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New Day

The Evolving Defenses, Explanations from Trump and His Allies; Iran Blames Salman Rushdie and Supporters for Stabbing Attack; House GOP to Issue Scathing Report on Afghanistan Withdrawal. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 06:00   ET



KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: But despite all of that, the FBI still recovered 11 sets marked as classified documents when they did the search last Monday.

That included documents, John, that were marked at every level of classification in the system, including the most sensitive types of documents that are not to be kept anywhere but in special secured rooms called SCIFs. So those seized boxes are now evidence in an ongoing criminal probe plus the Justice Department is going to look closely likely at all of the interactions that investigators had with Trump's team over the past several months, and that's going to be all factoring in as they decide whether anyone should be charged with a crime.

No one has been charged at this time. But there are still a lot of questions about exactly what these documents pertain to. Two House committees have asked for a classified briefing as well as a damage assessment from the intelligence community, and Trump for his part, he is indicating that his team could try to challenge the search claiming different types of privileges, like executive privilege.

He wrote on social media over the weekend, "I respectfully request that these documents be immediately returned to the location from which they were taken."

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Is there any formal demand that he has made? Katelyn, can you hear me?

POLANTZ: I'm sorry, I can't hear you.

KEILAR: Can you hear me now? All right. We're having a hard time with Katelyn's signal there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's move on.

KEILAR: So Donald Trump and his allies coming up with these creative and evolving defenses, many of which we've gone over there, and many of them are not rooted in fact. The Heritage Foundation argues a president can declassify sensitive documents in his or her own mind. A former White House adviser says the documents shouldn't have been classified in the first place.


PETER NAVARRO, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: The reason why you declassify stuff you don't need to classify is the American public need to know. It will keep us out of wars and it will keep our jobs here if you do that.


KEILAR: A Trump ally also suggested that Trump was simply taking his work home with him.


JOHN SOLOMON, JOURNALIST: This is from President Trump's office. It just came in a few minutes ago. As we can all relate to everyone -- as we can all relate to, everyone ends up having to bring home their work from time to time. American presidents are no different.


KEILAR: Then of course the unfounded and baseless suggestion the FBI had planted evidence.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: They didn't allow anybody on the Trump side into Mar-a-Lago, so we have no idea whether or not they planted evidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's exactly right.


BERMAN: No evidence of that whatsoever. There were also claims about the deep state or worse, there were claims to the effect that everyone did it including former President Obama which the National Archives refuted. And then of course there were comments about Hillary Clinton.

Over the last 24 hours some Republicans evoked a kind of Richard Nixon defense.


WILL CAIN, CO-HOST, FOX NEWS: Famously President Nixon said if the president does it then it is not illegal. Is that -- is that not truly the standard when it comes to classified documents?


BERMAN: Others including Republican Chris Stewart of Utah have said that there isn't just enough information yet to rid conservatives of their skepticism of the Justice Department.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): Look at the premise of most of your questions. Was it nuclear? Was it -- heck, maybe it was aliens. That's the point. We don't know. We're asking them to tell us. And until they tell us, then we're going to have questions like this and the presumption is going to be that it is political.


BERMAN: But, look, what we do know is there was an executed search warrant signed off on by a judge and according to reporting this morning there was a Trump lawyer that said there were no more classified papers at Mar-a-Lago, but based on the newly released documents from their search it seems there very likely were.

Joining us this morning CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson, CNN legal analyst and former New York City prosecutor Paul Callan, and CNN national security analyst and former CIA chief of Russia Operations, Steve Hall.

Joey, I just want to start with that letter from a Trump lawyer, a signed document, you know, in the spring or early summer that said no more classified documents there. It seems that there were classified documents in these boxes taken from Mar-a-Lago. So who's on the hook for that? What kind of jeopardy does that put them in?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You want the prosecution version or the defense version?


JACKSON: Look, here's the bottom line, as lawyers -- good morning, John, Brianna. As lawyers we are officers of the court, that means that we have an independent obligation to exercise what we call due diligence. Due diligence means before you make statements to a court or to a governmental entity or body you had better have vetted those statements, you had better checked the propriety of what you're saying and you had better be accurate with respect to your assessment in saying them.

If that didn't happen, it's problematic. It's problematic lawfully, it's problematic in terms of our obligation to the bar. And so to that extent, there is a heightened responsibility. In the event that this wasn't true we have to learn why. Was it an intentional, right, act to misrepresent, mislead?


