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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: DOJ to Submit Its Redactions for Search Warrant Affidavit; Pete Arredondo Fired Over Botched Response to Uvalde Attack; Russia Strikes Ukraine Train Station on Independence Day. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 25, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. Good morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, August 25th. I'm Christine Romans.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Omar Jimenez. Good to be with you all this morning.

Hours from now, a key filing is expected in the Mar-a-Lago search warrant case. U.S. magistrate judge in Florida has given Department of Justice lawyers until noon to submit their recommended redactions of the affidavit that lays out why the investigators thought there was probable cause a crime had been committed and why evidence could be found at Mar-a-Lago. Media organizations are seeking to have the affidavit made public, but the government says it deals with classified and grand jury information. So, if release, it would have to be heavily redacted.

Meanwhile, President Trump says he wasn't given any kind of head's up that the search was even happening.


REPORTER: Mr. President, how much advance notice did you have of the FBI plan to search Mar-a-Lago?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't have any advanced notice. None, zero. Not one single bit.


ROMANS: Sources have now confirmed to CNN that Trump era records were not returned to the government in the last days of the Trump presidency, even though a White House lawyer had determined they should be. That's according to a May 21, 2021 email from the National Archives chief counsel to Trump's attorneys.

Let's bring in a former federal prosecutor Fred Tecce.

Good morning. Thanks for joining us.

JIMENEZ: Good morning, Fred.

FRED TECCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Good morning. Thank you. Good morning. Thanks for having me.

JIMENEZ: Today, the DOJ will submit their proposed redactions to Mar- a-Lago's search affidavit to Judge Bruce Reinhart. And, of course, this will all be under sealed, but you've been through this redaction process before.

What do you anticipate the redactions will look like, will we actually learn any new information from this?

TECCE: So, it's interesting, I have been through literally hundreds of these. And what the redactions are going to look like, you will see the affidavit and it will start, I talked to, and then the person's name will be blanked out and she said and then it will be blanked out.

So the answer to your question is, what the redactions are going to be there to come is to protect information that the government believes is sensitive or if it gets out will compromise their ability to conduct further investigation. Oftentimes if you have a confidential informant or source and you don't want anyone to know who that is, you redact it out.

So the redactions are going to be based on what the government doesn't want to be let out to the public. And then the judge who has -- obviously has the entire warrant, he had it at the time he executed it, he'll look at it, look at the redactions and make a decision as to whether or not what the government wants to redact should be redacted or should be let out in the interest of justice.

ROMANS: You know, the Justice Department initially opposed the release saying it could handle per their investigation and potentially harm those people who are cooperating who you say will be, you know, blacked out to protect them.

Former President Trump, he has encouraged the full release. I wonder, though, if people around him aren't a little bit nervous about what could -- what could be here, what we could learn.

I mean, look, I mean, he has been fundraising off of this and trying to use it to show that the FBI is against him, Department of Justice is against him, but could they be nervous about what could be in there?

TECCE: Yeah. It's interesting. I teach trial advocacy. One thing I teach on lawyers is that whenever you look at a piece of evidence, you have to look at it in two ways, one way that helps you and one way that it doesn't because people process information differently. You go to a Chinese restaurant and it says that you get a fortune cookie that says you're going away for a long time. Some people think you're going to Tahiti, some people think that they are going to prison for tax evasion. It's the same piece of information.

So it doesn't surprise me that there are people around the ex- president who think that, you know, this may not help us, there's people around him that say this will help us. At the end of the day, irrespective of what comes out, people are going to read it the way they want to read it.

So, again, the compelling thing here is whether or not the information should be kept confidential, whether there is an ongoing investigation, what is the investigation, and so those are the things that the Justice Department is trying to -- that is the mine field that they are trying to walk through.

JIMENEZ: And we can say from a reporting perspective, I feel like when redacted documents come out, we always want more.

ROMANS: Right.

JIMENEZ: Over at the National - -well, over -- I want to get to the National Archives real quick, was that officials say that a Trump lawyer told them the classified documents Trump had should be returned. Communication between the two parties goes all the way back to May 2021, and we're here in August of 2022. That's a long time trying to get back documents.

What do you make of that?

TECCE: Well, first of all, litigation -- any litigation moves at a glacier's pace. So the time frame -- I mean, I see this with non- attorneys who -- clients, a lot of times, you know, why does it take long? And you guys may look at it and say, this has taken forever.

Again, that cuts two ways. I mean, if there is a back and forth, back and forth, ultimately, the documents are there, the government knows they're there, the lawyers were talking about whether or not they should be there, they shouldn't be there, and, ultimately, they may not come to an agreement about that, and that's some place you would go to a judge, a fellow judge and make a determination as to whether or not they should be there or not be there.


