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Unsealed Mar-a-Lago Document Sharpens Focus on Trump as Possible Subject of Criminal Probe; Judge May Release Redacted Version of Search Warrant Affidavit; Fears Intensify Over Safety Near Ukraine Plant. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 19, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Friday, August 19, happy Friday. I'm Christine Romans.

A document unsealed in federal government shedding new light on exactly what the FBI is investigating in the Mar-a-Lago probe. It says the investigation involves, quote, willful retention of national defense information.

Meantime, prosecutors argue to keep the probable cause affidavit detailing the reasons for that search a secret. The judge suggested he might actually release some parts of it.

More on that from CNN's Jessica Schneider.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A federal judge in Florida says he wants at least some portions of the affidavit justifying the Mar-a-Lago search made public, saying, I'm not prepared to find that the affidavit should be fully sealed.

Before deciding, Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart is giving the Justice Department one week to propose redactions. The DOJ has forcefully opposed releasing it saying it could derail their ongoing criminal investigation.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Much of our work is by necessity conducted out of the public eye. We do that to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and to protect the integrity of our investigations.

SCHNEIDER: Judge Reinhart has already released the search warrant and inventory of items taken from Mar-a-Lago, including 11 sets of classified documents. Today, he made several more filings public, including the DOJ's warrant application where they describe the potential offenses being investigated as the willful retention of national defense information, concealment or removal of government records and obstruction of a federal investigation. The newly released filings also show prosecutors believe they needed to file paperwork under seal before the search because they feared evidence might be destroyed and that they wanted to repossess several items that remained at Trump's Florida home illegally.

In court, DOJ lawyers did reveal a few details about the affidavit saying that it was very lengthy, very detailed and described what several witnesses told investigators. But the lawyers also argue that the release of any additional information could endanger the safety of government investigators or the witnesses sharing information with them. DOJ attorney Jay Bratt pointing to the volatile situation of people threatening FBI agents including an armed man later killed outside the field office in Cincinnati, noting there are many amateur sleuths on the internet to find personal information.

DEANNA SHULLMAN, ATTORNEY FOR DOW JONES & CO. AND ABC: I think Judge Reinhart will protect the identity of confidential informants and that is probably the right outcome here. We don't want -- you know, none of the media interveners want to jeopardize the safety or security of a confidential informant. It is very common in these situations that information that would lead to the disclosure of their identity is kept secret.

SCHNEIDER: The judge did not unseal the full affidavit today, something Trump and his allies have demanded. Trump writing this week on his Truth Social page: I call for the immediate release of the completely unredacted affidavit pertaining to this horrible and shocking break-in.

Meanwhile, CNN has learned Trump is considering releasing surveillance foot anxious of the FBI agents searching and seizing documents. His son Eric talked about the possibility this week.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: You still have the surveillance tape is that correct? Are you allowed to share that with the country?

ERIC TRUMP, SON OF DONALD TRUMP: Absolutely, Sean, at the right time.

SCHNEIDER: Sources say some of Trump's allies believe releasing the video would energize Trump's base and could even be included in campaign ads. Others warn it could backfire providing an alarming visual of the large volume of material seized from Mar-a-Lago.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): And we could know more about how much of that affidavit might get released by late next week because the judge has told the Department of Justice to make their proposed redactions and/or explanations why certain information should not be released to the public, he wants that by next Thursday at noon. At that point, the judge might then have more confidential discussions with the Justice Department as he deliberates exactly what to make public from this affidavit.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right. Let's bring in Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida. Nice to see you again this morning.

So much to unpack here. The judge pushing the DOJ to release some information to the public, but it could take some time. He's given them a week to suggest some redactions.


He says everyone's rights will be protected, government's, media's, the public's. CNN and others have asked the court for more information, for more clarity on behalf of the public.

Is it possible we get all of these pages that are essentially blacked out with five words left?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY: Yes, I think that is what is going to happen, Christine. Those in the MAGA world who are cheering Judge Reinhart, I think that is premature. When we get the affidavit, I think that it will look like Swiss cheese. I think that it will be five to ten words on each page, they will be disjointed and it won't tell the public much.

