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Justice Department Issues 3:00 P.M. Deadline to Trump Legal Team to Respond to Motion to Unseal Search Warrant and Property Receipt from Mar-a-Lago Search and Seizure; Reporting Indicates Documents FBI Searched for at Mar-a-Lago Related to Nuclear Weapons; Trump Calls for Release of FBI Search Docs, But Will His Lawyers Contest?. Aired 8-8:30a ET.
Aired August 12, 2022 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: So that is also a development that we are monitoring. Not charged with anything yet, but they are investigating it as a felony.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Chloe Melas, thanks for being on this for us. Please keep us posted.
NEW DAY continues right now.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It is Friday, August 12th. And I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman this morning.
The Trump legal team is staring at a 3:00 p.m. deadline today to respond to the Justice Department's motion to unseal the search warrant and property receipt from the Mar-a-Lago search and seizure. Overnight, Trump posted on his social media platform that he would not oppose the release of documents. In fact, he would, quote, encourage their immediate release. But as we have just seen, just because Trump says it doesn't mean it's true. Trump has had the documents since Monday. He could have released them at any point himself. He hasn't, right, he hasn't.
So as of now his attorney says it doesn't appear that they would object to the release. Attorney General Merrick Garland says he personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant for Trump's Mar-a-Lago home.
BERMAN: Also developing overnight, potentially significant, very significant reporting by "The Washington Post." This is what it says, quote, "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." That's according to people familiar with the investigation. Now, this could elevate the concern over these documents in an enormous way.
Joining us now is "Washington Post" intelligence and national security reporter Shane Harris. He's part of the team that broke this story. Shane, thank you so much for being with us. Just explain more of what you and your team found here.
SHANE HARRIS, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, what we understand is that among these classified documents that the FBI was searching for are documents related to nuclear weapons. Now, we're very clear in this story, we do not know whether that relates to U.S. nuclear weapons, the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, or research, or information about the nuclear weapons of other countries.
But what we do understand is that this information, which would in any instance be among the most tightly guarded secrets in the U.S. government, appears to have caused sufficient concern that helped motivate this extraordinary search at the former president's home. And I think what this underscores is the degree to which law enforcement officials and others in the government were deeply concerned about the sensitive nature of the information that Donald Trump had at his personal residence. And we should also emphasize there is no plausible reason that experts can point to why a former president would need to have classified information of that significance at his home.
KEILAR: Yes, it should be tightly guarded. But what you and your team are reporting is out, Shane, is also it wasn't tightly guarded at the White House either.
HARRIS: That's right. We have talked to former officials who served at senior levels in the intelligence community in the Trump administration who said that it was routine that highly classified information was passed around and handled by people who did not have the need to possess it or to read it. People who did not have a need to know, that among this information, one former intelligence official told us that they routinely saw was signals intelligence. We're talking about things like intercepted communications potentially of foreign leaders. That, too, is some of the most closely protected and guarded information, and the idea that it was flowing around freely among officials who didn't need to have it or didn't have the proper access to it starts to fill out a picture of just the kind of sloppiness that many former officials say they saw in the Trump administration when it came to handling close protected secrets.
BERMAN: So, Shane, one question that is being asked this morning, if the FBI believed or were seeking classified documents related to nuclear weapons at Mar-a-Lago, as you say, that would be so serious. The existence of those documents would be so serious. What took so long? When did they find out about these documents? Was it when they knew about the 15 boxes months and months ago? Was it when they subpoenaed records? Why the search warrant?
HARRIS: Yes, that's great questions. We still don't know precisely when they learned this. But if you look at the sequence of events of how this unfolded, we know that there was a subpoena that was issued to President Trump back in June which is essentially a request from the government that saying we think you have information, we need you to hand it back to us. It's a command of sorts, but it's asking nicely if you want to think about it that way.
