lot about what he thought he was doing there. What did you take away from what Trump was trying to prove in that moment and also what the special counsel might have been trying to demonstrate by including that specific portion of the conversation in the indictment?

HABERMAN: Well, I think what the special counsel was trying to show is that Trump knew. He talks on that tape how he has, essentially that he no longer has the power to declassify documents. He has described this as highly confidential, it's secret. When I was -- he said when he was president, he could declassify, now he can't.

So, I think they're trying to show that he had awareness that, A, he didn't have the powers that he once did despite having claimed that he had declassified everything and that would suggest that he knew this document was not declassified and I think that they are trying to show that he knew exactly what he was doing.

I think what was striking about this tape, and I think there is some of this in the indictment, that he suggests, look, I just found this, I just came upon this. I think they are trying to show that he was very intentional about having this material in various places. He was a famous in the White House for holding meetings, that either his daughter or some other staffer would just happen to drop in and interrupt the meeting. There is a staginess (ph) about this.

And, again, I can't speak to what the prosecutors thought they were doing, but it appears they were trying to show intentionality on a variety of aspects here.

PHILLIP: Yes. And he says, I have a stack of papers here and I found this inside the stack of papers.

I also wonder, Maggie, you know, in the last couple of weeks, Trump has been trying to shift his story on this, telling Sean Hannity, oh, maybe he did not actually have that document. This is not a new tactic for Trump, but he also knows, obviously, that this tape exists in its fullness. What do you make of him trying to spin this when his legal team knows what is out there?

HABERMAN: Look, I think that he exists in ten-minute increments of time and I think that he just tries to survive from those ten minutes into the next. And I think that he said what he wanted to say to Sean Hannity regardless of the fact that not just is there this tape, Abby, but there are a bunch of people who are in that meeting who will presumably be called as witnesses by the government and ask about this meeting and ask if they saw something. So, I don't think the government was doing this entirely on a lark.

Again, we don't know everything that they have or what their plans are, but that's certainly within the realm of the possible.

PHILLIP: Do you get the sense of talking to people in Trump's legal orbit that they have a sense of how they counter this from a defensive perspective in the courts?

HABERMAN: I think they are going to suggest that he was simply acknowledging what reality was, but that he wasn't suggesting that -- I think they are going to come up with all kinds of things that they're going to say about this tape. And I'm not sure how much of it is going to be something that they believe, or how much of it is going to be -- what relates to previous things that Trump has said.

They knew this tape existed back in March, or some of them did back in March, after it was raised, when Margo Martin, en aide to Trump, was interviewed at the grand jury and then her tapes, and, so far, were subpoenaed later. But this has not been a cause of extensive alarm for some of Trump's advisers even though others are speaking more candidly acknowledged this as a problem.

PHILLIP: You mentioned that it hasn't been a cause for alarm for some of his advisers. What about his lawyers? I mean, several of whom have left now his legal orbit perhaps for other reasons, but how do the lawyers who are not in the orbit anymore feel about this?

HABERMAN: Well, without getting into specifics of just narrowing down who is saying what, there are some people around Trump who were pretty candid, who have been around Trump who are pretty candid that this is just not a good fact set for him. It doesn't that they won't find a defense for it, it doesn't mean that they won't argue all kinds of other things at trial or even before a trial, such as selected prosecution.


They will try to get notes taken by one of Trump's lawyers during the indictment out. But the tape is a pretty specific piece of evidence and they know it.

PHILLIP: And, of course, we learned just in the last week when discovery was released to the Trump attorneys that there were tapes, plural. And as you've reported and CNN has reported, several of these conversations between Trump and all kinds of people who came through his world were recorded by his staff intentionally so that he could keep tabs on what was said. How big of a concern is there that this is not the only audiotape to be concerned about for Trump?

HABERMAN: Well, look, they have the discovery, so they now have the ability to go through it. But what has been said to me by several people is that this tape is the most damning piece of evidence that they know of existing in this case. It doesn't mean that there are other things that are problematic for him. I am guessing that some of these tapes or other book interviews or other interviews he sat for, this is very specific and this was just , again, to your point about the fact that he knew his aides taped these meetings, it is not like this was a secret recording.

PHILLIP: Separately, Maggie, there are reports today that the Secret Service agents testified in the January 6th case that's also being led by the Special Counsel Jack Smith. What do we know about that?

