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Erin Burnett Outfront
FBI's Affidavit Used To Search Trump's Mar-a-Lago: "Believe That Evidence Of Obstruction Will Be Found; Trump Team Faces Deadline Today To Explain Mar-a-Lago Docs Request; Report: Fake Heiress Infiltrated Mar-a-Lago, Raising Security Concerns; Biden Seizes On Roe Reversal As Dems Gain Traction On Abortion Issue; Family: U.S. Asked Russia To Release American On Humanitarian Basis. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired August 26, 2022 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, the Justice Department releasing the document that paved the way for the FBI search at Mar-a- Lago. What is revealing about some of the most sensitive documents Trump is keeping at his Florida resort.
Plus, more security concerns at Mar-a-Lago. A Russian-speaking woman who reportedly posed as a banking heiress got into the resort and next to President Trump. The reporter who broke the story is our guest.
And Democrats see a winning message in going after Republicans on abortion. So far, it seems to be working.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan, in for Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, evidence of obstruction. That is one of the key takeaways from the unsealed redacted affidavit that the Justice Department used to obtain a search warrant for Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
The affidavit, 38 pages long, about half of it is redacted, blacked out. Despite that, it is still shedding new light on the criminal investigation, including the probable cause that warranted the search. According to the DOJ of the 15 boxes that Trump ended over in January, 14 contained documents with classification markings. That included 67, which were more confidential. 92 marked secret, and 25 marked top secret.
According to the FBI, of most significant concern, was that highly classified records were unfolded, intermixed with other records and otherwise improperly identified. The affidavit also said the FBI believes Trump's storage room, residential suite, pine hall, the 45 office and other locations, potentially held more national defense information. That's concerning, because we will show you where some of those rooms are in Mar-a-Lago.
You can see in red is Trump's suit. And you can also see just down the hall from the outdoor dining area and the members-only club, where members and their guests go through all the time. Now the former president is responding, calling it a total public relations subterfuge by the FBI and DOJ.
As for the current president, Joe Biden, today mocked Trump's claim that he declassified all the documents the FBI found during the search of his home. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: President Trump said that he declassified all these documents. Could he have just declassified them all?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just want to know I've declassified everything in the world. I'm president, I can do it all. Come on.
REPORTER: Without a specialized area in which you can view classified documents? It ever appropriate for a president to bring classified documents homes with them?
BIDEN: It depends on the documents and it depends on how secure the room is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Evan Perez is OUTFRONT now.
So, Evan, what else do we now know about how sensitive these documents were that Donald Trump had at Mar-a-Lago?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, according to the Justice Department, after a period of months where the National Archives is trying to retrieve all these boxes of documents, inside these 15 boxes, they found documents that were clearly labeled as having human intelligence sources. This is the stuff that the CIA tries its best to protect, because these are people who are spies overseas, presumably, who have information to the United States government. And they go through great, great extends to try to protect those people to save their lives, obviously.
And, obviously, there's also another classification that is labeled SI. These are signals intelligence. Again, these are the NSA's programs that are used to monitor and surveil foreign countries, and again, highly, highly secret documents.
I'll read you just a part of with the FBI says it found. The FBI agents observed markings reflecting the following compartments and dissemination controls, HCS, again, human intelligence sources, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN and SI.
Again, these are documents that are not supposed to be seen by foreign nationals. Based on my training and experience, I know that these documents are classified at these levels typically contained NDI, national defense information. Several of the documents also contained what appears to be former president's handwritten notes. This is how the Justice Department knows that these documents were specifically handled by the former president, Kate. BOLDUAN: Even, there are also -- there are pages upon pages that
we've talked about that are full of blacked out reductions. We know it was coming, but when you see it, I mean, it's -- there's a lot of black.
PEREZ: Yeah, there's a lot of black. It could see according to the document, they say they're trying to protect their witnesses. They know that there is a roadmap to the investigation that they're trying to protect.
