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DOJ: Trump Team Sought To Conceal Classified Docs; DOJ: Classified Docs "Likely Concealed Or Removed" To Block Probe; FBI Seized More Than 100 Classified Records In Mar-a-Lago Search; DOJ: Trump Team Falsely Claimed All Sensitive Docs Returned; Trump Allies Downplay Newest Revelations About Mar-a-Lago Search; Biden: Gov Noem: Don't Know If DOJ And FBI Can Be Trusted; GOP Can't Be Party Of Law And Order And Defend 1/6 Rioters; Fetterman Rejects Oz Offer To Debate Next Week. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired August 31, 2022 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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. The Justice Department shows its card, the late-night filing from government lawyers spells out the case against Donald Trump, alleging he and his people concealed sensitive records that his lawyers outright lied, and that the former president's team likely tried to obstruct justice.
Plus, new CNN reporting, Trump's legal troubles now pushing him to rethink when and how to announce his 2024 plan. And a dire public health emergency with no permanent solution in sight. Jackson, Mississippi now has no running water, nothing to drink, nothing to shower, nothing to fight fires, the fear that Jackson is the next Flint Michigan.
Up first for us, though, a just before midnight Justice Department legal filing, and what it tells us about the case against Donald Trump. The 36-page filing is full of critical new details. They include three classified documents in desks inside the former president's office, more than one hundred documents in 13 boxes with classification markings inside the former president's residence.
Some of those documents so secret, the FBI and DOJ personnel charged with reviewing them, needed to get additional security clearances. The filing includes this stunning photograph, a smattering of highly classified U.S. documents with unmistakably clear, top secret and SCI markings laid out on a Mar-a-Lago carpet next to a box of framed Time magazine covers.
There's this too, Justice Department lawyers now allege Mr. Trump, and his attorneys likely committed a crime by obstructing a federal investigation, stopping FBI agents from looking through boxes of records. And in one instance, signing off on a sworn statement saying, the Trump team had given back every single record the government had demanded prior to the August search.
With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Evan Perez, CNN's Sara Murray, and the former federal prosecutor Shan Wu. Evan, we were waiting for a couple of days for this filing. It came in just before the midnight deadline last night. The justice department didn't need to do all this. It decided to not only make a lot more of the details of its case clear, but to counter the things the former president and his allies have been saying over the last couple of weeks.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. One of the goals here, John, was clearly to push back on some of the narrative, false narrative they believe, and they say in this document. They say part of the purpose was to refute falsehoods that had been put forward by the former president and his legal team, both in this court filing and obviously in the many days of television coverage that they've done.
And you know, one of the things that really stuck out to us obviously, is that photograph. The photograph that, you know, shows, you know, all of the documents laid out by the FBI. By the way, this is what they do standard. You can see they've put a ruler to draw for scale. They've labeled it for evidence purposes. And you can see on the documents and clear markings HCS, which refers to human confidential sources.
These are the types of documents, John, that this is why they needed to get a different - additional clearance for these agents who are doing the search because they are not cleared to know what's in these specific programs, specifically these CIA programs that manage foreign spies, spies that provide information to the U.S. government.
KING: And Sara, if you read through more of it, that this jumps out at you. The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the storage room, and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government's investigation. Again, the Justice Department very clear here making the case, we tried for months to do this the right way. We tried for months to get you to just give us back documents belong to the government, but?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And they lay out, you know, we sent your subpoena, you invited us into Mar-a-Lago to come collect documents that could be responsive to that subpoena. You said, all of those documents came from the storage room, you wouldn't let us look in any additional boxes. And then when we got more information, that there were potentially more classified documents, we showed up, we did our search, and we found twice as many documents as you had given us when we issued this subpoena.
So, there is a lot in there that sort of pierces what the Trump camp - what the Trump team has been saying about how cooperative they've been, about how they gave the Justice Department everything they asked or about how they invited them in, invited them to look around. The Justice Department saying no, that's not the case. We asked them repeatedly to hand over everything. And then, we repeatedly got more information that things were being moved around and they were not giving us everything that we were asking for.
KING: And Shan come in on that point with the perspective of a former prosecutor, to Sara's very important point there. The FBI says this in the final. The FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the "diligent search" that the former president's counsel and other representative had weeks to perform calls into serious question.
The Justice Department says, the representation made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation. The Justice Department essentially saying, forgive to correct me, if you think I'm wrong, that team Trump has been lying to us repeatedly?
SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I don't know if they're going quite that far, John, but from the beginning, it's clear that the lawyers for Trump might be in some jeopardy. And I think this really highlights the jeopardy that they could be in.
