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Inside Politics

DOJ Argues Revealing Affidavit For FBI Search Could Chill Witness; Giuliani Says He Is A Target In GA Criminal Election Probe; WAPO: Trump-Allied Lawyers Pursued Voting Machine Data; Former WH Lawyer Subpoenaed By Federal Grand Jury Investigating 1/6; Two Cmte Chairs Accuse DHS IG Of Obstructing Investigation Into Missing Secret Service Texts; Soon: President To Sign Inflation Reduction Act; First Lady Jill Biden Tests Positive For COVID-19; Cheney Faces Trump-Backed Hageman In WY GOP Primary Today. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 16, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. New clues today about what the FBI recovered at Trump's Mar-a-Lago. A Justice Department court filing mentions, highly classified materials, but DOJ says some key details need to be kept secret to protect the integrity of its investigation.

Plus, a signature achievement today for President Biden. He's signing a major health, climate and tax bill. This as we learned the first lady that's just tested positive for COVID. And she is the face of the Republican resistance to Trump. Today, Wyoming voters decide if that will cost Liz Cheney, per seat in Congress.

We begin the hour though with important developments in several different investigations, involving Donald Trump. First, a new court filing details the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department asserting the affidavit file to justify the search warrant, though, must be kept secret for now because it implicates highly classified material. And because DOJ says its publication right now, would damage the investigation.

Separately, a dramatic turn in the Georgia investigation into Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 results. Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani was told, he is a target of that criminal investigation. And in the federal January 6 investigation, the Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann is now under subpoena to share what he knows with the federal grand jury.

Let's begin with CNN's Katelyn Polantz. And what this new DOJ court filing tells us, Katelyn, about that Mar-a-Lago search?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, the Justice Department has really tipping their hand a little bit on what is going on in this investigation. And they really are making it clear it is a serious criminal investigation. Those words how using highly classified materials are implicating highly classified materials. That's important.

I want to read what they've said so far, even while they're trying to keep secret details in the actual court record in the affidavit that supports doing the search. What they wrote to the judge in arguing for secrecy still does let on a little bit.

Disclosure of the government's affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high- profile investigations. The fact that this investigation implicates highly classified material further underscores the need to protect the integrity of the investigation.

So, there they're talking about witnesses that they have in this investigation that they could have in future, parts of this investigation or even others. They're mentioning that highly classified material and they're also acknowledging in this filing yesterday that there is a grand jury probe that is ongoing.

So, there's two takeaways here that are really important. The first one is, the Justice Department is deliberate. Whenever it uses words in court filings, they do not choose their words lightly. Attorney General Garland is the same way. He is a very deliberate lawyer, a former judge. He has been calling Donald Trump's bluff throughout the past week. We saw it last week with that public statement where he was calling Trump's bluff.

And then again, as Republicans and Trump are trying to downplay what was actually seized or taken out of Mar-a-Lago, here you have the Justice Department coming back, reminding the court and the public and Trump's team. This is ongoing. It's a criminal investigation, and it's very serious.

There's some other issues too, whether Justice Department is pushing back fake passports was something Trump was accusing them of seizing yesterday. Ultimately, that was just procedural, and they were giving back. John?

KING: Katelyn Polantz, appreciate, you kicking us off with the important new details. Now, let's move on to Georgia. Rudy Giuliani now on notice. He is a target of a special grand jury investigation into Trump's effort to overturn Joe Biden's 2020 win in that state. The longtime Trump attorney and confidant, they immediately went on the attack.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I was his lawyer of record in that case. The statements that I made are either attorney client privileged, because they were between me and him or they were being made on his behalf in order to defend them. When you start - when you start turning around lawyers into defendants when they're defending their clients, we're starting to live in a fascist state.


KING: Get straight to CNN's Nick Valencia. He's live in Atlanta with the latest. Nick, what else do we know?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hey there, John. Giuliani now named a target of this criminal investigation. And this is something that his attorneys had wanted answers to for quite some time and receiving a phone call, according to Giuliani sometime on Monday, saying that he is now a target of this criminal investigation.

And it's significant because it's the first time that a member of the former president's inner circle has been named as the target of this criminal investigation. We know Giuliani was expected to appear here last week, but his attorneys filed a late motion, saying that health concerns kept him from traveling by air. The Fulton County judge though, ultimately ruled that he had to appear on Wednesday, giving him plenty of time he said to give alternative ways for him to get here.


We know in the wake of the 2020 election that Giuliani appeared before state legislators here three times to spread conspiracy theories and baseless claims of election fraud, claims that we now know are untrue, that how cooperative he'll be when he does appear before the grand jury tomorrow. That's the outstanding question. His attorney in New York says, that while his client will appear, he cannot make any guarantees or promises as how cooperative Giuliani will be. John?