But one of the things we were looking for and there's very little evidence of -- or that we can see, they -- there's talk about the evidence of alleged obstruction of justice. Again, this is one of the reasons why they said they had to go to this extraordinary search of Mar-a-Lago. You will see that there are specific details on what was taken in June, and then obviously in August, we don't know any of that because that's not in this document.
And, you know, the other thing is, why did the FBI come to believe that there were more documents, classified documents, which obviously they did find when they did the search. How did they come to believe that? Because we know they have some human sources, some witnesses that they described them as civilian witnesses, but we don't know very much about that, and again it's a lot more this investigation the FBI says that they're still developing, they don't know everything at this point. So, we are really at the beginning of this investigation, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Still a lot of unknowns. Even though there is still a lot that was learned today. It's good to see you, Evan. Thanks for laying it out.
OUTFRONT with me now: Ryan Goodman is here, co-editor in chief of Just Security and former special counsel at the Defense Department; Kaitlan Collins, CNN's chief White House correspondent; and John Dean, former Nixon White House counsel.
Thank you guys for being here.
Ryan, the Justice Department, the way it's put in there, said it's a lot of classified records. And that they found at Mar-a-Lago. That is definitely true. That is not a subject of statement and what we are saying.
The breakdown again of the 184 classified documents included 67 confidential, 92 secret and 25 top secret. When you saw those numbers, when you first saw those numbers, what did you think?
RYAN GOODMAN, JUST SECURITY CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: I thought it was very alarming. To have those numbers attached with these acronyms for human intelligence and signals intelligence is very alarming, because it means that this is the most highly sensitive information, and it could therefore compromise people who put their lives on the line, who are, for example, clandestine sources, and it could compromise entire systems of surveillance that we use. It has ripple effects beyond just the document themselves.
BOLDUAN: That's a good point.
And, Kaitlan, one thing we've been hearing is that former Trump officials have said after seeing kind of how it's all described, that it was -- they weren't surprised at all to hear that Trump was -- that Trump had classified documents mixed in with other documents. The way it's been described by some as he was known to walk around the White House, walked around Mar-a-Lago, pick up a document from one box, put it into another. Does that track with what you know?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He wasn't a president who is very specific about intelligence. He was not very careful with it. He revealed some national intelligence to Russian officials, if you recall during the meeting in the Oval Office. Officials did not know he was going to do that. And so, I think when you read through this affidavit today, the parts that aren't reacted talked about how some of the boxes they seized, they're full of newspapers, magazines, articles that have been pointed out, photos, other miscellaneous print outs, notes. Post presidential notes. All of that mixed in with, quote, a lot of classified records.
I think people who worked in the White House were like, yeah, because that was kind of the regard that he treated sensitive information with. They're not surprised. I think the question is did his team try to use that as a defense, saying they've been arguing it was so chaotic in the final days of the administration, everything just kind of got swept up. That differs with the accounts we hear from the final days at the oval office when he said, a lot of information was going from documents, going from the west wing to the residents at the White House. People reason questions of what was being taken, what wasn't being taken.
And so, I think there's a big question of whether it was intentional, or more than just a chaos excuse that you're seeing some of his allies argue.
BOLDUAN: Look, intent and why do you have the documents and why he didn't return them when asked? That's the central question that remains unanswered still.
I mean, John, affidavit makes clear the documents were not being stored in a secure location. Agents asked that the room be secure, not just given a lock as Trump had claimed.
Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" is also reporting that video shows people coming in and out of that room.
How problematic is that?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's very bad. Obviously you don't have a secured room if people are coming in and out. That's exactly the kind of danger you control when you have boxes that are randomly stored, everybody could go through them and there they would find national security information of the highest. And they found hard documents to spot. They have headers and footers
that say they're classified. Most of them troubled with a cover sheet, unless it's been removed for some reason, which was not the proper thing to do.
So they're flagged. They're very conspicuous. So that's why it's dangerous to have them in just a padlock. It's not the solution. It is not a secure room.
Ryan, the affidavit also speaks of a June letter coming from -- it was the DOJ counsel sent to Trump that said this in part. We ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago be preserved in that room in their current condition with -- until further notice.
