Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Hearing Over "Special Master" for Mar-a-Lago Search; Serena Williams Continues Magical Run at U.S. Open; Jackson Residents Wait in Line for Hours for Bottled Water. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 01, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, first day of September. Welcome to September, folks. I'm Christine Romans.

And we begin this morning with a crucial hearing later today in that court fight over the FBI search for classified documents at Mar-a- Lago. The former President Donald Trump's lawyers will try to persuade a judge at 1:00 p.m. Eastern that an independent third party, something called a special master, should review the seized material.

Last night Trump's attorneys submitted their response to the Justice Department brief rejecting a special master. A filing that included this, a striking photo of highly classified documents found at Mar-a- Lago. Among Trump's arguments, an admission that there were classified documents there, but that was to be expected among presidential records. No big deal, and should not have triggered an FBI search.

Joining us now, CNN legal analyst Loni Coombs, a former L.A. County prosecutor.

So nice to see you. Thanks for getting up our staying up late for us.

So, Loni, lawyers for the former president, they are arguing that it is the Justice Department that is unchecked and that these highly classified documents stashed away at the president's resort are no big deal?

LONI COOMBS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, this is a really interesting reply brief. It was supposed to be a reply to all of the very strong arguments that were made by the department of justice in their response to this request for a special master. But instead it really read more like a PR statement, you know, going after the FBI and the DOJ as usual saying that they are unchecked and I really don't trust them and that is why we need a special master.

But not really giving any legitimate legal basis or even evidence as to in this case why you can't trust the FBI or the DOJ in how they are handling the investigation. Now, they did try to address the standing issue, which is a very important issue, does he even have standing to say that he has a legitimate right to these documents so that he can argue that there should be a special master that comes in and determines if any should be released back to him. And the way they tried to establish standing is by saying that these

are presidential records, and so the presidential ability does apply and essentially what it says, that he should work with the archivists to determine what should be rushed back to the National Archives and that he was doing that and the DOJ and the FBI was way out of line when they served this certainly warrant, it wasn't necessary, he said it was normal that he should have these types of documents.

Well, there is a problem with there. First of all, there is not a legal basis to argue the standing. He was saying I have a reasonable expectation of privacy in my house and the search wasn't legitimate, so somehow, I shouldn't have standing over the documents.

But second of all, he's discounting the fact that there was a search warrant that was signed off by a magistrate who said there was probable cause for three separate crimes alleged by the DOJ, that was evidence of these crimes in Mar-a-Lago. And so, that was the reason for the legitimate sarch.

And the other issue, in this, he's actually also saying these are presidential documents. Now, the presidential act says specifically these documents do not belong to Donald Trump, they belong to the United States, once again making the DOJ's argument that he doesn't have standing to object to these documents being taken.

ROMANS: The other thing we've learned over the past couple of days, of course, Loni, is that this has been going for maybe a year and a half and there have been documents taken out of Mar-a-Lago going back to January. And at some point along the way, the DOJ says that two Trump attorneys signed off that there were no more -- no more records like this on the premises. A warrant was served and they found there were.

What's the legal jeopardy of Trump's legal team?

COOMBS: You know, that is a really big question here because they signed this certification under oath saying that they had done this extensive search and that there were no more documents. Now, the question is did they sign it really knowing that there were still more documents? Because we know from the search warrant that it is not true, there were more documents. Or were they told this, were they relying on Trump's statement or someone else?

So the issue is, could they end up being indicted here? And, yes, they could. They could end up being a target or they could turn to become a witness against Trump. That is where the finger goes.

So they are clearly being looked at very closely. That certification is a real smoking gun here.

ROMANS: OK. So the blockbuster midnight DOJ filing Tuesday still parsing that, it accused the team Trump of obstruction by lying to investigators about the documents at Mar-a-Lago.


His response last night has nothing to do with that. What does that suggest?

COOMBS: Well, he really didn't address any of the very damning evidence that was in the Department of Justice reply, right? I mean, here we have not only did they say that there was obstruction of justice, but they said that these documents had been concealed and removed. And then they find these documents not only in the storage room where they were told they were supposed to be, but during the search warrant they find documents in his office, Donald Trump's office.

And I'm telling you, this is gold for a prosecutor to be able to argue to a jury not only were three classified documents found in Trump's office in his desk, in a drawer of this desk with his passports, this is very strong evidence to show that he knew that these documents were there and that he intended to hold on to them despite the repeated requests to return them.

He doesn't respond to any of this evidence in his reply. He really just keep it is very simple and says, I don't trust the DOJ, I don't trust the FBI, that is why we need a special master.

So if the judge is looking at actually a legal basis to make it ruling of whether they appoint a special master or not, there is really not much legal justification to go on here.

