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Trump Says He Supports Release of FBI Documents as His Lawyers Face Deadline; The Washington Post Reports, FBI Searched Mar-a-Lago for Nuclear Documents; Violent Rhetoric Circulates on Pro-Trump Forums After FBI Search. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 12, 2022 - 07:00   ET


ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: League-wide in honor of the late Celtics legend Bill Russell.


The 11-time NBA champion and civil rights activist died last month at the age of 88. This is going to be the first-time ever the NBA has retired a number league-wide.

LeBron James, one of 17 players, already wearing the number 6, but they're going to get to keep that number. They're all grandfathered in if they were already wearing it, but no other players moving forward, Brianna, will get to wear it.

So, as Jackie Robinson and the number 42 in baseball retired league- wide, now the number 6 in the NBA for Bill Russell.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Big day. Andy, thank you so much.

New Day continues right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Reports of nuclear secrets, a 3:00 P.M. deadline and a former president up most of the night issuing missives.

I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. We have so many developments this morning.

A judge has given Donald Trump's legal team until 3:00 P.M. to respond to the Justice Department's motion to unseal the search warrant and property receipt from the Mar-a-Lago search. Overnight, Trump posted on his social media platform that he would not oppose the release of the documents. In fact, he says, quote, he would encourage their immediate release.

Now, that's what he says. But, remember, he's had the documents since Monday, and he could have released them at any point himself. He still could. He doesn't have to wait until 3:00 P.M. He could release them right now.

Also, remember, what he said in the past about wanting to release his tax returns, and ultimately not doing it. So, we'll see. We'll see. As of now, his attorney says it doesn't appear they will object to the release.

KEILAR: So, Attorney General Merrick Garland says he personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant for Trump's Mar-a-Lago home, and what may be the most extraordinary of all the developments is this new reporting by The Washington Post that says, classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former President Trump's Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation.

That could turn the concern over these documents up to 11. It's really a game changer when you're talking about what could have been in these papers.

BERMAN: No question about that.

Joining us now is former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. He is the dean of Belmont University College of Law.

And, Attorney General, that's where I want to start. I want to start with The Washington Post reporting. I'll read are classified documents relating to nuclear weapon. How serious would it be if those documents were at Mar-a-Lago?

ALBERTO GONZALES, FMR. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it would be extremely serious. I think it would certainly form a legitimate basis for attorney general to approve an unprecedented search of the Florida estate of the former president.

So, obviously, this is information at the highest order that's important to keep classified for the national security of our country and I think would justify, if true, again. And as I think some of the reporting indicates that these kind of documents may have been searched for. We don't know whether or not there were any that were found in the possession of former President Trump.

BERMAN: Again, according to The Washington Post reporting, we don't know why they thought that documents relating to nuclear weapons were there and we do not know if they took documents related to nuclear weapons. We only know they sought them.

So, in theory, why would the FBI or Justice Department not want them, not want this type of document at Mar-a-Lago?

GONZALES: Well, because, as I said -- I just said this is information that is classified at the highest level. It's information that enemies of this country would want to get their hands on. And, obviously, it's the information that we want to protect to the greatest extent possible. And it's information that is stored and secured locations and government buildings around this country. And you can't have these kind of documents to sling around in the home of a private individual. And so, that's why they -- it's important to have control of these kind of documents.

BERMAN: Merrick Garland yesterday, the current attorney general of the United States, it's a job that you had, he came out with this statement. And I think it was a surprise to some people saying that they had filed a motion to release the search warrant. He said Donald Trump could object to it if he wants, but he made that announcement. What did you think of that move from the attorney general?

GONZALES: Well, I think it was -- I think it was a good move. I think that -- first of all, I think coming out and saying something was important. It was important to confirm to the American people that he authorized the search. This wasn't a decision made by some underling.


I think his comments about the integrity of the department, I think those were statements that needed to be said. He needed to show his people in the building that he was for them and would protect their integrity.

So, I think it was important. Also, the statement about unsealing -- request for unsealing the documents, I think, was made based upon his judgment that unsealing the documents would not compromise the integrity of the investigation and also it provided protection to the former president. You want to protect the rights of individuals in connection with an investigation. And so giving him the ability to object or to approve the release of the information, I think, was a wise decision

BERMAN: So, overnight, Donald Trump said that he would encourage the release of these documents. He has had them since Monday, though, and he could have released them at any time. What does it tell you that he hasn't released them until this point?

GONZALES: Again, this would be pure speculation in terms of why he hasn't released them, and perhaps he simply had not had an opportunity to think about all the repercussions of releasing the documents. The cynics - some cynics would say that, well, this gives him -- not releasing the documents, gives him time to lambast the Department of Justice and use the situation for political purposes.

But there could be reasons why he decided not to release it. His lawyers may not have had a chance to develop a strategy to make a recommendation to him. So, there may be legitimate reasons why he wouldn't release the information.