Was it simply negligent? Was it unknowing? Were you just careless with respect to that? So all of those things are going to have to be assessed with respect to making a determination as to whether that statement could lend that lawyer into significant trouble legally and administratively.

KEILAR: And this argument that the president just declassified or there was a standing order to declassify everything as he took it to Mar-a-Lago, which may also not pass the sniff test, does not get anyone out of trouble for that letter.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it shouldn't, but I have to say that the president as chief executive is totally in charge of the ultimate decision as to whether something is classified or declassified. There is an elaborate process, however, you're supposed to follow. You're supposed to submit the document to the agency that had relevance jurisdiction over it, they're supposed to give the president an opinion about whether it should be classified or not or declassified, and then a written document is supposed to be issued declassifying the document.

Trump's defense seems to be, I don't know, he stood over the boxes and said, I deem you all declassified, and move them to Mar-a-Lago. Now, I'm not buying that as a legitimate defense and nor, frankly, am I buying the idea that because his lawyers said something that that would -- he's going to come in now and blame his lawyers because blame somebody else has always been his defense in these cases.

KEILAR: There are some documents he can't just simply say I declassify. There are safeguards against certain kinds of documents that it is not just the president's discretion. I mean, we don't know. That's the thing, though, Paul, we don't --

CALLAN: It's never been litigated, it's never gone up to the Supreme Court. We don't know how the courts will resolve this ultimately. I mean, clearly on the surface it appears that he violated any number of laws, but it's going to wind up in the Supreme Court.

BERMAN: Let me just read what Ambassador John Bolton who served as National Security adviser for 17 months, said about this claim there was a standing order to declassify. He said, I was never briefed on any such order, procedure or policy when I came in. If Trump were to say something like that, he would have to memorialize that so people would know it existed. He says, Bolton, it was almost certainly a lie.

So, Steve, the substance of all of this, though, just go back to the idea that there may have been information at Mar-a-Lago that should not have been at Mar-a-Lago. There was one box carried out that was labeled TS/SCI, top secret, sensitive compartmented information, which means what?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's one of the highest levels of classification that we have in the intelligence community, John. But, you know, my job is a little bit easier than Joey or Paul's here because it's a counterintelligence question. We know two things for sure, one is as you just alluded to there was some very, very sensitive stuff that was improperly stored at a hotel. A nice hotel, but nevertheless a hotel.

That's not the way you deal with classified information. There are SCIFs, these are especially designed locations where that type of information can be stored and discussed. What's the second thing that I know as a counter intelligent person? The second thing I know is that Mar-a-Lago has been the target of adversarial intelligence services in the past. We've seen Chinese nationals show up trying to get inside of Mar-a-Lago with recording devices, with media that they can record massive information about.

So there is no doubt in my mind that foreign intelligence services, adversarial ones, have recognized this as a weakness in our system and have decided yes, let's go in there and see if we can do something with this information.

KEILAR: And Mar-a-Lago had a SCIF, at least we know that, while the president -- the former president was president. I wonder, Steve, do any of the excuses that you're hearing, and they're evolving to be clear, there is a shiftiness to them, do any of them pass the smell test to you?

HALL: Again not from a counterintelligence perspective they don't because one of the things that I've been trying to figure out since this story first broke, Brianna, was where is the innocent explanation for this? There is no good one. At the very best, the best case scenario, perhaps the most naive scenario, is that it's simply incompetence. We've got, you know, visions of Donald Trump or his aides just throwing stuff in the boxes and then shipping them off to God knows where, unsecured locations.

That's bad. That there are even worse scenarios in terms of what did the president or his folks plan to do with this information? I just don't know.

BERMAN: Again, you look at the roster, the FBI, you could envision the scenario where there was stuff at Mar-a-Lago they did not think was safe at Mar-a-Lago and asking nicely wasn't effective in getting it back because according to them or according to the reporting they tried.

I do want to ask about this thing that we're hearing now from Trump, Joey, saying, oh, attorney-client privilege, executive privilege, which doesn't necessarily exclude the possibility of there being documents there that break the law. I assume they have a team there, I assume they have a deconfliction process going on right now to see if there are some documents that should not be in investigators' hands.

JACKSON: Yes, I think that'd be accurate but obviously when you have this discussion, right, it has to be around the issue not only of law but of politics.