I mean, it's one thing to have made a letter that represents the best my knowledge, I think this is all that we have. But this filing, which is quite comprehensive, really highlights the fact that that they are being looked at potentially for obstructing the investigation, and they're in an impossible position.
I mean, we've noticed that from the beginning, they need to either disavow their client, meaning saying we were misled, or they're going to be considered possibly complicit and have to face questions from the Justice Department, they really need to withdraw. It's an untenable position for them to be in, they can't be effective advocates at this point.
KING: Right. And we know from our reporting, Christina Bob, one of Trump's attorneys signed the letter saying that, you know, everything you asked for had been returned, everything he deserved to have been returned. Shan, you have been saying for days that you don't think that there's any standing here for a special master. That's the reason this document was filed to convince the judge, the Justice Department is doing due diligence with protecting the sensitivity of documents.
The DOJ said this in his filing last night, the former president lacks the standing to seek judicial relief or oversight as to presidential records because those records do not belong to him. Do you believe there's any wiggle room here for a judge to say a special master? Or should this judge say, never mind, not necessary?
WU: This judge to say never mind, this is a slam dunk in terms of legal reasoning. You know, sometimes they refer to the Justice Department as the nation's law firm, and they really showed their legal chops last night. This is a comprehensive, powerful takedown of Trump's meritless legal arguments. It really leaves this judge no wiggle room.
I mean, it's a little bit suspect that she's already said she sort of intends to lean in favor of Trump. With this filing, there's just no legal basis for her to rule in his favor. It'll look like a blatantly partisan decision if she does that.
KING: And Sara, Evan touched on this. But part of the concern inside the Justice Department, you know, part of the question is, how specific do you want to be in responding to all the things the former president is saying, all the things his allies are saying? Did the FBI plant evidence all the class of documents were declassified?
The former president says this, on his Truth Social site today. Terrible the way the FBI, during the raid of Mar-a-Lago, threw documents haphazardly all over the floor, perhaps pretending it was me that did it and then started taking pictures of them, thought they wanted to be kept secret. Lucky declassified, he says at the end.
The Justice Department directly addressed that in their filing, neither counsel nor the custodian, asserted that the former president had declassified the documents or asserted any claim or executive privilege. The Justice Department wants the documents back. The government wants to assess the intelligence damage, but part of the calculation inside the Justice Department is, do you let everything he says stand? Or do you try to rebut it?
MURRAY: Right. And I think what we have seen from this filing is they very clearly wanted to rebut a lot of it. You know that the picture of those documents that they laid out and took a photo of, those were documents that they found in the 45-office, after having already been assured by Trump's legal team, that there were no other classified documents anywhere at Mar-a-Lago.
The documents were only in the storage room, and we've given you all of them. And they're saying, look at this bounty we found in the former president's office. They also pointed out in a footnote, you know, there was this whole argument, this big hubbub, the Trump folks made about the fact that the former president's passports were taken.
In a footnote in their filing, they pointed out by the way, we had a legitimate reason to seize the passports. Our search warrant covers this. They were jumbled in with a bunch of other documents. So, they went pretty far into the deep end and making sure they were trying to set the record straight from their point of view in regards to what the Trump vote were saying.
KING: It's again, a very detailed document file that literally the last minute, literally the last minute. Walk us through some of the sensitive issues with inside the Justice Department about what to say in this document and what not to say in this document?
PEREZ: Right. Look, I mean, I think for Merrick Garland, who prefers to not say very much. What they're doing is they're speaking, you know, through the court documents. And one of the things that's very important that you've got to pay attention to, is every communication between the Justice Department, between the prosecutors and Trump's team has made reference to documents with classification markings.
That gets around their excuse, which is well, I magically - the president magically declassified everything. Well, what these guys are being asked to do is, turn over documents that have classification markings. And you can look at that photograph again, and you can see that these markings have unmistakable markings that say they're classified. So, you know, again, it gets around the excuse that they're making about classification and declassification because I think the Justice Department is saying, we need these documents back because we have to assess again for possible damage to human sources to sources and methods. That's part of the argument that the Justice Department is doing in these court filings, which again, they very rarely tried to say so much, but they have to in this case.
KING: And Shan, help us clear this up. This document is filed in what essentially as a process argument. Should there be a special team appointed to go through the documents in case there are any privilege issues, whether that's executive privilege?
Attorney client privilege, I don't want you to go into the weeds of that, which I know you think are silly. But reading it, since the Justice Department did decide to spell out a lot of what it knows and a lot of the specifics of the timeline here. As you read this, as a former prosecutor, what does it tell you about the case they are actually trying to build here?
