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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

FBI Executes Search Warrant at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Resort; China & Taiwan Hold Military Exercises Amid Heightened Tensions; Remembering Grammy-Winning Singer & Actress Olivia Newton-John. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 09, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It is Tuesday, August 9th, 5:00 a.m. exactly here in New York. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin with the fallout from the stunning FBI search of Donald Trump's winter home in Florida, Mar-a-Lago. FBI agents executed a search warrant of the resort as part of the handling of presidential documents.

CNN has learned investigators left Mar-a-Lago with about 15 boxes full of items item.

Trump broke the news himself, claiming investigators broke into his home and cracked open his safe in what he called a raid.

Now, this is an extraordinary development in a remarkable escalation for the investigation surrounding the former president. Trump is already weaponizing this FBI search and using it to fund-raise, already.

Here is how his son, Eric, is explaining it on Fox.


ERIC TRUMP, SON OF FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: To have 30 FBI agents, actually more than that, descend on Mar-a-Lago, give absolutely, you know, no notice, go through the gates, start ransacking an office, ransacking a closet. You know, they broke into a safe. He didn't even have anything in the safe. I mean, give me a break.

The purpose of the raid, from what they said, was because the National Archives wanted to, you know, corroborate whether or not Donald Trump had any document in his position.

And, my father has worked so collaboratively with them for months. In fact, the lawyer that's been working on this was totally shocked. He goes, I had such an amazing relationship with these people and all of a sudden, on no notice they sent, you know, 20 cars and 30 agents?


ROMANS: All right. Let's bring in CNN law enforcement analyst, Peter Licata, someone who has worked with the FBI.

So nice to see this morning.

Give us a sense of what this means, a search on the president's home. What must have happened behind the scenes to get to this point? What would it take to get a warrant like this?


So, it's unprecedented. Let's start with that. With all of that being said, the FBI is not operating autonomously here.

An affidavit was drafted in cooperation with the Department of Justice. When you're dealing with political figures, it is part of the requirement. Moreover, a U.S. federal majesty signed off on this warned. And, to be honest, it is not a rate it is the execution of a search warrant. They're looking for very specific items that are detailed in that warrant.

ROMANS: Explain the search process. What we think they're looking for and how extensive these kinds of searches can be. Is it narrowly focused to what's on that warrant?

LICATA: It is exclusively focused to what's on that warrant. It is not a grab on. The items that are within probable cause which was listed on the affidavit that the FBI was instructed by the magistrate to go search for are the only things they can remove from the property unless there's something that's criminal in nature that's in plain sight, typical Fourth Amendment type guidelines.

However, everything that's on that warrant that they took out is very specific to the warrant. And, more, ever in any case, it's very specific to a room or a series of rooms. Sometimes, warrants are for the entire property, of the resident. Sometimes, they're very specific to just one room or an area within that room. So, it's very specific.

ROMANS: We don't know what exactly they are looking for. What level of crime may have been committed or what they're investigating here that could prompt the FBI to search former presidents home. But one would presume that the DOJ, law enforcement is just following the law knowing, I, guess that this could be dramatically politicized and just what's a thunderclap it is to execute a warrant on a former president's house.

LICATA: It's -- again, it's very unprecedented. This is not the local FBI field office deciding, today, they're going to get up into a search of the former president's residents. These items, when you're dealing with political figures are coordinated through the Department of Justice are viewed by layers. Sometimes, painstakingly layers and lawyers that an agent has to deal with in order to execute such warrants on political figures.

We've seen it before with William Jefferson, a New Orleans congressman when they searched the residents, quite a few years ago. And, also elements of the work space in Congress. And we're seeing it again.

But these are all -- all of these items all of these text and searches on political figures are deliberate. They're thought out.


And there's been numerous types of oversight from not only lawyers in the Department of Justice but a federal magistrate. That is the point.

ROMANS: All right. Peter Licata, thank you so much.

Let's turn now to Michael Zeldin. He's a former prosecutor and host of the podcast, "That Said with Michael Zeldin".

Again, I'll use the word that my colleague, Brian Stelter did, a thunderclap, you know in the league on political worlds here. What -- what is your take away here from what we saw yesterday? And what it is the FBI's looking for, maybe looking for?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, those are two great questions as to which we don't have facts to give us answers or speculating. And we have to be very careful --

ROMANS: Of course.

ZELDIN: -- when we're speculating, because in this situation, what's the National Archives appeared to be looking for is documents that the president, former president has taken to Mar-a-Lago as to which the National Archive is entitled to retain.

So, it is a crime to willfully take property that is belonging to the National Archives out to your personal residence. So, it could be as simple as they reached an impasse as to the status of documents. And they want them and they got a search warrant that says his retaining of them violates the law. And we want them.

