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Trump Under Intense Scrutiny over Classified Documents; Some Republicans Criticize FBI Executing Search Warrant at Former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago Residence; Reporting Indicates Lawyer for President Trump Previously Signed Document Stating No Classified Materials Remained at Mar-a-Lago. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired August 15, 2022 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is a separate issue from the laws that the FBI suggested might have been broken. CNN's Kristen Holmes this morning with what we know at this point about the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seven days ago, the FBI executing a search warrant at former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida, an unprecedented acceleration in the monthslong investigation into the handling of presidential documents, including classified ones, setting off a firestorm of Republican backlash.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): This is what happens in places like Nicaragua.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This should scare the living daylights out of American citizens.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): How do we know that they're going to be honest?
REP. ELISE STEFANIK, (R-NY) REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE CHAIR: The FBI raid of President Trump is a complete abuse and overreach of its authority.
HOLMES: After days of silence, on Thursday --
MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant in this matter.
HOLMES: Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting a magistrate judge to unseal the search warrant and a list of items taken.
GARLAND: The department filed the motion to make public the warrant and receipt in the light of the former president's public confirmation of the search, the surrounding circumstances, and the substantial public interest in this matter.
HOLMES: On Friday, some details of those documents were revealed. FBI agents removed more than 20 boxes of materials as well as binders of photos and at least one handwritten note. According to the property receipt, seizing one set of, quote, "top secret CSI documents," four sets of, quote, "top secret documents," three sets of, quote, "secret documents," and three sets of confidential documents. But neither the released warrant nor property receipt detailed the contents of those classified documents. However, sources familiar with the investigation told "The Washington Post" that documents about nuclear weapons were among the items sought.
The search warrant did identify three federal crimes the Justice Department is looking at as part of the investigation, violations of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice, and criminal handling of government records. It's the latest step in an investigation dating back more than a year. After months of back and forth with the former president's team, in January the National Archives and Records Administration, known as NARA, retrieved 15 boxes of materials from Mar-a-Lago, releasing a statement saying some of the records it received were, quote, torn up by former President Trump, and according to a source familiar with what the archives discovered in the boxes, some of the materials were, quote, special access programs, allowing very limited access.
In February, news outlets reported the NARA had asked for the Justice Department to investigate. And on April 7th, NARA first announced that the DOJ was involved. Fast forward to June 3rd. Four investigators, including a top Justice Department counterintelligence official, visited Mar-a-Lago seeking more information about classified material, serving a grand jury subpoena for some of the sensitive national security documents on the premises. At least one Trump lawyer signed a written statement after that search declaring all material marked as classified and held in boxes in a storage area had been returned.
Five days later on the 8th, investigators asked Trump's attorneys to further secure the basement room where documents were being stored. Trump aides added a padlock. And on June 22nd, federal investigators served a subpoena to the Trump Organization, demanding surveillance video from Mar-a-Lago, part of an effort to gain information to who had access to the areas at the club where government documents were stored. The former president's team turned over the footage.
Then last month's search. And now demands for DOJ transparency about what was found.
REP. MIKE TURNER, (R) RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We have this list from the FBI, but we don't have conclusive as to whether or not this actually is classified material and whether or not it rises to the level of the highest classified material. On a bipartisan basis, Congress is saying, show us the goods.
HOLMES: Kristen Holmes, CNN, Washington.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now, CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins and CNN political analyst and senior political correspondent for "The New York Times," Maggie Haberman. It's worth noting, Kaitlan, that someone on the Trump legal team had signed a document attesting that all of these classified documents had been turned back in, and they hadn't.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is something that was first reported by Maggie. And I think the revelation that a lawyer for Trump signed this document saying there is nothing else here when, of course, as we know by the search warrant, there was much more stuff there, goes to speak to the level of what they were telling investigators at the time and the way they viewed that June 3rd meeting, which is they thought it was more casual, friendlier than they believed. Trump stopped by and met with the investigators who were there at Mar-a-Lago, meeting with his attorneys, and then his attorneys showed them where the documents were being kept. So they knew there were still documents at Mar-a-Lago. They went through them, they took some of them with them.
