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Trump's Shifting Explanations For Keeping Classified Docs; Lawmakers Call For Security Threat Assessment Over Docs; Republicans Pressure A.G. Garland Over Search Of Trump's Home; DeSantis Kicks Off MAGA Promoting Tour In Arizona. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: It seems this morning that the FBI believed that was false. And this might have contributed to the need for the search warrant last week.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Trump's response to the search warrant has evolved almost daily, sometimes hourly since last Monday. He now insists the ceased materials fall under attorney-client privilege and should be returned to him immediately. To be clear, whether or not some documents are protected has nothing to do with the fact that the FBI believes Trump might have broken the law.

BERMAN: Investigators are now pursuing the next steps of the criminal investigation into the handling of national security material. New reporting in the Wall Street Journal suggests the process could take months as agents try to figure out who might have had access to these documents.

Joining us now is Wall Street Journal Justice Department reporter Sadie Gurman, who has been pushing so much of this reporting forward, and saying the headline on your piece this morning, I think is very interesting, which is that quote, "Search of Mar-a-Lago Achieved DOJ Top Priority: Get the Documents," which is something people have been focusing on. What if the main goal of all of this was just to get that stuff out of Mar-a-Lago?

SADIE GURMAN, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I think that's a question that's on everybody's mind. And certainly, from where the Justice Department sits, this was -- you know, these are with -- these were top secret, classified documents, some of -- some of the nation's most, you know, privileged sort of secrets about national security and military matters.

And the Justice Department's top priority, in this case, was just getting those back. And it's sort of a an open question where the investigation heads now, but we know that investigators are just beginning to sort of look at the stacks of documents that they have, they have more than 20 boxes to go through. And so, this is going to be a process that takes quite some time.

KEILAR: And it would make sense that they were so worried, Sadie, because this is not really a secure facility, you've had a rest there have foreign nationals who were up to questionable activities.

GURMAN: Well, you know, it -- one of the main questions that the Justice Department is going to be trying to answer, at this point, is just who had access to those documents. And that's a central question to their investigation. And they're going to be looking at, you know, where the documents were stored, why they ended up at Mar-a-Lago and how, and what the actions of Trump and his lawyers were during this month-long process, during which the Justice Department was trying to get these documents back.

The search, as you know, was not the first step that the Justice Department took in order to try to get these important documents. So, it was a culmination of a remarkable period of several months in which there were negotiations. And so, the FBI is going to be digging into that right now. And that's sort of where we're at.

BERMAN: Yes, I mean, who has the documents now? And where? And what exactly is being done with them? And what do you think in terms of a length of time going forward?

GURMAN: So, Trump has said that, you know, these documents contained attorney-client privilege information. And he wants them back. The Justice Department, as it does, in many of these cases, has set up what is called a taint team, or a filter team. That's a group of separate investigators who are going to look through these documents and find out which, if any of them, are privileged before turning them over to the other investigators who are going to be dealing with the -- you know, the rest of the case.

So, that's what's happening to them now, that team has been set up, the documents were at the FBI field office in Miami shortly after the search. And so, this investigation is really just beginning, we got a little glimpse into it, but we think that there's a lot more there.

KEILAR: What does this mean for critics of Donald Trump's, who may have this expectation that something is going to come of this, you know, some repercussions, maybe even an indictment or something for the former president?

GURMAN: Well, we can't rule out the possibility that criminal charges might be filed in this case, but the warrant left out a very interesting detail. And that was the target of the investigation. It lists no target. It certainly doesn't say that Trump himself is under investigation that he that Justice Department might be looking at other people who handled the documents.

So, you know, at this point, it's really hard to say exactly where this goes. But in any such a high-profile case, the Justice Department is going to be very deliberate. They're going to take their time, they're going to make sure all of the details are in order and that they've crossed every t and dotted every i. So, you know, this is this is just a very, very sensitive case for the Justice Department, and they are going to take it bit by bit.

BERMAN: Sadie Gurman, you and your team are doing terrific reporting. So, thank you so much for your work. And thank you for joining us this morning.

GURMAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: In the meantime, the FBI is actually investigating an unprecedented number of threats against Bureau personnel and property in the wake of that search on Mar-a-Lago. And now, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have issued a joint statement.

