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FBI Searches Trump's Mar-a-Lago Home in Classified Doc Probe. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 09, 2022 - 07:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We're told that it's part of an investigation into Trump's alleged mishandling of classified documents, taking them from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There are big, big questions this morning. What did a federal judge see that made him or her agree there was probable cause that a crime had been committed? What exactly were the agents looking for?

Now, we're told they left with boxes. Sources tell CNN that investigators went to Mar-a-Lago back in June. They first went back in June to talk to Trump's attorneys about the documents that Donald Trump took from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.

CNN's Gabby Orr, part of the reporting team that broke that part of the story. Gabby, why don't you bring us up to speed on what exactly we're talking about with these documents?

GABBY ORR, CNN REPORTER: Well, good morning, John and Brianna. What we know, based on our sources, is that in early June of this year, there was a meeting that occurred at Mar-a-Lago between attorneys representing former President Donald Trump and agents there looking to see if there was classified information being stored on the property. And it's this meeting that sort of precipitated the search that was executed at Donald Trump's residence in Palm Beach yesterday.

We're told from sources who were present at the meeting that at the time that attorneys for Donald Trump shared documents, turned them over and showed them that there were, in fact, documents being held at Mar-a-Lago that had classified markings on them.

The agents who were present then asked to see where these documents were being stored. They were taken to a basement room on the property, we're told. And just days after that meeting occurred, they were given -- they were sent a letter asking them to create a more secure location for these documents to be held at Trump's property.

And we're told that aides to the former president actually then put a padlock on the room where these documents were stored in order to comply with that letter, asking for them to be kept in a more secret location. Now, that occurred in June of this year. Yesterday, of course, the former president's Mar-a-Lago residence was searched by the FBI. And we're told that there were documents taken away from the residence during that search. An attorney for the former president, Christina Bobb, who also happens to be a former host of One America News show, confirmed to us that, quote, paper was taken away and removed during the search yesterday.

KEILAR: And, Gabby, worth noting that Trump and his allies are not shying away from talking about this.

ORR: They are not. In fact, there's been a surge of criticism of the Justice Department from top Republicans over the past 12 hours, including potential 2024 candidates who may have previously considered running against Donald Trump in a primary but might now want to reconsider doing that.

One of those Republicans is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has been very critical of the Justice Department. Brianna, I want to read you what he posted on Twitter yesterday. He said, Attorney General Garland, preserve your documents and clear your calendar. I've seen enough. The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization. When Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department, follow the facts and leave no stone unturned.

That's coming after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has promised to launch a number of oversight investigations if Republicans retake the congressional majority this fall. But now, he's adding to that ever growing plate of possible probes saying that they will be looking into the Justice Department's handling of this unprecedented raid on a former president's residence.

KEILAR: Gabby, great reporting, thank you so much.

ORR: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now to discuss the legal implications, Elie Honig, CNN Senior Legal Analyst and former Federal Prosecutor.

Elie, these FBI agents executed a search warrant at the home of the former president. What does that mean? What standard does that meet?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, John, this is a huge step and there's much that remains to be seen, but there are some things that we know absolutely for sure.

So, as a prosecutor, if you want to get a search warrant, you have to establish probable cause that a specific federal crime was committed. You can't just say, we think some crime was committed. You have to specify which crime, and probable cause.

Now, that's a lower burden of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt, which you would need to prove to a jury but it's still a significant showing. You also have to show that the evidence that you're looking for will likely be found at the location. And, crucially, you then have to bring the papers over to a federal judge for approval. I've done this more times than I can count. You bring the affidavit over, you give it to the judge, the judge goes back in chambers. Sometimes she comes out and says, I don't think you have it, I'm not signing it. Sometimes, the judge comes back and says, you're good to go.

So, that's really important to keep in mind. This is not the DOJ striking on its own. They had do go before an independent judge across to a different branch of government.


Also, given DOJ's internal guidelines, this search warrant application absolutely would have -- have to have been be approved by the attorney general himself, Merrick Garland.

BERMAN: What about Chris Wray, the FBI director?

HONIG: Chris Wray almost certainly would have to be part of this as well, just as a matter of logic and practicality.

BERMAN: All right. Why a search warrant and not a subpoena?