You saw the montage that you showed with regard to the evolving explanations in terms of, you know, this information, what the president was doing. That's all for the base. That's all for the people. That's all in a measure of confusion. The bottom line here is that we're talking about significant national security interest, right. Steve's, you know, type of line of work, not mine. But the reality is that there are laws to protect that. In the event that you are responsible for the national security, in the event that you have sensitive information, you have an obligation under the law to ensure that it is properly secured and safeguarded and in essence not taken at all. And so I don't buy the issue of privilege, I buy the fact that there

are regulations to be applied. If you didn't apply the regulations I want to know why. The world wants to know why.

KEILAR: Executive privilege means that the executive branch should have control over that, the current executive branch.

CALLAN: Absolutely. And the other thing you have to remember here is that under the Presidential Records Act which Trump signed, by the way, to make a more severe penalty provision because he was out to get Hillary Clinton, no doubt, because she was being criticized back at that time, that act says that upon conclusion of the president's term all documents relating to his presidency have to be turned over to the archivist of the United States.

Now, that wasn't done in this case. This stuff was thrown into boxes and moved to Mar-a-Lago for some strange reason which will be discovered in the future. So he is in clear violation of the Presidential Records Act. And then of course we get into this confidential SCI, very highly classified information, sitting in a box at Mar-a-Lago. What is that all about? It's not about executive privilege.

BERMAN: Joey, a little bit later in the show we're going to play a terrific interview Brianna had with Congressman Mike Turner, Republican of Ohio, who's on the Intelligence Committee.

JACKSON: I've heard it yesterday.

BERMAN: Who says let us into a room, let members of Congress into a room so we can see these documents. Then you also have people say, well, release the affidavit that the judge saw when approving the search warrant.

In an investigation, what would be the arguments for or against? If it did not involve the former president, if there were not politics here why would or wouldn't you want these other people looking at this stuff now?

JACKSON: So what happens, John, and it's very important to know that this is distinguishable from anything we've spoken about before. And as a result of that I think and transparency is important. You talk about a normal investigation, under normal circumstances trials and anything else should be had in court. We're not at trial. I get it. But when you're doing an investigation or anything else in order to protect the integrity of that investigation it's not on public display or it shouldn't be. Us defense lawyers don't like that. Let's hammer it out in court.

But here you have such irresponsible language being used, right, on a side we have certain threats, we have people, you know, potential acts of violence, so you want to be forthcoming, you want to be clear. So the issue is, right, open it up. Allow there to be a vetting and an evaluation and a view so that the public knows this is not about politics, it's about national security. And if that message can get out there I think we're all served in a better way. KEILAR: If these documents are declassified as the president and his

allies would lead us to believe then they could be released, right? If there was some -- even if it was a standing order that when these documents would go to Mar-a-Lago they would become declassified there would still be a process to go through that would then say to others in the community these are declassified.

The fact that we don't have that raises a lot of questions about whether they actually are and if we can easily access them as the public.

HALL: There's still so much we don't know in this developing story and I thought the same thing that you were just talking about, Brianna, a couple days ago where you think, OK, so transparency is always good except in intelligence work where we're trying to protect sources and methods. You will always hear people say, well, the American people need to know what exactly is in these documents.

And the answer is, now that's why we have elected representatives with the appropriate security clearances to take a look at this kind of thing. We don't know exactly what's in those documents. In my view, God forbid that they'd be publicized until we know and until a damage assessment or potential damage assessment is done which my understanding is DNI hands has been tasked to do that. And that's why because before anybody knows more about this stuff we've got to know what the potential counterintelligence implications could be if they are made public.

CALLAN: You know, there is another interesting issue here that you raised, Brianna, and that is could President Biden reclassified the information if Trump is maintaining that it was declassified? He could counter this claim of declassification by verbal statement, which is kind of a ridiculous claim but we'll see.

KEILAR: Now we're into magical thinking land.


JACKSON: But that -- just to be clear, what that would do is it would make it classified now, but you cannot relate it back to that time.

CALLAN: That's right. But at least it would protect the national security while we litigate this stuff.

BERMAN: All right, Joey, Paul, Steve, thank you all very much.


So we are on the eve of another round of major primaries. A lot of people watching Wyoming where Liz Cheney is facing an uphill battle to hold on to her seat.

Plus, Iran is now blaming the stabbing of author Salman Rushdie on Rushdie himself and his supporters.

KEILAR: And House Republicans set to release a scathing report on the botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.


