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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump's Lawyers Seek "Special Master" to Review Seized Documents; Ukraine Denies Responsibility for Deadly Car Bombing; Flash Flooding Devastates Dallas, Threat Move East. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here we go. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It's Tuesday, August 23rd. I'm Christine Romans.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Oman Jimenez, in for the lovely Laura Jarrett.

We start today with a new tactic from President Trump's attorneys working on the Mar-a-Lago search. Now, they have asked the federal judge to appoint a special master, that's an independent lawyer to ensure any private or privileged documents the FBI seized are returned to him.

In the meantime, Trump's lawyers are asking the judge to pause federal investigators work until the potential third party review is done. The Justice Department says it will respond in court, but it's already signaled it's using an internal filter team separate from investigators to review the seized documents.

So, we want to bring in Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida.

Good early morning to you.

Now, I want to start here, is there any legitimacy to this request for a special master from the Trump team or is this just another one of his delay tactics that we've seen play out in cases throughout his long legal history?


It is a delay tactic because he is too late to ask for this. The whole thing is moot. This is what happens when you have trouble finding experienced criminal defense lawyers representing you, you end up litigating the case in right wing media instead of a courtroom and then the clock runs out, because it is difficult to justify the extraordinary request for a special master two weeks after your home has been searched. You waited too long.

And, you know, these documents have almost certainly been reviewed already by the Department of Justice. And that included a filter team or as you said, a taint team, to ensure that there are no privileged documents amongst the documents taken. And if there are, they were set aside.

So not only is this motion moot, it is clearly a delay tactic and you see that because in the motion itself, it actually mentions that delay is being requested. They want to pause the whole investigation.

So, yeah, that tells you all you need to know, that this is a tried and true Trumpian tactic of delay, delay, delay.

ROMANS: But it took them a couple weeks to sort of -- we haven't seen a legal strategy really from the Trump team yet here. It has taken a couple weeks for this to crystallize. You say it is clearly a delay tactic and also, two weeks delay, it's a moot point.

ARONBERG: Correct. I think part of the reason why is that they didn't have any strong criminal defense team in place. It was sort of an ad hoc group of individuals. And one of them, Christina Bobb, could be in legal jeopardy herself because she apparently signed the document sent to the DOJ saying that there are no more classified documents in the possession of Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Well, that could put her in the crosshairs of DOJ under section 1519, obstruction.

And so things are not going well for their legal team and I think because of the delay, they have lost this argument. They could have made the argument at the beginning, but by waiting this long, the horse is already out of the barn.

ROMANS: But isn't this whole request more about I guess feeding a narrative? I mean, the former president is trying to feed this narrative, isn't he, that he is being maligned by an FBI and Department of Justice that is out to get him and has been since the Russia investigation.

ARONBERG: Yeah, Christine, I think you're right, it is more of a political strategy than a legal one because they are feeding their right wing base, saying hey, we want transparency, remember that, but inside of court, they didn't ask for the affidavit to be released. So this is the same type of thing. They say one thing outside and then they do another.

They waited two weeks, so this issue is really moot, but they will pursue it in the court of public pin I don't. And when it comes to his base, he is working. He is again the top dog for president on the Republican side.

I mean, have you heard of Ron DeSantis lately? I mean, who is that guy, right? He was the big thing for a while until this happened and now Trump has reclaimed his role.

JIMENEZ: Now, Dave, separate from these legal proceedings and more related to January 6 and the attack on the capitol, the Justice Department has issued a new grand jury subpoena to the national archives for more documents to be produced by the end of the month. But from your perspective, what do you see as the DOJ's strategy here? ARONBERG: Well, the DOJ has these parallel investigations. They were

focusing on the fake elector scheme and this could be part of it. They want to know what Trump world was doing on and around January 6. And these subpoenas though that they are looking at Trump himself.

There are a lot of questions about that, but that should be answered by the fact that they're issuing these subpoenas.


And also, they have also subpoenaed Eric Herschmann, the former White House lawyer, along with Pat Cipollone and Pat Philbin. And why are they doing that? Because they want to know what the boss was doing on or around that time, and they also want to get at issues of executive privilege.