[08:05:00] It appears that this situation escalated, however, when President Trump for, again, reasons we don't fully understand, did not return the information that the government made clear to him he needed to return. And so I think that also elevated the concern among law enforcement agents, why is he not giving back the information that we think he has, that we're telling him he needs to give back to us, that in any event would cause significant concern if someone who had classified information in their possession and was refusing to hand it back. When it is the former president, the political and legal implications of that, we're seeing them play out right now, and we can see how extraordinarily that would complicate the situation.
BERMAN: Shane Harris, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Significant reporting that reframes, I think, how a lot of people are looking at the events over the last week. Thank you.
KEILAR: Joining us now is former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman. He is now running for Congress in New York. Deputy Editor of "The City" Alyssa Katz, CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali, and CNN senior national correspondent Sara Sidner.
So much happened in the last 24 hours, it's -- where to start, right? There is just a bounty of new information. But let's start with what we are expecting to learn, maybe, maybe, at 3:00 p.m., which is going to be the search warrant and the receipt, perhaps, about what was taken from Mar-a-Lago. Are you expecting that we will indeed learn that?
DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I have my serious doubts. As you will recall, Donald Trump said throughout the Mueller investigation, oh, I have no problem talking to them, I'm happy to talk to them. And then it became, oh, no, my lawyers told me I can't. So the fact that he has said release the documents means very little to me at this point. Let's see at 3:00 p.m. when their deadline is whether or not they are actually going to agree.
But the attorney general has put him in a real pickle here because either he releases the documents and we learn what statutes they are investigating, and we learn broadly, categorically what they took. Some of that will be redacted because it is probably classified information. But we will certainly learn the statutes. And that will tell a lot about what they are investigating. I'm very eager to see that. If they decide to oppose this motion to unseal, then clearly, they're trying to hide something. And it completely undermines his argument that this is just a political witch-hunt because he's obviously now trying to hide what they're actually doing.
BERMAN: Alyssa, where are the pressure points this morning, and what questions do you have?
ALYSSA KATZ, DEPUTY EDITOR, "THE CITY": I mean, I think the question I have is similar to what Dan is, simply, what will his lawyers do? And I think that we'll see what Trump will do once he can say, look, this is a witch-hunt, they're going after me --
BERMAN: He's already saying it.
KATZ: Right. But he will be able -- but he will be able to once, the documents -- once his lawyers argue that the search warrant shouldn't be released, he'll be able to say they were going after me, this is simply, this --
GOLDMAN: A witch-hunt. That's his defense.
KEILAR: And he's laying the groundwork, right? What he's saying is he's laying the groundwork to say it is planted evidence, reinforcing this rightwing talking point.
KATZ: Right. And that's one thing, he's saying it is all a setup. And the thing is, he's really playing to his base here by saying that, look, this is -- release them, I have nothing to hide, but then once he's -- he will just continue to say that this is an attack on him. And we have the Republican Party really going after this by suggesting that the FBI is really on attack against Trump.
BERMAN: Tim Naftali, presidential historian, what is the history of presidents being -- former presidents being investigated or the FBI seeking classified documents relating to nuclear weapons at former president's homes? How do you put something like this in historical perspective?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The history is simple -- none. When Richard Nixon boarded the famous helicopter when he waved, sort of victory wave at the end of his administration, he didn't put his tapes in the back of the helicopter when he went to San Clemente. The U.S. government did not have to execute a search warrant in San Clemente. And no president thereafter has been subject to a search warrant at their home.
This is yet again another unprecedented Trump drama. I'm thinking a lot about motive right now, and so I'm trying to contextualize why he did it, since, of course, he has had many opportunities to return this material, and his people returned 15 boxes. Let's not forget he's already given material that shouldn't have been in Mar-a-Lago back to the U.S. government. Why did he keep these documents?
If indeed his lawyers don't come out and say, sorry, it's not in his interest to hand over the information today, or actually to allow it to be released, if we find out the nature of the documents, we can start to think about his motives.
