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Former Acting Chief of Staff for Former President Trump Mick Mulvaney Interviewed on FBI Raid of Residence of Former President Trump at Mar-a-Lago; Secret Service Members Warned of Possible Criminal Exposure after Providing Cellphone Numbers to Government Investigators in Connection with January 6th Probe; FBI's Mar-a-Lago Search Unleashes Political Firestorm. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired August 11, 2022 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So a report in "The Wall Street Journal" raises the question about whether someone inside Donald Trump's orbits raised concerns about the possession of classified documents at Mar-a- Lago. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. The report says that sometime after Trump first turned over 15 boxes of material to the National Archives last winter, this is the quote from the journal, quote, "someone familiar with the stored papers told investigators there may be still more classified documents at the private club." So, who could that person have been who did alert them? Why would they be concerned? Sources tells CNN the FBI tried to avoid a spectacle while conducting the search at Mar-a-Lago. Agents arrived late in the morning. They were not wearing FBI logo jackets that were often seen at these types of searches.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Trump himself, and you've made this point many times this morning, he could release the search warrant here, he could make clear what laws the FBI thinks he may have violated. And he could produce that receipt for what they took from his home. So why hasn't he? That remains a major question.
In the meantime, inside the Justice Department, there is some frustration that so far the department has said nothing about the search, while Trump and his allies have portrayed it as a siege, even suggesting, without any proof, that FBI agents may have planted evidence.
Joining us now is former Trump White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Mick, it is great to have you on this momentous morning. I want to first start with your reaction to this search, because you did mention that there are two ways to see this unprecedented move. Tell us about those.
MICK MULVANEY, FORMER ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Sure. I can think either it's a legitimate investigation into classified documents, or it's a political hitjob. I think it's important that people understand why they're seeing the reaction they're seeing from the right. Keep in mind, if you're Republican in this country, what do you know about the FBI? You know that they misled the FISA court about the 2016 election in order to spy on Donald Trump's campaign. You know that they misled the public in the media about the Hunter Biden laptop in the 2020 campaign. You know that Chuck Grassley has had whistleblowers call him about misdoings within the FBI, that Jim Jordan got whistleblower reports just last week about padding data on domestic terrorism.
There is a lack of trust on the right, right now, with the FBI. And I think the way they went about this, the fact that they went about this, and especially if the FBI did this only looking for documents, it's really going to create even deeper divisions in the country.
KEILAR: So which are you inclined to believe? The it job, is that what you're saying?
MULVANEY: My point is this. I think if you're a conservative Republican who follows politics, the FBI and the DOJ especially have lost the benefit of the doubt. Because of the way they have behaved in the past, it's -- the burden is on them to actually show information as to why this is valid and why it's more than just about a confidential record search. I think you guys had a legal analyst on your program yesterday, saying if this is just about documents, then it is a tremendous overreach. If it's valid and it's real, if it's tied to some criminal activity related to January 6th, that's fine. You folks know that I've been critical of the president's conduct on January 6th. But if it's just about documents, that's almost absurd. That's the same thing that the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton for, and I don't remember them invading her home.
So if you are Republican, the reason you're asking, to act the way you are the last 48 hours, is that you really do feel like you're not getting fair treatment from your own government, and that's a very dangerous place to be.
KEILAR: But there are pictures of documents Donald Trump flushed down the toilet. Does he not get the benefit of the doubt as well?
MULVANEY: Sure, and I think that's worth investigating. Keep in mind what was that piece of paper? It had Elise Stefanik's name on it.
KEILAR: Mick, we can't -- in fairness, mick, it was torn up. We don't know what was on it. That's just a fact.
MULVANEY: No. Go look at it. It says "Stefanik" on it.
KEILAR: That's one word, it said a lot of other -- we don't know what the whole document said. You can see Stefanik's name was on there, but I don't we can extrapolate from just one word.
MULVANEY: I get all that. And listen, I am not defending destructing documents. There's no question about it. But keep in mind the Presidential Records Act, at least not directly, because the President Records Act, as far as I know, is not a criminal statute. It is in code 44 of the USC, not 18, which is the criminal statutes. So I'm not really sure how the Presidential Records Act ties in.
Yes, the president has to keep almost everything, but not everything when you are the president. Again, if we're talking about documents, that's part of my point here, Brianna. You just invaded the home of a former president of the United States to look for documents? Why was it so important? Why couldn't it be handled by a subpoena? Why did you have to go in there when he wasn't even there. He was in New Jersey, I think, during the time. Those are the types of questions people are asking. I don't think this is an ultra MAGA response.
I think this is a lot of reasonable Republicans, folks who have been critical of the president in the past, folks who may be running against him in 2024, I think Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, has supported the president on this. There is a lot of mainstream Republicans and center left Democrats going, wait a second, this may be an overreach, this could be real troublesome.