And this is significant, their warning of their concerns, quote, "These threats are occurring primarily online and across multiple platforms including social media sites, web forums, video sharing platforms, and image boards, including a threat to place a so-called dirty bomb in front of FBI headquarters, and issuing general calls for civil war and armed rebellion.


Joining us now is former FBI agent and the Vice President of Law Enforcement and Analysis at the Anti-Defamation League, Greg Ehrie. Greg, put this into context. Have you ever seen anything like this before?

GREG EHRIE, VICE PRESIDENT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND ANALYSIS, ANTI- DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Brianna, in 22 years in federal law enforcement with the FBI, I have never seen this level of threat. Because there's always some kind of threatening material that's directed specifically at a particular agent or an AUSA that the bureau deals very strictly with. This is a call to arms for any FBI employees become a target at this point. I can't recall any time this -- in our history this has happened.

BERMAN: Never?

EHRIE: Never.

BERMAN: So then what do you do about it? Who needs to speak up to stop this?

EHRIE: This is easy, it's universally needs to be spoken up to politicians. And we've seen that the ADL and our center of extremists, our analysts, elected officials are going out and using words like go to war, destroy. Words matter. These people know that. There needs to be an unequivocal call to stop. This is not what we meant. Nobody is calling for violence. We can all protest in peaceful manners, you can be as angry as you want. But violence is always wrong. It's not a difficult decision to make.

KEILAR: What effect could the former president have, President Trump, if he were to denounce this and tamp this down?

EHRIE: I think it's called for. I said words count, silence speaks volumes. If somebody is coming out in these calls to arms are resonating in extremist communities, and they think they're being directed by someone or an entity or a group to go commit this violence. The former President Trump needs to come out and clearly state, this is not what I meant. This is not what I asked for. Violence is not the right answer.

BERMAN: Do you see any parallels between the rhetoric before January 6th and that event, and the rhetoric now?

EHRIE: I do. We have a country that's in a state of turmoil, we have people who are upset, we have extremist elements, who are again, thinking they're being called to do something. And we need to have that calming voice from both sides from both parties that no, that's not the way, we're Americans. We don't do it this way. And violence can happen. And if violence does happen, and there's an FBI employee who is injured or threatened or killed, God forbid, who's to blame for that?

KEILAR: Or Americans who are targeting them, right? As we saw in Cincinnati, and thank goodness, no agents, no employees were injured or killed in this. But you had a man who was targeting the FBI field office in Cincinnati who was killed in the process of that. What concerns does that raise to you going forward?

EHRIE: It just shows you that the level of this threat again, has reached unprecedented levels. Here's a man who heard a call, maybe with some mental health challenges, traveled to an FBI office armed, and was going to commit an active shooter incident in that building. He did manage to leave, and then he was engaged with law enforcement and lost his life. How many times is this going to have to happen?

BERMAN: I got to say, I'm still stirred by your comment that you've never seen anything like this before. And you've been in this business for a long time. I mean, how did we get to this point?

EHRIE: I don't know. I think it's a sign of the times, and what the country is going through in the divide we have that we need to heal. But when we call on this attack, or this call to attack our law enforcement, our guardians, people who defend us, how did we get here, and what does this make us as a country?

KEILAR: Greg, it's great to have you and your insights on this. Thank you so much.

EHRIE: Thank you.

KEILAR: He sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Next, my interview with Republican Congressman Mike Turner and his defense of former President Trump. Plus, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis campaigning for two Trump-backed candidates in the key swing State of Arizona.

BERMAN: And CNN's Clarissa Ward live in Kabul one year after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.



KEILAR: Republican lawmakers are coming to former President Trump's defense over last week's unprecedented search and seizure at his Florida home, while trying to put more pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to prove why the search was necessary in the first place. Here's part of the interview that I did with the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Turner.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): Attorney General Garland needs to provide these materials, we have bipartisan calls for do that. Put the materials in a room, let us see them, and then we can tell you what our answer is and what our, you know, discernment is, of whether or not this is a true national security threat, or whether or not this is an abuse of discretion by Attorney General Garland.

KEILAR: Do you take home documents marked, special access?