Now, I just want to make clear to everybody, under the Presidential Records Act, as a former president, he has access to all his documents forever. He just can't control them. In other words, they have to be in a facility with proper vaults, which are checked every year, and that facility is in the D.C. area. Why he felt he needed to keep some of these materials all the way down in Florida when he could have sent a representative, indeed, himself, although he would never do it himself, no former president will go into a National Archives facility to look at a document, but anybody with a clearance in his inner circle could. Why did he feel he needed to hold them? Were these trophies? Or were these materials that he wanted to use for other perhaps commercial purposes?
KEILAR: His supporters, Sara, including extremists are feeling very animated, I guess might be the word. Some of them more animated, some to violence, perhaps, by what we have seen happen.
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I want to make three points here just jumping off of what you were saying. One is that we have talked to spokespeople who have said they watched Donald Trump during the time he was president be very careless, if you will, with documents. OK. So that's one thing, which is everyone is concerned about.
Secondly, that when you look at what happened, he has the documents. He can put them out right now.
BERMAN: He could have put them out Monday.
SIDNER: He doesn't have to wait for the court. So if he really wants them out there, he could have done it himself, he could have posted on his truth social network, and he could have gone ham on what was in there, and he hasn't. So what does that tell you?
We will see at 3:00, as you said, whether he can blame something on his attorneys if they do not agree to let that information, which by the way the DOJ called his bluff, Merrick Garland said, OK, we'll release them, whatever you want.
KEILAR: And he's laying the groundwork to say, so if it is released, now he's undermining whether it's even real, because he's also on this latest posting laying the groundwork to say it is planted evidence.
SIDNER: And they have been saying that from the beginning. But to your point of violence, if you keep people angry, if you gin them up, if you tell them this is tyranny, like one Republican said on FOX, if you tell people this is a dictatorial move to go after anyone that is linked to Trump, which is what Senator Rubio went on television and said, if you tell people in your social media world, people who are very popular, and very strong Trump supporters saying this is war, you get what you ask for.
And that is what we saw in Cincinnati. If you look at the words of this suspect, Ricky Shiffer, who was killed, if you look at what he said, he said this is a call to arms. I am making a call to arms. He went to the FBI office, he had an AR-15 style rifle. He had some sort of nail gun with him, not sure what he was going to be using that for. But he made the threat, police said he pointed the weapon at them, and he was killed. A man was killed for Trump's shenanigans. We should not forget that. It was of his own doing, but he took up arms because he thought he was the hero in his own story, and that he was protecting something.
BERMAN: A very serious part of this story and the developments this week and both the attorney general and the FBI Director Christopher Wray have come out now very strongly saying they stand up for the FBI and they condemn these calls for this violent type rhetoric out there.
Daniel, I want to leave us all with where we are in understanding what happened and why based on all the reporting we have seen. "The Washington Post" saying the FBI was seeking classified documents relating to nuclear weapons. It might mean they just wanted them out of there, all right. So where does this go from here? We don't know. But if this is what it is, one explanation is they just wanted documents out of there, it might not necessarily lead to an indictment, even though we might learn today there was probable cause that the former president violated a couple laws.
GOLDMAN: That's right. First of all, even if they object to the unsealing order, that doesn't mean that it is not coming out. Now it goes before the judge, and the judge has to make a decision, and there are strong arguments to be made for unsealing this. So I would expect it to win, which is also -- I would expect the DOJ to win, which is also part of Trump's calculus.
I think that you're right, if we are talking about nuclear program documents, that is sufficiently serious to just get them back. Even if you don't think that Donald Trump is doing anything nefarious with them. There is, of course, the possibility that the reason that he didn't turn them over when he was subpoenaed for them -- and let's be clear, you can just turn them over voluntarily, you don't have to wait for a subpoena.
