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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Florida hearing on Request to Unseal Mar-a-Lago Affidavit; Trump Considering Releasing Mar-a-Lago Search Surveillance Video; Giuliani Appears Before Georgia Grand Jury Probing Election Scheme; Ukraine Responsible for 3 Explosions in Russian-Annexed Crimea. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 18, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, August 18th. I'm Christine Romans.

New developments this morning in the legal drama surrounding former President Donald Trump. Justice Department lawyers today will make their case for keeping secret the probable cause affidavit that was the basis for the warrant for that FBI search at Mar-a-Lago.

Meantime, CNN has learned some of Trump's allies are urging him to make surveillance video of that search public.

The latest now from CNN's Kaitlan Collins in Washington.


We are now learning that former president Trump and his legal team are considering releasing the surveillance footage from those several hours when FBI agents were at Mar-a-Lago conducting that search of course of his property looking for classified information that they believe he took with him from his time in the White House to when he went to Mar-a-Lago as he left the day he was inaugurated.

There were major questions, of course, this entire Justice Department investigation over how this information was handled and what exactly was taken down there and we're now told that despite that day when FBI agents showed up and they asked the Trump team on the ground to turn off the surveillance cameras, they did not do so, and they are now in control of several hours of footage of them actually being there conducting this search.

And we are told that they are now considering releasing it, though there are some inside the former president's orbit weighing whether or not it would be a pro or con to release it, some saying that it could potentially energize and boost their base. Others arguing that it is not the political ad you think it is to have FBI agents carrying boxes out of the former president's residence.

Of course, whether or not they do remains to be seen. It could potentially reveal the identity of the agents there conducting the searches as there have been these increased threats against law enforcement. And all this comes as we're waiting to see whether we'll see more information about this affidavit that was behind the judge signing off on the search warrant, a very unusual step to be conducted on a former president's residence.

This is something Trump he said he believes should be released. Of course, it could potentially reveal names of witnesses, if it is. The Justice Department has said that it prefers it not to be released, as this investigation is ongoing, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Kaitlan, thank you for that.

Also in court today, former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, he is expected to plead guilty to a long running tax fraud scheme. A source tells CNN Weisselberg is willing to testify in a possible future trial but he will not -- he will not enter into a cooperation agreement with New York prosecutors investigating the finances of the Trump family real estate company.

In Atlanta, former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani spent some six hours before a grand jury. Georgia prosecutors have told Giuliani that he is a target of their investigation into Trump's effort to subvert the 2020 election results.

CNN's Sara Murray has more from Atlanta.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: We will not talk about this until it's over. It's a grand jury, and grand juries as I recall are secret.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani keeping a tight lid on the six hours of grand jury testimony that just wrapped here, just days after prosecutors told him he's now a target in the criminal investigation here into efforts to subvert the 2020 election results. Giuliani is the closest adviser to Donald Trump to be named a target in the Georgia investigation, raising questions about Trump's own criminal exposure here.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: All I want to do is this, I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The Trump investigation is ongoing. As a district attorney, I do not have the right to look the other way on any crime that may have happened in my jurisdiction.

MURRAY: Giuliani's attorney warning: If they want to play hardball, we know how to play hardball. And saying prosecutors are delusional if they think that Giuliani will discuss his conversations with Trump.

GIULIANI: They asked the questions and we'll see.

MURRAY: For well over a year, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been running a criminal investigation focused on efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election.

WILLIS: We're going to look at everything until that investigation is complete.

MURRAY: She is looking at potential crimes including making false statements to state and local government bodies, solicitation of election fraud and conspiracy. Giuliani was among the loudest voices spreading falsehoods about the election in Georgia.

GIULIANI: The recount being done in Georgia will tell us nothing because these fraudulent ballots will just be counted again.


MURRAY: Investigators have been scrutinizing Giuliani's three appearances before Georgia lawmakers and other state officials where the former New York mayor spread conspiracies in the wake of the 2020 election.

GIULIANI: You can see them counting the ballots more than once, two, three, four, five times. You'd have to be a moron not to realize that is a voter fraud.

MURRAY: Giuliani's efforts to delay his testimony due to a medical procedure falling flat with the judge.

JUDGE ROBERT MCBURNEY, SUPERIOR COURT OF FULTON COUNTY: This is not the first discussion that I've had to have with the district attorney's office and lawyer or lawyers for someone who has been called to appear before the special purpose grand jury.

MURRAY: Like Giuliani, the 16 Trump backers who agreed to serve as fake electors are also targets of the Georgia probe.

DAVID SHAFER, GEORGIA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: The president's lawsuit has not been decided or even heard. We held this meeting to preserve his rights.

