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Sources Tell CNN Trump Lawyer Told DOJ in June There was No More Classified Material at Mar-a-Lago; House GOP to Issue Scathing Report on Afghanistan Withdrawal; Salman Rushdie Begins to Regain Voice After Stabbing. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, it is Monday, August 15th, I'm Christine Romans. Sources tell CNN, a lawyer for former President Trump signed a letter back in June, attesting there were no more classified documents stored at Mar-a-Lago.

That letter was signed around the time Justice Department Intel officials visited Mar-a-Lago and left with boxes of classified material. A separate source says Trump's representatives told the DOJ, Trump had declassified all the documents.

Now, after last week's FBI seizure of 11 more sets of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, the Democratic chairs of the House Intel and Oversight Committees are asking U.S. Intelligence leaders for a briefing and a damage assessment. Let's bring in former federal prosecutor, Michael Zeldin; host of the podcast, "That Said with Michael Zeldin" up bright and early for us this morning to unpack all this. Nice to see you.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, PODCAST HOST: Good to see you, too.

ROMANS: All right, so one of Trump's attorneys signed this letter in June, asserting there were no more classified information stored there at Mar-a-Lago. How does that affect the investigation now moving forward, do you think?

ZELDIN: Well, it might explain why somebody served as an informant that there were actually additional documents. If that lawyer, as part of a team of lawyers or others certified something that wasn't true, and now all of a sudden are looking at what liability they have, it might explain why we get additional information.

But the certification that they have no additional documents, and then the revelation that they have additional documents could prove either one, that they believe in good faith that there was nothing classified because Trump had somehow declassified them or they were part of a conspiracy of some sort to obstruct the investigation, which is why perhaps you see that charge in the search warrant.

ROMANS: It's so frustrating, you know, we all want more information, we want to know what was in these documents that was so, you know, so problematic, but that's -- the irony is that, because these are highly classified -- highly classified information, we may never know what was in these documents.

ZELDIN: That -- it's exactly right. It's not as if we're going to all of a sudden be revealing in the newspapers and on television classified documents contents. The important thing for the Justice Department was to get the documents back.

And the question will be, are they satisfied that they've completed their mission by getting the documents back, or do they believe that there was such a conspiracy to obstruct their investigation to get them back and/or to violate the statutes that require confidentiality with respect to these documents that a prosecution is warranted.

And they won't know the answer to that until they look at all the documents and understand about such as the June letter that says there's no more stuff when there was stuff.

ROMANS: Yes, and house Democrats now, some asking for damage assessment, essentially from Intelligence officials to find out just how dangerous the situation may have been. The president though, the former president says these documents he brought with him to Mar-a- Lago, they had been declassified. Is that a valid defense here?

ZELDIN: Not exactly. Normally, in these cases, where you bring a criminal charge for concealing or removing classified documents, the documents are classified, even though, the statute doesn't demand that they'd be classified. Generally, the history of these prosecutions are these are classified documents.

However, they don't have to be, and the Justice Department again will have to look at the documents and determine what they are and what the impact of that is on our national defense. But the reality is that, Trump may have had the power to declassify while he was president, but there's no evidence that he did any of that.

And so, the after facts -- after the fact-statement that he did so seems a bit self-serving, and it wouldn't be a very viable defense I think if we went to trial on that case, because for the lack of documentation of it.

ROMANS: What's so -- I mean, look, some of this material, if this reporting is correct, is the kind of material that can only be viewed in a secure location, right? The idea that it's at a resort or a place where people can pay money to go spend the weekend or go out for dinner.


Talk to me a little bit about this. You've -- I'm told you've viewed information in this -- you know, in this SCIF before. It just seems to me like that kind of information can't be declassified and taken to someone's private home.

ZELDIN: It shouldn't be. On an investigation that I did into the holding of American hostages in Iran, we had a lot of very classified CIA and national security Intelligence-type of documents. Our SCIF, it's an interior room, it can have no windows, it can have no facing out walls, we had a security officer, we had a sign in and sign out.

What I don't understand is, how these documents got out of the White House complex. I mean, even if they were security -- low security things, how do you get them out of there in the first place? How do you get 20 boxes of stuff out of the -- out of the White House without there being some total failure of controls within the White House at the time.

That is what the -- that's what the Intelligence agencies should be wondering about is, how did Trump get these things out of there? And then worry about what's in them, because it doesn't make any sense from a national security, national defense protection standpoint that he can move these things as, you know, sort of freely as he seemed to have moved them.