KEILAR: Trump's lawyer, she said that this has to do with classified documents. We should be clear about this. That this isn't just a Presidential Records Act thing.
I do want to ask you, because you've seen this "Journal" report that says someone in Trump's orbit. So this is someone with knowledge inside who told the feds that there was additional material at Mar-a- Lago, directed them where it should be, clearly was concerned enough to tell them this, information they should have besides those 15 boxes of material they got in the winter. Does that change your mind? Is that now sufficient when you have someone actually aligned with him drawing the attention of the feds to these documents?
MULVANEY: No, it certainly is worthwhile and it's certainly worth noting, there's no question. And it would be valid on getting a search warrant or at least part of getting a search warrant. The other thing the FBI had to establish, however, was that those documents were in imminent risk of being destroyed or removed from the location. Unless they had evidence that Trump was directing people to destroy documents, and if he was doing that now, why wasn't he doing that six months ago?
Yes, you are correct, you said on your lead-in that Trump has the ability to release the warrant. He could do that. He has the ability to release the receipt of the things that were taken, he could do that. The FBI also could release the affidavit they gave to the court in order to obtain the search warrant. And my point and a lot of other Republicans' point is that when the FBI has the track record it has in the recent past about dealing with Republicans, the burden is on them to show that they are absolutely on the up and up, and releasing that affidavit is something they can and should do.
KEILAR: How close do you think that person in Trump's orbit would have to be to know the details about where the documents were?
MULVANEY: Really close. That's a good question. Really close. I didn't know there was a safe at Mar-a-Lago and I was the chief of staff for 15 months. So this would be someone handling things on day to day, who knew where documents were, so it would be somebody very close inside the president. My guess is there is probably six or eight people who had that kind of information. I don't know the people on the inside circle these days, so I can't give any names of folks who come to mind, but your instinct is a good one, is that if you know where the safe is, and you know the documents are in 10 boxes in the basement, you are pretty close to the president.
KEILAR: So you're saying DOJ, the FBI, they need to be more transparent here. That's the call coming from Republicans. They aren't -- as you know, the process normally as it plays out, at least in the middle of something like this, the standard operating procedure, even for reasons to protect a person from whom information is being taken from, is also to protect them. So that said, Donald Trump, he has, and we talked about this there, he has that receipt of what was taken in the seizure. He has the search warrant. Why should -- shouldn't he release that?
MULVANEY: Again, I think he probably should. I think I just made that point is that I think the best way to --
KEILAR: But how do you call for the DOJ to -- how is it possible for him to call for the DOJ, or for supporters of his to say, yes, the DOJ needs to come out and say something, without acknowledging that point you're making, which is he should probably come out and put this information out?
MULVANEY: Wouldn't it be great if everybody did? Yes, you're right. The security, the secrecy surrounding grand jury investigations, search warrants, that's real, it's valid, it's there for a reason, there's no question about it. That's the ordinary course of business.
We are well beyond the ordinary course of business now when the FBI is raiding a former and -- former president's home, a future presidential candidate's home. We are no longer in sort of that ordinary world. And maybe the best thing for everybody to do right now in order to calm things down and sort of reset the playing field is for Trump to come forward with the search warrant that he received, and the receipt of the documents that were taken, and the DOJ to come forward with the affidavit that they swore out to a judge.
Keep in mind, they had a similar affidavit that they swore out to that FISA court in 2016 that turned out to be wrong. So it would be, I think -- it would help folks like me, reasonable Republicans, folks who have been critical of the president sometimes, supportive of the president sometimes, who are sitting here this morning going, holy cow, this is wrong. You can't have the weaponization of the federal government against any individual, but especially a political figure of either party. We have to figure out a way to get to the bottom of this and calm things down quickly. Yes, Trump can do part of that, so could the DOJ.
KEILAR: Mick, when you were at the White House, what was the discussion around preserving documents, the importance of that?
MULVANEY: Oh, we knew it. We had an entire team of people, the staff secretary, inside the White House is actually charged with doing that. So everybody knew that if the president ripped up a document -- and we did. I used to rip up documents when I was in the private sector all the time. If you're working on four versions of a document, you might rip one page in half and put it on the side of the table.
And we knew the rules, and yes, we taped them back together, and yes, we made copies. And keep in mind, that's important. As long as copies are preserved, you can pretty much do whatever you want to with the other documents. That's for the Presidential Records Act, not for the confidential or the classified stuff. But we all knew the rules. And I never saw the intentional destruction of documents whatsoever.
I saw documents that were handled in the ordinary course of business. They might be defaced. We fixed them. That's what every single West Wing does. I never saw the intentional destruction of documents for the purpose of keeping anything from the National Archives or the public in the future.