KING: Nick Valencia, live for us in Atlanta. Nick, appreciate the update there. Let's get some important perspective and reporting from CNN's Evan Perez, and our CNN legal analyst, the former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams. Let's walk through these several new developments that can be confusing to people at home. So, we're going to try to keep it clear for you because there are so many investigations.

Let's start former federal prosecutor you worked with the Justice Department. As Katelyn Polantz smartly noted, the Justice Department chooses its word carefully. When you looked at this court filing where they defend, trying to keep the affidavit itself, secret, they also did tell us some things. What's most important?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Number one, they're investigating some very, very serious things. Number two, they care about the safety of people. So, if they start revealing who agents are, who judges are, they're signing off on things, people's safety could be compromised. And they know that. Number three, the integrity of evidence.

They are fearing that if they make any of these methods or evidence available to the public, witnesses may start trying to conceal evidence or flee. So, both in terms of the seriousness of these crimes, and what they're afraid of, there was a lot without saying a lot.

KING: And a lot of Trump allies are saying no, that doesn't work. Show your cards, Merrick Garland. Released the affidavit, not going to happen, right? EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I don't expect that you're going to see that anytime soon, John, because I think the Justice Department believes that A, this is a real serious investigation. And by the way, they have some history with the former president to base some of this on. They know that in previous investigations, the former president's allies made sure that they aligned their stories, there was a lot of PR that went into the former president's handling of previous investigations.

And here's a couple of things that stood out to me were, you know, the mention of future witnesses. And there's a mention of other investigations that they believe these people could be relevant to. Again, what this tells us is that there is a lot more going on here than just the retrieval of these documents. This is about, again, trying to make sure that these witnesses come in with the - as true story as they can obviously get from them. And then secondly, that there are other investigations that they might be relevant too.

KING: And so, let's move on to Georgia. That is a special grand jury investigation run by a district attorney there. Looking at Trump's efforts, and we've heard him on the phone call with the secretary of state, we know he called the governor to try to overturn Joe Biden's win there. That Rudy Giuliani has been told, you are a target, the legal significance of that.

WILLIAMS: OK. Well, he got a witness, a subject and a target or witnesses were just seeking your testimony. We want to hear from you. A subject is something you've done is within the scope of what we're investigating. And a target means, you are being investigated for a possible commission of a crime. So, get a lawyer and shut your mouth, are the two things you got to do when you are target. Yes.

PEREZ: The funniest thing though, is Giuliani goes out publicly and hugs Trump even more to make clear that whatever he did in Georgia, he was doing on behalf of him.

KING: As you jump in, hey, I just want to put this on the record because this relates, the Washington Post has a story. It's about several states but including Georgia. A team of computer experts directed by lawyers allied with President Donald Trump copied sensitive data from election systems in Georgia as part of a secretive, multistate effort to access voting equipment that was broader, more organized and more successful than previously reported. Rudy Giuliani saying, I'm Trump's lawyer. I can do and say anything, not true. Right?

WILLIAMS: And it is inconceivable that Rudy Giuliani is the target of an investigation, and they are not looking specifically at Donald Trump. They were - as they would say, the law inextricably intertwined in their interest. Unless Rudy Giuliani was acting in a totally rogue manner, completely outside of the president's knowledge, then of course, they are looking - I'm not saying the president is the target of an investigation, of course. However, it is just inconceivable to see how he wouldn't be at some point, if that's where they are right now. PEREZ: It's clear that he also has exposure in the Justice Department investigation, which I know we've been focusing on the search, which has to do with the retrieval of these documents. But there was this whole other investigation, which is ongoing, and some of the same witnesses that are being looked at.

KING: To that point, let me jump in. And let's just listen. Eric Herschmann, who was a member of the White House counsel's team, who we saw in the January 6 committee hearing say, he was pushing back against what he called him crazy. Essentially, these outside lawyers coming in and telling Trump, keep pushing, keep pushing, we'll find a way to overturn the elections. Let's remind you, Eric Herschmann and his take to the January 6 committee.


ERIC HERSCHMANN, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: You're saying that you believe the vice president acting as president of the Senate, can be the sole decision maker as to under your theory, who becomes the next president United States? And he said, yes. And I said, are you out of your effing mind. I said, you're going to cause riots in the streets. And he said, words to the effect of, there's been violence in the history of our country to protect the democracy or protect the republic.



KING: Now as I get a perspective from both of you. As we do so, I just want to put up on the screen. This is why this gets confusing. There are more than a half dozen current Trump investigations. On the far left of your screen is the DOJ investigation of January 6. Eric Herschmann was talking there about Mike Pence because he stopped on January 6.