And at the end of the day, even if the information is released, there may be nothing in there that really harms the former president. On the other hand, there may be stuff there that may arguably harm the former president, but he may make the claim that, well, I think this was planted by the FBI. So, we'll have to wait and just see what happens.

BERMAN: Yes, we will. We very well may see 3:04 this afternoon what exactly all the discussion has been about.

I do want to ask you before I let you go. A man in Ohio is dead, a man that law enforcement says tried to enter -- an armed man tried to enter the FBI field office in Cincinnati. Someone with this man's name or an account on Trump's social media platform in this man's name, was posting the type of thing that was suggesting that he thought violence was necessary in the wake of the search at Mar-a-Lago, and other incendiary type things in this account. What concerns does this raise for you?

GONZALES: I have very serious concerns about the violence that exists in this country, the tribalism in our politics. You know, President Donald Trump had an opportunity to speak out against the violence on January 6th. He could have said something. He could have demanded or certainly encouraged people there at the Capitol to leave peacefully.

Here is another opportunity for Donald Trump to say something about -- against violence. And I would encourage him to do that. We have too much violence in this country today based upon differences of values, differences of opinion. We need more civility, quite frankly, less discourse, and we need leadership at the highest level, not only from the former president, but leaders in Congress, we need Republicans speaking out, as well as Democrats, against violence. We may have disagreements, but we can't have violence.

BERMAN: Former Attorney General Alberto Ggonzalez, I do appreciate you joining us again this morning. Be well.

GONZALES: Thanks, John.

KEILAR: Let's bring in our panel now. We have CNN Senior Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig, CNN Correspondent Kara Scannell and also with us, former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York and professor at Cardozo School of Law, Jessica Roth, as well as Greg Ehrie, who was with the FBI for more than 20 years around and is currently the vice president of law enforcement and analysis at the Anti-Defamation League.

Elie Honig, I do want to start with you. These documents that we may or may not see at 3:00 P.M. or close to 3:00 p.m., what might they show? What might they not show?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Okay. So, we're not going to learn everything today. I don't think they're going to be dispositive one way or another where you can look at those documents and say conclusively, aha Donald Trump was right, aha DOJ was right. We're not going to see the affidavit. That is the long narrative document that prosecutors put together saying, here is our evidence, here is the probable cause. That will not be coming out. Donald Trump does not have that.

The three things that we are going to potentially learn today are this. First of all, how did the FBI and DOJ describe the premises they were going to search within Mar-a-Lago.


That could be interesting. How specific are they as to certain rooms, the basement, the safe?

Number two, what types of evidence were they looking for and what types of evidence did they seize? And, again, levels of specificity and generality vary quite a bit. I have seen that kind of thing described as just all documents, all laptops, but I've seen it broken down in much more specificity. Number three, and I think most importantly, what potential crimes did prosecutors believe they had probable cause to show were committed.

That likely will be in the documents if they come out. I'm going to look right to that, because that will give us a sense of where are prosecutors on this, what crimes do they think, and did a judge sign off on may have been committed.

BERMAN: And one of those crimes could deal with classified documents. And that's what gets to this new Washington Post reporting about classified documents concerning nuclear weapons. We just talked to the former attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, about this, Jessica. How does that put this in a different category if we're talking about documents concerning nuclear weapons?

JESSICA ROTH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, it puts it in a category of just the utmost concern. We were already concerned when we learned that the Department of Justice sought a search warrant to seize material from the former president's residence because, for them to take that action, it had to be material of such significant concern. And based on prior reporting, it seemed it was based on search for classified material. So, we already knew there was significant concern there. If, in fact, it turns out to be documents concerning nuclear materials, that just takes it to a whole another level.

But it is important to know that that's not confirmed yet. But like Elie, I'm going to look first if we see the search warrant, what are the statutory citations or what are the crimes that the FBI said it was there to recover evidence of. And that will, I think, give us some further insight into what the nature of this investigation was also the description of the premises and the specificity because I think that also may confirm some of the reporting about somebody who is close to Trump and who perhaps had access to the premises having been speaking with law enforcement.

KEILAR: Greg, how did this happen? I mean, why would Trump or his aides pack these documents up from the White House? Why, when they're asked to turn them over, would they not turn them over in a way that someone in his inner orbit is concerned enough? I mean, these aren't these Kim Jong-un love letters, maybe something he would keep as souvenirs. These are nuclear, classified documents that they were seeking. We're not sure if that's what they found but that's what they were seeking.

GREG EHRIE, VICE PRESIDENT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND ANALYSIS, ANTI- DEFAMATION LEAGUE: We need to see that affidavit. And as you've heard here, both sides, DOJ and the Trump Organization have copies, at least the initial copies that would explain some of this to us.