MURRAY: This week, 11 of them including Georgia Republican Party chairman David Shafer went to court asking a judge disqualify Willis from the investigation.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, we asked Rudy Giuliani's attorney what he was asked about during his Wednesday appearance and what questions he actually answered. His attorney declined to comment saying that he would respect the secrecy of the grand jury process.

Sara Murray, CNN, Atlanta.


ROMANS: All right. Sara, thanks for that.

Let's bring in Tia Mitchell, Washington correspondent for 'The Atlanta Journal Constitution".

Nice to see you bright and early this morning. Thank you so much for joining us.

Six hours, full day before a grand jury for Giuliani Wednesday. He left without speaking to reporters, surrounded by this police escort. What do we know about what happened and do you think because he is a target, not necessarily a material witness, that changes how he might have answered some of the questions?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: If anything, I think by being a target, not just a witness, probably the grand jury probably got an even more cautious Giuliani even less willing to answer their questions and quite frankly, even before he became -- even before it was known that he was a target of the investigation, he had basically floated or kind of indicated he was not going answer a lot of questions, he would claim attorney/client privilege.

Now, again, we don't know what happened behind closed doors when he and his attorneys left the courthouse yesterday. They said that they weren't going to talk about what was said or what was asked of them by the grand jury and its investigators, but the indications are that perhaps he, you know, found ways to not answer the questions when he thought the questions pretend to private questions with the former President Trump or again when he felt the questions pertain to his actions as Trump's attorney.

ROMANS: We heard yesterday that the former Vice President Mike Pence says that he would give due consideration is what he said if he was invited to testify before the January 6 committee, investigating what happened on January 6. Do you think he's serious, what would Pence gain by testifying?

MITCHELL: I don't -- you know, it is interesting because the truth of the matter is that the January 6 committees has made it clear they want to hear from Vice President Pence. And he could willingly reach out to the committee like others have.

Pence has indicated in his comments that he wants the committee to pull the trigger. It looks like the committee has been hesitant to like subpoena him and make it a formal request because, you know, they are sympathetic to him, they don't want to try to force him to testify because again, they believe that he was one of the victims of January 6.

So I think the committee doesn't want to go through the formal process of subpoenaing him to compel testimony, but they want him to talk and he hasn't. So I don't know what to make of his comments because he has not reached out to the committee even though he is well aware the committee wants to hear from him. I don't know what he would gain by talking to them other than, you know, I think that it would further kind of put him in the sphere of people who say we need to move on from President Trump, what happened on January 6 was not good for America. I don't think that he could testify to the January 6 committee and that not become a theme to his comments no matter what he said.

So I think that it is up to former Vice President Pence to decide whether he wants to put himself out there further as it kind of antagonist figure towards President Trump, because I think sometimes he waivers on that.

Sometimes he challenges President Trump, and then other times he makes statements that indicate that he wants to get on the good side of former President Trump.


ROMANS: Yeah. You know, it is so interesting. There is this big kind of conversation ongoing about the surveillance footage of the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago and some of Trump's supporters are urging him to release it, right, maybe that would make a fantastic ad or viral video of law enforcement at Mar-a-Lago.

It's hard to know how it would play. It also shows a former president with a search warrant being executed against him for having allegedly all of these very important sensitive documents just lying around Mar- a-Lago.

I'm not sure -- Kaitlan Collins sort of mentioned it is unclear how that would play for release that footage for the former president.

MITCHELL: Right. And it is unclear how that would play given all the different kind of reasons Trump and his allies have said those documents were at Mar-a-Lago to begin with. And so, we've seen a lot of different stories, excuses, theories about why President Trump felt those documents were his to possess.

And we've also seen them float conspiracy theories or rumors about how those documents were treated, and how those investigators who searched Mar-a-Lago acted at that time.

So when you put out the video evidence, it could confirm or it could refute some of things we've heard from former President Trump and his allies. It looks like, you know, there are investigators that are calmly searching for things and not tearing through Mar-a-Lago the way some Trump allies have kind of described the search, you know, you've heard people use the word raid and made it seem like they confiscated his passports and things like that -- well, what if the video shows something a lot different, something more methodical, something more organized, and again as you said shows investigators walking out with boxes of top secret documents, that might not look as good?


MITCHELL: So there is potential risk of releasing the footage.

ROMANS: Also could be a reminder that the president is in a heap of legal trouble on multiple fronts, right? It could paint him in a light on the wrong side of law enforcement. Who knows how they would do that. We'll see.

Tia Mitchell of "The Atlanta Journal Constitution" -- see nice to see you, thank you.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Just ahead, Joe Biden and Mike Pence standing up for something that Donald Trump will not, the FBI.

Plus, Florida's Ron DeSantis with a new target, woke investing.