He also testified a lot about this fake elector plot in Georgia in other states as well that he thought was just nuts and outside the law. Why is it significant that DOJ is asking in Trump insiders who were fighting, who are opposed to what the president was trying to do but Trump insiders to testify?

PEREZ: Well, because Herschmann was inside the White House. He is a White House lawyer. He absolutely had conversations with the former president. This is where the Justice Department is likely to begin confronting this question of, of piercing the privilege of the former president. And we know that they've been preparing to do this. We know that they want to talk to a number of White House lawyers. And we're getting close to that point, especially because we know that they're investigating a number of other people on this whole electric plot.

KING: Where is the line? I mean, could Herschmann talk - maybe he can't talk specifically about, I told the president of the United States this, but I talked to John Eastman, I talked to this person.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. And the person he's talking about right there is John Eastman. You know, they get an effing lawyer or whatever we think. He says, what it says is that even if the president isn't himself specifically, under the microscope here, any constellation of people around the president, including John Eastman, who was having conversations with the president, you know, is perhaps likely to get charged with a crime.

So again, even you move beyond just what I'm saying is you move just beyond the president of United States. There's a lot of people who are probably in a lot of trouble here. And it's these senior level staffers like Mike Pence's staff, Greg---

KING: Jake, and his counsel.

WILLIAMS: Folks like that provide the most useful testimony because they were in the room and can say what they heard and what they saw.

KING: Right. Appreciate both of you there. Again, it's very complicated time with so many investigations. Appreciate the clarity and breaking it down for us. Up next for us. It is a defining day for President Biden and the Democrats. A signing ceremony at the White House for a plan to cut prescription drug costs and to make landmark investments to fight climate change.




KING: Some important news just in the CNN. Two House committee chairs now accusing the homeland security inspector general of obstructing the congressional investigations into missing secret service tests. Let's get the latest from our CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. Jess, what are they saying?

Jessica Schneider: Yes. So, these are two top Democrats; Bennie Thompson, Carolyn Maloney, and they're lashing out at the DHS inspector general in this letter that's been obtained by our Annie Grayer. This has become an ongoing battle, and this time they're accusing him of obstruction.

So, to take you back, it all goes back to the IGs alleged failure to notify Congress for 14 months that the secret service had wiped its phones of all text messages around January 6. Secret service said, part of that phone replacement program.

So, after Thompson and Maloney discovered this large lapse, they demanded that the IG recused himself from any investigation into secret service, they said that they had lost confidence in him. But now they're taking it a step further, saying he has just not cooperated with them in the past several weeks.

So, they wrote this. You have refused to produce responsive documents and blocked employees in your office from appearing for transcribed interviews. Your obstruction of committees' investigations is unacceptable and your justifications for this non-compliance appear to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Congress's authority and your duties as an inspector general.

So, in this eight-page letter, it does reveal that the IG Joseph Cuffari, wrote these two members on August 8, and he's explaining that he's not sharing information. So, in his words, he can protect the independence of his office, also saying that he had shared what he needed to. But you know, members Thompson and Maloney they are saying that that is just not the way it works that Congress has oversight on this.

And John, they're also accusing him of hiding evidence from Congress, they say, of your misconduct and mismanagement. So, we have reached out to the IGs office, no response just yet. But this is just part of this escalating feud and back and forth between these two committees January 6 and oversight, and the potentially embattled IG here. John?

KING: Embattled, to say the least. Jessica Schneider, appreciate the latest there. Thanks so much. Let's move on to the White House now. And right now, President Biden heading back to the nation's capital for historic pitstop. The president will sign a sweeping health, tax and climate bill into law this afternoon.

What Democrats called the inflation Reduction Act, cleared Congress last week on two party line votes. The measure includes something Democrats have wanted to do for years, allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs, and it includes billions in new climate investments.

Let's get to CNN's MJ Lee at the White House for more. MJ, celebration for the president.

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This is going to be a huge moment for this White House and this president. After months and months of negotiations, including some period, when people thought that this bill was dead altogether, the president this afternoon will get to sign into law, what is going to be a huge legislative win and for his agenda.

Just some of the top lines of this bill to remind our viewers, this is going to make the biggest investment to fight climate change that the U.S. has ever seen. It will also lower prescription drug prices in part by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug makers.

This is something as you noted, Democrats have wanted for years and years. It is also going to expand some healthcare subsidies and also tax big corporations to pay for some of this, and that the bill writer say will reduce deficits.


Now, there has been a lot of talk, as you know, in Washington about Congress being so dysfunctional and hyper partisan, but you are starting to see a growing list of bipartisan legislative accomplishments under President Biden, including things like a gun safety bill, the chips bill that the president signed into law just last week, as well as a burn Pittsville to help better. And so, after this afternoon, John, he is going to add again, major climate change investments to his list of accomplishments, particularly important for him, as his party has into the midterms.