But we also know from the affidavit, the FBI was focused on Donald Trump's office and the way they put it is it's presidential suite, in addition to the storage room.
Is that -- what does that say?
GOODMAN: I think it's very concerning. I think it actually points to the possibility of obstruction and concealment of the government documents because they're saying on June 8th, here's our instruction. Keep everything from the White House in that storage room.
BOLDUAN: It seems very clear what the instruction is.
GOODMAN: That's right. And then they say, we're now going to search all these other places because there is probable cause to believe it's there. And then we do have "The Washington Post" reporting that they did find some of the documents in his bedroom and in the closet in his office, so obviously he did not follow the instruction at a minimum but there's also indicate it's probably -- you know, or it's likely that it could because of concealment or obstruction, just trying to prevent them from doing their investigation and getting the documents.
BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, with this affidavit now out there, do you get any sense, I mean Trump's world is a broad range, but that's how we'll describe it, within Trump's world and supporters, and among his supporters, that they're accepting at the very minimum that the search was justified now?
COLLINS: I think very few of them would admit that publicly, but I think if you talk to some people, they will say, there was a lot of stuff there. What they almost always come back to is it matters what was in there. That is something we still don't know. When we talk about the fact that it was these potentially really valuable sources to the CIA, these human sources where it's really the bread of butter and of the CIA and that is something they're still protective a for obvious reasons, because it was actual people at risk. I think that raises a lot of questions for people. Even in Trump's
world. But they basically view everything through this lens of, does this mean he's going to be charged or not? Is this illegal threat to him or not? Because of the impeachment hearings, because of the Mueller investigation, they view things differently, I think.
The two things that really stood out to me from this was talking about a significant number of witnesses saying that basically they had people who were aware of where these documents were, what was going on and potentially what was included. And clearly from the affidavit they are so concerned about obstruction and about him trying to get it in the way and interfere this investigation. They cited that is a big reason for why they cannot reveal some of the information, and the judge agreed with that. I think that was a really notable part.
BOLDUAN: A big blacked out portion of it.
John, George Conway, he was on the show last night, and the way he put it is he said he remains convinced that this probably -- the way he put it is, it represents the shortest distance between Donald Trump and an orange jumpsuit. After today and we've seen revealed in this document, how likely do you think charges -- how likely do you think that charges could be coming for Donald Trump now?
DEAN: Well, I think we have a case clearly from this affidavit and what we've seen of it, that is moving along. It's a sophisticated case. It looks like I gave it a lot of priority and attention.
Clearly, it's gone to the attorney general to get clearance for search warrant. This is the kind of case that they were not fooling around with. I think it is more than just merely the concern retrieve documents that they have got to make the point.
As I read the affidavit, I see a conspiracy. I think there are many more people involved in this. I think some of them have not surfaced, not even on our radar yet. And this is a big case.
How close are we? I would say three or four months, we may know how this is all going to shake out.
BOLDUAN: Thank you all so much for being here. I really appreciate it.
OUTFRONT next, Trump's legal struggle, as we've been discussing, the former president huddling with his legal team as he tries to recruit a high-profile attorney to take the case.
A former Watergate prosecutor who was approached to join Trump's legal team but declined is next.
Plus, security concerns that Mar-a-Lago, this time reportedly involving a Russian-speaking immigrant in Ukraine who was able to reach Donald Trump himself. The reporter who broke the story is our guest.
And a Democrat who is fighting for her political career, now seizing on abortion rights to try to help a win in November. Will ads like this one work?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD ANNOUNCER: Vega was caught on tape saying women can't get pregnant for rape.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Tonight, the clock is ticking on the judge's deadline for Trump's legal team to explain their requests for special master to oversee the review of evidence gathered at Mar-a-Lago. The deadline is looming a CNN learns the former president has been huddling with his legal team at his Bedminster golf club. Sources telling CNN they're struggling. At the same time to bring on a high-profile Florida attorney to help defend Trump.