HONIG: Yes. So, it comes down to trust. A subpoena is the easy way. A search warrant is the hard way. There's a perfect example actually right here. Months ago, DOJ sent a subpoena to the National Archives for documents.

Now, a subpoena is just a piece of paper saying, you are hereby commanded to turn over the following evidence. You use a subpoena when you trust and believe that you will get a full and honest response. Of course, the National Archives is going to comply fully with the subpoena.

You use a search warrant the hard way as a prosecutor when you're not convinced, when you don't have the trust that you're given the full response. So, DOJ made the decision here not to do it by subpoena but to go in with a search warrant.

BERMAN: All right. You talk about the National Archives documents here. What possible federal crimes might be at play?

HONIG: And, again, remember, prosecutors had to specify and a judge had to find probable cause of a specific crime. Two big ones stand out, first, destruction of federal government documents. That means when a person willfully, meaning intentionally knowing that it's wrong, conceals, removes, mutilates or destroys an official federal document. The max punishment for that is three years.

Really importantly, that law says that anybody who is convicted of this forfeits office and also is disqualified, disqualified from holding any future office in the United States.

Now, if that ever comes to pass, we're far away from that, it will be challenged by Donald Trump or whoever to say that's unconstitutional. The Constitution gives us the guidance who is eligible to be president, 35 years old, et cetera. Congress cannot come in and add qualifications to it. That will be the argument.

The other crime that could be in play here is removal of classified information. The first one was any information. This is classified information. That means a federal official knowingly removes classified information or documents without authorization.

Now, people could be saying, well, could the president, could Donald Trump have desclassified it? Yes, but he would have to have done it back then when he was president. Presumably, there would be some evidentiary trail.

And really important to note, John, if prosecutors get a search warrant based on crime A, here, we're talking about those documentary crimes, they go into a location, come out and say, oh, my goodness, there's also evidence of a different crime, hypothetically here, January 6th, anything. You can still use that evidence eventually to charge crime B. They're a long way from that, but know that they can use it that way.

BERMAN: Just to reiterate two things here, and I'm glad you pointed this out. A lot of people are seeing this language and saying, oh, my God, he's going to be disqualified from being president again. This is no slam dunk. This is something that would be challenged on a constitutional basis. The language does exist. It's worthy of discussion but not a slam dunk.

And the second thing is this goes beyond just the presidential records, the preservation of presidential records, which people point out has no teeth as a law. These are separate laws beyond that to deal with classified documents.

HONIG: These are criminal laws, the Presidential Records Act is not.

BERMAN: To be totally clear, this is something totally different, perhaps much more serious.

Okay. A search warrant, the FBI went in, searched the home of the former president. People are like, oh, my God, probably cause a crime has been committed, but that doesn't mean a crime has been committed or that there will be an indictment, Elie.

HONIG: Yes. There is a big gap between probable cause and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If we look at people who have been searched in the past, just an example, Michael Cohen was searched back in 2018, he ended up getting charged, nobody else did. Rudy Giuliani was searched in 2021, never charged. These two lawyers, Clark and Eastman, they were searched very recently, still too early to know. So, we don't know whether this is going to result in a charge or not remains to be seen.

BERMAN: Elie, this is very helpful, understanding what we know and what we don't know. Thank you very much. KEILAR: All right. Let's bring in former Federal Prosecutor and Lead Counsel on former President Trump's first impeachment Daniel Goldman, he is now running for Congress in New York, CNN Chief Political Correspondent and co-Anchor of State of the Union Dana Bash, Donald Trump Biographer Michael D'Antonio, and CNN Political Commentator Alyssa Farah Griffin, she was a Trump White House communications director.

Michael, I want to ask you the first question, because for an outsider, you spent a considerable amount of time as a biographer of Trump, with him and with family members. What do you think is going through his mind and their minds?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I think they're delighted. This is a surprising answer. But I think that they've been planning for this for years. Donald Trump first did his reaction to the FBI actually having his lawyer call them Gestapo and storm troopers 50 years ago. So, he's been prepared for this strategy all along. He issued a campaign-style commercial within hours. This was prepared in advance.

So, he's an expert at spinning everything into publicity.


He believes all publicity is good publicity. And that hardcore Trump group, 35 percent of the electorate, is going to be electrified by this. I think he's having a good day, actually.

