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FBI Searched Mar-a-Lago for Nuclear Documents; Ohio Police Kill Armed Suspect Who Tried to Breach FBI Office; New Accusations Secret Service Impeded Probe of Its January 6th Response. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 12, 2022 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It is Friday, August 12, and I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman this morning.


After a day of extraordinary developments, this crossing overnight, former President Trump says he will not oppose the release of documents related to the FBI's search of his Mar-a-Lago home.

In a late-night post on his social media platform, Trump says he is, quote, "encouraging the immediate release of those documents."

Now, his attorney was not so direct, saying that it doesn't appear that they would object to the release.

The Trump statement comes after the Justice Department filed a motion to unseal the search warrant. Trump's legal team has until 3 p.m. today to formally respond in court.

Attorney General Merrick Garland says he personally approved that decision to seek the Mar-a-Lago search warrant.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, just want to reiterate the point. Just because Trump said he wants the documents released, it doesn't necessarily mean that is what his lawyers will tell a judge.

Remember, Trump has had possession of these documents since Monday. And has chosen not to release them. So this could very well develop throughout the day.

Also, another potentially mammoth bit of reporting overnight from "The Washington Post." I'm going to read from it right now. Their lead is: "Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former President Donald Trump's Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation."

Now, this would put the possible concern over these documents at an entirely different level.

So let's work through all this new information this morning.

CNN Katelyn Polantz in Washington with all these late-breaking developments -- Katelyn.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. So this late-night announcement from Donald Trump saying he's encouraging the immediate release of these documents. I just checked the court files. And there is no filing yet from either the Justice Department or anyone else related to Trump, saying what the final position of his attorneys will be in court.

Of course, this is a court process now. Trump could release these on his own. He could post them on social media, even, if he wanted to, but right now, we are waiting to see what is going to happen in court before 3 p.m.

Now, that story in "The Washington Post," it really does add to what we know about the urgency of this search, saying that there was a search to locate classified documents related to nuclear weapons. But that even comes upon information that we at CNN were able to confirm, as well, yesterday, that when those 15 boxes had been removed earlier this year by the National Archives, inside of them, there was special access program material. SAP material is what it's called. That is highly secretive, and it controls who can even access it.

And that really, too, can also include people who have access to nuclear information.

And so, this urgency, filling out this timeline of what was being sought there, we are seeing quite a lot of need, if indeed, there were nuclear-related documents in these boxes, for the Justice Department to go in this week.

And of course, we're waiting to see exactly what the court filings will reveal, if they will get into that level of specificity.

KEILAR: All right, Katelyn. Stick around for us.

I want to bring in CNN counterterrorism analyst and former FBI intelligence adviser, Phil Mudd; CNN political commentator Errol Louis; and Palm Beach state attorney David Aronberg with us, as well.

Phil, just put this into context for us. Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, let me give you a couple perspectives. I initially downplayed this, because when you think about classified documents, you can have everything.

If you think about a car on a car lot, from a 15-year-old clunker with 200,000 miles to a new Maserati, this is at the new Maserati end of that car lot.

You can look at documents that might have been explainable in Mar-a- Lago. For example, maybe the president kept transcripts of his conversations with presidents in Europe. Maybe he kept documents related to how he decided to withdraw from climate change -- or from the climate treaty. I would have said, you know, I wouldn't worry about that too much. Nuclear stuff, let me give you a clear picture of how significant that

is. Really clear. I was deputy director of counterterrorism at the CIA. I had a top-secret code word clearance for 25 years. I was deputy director of national security at the FBI.

I do not believe, based on my understanding of these documents, that I would have had the clearance to view them. I don't know what else to say. This is serious stuff that very few people get access to, Brianna.

BERMAN: Serious stuff that people don't get access to. It changes your perception of this entire thing --

MUDD: Yes.

BERMAN: -- Phil Mudd. Dave Aronberg, to you, how would it affect the urgency with which the Department of Justice would act?


There's no way that an institutionalist like Merrick Garland or Christopher Wray, who was appointed by Donald Trump, or a federal magistrate would have walked into this buzzsaw, this political hornet's nest over something like trinkets.

But when it comes to a vital issue of national security, something so urgent as nuclear information, now you see why.