KEILAR: Joining us now, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, CNN political analyst Natasha Alford, and CNN political analyst John Avlon. We're hearing all of these excuses, Scott, coming from Republicans, and they're shifting, they're evolving. They don't stand up to simple questioning.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, some of these excuses are just patently ridiculous. And you know, we've seen this during the Trump years, you know, the shifting, you know, attempts to defend him at all costs. It's the dying on every hill syndrome, you know, the problem of dying on every hill is it -- you wind up dead? (LAUGHTER) And so, one of the things I learned during the Trump years is you can't defend everything. Although some things are worth a defense. I do think Representative Turner is right, though, in requesting congressional oversight of these documents.

We've seen bipartisan calls for this, the Senate Intelligence Committee leaders want to see the documents, and I don't see any reason why an investigation at DOJ, any congressional review can't happen simultaneously. We trust these intelligence committee members, they have clearance as well. And so, if it is -- if it was so important to get these documents right now, then I do think the Congress has oversight, a compelling reason to know is the national security the United States damaged at this time. John?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I'm certainly in favor of getting more information out there. I think the problem is the Congress has a credibility gap. Because too often, we've seen partisans in Congress abandon the principles that they would apply to the opposition party when it comes to their own party, particularly in the case of Donald Trump. So, I think that's the -- that's the challenge, and that's the self-inflicted problem that Congress has gotten itself into.


BERMAN: You know, what I don't know, and I legitimately do not know this, I'm asking this as an open question, is there any precedent for members of Congress to look at evidence in a criminal investigation while the criminal investigation is going on? I'm just not sure how functionally that would work?

NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm not sure either. It's the ultimate case of, show me your work, right, almost like a teacher who's like, I need to know how you got to this conclusion. And just sort of watching the criticisms of the right when it comes to investigations on the left, there's a -- there's a benefit of the doubt that they give to law enforcement, and this idea of law and order that they don't give to themselves when they're under scrutiny. So, all of a sudden, it's political. But if it's a Democrat in the hot seat, it's about law and order.

JENNINGS: It seems to me that there's like one thing here, one document that they were really concerned about, this idea, this vague idea that there were nuclear secrets. If that's true, separate and apart from a criminal investigation, I do think the Congress, the intelligence committee should know what was out in the open, did anyone access it? That is real -- and for that matter, the Director of National Intelligence ought to know that as well. So, I don't think a criminal investigation can stop our national policymakers from having that information in the event they need to take some kind of an action.

BERMAN: You are raising an interesting point. And we do understand that overhangs the DNI Director of National Intelligence is now trying to assess to an extent what intelligence might have been in there and the status of it. And there are Democrats who are calling to figure out if there was damage done by that intelligence being in the basement of a summer home.

JENNINGS: Yes, yes. I mean, and we ought to know. I will say on this criminal piece, the Department of Justice and Merrick Garland has put themselves out there now. They've got a job to do. They've told a federal judge, Donald Trump may have committed crimes, multiple crimes, they went to his house. A lot of Republicans feel like the threshold has been crossed here.

And that -- and that this -- you can't just, in several months, say never mind, because that -- I mean, we're 90 days before an election. This guy's going to run for president. To come back later in a few months and say, well, it wasn't -- it wasn't any big deal, is going to really seem weird to a lot of Republicans.

KEILAR: What do you think about that, Natasha, and I'm curious, Avlon, what you think about this, too, because Scott made this point on the weekend where he said, this has to end in one of two ways, and I'm sort of paraphrasing here, but either with Merrick Garland, or -- resigning, or Donald Trump being indicted, but then we see this Wall Street Journal reporting today, where it says, look, the goal was to get the documents out, and national security is just, get them out and secure it. (LAUGHTER) What -- do you think that's true, one or the other? I mean, does this totally compromised Merrick Garland if there isn't some indictment? ALFORD: It does feel like the ultimate escalation. Right? And I think that both sides are sort of calling each other's bluff to step up to the plate. I think it was Charlie Kirk, who said, there's no turning back. And you're right, from the perspective of those who support Donald Trump, this was basically war, right? And then now Merrick Garland is in this position where he really has to prove himself. What do you think?

