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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

DOJ Files Brief Overnight Rejecting Trump's Call for Special Master; President Biden Calls Out "MAGA Republicans," "Sickening" Attacks on FBI; Torrential Rain Causes Jackson's Water Treatment Plant to Fail; Former Soviet Leader to Be Buried Alongside His Wife in Moscow. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 31, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, August 31. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin with this bombshell court brief filed overnight by the Justice Department arguing against former President Trump's demand for a special master to review documents in the Mar-a-Lago search case. The filing features this photograph taken by the FBI. It's a sample of the documents found, their top secret markings indicating human intelligence sources, this was found in a box or some sort of crate and container, hammering home the extreme sensitivities that Trump took from the White House.

The Justice Department laying out a series of objections to Trump's request among them that he lacks standing to even participate in the case because the materials seized by the FBI do not belong to him, they belong to the United States government. The department also describes an effort to obstruct the FBI's investigation. It claims documents were, quote, likely concealed and removed from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago before Trump's own lawyers searched it for classified material.

The filing also takes aim at team Trump's assertion that it cooperated fully with the probe and in one revealing account, the brief says investigators visiting Mar-a-Lago in June were prohibited by Trump lawyers from looking inside boxes to confirm no classified documents remained. In fact later FBI search proved that there was still classified material there.

Let's bring in former Milwaukee County assistant prosecutor, Julius Kim, now criminal defense lawyer.

So much to pick through here from this DOJ filing. What in this filing significantly changes the understanding of the case to you?


Well, reading the filing, it dons on me that this entire situation started off with a simple request by administrative agency to get some government documents back from the president and that they had -- they were simply trying to get documents back but it led to a criminal investigation because for one reason or another, former President Trump refused to give these documents back. But the brief outlines just how patient the government was in trying to get the documents back and just how Trump -- how deceitful Trump was in trying to get these documents back to them.

ROMANS: Yeah, it ticks through exactly how many times and what circumstances the government tried to retrieve this material starting in January and again under subpoena, and then finally in August. Normally a special master is involved to separate out attorney/client privileged material, but here Trump is claiming executive privilege for his documents.

Is that stretch for him?

KIM: I think it is a stretch. And I think that the government's brief laid out pretty clearly why that is a stretch. Essentially, you can't claim executive privilege when an executive branch of government is trying to confiscate or look at documents.

Executive privilege exists to protect the executive branch from other branches of government. And the argument that Trump's team made which wasn't much of an argument at all are false and I think the government rightfully pointed out the fact that executive privilege does not apply here. The case was very clear on that.

ROMANS: We also know that Trump and his team claims that he had declassified all this material with some kind of a standing order. Now that we know more of what is there, does it make sense for him to say these documents are all declassified and theoretically viewable by anyone? The government is making the case that in prior interactions with the president's lawyers, they were treating this material as classified.

KIM: I think that is a great point. And it is so telling because the government went to great lengths to point out that at least every step along the way, three times that documents were actually seized from Donald Trump, there was never a claim of executive privilege. And this whole notion that he declassified everything at the last second to me seems like a stretch.

Let me ask you this, Christine. If you are walking your dog and someone walks up to you and tries to grab the leash and says, no, that is my dog, what is your first reaction going to be? Your first reaction is going to be, well, wait a second, that is mine. I own this property. It is not going to be, go ahead, take my dog and then four months later decide, you know what, on second thought, I think that actually is my dog.

I don't know if that is a good analogy or not, but it seems ridiculous that now he is trying to claim that he declassified the documents when he could have and should have made that argument from the get-go.

[05:05:03] ROMANS: What do you make of the strategy to try to appoint a special master? We know that the DOJ filter team could actually already be done with reviewing any of the material already. Is it a stalling tactic?

KIM: You know, it certainly seems to be that way because, you know, Donald Trump is known to use stall tactics when it comes to litigation. However special masters are incorporated in cases all the time. It is not that rare to have a special master involved in a case.