But we're getting more a clarity now. The search warrant was executed and it was, from the Trump Organization, pushed back on to say it was for nothing and what was there. Well, they know what they were reading.

If this is a release of nuclear classified material, that's a game changer. That means that the FBI in this case, again, what we're looking at is they had information, whether from the source or whether from this negotiation that was going on, that the potential for classified information related to our nuclear arsenal could be within those.

How they got mixed in these boxes, because as you said, that's a complete separation of powers. That's not a love letter. That's not a note. That's not some kind of memento. Those should are clearly marked classified documents that should never leave a secure environment.

BERMAN: And, Kara, we also, because of CNN reporting, have new information about the timeline of how all this happened, which -- timeline is very important here. There was a subpoena. One of the things Elie has been saying from the beginning is that, well, a search warrant is going to 11 right away. What happened in between there? Well, we know they asked for them in a subpoena. We know there was a dialogue back and forth.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, the subpoena that they sent was in June. And, remember, this investigation began more than a year ago. So, they have been working on this. They had the subpoena in June. They went and met with people at -- with Trump's attorneys at Mar-a-Lago, where Trump came in and greeted them. They were having this dialogue and wanting to get material.

And then there was silence, we sort of see for the past two months. That's where we've learned from sources, from my colleague's reporting, that there was some reason why DOJ believed that there was still material there that was the basis for this search warrant too, that they know there's still possibly a crime being committed. And through this contact that they established, okay, we need to go in.

And I though what was interesting is the way the FBI did this. I mean, Garland signed off on this but they didn't go in with their windbreakers screaming FBI. They were doing this in -- attempting to do in a more subtle way, even though they're going in and they're breaking into the safe.

KEILAR: Let's be clear about why having nuclear documents hanging out at Mar-a-Lago too could be a risk factor. Mar-a-Lago has been a bit of a magnet for Chinese nationals who appear to be up to no good, right?


I mean, there's an interest in people trying to find that vulnerability.

ROTH: Yes. I mean, this kind of material would be kept in the most secure of locations if it was going to -- for its legitimate use, right? The notion that it's in the president's residence, in a club where there are people coming in and out, where there's a history of people who are unauthorized entering, trying to get access to the president, just is of extraordinary concern.

HONIG: If I can add to that, there are classified documents and then there are classified documents. The term classified is very broad. And I know Jessica and Greg have seen certain classified documents, as have I, I'm not sure as a reporter, if you have. But there are four levels of classification. There's confidential, there's secret, there's top secret and there's what we call SCI.

I have seen confidential documents. They're not that interesting. They're not that important. They're not that explosive for the most part, no pun intended. But if you get into nuclear-related documents, that is the highest level. It does not get any more serious than that.

KEILAR: It's 11. It's an 11.

All right, if you guys can stand by for us, that would be much appreciated.

BERMAN: Yes, we're not done with you. Much more for all of you.

KEILAR: So, new details this morning about a gunman who was killed by police after trying to storm an FBI field office in Ohio. What he suspected of posting online about killing agents there.

BERMAN: And the dire statement from the family of actress Anne Heche. We have update on her condition following the car crash.



BERMAN: We are learning more this morning about the gunman who was killed in a standoff with police after he tried to storm the FBI field office in Cincinnati. The suspect identified by law enforcement as Ricky Shiffer was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and a nail gun.

An account bearing his name on the Trump social media platform encouraged violent rhetoric and threats against the agency.

CNN's Brynn Gingras joins us now with the latest on this reporting.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. This Truth Social account details a person who clearly believes the election was stolen in 2020, who admits to being in D.C. on January 6th and who wanted to wage a war with the FBI.

As you said, this account bears Shiffers and a source tells CNN the account picture matches a government I.D. of the man killed after the hour's long standoff that ended in his death. CNN has not confirmed the account belongs to the suspect but it has this post. I want you to see this.

It was posted minutes after sources tell us Shiffer walked into the Cincinnati FBI field office with an assault rifle and a nail gun. It said this, well, I thought I had a way through bullet proof glass and I didn't. If you don't hear from me, it is true. I tried attacking the FBI. And it will mean I was either taken off the internet, the FBI got me or they sent the regular cops and then the post possibly ending abruptly as the pursuit ensued because this was around the same time. Now, the user also fixates on pushing violence against the FBI, including one on Monday after news broke about the search of Mar-a- Lago. This poster is encouraging people to go to Florida writing, 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. So, this is really just a disturbing look into the possible mind of Shiffer again now dead.

We don't know exactly why he tried to breach the FBI building yesterday but what happened is just, again, the first example possibly of an act of violence against law enforcement, specifically the FBI, as the agency's director warned about this possibly happening in this current climate with all of this rhetoric spreading, guys.

BERMAN: The timing, the timing. Brynn Gingras, thank you so much for that.