KING: Major policy goals achieved for the Democrats. We'll see if they can get a political bounce from it. MJ one person who will not be at the signing ceremony is the first lady of the United States. Tell us why?

LEE: Yes. She has tested positive for COVID. Her office is saying that she has cold like symptoms that they are pretty mild. She is of course, very important to note, double vaccinated and boosted. We know that she is going to be prescribed the Paxlovid and we'll take the full course of that. This is the antiviral medication that the president himself took as well.

And keep in mind, she has been vacationing with the president in Scott, South Carolina. We last saw her on Sunday, going for a bike ride, doing a little bit of shopping. And it is around Monday evening that her office says that she started developing these cold-like symptoms.

This does of course mean that she is going to remain in South Carolina so that she can isolate. And that is just going to mean more time apart for the president and the first lady. Remember, they spent quite a bit of time apart when the president got COVID, and then also dealt with the rebound case. But again, yes, this is something that the first lady is not going to be able to participate in this major bill signing later because obviously all precautions do need to be taken, John?

KING: MJ Lee at the White House, grateful for the reporting. We certainly wish the first lady well and a quick recovery. Up next for us. Judgment day for Liz Cheney. Perhaps her only hope, a flood of Democrats and independents decided to switch sides and vote in today's Republican primary.


ANNETTE LANGLEY, DEMOCRAT WHO SWITCHED PARTIES TO VOTE FOR REP. LIZ CHENEY: I never thought I'd vote for Cheney, but she has earned my respect over her handling of the hearings.





KING: Today is a big primary day for two Republicans who dare to defy the former President Donald Trump. Let's start out in Alaska. We'll move out here first. This is an open primer. You have three of the leading candidates here, including the incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. She was a constant Trump critic, voted to impeach him as well.

Trump has endorsed Kelly Tshibaka here. There's a Democrat running Patricia Chesbro. Ranked voting, we'll talk about this rank choice voting Alaska. We'll talk about this a bit later. Means these candidates are all likely to be on the ballot in November but still a test of Murkowski strength if you will, in the first ballot in there.

Now, let's move on to what many think is the marquee contest of the day. It's hard to argue with that. That would be the House Republican primary in Wyoming. It's the least populous state. It has just one congressional district. The incumbent has a famous name.

Liz Cheney is the congresswoman. Her dad Dick Cheney, the former vice president was the congressman from Wyoming for quite some time. But she not only voted to impeach Donald Trump, one of the 10 House Republicans to do so. She of course, is the vice chair of the January 6 committee. So, Donald Trump has endorsed Harriet Hageman in that race. Not a lot of polling in Wyoming with the polling we do have suggests Cheney will lose that primary today.

Let's get straight out live to Wyoming. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Wilson, Wyoming. Jeff, Cheney, hoping, hoping for a miracle today.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, John. That miracle would come by the way of democratic and independent voters crossing over to vote Republican, which is perfectly allowable and happens a lot here in Wyoming. The Wilson schoolhouse, the voting polling place behind me here is where Liz Cheney is expected to vote at some point later on today.

Of course, we've been talking to voters all day long here, and there are many people who have her back. They said, they liked what she has done on the January 6 committee, but this area in Teton County is not representative of the red state of Wyoming at all. So, the closing contrasting message from Cheney and our lead opponent Harriet Hageman could not have been more start.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I think we are at a moment where we have to set aside partisan differences and understand that there's something much bigger at stake here.

HARRIET HAGEMAN, (R) WYOMING CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We are fed up with Liz Cheney. You deserve a representative who knows what it means to ride for the brand, someone who will fight to protect your freedoms and liberties from DC's unconstitutional power grab.


ZELENY: So, the voters casting ballots are deciding on a variety of races here, which also is driving the congressional, but the congressional primary is getting the most attention, of course, Liz Cheney, Harriet Hageman. Donald Trump not on the ballot but looming large in this race. He endorsed Hageman nearly a year ago. This is his most important race. He's seeking revenge against Liz Cheney, and he certainly hopes he'll get it tonight.

John, the bigger question is tonight, I'm told that Liz Cheney working on her speech right now, she'll be offering a roadmap, if you will for the future. Her future. It is going to include if she falls short, a plan for how she will stay involved. It could be a 20-20 for a run of her own or a think tank or other various means, but we know that this is not the end of the public life of Liz Cheney. John?

KING: Jeff Zeleny, live for us in Wilson, Wyoming. Jeff, thanks. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Eva McKend, Leigh Ann Caldwell the Washington Post, and Sabrina Rodriguez of POLITICO.

Let's just put up on the screen here. Jeff mentioned this is the last of Trump's grudge matches if you will. 10 House Republicans voted to impeach Donald Trump.