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Biden Warns Against Political Violence, Threats to Elections; Trump Lawyers Argue Classified Docs Like 'Overdue Library Book'; Bombs Falling as Nuclear Inspectors Remain at Russian-Held Plant. Aired 6- 6:30a ET
Aired September 02, 2022 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: MAGA Republicans have made their choice. They embrace anger. They thrive on chaos. They live not in the light of truth, but in the shadow of lies. But together -- together we can choose a different path.
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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States says equality and democracy are under assault. By whom? In his mind, it is Donald Trump and his supporters.
I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. And President Biden took direct aim at what he calls MAGA extremism. Biden says it is threatening the soul of the nation and fanning the flames of political violence.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: With Philadelphia's Independence Hall as a backdrop and flanked by two Marines, he framed the critical midterm elections as a choice between democracy and extremism.
This morning, the White House is pushing back on criticism that the president's speech was political. Officials saying it was, quote, "entirely about democracy."
BERMAN: Let's go straight to the White House. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is there. How do they feel about how it went, Jeremy?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, President Biden's message last night was unmistakable. Democracy is under assault and President Trump and his allies are the ones assaulting it.
But last night's rare prime-time address wasn't just a warning about Donald Trump and Trumpism. It was also a very clear call to action, call to action for voters to act and make their voices heard in the midterm elections.
BIDEN: Equality and democracy are under assault. We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise. DIAMOND (voice-over): President Biden issuing an urgent call to
Americans and a warning just months before the crucial midterm elections.
BIDEN: Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.
DIAMOND (voice-over): In a primetime speech outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Biden delivered a searing indictment of his predecessor.
BIDEN: There's no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans. And that is a threat to this country.
DIAMOND (voice-over): White House officials insisted Biden's speech was not partisan, but the president made sure to emphasize what's at stake in November.
BIDEN: MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards. They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.
DIAMOND (voice-over): Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also spoke in Pennsylvania Thursday, preemptively countering Biden's calls to protect the soul of the nation.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): What Joe Biden doesn't understand is that the soul of America is in the tens of millions of hard-working people, of loving families, of law-abiding citizens whom he vilified for simply wanting a stronger, safer and more prosperous country.
DIAMOND (voice-over): Biden sought to make that very distinction in his speech.
BIDEN: Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology.
DIAMOND (voice-over): The president also warned against future political violence, and said election deniers threaten the essence of democracy.
BIDEN: Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: either they win or they were cheated. And that's where the MAGA Republicans are today.
They don't understand what every patriotic American knows. You can't love your country only when you win. It's fundamental.
I will not stand by and watch the most fundamental freedom in this country, the freedom to vote and have your vote counted, and be taken from you and the American people.
DIAMOND (voice-over): Even as he pledged to protect election integrity, Biden made no mention of eliminating the filibuster to pass election reform or possible executive action. Instead, Biden issued a rallying cry --
BIDEN: We are not powerless in the face of these threats.
DIAMOND (voice-over): -- urging Americans to reject anti-democratic forces and vote.
BIDEN: Speak up. Speak out. Get engaged. Vote. Vote. Vote.
DIAMOND (voice-over): And, John, White House officials are insisting that this was not a political speech, arguing that democracy is not a partisan or political issue.
But there's no question that the president was trying to frame his arguments and the choice that voters face in these midterm elections pitting this as an existential battle for the soul of the nation, for democracy.
But he also threw other issues under that very same banner, including talking, for example, about the right to choose -- John.
BERMAN: The messaging not subtle at all. Jeremy Diamond at the White House this morning, thank you.
KEILAR: Joining us now is former Trump White House official, Gavin Smith.
Gavin, obviously, you've spoken out against former President Trump. You listened to this speech last night. What did you think about Biden's speech?
GAVIN SMITH, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Well, good morning, Brianna, and thanks for having me again.
You know, I listened to the speech last night, and I think that the president had a few good points. You know first, he made a good case for the threats that continue to challenge our democracy today.
You know, you see the former president parading around the nation, cherry-picking candidates that will ultimately oversee, and ultimately, they're going to have to certify elections. That's a clear and present threat to our democracy today. And I think the president made a good case for that.
The president laid out that you can't love your country only when you win, and I think that's what we're seeing with the former president.
You know, secondly, the point that I'd like to make is I thought it was a little bit odd that the president used a rare 25-minute primetime address to talk about one thing, Donald Trump. You know, the president has been racking up legislative and policy wins, and I do tend to believe that he should have used some of that time to talk about those wins. KEILAR: He talked a little bit about them, as you know. He was talking
and he sort of went through the list, infrastructure, the Inflation Reduction Act. You know, if you --you've taken aim at Donald Trump, you think people should be alarmed by Donald Trump.
