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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

FBI Mar-a-Lago Search Follows Suspicion Materials Were Withheld; Sen. Graham, Giuliani Maneuver in Trump Georgia Election Probe; CNN Speaks to Residents at Eastern Ukrainian Front. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired August 10, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, August 10. I'm Christine Romans.

New details this morning about the FBI search of Donald Trump's residence at Mar-a-Lago. A source tells CNN the search was authorized in part because officials believe the former president and his team had not returned all the material that belonged to the government and also that some of the documents had national security implications. The source says there were suspicions that Trump representatives were into the being truthful with investigators.

For their part, the source says Trump's team will push the argument that he did not have classified information because he declassified it while still president.

More now from CNN's Jessica Schneider in Washington.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New details about the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago are emerging as Republican congressional leaders cry foul about the target and the timing.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I know doing this 90 days before an election reeks of politics.

SCHNEIDER: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeting the Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization, warning about investigations if Republicans take the house in November, writing: Attorney General Garland, preserve your document and clear your calendar.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Merrick Garland, Chris Wray, come to the House Judiciary Committee this Friday and answer our questions about this action today, which has never happened in American history.

What was on the warrant? What were you really doing? What were you looking for? Why not talk to President Trump and have him give the information you're after? SCHNEIDER: Trump was in New York at Trump tower when the search began

Monday morning. His son Eric said he alerted Trump about what was unfolding in Florida.

ERIC TRUMP, SON OF FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: 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 documents in his possession. 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?

SCHNEIDER: The National Archives asked the Justice Department earlier this year to investigate Trump's handling of White House records after the Archives recovered 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago and discovered some of the presidential records had been torn up or contained classified information.

Sources tell CNN, Monday's search was focused on Trump's office and personal quarters at Mar-a-Lago and it included examining where records had been kept to make sure everything had been previously handed over to the Archives.

In early June, four federal investigators visited Mar-a-Lago in early June. Sources say Trump's attorneys met with the investigators and took them to the basement room where boxes of material were stored, with the investigators later leaving.

However, a source says some of the documents had top secret marking markings, and Trump's attorneys later receive a letter asking them to further secure the room where the documents were stored.

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I really don't believe that the department would have taken such a significant step as getting -- pursuing a search warrant for the president's residence about information that they already had back. There had to be a suspicion, a concern, and indeed specific information that led them to believe that there were additional materials that were not turned over.

SCHNEIDER: Trump releasing a lengthy statement: These are dark times for our nation as my beautiful home Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided and occupied by a large group of FBI agents. Nothing like this has ever happened to a president of the United States before. Also noting they even broke into my safe.

Trump later called into a virtual rally for Sarah Palin where he referenced the raid again.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: That's right, another day in paradise, this was a strange day.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): And our team has learned Trump was aware of federal investigators probing the potentially classified documents that he took to Mar-a-Lago.

In fact, Trump interacted with investigators when they visited his Florida home earlier this year and in April and May, aides to Trump at Mar-a-Lago were actually interviewed by the FBI as part of this probe into the handling of presidential records.

Meanwhile, so far, there has been no comment from Attorney General Merrick Garland or FBI director Chris Wray.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right. Jessica laying it out for us.

Let's bring in now, David Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County.

So, nice to see you. This is -- look, this is historic. First time in American history a former president's home is searched as part of a criminal investigation.

What is the legal peril the president is facing?



Oh, he is facing potential jail time and also potential barring -- potential sanction that he would be barred from seeking office. So there is a lot at stake here.

This is also a counterintelligence operation because the feds are very worried that the sensitive documents that he possessed involve national security because they would not go after him if it was just trinkets from Kim Jong-un. This is about more than that.

And I know personally that the feds have been interested in Chinese espionage because our office prosecuted a case a couple years ago where you had a trespasser who we couldn't charge with espionage, but she was trying to get into Mar-a-Lago. And it wasn't the first time someone tried to do it.

So that is why the feds are really interested in these documents and the way that the former president is holding on to them. And that is also why they didn't send him a subpoena. They sent agents to retrieve these documents because they didn't trust him to respond to the subpoena the right way.

ROMANS: What do you make of the defense we're hearing from some Republicans now that it couldn't have been classified information there because the president declassified it himself?

ARONBERG: Well, it can't be retroactive. I know Kash Patel is the one saying this that he has the power to declassify power. And he did while he was president, but not as an ex-president. And that is the difference here. So I think they are trying to make a retroactivity argument. But we'll

know soon enough because the feds took out 12 boxes of documents and we'll know through the inventory, which Trump can release at anytime by the way, but he won't, what they took and whether they were indeed classified or declassified.