Some people are concerned. For some reason the government thought that they needed to seize those documents at this point in time. And again, that is one of the things that the warrant should shed some light on.

ROMANS: Totally different -- there are all these -- in the Trump orbit, there are all these circles of investigations and probe. So I want to go back to the Mueller probe. The Justice Department released an internal memo from 2019 on former Attorney General Bill Barr's decision to clear Trump on obstruction of justice in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Why now do you think?

TECCE: Well, a federal judge ruled that the government had to release that. I think that within the last couple of days, timing to me is kind of interesting. I mean, I think if I'm the government, I want that released because it shows, look, we haven't done anything wrong. I mean, part of what is going on, the government has to show there is an ongoing investigation and that is why they need to keep this information secret.

And they're going to open themselves up, irrespective of what the agreement or not, people are going to attack that position that, well, this is just another investigation that ultimately goes nowhere. And so, you know, whether or not, when the government comes in, with any party, any party to any litigation having done this hundreds of time, time for this country, any party when they take a position, they open themselves up to an attack. That's how our system of justice works.

One party says X, one party says Y, and they argue their position and a judge makes their call as to who is right and who is wrong. And so when you argue X, people will argue why it isn't X. And when you argue Y, the other side is going to argue Y, it isn't why. It's kind of a crucible that they talk about, it kind of burns through to get to the truth.

ROMANS: All right. Fred Tecce, thank you so much for dropping by this morning.

TECCE: Hey, thanks for having me. Have a great day.

ROMANS: You too.

JIMENEZ: Now, he has been the face of the failed law enforcement response to the Uvalde school massacre in which 19 children and two teachers were killed inside Robb Elementary school. Now, school district police chief Pete Arredondo is out. His firing made official at a meeting of the Uvalde school board Wednesday.

And we get more from CNN's Shimon Prokupecz in Uvalde, Texas.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Omar, 90 days, three months to the day of the shooting, family members finally getting some accountability. The school board finally deciding to fire Pete Arredondo after weeks and months of delay.

This was supposed to happen weeks ago, but Pete Arredondo has been fighting it really to the last minute, explaining why he should still keep his job. There was talk about him showing up here today, but what happened is his attorney says that he was too concerned over his safety and that is why he didn't show up.

And really for family members, this is a day that they were looking forward to for quite some time. We heard from some of those family members, even a young girl who spoke about accountability and her feelings about some of the law enforcement that was inside the school on that day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here today to make a statement. If a law enforcement's job is to protect and serve, why didn't they protect and serve my friends and teachers on May 24th?

I have messages for Pete Arradondo and the other law enforcement there that day. Turn in your badge and step down. You don't deserve to wear one.

PROKUPECZ: And parents say this is just the first step in accountability. They want more officers fired. They are now taking issue with some of the school board and some of the school officials and they say that they will keep fighting for more answers and accountability -- Christine, Omar.


ROMANS: Shimon, thank you so much for that.

JIMENEZ: And he's been down there, continuously down there this entire time.

Well, elsewhere, the death toll is rising in a train station attack in southeastern Ukraine on the day the country observed its independence. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy scheduled to speak with President Biden today.

Plus, what a jury awarded Kobe Bryant's widow and the second plaintiff over photos taken at the scene of the deadly helicopter crash.

ROMANS: And rockets target coalition bases in Syria, injuring one U.S. servicemember.



ROMANS: Russian strike on a train station in southeastern Ukraine with at least 25 people dead and dozens injured on the country's Independence Day. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy says at least four rockets hit the station damaging utility building and destroying railcars. The White House says President Biden will speak with Zelenskyy today.

CNN's David McKenzie is live in Kyiv, Ukraine, with more.

These talks come just as two rockets hit a Ukrainian community near Kyiv this morning as well.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. We are still in a state -- heightened state of alert here, Christine, over this anniversary week. And that devastating attack on a train station and residential areas in the southeast of Ukraine, at least 25 people dead, again a strike that appears to have hit civilian areas, two children, an 11-year-old and 6-year-old killed in those strikes according to Ukraine's presidential office, very much devastating news on an anniversary and six months after the war began. And there is news that the Russian occupied areas east of the country, they appear to be preparing for these trials, and I use trials in a loose way, the sham trials that they will be putting on possible POWs and members of the Azov battalion.

The State Department and the U.S. hit back on this possibility, saying, I quote, about planning so-called tribunals against Ukrainians, brave defenders, the Kremlin is attempting to deflect responsibility for Putin's war of aggression.