They want to sort of pierce that in advance. They don't want to delay these things any further. And I suspect that what you are seeing in this latest round of subpoenas is an attempt to really find out about what Trump did because if they are ever going to pursue legal action against him, they have to get more, they have to show that he was more involved with the violence on that day than the evidence shows at present.

JIMENEZ: And, Dave, obviously, all these things that we're talking about, these are things that take time. Very important issues but of course they take time. How do -- how does the public stay engaged with stuff like this when as you know the legal system sometimes the way it operates tends to do so in a way that makes people tune out?

ARONBERG: Tell me about it. As a prosecutor I see that all the time.

People are so frustrated. And not only is it about the delays built into the criminal justice system, a lot for the benefit of the defendant mind you, but it is also the lack of transparency.

You know, our grand juries are secret. Pending investigations are secret. We can't discuss these things. And so you have people who are frustrated. They are saying it is taking so long for justice to occur. And you can't even talk about it?

But prosecutors have to live by a different set of rules than politicians. We're not allowed to litigate our cases in the press. We can't jeopardize pending investigations by talking about it, and also, we can not jeopardize a potential defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.

So we have a different set of rules and it can be frustrating for the public, but eventually we'll get to justice. It just may be long in coming.

ROMANS: All right. Dave Aronberg, nice to see you this morning. Palm Beach County prosecutor, thank you so much, sir.

ARONBERG: Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

JIMENEZ: Just ahead, the mystery of the Moscow car bombing. The U.S. skeptical as Russia points the finger.

ROMANS: Forgiving student loan debt. The magic number the president is now leaning toward.

JIMENEZ: And a summer's worth of rain in a single day. Flood threat now moves east after the deluge in Dallas.



ROMANS: Ukraine is denying any involvement in that car bombing that killed the daughter of a key Putin ally. Russia has already accused Ukraine of the carrying out the attack that killed Darya Dugina.

But the State Department is dismissing the Kremlin's claims.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We have to take with a grain of salt absolutely everything we hear from the Kremlin. The Kremlin has never given us a reason to look at it with any degree of credibility.


ROMANS: CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is live for us this morning in London.

Good morning, Salma.

Russia claims to know who is behind the attack.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Absolutely. A few hours ago we saw this memorial service for Dugina. You heard her father there speaking.

This is a huge moment for Russia, real shockwave sent. Let's start by saying what Russian security services claim they found. They say that Ukrainian security forces are responsible for this attack for the murder of this young woman. They claim that they were able to track down, trace a member of the Ukrainian security services, a woman who travelled to Moscow with her young daughter, again this is the claim, from Russia, that they remotely detonated this car killing Dugina.

Russia also claiming that she was the intentional target. The target was actually her father Alexander Dugin who is seen by many as a spiritual guide to this war, someone who is an ultra nationalist, who had pushed for Russian expansionist policy, a very close ally of President Putin.

And that's why this is extremely important. This is not just an accusation that Ukraine has struck inside Russian territory. This is an accusation that Ukraine has struck very close to the heart of President Putin himself. Now, Ukraine for its part absolutely denies it, it calls it

fictitious. But the repercussions of this are that there's fears that Russia might retaliation particularly this week, six month anniversary of the Ukrainian independence day. Ukraine warning that Russia might try to hit back.

ROMANS: All right. Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much for that.


JIMENEZ: And the State Department here in the U.S. is urging Americans still in Ukraine to leave now. Warning it has, quote, information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days.

Senior international correspondent David McKenzie is live for us in Kyiv this morning.

So, David, we've seen a lot of messages and statements back and forth over the killing of Darya Dugina. But it feels like it underscores the likelihood of retaliation.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know at this point, but certainly even before this bomb blast in Moscow, there was a sense of heightened alert here in Kyiv and major cities across this country. Even the president is warning specifically of cruel acts by the Russian forces in the coming days. This is in a very important week for Ukraine.