And plus, it does put Trump in a whole new area of legal jeopardy. Because it's not so easy to declassify nuclear information. There's a federal law that requires him to go to the Department of Energy. So this whole defense that, as president, he can just unilaterally declassify it, doesn't hold water when it comes to nuclear secrets.

KEILAR: What does this do, Errol, to all of the Republicans who have been backing Trump up, saying, Oh, this is just them maybe getting papers in order, and this is the weaponization of the Justice Department and the FBI?


ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If they adhere to the facts, it will back them up a little bit. They'll at least pause, I think, and maybe think about it. There's no assurance, of course, that they will do that.

We've seen other instances where, in defense of Donald Trump, people will say the most outlandish things that are clearly false.

But in this case there really is a big difference between sentimental papers or even something to write a book based on and so forth and things that I think everyone understands are clearly dangerous, clearly not supposed to be trifled with.

I think this is going to be one of these moments that we often have with Donald Trump, where we see the way that he uses courts and laws and procedures, which are for his own personal, or financial, or political benefit, as opposed to the way the rest of us see it.

It will be one of those make-or-break moments once again for Republican leadership to decide if they want to ride down that path with him.

BERMAN: Phil, just want to go back to you with one more question on this subject. If there were -- and again, I'm going to read from "The Washington Post" reporting here, because it's very specific -- classified documents relating to nuclear weapons -- those were among the items the FBI agents sought -- if those were at Mar-a-Lago, why would the Department of Justice, the FBI, the counterintelligence division of the FBI, apparently, because that's who signed off on it, why wouldn't they want them at Mar-a-Lago?

MUDD: Well, if you look at the security at a place like the Department of Justice, if you look at the security in a place like the Department of Energy, compared to a beach House, are you kidding me?

One of the reasons the Department of Justice would have asked for the videos from Mar-a-Lago is to ask some basic questions that you would never have to ask if these documents were properly secured.

For example, who brought stuff in? Do we have the stuff that they brought in? Or did it disappear on another day? More significantly, who went in that room?

And I'm going to guarantee you that if there's national security stuff related to nuclear weapons in there, that people went in that -- who went in that room, not all of them had the appropriate clearance.

So you don't know what's in there. You don't know who's accessing it. You don't know if those people know how to secure this kind of secrets. I mean, I don't know what to say, John. You're keeping nuclear stuff at a beach House that I couldn't review at the CIA. Enough said.

KEILAR: And Katelyn, Mar-a-Lago has been a target for spies. We know that. Right?

POLANTZ: We have, actually. There was a woman who was arrested who, I believe, was a Chinese national, and she was found with all kinds of recording devices getting into the property a few years ago. It was a court case that we had to go down and cover, because it was such big news that someone was able to get so close.

And that there also was this target there, right? Where people clearly were trying to get into Mar-a-Lago who may have other interests than just visiting the beach.

BERMAN: So Dave, I want to move on to the other bit of new information -- oh, one thing I do want to say as we're closing up the nuclear secrets notion here.

First of all, the reporting is they sought nuclear documents. We don't know why they thought there were nuclear documents there. That's one bit of information we obviously would still need to find out. We also don't know if they took classified documents about nuclear

documents from Mar-a-Lago. That, too, remains to be seen. Let me just put that out there.

Now Donald Trump saying that he wants this information released now, where does that leave us this morning? He's saying it, but couldn't he have released it on Monday if he wanted to be this transparent?

ARONBERG: He doesn't want us to know that he could have done this on his own already.

Also, there's little daylight here. He's saying, yes, I want it released. But his lawyers may say something different. Then he throws up his hands and said, Hey, I can't help it. My lawyers are doing this on a legal basis.

So -- but he is in a box. And kudos to Merrick Garland. He knows how to play this game better than a lot of us thought he did. And Trump is in a tough position, because if this stuff comes out, he gets hurt by it. If he tries to obstruct and block it, then it undermines everything he and his supporters have been saying for the last few days, and it really looks bad.

So, either way it's Merrick Garland is going to win. So heads. he wins. Tails, Trump loses.

KEILAR: Yes. That's the box he's painted himself into. Calling for transparency. People supporting him by saying there must be transparency. Well, the transparency is now the ball in Donald Trump's court.

LOUIS: A lot of this is going to be fact-dependent. I mean, I'm glad you raised that. You know, the fact that they went there looking for things doesn't mean that they found them. Or that they were ever there.