ROMANS: We're also hearing from some Republicans that they want to hear from Merrick Garland, the attorney general. They want to hear -- they want to hear more from the government about why, why this happened.

What do you make of the strategy to remain silent if there is an investigation going on here?

ARONBERG: You know, I love being a prosecutor, Christine, but one of the drawbacks is that we have to remain silent during investigations, while the other side can run their mouths with impunity.

But if Merrick Garland decided to speak up, he could jeopardize the whole investigation. You jeopardize your sources, you tip off targets and you allow a judge down the line to perhaps throw everything out because of due process concerns, because of concerns over getting a fair trial.

We as prosecutors are not allowed to litigate cases in the press, especially before there has been a single charge. So, Mitch McConnell and the others, they know better. They are just trying to poison the waters with this political stuff to say Merrick Garland speak out, everyone likes transparency, knowing that prosecutors have a different set of rules than the politicians do.

DOJ is doing the right thing, they need to stay quiet as much as possible to ensure that everyone gets a fair trial and the investigation continues.

ROMANS: OK. So, separately, we've also learned that just hours from now, the former president will be deposed by New York's attorney general. This investigation is about the Trump organization's finances. He could answer questions, he could take the Fifth.

What would you advise him to do if you represented him?

ARONBERG: Trump is in a pickle. There is a reason why he did not want to sit for this deposition because this is a civil case. So he can take the Fifth, but if he does so, that creates a negative inference in any civil trial.

So he is caught. And anything that he says can be used against him in the parallel criminal investigation in Manhattan. That is the one that has been stalled.

My counterpart D.A. Alvin Bragg sort of pushed it aside. But if Trump says something, and he has a habit of saying things that could incriminate him, well, then the D.A. in Manhattan could reignite the criminal case. And if you think the civil case isn't a big deal because it is just civil, ask Ivanka and the Trump Foundation. Their charitable foundation was shut down because of an action by Attorney General Tish James who is leading this civil case as well. So, there's a lot at stake for the former president.

ROMANS: It really is.

All right. Dave Aronberg, thanks for getting up early for us and walking us through it. Thank you.

ARONBERG: Thank you for having me.

ROMANS: All right. Ahead on EARLY START, Lindsey Graham and Rudy Giuliani doing everything they can to keep from testifying in Fulton County, Georgia.

Plus, President Biden signing a critical bill to help veterans today.

And a key inflation figure out this morning. The Federal Reserve will be watching it closely, so were you.



ROMANS: Lawyers for Senator Lindsey Graham in front of the judge today. They'll argue he should not have to testify before a grand jury investigating efforts by the former President Donald Trump, and key allies to over turn Georgia's 2020 election results.

Tuesday, attorneys for former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani tried to persuade another judge to postpone his appearance in front of the grand jury citing surgery he underwent last month. They said he was not authorized by his doctor to fly.

Now, the maneuvers reflect a significant expansion in the Fulton County D.A.'s election inquiry and the legal threat to Trump and his allies.

I want to bring in Washington Post national correspondent Matt Brown.

Good morning, Brown. Nice to see you bright and early this morning.

The judge said on a train, on a bus, or on an Uber, the judge ordering Mr. Giuliani to appear in court. Can they continue to delay an in- person court appearance at this point?

MATTHEW BROWN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, yesterday's hearing with Judge Robert McBurney down here in Atlanta was very interesting, because you see how much McBurney was getting to some of the arguments made by the Fulton County District Attorney's Office that Giuliani while he does have a heart condition and just recently had surgery that would make it so that it might be difficult for him to travel according to his doctors, it doesn't mean that he can't come down here to Atlanta to testify.

He said that it is very important that any further delays are notified to him this week. He said he is not going to be interested in Giuliani's lawyers potentially proposing that another delay happens Monday or Tuesday of next week given that he is slated to testify a week from today. They are interested in making sure that there is open communication channels between Giuliani's lawyers and the district attorney's office to say that if there is any further issues that he is not going to tolerate a lack of communication or anymore explosive last minute delays or emergency motions like we saw this week.


ROMANS: Matt, Senator Lindsey Graham has said repeatedly that he would fight the subpoena and denies any kind of meddling in the Georgia election, saying that conversations he had with the secretary of state was what you do as a member of Congress, right? That was protected by the nature of his job.

Does that hold? Do you think Fulton County has made any real head way in this investigation?

BROWN: Yeah. So, the things that we already though about Graham's calls are both from Graham himself, the district attorney, and the people he made the calls to. It's interesting to see that the district attorney and their court filings, that while Graham was arguing and inquiring about Georgia's absentee ballot requirements and policies around election administration in 2020, they showed from their own inquiry with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that he felt pressured by Graham at the time to potentially find some new outcome or some change in policy.