OUTFRONT now, Jon Sale, former Watergate prosecutor who was approached to join Trump's legal team after the Mar-a-Lago search. And Jim Schultz, former Trump White House counsel.
Gentlemen, it's good to see you. Thanks for coming in.
John, some of the -- broadly, the takeaways from the affidavit. We've learned that the FBI found 184 classified documents appearing to include information about national security and human intelligence sources. I also said there is probable cause for evidence of obstruction. A lot of people are talking about the problem this has means for Trump.
But do you see any benefit for the Trump legal team to not have this document public and in their hands as well?
JON SALE, FLORIDA DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, having the document public is an example of be careful what you asked for. It's a one-sided document, which is very, very harmful to the president.
I think the most important part of the affidavit, and I've read it carefully, is this. I don't know if the cameras picking this up.
BOLDUAN: Yeah, all the black.
SALE: And it's the obstruction, the alleged obstruction. We have to remember that in the Department of Justice, they've said this is the early part of the investigation. And I would caution against a rush to judgment. Either side, there is so much to be developed, and I think that that -- it's a mistake.
I saw Laurence Tribe on Wolf Blitzer's show just before this and I was -- with all due respect to Professor Tribe, he said based upon what he read, the attorney general -- he said it's impossible for him not to seek an indictment.
Well, most respectfully, I could not disagree more. I mean, we have to wait to see how the facts develop and whether or not an indictment should be returned against a former president is a very weighty decision that the attorney general ultimately will have to wait based upon the facts and the law. Weighty decision that the attorney ultimately will have to make based upon the facts and the law.
BOLDUAN: Jim, CNN is reporting that Trump has been huddling with his legal team in Bedminster. And we'll show everyone that is included in this team. They included attorneys who often appear on right wing media. Also, they have experienced handling insurance claims and representing famous rappers. But not too many of them have experienced in the realm of what we're discussing, in the realm of documents, in the realm of legal trouble that the president could be facing.
And sources tell CNN that people close to Trump are privately questioning whether his legal team is up to the task of handling this. What do you think they need right now?
JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what the president is facing legal issues in Georgia, Florida, and D.C. at this time, and New York. And if he doesn't have multiple, if he doesn't have a big team working together among those various states, then he has a problem in his hands. It is incumbent upon him to find good counsel, especially in D.C., Florida and Georgia. It's a corporate case in New York, and a civil case in New York. But still in that case there, that's the case where he took the Fifth a bunch of times during his deposition.
So, all of these issues are coming home to roost, and what you need is a very -- what he needs is a very serious legal defense legal team to handle these issues. And folks that have experience in national security issues. What he really needs is that high profile prosecutor type who comes out of the federal prosecutor's office or main DOJ, along with some support.
BOLDUAN: Yeah. And, Jon, you declined to work on Trump's legal team. Sources tell CNN that Trump is struggling to find a high profile Florida attorney like yourself to join. Do you think they need to add someone with stronger Florida credentials?
SALE: In my experience and in practicing in Florida and all over the country, I always engage very, very high power local lawyers. So without criticizing the present legal team, yes, I think that would be a great addition to the team. I agree they need a team with various legal degrees.
And, you know, the government has one task force and only one case and that is to investigate Donald Trump. So I think Trump needs the equivalent, needs a coordinated team with a quarterback in order to represent him effectively. BOLDUAN: You know, CNN is reporting that Trump has started asking
members of his inner circle about a potential indictment. One adviser told CNN, while Trump has been in legal peril before, this seems different. This is potentially more dangerous.
Do you, and with all the caution that Jon rightfully offered off the top, do you think he is any closer to being indicted after seeing this affidavit?
SCHULTZ: Well, I said --
SALE: I'm sorry, I'll sorry.
BOLDUAN: It's okay. Go ahead, Jim.
SALE: Go on.
SCHULTZ: So, I agree with John. We have to be very careful about jumping to conclusions and the fact -- I think the former Attorney General Bill Barr said the same thing this week, or within the last couple days. I also agree with the obstruction that is so glaring in that affidavit is what the Trump legal team should be concerned about.