And a shakeup at the CDC, new priorities driven by the pandemic.



ROMANS: Welcome back.

Former Vice President Mike Pence rejecting calls by some Republicans to defund the FBI after the bureau's search of Donald Trump's Mar-a- Lago home.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: The Republican Party is the party of law and order. Our party stands with the men and women who serve on the thin blue line at the federal and state and local level. And these attacks on the FBI must stop. Calls to defund the FBI are just as wrong as calls to defund the police.


ROMANS: President Biden also rejecting the notion of defunding the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.

Here is chief of staff Ron Klain on CNN last night.


RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Let's be clear, Joe Biden does not support defunding the FBI. In fact, we proposed funding the FBI to the tune of $11 billion in his budget this year.


ROMANS: McCain blasted calls to defund the FBI as reckless and irresponsible.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis adding another culture war to his political arsenal, taking aim at Wall Street banks and big tech companies and what he calls woke CEOs.

CNN's Steve Contorno joins us live from St. Petersburg, Florida. What is this all about, Steve?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Christine, Governor DeSantis believes there are too many asset managers and Wall Street CEOs who have a political agenda and they are using the power of their investing and shareholder voting to push environmental and social causes over their fiscal responsibilities.

Governor DeSantis saying we won't do this in Florida with our pension funds and under a new policy that we got a first peek at yesterday, he makes it clear that Florida cannot consider any of those factors and only can consider the risk and return on investment when investing Florida's pension funds.

Now, this is what we expect to be the opening salvo in Governor DeSantis' next front in his battle against, quote, woke ideology. And in this particular fight, he is going up against the ESG movement, that is environmental social governance investing. What that basically says is that, you know, as a society, we face certain existential threats, climate change, environmental destruction, social and racial inequality, and that it is incumbent on companies to help solve these problems.

It has some pretty big backers including Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock who has said that there's not only a moral imperative to solve these issues, but also, it makes good fiscal sense and is good for investors to tackle these issues. But Governor DeSantis is saying we want none of that in Florida and he is proposing using Florida's pension fund as essentially a cudgel in this fight. And he wants to use that fund and team up with other Republican states to sort of use their combined voting shareholder power to push back against this ESG efforts.


Now, these new rules will be voted on next week by the state pension board and, Christine, if Governor DeSantis is reelected, we expect this to be a big part of his legislative agenda in 2023.

ROMANS: Really interesting. Thank you for following it for us Steve Contorno in St. Petersburg, Florida. Thanks, Steve.

A Florida court says a pregnant teen is into the mature enough for an abortion.

And Chinese scientists fighting drought by making it rain.



ROMANS: Ukraine is responsible for three explosions in the Russian annexed Crimea region in recent weeks. That's according to an internal Ukrainian government report which has been shared with CNN. The strike at the Saki airbase killed one person, severely damaged that facility and destroyed seven Russian military planes. Explosions were also reported at an ammo depot and a nearby airfield.

CNN's David McKenzie joins us live from Kyiv.

David, is this a sign that the Ukrainian counteroffensive is ramping up here? DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi,

Christine. I think it is definitely a sign that Ukraine is able to strike or have sabotage efforts far beyond the front lines of the conflict which is significant both from the point of view of the military campaign and psychologically, that Ukrainian official telling CNN that an internal report says that they are responsible for those blasts which sent shockwaves through Crimea and many people fleeing that region far beyond the front lines. Whether it will have an impact on the overall battles going on remains to be seen.

In the northeast, there was a significant strike by Russian forces on a residential building say Ukrainian officials. They say seven people were killed. Civilians were killed in that strike. And the Russians are saying that they hit an area in the same area that on the same night that they say were militants, or at least foreign fighters as they put it, killed up to 50 of them.

In the eastern part of this conflict, it is a grinding campaign with multiple strikes on Ukrainian positions. But there is an interesting move on the diplomatic front. The U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is in the country. And later today, he'll be meeting with both the president of Turkey, Erdogan, and President Zelenskyy in a meeting, and then a direct meeting with President Zelenskyy.

On the table is a discussion of the grain exports, something that has been a bright spot, a bit of hope in this the grinding conflict because grain is now leaving Black Sea ports to get out to much needed areas including East Africa.

Now, the question is, whether they be discussing other issues in those meetings, we'll find out later today. What everyone wants to know is whether there will be a group from the Atomic Energy Agency able to visit that massive nuclear plant to the south of where I'm standing to try to get some kind of indication of securing safety there. That has been a big worry in the last few weeks and no real resolution there.

We'll see if the U.N. secretary-general discusses that directly later today -- Christine.

ROMANS: Sure. All right. David McKenzie for us in Kyiv, thank you so much for that.

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