And so this raises the questions of why his attorney signed this letter saying there was nothing else there. And it also feeds into the argument that they're making now, which is that he had declassified all of that information anyway, which is what his team is now saying.
BERMAN: Let's stick with the letter for one second, Maggie, which is again, was something that you broke over the weekend. Tell us more about what you know about this, who roughly signed it, why, and where it fits in this timeline.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There were two attorneys at that meeting. One was Evan Corcoran, one was Christina Bobb. At least one of them signed a paper suggesting that there was no more -- asserting that there was no more top secret material. I believe it may have just been top secret. Top secret, SCI, everything else that gets added on top of it is going to count. There was no more there.
What's not clear to me is whether the Trump folks are going to try to say in the boxes. And the boxes are what they were looking at in the storage aera. And therefore, it raises questions about where else on the property documents were found. Why they did that, I'm not sure. This meeting was in response, we should note, to a subpoena that they filed in May. So yes, the Trump folks have repeatedly said, we were in conversations, this was casual. And there are conversations after subpoenas. It's not always that a subpoena gets executed and that it's hostile. However, I think from the Justice Department perspective, this was a little more adversarial than I think the Trump folks are making it.
I'm still not clear on something that you raised, though, and there are so many questions we don't have answers to. I think it's so important to say that to folks. One of them is they clearly knew there were other Presidential Records Act material that they were leaving behind on June 3rd. So the counterintelligence officials took stuff they were concerned about. Why did that all get left behind?
And what happens between the June 3rd meeting, we know that they subpoenaed and looked at some surveillance footage and saw something that concerned them. We're not sure exactly when that period was that concerned them, but at some point between June 3rd and last Monday is when something happened that provoked this search warrant.
COLLINS: Which is interesting, because we also, when we were reporting on this last Monday as it was happening, we were hearing from Trump's attorneys and people who had been speaking with him that they couldn't have thought this investigation was over, that it had died, it wasn't really going anywhere. After they had met with those investigators, of course, we later learned there was a subpoena. So this argument that you're hearing from the president's allies about, well, why didn't they just ask for these documents? They had been asking for this. They had a subpoena asking for them, and they still weren't getting everything. So that's another unanswered question is why there was still so much stuff there that they were unwilling to turn over.
KEILAR: And people in the community believe all those intermediate steps that were taken was actually special treatment for Donald Trump, that someone else would not have been given be that courtesy. But you also report, Maggie, that advisers had urged him to hand these documents over. So some people in his orbit knew those were there even as the lawyer or lawyers were attesting that they were not.
HABERMAN: So, again, just on a what we're not clear on, we know that people were urging him to return this stuff, to be clear, for a year. But then in January, when the national archives comes and gets roughly 15 -- not roughly -- 15 boxes of material, at some point they discover there is still material there. And that is when this conversation about you've got to give the rest back starts happening.
Whether his lawyers -- just to be clear to what we don't know. It's not clear to me whether the people who were asserting that things were given back knew that there was still stuff that remained. And we don't know. Remember, they also searched his office and his residence. I don't know where the other material was found. So is there a conceivable world, and this is absolutely a theory, that some material was moved from that storage area and put somewhere else? I think that's one of the unanswered questions.
BERMAN: That's interest. Since you're raising unanswered questions --
HABERMAN: Yes, that's actually basically all I'm doing.
BERMAN: This is your life right now is trying to answer these. What do you think the biggest questions are as we sit here one week later?
HABERMAN: The biggest question is why he had these. That is still unanswered. Why did he have them and why did he not want to give them back? And with Donald Trump, the range of answers is a range. It could be because he felt certain things were cool, like the trinkets he used to have at Trump Tower and he would show people. It's because he thought there was something advantageous to him having it, and that's also an option. And I don't know what that could be, and there's a lot of answers there. But then the other question is what the material is. What exactly the FBI was searching for, the nature of it. Our understanding, and I think this is your understanding, too, is that the government considered it sensitive. They considered it material they couldn't just leave lying around at the former president's unsecured club that has been a security concern for the federal government that he used to run for a very long time.