And so, you know, explaining this extraordinary action, the extraordinary action was stepping onto the property with a warrant and searching the former president's home.

What we find and whether or not it's going to sort of be clear what it is really remains to be seen. The list itself, though, will be, politically speaking, quite damning if it's a list of here are the things we thought he might have taken. And then, you know, if they actually find that it was taken, that will be another scandal.

BERMAN: Dave, talk more about that. Talk about what these documents actually are and are not that may be released as soon as, I guess, what, 3 p.m.


ARONBERG: Yes, there will be an inventory that would be released. Now, watch for this.

I think when the documents are released, if they are, you'll see some redactions. There has to be. And those redactions will be capitalized upon by Donald Trump. He will look at everything that's blocked out and say, see, here it is. Here is where it would have said Trump is innocent. Here is where it would have said the FBI planted evidence. So he will try to capitalize on that.

And it won't work for most people, but for his base, they're going to believe anything he says.

BERMAN: But this isn't the affidavit. They're not going to release the affidavit that explains why they wanted the search warrant. What they'll release, my understanding is, would be, if they release it, would be a search warrant, which might indicate what laws they had probable cause to believe were broken?

ARONBERG: And that's the key here. It will be one of the attachments, where hopefully, they will mention the laws that may have been broken. And that's how you know if this is a case of the Presidential Records Act or if it's something much more sinister, like espionage.

KEILAR: Phil, is it possible it's not a bombshell at all, these documents that may be released?

MUDD: I'm sure it is. But I think there's one missing point here that we have to bring to the table.

We know that there is an informant who talked to the FBI about what was there. Not only about presumably what the documents were, but had enough knowledge about the inner workings of Mar-a-Lago about where this stuff was. The FBI obviously didn't search the entirety of Mar-a- Lago.

So let's take you inside the room with Merrick Garland and the FBI director, Christopher Wray. They've got to have some certitude that those documents relate to something serious beyond a confidential level thing, which to me confidential documents, that don't mean nothing. Secret documents, that don't mean nothing.

That informant or others have to be telling the Department of Justice it's really worth you going in there. So if it's not nuclear stuff, it better be something else. Otherwise, I think, even if there were stuff improperly stored, if it's lower-level classification, you're not going to raid that place.

KEILAR: Yes. Very interesting point. Phil, everyone, thank you so much for the discussion this morning.

MUDD: Thanks.

BERMAN: Now, another major story yesterday that might help put all of this in context or reframe how everyone is looking at this.

A man armed with an AR-15-style rifle and a nail gun was killed in a standoff with police after he tried to enter the FBI field office in Cincinnati.

The man has been identified as Ricky Shiffer. That's according to three federal law enforcement sources.

Now, an account bearing his name on the Trump social media platform Truth Social includes violent rhetoric, references to his attempt to storm an FBI office, and encourages others to prepare for a revolutionary-type war.

Our Brynn Gingras has been following this story and all these developments. Brynn, what have you learned?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, a lot, John. There's a lot in that Truth Social account. It details a person who clearly believes the election was stolen in 2020; who admits to being in D.C. on January 6th; and, as you said, wanted to wage a war with the FBI.

And also as you said, the account bears Shiffer's name. And a source is telling CNN he account picture matches a government I.D. of the man killed after that hours'-long standoff that ended in Shiffer's death.

CNN has not confirmed the account belongs to the suspect, but there's this. A post minutes after sources tell us Shiffer walked into the Cincinnati FBI field office with an assault rifle and a nail gun and says this: "Well, I thought I had a way through bulletproof glass, and I didn't. If you don't hear from me, it is true. I tried attacking the FBI. And it will mean either I was taken off the Internet, the FBI got me, or they sent the regular cops while."

And the post possibly ending abruptly as the pursuit ensued, because that's around the time it was posted.

Now, this user also fixates on just pushing violence against the FBI, including one on Monday after news broke about the search of Mar-a- Lago.

Now, this poster encourages people to go to Florida, writing this: "This is your call to arms from me. Get whatever you need to be ready for combat. Then tyranny becomes the law. Rebellion becomes duty. Kill them," referencing FBI agents that get in their way.