And let's not forget, things are moving along in Georgia with Rudy Giuliani getting the target letter and things like all of that. So you have these various law enforcement agencies, whether it is the Fulton County DA, the main DOJ and the focus in Florida, al kind of looking at various things. There's a lot to be concerned about. I don't know that he is any closer today than he was yesterday than being indicted though.
SALE: I suggested a special master. It has not been done in Florida. It has been done in New York. That would give the public more confidence that this is being done independently, and in fact, there was a recent appellate court case in Maryland which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said, we don't like these government filter teams.
Because it is the duty of the prosecutors to not only be doing justice but to give the public the appearance that justice is being done.
And I would -- they're not asking me for advice, but I would advise -- in fact, I did I advise that they seek a special master to do all the independent reviewing and then make a recommendation to the court.
BOLDUAN: And they have a midnight deadline to meet to further explain their request for special master on this one. Let's see what happens.
It's good to see you both. Thank you very, very much.
SALE: Thanks for having me. BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT next, another security lapse at Mar-a-Lago. This time according to "The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette", it was a Russian- speaking woman posing as a bank heiress who got to Trump himself. The reporter who broke the story is our guest.
Plus, Biden doubles down on his student debt relief plan as Republicans pounce.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why they'll be struggling artist? College is on me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My kids don't need fancy things like school supplies or new shoes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Is that a problem for Democrats?
BOLDUAN: Tonight, security concerns at Trump's Mar-a-Lago. "The Pittsburgh Post Gazette" and the organized crime and corruption reporting project in a joint investigation, revealing this 33-year-old woman was able to gain access to the former president at his golf club in May of last year, even posing with Trump himself, and as you see, Senator Lindsey Graham.
According to this new reporting, the woman claimed to be a member of the prominent banking family, the Rothschild. In reality, she is a Russian-speaking immigrant from Ukraine. She's now under FBI investigation for her financial activities, according to "The Post Gazette". No one has been charged with any crimes here, but it's another example of lax security at Mar-a-Lago.
OUTFRONT now, Michael Sallah with "The Pittsburgh Post Gazette", one of the reporters behind the story.
Michael, thank you for coming in. You quote one --
MICHAEL SALLAH, INVESTIGATIONS DEPUTY MANAGING EDTIOR, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Thanks for having me.
BOLDUAN: Oh, I appreciate it.
You quote on Mar-a-Lago member who is a former investment banker saying this: It was the near perfect ruse, and she played the part.
How is this woman able to gain such access in Mar-a-Lago?
SALLAH: Well, you know, you think about all the props, the jewelry, the brand-new Mercedes G wagon, the bracelets. She played the part. She was very good. And I, for all intents and purposes, she got everybody there, she convince them she was a member of the Rothschild family.
BOLDUAN: This investigation into this woman comes three years after two separate incidents of Chinese nationals being arrested for entering the resorts grounds, as you note in your reporting, and we all remember. What if you learned about the security process for people to get into Mar-a-Lago, since Donald Trump has left office?
SALLAH: It's an interesting question, because what you're dealing with Mar-a-Lago is you have a private club. You have the president's residence. And there's a saying there that we've never had a president, former president living in a hotel.
So the challenges of providing security are really difficult. For instance, you could have guests coming in and out of one part of the compound, and here's the president with his family in the other. So, the whole problem is being able to provide the kind of security in the club, in the residence that protects the president and his family and all the records that were there for all that time. It's a difficult task. It's a juggling act.
BOLDUAN: For sure. She has said -- this woman in your reporting, she said she's never used another name and she hasn't broken any other laws, also telling the "Post-Gazette" that this whole situation is a misunderstanding. At one point did Trump security realize what was going on?
SALLAH: Actually, Kate, I never found out what was going on. We pretty much told them and I think -- it had been for about a year kind of a secret, at least most of the people that were there, it was a secret.
The guest that was invited there in March finally broke into some of the president's staff and other people like, hey, be careful. This is not the person you think it is. You should probably not be allowed here. Don't get involved with her in any way.
That was in March. So, that was close to a year later.