So there are three steps here. And if he didn't turn them over, the question, of course, is why? This is seven months after he was aware that he had to turn everything over. And so it may not be nefarious as you point out because it is so serious that they have to get them back for the national security, but it also may be nefarious in what is he doing with those documents?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Such important questions. Thank you for the conversation this morning. We appreciate it.
And we have more on these overnight developments ahead. CNN anchor Chris Wallace is going to join the conversation for CNN's special live coverage.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, more migrants expected to arrive in New York City as Texas Governor Greg Abbott buses them across the country. New York City Mayor Eric Adams joins us ahead on NEW DAY.
KEILAR: Former President Trump says he will not oppose the Justice Department's request to the court to unseal this search warrant and the property receipt from the search on Mar-a-Lago.
Joining us now to discuss this is CNN anchor and the host of "WHO'S TALKING TO CHRIS WALLACE?", none other than Chris Wallace.
Chris, it is great to have you this morning. And I'm just curious if you think Trump's team, because he's saying that this is going to be released, but when it comes to Trump, you don't really know if some document is going to be released until it is actually released.
Do you think it will be?
CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST, WHO'S TALKING TO CHRIS WALLACE?: If I had to bet the farm, I would guess that it would be for a couple of reasons. One, if he opposes it, it looks like we all asked the question what's he got to hide? And while one of his lawyers earlier yesterday said, well, we're considering it, it was after midnight when he put out his statement on Truth Social in which he said not only will he not oppose it, but in fact he encourages the release.
And as was pointed out by Daniel Goldman in the previous segment, there is a good chance lose even if he opposes it because of the fact that, you know, he had a presumption of privacy and this is something that Merrick Garland, the attorney general mentioned yesterday, if you have a search warrant, and you have a document that indicates what was taken out, there is some privacy, but given the fact that Trump talked about the search himself on Monday and Tuesday, he may have given up, may have waived that. So, he could lose it.
Now, having said that, in his calculation, maybe he thinks it is better to oppose it, and then he gets ramrodded by the FBI and the judge. We have seen him do that before. There are a lot of weapons in the Donald Trump toolbox and we'll see what he decides to use.
BERMAN: There could be a lot more twists and turns between 8:20 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. when the deadline is. Chris, there have already been so many twist and turns this week and unprecedented actions. What questions do you have as we sit here this morning?
WALLACE: Well, you know, I guess the biggest one, I was listening with fascination to your panel just now, why on earth, particularly when it was clear that the FBI was concerned about this, and took out 15 boxes in January, if and we have to repeat if there are documents that rise to the level of nuclear top secret information, why would Donald Trump need it or want it?
It would seem to be so serious, so damaging that you have to ask yourself why, you know, it isn't as somebody pointed out the love letters from Kim Jong-un a couple of which I read and, you know, was the most flowering boiler plate you ever read in your life, but this is pretty serious stuff.
And one other point I would make, remember that in the group that came to Mar-a-Lago on Monday, and searched, one of the people there was a fellow named Jay Bratt who is the head of counterintelligence for the FBI. He's not talking about the U.S., he's worried about what our enemies are doing in Russia, China, North Korea, or whatever. You know, there has been no link that said he was the specifically looking for nuclear documents, but it certainly does raise the possibility is there something there about intelligence about other country's programs? And obviously that would be enormously serious because it would give an indication how much we knew about those programs.
KEILAR: I also wonder why? Why keep those documents there? And that aside, I also keep coming back, Chris, to what we know about Mar-a- Lago being this target for potential spies, for foreign nationals who appear to be up to no good, who have been arrested trying to seek access to this -- what is clearly, I think, considered a weak link when it comes to security around Donald Trump.
WALLACE: Yeah, it is -- no question about it, it is a soft target. I went there once, during the 2016 campaign, to talk to then candidate Donald Trump, and he took me around. It's a club. You know, there are people who pay dues to be members of the club and he takes you out on the patio and acts like a high priced maitre d' and introduces you to the guests and he likes having face time with then Donald Trump, now former President Trump.