So this is just a disturbing look into the possible mind of Shiffer, again, now dead. We don't know yet exactly why he tried to breach the FBI building. But what happened yesterday may, of course, guys, be the first example of an act of violence against law enforcement, specifically the FBI, as the agency warned about, you know, this could happen in the current climate of all this rhetoric spreading.

BERMAN: Yes. Deeply concerning. Brynn, I know you're going to stay on this. Thank you so much.

We're going to talk about this with two former members of the FBI, including former deputy director Andrew McCabe right after this.

Also, details of how the Secret Service stalled an investigation of their actions related to January 6th. They were scrapped in a report to Congress. We have new CNN reporting.

And the House January 6th Committee meeting with still more Trump cabinet officials who invoked -- discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.


KEILAR: Plus, new guidance from the CDC on COVID-19. What they're now saying about social distancing and quarantining and what it means for kids returning to school.


BERMAN: So more now on the deadly standoff in Ohio after police say a man armed with an AR-15-style weapon tried to enter the FBI Cincinnati field office.

On social media, accounts bearing the man's name include politically violent posts encouraging people to go to gun and pawnshops to, quote, "get whatever you need to be ready for combat."

With us now, CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe; and Phil Mudd is back with us as well.

Andy, I just want to start with you. Again, we're still learning more about what happened in Ohio, but there are these possible links to everything else that has happened this week. Your view.


ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: John, it's just such an incredibly potent example of the state of the threat in this country right now and how easily that threat of political violence can be accessed by Donald Trump and directed by him.

And I think that's what we saw yesterday. Assuming the investigation bears out that this individual's motive was, in fact, to attack the FBI, he made statements immediately following -- statements immediately following the search warrant at Mar-a-Lago on Monday.

So, you know, this is what counterterrorism experts and observers and folks like myself have been talking about for months.

Donald Trump has an amazing amount of influence over people who harbor these sorts of beliefs when he baselessly floats out an allegation, as he did on Monday, about the FBI possibly planting evidence in his residence, which we all know there's been absolutely zero proof produced for that.

He knows that that could have an -- that can have incredibly inspiring effect on people who harbor these extreme beliefs and -- and compel them to move to take violent action. It is incredibly dangerous.

KEILAR: Yes, and Phil, he's not the only one, right? I mean, all of this gets amplified. You hear people who support him, elected officials, the kind of rhetoric that they're using.

What are your concerns? What's your message to Republicans who are, as they complain about the weaponization of the DOJ and the FBI, are in a way, weaponizing that rhetoric?

MUDD: My message is professional and intensely personal. And the professional piece, let me -- let me focus on radicalization. Whether you're dealing with ISIS or al Qaeda, during the days of Islamic terrorism, ISIS and al Qaeda, you needed radicalizers.

That is, if an individual wants to commit an act of violence, often there's a case of someone they respect -- in the case of ISIS and al Qaeda, it's typically on YouTube or in a chat room -- who will validate that person's feeling.

You're 18, you're 20, you're 25, you're 30. You're angry about America. I'm telling you as a respected figure you can use violence.

We are seeing that kind of thinking transition from the fringe to a core movement in America among American conservatives. That is, far- right conservatives. Telling people that it may be appropriate to use violence for political purposes.

So this is about radicalization that you would see in a lot of terror circumstances that I've witnessed.

Let me close quickly on a personal note. Last night I woke -- and this morning I woke up, having received the most vicious piece of personal hate mail I have received in years. It appears from my reading of this hate mail that it results from someone who's radicalized by what they saw us say, including me, in response to what happened in Mar-a-Lago and what that person is seeing their political leaders say.

If you think this isn't significant in America, it is across our country. And it is comprehensive, Brianna. When people tell someone to be radicalized, people will radicalize.

BERMAN: This note threatened you, your life, Phil?

MUDD: I get a lot of hate mail. This is borderline criminal referral. I will not refer it.

But this individual told me I need to be smacked around and that I'm the scum of the earth. I will not get into the additional pieces of this. I get this kind of stuff pretty regularly, but this is more significant than what I've received in a while.

And again, first question was whether it goes to police. It won't, because it doesn't have some specifics I look for. But man, this is emblematic of what we have in this country, John.

BERMAN: And Andy, how much risk in this environment do you feel that FBI personnel and other law enforcement personnel are this week?