KEILAR: You never heard about hip ripping and flushing documents?
MULVANEY: I saw him rip documents. We did --
KEILAR: The flushing. You never heard about him flushing documents?
MULVANEY: Not a single time.
KEILAR: What did you think hearing that Trump, who has maligned the act of pleading the fifth, which is certainly within his right, but he personally has maligned that act, he took the fifth and said same answer over 400 times yesterday during a three-hour deposition with the New York state A.G.'s office. What's your reaction to that?
MULVANEY: Yes, my reaction -- that made me smile, because I think I was there the time he said the mob takes the fifth, and so forth. I think the president learned a valuable lesson. It's easy for everybody, including the president of the United States, to watch people on TV, especially if you've already formed an opinion of them and watched them take the fifth and go that is an admission of guilt. And it's easy for anybody to say that.
It's different when you're the one sitting across the table from a prosecutor and looking at potential criminal charges. So he's not the first person to think that. I think this morning he's probably admitting that he was wrong when he said that several years ago about the mob taking the fifth. I have no difficulty with anybody taking the fifth. I was a little worried when Michael Flynn, a general in our Army, took the fifth about a peaceful transition of power. But look, I get it. I used to practice law. I understand the Fifth Amendment privileges, I don't hold it against anybody. But the president is eating a little bit of crow on that this morning. There's no question.
KEILAR: Mick, it is always insightful to have you on. Mick Mulvaney, thank you for being with us.
MULVANEY: Thanks, Brianna.
BERMAN: Couple of things there. First of all, just the almost throwaway statement, I was chief of staff for 16 months and I never knew that Donald Trump had a safe in his office. It's interesting. It's an interesting data point there. The safe not common knowledge. So who knew he had a safe? Who may have told the FBI he had a safe there? That's an open question this morning.
The other thing is, and you saw Mulvaney struggling with it there a little bit, which is these Republicans who are calling on Merrick Garland to come forward with information, almost none of them, so few of them are then also saying, wait, Donald Trump should come forward with information also. Trump's got the easiest path to releasing the information. Now, Mulvaney said he should. But it was only after your questioning about it.
KEILAR: He said he should. But admittedly there are a lot of Republicans who are not also saying that he should.
BERMAN: They seem to forget to ask that question.
So members of the Secret Service warned about possible criminal exposure after handing over cell phone numbers to government investigators in connection with the January 6th probe. Whitney Wild live in Washington with this new reporting this morning. Whitney, what have you learned?
WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: John, the professional association that advocates for federal law enforcement agents warned members of the U.S. Secret Service Tuesday that their personal phone numbers that have been handed to oversight bodies will likely be used in a criminal investigation. This warning appeared in a letter sent to members of that organization, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
Last week CNN reported that personal cell phone numbers of Secret Service agents had been provided to oversight entities, that is a highly unusual move. It came after weeks of scrutiny over missing Secret Service text messages that the agency maintains had been lost due to a data migration that happened a few weeks after January 6th, but prior to a request from the Department of Homeland Security's I.G. for records that included text messages.
Here is a quote from the letter that was sent to members of that organization on Tuesday. "Exactly whose numbers were provided to whom and for what purpose have yet to be determined. However, the information will likely be used for a criminal investigation into the USSS employee." The letter reminds agents that Secret Service attorneys represent the interests of the organization, not the individual, and encouraged them to seek legal counsel. The Secret Service did not address the specific concerns, but the agency did reiterate it is committed to cooperating with all investigations under way, John.
BERMAN: Whitney Wild, very interesting new developments. Thank you so much for being all over this reporting. Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton the target of an
alleged Iranian assassination plot. We're going to speak to him about this threat.
And, putting it all in historical perspective. The FBI executes a search warrant at the former president's home. Where does this fit in our nation's history?
KEILAR: Plus, in moments, we're going to get another key inflation report. So stand by for those numbers.
BERMAN: Unprecedented, that word has been used to describe the FBI's search of former President Trump's home, by definition that would mean never in history. So how accurate is that description?
Turns out we have the best person to answer any question about history.
Joining us now is Doris Kearns Goodwin. She, of course, is a presidential historian, Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller author. Her latest book, "Leadership in Turbulent Times" is out now.
Doris, it's always great to see you.
So, the FBI executed a search warrant on a former president's home. That's not something I have seen before. Place that in historical context.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Oh, I mean, you're absolutely right. It is unprecedented that a presidential home has been given a search warrant to get evidence coming from it.
But it is also unprecedented that we had a president who refused to accept the loss of his election. It is unprecedented that we had a president who was attempting to overturn the results of that election. So I guess I just have to believe knowing that the Justice Department is aware that this act was going to fall in a politically divided world, and that there be with a vacuum because they couldn't talk about it in the same way because of the legal restrictions on them that they had to have evidence that something was there, that was important for national security, or January 6th.