But in this particular situation, I think the fact that they waited two weeks to request a special master kind of undermines his own request because one of the reasons why people ask for a special master is because there is some sort of urgency, that there will be irreparable harm to the person unless a neutral third party gets their eyes on a document and separates what the government is entitled to and what the government is not entitled to. And this two-week delay undermines that sense of urgency.

ROMANS: Julius, I want to pull up that photo again of what the DOJ included at the very end of this court filing. OK. So, we know that Trump turned over 15 boxes to the National Archives in January. Some materials under subpoena in June and then the FBI agency says another 33 boxes during the search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month. That is just one sort of snapshot.

Now, they didn't find these documents of course lying on the floor, they were found in a crate or a box, in some kind of a storage container. But look at the covers of those, the folder covers. Some of these documents are meant only to be viewed in a special secure government location.

This I think was sort of the exclamation point, right, on the DOJ's filing last night.

KIM: Looking at that picture, it is frightening what we see. What I keep asking myself is this, if you're an asset for the United States government that is working as a spy essentially in Russia or China or Afghanistan or wherever, and you happen to see that picture, is that going to make you pause and reassess whether you should be cooperating and providing information to the United States? And if the answer to that is yes, then to me what Donald Trump did here, he endangered the lives of American citizens. Not just Democrats or Republicans, everyone, by doing this. Because he is potentially exposing national secrets that's going to make other people pause as to whether they want to work with us in the future.

ROMANS: Julius Kim, so nice to have you bright and early this morning, criminal defense attorney. Thank you so much.

KIM: Thanks, Christine. Take care.

ROMANS: All right. President Biden doubling down on his anti-MAGA rhetoric in the face of strong GOP criticism. The president's speech was fiery yesterday in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania, escalating the fight against Trumpism and in defense of law enforcement.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress, don't tell me you support law enforcement if you won't condemn what happened on the 6th. Don't tell me.

Can't do it. For god's sake, whose side are you on? Whose side are you on?

Now it is sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI, threatening the life of law enforcement agents and their families for simply carrying out the law and doing their job.

Look, I want to say this clear as I can. There is no place in this country, no place, for endangering the lives of law enforcement. No place. None. Never. Period.

I'm opposed to defunding the police and I'm also opposed to defunding the FBI.


ROMANS: We will hear more from the president tomorrow in a speech in Philadelphia. The White House says he will focus on the continued battle for the soul of the nation.

To the devastating flooding in Mississippi, the National Guard has been called in to distribute bottled water to people in Jackson. The city's main water treatment facility began failing Monday and there is not enough water to fight fires. There is not enough water to even flush toilets.

The need is desperate, officials temporarily ran out of bottled water with some waiting in line for hours.

More now from CNN's Ryan Young.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not safe to brush your teeth with.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A dire situation in Jackson, Mississippi.

GOV. TATE REEVES (R), MISSISSIPPI: We were told on Friday that there is no way to predict exactly when, but that it was a near certainty that Jackson would fail to produce running water sometime in the next several weeks or months if something did not materially improve.

YOUNG: Water issues are not new at Jackson, Mississippi. Years of neglect of the aged water system had led to numerous problems and residents have been under some sort of boil water notice or advisory until times in the last years alone, after a 2021 winter storm shut down the entire system. [05:10:08]

This time the recent flooding in the south bringing the system to the brink, the city maintains they just don't have the financial resources to make repairs on the antiquated system.

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA (D), JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI: We don't have the funds in order to deal with 30 years of neglect.

YOUNG: Damage to the main water system this summer led officials to believe that it would lead inevitably to the system's complete failure. Monday it did. Backup pumps are running, but the governor says that they lack enough water to fight fires or flush toilets.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves tweeting that the state has declared a federal disaster and offer the state to pay half the repairs needed if the city covers the other half. He also declared a state of emergency for the city, and up to 4,500 National Guard members have been activated scrambling to distribute water to residents who are frustrated and scared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's something that's an ongoing problem that needs to be corrected and we hope that they are heading in the right direction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's almost always going on with the boil notices or all of a sudden the shortage. It is scary because we don't know if anything will get done or when it's going to get done.