ROMANS: And nothing from team Trump about why he needed to have these particular documents in his possession, what he plan to do with them, and who had seen them, how they had moved around Mar-a-Lago. Yes, his private resident but a place where people who pay to eat dinner, right, there are people who pay to want to get close to him.

We know there has been one investigation into a foreign spy trying to get into the location. So all of this incredibly important and why there is, you know, an intelligence damage assessment under way right now from the DNI.

Okay. Loni, thank you so much. CNN legal analyst, great to see you. Thank you so much.

All right. Now, a closer look at the picture everyone is dissecting. We showed you this shot of the documents found by the FBI inside a container at Donald Trump's Florida resort. Documents with classification markings that indicate the sensitivity of the information they contain.

Some of the documents are never meant to be viewed outside of a secret government facility, right? What can we learn from this single snapshot?

Here is CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's the markings on these documents which indicate their sensitive in bold letters. Some have cover sheets marked secret/SCI. Experts on classified documents tell CNN something marked secret, if it gets into the hands of the wrong person, could cause serious damage to U.S. national security. Other documents are marked top secret/SCI. That means exceptionally grave damage could be done if these documents are in the wrong hands.

NORMAN EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: People could very well die -- those in our intelligence community, those among our allies, American civilians whose lives can be put at risk or the people who collected this information.

TODD: And after each heading marked secret or top secret, the letters SCI for sensitive compartmented information.

EISEN: An additional category of classification that we apply to documents that you don't get to see just because you have a top secret clearance, they're essentially need-to-know documents. We keep them compartmented. We restrict the handling of them because the information they contain is so explosive.

TODD: Just underneath those headings on some documents, you see a crucial parking, HCS-P/SI/TK, HCS meaning clandestine human sources.

THOMAS BLANTON, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: It means it's a production, P, of human intelligence. The SI letters there signify it's from communications intelligence, which means our national security agency picked it up listening in to foreign conversations one way or another. The TK stands for a talent key hole. That's the key hole satellites, which are our top end spy satellites. And that means the information under this cover sheet came from one or more of those sources.

TODD: Donald Trump and his lawyers continue to say he declassified these documents but no evidence of declassification has been presented. And experts say it's not in this picture either.

BLANTON: Nothing in the photograph says declassified at all. You would see a line through the words, top secret SCI or through the words stamped on the bottom or top of those documents that say secret or confidential. There would be a line in there and a stamp that says declassified on such and such a date and it has somebody's initials on it. Because the law says, to declassify something, somebody has to take responsibility for it.

TODD: Overall, experts say these documents, which the Justice Department says were recovered from a container in one of Donald Trump's offices at Mar-a-Lago, simply shouldn't have been at the resort.


BLANTON: You definitely see a picture of documents that should never have left the White House.


TODD (on camera): The experts we spoke to say those documents are only supposed to be viewed inside what is called a SCIF, a sensitive compartmented information facility. Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive said Donald Trump had a SCIF at Mar-a-Lago while he was president but not after he left office.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right, Brianna. Thank you for walking through that photograph.

All right. Serena Williams is not done yet. Her magical run and what could be her final U.S. Open will continue to the third round. Thrilling tennis.

Carolyn Manno was there last night and joining us with more in this morning's "Bleacher Report". It was like a time machine you said.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, she jumped in to a time machine. She was moving around like crazy, she looked better than even Monday. And I think that she is playing with this incredible freedom. She's felt pressure for decades and I think that that is one of the things that is making the biggest difference.

I mean, if you think about nearly three decades of dominance for long enough, it is mind boggling. She won the first of her six U.S. Opens, Tom Brady wasn't even in the NFL yet, LeBron James wasn't even in high school. If she keeps playing like this, who knows how long the farewell will last?

I mean, she is dictating it, she is going out the way that she wants to. It was certainly another sellout record setting crowd. The place was so loud. Tiger Woods sitting with Venus.

All the stars were there. They were all there for the legend that they love. And they got their money's worth. I mean, the 40-year-old was going toe to toe with the second ranked player in the world, Anett Kontaveit, and in the end, Serena who won in three sets. I mean, moving on with another chance to win a record-tying 24 grand slam title.

We thought that wasn't even on the title but you add it to a legacy that has no equal, what else could you possibly expect from the greatest player that the game has ever seen.


SERENA WILLIAMS, 23-TIME MAJOR CHAMPION: I'm super competitive. Honestly, I'm just looking at it as a bonus. I don't have anything to prove, I don't have anything to win. And I have absolutely nothing to lose.

I really enjoy just coming out and enjoying it and it has been a long time since I've been able to do it.