And that is the way it should be because this is a pending investigation. Sources are at risk. Witnesses could be tampered with. And the targets could then be alerted to what the Department of Justice is doing and then they can coordinate their stories.

So nothing good can come out of releasing this affidavit. And I don't think that Donald Trump even wants it released because in court yesterday, his lawyers did not join in the media's request to release it. So he says one thing on Truth Social but another thing in the courtroom.

ROMANS: And we've learned in court yesterday that this was a lengthy and detailed affidavit. We learned that the application for the warrant cites willful retention of defense information.

Does that sharpen the criminal focus do you think on the former president? Because this is at his home where this occurred.

ARONBERG: Exactly. Yes, it does. And I think the biggest takeaway were those two words willful retention, Because it shows you where the Department of Justice is focusing.

The espionage statute is very broad. It's more than espionage, other things, and when see willful retention, that is subsection D of section 793, which makes the crime for someone who has lawful possession of important national defense information to refuse to comply with demands to return the material.

So who could that be at Mar-a-Lago? I'll give you one guess. It is not the valet. It is obviously Donald Trump.

And even though this is not involving spying per se, this is not Julius and Ethel Rosenberg stuff, it's not Edward Snowden stuff, it's still a serious crime punishable by up to ten years in prison. ROMANS: OK. So, Trump allies last night reacting very strongly, they

are still pushing the idea that the president had a standing order to declassify these documents. What is your take on that?

ARONBERG: Well, the Department of Justice according to a report is interviewing people close to Trump to see if that is true. And so far, no one has said that it's true. So I don't think that they actually had the standing order.

And even if they did, the statutes that are being cited by the Department of Justice, these three statutes, do not depend on whether the documents are classified. And so his defense is pretty faulty.

Plus, the defenses seem to keep changing by the week, right? Remember, at first, it was the FBI planted the stuff, then he declassified it, and now it is his to begin with. So I guess if you combine it, he declassified evidence that the FBI planted and in any event it is his to begin with. It doesn't really make sense.

And when you keep shifting your defenses -- to prosecutors, that looks like consciousness of guilt.

ROMANS: What we know, there were 11 sets of boxes of material taken out. And we know one of them was a file that was marked the president of France. We know a little bit. But there is just -- there's not a lot of transparency about what came out of Mar-a-Lago.

Listen to what John Bolton said about releasing that affidavit.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I'd urge the justice department, and it goes against the grain, to be creative on this. Instead of simply blacking that out, an alternative to think about would be to paraphrase it. They might just say documents regarding U.S. nuclear capabilities, or documents regarding Chinese ballistic missile development or something like that, some innocuous phrase that signified the importance of the information without revealing it.


ROMANS: I wonder, Dave, can they do that?

ARONBERG: I mean, they could, but it could be misleading because they are creating a new document based on their interpretation and I don't know if this is the role of prosecutors. We just follow the evidence. It is not left up to us to be the cliff notes of what is recovered.

And so, yeah, I hear what John Bolton is saying. He wants the department of justice to get ahead of the game on the PR war. But that is not the job of prosecutors. Prosecutors live by different set of rules than politicians do. We can not litigate our cases in the press, especially before there has ever been an indictment.

And so I think the best strategy is what Merrick Garland is doing. He is releasing what he can release and he is standing up for the rule of law.


But it's very tough for him to go any further than that.

ROMANS: It would be just fascinating to know what that material is, but maybe we never know. But the idea that around cocktail party conversation with unsecured documents where people are coming in, you know, paying for dinner, that all of this material is there. That is troubling.

ARONBERG: It is. But when you go ahead and you start releasing information, that could jeopardize a defendant's right to a fair trial. So what happens if John Bolton gets his wish and the Department of Justice sends out information about what they recovered? And that information is used for file charges against Trump and others and at some point in trial, that stuff is suppressed? So what happens then?

