Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

11 Sets Of Classified Documents Found In FBI Search At Mar-a- Lago; Sources: Trump's Attorney Asserted In June There Were No Classified Docs At Mar-a-Lago, FBI Found 11 Sets; Trump Claims Documents Taken In FBI Search Were Privileged; FBI: "Unprecedented" Number Of Threats After Mar-a-Lago Search; GOP Split Emerges In Response To Mar-a-Lago Search; CNN's Clarissa Ward Returns To Kabul A Year After City's Fall; Half Of Afghanistan Acutely Hungry, 90 Percent Below Poverty Line. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. We have some new reporting on the FBI search of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago. A Trump lawyer signed a letter back in June, promising there were no more classified papers there. But yet, this 11-sets of classified records were found at the former president's home last week.

Plus, one year now since the fall of Kabul. The Biden White House says the American withdrawal was for the best. A House Republican report though calls it a disaster. We'll go live on the ground in Afghanistan in just a bit. And Liz Cheney faces the voters, and she faces giant questions about her future. Wyoming's primary test the risks of taking on Trump in a state the former president one by more than 40 points.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious. It preys on those who love their country. It is a door Donald Trump opened to manipulate Americans to abandon their principles. This is Donald Trump's legacy, that it cannot be the future of our nation.


(Video Playing)

KING: We begin the hour though with new details about the FBI search warrant for Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago and with disturbing new fallout because of violent threats now being made by the former president's supporters.

The FBI and other law enforcement begin this week on alert, warranted a new government bulletin about online and other threats. Those violent posts, attacking the Justice Department decision to get a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago one week ago today, but some new reporting does help explain this unprecedented step. CNN has now learned Trump's attorney signed a letter back in June, verifying no more classified information was at Mar-a-Lago. But the FBI then came to believe that was a lie. And last month - last Monday, excuse me, 11 sets of classified documents were removed from that very same Mar-a-Lago.

With me to share the reporting and their insights, CNN's Evan Perez, CNN's Katelyn Polantz, CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, and the former director of communications for the National Intelligence, Shawn Turner.

Evan, let me begin with you. So, an attorney signs a letter in June, an attorney signing a letter carries extra weight. They understand what they're doing, no more classified records, 11 sets of classified documents taken away. How do they explain that?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, we haven't heard what the explanation necessarily. We know, John, that what - that declaration was found, at least in the eyes of prosecutors, the eyes of the FBI to be false. And, you know, you can begin to see the, you know, where the former president and his team are going to go, right, which one of the things they're saying is that, well, everything was declassified.

And there's various exotic versions of that. One of them being that by virtue of sending documents from more secure parts of the White House to the residence, that just by doing that the former president was declassifying things. Again, nobody knows exactly where that order may have come from.

What we know, though, is that, you know, that the fact that they did this declaration, now potentially puts other people at risk, legal exposure for whoever signed that document, because if the FBI and the prosecutors believed that that person knowingly was trying to mislead the investigation, then that person could also be in trouble.

KING: So, as we tried to put the details together, and a letter signed in June, saying that no classified records here certainly make you understand why they might want a search warrant when they get information, believing that's not true. The former president has thrown out 100 different reasons. But here's one from a post on his Truth Social site.

He says, they took boxes of privileged attorney client material, also executive privilege material. Is there - one of the issues here is, to be fair to him, we have to see what he's saying. But we also know that much of what he said turns out not to be true. Is there any evidence that that's true?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, we are watching the court docket this morning very closely, regularly. There is a standing request right now from news organizations, including CNN getting more information out of court, including the affidavit. We haven't seen the Justice Department respond to that. We also haven't seen anything from Trump and his team in court.


I mean, back when Michael Cohen was arrested or when he was seized before he was arrested. When he was searched, the Justice Department collected a lot of information that he is claimed was his attorney client work product for Donald Trump. And what happens in that sort of situation is someone like Trump's attorneys could go to court and they could file a claim that says, please court, provide a third party to look through these things.

We know the Justice Department will use a filter team to make sure there aren't, you know, really privileged things there in whatever the investigators ultimately get that they haven't filed anything to try and challenge at this point.

And then on the executive privilege issue, I mean, there's two things there. One, it's a criminal investigation. It's very, very difficult to claim executive privilege in a criminal investigation. The law just isn't on the side of the presidency there when someone - the president, or the former president is under investigation or people around him.