WU: It shows that the case is quite strong in terms of the evidence. I mean, they're really challenging the idea of the appointment of a special master, since they already have their own privilege team, they needed to really fight back hard on this. They showed the strength their case, the evidence, because it was necessary to push back against this judge, trying to meddle in a criminal investigation, which would be a very dangerous precedent.
So ultimately, John, it's still going to be a tough question of prosecutorial discretion for Garland, whether he wants to enter into this political minefield of putting the department in the historically unprecedented position of prosecuting a former president. But what they're showing so far, is very strong evidence that there was a cover up that the documents were there and there is no innocuous explanation for why they were there to begin with.
PEREZ: One quick last thing, John, one thing we learned that there's another judge who's been overseeing the grand jury. So, what the DOJ is saying to this new judge in Florida, hey, we already have two judges involved here. We don't need a third.
KING: So, there's a lot to be learned. As you said, Merrick Garland speaks through pretty important documents, not through press conference as much. Sara, Evan, Shan, thanks so much. Up next for us. The details in this new DOJ filing again force a Republican choice, split with Donald Trump or stand with him and defend the indefensible.
KING: The detailed Justice Department court filing about the FBI is Mar-a-Lago search includes a sworn statement from a Trump lawyer that all sensitive documents had been returned to the government. And it includes this eyepopping photograph, showing they most certainly had not all been returned to the government.
Once again, choosing time for Republicans. The Republican Congressman Liz Cheney sees, "yet more indefensible conduct by the former president." But Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who are led by Trump ally, Jim Jordan, want you to ignore all those documents that belong under government lock in key, tweeting that Time magazine cover was a huge threat to national security.
And listen here. This is South Dakota's Republican Governor Kristi Noem this morning, not raising questions about Trump, but about the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. KRISTI NOEM, SOUTH DAKOTA: I don't know if the DOJ and FBI can be trusted to tell us what was in there. That's the thing, you can see folders, you can see big words on the, do we know that that is really what President Trump brought to his home? Do we know that he put them there? Do we know what's inside?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: With me now to share their reporting and their insights, Tarini Parti at the Wall Street Journal, Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast, and Yasmeen Abutaleb of The Washington Post. A big words Kristi Noem says, well, some of those are just initials that talk about human sources overseas, that if they are undermined, could do grave harm to them personally and to U.S. national security. But there are some Trump Republicans who just want to say, no big deal.
YASMEEN ABUTALEB, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think there are a shrinking number of Republicans who are willing to say this is no big deal. And to come out and defend the President, Jim Jordan is, of course one of the former president's staunchest allies. But I think you're also seeing, even President Biden more willing to engage on this issue.
He's kind of wanted to stay away from it for not - for to not appear political that he has somehow directed DOJ to investigate a former potential political opponent or potential political opponent. And he's even spoken, you know, pretty forcefully at this point about the threats on the FBI and the rhetoric coming from Republicans like Jim Jordan and other Trump allies, attacking DOJ and FBI saying it's a witch hunt or that there's no there-there.
KING: Is there any rethink among the most, Yasmeen, makes a very important point, is a shrinking number who willing to step up and say, there's no there-there. If we could put that photo back on the screen, Jim Jordan would be the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He would be a chairman of a committee that is in-charge of looking at and reviewing executive branch actions, passing laws itself, reviewing executive rights, and he wants you to focus on the far right of the screen, there's a box full of Time magazine covers. On the floor right there are incredibly sensitive documents that belong to the United States government, not to Donald J. Trump. It's not serious. If you want to try to find a way to defend Trump fine, but it's just not serious to point to the time cover and ignore the maps of that photo.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That Twitter kind of particular has been one that has served as more of a function of trolling and actual evidence gathering. And you have to imagine if Jim Jordan does end up leading, the House Judiciary Committee, it will be more focused on the Biden administration than the Trump administration, as that rule tends to be when the opposite party is in charge.
However, the threats that have the FBI and other law enforcement are experiencing are real. They're serious. They're intense. And I think that's why you saw some Trump allies like Lindsey Graham, who did - Biden sort of mentioned yesterday, not by name, try to backtrack a little bit.
But what he said I mean, it was already out there who knows if anyone saw the backtrack, but there is an acknowledgement that this sort of language isn't good, particularly for the Republican brand of being for law enforcement as they push, but also for these law enforcement individuals who are putting themselves out there in harm's way.
KING: Right. The president United States, the current president United States making that point yesterday up in Pennsylvania, essentially saying you cannot defend the January 6 rioters, you cannot attack the FBI for doing its job. And then look the American people in the eye and say, give us power in the midterm election, put us in-charge. Listen?
JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PRESIDENT: You can't be pro-law enforcement and pro-insurrection. You can't be a party of law and order and call the people who attacked the police on January 6 patriots. It's sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI, threatening life of law enforcement agents and their families for simply carrying out the law and doing their job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I guess two questions here. Number one, start with the president. Do the Democrats believe this ineffective the Republicans essentially are giving them an opening to flip an issue that has worked against Democrats in some elections?
TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: That's clearly what the Democrats are trying to do here. You've seen the president in the last two weeks, really sharpened his language against the former president and against his allies, basically comparing their governing philosophy to semi fascism. And then also going after them on January 6 and on some Republicans, who've tried to sort of question the FBI instead of the way the former president handled classified documents.
They've used, you know, Republicans have been trying to use crime again this cycle. They did have some success with it in 2020 in congressional races. And you've seen the president here now, sort of, as you say, flip the script and say, you can't be both pro-law enforcement and pro-insurrectionist.
KING: You would think if you're Mitch McConnell, and you're hoping to get the Senate back. And even if you're Kevin McCarthy, who has become a Trump ally in many, many ways, you would think that you would want the governor of South Dakota to not be doing that on television 10 weeks from an election. But is there any control of the party anymore? Is there anybody who can tell those people who decide this is how I make my brand, saying provocative things?
ABUTALEB: I don't think so because you have the party pretty clearly cleaved in a couple of different directions. You have the sector of the party that's very loyal to President Trump and is still willing to defend him even as this investigation gets more and more serious. You've seen a lot of Republicans actually turn on Mitch McConnell and say, you know, he's not really a Republican that former president has turned on Mitch McConnell.
So, for the people who are going to be inclined to defend former President Trump in the wake of this investigation, they are not going to listen to someone like Mitch McConnell or another Republican who's not so staunchly pro-Trump. I think it's pretty clear that a lot of the party is split. There are a lot of them who want to move on from Trump and feel like he's just a liability. But that's, you know, doesn't seem likely it's going to happen anytime soon.
KING: And the former president no longer has the bludgeon he used one in office, which is Twitter, because he's been taken off Twitter, but he has on his Truth Social is what he calls his company. He has made a number of postings, including you see some of them there. I'm not going to read them all because a lot of them have just factual errors, just straight up factual errors. That's a polite way of saying it there.
But if you do look at what Kristi Noem said, if you do look at what that you call it a trolling account, but it's still controlled by the Republicans on a important committee. If you do look at what they say, they track what he posts.
KUCINICH: Absolutely. I mean, yes, he is on a different platform. But all of us have seen them just screenshot and he posted on Twitter. Anyway, but let's be clear, Republicans who want to take back the House, wants to take back the Senate, do not want to be talking about former President Trump, whether it be at his legal issues or anything else, and particularly in those districts that they need to flip to make that happen because they want to be talking about other things, pocketbook issues, that sort of thing.
KING: I think he leaves them no choice in any cases. Next to that point about big races. This year, the Democrat in Pennsylvania's critical Senate race says, he's not ready to debate because he's still recovering from a stroke.
KING: Democrats John Fetterman says, he is not ready to debate his Republican opponent in a Pennsylvania Senate race that could decide which party controls that chamber come January. Fetterman says, he's not ready because of "lingering auditory and processing and speech issues" related to his stroke he suffered back in May.
Fetterman, the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania at the moment goes on to say, Dr. Oz's team made it abundantly clear, they think it is funny to mock a stroke survivor. I chose not to participate in this farce. My recovery may be a joke to Dr. Oz and his team, but it's real for me. Just moments ago on Fox, Dr. Oz responding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. MEHMET OZ, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE NOMINEE: I offered John Fetterman numerous opportunities to explain to me, how I can make it easier for him to debate. He also doesn't leave his home and go out and answer questions. I've done 180 campaign events, and then here's the deal. Democracy needs candidates who actually listen to the voters, answer their questions and are accountable to what they said.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: CNN's Dan Merica, joins our conversation. It is a critical race, Dan. How much of this race is going to be a debate about debates or debate about issues?
DAN MERICA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: What's unique here is usually a debate about debates only matters to people who cover debates, like us not to actual voters who go to the polls and vote. But this actually does have some resonance because there's a chance that, you know, it could stick that that Fetterman is avoiding voters, avoiding taking questions.
The remarkable thing here and the thing I have not seen in my time covering politics is, you have a candidate Dr. Oz, who has treated people, who have suffered from massive issues and has actually expressed some empathy to John Fetterman about what he's going through. At the same time his campaign somewhat mocking in the stroke.
He's suggesting that Fetterman eat as vegetables and doing what a lot of campaigns do and kind of taking a tongue in cheek mocking approach. But Oz is now distancing himself from those comments in a way that I've never seen a candidate do. Now, will that matter, we don't know. Will Fetterman ever accepted debate proposal?