MANNO: Yeah, that's the whole thing. I mean, she's dialed in a way that few expected. She feels so free. The atmosphere inside the stadium when the crowd were riding the wave

of her and what she needed. They were there when she needed to throw like they were in Monday night. I mean, it was one of the grittiest most inspired performances I've ever seen. And you think that she was a 50:1 long shot coming into the tournament on the single shot, and here she is defying expectations like she has her entire career being super human like she has her entire career.

She's going to be on the court with her sister Venus in doubles later today. That is still the plan. Even though she's advancing on the singles side and we'll see if she can continue the magical run on Friday against Ajla Tomljanovic.

Now, I was wondering about that, because as this becomes more of a reality, she has to kind of prioritize her body. I think she want this is so badly to go out the way that she wants to go out, that I haven't counted her out the entire time honestly. Not to pat myself on the back.

ROMANS: It has been thrilling. And you make the point that how many years has she been winning? She has a longevity in sports that I think surpasses everyone.

MANNO: Five American presidents, 27 years as a professional. You know, and four Olympic gold medals and the 23 titles, and this legacy as being a global ambassador for the sport and giving women a voice. There is so much weight that has been on her when you quantify you'll of that, that people forget about the fact that she has been doing this at the highest level longer than Michael Jordan, longer than Tom Brady, longer than LeBron James.

I mean, the greats. She is in the pantheon of all-time greats and it's incredible to watch.

ROMANS: It's amazing to savor this moment for her and I was telling my kids you're watching history right here, guys, you know, like this is history. But I know that she will do something amazing next too. I know her next chapter is going to be really awesome.

MANNO: Yes, Serena 2.0 she says. And this venture can't firm that she has, she could potentially make the greatest impact there, which is even more remarkable. What else can you say about her? She has a super human quality and a human quality because she relates to so many people and has opened the door to so many people.

ROMANS: All right. Carolyn Manno, you are so lucky to be able to cover it. Thank you.

All right. President Biden heading to Philadelphia tonight to battle for the soul of the nation.

And right now, shelling near a Russian-held nuclear power plant with a special inspection team moving in.

Plus misery in Mississippi, day four, day four with no water in Jackson. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is horrible. And I would like it to be fixed. Please fix our water.




ROMANS: An American capital city with no drinking water. Day four of a water crisis for the entire city of Jackson, Mississippi. Residents forced to wait in line for hours hoping to pick up a case of bottled water. The mayor hopes service can be restored this week no that an emergency rental pump has been installed.

More from CNN's Ryan Young in Jackson.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's horrible. And I would like it to be fixed. Please fix our water.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Car lines for bottled water in Jackson, Mississippi, as the water crisis continues into its third day, still affecting most of the city of 150,000 people.


YOUNG: The main water treatment facility in Jackson failed, leaving homes, schools, and businesses without running water, forcing schools, some restaurants, and government buildings to temporarily close.

And on this hot football field, these mothers not only worried about their children's education, they are also worried about their hydration and health.


NATASHA TAYLOR, JACKSON RESIDENT: I'm a parent of two kids. Even if you're not a parent, it's been a lot because we all got jobs, we go to work.

GERBERRA TOWNSEND, JACKSON RESIDENT: Fever, headaches, they got chills, all of that. I traced everything back to it was the water.

YOUNG: Some good news. The mayor's office told CNN a new water pump is getting installed today.

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA (D), JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI: We're expecting pressure to start increasing by this evening. I want to continue to remind our residents to boil your water for one minute before you drink it. Health officials say that the water is safe for bathing and washing hands. YOUNG: The mayor says the water system has been troubled for years

and it could take at least $1 billion to improve it. He says the fault should be, quote, shared across the board through leadership on every level.

LUMUMBA: This is the accumulation of years and years of accumulated problems. Challenges that we have been lifting up for the better part of, you know, three to four years.

YOUNG: One state representative hopes this crisis will bring change.

REP. DE'KEITHER STAMPS (D), MISSISSIPPI STATE HOUSE: Hopefully, we'll direct support from the White House, we'll be able to get the resources necessary to put the repairs in place to stabilize the systems.

YOUNG: Repairs that can't come fast enough for some residents.

VICTOR MARTINEZ, JACKSON RESIDENT: It's very frustrating to have to fight for some water.

KRUZ LONG, YOUTH FOOTBALL COACH: Jackson has to do something about this. What about the kids? What about the community, what about the people? I mean, somebody has to do something.


YOUNG (on camera): Yeah, people waiting in line hours to get this water is precious, 48 bottles is what everyone is leaving here with. But at some point it runs out and hundreds still remain in line and it happened in six different locations throughout Jackson.

Ryan Young, CNN, Jackson, Mississippi.

ROMANS: All right, Ryan. Keep on top for us, thank you.