And then also if he's claiming executive privilege on documents, he says, are his private property and are not presidential records, which is being investigated here whether he had presidential records, there is a logic.

KING: You're going down a rabbit hole. It's pretty hard to get out.

PEREZ: I mean, he has made that declaration on Truth Social. That's about the only thing we've seen.

KING: Right. So, Shawn Turner come into the conversation, because you're familiar, your work experience of being around classified documents. And so, what president - what former presidents has on Truth Social?

Again, we need to watch what he says. But helped me - help understand to Evans point, that if there were sensitive documents in the Oval Office, and Donald Trump said, I want these, take them over to the residence, that does not declassify them, correct?

At number two, if an attorney signs a letter in June, saying there is no classified records here, and the FBI gets a tip, otherwise, is there any reason a former president 19 months, 20 months later, should still have access to classified records? Possession, not just access, possession.

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Right, yes. So, where do we start? Let's talk about the declassification issue first. The idea that the president can declassified documents simply by moving them from one physical location to another is nonsense on so many levels. Look, there is a process for declassification of documents that involves the president of the United States.

And that process is one in which the classification authority for those documents by statute has to be able to review those documents. And there is a process for ensuring that as those documents are declassified, that sources and methods are protected, and that all the things the intelligence community would need to do to ensure that, that our ability to collect that intelligence is protected, that process has to occur.

The other thing here that's really relevant is if the president simply says a document is declassified, and there is no process, then the people who handle that information will continue to treat that information as if it's classified. And so, if we don't go through that process, then it just doesn't make sense. So, that's a real issue here.

And I will tell you on this other issue of the lawyer, you know, there are only a couple of reasons why a lawyer would say that those documents are not at Mar-a-Lago, either it's because that lawyer was simply told to say that by his client, that would be the president of the United States and that's very bad. Or the lawyer was willing, he knew that those documents were there. And despite knowing that they were there made a decision to lie about it, which is also bad.

So, there's no good scenario here with regard to why those documents are there. And I'll just tell you from a national security perspective, we need to understand the substance of these documents, because that's going to tell us more about the intent.

KING: Right. I'll come back to that in just one second to Katelyn's point about if Donald Trump's lawyers had a case here to claim, they took things, they weren't supposed to take. There are some privilege issues here, there's this. They would have been in court in minutes, not - we would not be sitting here one week after the search waiting for the process (Ph).

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. There's a process behind all this. It's almost like, you know, look, if the president declassified a document in the woods with no process, does it make a sound. And there is a process for number one asserting executive privilege, which as the United States versus Richard Nixon back in the 1970s demonstrated. The courts don't look very highly on executive privilege.

If there is - if these were declassified documents, and he had the power to do so, there's process around doing it, John. And so, you know, we've seen this before with the former president. There are powers a president has to declassify documents to pardon, whatever, to nominate people, but there's a process around them to ensure that these abuses don't happen. And if his attorneys, were not following that and signing documents that could even be criminal.

KING: One thought, I want to get to before we end this piece of the conversation is now the threat, the threat. The department homeland security, the FBI putting out a bulletin over the weekend, saying anyone in law enforcement, but especially the FBI judges should be on alert as you watch this play out. We showed some of this last week but there are new ones, lock and load, kill all the feds. I'm just going to say it Garland needs to be assassinated, simple as that. That's the attorney general of the United States.


Before you jump in, let's listen to Brian Fitzpatrick. He's a Republican member of Congress. He's a former member of the FBI who looks around at his fellow Republicans, who are saying reckless things maybe short of violence, or I think says everybody needs to just calm down.


REP. BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R-PA): I checked in with several of my colleagues in the past few days, Margaret, to make sure they were OK. Every single elected official, every single leader needs to mind the weight of their words, this kind of---

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS MODERATOR, FACE THE NATION: Including the former president of the United States, who has not called for calm.

FITZPATRICK: Corrects. I think everybody needs to be calling for calm.


KING: What is the mood inside these law enforcement agencies in the sense that, you know, people are entitled, this is America, you can say just about anything. But we know from January 6, sometimes if you lead people to the edge, they will step off.

PEREZ: Right? Look, I mean, they've been shocked before by some of the conduct of the former president, but this is real. That they've had to actually take steps to protect the two agents who were - whose names were exposed by, you know, by the publication of that search warrant. So, there's real concern that their families could be targeted. And we know, you've actually seen it. So, that's the big concern. It's a real concern.