Why do you think Joe Biden shouldn't be focused on that so much, then?
SMITH: Well, look, I think right now, with inflation at 8.5 percent, you see food prices 5 percent and higher across the nation. Gas prices, while this White House likes to talk about gas prices are coming down, in the Trump administration, gas prices averaged around $2.50 a gallon.
So as it relates to why Joe Biden shouldn't be talking about Donald Trump, sure, you know, at the end of the day, he is a clear and present threat to our democracy. But the kitchen -- the things that average Americans are talking about at their kitchen table are essentially how they're going to pay for things, and I think that's what Donald -- excuse me, Joe Biden should be talking about.
KEILAR: So, then, who should be talking about -- I mean, you're talking about the threat to democracy. That's what we've had you on before to talk about. That's what you've raised your voice about and have encouraged other former Trump officials to do. Who should be raising their voice about that, if not the president?
KEILAR: Look, I think, ultimately, that comes down to the voters. You know, the -- the beauty of America is that America's elected officials, they're not dictators. They are elected by the people. I think that the very people that should be talking about that is the American people themselves.
Now, sure, I don't think that it's wrong for the president to go out and speak out against the clear and present threat that Donald Trump and far-right MAGA extremists present to the -- to American democracy.
But to use 25 minutes, you know, I think that that, you know, might not have been the right choice. Instead, I would have spent a little bit more time talking about the legislative and policy wins that he's gotten over the last several weeks.
KEILAR: You helped MAGA become what it is. You've talked about your regrets in doing that. Do you think that Biden got MAGA right, as he described it?
SMITH: Look, I think a recent poll that just came out several weeks ago from Morning Consult showed that 53 percent of Republicans don't want Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee in 2024.
So as it relates to MAGA, I think there's plenty of Republicans on the side of MAGA that don't necessarily want Donald Trump to be that nominee.
You have, you know, Republicans like Nikki Haley, who very much could bring MAGA policies, you know, fiscal policies, et cetera, but they don't come with the baggage and the harsh extreme rhetoric of Donald Trump.
So I think we need to take a step back and recognize, you know, are we the Republican Party, or are we the Trump-lican Party, because you know, at the end of the day, MAGA has sort of, you know, deviated from what it really means to be a Republican; and those two seem to be intersecting at this point.
KEILAR: Gavin, we appreciate your time this morning. Gavin Smith, thank you for being with us.
SMITH: Thank you.
BERMAN: So this morning a federal judge is considering publicly releasing a more detailed inventory of the items seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago. This after Trump's lawyers argued in court that the dispute over classified documents is akin to having an overdue library book.
CNN's Kara Scannell was inside the courtroom, is back from Florida and joins us here live this morning.
Good morning, Kara.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
Yes, yesterday's hearing the judge saying that she would unseal this detailed list of inventory. Neither Trump's attorneys or the Justice Department objected to that. But that was the only thing that they agreed on in court yesterday as they were sparring over whether a special master -- that's that third party -- should be put in place to review the materials that were taken from Mar-a-Lago.
Trump's lawyers saying that, you know, this is kind of all much ado about nothing. They're saying that these classified documents that Trump had in his private residence was really the same as having a fight over an overdue library book.
They also said that the request for a special master was modest.
But prosecutors said that Trump's team had not put forward any evidence that the former president's rights were violated. In fact, they said that the filter team they'd put in place -- That's a team separate from the FBI's investigative team -- has gone through looking for issues that could possibly have attorney/client privilege and said that they had determined that there was about 520 documents. But most of those documents, they argued, do not -- are not likely to fall under attorney/client privilege.
But Trump's team saying that the big issue here that they are still concerned about is this issue of executive privilege.
Now, prosecutors pushed back on that, saying that there is no authority for a special master to get involved in the issues of executive privilege, saying it would be unprecedented. The judge here saying that she was not entirely sure the case law was settled on whether a former president could assert executive privilege once he left office, repeatedly asking prosecutors, What's the harm in appointing a special master?
The prosecutors said they have a concern that a review conducted by intelligence agencies could be impaired by the appointment of a special master, judge signaling if she granted it, she would allow some kind of carveout for the intelligence agencies. She did not rule yesterday but said the ruling will come in due course -- John.
BERMAN: And we are waiting for that this morning. Kara Scannell, thank you so much for being there and thanks for your reporting this morning.
With me now is CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.