ROMANS: Yes, and who has seen them in the interim? We know that the authorities have requested security footage, security surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago, so maybe that's part of their investigation as well, who has been in contact with these documents. All right, Michael Zeldin --

ZELDIN: Exactly --

ROMANS: Former federal prosecutor, thank you so much for joining us bright and early this Monday morning. Thank you.

ZELDIN: My pleasure.

ROMANS: All right, ahead, an unprecedented number of threats against the FBI following that search at Mar-a-Lago. Plus, desperation in Afghanistan after one year of Taliban rule. And author Salman Rushdie now able to speak after a stabbing attack.



ROMANS: Welcome back. House Republicans are poised to release a scathing report on the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan. CNN has obtained a draft of the final report from GOP members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. It says "at the height of the pullout, there were only 36 State Department officials on the ground at the Kabul airport to process the tens of thousands of Afghans who were trying to evacuate despite the Biden administration claiming it had surged resources to handle the crowds.

In the year since the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan, al Qaeda has not reconstituted its presence there, that's the conclusion of a new U.S. Intelligence report prepared after the killing of al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike earlier this month. The assessment finds fewer than a dozen al Qaeda core members remain in Afghanistan, and that Zawahiri was the only key figure from the terrorist group who tried to re-establish himself in the country after U.S. forces pulled out.

Today marks one year since Kabul fell and the Taliban took over Afghanistan, which of course, culminated in the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal two weeks later. CNN's Clarissa Ward joins us live now from Kabul, in country. Clarissa, how have things changed in the year since withdrawal?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, the Taliban has declared today a national holiday to celebrate the liberation against the occupying American forces and their allies. But to be honest, here in Kabul, it is a gray, rainy day, it doesn't feel like there's a huge amount of celebrating go on -- going on.

There have been pockets of mini parades if you will, of Taliban fighters going through the streets waving their flags. And certainly, in other parts of the country as well, many Afghans were simply delighted to see an end to the war. There's no question that Afghanistan is much safer than it was a year ago, according to the U.N., three times fewer civilian casualties in the ten months after the takeover, then in the seven months that proceeded it.

But it is also isolated, and it is much poorer. The U.N. also saying more than half the population is hungry, and that's not even getting into, Christine, the desperate situation that confronts Afghan minorities, civil society actors and particularly, of course, women and girls that ban, that de facto ban that the Taliban said was a temporary suspension on secondary girls' education from the age of 12 or six grade, that continues.

Many girls here still questioning the possibility that they will have any real meaningful future in this country. So, it is certainly a very mixed picture, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Clarissa there for us in Kabul a year later. Thank you, stay safe. Right, next, another surprise visit to Taiwan by members of the U.S. Congress. We're monitoring that, China for a reaction. And acclaimed author, Salman Rushdie recovering from stabbed wounds, and now able to speak.



ROMANS: The agent representing author Salman Rushdie says the acclaimed author has begun to talk again after a brutal stabbing at a speaking event on Friday left him on a ventilator. The man injured alongside him in western New York said he initially thought this assault was a prank.


HENRY REESE, ON STAGE WITH SALMAN RUSHDIE WHEN HE WAS ATTACKED: It was very difficult to understand. It looked like a sort of bad prank and it didn't have any sense of reality. And then, when there was blood behind him, it became real. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: CNN's Polo Sandoval has the latest for us.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, it's news that Salman Rushdie's family had been waiting to hear that the 75-year-old acclaimed author is already on a path to recovery, albeit, a very long and difficult one. Over the weekend, his son, Zafar writing about his father that, though his life-changing injuries are severe, that his usual feisty and defiant sense of humor remains intact.

Others close to the writer also expressing appreciation for those who were there that day on Friday during the attack, those who had sprang into action and onto the stage to pull back the assailant and restrain him as well as to provide some immediate medical attention.

Now, in terms of what we do know at this point, investigators are still moving forward with this, they still have not said if that decades-old fatwa, that death decree that was issued by the Iranian government after "Satanic Verses"; that -- the book by this author was published, if that was possibly a factor here.

As for the suspect, he's been identified as Hadi Matar, he was quickly arrested, the 24-year-old New Jersey man, he pleaded not guilty, Christine, to the charges of attempted murder and assault. Back to you.


ROMANS: All right, Polo, thank you for that. Now, people across the globe have taken to social media to express their thoughts about the attack on Rushdie. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us live from London this morning. Good morning, Salma. You know, the 75-year-old, of course, is an international figure, born in India, lived for decades in England, now residing in the U.S.