KING: I think, we should name, those names were published, correct me if I'm wrong by Breitbart (Ph).

PEREZ: I pushed out by Truth Social.

KING: Right. So, part of the pro Trump echo chamber does these things, and then they go punches pilot and clearly had no responsibility for it when people have that information and then act on.

POLANTZ: That's right. And the search warrant looks differently in the court record. Those names are redacted there.

KING: That's something we'll keep an eye on throughout the week. Up next for us. The law bumps into politics. A few Republicans do defend the FBI, but Trump loyalists go on the attack.




KING: We now see a clear Republican divide over the FBI search at Mar- a-Lago, more senior and serious voices in the party follow facts.


GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R- AR): The FBI is simply carrying out their responsibilities under the law, a lawful search warrant that a magistrate to signed off on, and they didn't go in there with FBI raid jackets. They tried to constrain their behavior carrying out that warrant. So, let's be - let's support law enforcement. Let's stand with them.


KING: But voices like Governor Hutchinson are often loudly drowned out by those who hope to tap the anti-establishment zeal of the Trump base.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They're enforcing the law based on who they like and who they don't like. That is not a republic, while it maybe it's a banana republic, when that happens.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN Nia- Malika Henderson, Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, and Heather Caygle of Punchbowl News. It is fascinating. You did see over the weekend, especially more senior experienced voices in the Republican Party after they saw, oh, 11 batch, 11 classified document sets. They backed off a little bit and said let's let this play out. But you have the voices who just want Donald Trump can do no wrong.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And Donald Trump whipping them up from, you know, sort of run of the mill folks who might be incited to violence against the FBI to people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, saying defund the police, and then people just wanting to be on Trump's side.

There is lots of people haven't quite figured out how to do what Asa Hutchinson there did, who notably isn't running for re-election and has a bit of freedom there to critique this president and to bolster the FBI. I mean, God forbid, I mean, we have a party that now seems to be anti-law enforcement. When they talk about this, it's quite frightening, it's dangerous. And you know that this is something that Donald Trump's wants, and he wants to stir up this anti FBI sentiment across the country, and it's a real danger.

KING: Republicans have long prided themselves on being the party of law and order. They have in recent years tried to use the progressives, a small number but vocal progressives to say defund the police. Republicans have tried to take advantage of that, but now they find themselves attacking the FBI, and a judge in the judicial system. You mentioned Marjorie Taylor Greene. Here's her tweet, defund the FBI. There it is, right there.

A Trump supporter, big Trump supporter in the House defund the FBI to which one of her colleagues, Dan Crenshaw, this is sarcasm. I'm impressed, Democrats finally got us to say defund the FBI. That makes you look unserious, when you start talking like that. The last part is not sarcasm. You know, but this is what you have. You have people who, you know, who just keep your powder, dry Republicans. Let's follow the facts. And then there is Marjorie Taylor Greene.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS & CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You have Mitch McConnell last week, who came out with a very terse, very short statement, just saying, you know, just telling the Justice Department to release the information that is out there. Then you have the other wing of the party, that is Marjorie Taylor Greene. And that party is the one that's getting all the oxygen and that's the party that Donald Trump is fueling right now.

Because we know even before the FBI search, we know that if Trump was - if and when, you know, Trump announces his 2024 campaign, it was going to be fueled largely on a campaign of revenge, a campaign of grievance and this just adds to that.

I mean, we're looking at, for example, the rally in Arizona last night where Republican Trump allies were campaigning for the elections ahead of November. There was so much energy in that room, fueled by the FBI search. So, this is something that Trump's allies are really going to just kind of, you know, seize on this November.

KING: That's a key point in the sense that you talked about these rallies they have in, and we lived through this throughout the Trump years because he believes you're in a crowd of 8000, 10,000, maybe 20,000 people in an arena that that's America. It's a good crowd, but it's not necessarily America. It's your crowd in the room. And so, for that same period of time, since he came down the escalator, we're trying to figure out where's the sweet spot for Republicans?


Listen here. This is Mike Turner. If the Republicans take the House, he would be the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and incredibly sensitive position. He's the ranking member right now, an incredibly sensitive position. Listen here, where he tries to thread the needle.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CO-ANCHOR, NEW DAY: Do you take home documents marked special access?


KEILAR: And yet, you're casting doubt on whether or not?