Andy, a more detailed inventory of the items taken from Mar-a-Lago. The list we got or that they provided was, you know, top-secret this, secret this.
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right.
BERMAN: So what does more detail mean?
MCCABE: That is the key question, John. So the devil here, again, is in the details.
How -- what are they going to add to what we already know? Will documents merely be indicated by number? How many documents? Out of which container? How many -- you know, how many things in each box?
Or are they going to actually have to describe what was in those documents, like "analytical report regarding Korean nuclear intentions," something like that.
So we really don't know. I haven't seen something quite like this before, so we're going to have to wait and see.
BERMAN: It's a big unknown. When that comes out, I think we'll be looking at it very, very closely.
MCCABE: Very closely.
BERMAN: OK, this judge says she is inclined to appoint a special master, hasn't made a final decision yet. But if that does happen, how does that impact -- you've been on investigations, overseeing investigations where there have been special master-like things.
BERMAN: How much does it get in the way of the process?
MCCABE: In the average investigation with a special master, which this is very clearly not. It's simply a minor delay in time. Right? The special master is typically called in to cull out material that
could be attorney/client privileged, and that's usually only when the FBI has searched a location that's something like an attorney's office.
In this case, it's all about scope. If she appoints a special master, you've got to really look at how she defines that person's authority. If he is limited to only looking at attorney/client privilege, then I think we're not looking at really anything more than a few weeks' delay.
If he's given or she is given the opportunity to look at matters of executive privilege, that opens the door to disputes that would have to be resolved through the legal process and potentially, you know, who knows, all the way to the Supreme Court.
BERMAN: As far as I know, a special master has never been involved in determining issues of executive privilege. It is novel legal territory.
The other way to look at this and my other question for you is, being someone who was involved in investigations, is the FBI -- investigators have already looked --
MCCABE: They have.
BERMAN: -- at a lot of these documents.
MCCABE: That's right.
BERMAN: So even if this judge pauses the DOJ's ability to access them, it's not like they can unsee what they've already seen. Won't they have other avenues they can pursue during this pause?
MCCABE: Absolutely, and you cannot unring that bell. Right? They already know facts, identities of people, potentially other avenues of investigation that they would pursue with interviews, with other subpoenas for different sorts of records.
So it's almost impossible to imagine the judge in joining all investigative activity, essentially telling them you can do nothing until this special master process is -- is concluded. I would expect if she came with a broad sweeping ruling like that, the department will -- will certainly appeal it.
BERMAN: They actually made a case. They said, look, if you are going to issue an injunction, if you're going to take an action like that, it needs to be an official injunction so that we can appeal, so that we can try to stop it there.
It seems to me, again, that the establishment that these documents were there is one thing. And I would think investigators have already established they were there. They can look at them and prove it.
BERMAN: So then, it's an investigation about how they got there.
MCCABE: How they got there, how they were handled, possibly moved, maybe hidden during this process of negotiation between NARA and the Trump folks, between the Department of Justice and Trump's lawyers, looking for other witnesses who might be able to give you some information about how much the former president was actually involved in reviewing materials or possessing materials.
Or did he -- did he talk about these things? Did he refer to them in meetings? So there's all kinds of areas that the -- that the bureau is still going to be pushing into, beyond just the mere presence of the documents.
BERMAN: All right. Andrew McCabe, thank you so much for your help this morning and last night. I feel like I see you all the time now. Appreciate it.
So word of significant progress in efforts to restore clean water to the residents of Jackson, Mississippi, as the head of FEMA travels there today.
Why federal agents just searched two luxury homes in New York that are linked to a Russian oligarch.
KEILAR: And we may have seen the last of Venus and Serena Williams on the doubles court, but tonight Serena Williams looks to continue her magical run at the U.S. Open.
KEILAR: This morning authorities in Jackson, Mississippi, are scrambling to get a failing water treatment plant back online. They say significant gains have been made in restoring water pressure, but some challenges still remain.
Now areas closer to the water plant have almost normal pressure, but areas further away still have low to no pressure. For five days, people have been forced to wait in long lines for bottled water just so that they can drink, so they can cook or brush their teeth.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are they doing with our tax dollars? You've got to pay a water bill, but you can't use the water.
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KEILAR: People obviously frustrated there. We have CNN live in Jackson coming up.
BERMAN: Federal agents carried out searches of two luxury properties in New York City and South Hampton linked to a Russian oligarch, who recently had his yacht seized.
Agents removed at least two large safes and other items from the Park Avenue property owned by Viktor Vekselberg, who had close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In April, a 255-foot luxury yacht owned by Vekselberg was also seized as part of sanctions against Russia's war in Ukraine.