BOLDUAN: Wow. Bottom line, it was a quote in your piece that really stuck out to me. It seems to sum it all up. The quote is, the question is, was it a fraud or an intelligence threat? Have you landed to anywhere close to a conclusion on that?
SALLAH: No. I think is the Secret Service agent said, the former Secret Service agent, that's the problem, that the idea that you don't know who is there, that any given time somebody could get into this facility under a fake name, fake identity.
You know, think about it. She was in and out of that place five times in two days. Driving in, driving out, driving in, driving out. Nobody checked her ID. Nobody knew who it was. She could have been going to Neiman Marcus for all that matters. And the president was there that weekend.
So, that's the challenge it faces. You know, is it adequately protected at all sites? BOLDUAN: Your reporting definitely raises serious questions about
that. Thank you very much. Great report.
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT for us next, Trump reportedly says the documents that he took to Mar-a-Lago belonged to him. It's not the first time we've heard talk like that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: You see, my generals --
What I do is I authorize my military.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Plus, the Democrat facing a tough reelection in the purple district thinks this kind of attack will help a win.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD ANNOUNCER: Yesli Vega cheered the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Tonight, I did nothing wrong -- the words of former President Donald Trump as he maintains his innocence when it comes to the troves of documents that he took to Mar-a-Lago, documents he reportedly referred to as mine.
And as Tom Foreman reports, it's part of a predictable pattern for trouble.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They illegally raided my home and took things that should not have been taken, my top secret documents, mine.
From the get-go, the former president has heavily implied the FBI seizure was not to protect public records but to plunder his private property. Allies have rushed to his side, laying into the Justice Department.
MARK LEVIN, CONSERVATIVE TALK-SHOW HOST: Every darn thing they do is intended to weaken the Republican Party.
FOREMAN: But if Trump had a legal or legitimate right to hold on to highly secret government documents, to intermingle them with his other papers in Florida resort, as the affidavit says, why was that not made clear before it all reach this point?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA MOSCOW STATION CHIEF: I can't think of a good reason and everybody says yeah, I understand why the former president would take this incredibly classified information home with him.
TRUMP: I'm going to bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them. I don't care.
FOREMAN: The thing is, Trump has a long history of making everything about him.
TRUMP: I will build a great, great wall.
FOREMAN: And laying personal claim to public assets, for example repeatedly talking about my generals, my military.
TRUMP: My generals, the generals are going to keep us so safe.
And what I do is I authorize my military.
My generals and my military.
FOREMAN: Some people close to the armed forces pushed back.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Our defense system belongs to the country, and it's not the presidents military. It's the military that the United States of America.
FOREMAN: But this tendency has appeared time and time again. On the campaign trail --
TRUMP: Look at my African-American over here. Look at him.
FOREMAN: Dealing with the pandemic --
TRUMP: I said to my people, slow the testing down, please.
FOREMAN: And on January 6th, when witnesses say Trump repeatedly referred to the mob descending on the capital as my people.
FOREMAN (on camera): Maybe it's all just semantics, just the way Trump speaks. But federal authorities and many legal analysts suggest that when Trump talks about these papers that way, he is dead wrong. They never were his, certainly aren't now, and he could pay a price for acting like they were -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Tom, it's good to see you, thank you.
OUTFRONT next, one Republican in a close race, scrubbing references to 100 percent pro-life stands from his campaign Website. Is the Republican Party running scared from the issue of abortion now? Plus, the State Department pressuring Russia to release American Marc
Fogel on humanitarian grounds. Vogel is set to serve a 14 year sentence.
BOLDUAN: Tonight, President Biden seizing on abortion rights as a rallying cry for Democrats heading into the midterms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The court got Roe right for nearly 50 years. And Congress in my view should codify Roe once and for all. Right now, we're short a handful of votes. The only way it will happen is if the American people happen in November. You will hear women roar on this issue and it's going to be consequential.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Democrats and some of the toughest races this cycle hear that message and seem to agree. Just take Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger for example who is fighting to defend her seat in Virginia. This ad hitting airwaves today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD ANNOUNCER: First, Yesli Vega cheered the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Next, Vega was caught on tape saying women can't get pregnant from rape. Yesli Vega is too extreme for Virginia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT now, Katie Hill, former Democratic congresswoman from California, and former RNC communications director Doug Heye.