I mean, he was speaking or supposed to speak about, you know, protecting freedom of expression, the importance of the freedom to express yourself. How has this attack on him affected people?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: I mean, it's been a huge outpouring of support. Heads of state, European Union, United Nations, everyone really voicing that support for freedom of expression, but for Rushdie himself, wishing him a speedy recovery. But since this attack occurred on Friday, Christine, all eyes have been on Tehran, because it's of course from Tehran that Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 issued that fatwa that essentially called on people to kill Salman Rushdie.

And there's been a belief among his supporters, that, that is part of the reason he was attacked. And just a few hours ago, we finally heard officially from the Iranian government, from the foreign ministry of Iran essentially, saying -- I'm paraphrasing here, that Rushdie only has himself to blame for the attack.

Now, they did also distance themselves from the attacker, saying, there is no link whatsoever between Iran and Hadi Matar, that 24-year- old suspect who is now in custody. But you did see in that statement, Iran repeating that idea that's been pervasive now for decades, that's been made notorious by this fatwa, that idea is that Rushdie has committed a great offense to the Muslim world.

That he is blasphemous, that he deserves to be confronted even if violently. And it's hard to overstate just how seismic this was in 1989. It really divided the world between those who again supported that fatwa believed that Muslims had the right to act violently to this so-called insult, "The Satanic Verses", the mocking of the prophet, and those who believed in freedom of speech.

Who believed it is the right of the author, it is the right of any intellectual to question authorities, to question religious institutions, and it's those people right now who are really raising the alarm, saying, there is risk here, there's an importance to the role we play. Christine?

ROMANS: Yes, Salma Abdelaziz, we know that the accuser -- the accused has been -- he's pleaded not guilty, we'll see what more we find out about motive. Thank you so much, nice to see you. Right, for the second time in less than two weeks, a congressional delegation from the United States is visiting Taiwan, is being led by Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Earlier this month, Nancy Pelosi infuriated China when she became the first house speaker to visit the island in 25 years. Blake Essig joins us live from Taipei. Has there been any reaction from Beijing to this latest visit, Blake?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, just about an hour ago, China's Defense Ministry released a statement, calling this most recent stop in Taiwan by U.S. lawmakers an ambush visit and a flagrant violation of the One China policy which acknowledges that the People's Republic of China is the sole legitimate government in China.

The White House maintains that there has been no change to that policy now, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her delegation left Taiwan about two weeks ago, China imposed new trade sanctions and kicked off at least six days of live fire military exercises surrounding the democratic island.

That military aggression continued today as a result of the latest U.S. congressional delegation visit here. On Chinese social media, the Eastern Theater Command announced it had conducted a new round of joint drills and combat patrols in the air and at sea around Taiwan, saying, quote, "the exercises are a solemn response to the political plays by the U.S. and Taiwan, and they are undermining the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait."

Now, the post didn't say whether or not these drills have come to an end. A spokesperson for China's embassy in the United States also addressed the visit on Twitter, saying, "China firmly opposes any kind of official ties between the U.S. and Taiwan, and that the U.S. should bear all the consequences." Now, despite escalating tensions between Beijing and Taipei as a result of this visit, the Foreign Ministry has thanked Senator Markey and his delegation for their timely visit and unwavering support. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Blake Essig, thank you so much for that. Right, London's River Thames is literally shrinking in the heat. First, the top secret documents kept at Mar-a-Lago, what's the potential damage to American national security?



ROMANS: The FBI is investigating what a source calls an unprecedented number of threats against bureau personnel, following the search of former President Trump's residence at Mar-a-Lago. Republican on the House Intel Committee calling for his colleagues to cool their rhetoric and for Trump to condemn threats and attacks on law enforcement.


REP. BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R-PA): Every single elected official, every single leader needs to mind the weight of their words. This kind of -- this kind of talk --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Including the former president of the United States who has not --



FITZPATRICK: Correct. I think everybody needs to be calling for calm. Everybody across the board and everybody needs to respect our law enforcement, whether they be local, state or federal.


ROMANS: Let's bring in CNN national security analyst Shawn Turner; former Communications Director of the U.S. National Intelligence. So nice to see you. The DHS, FBI issuing this joint statement warning of threats against authorities and government officials. What does this say to you about the threats being made?

I mean, we saw this weekend, an armed protest outside an FBI office in Arizona.