KEILAR: Five nuclear inspectors from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency will remain at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant for several more days after taking a Russian military-led tour to assess the damage to the facility.
A team of 14 experts arrived safely, despite heavy shelling nearby. Following the tour, IAEA's director-general, Rafael Grossi, told reporters that the inspectors will not be intimidated.
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RAFAEL GROSSI, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, RAFAEL GROSSI: We are not going anywhere. The IAEA is now there. It's at the plant, and it's not moving. It's going to stay there. We're going to have a continued presence there at the plant.
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KEILAR: Joining us now Joseph Cirincione. He is the former president of Plowshares Fund, which is a foundation focusing on reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. He's also the author of "Nuclear Nightmare: Securing the World Before It is Too Late."
I do want to talk to you about the specifics now that this team has made it to the power plant. But first off, let's talk broad strokes here. How scared are you about the situation on the ground?
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT, PLOWSHARES FUND: We're right to be worried about this. This is a very dangerous and tenuous situation. We're hanging by a thread.
There are multiple ways that this could turn into a nuclear catastrophe within hours: loss of power supply, water supply, operator error, shelling from the warfare that's going on.
We've never been in a situation like this. There's never been a power plant directly in a war zone before, occupied and turned into a military base by another country.
KEILAR: David Sanger wrote this piece in "The New York Times" this week. I know you're familiar with it, where he says this is essentially operating as the threat of a dirty bomb.
CIRINCIONE: Yes, this is a new form of nuclear terrorism. Remember Putin's threats in the beginning to back off, to get the West to stay out of this by threatening nuclear weapons directly? This is another form of nuclear terrorism, a way of him saying don't push me, things could get a lot worse than they are now. So far, the West and Ukraine are holding firm against these threats.
KEILAR: It's good news that this team made it to the facility.
KEILAR: What can we learn from what the team is going to see?
CIRINCIONE: They have two major missions, and the first one is just assess. They're going to give us the first independent objective assessment of how bad this is; and I think it's going to be very bad.
And then the second mission is to stabilize. So let's calm things down. Let's try to make sure that the power supply remains on. It was just cut off two days ago again. That the shelling stops.
But ultimately, the only way they're going to be able to succeed, to secure the plant, to end the threat, is to convince Russia to withdraw from the facility, move its military equipment out, and declare a ceasefire in the area.
Putin created this crisis. Only Putin can end it.
KEILAR: Most of the reactors are down right now. They're at the power plant. You said when they assess this, it's probably going to be bad. What do you mean?
CIRINCIONE: Well, Grossi, who's very brave and very courageous, you just heard him speaking here and determined to have a permanent presence here. He has something called seven pillars of nuclear safety and security.
So secure communications, secure supplies, a staff operating without duress. None of those are in operation at this plant today. But how bad is it?
For example, if the power goes off again, we have diesel generators to kick in for a backup supply. Are they working? Are they being repaired? Has the staff been able to do even the kind of routine maintenance you'd be able to do on a nuclear power plant?
It's tricky business even in the best of times. Under these circumstances, this is a nuclear disaster waiting to happen.
KEILAR: How much power does the IAEA have here?
CIRINCIONE: They only have the most power as the countries governing the IAEA give them. So they are dependent on Russian cooperation. They're dependent on Russia allowing them to be there.
Grossi, for example, says he wants to maintain a permanent presence there. One or two inspectors permanently on site. Will Russia let him do that? We don't know yet.
KEILAR: Joe, so great to have your insights on this morning. Thank you so much.
CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: An NYPD investigation under way this morning after an officer was caught on video shoving a woman to the ground during an arrest. We'll have details ahead.
BERMAN: And Serena Williams back on the court tonight. Will her magical run at the U.S. Open continue? Patrick McEnroe joins us next.
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BERMAN: A standing ovation for one of the greatest duos of all time, in a packed primetime event at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena and Venus Williams were defeated in the first round of the U.S. Open doubles.
But while this may be the end of the road for the sisters, Serena Williams is not finished yet. She'll be back again tonight for round three of singles play.
Joining me now is ESPN tennis commentator and doubles legend himself, Patrick McEnroe.
PATRICK MCENROE, TENNIS COMMENTATOR, ESPN: Thank you, John.
BERMAN: And you've been watching every aspect of this remarkable Serena Williams run at this tournament. I thought last night was really special in its own way. Because what, they have 14 Grand Slam doubles titles for them, and it was nice to have that moment about what they've accomplished together.