The Russian government through the embassy has hit back, saying that this is a groundless accusation against Russia from the U.S. government. This is something that Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, has warned that any discussions of a ceasefire or peace would be completely off the table should they publicly bring POWs, prisoners of war, into a kind of sham trial situation.

As you mentioned, President Zelenskyy later today due to speak to President Biden. This will be an important conversation because it comes on the heels of at least $3 billion offered in grant money of ammunition, heavy weapons and training from the U.S. to Ukraine to continue this fight which has shown very little movement, substantial movement on the front lines for many weeks now.

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


JIMENEZ: In Syria, U.S. military officials say an American service member was injured in rocket attacks on coalition bases there Wednesday. The rockets struck two bases in northeast Syria housing U.S. troops as part of the defeat ISIS coalition. The attack followed airstrikes against Iranian-backed troops operating in the region. In response to the rocket fire, U.S. attack helicopters hit three vehicles and the equipment that launched the rockets. Officials say two or three people involved in the attacks were killed.

Coming up, a birth sweet victory for Vanessa Bryant. A Los Angeles jury awards tens of millions over the Kobe Bryant crash photos.

And dozens rescued from rising floodwaters in Mississippi, the latest on the extreme weather that's continuing to pound the Southeast.



JIMENEZ: A federal grand jury is awarding $31 million in damages to Kobe Bryant's widow, Vanessa, and co-plaintiff Christopher Chester. They were found liable for infringing on Bryant and Chester's rights to privacy. Testimony at the trial showed that first responders had taken and shared graphic photos of the victims in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna or Gigi and seven others.

After the verdict, Vanessa posted a photo of her, Kobe, and Gianna in the Instagram with a caption: All for you, I love you. Justice for Kobe and Gigi.

More now from CNN's Natasha Chen.


million for Vanessa Bryant and $15 million from co-plaintiff Chris Chester, who also lost a spouse and a daughter in that horrific crash in January of 2020. It was such an emotional ending to two weeks of a very intense trial.

As the verdict was being read, Vanessa Bryant cried, she hugged her lead counsel Luis Li and then proceeded to hug her oldest daughter, Natalia Bryant. They came out of the courthouse together. She did not make any statements to us as she got into her car.

Chris Chester's attorney did give us a statement saying that they are very grateful for a judge and a jury who gave a very fair trial.

Now, the lead counsel for the defense, L.A. County, gave us a statement saying that they appreciate the jury's hard work and while they disagree with the outcome, they pointed out that the award amount of $31 million shows that the jurors did not believe the evidence supported the maximum possible $75 million that the plaintiffs initially asked for.

The jurors did have a lot to consider including the question of whether the L.A. Sheriff's Department and the L.A. County Fire Department lacked the proper training and policies that caused the violation of the plaintiffs' rights. They also had to consider whether they had a long standing widespread practice or custom of taking illicit photos of victims' bodies.

Now, they all found in the plaintiffs' favor except that they found that the Fire Department did not have that long standing practice of taking such photos. Otherwise they found in favor of Bryant and Chester.

Omar and Christine, back to you.


ROMANS: Natasha.

I can't imagine how painful that was for those families to have to go through all this, but how brave of them to try to --

JIMENEZ: To keep fighting through it and, yeah, look for that accountability.

ROMANS: Right, personal accountability, right.

All right. Ahead, New York Congresswoman Carol Maloney voted out of office and Democrats are already fighting for her committee seat.

Plus, President Biden forgiving billions in student loan debt, will that help or hurt Democrats in November? And --


JIMENEZ: The University of Texas offering a new honors course and the entire curriculum is Taylor Swift songs.



ROMANS: Fifteen terms, 30 years in Congress and just like that, she was defeated in a New York primary this week. Democrats are already jockeying for her powerful position of chair of the House Oversight Committee, talking about Carolyn Maloney.

CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill.

Good morning. Obviously, not ideal for her to be matched up with Jerry Nadler in this messy primary in New York.

What has been the impact of Maloney's primary loss?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, it's left a scramble for Democrats to figure out who will fill the top position on the House Oversight Committee, that powerful committee that has the power to subpoena, to investigate.

Now, for context, of course, this was the first committee to come out and it raised questions surrounding documents that former President Trump took to Mar-a-Lago, as well as created an investigation on the deleted text messages from Secret Service agents. They have a lot of power. Of course, the House Oversight Committee chairwoman being Carolyn Maloney who lost the primary against Jerry Nadler. And as a result, now it has left the scramble of who will replace her on that committee.