MCCABE: Well, John, I mean, there's no question that the work environment for FBI people has been getting tougher and tougher. Tougher over the last five or six years, right?

So, you know, Trump has been basically at war with the FBI since we opened a case on his campaign in July of 2016. That has a corrosive effect on the ability of FBI agents and professional support staff to -- to develop the sort of trust that they need to get their job done.

Now we've gone one giant step further than that. You have people like this person from Cincinnati yesterday online, talking about actively targeting FBI agents as they conduct their work in field, as they're out in all of our communities talking to victims, talking to witnesses.

You've got thousands of FBI people out across the country every single day doing this vital and important work. And now to know that there may be a core element of extremists really anywhere in the country targeting them is incredibly, incredibly dangerous.


And could I just, to address Brianna's question, my question for our political leadership of both sides is where are you? It's bad enough that their own rhetoric is pushing some of these extremists in that direction. They should be out actively trying to tamp this down. They should be making statements about responsibility, about true patriotism, no matter how they feel about whatever investigation they're fired up about.

There's no -- absolutely no excuse for this sort of provocation to violence. And they should all be out trying to tamp this down.

BERMAN: Andy McCabe, Phil Mudd, our thanks to both of you for the work that you do.

MUDD: Thanks.

KEILAR: We do have some new CNN reporting concerning accusations that the Secret Service was impeding federal investigators, looking into the agency's actions surrounding the January 6th attack. And that those details were actually scrapped from a report to Congress.

CNN's Whitney Wild is live in Washington with the latest on this. Whitney, tell us what you've learned.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, the purpose of that congressional report is to alert lawmakers when the I.G. is running into significant challenges collecting information.

This memo was obtained by the Project on Government Oversight. It was shared with CNN, and it shows that there was original language that would have had detailed descriptions from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general's office of the multiple ways they thought the Secret Service was stalling the watchdog's investigation.

Among the accusations, these investigators said the Secret Service wouldn't identify the reviewers of records. That made it hard to contact them and get the relevant information.

Investigators also said that the Secret Service wouldn't give records to the I.G. without an internal review. And when they did hand over documents, they were heavily redacted.

Finally, the I.G. investigators said that the Secret Service wasn't totally up front with them about the totality of the text messages lost from the weeks leading up to January 6th.

So this is the issue we've been talking a lot about. The Secret Service said that they had this data migration a couple weeks after January 6th, which basically wiped text messages from several people's cell phones. The I.G. Thought that was crucial information and they had been going back and forth for about a year to get those text messages.

Again, the I.G. saying Secret Service didn't -- didn't tell us exactly what was going on.

The point here is that the warnings were approved for release to Congress in April, but they never made it into this final report that was issued in June. So something happened between April, when they felt like they were ready to go, and June when this report was actually sent over to lawmakers.

That's raising a lot of questions, because about a month after that report came out, the I.G. had this dramatic about face and took all of these complaints directly to the Hill. The Secret Service is saying that they did and they are cooperating with these investigations.

Sources within the agency I have spoken with for several weeks now have really pushed back on the idea that they were stalling the I.G. from getting records, saying they can't just release internal records without first getting reviews for executive privilege and national security issues -- John and Brianna.

BERMAN: This is all new reporting from you and your team, Whitney. And this really does create an intriguing time line here.

On top of all this, we're learning the January 6th Committee met with former transportation secretary Elaine Chao and is set to meet virtually with Trump's former national security adviser, Robert O'Brien today. So what's going on there?

WILD: Well, Chao is significant, because she was obviously a member of the cabinet. She left the post on January 7th, and she was among several cabinet members who explored the idea of invoking the 25th Amendment.

Sources have also said that O'Brien was involved in high-level discussions about the 25th Amendment immediately following January 6th. But in a statement to CNN, he says that's not true. He says he was not involved at any time in discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment.

But, certainly, that is something that the committee will ask. He's expected to meet with them virtually today.

BERMAN: All right. We will see what he tells the committee, maybe, if we learn. Whitney Wild, thank you very much for that. The CDC issuing brand-new COVID guidelines about testing and social

distancing. What you need to know about sending your kids back to school.

KEILAR: And a grim statement from the family of actress Anne Heche following your fiery car crash. We'll have an update on her condition ahead.