KEILAR: Kaitlan, what's telling is the defense from Donald Trump, from those close to him, from those supporting him, it just is completely changing over time. It's almost like watching those folks throw spaghetti against a wall in the hope that something would stick.
COLLINS: Which is not new, and we've seen that before when they have these differing explanations for what's happening.
I think two things are important to point out. One is that the Presidential Records Act went into law because of Richard Nixon. When he left office, he wanted to take his documents and potentially his recordings with that. Before that, presidents could really come and go and take what they wanted. There were no rules really legislating it.
After he left office, they created one because they didn't want him to take stuff and potentially destroy it. It was specific to him. And then they passed a law a few years later saying it applied to all presidents. It's any note you write, whether it's related to the nuclear codes or a doodle that you're writing while you're sitting in the Oval Office. All of that belongs not to the president, not private. It is public. It belongs to the American people. So that's why this applies to everyone.
The second thing is when it comes to Mar-a-Lago and the concerns about what was there and how it was secured. And we've seen these cases in the past where people have tried to breach Mar-a-Lago. People have gotten inside past security. That's why it raises so many concerns, because you never know who is around him. It is a private club but it is a little free-wheeling. Everyone is trying to get his attention. This was a concern for national security professionals when he was president.
BERMAN: And that's "The Wall Street Journal" reporting today, which I know Maggie and everyone has had a piece of this. "The Journal" report this morning, the big concern was just get this stuff out, get this stuff out of Mar-a-Lago. Whether there are criminal charges, it's related, but that's another thing that they will be doing. But they wanted to get that stuff out first. We're talking about the shifting justifications from Trump world for this.
Maggie, you happen to have a piece on this today as well, in which you spoke, or a quote, former ambassador John Bolton, who was national security adviser for 17 months. What did he have to tell you about this idea, this defense of a blanket universal declassification of documents by Trump? HABERMAN: Right. So Trump's office put out a statement last week --
at the end of last week saying he had a quote-unquote, standing order that documents that left the Oval Office to go to his residence become declassified the minute that happened. John Bolton, former national security adviser, told me he never heard of such an order, was not briefed on such an order when he came in, was not told about it when he was there, never heard of it afterwards, and he still had colleagues who he was talking with at the NSC.
And his point was, even if you accept their claim that he can just stand over a document and say, it's declassified, there still has to be a log of it. There has to be a record of it. There has to be some receipts, essentially, so that people know what's declassified and what's not. He also made another point, which is that if this stuff is all declassified, it's now subject to public records requests. And so all of us could go try to get it. And I'm not sure that that material actually falls into that group.
KEILAR: Trump is trying to open a line of communication with Merrick Garland? It's kind of foggy here. What's going on?
HABERMAN: So Donald Trump has a very long history of trying to sort of both negotiate with prosecutors who are looking into him, this has been going on for decades, and also to try to send some kind of a friendly word, quote-unquote, to people who are either writing about him or looking into him or whatever. And this appeared to fall in that category. He had an intermediary talk to somebody at the Justice Department and send a message, and the message was the country is -- I'm misquoting here, but essentially the country is on fire. And he knew this because he had been talking to people in his movement, and they're very upset and what could he do to take down the temperature? That can be read a lot of different ways. I think it was read a lot of different ways, but it is very in keeping with how he handles these kinds of situations.
COLLINS: One thing it makes me think of is before he was impeached the second time, he attempted to talk to House Speaker Pelosi about this, and essentially basically get her not to pursue impeachment, which of course, we know she did. He was actually in New York for a conference with world leaders when that happened. But he did try to reach out to her when he got wind of the idea she was preparing to start articles of impeachment.
BERMAN: And of course, he talked to James Comey multiple times.
HABERMAN: And he tried to talk to Mueller when Mueller was first appointed.