BERMAN: Alyssa, you see this as serious on many levels.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. I do. We're talking about it being vital national security documents. I don't think that we can forget, that those -- even if it's top secret, that means it could pose a grave national security risk if it's in the wrong hands or made out to the public.

This, I'm hoping, goes beyond simply not complying with some archiving laws or DOJ just handed Donald Trump the Republican nominee and potentially the presidency. If it's seen as some sort of massive overreach and not something incredibly serious, this is a very good day for Donald Trump.

And, by the way, he knows how to play this up in his favor. He, more or less, broke this thing.

BERMAN: he did break it.

GRIFFIN: Yes, a Florida-based reporter had something, but he was ready to go, and I've actually seen quite sort of a lined messaging among Republicans. This is a banana republic, this shouldn't happen, if they do it to a president, the FBI will do it to you. I think he's having a good day as of now. So, I hope DOJ is buttoned up on this.

KEILAR: Yes. No, that's very interesting, the messaging from Republicans, they're seeing maybe benefit going into the midterms on this.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Unless the they is Ron DeSantis, or anybody else who was planning on running for the Republican nomination in 2024.

Look, this just happened. So, the ramifications are still completely -- or mostly unknown. But in the short-term, what it looks like is exactly what Alyssa said. I mean, I cannot tell you how many Republicans I have talked to who said that just the political way that he handled this vintage Trump. And for his short-term political goal, which is, if it is, in fact, to gets the Republican nomination, kind of genius, because he has used -- look at the buzzwords he used in that statement, occupied, raid. I mean, he basically said it was the deep state, which totally triggers and animates the people who not only who like him, but there was concern, according to people around Trump, that he had, that he was losing some mojo. He was having some trouble raising money. And this, he believes, would turn it around.

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I mean, he has foreshadowed this every step of the way, from Mueller. I mean, every investigation into him is a political hoax. We all knew that if DOJ did anything that this was going to be the response.

But I do agree with Alyssa that it will look bad if this is dotting the Is, crossing the Ts type of thing on a classified document concealing type of crime but I suspect it's not. And I suspect it's not because, first of all, they got 15 boxes from there. They did discuss it in June. You have to --

KEILAR: 15 boxes in January.

GOLDMAN: In January. And then they talked about what was -- they had some discussions in June. I would guess, this is speculation, but from my experience as a federal prosecutor, I would suspect that DOJ has very good information from a witness that there is more there and that's why they did the search warrant.

Remember, this is a guy who is flushing documents down the toilet. You're not going to go ask him to turn something over. So, you have to do a search warrant. And I don't think they're doing a search warrant just simply to sort of button up their investigation. I think they would only do this if they had real evidence of -- real indication of some evidence.

BASH: And to be clear, what I just described is the political argument and what is going through his mind about his political future, which he sees is very much tied to the legal strategy. But, you're right, that it's really hard to imagine, especially given what we have seen, within the DOJ, over the past, you know, several years, that they did not do this without it being buttoned up and beyond, just the National Archives or the documents that he took, unless it's really relevant to a larger thing.

GRIFFIN: And I do think the specificity of the raid, knowing to look in the safe, going into his personal office in Mar-a-Lago indicates that somebody may be cooperating, who knows, who is close to the Trump circle and would know where they should be looking. We do know that a handful of folks have gone in, in recent weeks, but I think this indicates someone senior is cooperating.

D'ANTONIO: It's possible that the family knew all about this. I've seen these signals with Ivanka Trump actually saying, I've taken the red pill, which is a call-out to the paranoid, online meme-based Trump extremists. And Donald Trump Jr. has especially this iron cross, crusader cross on the stock of his gun and displays it prominently.


This is really an end of the signaling to the most rabid base that we agree with your paranoia.

BERMAN: I'd want to make one clear, as we've been having this discussion here, is that we're getting really just one side of this and it's from Trump world. It is from Trump world. Yes, there was this political journal in Florida that sort of had a hint of this but it was Donald Trump who made the statement and Donald Trump who tried to control the narrative early on last night. We haven't heard from the DOJ.

GOLDMAN: Right. We haven't heard from the DOJ. We have heard from a lot of Republicans who don't know anything about what they're talking about. They are spouting of, following Donald Trump, attacking the DOJ, without any idea what the basis for this search warrant is.