I'm sure there are parts that are more secure than others, the Secret Service is there. We know that after the previous FBI searches, they put locks on the basement, but it is not Ft. Knox. It is not the Pentagon. It is not where you would want to store the most serious documents.
As you point out, there were cases of foreign nationals getting in and being charged with espionage.
BERMAN: And Shane Harris for "The Washington Post" team that reporter on this story noted there is no reason from any of the experts he talked to, none, that the documents should be there at Mar-a-Lago.
Chris, I wonder, I'm sure you reported on or know Merrick Garland for a long time, what has America learned about Merrick Garland this week?
WALLACE: Well, we learned he's cautious and I thought his statement yesterday -- first of all, he didn't come right out and talk. He talked when he felt he had to. Most importantly, I think, to protect his people working for him and the Justice Department and the FBI.
Of course, all of this came in the wake of that attack on the FBI office in Cincinnati where a guy walked in with a nail gun and also with a semi-automatic weapon. So, you know, we're talking about life or death here. And he wanted to defend that.
But I think he also very carefully couched why he took the action he did. He said, look, we don't want to take invasive action like this. We would have preferred to take lesser action and then we decided we had to. He also pointed out, and this is laying the predicate for this -- what could be a court fight today down in Florida, said the president waved his confidentiality when he came out and talked about it.
So in a sense, if the documents are released today, either with the president's approval or over his opposition, Donald Trump has in so many cases may have nobody to blame but himself. KEILAR: He sort of put out his new talking points, I think, if these
documents are to be released, which lays the ground work for this being planted evidence, asking, why wouldn't the FBI allow the inspection areas with our lawyers or others present? The idea being, oh, we didn't have eyeballs on what they were doing, what were they up to?
Do you think Republicans who have come out so vociferously and in some extreme language supporting Donald Trump talking about how this is the DOJ being weaponized against him, do you think they're going to take this leap?
WALLACE: Well, yeah. There is every indication that some of them will. Look at what happened yesterday where you have this person who goes to attack, if he had been able to get in, perhaps to kill, FBI agents, and, you know, the thing that was -- to quote Simon and Garfunkel, "The Sound of Silence", you heard precious little condemnation from people on the right.
I read one newsletter, I don't know if it is literally true, about how few top Republican office holders in Ohio, this took place in Cincinnati, how few of them condemned the action of Ricky Shiffer, the man killed by the FBI after the attack.
So do I think there are a number of Trump supporters who will continue to follow Donald Trump in whatever course he decides to take? Of course.
BREMAN: Attorney general -- former Attorney General Roberto Gonzales said where are the Republicans this morning, saying, you know, no violence, saying this is wrong, saying what happens in Cincinnati was wrong. He too was stunned by the silence there.
WALLACE: Well, I mean, again, we're talking about a party that has hit Democrats for not supporting -- backing the blue, for not supporting law enforcement. Here we have people doing their job.
And, you know, let's make it clear, again, this was not a raid. This was a very carefully vetted search. They went to a judge, they got a search warrant, they went in, they apparently had notified the Secret Service at least an hour ahead of time. They specifically reportedly were concerned to do it when the former president was not on the premises, and went in and did it.
They did it by the book, you can argue as to whether they should have done it at all, they did it by the book and the idea that this is being seen as some huge -- and the word is literally been used, Gestapo tactic by the FBI is just so out of touch with the reality of what happened.
KEILAR: Yeah. And they're playing with fire when they're talking about this. We see that happening yesterday.
Chris, always great to have you. Thank you so much for being with us.
WALLACE: Always my pleasure. Thank you, guys. KEILAR: Reported cases of monkeypox topping 10,000 across the U.S. as
the CDC raises concerns about polio spreading in New York.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams is going to join us live next.
BERMAN: This morning, officials say the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia power plant risks violating radiation standards. We'll talk about those concerns.