BERMAN: Again, I just want to, because I think this is really important, and this is the first time we've got to speak to you. This is the kicker in your piece. And just talk to us a little bit more about specifically what happened here, and again, how you're seeing it.
HABERMAN: Well, this is -- all we know is what we reported, which is that there was this conversation where an intermediary, somebody close to Trump, reached out to somebody at the Justice Department to send this message about Trump wanting to take the temperature down. You could hear this in one world as Donald Trump is trying to open some kind of line of communication. You could hear this in another world as Donald Trump reminding the Justice Department that he has a lot of fans out there who are pretty upset, some of whom, as we saw the other day, one of whom went to an FBI office and engaged in a standoff with them. So, I think that is how -- that last definition is how a lot of people heard it.
KEILAR: And he's well aware of how to take the temperature down. He has a lot of experience. And, perhaps, exhibit A is January 6th when he learned what it is to take the temperature down. All he has to do is speak out.
HABERMAN: Well, and he wouldn't. And that's been the whole point of the January 6th committee is he would not take the temperature down that day.
BERMAN: Has he done anything to take the temperature down? I'm sorry, since he offered to Merrick Garland?
HABERMAN: Not that I've seen. The next day he went around and said that the FBI planted evidence against on him.
COLLINS: Not only is he not doing -- taking it down, he's using this to fundraise. He is actually quite boosted by this. And part of that is because of how Republicans have responded in the wake of this and their criticisms of the Justice Department of Garland.
He is actually quite high on this right now and is enjoying the fact that he is getting so much support from Republicans out there because that is one of the things he cares the most about is people publicly defending him and that is what he is seeing a huge support of.
KEILAR: He likes it, and we've seen the danger of that before. We certainly have.
Kaitlan, Maggie, thank you so much.
BERMAN: Come back every day. You'll be back here tomorrow. Thank you. You didn't know that.
KEILAR: Next, CNN senior legal analyst, Elie Honig is going to break down the legal scrutiny that former President Trump is facing.
BERMAN: And threats against federal law enforcement on the rise following the search of Trump's Florida home. We're going to tell you about the new warnings from officials.
BERMAN: All right, let's dig into the receipts this morning. What exactly do we know from the documents we have now seen?
Here now, CNN's senior legal analyst and former Federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.
Elie, it is great to see you this morning.
Look, where are we? I mean, what do we know about where the FBI searched and what they found?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: John, this is a fascinating new document. It is only seven pages long, by the way, and as we discussed throughout last week, it certainly does not answer all of our questions, but it gives us some crucial insights into the Mar-a-Lago search.
HONIG: First whenever you do a search as a prosecutor, you have to tell the Judge where you're going to search. They did not in this case say we want to look at all of Mar-a-Lago.
They really focused on the offices, the 45 office, Donald Trump, 45th President, and the working areas that Donald Trump had access, FPOTUS there meaning former President of the United States.
Now they do not specify the safe that Donald Trump says was opened up, but it doesn't matter because this safe, as long as it is in one of these areas, that's fair play. There is nothing special, legally, about a safe, it is just a locked cabinet. You can't keep things from the FBI by putting it behind a lock.
Now, we also have a better sense of what items the FBI took out of Mar-a-Lago because we've now seen this receipt for property, which is just that.
There are about 33 items and sub-items laid out in general, a lot of them just say generically, "box." Box labeled this or that, box of documents.
Now, this is not the FBI trying to be opaque or trying to hide anything. They make this document on the spot. They haven't had a chance yet to go through it.
But the most important thing, I think, in this whole set of documents is that some of those box included classified TS-SCI documents. What does that mean? These are the levels of classification: Top Secret-SCI - Secure Compartmented Information. That is the highest level of classification. They found documents, marked that in Mar-a-Lago.
Keep that in mind when we hear about this new letter where the lawyers said, we do not know of any classified information.
Finally, John, we do know that a lawyer for Donald Trump, Christina Bobb was present at Mar-a-Lago and receive this document because she signed it 6:19 PM. So she was there for the search on the day of the search, and they gave her this receipt.