And it just goes to show you how much control Donald Trump still has over Kevin McCarthy and the Republican Party. And the fact that Kevin McCarthy would issue that statement, in such an antagonistic and inflammatory way against Merrick Garland, I wonder if Hunter Biden is charged, are we going to see him with that same kind of preserve your records? Of course, not. It is completely politicized. He has consistently undermined the rule of law. And we need to see what Merrick Garland actually has.

BERMAN: So, let me ask, Daniel, because Merrick Garland, he must have known that this type of thing would be coming, Lisa Monaco must have known, the deputy A.G., must have know this type of thing was coming, Christopher Wray must have known this type of response was coming. So, given that they would likely anticipate this response, how much does that raise the stakes for their decision? What bar do you think that they must have felt was met?

GOLDMAN: I think they had the feel like it was worth it for their investigation. They absolutely knew they were going to get this blowback. But I think Merrick Garland has been -- he's been ridiculed from the left for going so slowly. And every time he gets ridiculed, he says, we will follow the facts and the law wherever it leads. And I think he's going to do that. And some people are -- both sides are not going to like it. He's going to get attacked. And I think he probably has just said, you know what, this is my job, I'll get attacked, but I'm going to do it.

BASH: And can I just ask you that? It's not as if they just woke up one day and said, okay, today is the day. We're just going to issue this search warrant and we're going to send the FBI and to get what we want. This has been sort of the climax of months and months and months of actual talks between federal investigators and Donald Trump's lawyers. Our reporting is that the former president himself even went into a meet that they were having at Mar-a-Lago about this.

So, he's been dragging it out. And the question is why? The question is why? Why has he not let his lawyers say, okay, here are the documents you've been asking for?

GRIFFIN: Well, I do think that DOJ is going to have to say something, and while they don't comment on active investigations just leaving this out there lets this sort of moment that you referred to in the country just percolate and become more dangerous. And you see more of kind of extremist rhetoric on different sides.

Even Donald Trump's own potential 2024 candidates are immediately coming to his defense, not even knowing the facts of it, this is a banana republic, this is a witch hunt, the FBI is completely politicized. I'm not sure how long you could let that just hang out there without DOJ, in some way, giving the public a little more information on what's going on and what led to this.

D'ANTONIO: But they're going to be handcuffed in this whole process because everything that's said by the government will be discounted by Trump. Everybody is going to follow his lead. This is going to become one of those terrible incidents, where, as you said, it's going to get dragged out for a long time. It is dangerous.

You know, these folks are often inspired to plan violence or conduct violence. So, I think Trump is, again, playing with fire. But he's always proven that he's willing to do that. And he's going to drag this out. He's an expert at dragging it out.

GOLDMAN: He has the information advantage because DOJ and the FBI will not be able to say anything substantive. They will speak through their papers. I do think we will see, probably sooner rather than later, the affidavit underlying the search warrant, which will lay out all the evidence.

D'ANTONIO: He also has the lying advantage. The government is not going to lie but Donald Trump will lie profusely.

GOLDMAN: Right. We saw that in the Mueller investigation.

KEILAR: How does this affect his calculus on an announcement, Alyssa?

GRIFFIN: I think it just sped it up. I was already anticipating that by September he would announce. But I think that he's going to want to try this theory that you can't indict a president but he's also going to push it a little bit further and say, and I'm a candidate for the presidency. He's going to argue that he's the frontrunner for presidency and that that legal theory should spill over. So, I think he's moving up his announcement. I think, to him, this is a good day. He's got the momentum he needs, the bases rallied around him. And I'd expect an announcement soon. BASH: One small factor that is probably not so small in his mind, though, that you know, as somebody who has worked in politics before, the minute he announces, he loses a big money train


And that is the money that is coming from a joint agreement with the RNC that helps him pay his legal bills. And his legal bills are not small.

BERMAN: Can I just -- again, because I think we talk a lot about the politics here, but let's talk about what's wrong, Alyssa. And you worked at the Pentagon. What's wrong with mishandling a classified document, in theory?

GRIFFIN: So, even a top secret document, which, despite what it sounds like, isn't by any means the highest level of classification that you're going to have. The president has access to the most sensitive information. He would likely have access to head of state communications from his time in office.

The problem is that if they spill over into the public space, it can expose sources, methods, the way in which we gather our intelligence. It could put troops in the field at risk. It's any host of things that can go wrong.