KEILAR: So, the attempted breach of the FBI Cincinnati field office coincides, of course, with an uptick in violent online rhetoric directed toward the FBI and the Justice Department following the search of former President Trump's home in Mar-a-Lago.

Join us now is Arieh Kovler, political consultant, and Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center on Media Politics and Public Policy.

Joan, you hear this story that we're talking about here out of Ohio. Do you see this as a one-off, or do you see this as part of a broader radicalization that you see dots connected to the rhetoric that you're studying?

JOAN DONOVAN, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, HARVARD KENNEDY'S SHORENSTEIN CENTER OF MEDIA POLITICS AND PUBLIC POLICY: Yes. So, there's a few things going on here, I think, in social media that we have to address. One of them has to do centrally with the way in which people are posting online, encouraging one another. There's a lot of overt calls to violence, just like you addressed.

And what we have seen over the years is when violent rhetoric isn't taken down and content isn't moderated that we see this wires to the weeds effect where people will eventually commit those violent acts. And we have seen it with message boards, such as Storm Front, where neo-Nazis used to gather or still do. And now we have to start looking much more deeply into Truth Social.

I think on the -- if there is a bright side to this, this doesn't seem to be organized in the same way that we have seen other kinds of violence, like January 6th. And so, in a sense, Shiffer is, by no means, a lone wolf, but this wasn't an organized attack. It doesn't seem to be that there's evidence that he was part of a militia or other groups at this stage.

And so we do have to look much deeper at the data in this case. But, unfortunately, many of the signs that we have seen before where someone posts about a violent activity and then carries it out seem to track with sites that have lack of sincere content moderation. KEILAR: Very, very important point that you're seeing that trend.

Arieh, you have seen the tone shift, right, with the rhetoric since Trump left office.


Can you tell us how?

ARIEH KOVLER, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Well, while Trump was in office, most of the talk inside, I guess you have to call it MAGA world, the part of the online extremism that was supportive of Trump, was essentially pro-government in its orientation. Trump was the government. They supported him. And they -- whether there was suspicion of the FBI or other authorities, and always was a sense that essentially as long as Trump was in charge, things would be okay.

Obviously, after January 6th, after the inauguration when Joe Biden became president, there has been a shift. We're seeing the reemergence of perhaps a more classic, classical right-wing anti-government extremism and the discourse. And, you know, whether that is around COVID measures, which has been the dominant form of right-wing anti- government extremism for the last year-and-a-half or so. But now COVID measures have kind of largely gone, that energy is being poured into other areas.

And one of the things that we're seeing in particular was the Mar-a- Lago search as being a trigger. Another one, oddly enough, and these two are very much conflated in the last week, week-and-a-half on the right, is the plans to increase funding for the IRS. And if you've -- or in the kind of far-right media (INAUDIBLE), those two things being spoken about as if they're the same thing, as if this is all a part, a plan of the federal government to clamp down on people like us, Trump first and then I guess all of his supporters.

KEILAR: This anti-government extremism and that thread that they're seeing there.

Joan, how normalized is violence in this right-wing, as Arieh is calling this MAGA world, this online extremism world that supports Trump?

DONOVAN: Yes. We've recently conducted a study and issued a working paper about this concept of network incitement. So, when we're thinking about, well, what are the elements in which people get so motivated that they're willing to break the law in order to carry out some political goal, we look very closely at the defendants of January 6th and what was written in their affidavits.

And what we found was that particular recipe where they obviously believed that the election had been rigged, and then there was a very specific call to action by President Trump that, you know, obviously, the be there, will be wild tweet.

And underlying that, that event of January 6th, we can't discount how mobilizing and radicalizing that event is for the people who were there or the people who witnessed it that felt as if -- sincerely felt as if democracy was being stolen from them because Trump wasn't being re-elected.

And so when we think about this as a problem, we have to think about, well, is social media allowing for new forms of political violence to manifest? And this recipe of needing to have this kind of disinformation that mobilizes, a charismatic figure, making a call to action, seems to be very potent for radicalization, especially when people are moving from online forums and just kind of posting for chaos' sake into more organized forms of violence.

KEILAR: Yes, these more organized forms of violence. And, Arieh, yes?

KOVLER: I completely agree with what Joan just said. And I think the fact there hasn't been any kind of trigger event or call to action now. The thing that I have seen that many people talking about and maybe fantasizing about is their potential trigger might be a potential arrest or detention of Donald Trump. That would provide both the kind of motivating action and site to come to. One of the things I have already seen discussed, is that's the day that we'll go.

KEILAR: A very scary thought. Arieh and Joan, thank you for sharing what you're seeing. We really appreciate it.

DONOVAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: So, ahead, Senator Tim Kaine is going to join us live. His reaction to the new reporting that the FBI was after classified nuclear documents at Mar-a-Lago.