Good to see you, guys.
DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, you know Spanberger. You were elected to Congress at the same time. Your PAC has given money to her campaign. She clearly thinks the driving hard on abortion rights right now will help her win this tough race.
Do you think it will work?
KATIE HILL (D), FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN FROM CALIFORNIA: I think absolutely. I think that abortion is going to be the defining issue of the midterms. And even though we're seeing so much about Trump right now, it's going to be this issue that is about day to day how we live our lives that's going to drive women to the polls.
BOLDUAN: But, Doug, we're seeing some signs that Republicans are worried this will work just like the congresswoman says. I want to play an ad from Republican Tiffany Smiley who's running for Senate in Washington state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIFFANY SMILEY (R), WASHINGTON SENATE CANDIDATE: Patty Murray has spent millions to paint me as an extremist. I'm pro-life but I oppose a federal abortion ban.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And in Arizona, Dough, Senate candidate Blake Masters, the way he put it, he scrubbed his website. He scrubbed 100 percent pro- life off his website, replacing it for calls for abortion regulation instead.
Do you think Republicans should be worried about this issue?
HEYE: Sure. Of course, they should. You know, what we saw with the vote in Kansas, and just this week in New York. This is an issue that is picking up steam for Democrats at a time when they didn't have any steam.
And, you know, so much of politics and the congresswoman honed this very well, that you want to talk about what you want to be talking about, and you want your opponent to be talking about what you want to be talking about. So, for Republicans, they want to talk about inflation. They want to talk about the situation in the border. They want to talk about rise in crime.
For Democrats, they want to talk about abortion and not those three other things. So it will be a real tug-of-war to see what the dominant issue moving forward into November is.
BOLDUAN: Is that -- if you're so singular on abortion, if it is the driving issue. There clearly is risk. Economy is still everything.
HILL: I think what women know inherently is that your right to decide if and when to have children is your personal economy more than anything else, right? That is the driver of how you're able to live your entire life and whether you're able to spend money and save money, how you will spend it.
And so, you know, it's hard to think about prices, or the cost of living when your entire cost of everything within your life is up for grabs if you can't plan a family the way you want to. So, I think it will drive women to the polls. For young women, for women who do believe themselves to be pro-life but think the extremist position that the Republican Party has placed itself in and has pandered to during these races, that's just too far for these average person.
BOLDUAN: Let me just ask about another big midterm campaign focus for Democrats. Congresswoman, to you, because for Democrats, it is a new issue for the midterms, it is going to become and is becoming the president's student debt relief plan. Republicans are calling it a slap in the face to the middle class. There are some Democrats who have been very vocal not liking it as well. The American Action Network, which is a conservative advocacy
organization, is set to air, and I'll play a portion of it, this ad, during sports events nationwide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Biden's right. You should take my tax dollars to pay off your debts. My family will figure out how to get by with less. What's most important is we spare college graduates from any extra stress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Want to be a struggling artist? College is on me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My kids don't need fancy things like school supplies or new shoes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I work for you, theater major.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, is this a problem for Democrats in some of these tough races?
HILL: I think the reality is that this is going to hit people who are middle class, average citizens the most and we're going to feel it the most. You know, I personally have paid -- long paid off my student loans, but most people have not. We're not talking about just these highfalutin' artists or whatever, we're talking about most jobs that require a degree now and do not pay enough for people to pay back student loans.
The majority of people impacted by this debt relief are Black and Brown individuals and people who have been impacted in so many different ways. I just don't think that it's going to land the way that they think, especially when tax cuts have for so long hit people who, you know, make tons and tons of money, big corporations, and have left all of us regular people behind like why is this -- why are we pretending like this is something different?