AVLON: I respectfully couldn't disagree with you both more. Here's why. Look, you know, if indeed, the prosecution went forward here, most Republicans would say, how dare you prosecute an ex-president? The issue is, of course, twofold: one national security; two, enforcement of the laws. And the question is why, Donald Trump and his lawyers, would hand over certain documents, sign another document saying they'd handed over everything, but held on to these documents, including top secret information?

Now, if the goal is to protect national security, you want to get those things in -- back in secure place. Now, do you prosecute an ex- president for Presidential Records Act violations and other (INAUDIBLE)? Possibly. But probably only if it hits a really high threshold.

We're involving, you know, wanting to monetize the documents, share the documents in ways that are unsafe, otherwise, you get them off the field. And I don't know that that should be prosecuted. I'm on team enforce the law here. I think my problem with too many arguments I've heard in the last several days is it defaults to let's not enforce the law when it involves an ex-president.

JENNINGS: Well, first of all, they're not claiming he broke the Presidential Records Act because that's not even a criminal statute, its espionage act, obstruction. These are serious laws. And Republicans aren't the ones who went to a federal judge and say, Well, I mean, you can't break the law here.

AVLON: But are you arguing then that they -- that they should prosecute the ex-president?

JENNINGS: I'm arguing that the Department of Justice has put itself out there, and for -- whether you like it or not, they live in a legal world but they also live in the real political world. Half the country is worried that this was a massive overreach, and they are now on the hook for it.

AVLON: If he violated those laws, should he be prosecuted to your judgement?

JENNINGS: I think if he violated the law, and he put the national security of the United States at risk, and you're Merrick Garland and you've already told the judge you think he broke the law, if you're in his position, I don't know how you can't because otherwise it's going to seem like a political (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: I have a question professor. (LAUGHTER) What they're saying -- what they're saying, Counselor Jennings, a search warrant by definition, and I don't think any of us has gone to law school here, probable cause, probable cause that you broke the law. They're not saying a search warrant is not a conviction. A search warrant is not an indictment, a search warrant has to prove probable cause. So, they went to a judge with probable cause.


JENNINGS: But you -- but you don't think the political impact of what they've done is to convince the half the country that hates Donald Trump that he once, again, according to them is a criminal. That's -- that is the political reality. This man is going to run for president, you've now told half the country that doesn't want him again, that he's probably a criminal. There's a political impact of that.

BERMAN: Are you saying you want your attorney general to be, you know, keenly attuned to politics? Do you want your attorney general meddling in the world of politics?

JENNINGS: I think when you go into the ex-president and future candidate's home, you can't help but have already gotten involved in whether you like it or not.

KEILAR: Scott? All right, you guys, we're going to leave it there, because there is more of you to come. So, stay with us for the next block.


BERMAN: Oh, this was a good one. Hopefully, we can come back to this one. So, this morning, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is on tour Trumping -- stumping for Trump-backed candidates. He was in Arizona campaigning for U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters and gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake. CNN's Kyung Lah is in Scottsdale this morning with the latest on this. Good morning, Kyung.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. What we're really seeing is this unite and win philosophy. That's the mantle, the headline, if you will, that Governor DeSantis is making this national tour, especially battleground states like Arizona,. And this is just post -- some of these contentious primaries of which Arizona absolutely had it.

And so, we also got a chance to see how the Mar-a-Lago search is playing out in real time against the 2022 political landscape. We heard the fiery rhetoric from the Republican nominee for Arizona Governor Kari Lake. And she delved into the politics of grievance, but also from Governor DeSantis, who, without citing any of those critical facts or the reason for the investigation or delving into some of those critical information points, he called this patently unfair. Take a listen.


KEILAR: Do we have that sound, you guys?

LAH: What he basically said -- we don't have that sound, so sorry about that. But basically, what he and you know, the firebrand Kari Lake was saying, is that what they feel this is a true political persecution. And that's really delving into a lot of what your panel there was talking about, John, that in the political world against the 2022 backdrop, they believe that this will help, you know, fire up that Trump base and bring them to the polls. And is this going to be effective, John, when we went around talking to people, they said, absolutely, yes, John?

BERMAN: All right. Kyung Lah for us this morning in Arizona. Kyung, great to see you.