It doesn't necessarily imply that this has anything to do with January 6. It doesn't have anything to do necessarily with sedition or treason or anything else that I see speculating to about. All we know is that since January, National Archives and the former president have been negotiating over documents in the former president's possession, which is the national archive believes he doesn't have a right to.

And that search seems to be related to risk treating those documents. What's in them, we don't know.

ROMANS: Yeah, we just don't know. And, look there are people who served the former president, who have said that this is the White House that didn't play by the rules. And several people have said they have seen the president take documents, destroy documents, you know, Maggie Haberman's reporting in the last couple of days with photographic evidence of things that the president had taken.

So, look, you know, this has been in the news for sometime, but an actual execution of a war into the former president's home that is just monumental.

ZELDIN: Well, because the president status as the former president. But the standard here is does the agent have a reasonable belief that in this residence there is evidence that a crime has occurred or is about to occur? The crime that has occurred probably is that the former president took documents from Mar-a-Lago that he has no entitlement to. Some of those documents appear to have classified stands on them, so they're classified documents, which up the ante a little bit.

But, until we know what it is that those documents contained, we don't know whether this is a disagreement about whether or not the president, the former president is entitled to these things, if the national archivist or if there is something much more serious of a national security threat that they pose.

ROMANS: Okay, let's talk about this trial against the conspiracy theories. It's a fascinating moment. There where the attorney said opposing counsel two years worth of text messages. This was a trial for the sandy hook parents, you know, defamation. Now these messages have been turned over to the January 6 committee.

What does it say to you that they have this in their possession? We know that Alex Jones was near the Capitol and did not go near the capitol but had been riling up January 6 folks on that day. What does it say to you that they have two years of his text messages?

ZELDIN: Well, if he was part of the conspiracy, we'll call it that in broad terms to cause this insurrection, and he's texting with people who have part of the conspiracy between him and Trump or him and Bannon are him and Stone, then those messages will fill in blanks that the committee doesn't have because, apparently when Jones went before the committee he took the Fifth Amendment. So, we now have evidence of communications between Jones and Oath Keepers, and Oath Keepers for Trump.

But again, we are talking about stuff that we don't really know the facts of. And we're speculating. But we do know that if we receive two years worth of text messages, and the likelihood is that some of those will be relevant to the inquiry that the January 6 Committee is undertaking.


ROMANS: All right. Michael Zeldin, always good to get your perspective and you are always right, no need to speculate. We will follow this as it develops. Thank you so much, sir. Nice to see you.

ZELDIN: Good to see you soon, too.

ROMANS: All right. Up next, the Republican backlash. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy threatening the Department of Justice over that search at Mar-a-Lago.

Plus, Taiwan's military holding live fire drills amid escalating tensions with China.

And remembering Olivia Newton-John. The "Grease" co-star John Travolta's touching tribute, ahead.


ROMANS: Tensions in the South China Sea this morning. China conducting more military drills around Taiwan and now Taiwan is running some live fire drills of its own.


Now, Taiwan says he's a regular exercise, not a response to China. But, they come tensions running high after Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker's visit to the island.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is tracking the latest developments. She's in Hong Kong for us.

Is there a sense that the drills from Taiwan are raising the stakes here?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good question Christine, not really, because these are already preplanned drills according to Taiwan's defense ministry. And even before today's Taiwan drills, China already went ahead and made the decision to extend its military drills around the island. It continued on Monday, also today, in fact earlier on its way will count. China's eastern theater command confirmed that it was continuing to conduct military drills around the island, focusing on supply operations, as well as blockades. So these military drills that were supposed to conclude on Sunday, they continue to go on. And it's unclear exactly when they will end.

Now, Taiwan has condemned the extension of these military drills. And we have a fresh comment from Taiwan's foreign minister. Let's bring that up for you. This is from Joseph Wu, and he says this, quote: In facing China's joint military exercises, Taiwan's people, society, military government, have just played resilience and confidence and remain calm. China's continued attempts to intimidate Taiwan will not panic us, nor will they defeat us.

Ever since the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made that controversial trip to Taiwan last week, China has been rationing the pressure on Taiwan on multiple fronts, on the diplomatic front, on the economic front, military front as well, at one point sending ballistic missiles over the 23 million people, and when you talk to analysts, China washers about how long this is going to last. They say it's not just a matter of days. It can be a matter of months -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Kristie Lu Stout for us in Hong Kong, following it all -- thank you so much.

The U.N.'s top official in the Middle East is describing the escalating tensions in Gaza as deeply worrying. Israel launched an attack against the militants this morning, threatening this already fragile cease-fire that was brokered by Egypt.

Elliott Gotkine joins us live from Jerusalem.