I mean, they're aware of what we have in a world today where we don't believe in institutions, and that it will be easy to turn it around as it already is being done, planted evidence, but if they go against their own legal conscriptions, which say they have to protect the person by not making it a trial in public, then they're losing their ethics.
So, it's a very complicated situation, made much worse by the failure for anybody to believe in institutions anymore because otherwise I think this would say, okay, yes, we believe in the FBI, let's wait and hear if and when there is an indictment and then they'll speak.
KEILAR: How does this compare to the federal interest and interaction that there was with Richard Nixon following Watergate? Are there any little things that you can draw similarities between?
GOODWIN: You know, when I think back to the summer of 1974, I remember I was in Washington at that time, because my husband was the political editor of "The Rolling Stones," incredibly, after having worked for the Kennedy-Johnson, Bobby Kennedy, he ended up doing that, which he had a great time doing and it was great anxiety in Washington that summer.
And I think that's what we have to remember, we know how that whole situation ended. We know that the Republicans stood up, that several of them went to Richard Nixon and said this situation is such now that if you were to have an impeachment, there is only ten senators at most that will vote for you. And then he finally agreed to resign. He left and it ended well.
But we didn't know that at the time. There was a sense of what is going on, there has been, you know, tapes of things that have been said, we don't know whether we're going to get a hold of those tapes, there has been stuff that had to do with finances that's wrong, people that are spying on other people.
It was a very scary time. And I think that's what's so important about history is we have to remember that people living during a difficult time don't know how it is going to end. They don't know where the chapter is going. But imagine what it was like for people living in 1850s before the civil war, in the early days of the depression, or the early days of World War II when it was clear we weren't sure we were going to win.
And somehow because we know those things worked out all right, we forget the anxiety. We're in that time of anxiety now. We don't know how this is going to come out. We have the right to write the chapter. That means we have to vote, we have to get our democracy is in peril, we have to vote to save it, and it is up to us to make this come out the way we hope historians 50 years from now will look back on this very turbulent period.
BERMAN: You know, Doris, I'll bring this up, you brought up the idea of being in a period of peril here. "The Washington Post" reported that President Biden spent two hours with a group of historians, a group that warned the president that America's democracy is teetering. And it sounds like what you're just saying there, that we're in a time of peril.
Do you think that's a fair description, teetering?
GOODWIN: I do think so. I mean, I think when you have a situation where people are questioning whether a democracy that was fairly won was really won, when you have people trying to restrict the right to vote, the most indispensable right upon which everything else depends, and I think it is a great thing that President Biden talked to historians. I was with a group of historians earlier in his presidency talking about domestic issues and President Obama did the same thing. Had a whole series of dinners where we would come as our dress them and he would have China that actually reflected presidents, it was a wonderful set of dinners and they can learn from the past.
I mean, once you have a willingness to look and say these presidents have something to tell me, it is a very exclusive club, I wish they would talk to each other more than they do, because they need to have advice, especially in turbulent times and history can give that kind of solace and perspective. That's why I love history so much.
BERMAN: Of course, Doris, I have to say, since you raised it, now all I can think about is a former president dress up party at the White House and what that might look like with some Pulitzer Prize-winning authors.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, thank you so much as always. You always help us understand things so well.
GOODWIN: Thank you for having me.
BERMAN: So, next, former national security adviser John Bolton will join us as the Justice Department details an alleged assassination plot against him.
KEILAR: And we're hearing newly released 911 calls from the moment that a co-pilot exited a plane midflight.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CALLER: They had a small plane inbound and the co-pilot jumped out.
911: The co-pilot jumped out?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KEILAR: The Justice Department has announced criminal charges in a plot to assassinate former Trump national security adviser John Bolton. The DOJ alleges a member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard tried to pay someone $300,000 to kill Bolton, likely in retaliation for a January 2020 airstrike that killed the revolutionary guard's commander Qassem Soleimani.
Now, prosecutors also say the suspect had a second job for $1 million. Sources telling CNN that was a reference to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Joining us now is former national secured adviser and former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Sir, thank you so much for being with us this morning.
You only learned details of this threat when you were reading the Justice Department indictment.
A day later, what are your thoughts?
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I was certainly aware of the nature of the threat. I did not see the charging document before it was unsealed. So having gone through it, I think what's important to understand is just how detailed the work was to -- to send me off to the great beyond.
And really the extent to which the government of Iran had thought this through was engaged in planning, this is a real window into what that government in Tehran is like. And it's not just a window into how they behave with their terrorist activities, and sponsorship of terrorist groups, but how they conduct their --