BOLDUAN: Doug, kind of to that point, today the White House started pushing back against Republican criticism of the program and the plan in part by calling out Republican critics who have also had pandemic era PPP loans forgiven. Like this slap on Twitter at Congressman Matt Gaetz.
The White House put out: Congressman Matt Gaetz had $432,821 in PPP loans forgiven, and he's not the only one called out for this. You have to admit that is clever, but do you think that's effective?
HEYE: Yeah. Look, I applaud the White House for being aggressive which we typically haven't seep their comm shop do. They've been aggressive on this.
But it also depends on Americans not really knowing what PPP was for and loans were designed to be forgiven if you maintained payroll, i.e., you didn't fire people.
But I'd encourage Republicans if you're going to talk about this issue, and I don't think it's a massive issue going into November. If you're going to talk about executive fiat by Biden, as opposed to PPP, which passed overwhelmingly, bipartisan in Congress and talk about how this impacts the issues affecting every American, inflation. This is your issue. Stick to it, don't lose it.
BOLDUAN: We'll see. Doug, you know, you try to get politicians to stay on message all the time. Good luck with that. It's good to see you.
HEYE: Good luck.
BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, it's good to see you. Thank you so much.
OUTFRONT for us next, the State Department with a new strategy to try to bring American teacher Marc Fogel home from Russia.
BOLDUAN: Tonight, the State Department is asking Russia to release an imprisoned American teacher on humanitarian grounds. Sixty-one-year- old Marc Fogel was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison for possession of cannabis that his family says he uses to treat chronic back pain. His attorneys say they believe his medical condition prompted the administration to issue the request for his freedom.
Kylie Atwood is OUTFRONT.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Marc Fogel, who is currently sitting in a Russian prison, was convicted of smuggling drugs into the country and last month sentenced to 14 years this prison. Russia plans to send him to a high security penal colony where the 61-year-old could be forced to do hard labor.
ANNE FOGEL, SISTER OF AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA: He's been in jail in Russia for over a year now.
ATWOOD: If he's deemed wrongfully detained by the U.S. government, U.S. diplomats would be able to engage in efforts to get him home. So far, that designation has not come. But this week, a bipartisan group of senators are calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make that call.
Fogel's sentence, quote, can only be understood as a political ploy by Vladimir Putin's authoritarian regime, they wrote.
SEN. BOB CASEY (D-PA): It's more than a travesty of justice. It's direct attack on the American people.
ATWOOD: It's one of many letters from Congress to America's top diplomat, but Fogel's family is hoping it could be a game-changer.
FOGEL: I think it's very significant. It's been long in coming. It's essential in order for the Biden administration to hear from senators we believe and to obtain the wrongfully detained classification for Marc.
ATWOOD: Fogel was arrested at a Moscow airport as he traveled back into the country for his tenth year of teaching at a school where many U.S. diplomats sent their children. He was carrying about 17 grams of cannabis which a doctor recommended for back pain, his family and lawyers have said. Now his sister says his health is in decline and the Russian physician that sees him rarely comes with a translator.
U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was arrested earlier this year for also carrying cannabis in Russia, though she had less than a gram and said it was accidentally in her bag.
FOGEL: We can thank Brittney for bringing attention to the overall situation, and I do thank her.
ATWOOD: But right now, Marc is not part of a prisoner swap proposal that the Biden administration put on the table with Russia earlier this season, offering to trade Viktor Bout in U.S. prison for arms smuggling for Griner and Paul Whelan, who's another American wrongfully detained in Russia.
FOGEL: I think for the administration to bring out three non- criminals in exchange for Viktor Bout is the right decision. He is not on even comparable to the other three in terms of crimes committed.
ATWOOD (on camera): During a court appearance this week, Marc's sister tells us that he again admitted guilt, but he also talked about the fact that he had this chronic pain, that he has a metal rod in his back and that's why he had the cannabis with him. But the Russian court still rejected his appeal, leaving his 14-year prison sentence intact -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Kylie, thank you so much for that.
And thank you all so much for joining us. I'm Kate Bolduan.
"AC360" starts now.