And you did have the State Department telling U.S. citizens to get out of Ukraine immediately because of specific intelligence that they had of possible missile strikes on civilian infrastructure here in the capital and elsewhere in the country. Today is flag day in Ukraine. It is the buildup to independence day, 31 years since Ukraine split from the then Soviet Union.

President Zelenskyy addressed troops close to where I'm standing and talked about the need for Ukraine to retake that land that Russia has occupied.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Today, I'd like to talk not only about the past of our flag but also about its future. The blue and yellow flag will flutter again at its home where it is supposed to be by right in all temporarily occupied cities and villages of Ukraine.



MCKENZIE: Now, Omar, they have actually taken practical steps telling civil servants and government officials to stay away in large part from the work spaces in the lead-up to this independence day just using a skeleton staff here. And in the east, they also have a 36 hour curfew.

Now, that's area is closer to the Russian border. But there have been signs and indications of possible missile strikes from Russia, not just for this latest incident in Moscow, but even before that because of the symbolism of this week and also the fact that Russia has really stalled on its frontline with Ukraine -- Omar.

JIMENEZ: David McKenzie, thank you so much as always.

ROMANS: So let's bring in political and national security correspondent David Sanger. He's also White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times" and author of the book "The Perfect Weapon."

David, nice to see you this morning.

These renewed fears of Russian attacks in Ukraine, President Zelenskyy warns that they could be particularly vicious in the wake of Darya Dugina's death. Do you think there is a real risk here?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that there is and I think that it has got sort of three different elements to it. The first is that while we have seen a good number of political assassinations happening in Russia, they have almost always been with Kremlin critics. This is the first time in a long time that we've seen a strike against someone who obviously was closely aligned with the Kremlin.

And it is unclear at least to me right now whether the right target here, sorry, the independent target here was her father or where Dugina herself was the target. She, of course, was a fairly nationalistic TV show host and commentator. And she had views close to her father's and had a big following.

I think the second biggest question is what happens if the strikes are not simply Ukraine but Estonia where the FSB has said that the killer escaped to. Estonia is, of course, a NATO member.

And so far, the Russians have been very careful not to go and attack anyone who was a member of NATO. That would change the nature of the war.

And the third problem is for Putin, can he really afford to expand the conflict right now in a moment that he is barely holding on.

JIMENEZ: And, of course, Ukrainian officials continue to deny involvement in the car bombing which Ukraine allies like the U.S. acknowledged. But as the State Department spokesperson made clear yesterday, the U.S. doesn't appear to be offering its own assessment of who was behind the car bombing.

So, do you think there are efforts under way either behind the scenes or other forming to keep tensions down and not let this killing be a catalyst for more death and destruction?

SANGER: Yeah, I can't imagine that the United States would take the position with the Ukrainians that it is wise for them to conduct assassinations inside Russian territory if they had anything do with this one at all. And right now, we simply don't know. And, of course, the U.S. is not going to have access to the evidence given where all of this happened.

But I think the concern in the U.S. is if it was Ukrainian, it could start a new phase in the war and if it wasn't the Ukrainians who did it, it could have been a false flag operation intended to give Putin an excuse is for a crackdown either on dissidents at home or on Ukraine, and to enter this sort of more vicious moment in the war. We don't know if that will happen. It's hard to imagine more vicious than some of the things we've seen so far, but I imagine it could.

ROMANS: And you mentioned Bucha, but she was known in the West for her accusations that it was a false flag, you know, operation by the Americans. So that is how she was sort of known for the West.

Bigger picture here, David, the ground war is grinding. Does her death change the scope of the war, does it prompt any shift in Russia's strategy? How does it fit into what we're seeing on the ground here months into the conflict?

SANGER: I doubt that it will affect the overall strategy, but it may lead Russia to strike out against Zelenskyy, people around him. As you heard in that earlier report, Kyiv which had been worried that it was a target because of the upcoming Ukraine independence day celebrations.


So those things could have happened any way and this could have accelerated it. For the war itself, it is pretty astounding that six months into it and today is the six month anniversary, we are at this moment -- it has a feel like the Korea a stalemate sort of like where nothing has moved in a long time. There has been some movement, but not really anything notable in the course of the summer.