HABERMAN: Look, we know that Secret Service agents have been subpoenaed in both cases in the January 6th case and in the documents case. Secret Service agents are going to play a key role, potentially, as witnesses in January 6th, even if Jack Smith never files charges and only ends up writing a report.

But they were around during key moments on January 6th, protecting Trump, as Trump, according to testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, was in a rage, wanting to see people who were said to be armed, armed with sticks and not necessarily guns, but be allowed to come into his rally at The Ellipse. He wanted it to be bigger. They were right there and had a bird's eye view. And so they are very important to try to understand both the details of that day and potentially Trump's mindset.

PHILLIP: Yes. And, of course, part of that story is also Trump wanting to go to the Capitol and to what extent he planned to do that and wanted his Secret Service agents to protect him in that journey.

Maggie Haberman, always great to have you, thank you very much for joining us. And now to our other major story tonight, Vladimir Putin and the leader of the rebellion both breaking their silence and giving dueling spins on what's next inside of Russia. But their whereabouts are both a mystery tonight.

Plus, new CNN reporting that the U.S. had intel on this insurrection but kept it secret. CNN's Erin Burnett joins me from Ukraine and CNN's Matthew Chance is inside of Russia right now.




PHILLIP: Tonight, as the mystery of Russia's crisis intensifies, there are five big questions. One, can Vladimir Putin's grip on power survive after the armed rebellion? Two, what is the fate of the Wagner group, the Russian mercenaries helping to fight the war in Ukraine? And three, will an angry Putin take an even harsher action in Ukraine? Four, is Yevgeny Prigozhin's life now in danger after attempting an insurrection? And five, where specifically are these key players?

Take a look at the split screen today. We do not know right now exactly where Putin is. We also don't know where Prigozhin is. While Russian President Zelenskyy is on the frontlines. We have some of the strongest voices on the developments tonight. Matthew Chance is in Moscow. Erin Burnett is in Ukraine. Kylie Atwood over at the State Department. And Fried Zakaria is here, as well. But first, the news.

Both Putin and Prigozhin speaking out publicly today, breaking their silence after this weekend insurrection that challenged the Russian leader's grip on power. Putin briefly addressing the Russian people, angrily denouncing this challenge to his government. Without using Prigozhin's name specifically, though, he accused the organizers of the insurrection of being traitors, and then he claimed that they would never have succeeded at the end of the day.

But for his part, Prigozhin released an audio message claiming -- and for his part, Yevgeny Prigozhin released an audio message claiming that the brief insurrection was protest against the Russian defense ministry's handling of the Ukraine invasion and its dealings with the Wagner group, and not attempt to overthrow Putin's government. Tonight --


YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER GROUP CHIEF (through translator): Two factors played into my decision to turn around. First factor, we wanted to avoid a Russian bloodshed. Second is, we marched in demonstration of a protest not to overturn the power in the country.


PHILLIP: Tonight, Prigozhin's whereabouts are still unknown. I want to check in with CNN's Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance who's over in Moscow, and also, National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood. Both of them tonight have new reporting.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matthew Chance in Moscow and Russian President Putin has broken his silence after a dramatic armed rebellion was ended here at the weekend. In a short speech, Putin condemned its leaders as traitors, saying they'd played into the hands of Russia's enemies. Well, Wagner's mercenary chief, who ordered his fighters to march towards Moscow, said he'd never aimed to topple Putin, but merely wanted to protest against generals who he said had made mistakes in the Ukraine war.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kylie Atwood at the State Department. U.S. Intelligence painted an incredibly accurate picture of what Prigozhin was planning to do, including how and where he was planning to advance. Now, according to U.S. officials familiar with that intelligence who spoke with my colleagues, they said it was not shared widely, not even among U.S. officials very widely, also not among U.S. allies incredibly widely, and it also wasn't shared with the Ukrainians. The concern there was that it could be intercepted. Those conversations between

between the U.S. and the Ukrainians, and the U.S. didn't want to take that risk. Abby.

PHILLIP: Incredibly fascinating. Now, I want to go straight to Kiev, where CNN's Erin Burnett is covering the latest there. Erin, so what does this all mean for the war in Ukraine?


ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": Well, Abby, you mentioned a crucial question. Will an angry Putin, a frightened Putin perhaps in some senses, take even more serious, harsh action here in Ukraine? And that's a crucial question tonight. Now, on the ground, Ukraine claims to have gained more ground, and its counter offensive. Also, British intelligence says that over the past three weeks, Ukraine has taken more territory than Russia did this entire winter. So those are some of the positive indications. But still, it is a seminal moment. It is still a dire situation here on the ground.

I spoke to a soldier today, a Ukrainian soldier who's in a drone unit operating near Bakhmut. He actually said that on Saturday, with news of the situation in Russia with Prigozhin, that there was some panic along the frontlines. But he said that did fade away and that they're seeing a bit of a return to normalcy, as he called it on the frontline just today.

Now, keep in mind, it's unclear exactly what many Russian soldiers actually know is even occurring in Moscow and between Putin and Prigozhin, but nonetheless, that's an indicator. And of course, officials here are taking what's happening in Russia very seriously. They say there are strains underneath the surface, but they're very concerned about what Putin might do next.

In fact, the head of intelligence here, Budennov, he said that Putin has drafted and approved a possible strike on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is the largest in Europe. That's something that President Zelenskyy has warned about in recent days. And today, the mayor of Kyiv also said, not only is he worried about it, but that if he's honest, here in Kyiv and in Ukraine, they don't have a plan on what do when that happens. Here's part of what Mayor Klitschko told me.


BURNETT: President Zelenskyy has said that Putin is prepared for a terrorist attack on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, of course the largest power plant in all of Europe. That would be a calamity. It would be a disaster for Europe. It would be a disaster for Kyiv. Are you prepared for the possibility of such an attack?

VITALI KLITSCHKO, MAYOR OF KYIV: We hope it does not happen. We hope. But we actually make meetings, what we have to do, give the instructions to the people. But to be honest, to prepare for nuclear war, we are not. We are not.


BURNETT: Abby, you heard him there. We are not ready. That is the harsh reality, of course, as he talks about a radiation fallout that would affect, at the very least, all of Europe. But that is the reality of the fear on the ground, of course, across Ukraine, the fear of constant strikes, missile strikes, on any given night.

Here in Ukraine right now, they've been on average every two to three nights. This weekend, a missile strike on an apartment building that at once showed both the randomness and precision of these current Russian missile strikes, five people killed on just one floor of an apartment building. Everyone, of course, lives changed in that building, some dead, some alive. And that is the current state of fear here on the ground that continues tonight. Abby.

PHILLIP: Erin Burnett, thank you very much. Let's bring in now Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS". Fareed, thank you for joining us tonight. This was a really unsettling but brief window into the possibility of a Russian civil war. What would it mean for the region and also for the world, really, if the West had to confront a truly destabilized Russia?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST of CNN "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Oh, it would be catastrophic for the world. It would be, look, Russia is one of the most important countries in the world. It spans 10 time zones. It's five and a half thousand miles. It would take you eight or nine hours to fly from one end of Russia to the other. It has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. It has a seat in the Security Council. It borders all kinds of sensitive areas, from the Middle East to China to Europe, of course. So, it would be a huge deal.

The price of oil would skyrocket. The price of every commodity would skyrocket. The price of food would skyrocket. But let's be clear, that is not what happened. As you put it, we got a brief, a glimpse of what could happen. And, you know, it's worth remembering the downside scenario, the spiral scenario. But the truth is, Putin was able to fairly, quickly and bloodlessly thwart this, whatever it was, I'm not sure we can even call it an attempted coup, but a kind of an attempted challenge to the authority of the Russian state.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, it certainly seemed very real in the first few hours, and then things suddenly changed. Fareed, you know, the State Department says that Prigozhin's direct questioning of this rationale for Putin's war in Ukraine is a new development in all of this that could undermine Putin's standing in Russia in a way that we haven't seen prior to this moment. Do you think that that's true?


ZAKARIA: I do. I think that has been the most significant thing really to come out of all this. Because as I say, Prigozhin seems to have kind of acted in a slightly bizarre and unplanned, uncalculated way. He had, after all, 25,000 troops, the Russian army is hundreds and hundreds of thousands. They have an air force. They could have destroyed him on the, you know, just using air power.