KEILAR: This morning a manhunt is underway for the suspect in a deadly shooting at a youth football game in Lancaster, Texas. Police have issued an arrest warrant for Yaqub Talib, who is the brother of former NFL cornerback Aqib Talib. Witnesses say an argument broke out between coaches and referees when Talib pulled out a gun and opened fire hitting another man with gunfire.


The victim's friends and family have identified him as Coach Mike Hickman. He was taken to the hospital where he later died. His 9-year- old son plays for his team and witnessed the shooting.

BERMAN: New this morning, author Salman Rushdie continues a difficult recovery after being stabbed many times during a speech. Iran is now blaming the attack last Friday on Rushdie himself.


NASSER KANAANI, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): Regarding the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not consider anyone other than himself and his supporters worthy of blame and even condemnation.


BERMAN: The agent representing Rushdie told CNN the author is on a path to recovery. He has been taken off a ventilator and is able to speak again.

Polo Sandoval live in Erie, Pennsylvania, where Rushdie is receiving treatment. What's the status this morning -- Polo.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, after suffering from his family has described as life-changing injuries that celebrated author he is slowly on that path to recovery, albeit a very long and difficult one.

It was on Friday when the 75-year-old author was taken to the stage in Chautauqua, New York, to participate in a lecture, a Q&A event that was supposed to touch on the topic of providing sanctuary to writers in exile and that is when police say a man identified as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey, rushed the stage, stabbing Rushdie well over half a dozen times. He was rushed to Erie, Pennsylvania, where he continues to recover.

Now New York state police they are moving forward with this investigation trying to piece it all together, trying to determine whether or not that decades old death decree that was issued by Iranian officials in light of that writer's work could potentially have been involved or factor here. Meanwhile, as you mentioned Iranian officials they continue to deny and placing the blame not only on the writer but his supporters as well as Western officials, John, they continue to strongly condemn the attack calling it an attack on freedom of expression.

John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Polo Sandoval in Erie. Polo, please keep us posted.

So it has been one year since the fall of Kabul and poverty and despair on the rise under Taliban rule.

KEILAR: Plus a new U.S. intelligence report on al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal.



KEILAR: One year ago today Kabul fell, spurring the massive and chaotic evacuation of Americans and U.S. legal residents that drew bipartisan criticism. And one year since the Taliban entered the capital unopposed and took control.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with this breaking news out of Afghanistan this morning. We are witnessing history here. Taliban fighters have reached the gates of the capital city of Kabul.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Things are changing very, very rapidly. All of this happening at a stunning pace that I don't think anyone could have imagined.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Eerie quiet as the U.S. embassy there is close for business. It has now been evacuated.

WARD: President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country. He has left. He is no longer the president of Afghanistan. That obviously leaves a pretty huge vacuum that one can only assume the Taliban is going to fill.

WHITFIELD: Now look at these new images we're getting in from Al Jazeera, and this is the images of the Taliban in the presidential palace.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Scenes of complete chaos as people clamor to be evacuated. America's longest war has ended in humiliating collapse.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Their primary mission, to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport, the international gateway into and critically out of Afghanistan at this point. If that were to fall into the hands of the Taliban, that would very much be a worst- case scenario.


KEILAR: Since taking control of Afghanistan the Taliban has issued dozens of bans and decrees limiting the freedom of women and the U.N. says Afghanistan has been suffering through a grave humanitarian crisis since that time with 95 percent of Afghans now going hungry. BERMAN: This morning House Republican lawmakers are set to release a

scathing report criticizing the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan. The report titled "A Strategic Failure" reveals new details about what they call a series of errors in the evacuation.

CNN's Kylie Atwood and Natasha Bertrand join us now with the latest on this.

Kylie, first to you. You have details about this new report. What have you learned?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so this new report shines a light on what they call a complete lack of proper planning by the Biden administration in preparation for this Afghanistan withdrawal. One of those examples that they cite is according to their investigation at one point there was a total of 36 State Department officials on the ground at that airport trying to evacuate those Afghans, to process all of their information at the height of the withdrawal.

So that is about one of those State Department officials for every 3,400 evacuees. They also point out the fact that because of that there were only about 50 percent of those planes taking off at capacity, leaving the airport five days into this withdrawal. Essentially making the argument that there just wasn't enough planning that was going into this and that resulted in this very chaotic withdrawal that we saw.

The other thing that this report shines a light on is what they say was the Biden administration misleading the public about what was actually happening. What they do is they juxtapose what State Department-Biden administration officials were saying about this withdrawal, calling it effective, calling it efficient, while they compare what the reports were saying from the ground.