And yet what is completely absent is any diplomatic process, any conversation between the Ukrainians and the Russians that might point us toward the question of how this could end.

JIMENEZ: David Sanger, thanks for getting up with us. CNN national security analyst, thank you.

SANGER: Thank you.

ROMANS: He's always terrific.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, always.

ROMANS: All right. A disillusioned soldier speaking out to CNN about the atrocities he is witnessing.

Plus, rain soaked Texas bracing for more devastating flooding and the threat is widening.



JIMENEZ: We have seen a lot of flooding across the country, but no one living in Dallas has seen flooding like this in their lifetimes. Dozens of high water rescues and over 9 inches of rain in a 24-hour period at Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport. That's a summer's worth in a single day. And the threat is not over yet.

Here is Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A one in 100 year rainfall event in Dallas-Fort Worth, drenching some parts with more than 10 inches in less than 24 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god, I can't get home.

LAVANDERA: The storm left major roadways flooded, vehicles submerged and some residents waking up Monday morning to kitchens, living rooms and hallways submerged in water.

Emergency officials in Dallas and Forth Worth say they have responded to hundreds of high water incidents and traffic accidents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everybody wasn't anticipating this much rain this fast.

LAVANDERA: The sudden and drastic change in weather has stunned the Dallas fort worth area after months of extreme and exceptional drought.

Since January, there has been a rainfall deficit of more than 10 inches. That deficit has been erased after a summer's worth of rain soaked the area in less than a day.

The storms have been moving over the same path since the overnight hours dumping relentless amounts of water along the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ground is very dry, but it can only absorb so much so fast.

BRITTANY TAYLOR, DALLAS APARTMENT FLOODED: I'm freaking out. My apartment is literally flooding. I just woke up. Should I call 911? What do I do?

LAVANDERA: Brittany Taylor says she moved in to this Dallas apartment just two days ago. She woke up at 3:00 a.m. to what she described as, quote, torrential rain and 2 feet of water on the first floor of her home.

Now she is wading through the aftermath to see what if anything remains undamaged.

TAYLOR: Oh, good, you guys, look, matchbooks can float. Yeah, there is all my childhood keepsakes.


LAVANDERA (on camera): We're also learning of tragedy in this rainstorm. Officials confirm that 16-year-old woman was killed when her car was swept away in the floodwaters. The police chief in Mesquite, Texas, says that she was actually on the phone with her family when she lost contact with her. And that's why they're urging her -- urging everyone around the area to beware of any kind of high water they might encounter anywhere especially when they consider the forecast as more rain is expected in the days ahead.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas, Texas.

ROMANS: Thank you so much for that, Ed.

All right. The serious flood threat now shifting further east.

Meteorologist Karen Maginnis is live in the weather center for us this morning.

Karen, where do people need to be bracing themselves here?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, we've got other states across the Deep South, Louisiana, Arkansas, into Mississippi, about 9.5 million people under flood watches. And this covers a fairly broad area that does shift a little further toward the east and computer models are saying 3 to 5 inches for a number of areas, but even one computer model suggested that there could be as much as 10 plus inches of rainfall, because it is a very sluggish weather system.

And you can see in East Dallas, they saw over 15 inches of rainfall. That was one in a 1,000 year rainfall event. So, even Dallas metroplex area where apartments, businesses, subdivisions, even the interstates were flooded by this really bizarre event that took place where we saw over 9 inches of rainfall. This is the fourth major event across the United States that occurred in eastern Kentucky, St. Louis, Las Vegas, some of the other cities that have had these big impacts with these sudden flash flooding events that have taken place.

We've got a quasi stationery frontal system languishing across the southeast with return moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, and area of low pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere. That's just kind of fueling this very moist, not so dynamic atmosphere because it's so sluggish. It is not really moving anyplace.

And so areas from Ark-La-Miss, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, and then eventually spreading toward the east. And so maybe southern sections of Alabama and into the Florida peninsula could be affected as well.