YOUNG: Now a possible special meeting of the legislature to try to come up with the funding to fix the situation.

LUMUMBA: I don't want to hypothesize on why it has taken this long. I'm just grateful that the relief has arrived.

YOUNG: Frustrated residents hoping that this time it's true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever Jackson got going on, they need to get that right. It is very frustrating to have to fight for some water.

YOUNG: Ryan Young, CNN, Jackson, Mississippi.


ROMANS: Thank you, Ryan, for that.

OK. We now know the price Texas is paying to bus thousands of migrants to New York and Washington.

Plus, we go to Moscow where Russians are mourning the Soviet Union's last leader.

And the frontline of Ukraine's new counteroffensive against Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We can see clearly here that in these tree lines, these tree lines were all occupied by Ukrainian forces.




ROMANS: Catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, more than 1,100 people have been killed, including nearly 400 children. Thousands more have been injured. And water levels are expected to keep rising.

CNN'S Sophia Saifi is live in Karachi.

Sophia, the danger there is far from over. I mean, it's hard to imagine but a third of that country is under water right now.

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: Yes, Christine, 33 million people across this country have been affected, that is one in seven people. Entire villages swept away, people who don't have enough tents to be under. We've had a summer of extreme weather, extreme heat, extreme rainfall, flooding across the country from the north to the south.

Pakistan's prime minister has asked for immediate international assistance, requesting that countries come together and help his people. He is calling for complete national food shortage. There are not enough onions. There are not enough tomatoes in the country. These are basic staples for Pakistani people's diets, to the point that we had a briefing with the prime minister yesterday and I asked him about fatigue with the war in Ukraine and he said that because of the circumstances, Pakistan is willing to talk to anyone and anyone indeed to get food for the Pakistani people and that includes Russia.

So the Pakistan prime minister says that Pakistan is going to be speaking to Russia to negotiate enough wheat to come into the country for the months ahead to deal with the food shortage caused by the immense amount of agricultural destruction that is taking place across the heartlands of Pakistan -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Sophia, thank you so much for that. Just a tragedy there, an ongoing tragedy there in Pakistan.

All right. Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, will be buried next to his wife in a Moscow cemetery. A date has not been announced by the family. Gorbachev will be remembered as the man who tore down the Iron Curtain, singlehandedly reforming the USSR with the phrases, glasnost, openness, and perestroika, restructuring.

In 2012, he admitted to CNN's Christiane Amanpour that he was not sure how Russians would ultimately judge him.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: To many people around the world, you are a hero, a once in a generation actor who ended the cold war. How would you like your people to remember you?

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FORMER SOVIET LEADER (through translator): History is a fickle lady and you can expect surprises from history. But I do know that I did what I did and that I can be proud.


ROMANS: CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins us from Moscow this morning.

Fred, are we hearing anything from President Putin about Gorbachev's passing?


I mean, obviously, Mikhail Gorbachev, an absolutely towering figure who not just was so pivotal in tearing down the Iron Curtain, but also doing it in a peaceful way. One of the things that we have to keep in mind, at that time, there were hundreds of thousands of soviet troops in Eastern Europe and also in Eastern Germany, so making all that happen in a peaceful way is certainly something that the world will remember him for.

A little bit more of a mixed bag here in Russia. There are many who have bad feelings toward Mikhail Gorbachev. We have heard from Vladimir Putin this morning, there is a condolence letter that just came out, so I want to read you part of it.

He obviously said that Mikhail Gorbachev was a politician statesman who had a huge impact on the course of world history and then he said, he led our country during a period of complex dramatic changes, large scale foreign policy, economic and social challenges.


He deeply understood that reforms were necessary and he strove to find his own solutions to the problems that he faced.

And so you can see -- to urgent problems. So you see that Putin making that statement doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement of the legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev. Again, he is somewhat of a controversial figure here in Russia, he did have some issues with the policies of Vladimir Putin, specifically also, of course, some of the curbing of freedoms here in Russia.