BERMAN: All right, what's not seen here? HONIG: Yes, well, the main thing we have not yet seen in the
documents is the affidavit and this is the big one. This is the document where DOJ lays out the narrative establishing probable cause approved by a Federal Magistrate Judge. Donald Trump does not have that, only prosecutors have it, and the Court has it under seal.
BERMAN: All right, you talked about the laws that were part of this document that DOJ said they had probable cause to think might have been broken.
HONIG: Yes, a couple of really important qualifications before we get into this. This is probable cause, that is a lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt, which you would need to charge and convict somebody.
The other thing, these crimes are not alleged as to any particular person. The DOJ has not alleged that Donald J. Trump committed these crimes just that these crimes were committed.
Now, here's the statute, 793, 2071, and 1519. What do those numbers mean?
Okay, Section 793. The thing that has drawn so much attention is that it is part of the Espionage Act. It is -- now, that's a big word. It makes people think of cinematic movie craft James Bond or Jason Bourne, take your pick. But this specific statute replies to the mishandling of Defense information.
Anyone who takes, transmits, or mishandles Defense information, knowing or believing it could harm national security. So, it's not cloak and dagger stuff, but it is really important for national security.
The second one is destruction or concealment of government documents -- Federal government documents -- this is the one that on the face of it says a person, if they're convicted, can be disqualified from holding office, but I put maybe in there because we don't know whether that's actually constitutional.
And finally obstruction, which means willfully getting rid of documents or tampering with documents with intent to keep them away from investigators.
Important to note, John, all three of these, none of them have anything to do with whether any of these documents were ever classified or declassified.
BERMAN: What's next?
HONIG: So what's next? Could be nothing, actually. Technically, we won't see any further action on this case on the legal docket unless and until DOJ brings criminal charges against any person. If they do that, then this affidavit, the big document will go to that person so they can challenge the search. But if not, John, we may not learn a whole lot through the formal legal channels. We will continue to learn things from our reporters. BERMAN: All right. Elie, I've got to let you go here.
But Congress, some Members of Congress calling to see some of these documents the DOJ -- have you ever heard of investigators showing their documents to politicians in the middle of the investigation?
HONIG: I've never heard of that, and as a prosecutor, I would have fought that till my last breath. It is disastrous for a criminal investigation to open it up to Congress.
BERMAN: Elie Honig, thank you very much for that.
The documents taken from former President Trump's home, they were marked -- or the boxes that were taken from there were marked at every level of classification. We're going to break down those levels of secrecy ahead.
KEILAR: And just how dangerous was it for Trump to have had those documents at Mar-a-Lago? Two former CIA officers are going to join us live.
This is CNN's special live coverage.
KEILAR: Agents retrieved 11 sets of classified documents from former President Trump's home in Palm Beach according to Court documents unsealed and released on Friday. Some of them were marked "Top Secret," one marked "SCI" among the highest level of classification, others were marked confidential.
So what is the difference here? Here to explain chief national security correspondent and co-anchor of "CNN Newsroom," Jim Sciutto.
Jim, walk us through this because we need a primer.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: For sure.
We're talking about four levels of classification here and they relate both to the substance of the information contained in there, but it also can relate to how that information was obtained.
So let's begin with the lowest level that's known as classified. This is defined as something that could damage or disclose an element of national security. Examples in this category might be particulars of a weapon system, the range of a missile say or the numbers of soldiers deployed on the battlefield.
Next level up, that is secret. Now damage for classified, this is categorized as something that could cause "serious damage" to national security if it were to be revealed. This includes things like contingency planning, also battlefield intelligence. Next step up from that, familiar to people, top secret. This is
defined as something that could reasonably cause exceptionally grave damage. So, a step up from where we were talking about at secret. Things in this category might be something related say to nuclear weapon systems plans and capabilities. Of course, relevant to the current conversation because some of the reporting is that the documents in Mar-a-Lago might have related to nuclear weapons as well.