He did not see the situation basically the same way that Graham was describing it in his own court filings. So that will be a very interesting case to see that if this is actually -- was actually in his capacity as a senator, whether that holds up in both federal court and potentially state court here down in Atlanta if he is required to testify.

ROMANS: Yeah, more on those conversations about trying to find ballots to -- mail-in ballots to disqualify so that the election tips there in Trump's favor. That is what they are really looking into. The D.A. in this case, Fani Willis, has been accused of conducting a politicized inquiry here.

Do you think that she's ruled out calling Trump as a witness? Is he -- is he the ultimate goal here in terms of the final word?

BROWN: Well, it is very clear that Willis' team is getting closer and closer to Trump's inner most circle. When you are subpoenaing the president's former lawyer, that means that you are really interested in both his direct actions and his communications going into January 6 and prior after the 2020 election. We actually know from our own reporting here at "The Washington Post" that the district attorney's office has been requiring about connections between the Trump White House, Trump campaign, and their orders to state level Republicans on the ground.

That is the line of inquiry that really does show that it will feed its way back up to Trump if they are successful in making the legal argument that he was ultimately the mastermind behind the plan to overturn the 2020 election here in Georgia, and it's going to be interesting to see if what -- to what degree that they are able to prove that or find the communications between Trump, his lawyers and state Republicans who were down here constituted pressure to overturn election results or to cause election interference which is actually a crime here in Georgia.

ROMANS: All right. Matt Brown, so nice to see you this morning. Thank you, of "Washington Post". Nice to see you.

All right. A separate development in the multiple investigations involving the former president, Donald Trump. A federal appeals court approving a request by the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain the former tax returns from the IRS. The 3-0 ruling is a blow to Trump and his argument that the request was retaliation by House Democrats making it invalid. The case stems from a lawsuit first filed in 2019 by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal.

All right. A Mississippi grand jury deciding whether to indict the white woman whose accusations led to the lynching of Emmett Till.

First, CNN on the ground in the last holdouts in the bombed out Ukrainian community.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My house. My house --

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: But it is so dangerous. There is bombs and explosions and --




ROMANS: In Eastern Ukraine's Donbas region, despite constant shelling, the frontlines have barely moved, especially in the past few weeks. As Russia keeps up its missile and rocket attacks, residents unwilling to leave their homes in the last town left standing are enduring an existence that grows more grueling by the day.

CNN's Nic Robertson has more for us.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Civilians are buried where they fall. No time, no safety for a cemetery sendoff. No bomb too big, no building in this eastern Ukrainian town seemingly off Russia's target list in their slow but relent relentless push westwards.

This town is on the fringes of what the Ukrainian government controls. They are surrounded on two sides by Russian forces to the east and to the north, about five miles, 8 or 10 kilometers away.

Shelling here an ever present danger. Among the ruins, people are surviving, 2,000 of the pre-war 11,000 clinging on.

Valeria barely seems to notice another shell exploding.

How hard is to live here now?

I don't realize it, but she is about to teach me how hard.

She is not kidding. She comes back with a saw and floor board scavenge from a blown building.

So this is hard. Yeah, good muscles. Why do you stay here? If it is so hard, why do you stay?

Valeria's lesson for me -- yes, life here is very hard. But this is home, and leaving would be harder.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My house. My house.

ROBERTSON: But it is so dangerous. There are bombs and explosions.

Someone has to stay, she says. We go in the basement when there is shelling.

She leads us to the basement. So you are sleeping in here, you are living down here. I've been sleeping down here for more than three months, she says. Down here her cheerful sparkle is gone.

We have no gas, electricity, water, or communication she says. I have nowhere to go.

There is more she wants to show us.

Here, look at this. Smashed.

Valeria's neighbors like her cooking outside. She has brought me to what is left of her friend's house. It is all destroyed.

The people who were here, did they survive?

God saved them, she says. But now they have left.

By local standards, the shelling this day less than usual. This elderly lady venturing out for food. She tells us the food handout she needs hasn't arrived.

The shelling getting closer. We go not so lucky those who leave behind.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Siversk, Ukraine.


ROMANS: All right. Nic, thank you for that. This morning, President Biden is expected to sign the PACT Act into law. This measure expands health benefits for 3.5 million American veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic chemicals during their military service. The funding will also benefit vets families and research into toxic exposure. The bipartisan measure marks the most expansion of V.A. health care in more than 30 years.

Gas prices in the U.S. on the edge of a milestone not seen in months.

And cracking down on homeless campsites, is it really the best way to deal with the issue.