But what he did was not just challenge but assault the rationale for the war. And it's clearly an unpopular war in the sense that 200,000 Russians are dead or wounded in this war. It does not seem to excite the kind of nationalist fervor that Putin was hoping for. And what Prigozhin is doing is almost giving a license for people to say, look, the whole thing was started on false pretext. I think that is a big deal. And it does puncture the aura that Putin has tried to create around him. Now, does that lead to the toppling of the regime? I don't think so. I think Putin is firmly in control.

PHILLIP: And look, we were just playing the video of people waving at and taking pictures of Prigozhin as he fled. Putin is not usually the type to take to challenges to his power very easily. Should we be concerned in this moment that he could lash out in some way to just show the world and to show Russians that he is still in control?

ZAKARIA: I think he will almost certainly do some kind of purge. That has been very typical in Russian history. There was a doctor's plot against Stalin's life, and he cracked down brutally. I suspect something like that will happen. It might be quiet. It might be more public. I don't think he will act out in a kind of reckless and seemingly irrational way, because what I think Putin will try to show is that he is in control, that he is in complete command, that he continues, you know, that the operation is going well. You know, I don't think he'll do something that would suggest a kind of panic or anything like that.

So, I myself doubt, look, you never know, but I doubt that there will be an attack on the nuclear plant. I think what is more likely is really tough internal repression, a consolidation of power, and maybe some strikes on Ukraine to demonstrate that, you know, the Ukrainians are not winning as a result of all this Russian weakness, that the Russians are pressing forward. They have the air superiority, and they will use that.

PHILLIP: Yeah. You raise an important point about internal repression. I mean, there are questions tonight also about where two of Putin's top generals are, who we have not seen over the last several days, but also questions about where Prigozhin is right now. He has said to be going to Belarus, but we haven't seen any physical evidence of that. There's that, and then there's also if he is kind of missing in action, what does the Wagner group do, and do they continue to be a huge force in Ukraine? Lots of unanswered questions tonight, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Yeah, very good ones. The Wagner group, Putin seems to have been pretty clear in his message. It is effectively disbanded. He gave them three options. He said, you can sign up with the military, you can go home, or I think he gave them the third option, is they could go to Belarus, as I recall. But there was no scenario in which they are allowed to continue to operate.

So, Wagner, for all effective purposes, is dead. Prigozhin, your right is missing. If I were him, I would be doing exactly that. I mean, it seems to me he's a dead man walking. Why would you trust any assurance given to you by Lukashenko or Putin, for that matter? I mean, Putin is a man who has routinely assassinated dissidents who have done much less to challenge the authority of his regime than Prigozhin did. So, Prigozhin, I think, is a dead man walking. If I were him, I would be finding some place like Mali where he could -- he could get himself some kind of protection.

And, you know, what it means in general, we just don't know the fact that those two generals have not been seen is significant. When you see dictatorships crack, when you see them collapse, generally speaking, what happens is you see elite defection. You see generals, intelligence chiefs, senior ministers sort of quietly disappearing.

I don't know that that's happening, but that is the thing we should be looking for. If some of that happens, if people at the top close to Putin think that what Prigozhin showed was that there can be challenges to Putin's authority or even just a way for them to get away, that would be a sign that something is going on with the regime.


PHILLIP: And what -- this is also all revealed is that there's clearly not significant defenses within Russia that Prigozhin could have gone as far as he did without really facing any resistance at all. Fareed Zakaria, always a treat to have you on a late night here. Thank you very much for joining us.

And more on our breaking news. CNN has obtained that audio tape of Donald Trump talking about classified documents. It is a key piece of evidence in his federal case, and we'll discuss the political implications of this, next.


PHILLIP: Tomorrow, campaign rivals Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis will collide on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. And in the wake of this key piece of evidence tonight, an audio tape of Trump talking about classified documents.


Politically speaking, the question now is, how many of his opponents will begin to put a spotlight on his legal jeopardy?

Joining me now is Former Adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain and the Executive Producer of "The Circus", Mark McKinnon, as well as CNN Political Commentator, Van Jones. So, Mark, we hear the audio itself. And I wonder, I mean, the last time we had a kind of significant audio situation with a former president or a president was with Watergate. Do you think anything in Watergate was as crystal clear in terms of the actual words coming out of Trump's mouth as these tapes are?