However, one also has to say, he did support Vladimir Putin's course towards Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and also some of the things that are going on in Ukraine right now. But if you speak to ordinary Russians, something I've done over the years here in Moscow and in other place, there are many people who are highly critical of Mikhail Gorbachev who feel that their lives with are turned upside down and that Russia was humiliated as a result of the economic and military and social decline that the country saw for so many years -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Fred Pleitgen for us in Moscow, thank you, Fred. Ukraine's new counteroffensive showing signs of success. The goal is

to recapture Russian territory. Ukrainian forces have already retaken four villages while breaking through Russian defenses at the frontlines of the Kherson region.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with this warning to Russian troops.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will chase them to the border, to our border which line has not been changed. Occupiers are well aware of it. If they want to survive, it is time for the Russian military to run away. Go home.


ROMANS: CNN's Sam Kiley is on the ground in southern Ukraine for us.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lightning advance by Ukraine against Russia leaves a winded landscape almost emptied of people. Ukraine claims to have broken through Russian front lines close to here, capturing several villages in a new counteroffensive.

We have been stopped at a road block about a kilometer short of where they say there have been incoming fire in the last 24 hours. But we can see very clearly here that in these tree lines, these tree lines were all occupied by Ukrainian forces until 24 hours ago at the beginning of this counteroffensive. This is clearly been a location where there's been pretty heavy fighting.

The fighting is now concentrated, we understand from soldiers we have spoken to here, close to the front line. Five or six kilometers beyond and beyond that lies the ultimate goal of Kherson.

The regional capital captured by Russia in March was rocked by fighting, Russia said today. Its forces claim to have wiped out a Ukrainian partisan cell in a firefight. Who won the skirmish is unclear, but the city has been the center of Ukrainian resistance for months.

Ukraine says that it has damaged the bridges connecting it to the Russian held left bank of the Dnipro River, cutting off key supply lines for the Russians.

NATALIA HUMENIUK, SECURITY AND DEFENSE FORCES OF SOUTHERN UKRAINE (through translator): Continue to try to set up a ferry crossing, but the whole area where it can be deployed is also under our fire control and will be hit.

KILEY: Russia's claim to have held off an offensive in which it lost at least four villages in 48 hours, according to Ukrainian military sources. Maria and her husband stayed on her farm in Ukraine's front line throughout the war to feed their livestock.

The months of shelling have left her shaken. This week, she's endured jets streaming overhead as Ukrainian fighters attacked Russian targets.

MARIA POKUSAEVA, FARMER NEAR FRONT LINE (through translator): I hid inside the house. My heart was jumping out every time. I was screaming so loud when the planes were flying over. I was so scared. God save us.

KILEY: For now, though, survival means getting the harvest in. This may be a long war, and winter is close at hand.

Sam Kiley, CNN, in Southern Ukraine.


ROMANS: All right. Still to come, one way tickets from Texas, we now know the cost of busing migrants to New York and Washington.

And how student debt forgiveness could get complicated depending on where you live.



ROMANS: The wait is over for President Biden's student loan relief. Here is what borrowers need to know. You can apply for relief in early October. You will have to logon to student and detail your income. Apply by November 15th for relief before the payment freeze ends on December 31.

Dead cancellation we're told from the government should take four to six weeks after that. Roughly 8 million borrowers will get relief automatically because their information is already on file with the government.

Now, who? Who here? Those who make under $125,000 a year will receive $10,000 in relief. And people who are Pell grant recipients, they are eligible for a total of $20,000 in debt relief.

Now, the plan will benefit 43 million people completely wiping out loan debt for some 20 million. Things get complicated though at the state level here. In about a dozen states, canceled debt is classified as income, taxable income. We're talking New York, Hawaii, , Virginia, Pennsylvania among the states where residents, you could see a tax bill from your wiped out debt.

According to the Tax Foundation minimum -- or maximum state tax liability ranges anywhere from $300 to $1,100. It is $685 in New York the maximum tax liability.