That jeopardizes the right of the defendant to a fair trial, it jeopardizes the whole case, and this is a ticket to a dismissal. So that is why the Department of Justice is going to be really careful as to what they say. They don't just have to protect the investigation. They have to protect a potential defendant's Sixth Amendment rights.

ROMANS: Fascinating stuff. Dave Aronberg, Palm Beach County prosecutor, nice to see you. Thank you so much.

ARONBERG: Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Just ahead, capitalizing on the Capitol riot, see who is cashing in.

Plus, high and dry along Colorado River, a desperate plan to save water before it is too late.

And CNN on the ground near a nuclear plant in a warzone.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The United Nations, the international community are all reacting in horror at the mere thought that this could be at the center of fighting.




ROMANS: World leaders are fearing potential disaster in Ukraine. They are calling for the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia power plant to be demilitarized. Ukraine, Turkey and the U.N. have now agreed to a framework allowing inspectors into that nuclear facility.

Moscow says it wants the same but Russia was not at that meeting and shelling near this nuclear site continues. CNN's Sam Kiley is live in Zaporizhzhia for us.

This sounds like just a disaster waiting to happen. You talked to people who live near that plant. What are they telling you?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the main thing to take away from this is it is a two level disaster. There is a military disaster potentially and then there is a technical disaster potentially because the Russians have been talking about shifting the production of electricity from this location, a nuclear power station, to Crimea. Now, the wiring doesn't exist for that, so that puts it in even graver danger.

But on the ground, people are facing the potential for not only a military disaster in the nuclear power station, but the nuclear power station being used against them as a fire base. And this is what it looked like on the ground.

A few technical hitches there so I'll try to paint a picture for you here. What you've got is the Dnieper River, one side of Dnieper River is captured, where the Enerhodar, the nuclear power station town where the workers are, that was captured on March 4th by Russia. Now, they have imposed their own technicians alongside Ukrainian technicians working in this location.

Right at the beginning of the conflict you will recall that there was very deep concerns that there was use of main battle tanks in and around that location. And then just in the last month, things have got a lot worse for the communities on the other side of the river.


KILEY (voice-over): It's an all too routine seen. A Ukrainian home destroyed by a missile. But here, the lucky escape of a young couple is overshadowed by a potential catastrophe. The first Russian rocket hit the local soccer pitch and sent them scrambling into their basement, safe from the second.

After what happened, we jump at every sound, Andriy says.

The Ukrainian authorities say that both rockets were fired by Russian troops from the grounds of a nuclear power station captured in March.

The international consternation over the future of the Enerhodar nuclear power station is very obvious when you stand here, and you can see the six reactors of the biggest nuclear power station in the whole of Europe. The United Nations, the international community are all reacting in horror at the mere thought that this could be at the center of fighting.

Ukraine blames Russia for using the nuclear plant as a fire base, and insists that is not able to shoot back for risk of blowing up the nuclear facility.

The Russian occupiers shoot all the time to provoke the armed forces of Ukraine and to spread panic among the people. We understand that the power plant may explode because of their actions. I just don't understand. Maybe they just don't get it, he told us.

The United States, the United Nations, and Ukraine have all called for Russia to leave the nuclear plant and for it to be demilitarized. These demands are growing in volume, as the bombardment of Ukrainian towns allegedly from around the six nuclear actors has intensified.

Andriy worked at the plant until he escaped the Russians. But then he was recaptured, he says, and tortured before being released. Now he's in hiding in Western Europe and he says, the possibility of a disaster is very high.

I would say 70 to 90 percent of we are talking about the most optimistic scenario. I am very worried about it.

And civilians in the Russian occupied town next so the plant have been stuck in traffic jams, trying to flee a potential nuclear escalation.

Ukraine's claims that it hasn't shelled the nuclear site cannot be verified, but there's no doubt that Russia has used it as a safe location to attack Ukraine from.