Elliott, so what's the latest on the ground? Is this cease-fire holding? ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Christine, it is holding. We are now 36

hours in and as you saw, humanitarian goods back in the Gaza Strip, in exchange of Israel and the Gaza Strip. And in work permits to work inside of Israel are allowed to come back in and do their job. So that is holding.

That said, we have seen some violence in the West Bank. Israel saying that its security forces surrounded a building in the old city of Nablus in the West Bank. They were trying to get one Ibrahim al- Nablusi and then they fired shoulder-fired missile towards the building which ultimately killed Mr. al-Nablusi, and according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, they're now three dead as a result of the ensuing gunfight that took place in Nablus this morning. Also say, 69 injured.

And although the affiliation is disputed, it's unclear whether he is part of the Islamic jihad, some say, yes some say that he isn't, there are concerns the violence we are seeing in the West Bank could have repercussions for that cease-fire between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which as I say, 36 hours in is holding. So we are keeping a very close eye on that. Obviously, if there's any more news in terms of that cease-fire, we will bring you up to date -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thirty-six hours in and holding. Elliott Gotkine, thank you so much for that.

All right. Another primary day in America, voters go to the polls in four states including Wisconsin, where election deniers are on the ballot for governor.

Plus, she won countless hearts in "Grease" and became an inspiration through her long battle with breast cancer. This morning, we are remembering Olivia Newton-John.



ROMANS: Tributes are pouring in for the Grammy-winning singer and actress, Olivia Newton-John, who lost her three-year-long battle with cancer at the age of 73.

All right. Newton-John's career began in country music in their native Australia. "Please, Mister, please", "I honestly love you" -- those were huge hits before John Travolta convinced her to play Sandy in the musical adaptation of "Grease" back in 1978. The role sent her career into the stratosphere and left fans hopelessly devoted.

She would dance with Jim Kelly in his final fill, "Xanadu". Remember "Xanadu"? Mixing in a series of sharp toppers and including the provocative single, "Let's Get Physical".

Newton-John won four Grammy awards and sold more than 100 million albums. CNN's Chloe Melas is here with more on her life and legacy.

And I have to say, her stoic battle with cancer and her huge body of work, this is someone who generations of people across the world know her music. And her music crossed genres.


Like you said, she comes from Australia, starts in country, goes into pop. Then, once she is cast in "Grease", her career just -- it blows the lid off of it. Not to mention the soundtrack stayed at the top of the charts for weeks.

She broke records. She was multi-hyphenates.


She was a ultimate triple threat, and her really lovely person. I interviewed her in 2017, and I'm going to get to that.

But I first want to tell you whether "Grease" costar and longtime friend, John Travolta, said yesterday. He wrote on Instagram: My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. Your impact was incredible.

I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the moment I saw you in forever, your Danny, your John.

Definitely brings a tear to the eye. I, mean that movie is iconic. When I spoke to her in 2017, Christine, she also told me she still (AUDIO GAP) owned the iconic black leather pants.

ROMANS: Brianna Keilar and I were just talking about those pants when we were getting for our shows. I mean, those pants were definitely iconic.

You know what's interesting. I can remember my parents talking about one of the first concerts they ever went to as a married couple. Iowa state fair, it must have been early 1970s. Billy Joel opening for a country superstar, Olivia Newton-John. I mean, just think of that, Billy Joel, the opening act for her worldwide country superstar.

MELAS: She has so many hits. And I actually spoke to her a few years ago. How do you choose what songs to sing?

And she said, she would always sing a few songs from "Grease" because that's what people wanted. But that between "Grease" and "Xanadu" and so many hits in between, she had a lot to choose from. But our favorite part of her career was performing.

But I also asked her if she ever knew when she was casting agrees that it would go on to beat this phenomenon. And, like so many stars who are apart of franchises or, you know big hit movies like that, they don't always know. And, she told me, quote, I don't think anyone could've imagined a movie would go on almost 40 years and would still be popular and people would still be talking to me about it today. She told me, I am very lucky to have been a part of it. It's given so many people pleasure.

But, also, I want to point out that the reason I interviewed her was because of her breast cancer foundation, the Olivia Newton-John Wellness Research Center in Melbourne, Australia. She was always looking for cure, always looking to raise money, always looking to help other people.

And, like you said and likely reported on our network, she had the cancer returned multiple times during her decades-long career. It was this sad backdrop to an otherwise very happy life.

ROMANS: What a strong person, and what a role model for women who are living with and surviving cancer. What a -- what a great -- what a great role model.

Thank you, Chloe Melas, for bringing that to us.

MELAS: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. The FBI executing a search warrant in Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home. The former president already using it to raise money and to race to his political profile.

Plus, how Trump's rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is trying to boost his national profile.

And primary day in four states including Wisconsin where one candidate for governor is backed by Trump and the other is backed by Mike Pence.