President Biden has spoken very directly about what he calls the extremist threat posed by MAGA Republicans. Tonight with Philadelphia's independence hall as the backdrop, the president will deliver a primetime speech on, quote, the continued battle for the soul of the nation.

Let's bring in Tyler Pager, White House reporter for "The Washington Post".

Nice to see you, Tyler. Thanks for dropping by this morning.

Biden in Pennsylvania three times this week. Timing here critical with the primetime address tonight, Trump's visit of course Saturday night and the Senate race in the mix. What do you make of the timing?


In speaking with sources at the White House and advisers of the president, they made it clear that they see this speech tonight as part of a continued effort to release new messaging ahead of as you said crucial midterm elections in November. So we saw him last week in Maryland very inspired political rally, really drawing a contrast between Democrats address Republicans.

Tonight, advisers tell me that it would be a much broader speech, a much more solemn speech about the threats that the president sees to democracy.

So, while this will be obviously be political intent, he's hoping to rise about partisan politics and outline what he sees as the grave threats posed by former President Trump and supporters of his that have continued to spread lies about the 2020 election. So, we're going to hear a lot about election integrity and the rule of law. I don't think that we'll hear so much about the search at Mar-a-Lago, but putting it in the broader context and of what it means for the country moving forward.

ROMANS: Yeah. That new Biden strategy heading into the midterms, sharpening the contrasts between what he calls MAGA Republicans. He didn't say Republicans. He says MAGA Republicans, the extreme MAGA Republicans, and the rest of politics.

Here is White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre yesterday.


KARIEN JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You have Representative Paul Gosar has posted videos depicting him attacking the president and members of Congress. You have Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has publicly expressed support for shooting prominent Democratic elected officials.

And just last week, you had Governor Ron DeSantis suggested that Dr. Fauci should be physically assaulted. This is an extreme threat to our democracy, to our freedom, to our rights. They just don't respect the rule of law.


ROMANS: It's interesting. That's the second time I've heard them reference these fringe members of Congress. They usually don't get the time of day. They are bit players, but they are provocateurs. But mentioning them specifically and also calling out Ron DeSantis, a governor. What do you make of this strategy?

PAGER: You know, look, I think that Ron DeSantis has been a long term foil of this administration dating back to the early fights over COVID mandates and trying to get more people vaccinated. So I think that that is a continuation of that effort.

But in speaking with advisers of the president, they told me that they realize that they are better able to break through, get attention, and spread their message. But they are more explicit in calling out the threats. They caution that that is extremely unlikely. President Biden tonight will say explicit names as we heard Karine Jean-Pierre say there in the briefing. [05:25:05]

But they say they want to be clear. They don't want to dodge the issue anymore, they want to put the spotlight on individuals on politicians, on elected officials who they see as posing threats to democracy and as Karen Pierre said, they are the rule of law. But these are themes we've heard from the president since he announced his run for president, this battle for the soul of the nation.

It has been narrowed down to specific threats to democracy, but I think this is the argument he's been making for years.

ROMANS: So, CNN has learned that the former President Trump is considering waiting until after the November midterms to launch his presidential campaign given all these level troubles, at least five different investigations I can think of. What is the advantage here or disadvantage for President Biden the sitting president on the timing of a potential Trump bid? And also do you think -- is it a guarantee that Trump is going to run for president again?

PAGER: I think inside the White House there is huge appetite for Donald Trump to announce that he is running again. Biden and his aides see that as the best case scenario for him to run for re-election, to continue to drive these contrasts.

Trump is a hugely animating individual for Democrats, for independents, people who do not want to see him back in the White House. And so I think if he were to announce before the midterms, that would be an energizing tool for Democrats to get them to turn out for the vote.

In terms of whether or not Trump runs again, it seems that all he provides, and talking with people in his circle, that is the plan and they push back strongly against any indication that he is not running again. I know for that same reason, Democrats see him as a mobilizing tool.

Many Republicans are hopeful that he does wait it out until after the midterms. We've seen polls start to shift in Democrats direction and causing anxiety in Republican circles about what they thought was going to be a great cycle for them to take back control of one or both houses of Congress, as we saw yesterday Democrats winning in Alaska.

ROMANS: Right.

PAGER: That narrative, those polls are changing. And Democrats are a lot more optimistic about November.

ROMANS: Yeah, Sarah Palin losing her bid to return to office, beaten by a Democrat there.

Tyler Pager, White House reporter for "The Washington Post", thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning.

All right. Just ahead, losing patience with employees working from home. And behind on the bills, the summer heat not helping.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fortunately, we have air conditioning. But that has side effects, too.

REPORTER: What are those side effects?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Extremely high bills.