KEILAR: So, interesting to see these shifting political fortunes, which were on display last night as well. And I do just want to highlight a interesting, maybe provocative moment in this event last night, Kari Lake is saying this about Ron DeSantis.


KARI LAKE, GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE OF ARIZONA: I don't know if you heard of this, but he's got BDE. Anybody know what that means? Ask your kids about it later. I call it big DeSantis energy. Right? He's got the same kind of BDE that President Trump has.


KEILAR: Do not ask your kids. Don't ask your kids -- ask your kids about it later. OK. The point is, she's -- what is the point, Natasha?

ALFORD: I wish that stands for big Democratic energy, except that I know what she was referring to. So, what's interesting about this is that DeSantis, I feel, was practicing his talking points for a national stage. He lays out his case methodically, like a lawyer, this is what I've done to fight the culture wars, this is why the Biden presidency is a failure, and the soul of America is at stake. And he's already planning with Kari Lake how they're going to work together, you know, in terms of policy, immigration policy and protecting the border.

So, that theme of unite to win, that is the goal, get behind whoever Trump is really putting his energy towards, and hopefully, you know, he can get some benefit from that, but Donald Trump is still beating DeSantis by 10 points in a poll thanks to the boost from the Mar-a- Lago raid. So, it's quite the -- quite the task before him.

AVLON: Look, I mean, DeSantis is doing what people do if they're running for president, you go and you campaign for folks in the midterms because you want to increase your own stature and your own national reputation and getting a reputation as a rainmaker. DeSantis' obvious place is to say I'm Trumpism without Trump, you know, with a little bit more legal thinking, a little bit more law abiding, and that's -- and that's the gameplan here. I will say beyond Kari Lake, don't ask your kids with -- no, don't do that, as you point out. That's not surprising to see DeSantis do this and he's in the second tier.

[07:25:19] JENNINGS: It's like Lincoln's second inaugural. Like Kennedy and

Berlin, Reagan tear down this wall, and now Kari Lake's BDE address, the pantheon of great speeches. (LAUGHTER) Here's the deal.

KEILAR: Stop, stop.

BERMAN: Keep saying it. Keep saying it.

KEILAR: It brings up an important question, though.

BERMAN: I'm not sure it does.

KEILAR: It does, which is, do Trump and DeSantis really have the same energy?

JENNINGS: They have -- they have the same attitude, which is the most important thing in the Republican Party these days. That's not policy, it's disposition and attitude. And that's why you've seen DeSantis rising. By the way, this tour, we're focused on Arizona today, he's going to a number of states, the one that the Republicans are watching, because I think Arizona is really a nip, tuck state, it's New Mexico, there's a sleeper governor's race, DeSantis is going there as well.

And you can see the draw that he is and Ronchetti, the Republican out there in New Mexico, was not endorsed by Trump, is not a Trump style candidate. It's not really a MAGA tour for Ronchetti. But DeSantis will be a draw out west, and you can see the makings of a presidential campaign, I agree with you.

AVLON: I love the sleeper race analysis from you there. And we'll keep an eye on it. But look, two other quick things here, one, you know, DeSantis is running to represent some of that Trump energy, and you're right, attitude is the most important thing. But does he have the same energy as Donald Trump?

No, he's not got the same charisma as a core Donald Trump. So, that's a hurdle he's going to have to clear. I will also say before he starts trying to use the Save the Souls America line, you should probably check that that was used by the other guy with the current president and his presidential campaign.

JENNINGS: His energy, though, his attitude, he may not have the same stage presence. But I'll tell you what he does have is the governing presence, the things he's done in Florida to take on all the people that Republicans don't like, gives him in my opinion, the energy that Donald Trump gets from just his dispositions.

ALFORD: And he laid it out point by point from Disney to the state woke law. He literally has been planning this and that's what he presented.

BERMAN: Thank you, all.

KEILAR: Natasha.

ALFORD: This was BPE, big panel energy.

KEILAR: Big panel energy. I will say, I will leave you Scott, Natasha, and Avalon, do not ask your children what BDE -- whatever their answer is, you are going to regret that interaction. So, let's leave it at that. Thank you, guys. It's been one year today since the fall of Kabul. CNN's. Clarissa Ward is there live with how life has changed under Taliban rule.