If you walk out of, say, the DOD, with a classified document, that's a prosecutable offense. So, for any person, and he is not above that as a former president, so the sort of notion that he is above the law as a former president, and he might even try to do the, I can declassify things, he can't. He's a private citizen now.

BERMAN: He can't do it now, that's for sure.

GRIFFIN: Yes, but this is a man who would have had access to the highest level of our state secrets. And if some of those documents came with him, that is a huge, huge issue.

GOLDMAN: And if you have any question about the importance of it, you should ask Donald Trump who railed against Hillary Clinton for having classified information in her private emails. He would know well.

GRIFFIN: This is the bizarre culmination of, I mean, the rallying cry of lock her up, which, by the way, as a Republican, it was wrong when she mishandled classified information.

KEILAR: And, certainly, that's where they know that they have a familiarity. We know that they have a familiarity with all of the rules and laws governing all of this. Thank you guys so much for the conversation. We really appreciate this morning.

So, could this investigation result in a ban on Trump running for federal office? We have your Reality Check next.

Plus, a first on CNN, the January 6 committee has now -- now has its hands on nearly two years of Alex Jones' text messages. Why his allies may be nervous this morning.

BERMAN: Albuquerque on edge this morning after the murders of four Muslim men. We have a key update on the search for their killers.



BERMAN: All right. What laws possibly were broken by Donald Trump? What laws are at play here? And what are the possible range of punishments we're talking about?

John Avlon with a Reality Check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The great American historian David McCullough died yesterday, won the Pulitzer Prize twice for his biographies of Truman and John Adams. He believed that history is a guide for navigation in perilous times. Well, we are living in perilous times. The FBI search of former President Trump's home is unprecedented, but them Trump's attempt to overturn an election based on a lie is also unprecedented.

So, we're living history right now. And that's why we need to preserve the records of our time, not just for ourselves to accountability but so future generations can study what happened and why and take away the right lessons.

Which brings us to the Presidential Records Act, it was put in place in 1978 as part of the fallout from President Nixon claiming the White House Watergate tapes were his personal property. But his court cases and subsequent law clarified the presidency say public trust, not a perpetual, personal fiefdom.

Now, there's a lot we still don't know about why the FBI asked a judge to okay a search on the ex--president's primary residence but it reportedly had to do with presidential records, including possibly classified documents.

Now, this may seem like small ball given all the allegations about Trump's actions around the election, but Trump does have a well- documented habit of destroying presidential records. A surreal and kind of gross example that surfaced where Trump apparently ripped up protected notes and tried to flush them down the toilet, a claim the ex-president's lackeys deny, but New York Times Reporter Maggie Haberman had photographic evidence in her upcoming book published in Axios.

Now, this may seem a little more absurd than illegal, and yet, destroying presidential records is, in fact, illegal. Yes. In fact, there's a law on the books that directly relates to the destruction of official documents and here's what it says in part. Whoever willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies or destroys official documents shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years or both and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States. You got that last part? The legal consequence of destroying official documents includes being disqualified from holding any office under the United States, any office. That would seem to include the office of president of the United States.

Now, again, we are in uncharted waters here. There are legal scholars who say a president, even a former president, would not be bound by his law, that the qualifications for president are in the Constitution and no one can be blocked for running for the office unless they've been impeached and convicted by the Senate, which Republicans declined to do in sufficient numbers after January 6th.

Now, the competing principle is equal justice under law. And even if you believe a president can't be indicted while in office, an ex- president is not above the law.

Now, for what it's worth, smaller fry have been prosecuted for stealing or destroying presidential records. The National Archives website lists a dozen examples from 1963 to 2018. For example, NAR Curator Shawn Aubitz was charged in 2002 with stealing hundreds of presidential documents and photographs. He served 21 months in prison. In 2005, a researcher named Howard Harner was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing and defacing documents signed by civil war generals.

But not all cases result in imprisonment. Former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was charged with a misdemeanor, fined and lost his lawyer license for removing documents.

Now, look, obviously, none of these cases rise to the level of an ex- president. And let us hope and assume that the FBI wouldn't raid an ex-president's house for potential misdemeanor.


But it's not like Trump could claim not to know that presidential records need to be archived, not only because at least two chiefs of staff reportedly told Trump he was required to protect documents.