REP. TURNER: Quite frankly, I've been in the Oval Office with the president. I'd be very surprised if he has actual documents that rise to the level of an immediate national security threat. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: At the beginning there, an acknowledgement that, you know, if in fact, and the FBI filed an inventory with the courts, and he took 11 sets of classified records for Mar-a-Lago, at the beginning, a serious answer, no, they don't belong. They don't belong there. That's what he's saying. They should never have left the custody of a secure location in the United States government. But then he tries to somehow, you know, balance it out by to stay on Trump's good side.

HEATHER CAYGLE, MANAGING EDITOR, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: And that was a long pause before that, no, as he kind of thought about, you know, how do I answer this? And the interesting thing as Mike Turner is not really a bomb thrower, I mean, he's kind of a straightforward Republican. And I watched that whole interview yesterday, it was very painful to watch. I mean, just how he tried to answer the questions.

And I think what we're seeing is, as Seung Min said, this wing of the party is really taken over, especially in the House where they're poised to probably win back the House. And there's not a lot of space for these commonsense straightforward Republicans, like Mike Turner, or Brian Fitzpatrick, or some of the others who would rather, you know, tell it like it is, but feel like they can't because they don't want to invoke Trump's ire, frankly.

KING: Right. Well, it's wrong with saying, why don't we let this process play out at the end, when we have all the information, we'll be able to make conclusions. Doesn't seem all that hard. Up next, Afghanistan one year after the Taliban sees power. CNN's Clarissa Ward, live from Kabul.




KING: Kabul fell to the Taliban one year ago today. The American withdrawal from Afghanistan was messy to say the least. You remember one year ago, CNN's Clarissa Ward and her crew fearlessly standing outside the newly abandoned U.S. Embassy in the Afghan capital, surrounded by armed Taliban fighters.

One year later, that Taliban regime has failed to stabilize the country. Girls are banned from school. Almost all of Afghanistan's 40 million people are food insecure. According to the United Nations, get this, 43 percent of the Afghan population lives on less than one meal a day.

Let's go live to Kabul. Now Clarissa Ward is back in Afghanistan on this anniversary, and once again, outside the former U.S. Embassy. Clarissa, just give us a snapshot, how is life in Afghanistan one year later?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it really depends who you talk to, John. I mean, today was the day of jubilation and victory for Taliban fighters. They were streaming through the city center, waving flags, declaring today a national holiday to commemorate the fact that the Afghan jihad in their words, toppled the American occupier. But there are many people in this country who are not celebrating, particularly women and girls who are still not allowed to go to school, after the age of 12 years old or sixth grade.

The Taliban has said that is a temporary suspension. But so far, we've seen no evidence that there are meaningful efforts to reopen those schools. Women have been marginalized and pushed out of many areas of public life. But one thing I will say, John, is that Afghanistan is definitely safer. The war is over. Many people are just glad to see a relative degree of peace.

And most people honestly, whether they love the Taliban or whether they hate him, all of them are primarily focused on the issue of food, which you mentioned, it is a dire situation. Nearly half the country is acute in a state of acute hunger. The economy contracting by 30 percent this year according to the IMF, and really no end in sight and no sense that the billions of dollars that were frozen by the U.S. and its allies after the Taliban took power will be unfrozen anytime soon, John.

KING: Clarissa, one of the great concerns with the return of the Taliban, would they open the gates of Afghanistan again to the terrorists? What does the Taliban say when you ask about the return of the al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri? And then of course, the Biden administration drone strike that killed him few weeks ago?

WARD: It's pretty extraordinary, put this question to the Taliban spokesperson for the foreign ministry, he would neither confirm nor deny that Zawahiri was even here. And tried to essentially say that this issue really highlighted the U.S. as being guilty of contravening the Doha agreement. Take a look.


ABDUL QAHAR BALKHI, SPOKESPERSON. AFGHANISTAN MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: We contend that notion that he was even present here. But even if he was, these types of incidents happen everywhere in the world.

WARD: But they really don't. I mean, how can the U.S. possibly trust the Taliban leadership, though, to stay true to its promise that it will not allow sanctuary to be granted to terrorist groups?

BALKHI: The articles that are - that define the commitments of the government of Afghanistan, all of them have been fulfilled.


WARD: And, John, this sort of strident or defiant attitude that we are seeing from the Taliban is really complicating any attempts to normalize relations between the U.S. and the Taliban. And that, in turn, of course, complicates any efforts to unfreeze the funding. We've seen aid groups and economists come out and say that that freeze, unfreezing needs to happen. [12:30:00]