MARK MCKINNON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER "THE CIRCUS": Well, listen, tapes are incriminating, and I think there's two people that are terrified tonight. That's Trump's lawyers and Trump. For the long term, but I think in the short term, there's a, it creates a dynamic where Trump just draws a line and says, this is a purity test. You're either for me or you're for the DOJ.

And it puts Ron DeSantis on an interesting position because DeSantis, without having seen the evidence, without having seen the trial, uh, has already pledged to pardon Trump, which is interesting because he said, if these same charges had been brought against him when he was in the military, he would have been court-martialed. Interesting double-standard.

PHILLIPS: Yeah and Van when you actually heard the tape you probably read the transcript just like all of us what did you think? Well, I thought that if there's any proof that there's a two-tiered system of justice, the fact that Donald Trump is not at Guantanamo right now under lock and key is evidence of it.

Look, when you work in a White House, and I think for people who don't understand, your first day in the White House, you don't even see the White House. They take you to a secure offsite location, and they spend about six hours telling you all the ways you're going to go to jail if you do certain things.

I mean, it is a scared, straight program for adults. And then you get your temporary badge, and then you go to the White House. And so, people understand the oath you take when you are in the White House, not to what Trump did and to see how flagrant he is violating the law? It is just shocking. Where are the patriots?

Yes, this is a two-tiered system of justice, because if I had done that, I would be at -- I wouldn't be in a better prison. I would be a Guantanamo. These are these are national security secrets about how we are going to deal with Iran. There is nothing more sensitive than that than maybe the nuclear codes. That's it. And that's what we're dealing with tonight.

PHILLIP: So, Mark, as you pointed out, Trump's rivals are not really touching this in any significant way. And CNN polling did find that Trump's favorability slipped slightly from about 10 points from May to June, but he is still leading really far, in a way, in this primary pack. At some point, are the opponents to Trump, who are closer to him in the polls like Ron DeSantis, going to have to do something different to try to really gain some traction here, especially, really getting at the heart of what this DOJ case is all about. MCKINNON: Well, I think the interesting evidence, Abby, is that in the

month of June, there were not fewer candidates in the Republican primary. There were more, five more people that got into the race as they see the mounting legal troubles for Trump. They're going to, most of them, with the exception of Christie and a couple of others, are just going to stand by and wait to see if the weight of the legal troubles ultimately break him.

Now, he may not go to trial before the election, but I think what they will wait to see is whether or not there's just enough weight of those legal cases that what happens is that perception begins to come through in polling or otherwise that he's just going to lose, that he's going to lose to Joe Biden in a general election. And once that happens and enough people, you know, that reality sets in, then I think those numbers start to fall rather precipitously.

PHILLIP: And, Van, it raises an interesting question, what Mark is saying, I mean, at some point, you know, Trump is gonna pretend like this primary doesn't exist and that he's running against Joe Biden. But does Joe Biden need to remain pretty quiet about this, considering that it pertains to his own DOJ? How do Democrats, how does the current president, Joe Biden, deal with these allegations?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Joe Biden should be absolutely silent about this, because anything he says will just give Republicans more reason to say, look, it's political, Joe Biden, you know, set this up, et cetera, et cetera. The reality is the prosecutor going after Trump is Trump's own appointee. And so, but there's nothing that Biden can say that will be advantageous to the cause of justice.

You don't want the president involving himself in this stuff. I think it's been good that he's been quiet. By the way, unlike Trump, who was politicizing the DOJ the whole time, fired people, was begging for his Department of Justice to investigate people openly, the person who politicized the DOJ and tried to weaponize the DOJ is Donald Trump. He did it, you know, time after time. Biden is doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing as president of the United States.


The person who politicized the DOJ and tried to weaponize the DOJ is Donald Trump. He did it, you know, time after time. Biden is doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing as President of the United States. Be quiet, let the DOJ do its job, and that's what he's doing.

PHILLIP: And we will also, I guess we should note, find out about the special counsel that has been appointed to look at President Biden's handling of classified information, as well, which will come into play here, as well. Van and Mark, thank you both very much for joining us. And thank you for joining me on this special edition of CNN Tonight. Our coverage of this CNN exclusive reporting continues next with Alisyn Camerota.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT. We continue with our breaking news.