Ukrainians have been conducting nuclear disaster drills in cities nearby, both sides have said that some kind of incident is imminent and could cause massive radioactive contamination, or meltdown -- a cataclysm that could be felt far beyond Ukraine. Even in nearby Russia.


KILEY (on camera): And I think that is ultimately the gamble here, there is an element on both sides of this nuclear power station being a very useful tool in terms of propaganda, painting the Russians as potentially wildly responsible, Russians trying to counter with various increasingly loopy conspiracy theories about how the Ukrainians might attack it unilaterally in order to make them look bad. But ultimately this is a very long, 1,000 mile battle front, and this is one of the distractions in an ongoing and grinding conflict.

ROMANS: All right. Sam Kiley, thank you so much for all that great reporting there.

Let's go now to Fred Pleitgen, he is in Moscow for us.

Fred, what is Russia now saying about that nuclear plant?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I mean, Sam is right, Russians are saying that they believe that there will be a provocation on the part of the Ukrainians. They basically every day it is quite interesting to view it from Moscow, they ever accused Ukrainians of shelling the area of that nuclear power plant and they also say that they believe that while the U.N. secretary-general who of course was in Sam's report is in Ukraine, that there could be another provocation as they call it. They say they have stepped up security in those areas. I think the two main important things though is the Russians are

saying they are not against a visit from the International Atomic Energy Agency. In fact they say that they think that it will happen. However the Russians are saying that they will not allow that area to become a demilitarized zone, they say they don't trust the Ukrainians and they are not going to withdraw their forces from that area.

ROMANS: All right. Fred Pleitgen for us, thank you so much for that.

Still ahead, a mob hitman now charged in the murder of a notorious gangster.

Plus, how some are now profiting off one of America's darkest days.



ROMANS: Court records show some of those people charged in the violence January 6 attack on the Capitol, they have been making money off of it.

Here is CNN's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Who would have thought one of the darkest days of American democracy would produce such a silver lining for some?

Yet court documents show in case after case people charged in the January 6 attack trying to cash in selling merchandise, hawking books and fundraising for legal and other expenses. Is that okay?

We asked Ken White, a criminal defense lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney.

KEN WHITE, ATTORNEY, BROWN, WHITE & OSBORN: Well, there is nothing against the law about it as long as they are not getting the money by lying about what is happening. So you are allowed to fundraise to defend yourself. You are even allowed to make money by talking about some crime you committed.

FOREMAN: Court records of people charged surveyed by "The Associated Press" and confirmed by CNN found a Washington state man who walked with the Proud Boys that day later helping his dad sell t-shirts, baseball caps, water bottles and decals lionizing the event.

A rapper from Virginia who was charged nonetheless putting out a new album with a picture of himself in the fray atop a police vehicle.

A California doctor sentenced for 60 days for trespassing has ties to an anti-vax group that raised more than $400,000 claiming she was persecuted. The judge called that disservice to the true victims.

And there was a Maine who rely on a public defender then went online and raised more than $20,000 for his defense. Prosecutors would like the court to be reimbursed.

Again none of the money making is illegal, but --

WHITE: What makes good public relations is very different than what makes good courtroom strategy. Smartest thing do into do in court, which is almost always, just to shut up.

FOREMAN: The gold rush goes beyond those charged. The Patriot Freedom Project has been seeking to raise hundreds of thousands online in the name of helping defendants and their families.

CYNTHIA HUGHES, PATRIOT FREEDOM PROJECT: We need somebody to drop us $500,000 today, today, Steve, because we need to have our own attorneys on these cases.

FOREMAN: And while some giggled at right wing fire brand Senator Josh Hawley running from the fray, he started selling coffee mugs of a different moment that day. Laughing all the way to the bank.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Thank you for all the help with my fundraising. It has been tremendous.


FOREMAN (on camera): Part of the problem for Trump's legal team is just this, while he can make wild and outlandish claims with no proof, whatsoever, that's a riskier endeavor when it's done in court and the consequences can be different too.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: Amazing.

All right. Ahead, fallout from the new suspension just handed down to Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

And dumped by your work friends? You're not alone.