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Bannon to Surrender in New Criminal Indictment Over Scheme; Docs Seized at Mar-a-Lago Include Foreign Nation's Nuke Defenses; California Avoids Rolling Blackouts as Power Grid Pushed to Limit; Texas Suspends 2 Officers Under Review for Uvalde Response Actions; Biden Cabinet Hasn't Change in 17 Months, Contrasting Trump; Obamas Return to White House Today for Portrait Unveiling. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 07, 2022 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Steve Bannon set to turn himself in to face criminal charges in New York state. It is Wednesday, September 7, and I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.


New overnight, the long-time Trump ally is expected to surrender Thursday in New York to face charges for allegedly duping donors who gave money to fund building a wall along the U.S. Southern border.

The crowd fundraising effort, called We Build the Wall, raised more than $25 million. According to prosecutors, Bannon falsely told donors that all the money contributed would go toward the construction effort.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, federal prosecutors charged Bannon with the same basic alleged crime in 2020, but he was pardoned by Donald Trump as Trump was leaving office. Presidential pardons do not apply to state investigations.

CNN's Kara Scannell is here with the latest. This has a familiar ring to it, but Steve Bannon, these are serious charges.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CRIME AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, these are serious charges and a serious investigation by the Manhattan district attorney's office.

So sources tell me that Bannon will surrender. He's expected to surrender tomorrow here in New York to face these New York state charges.

And the conduct that he's being charged with is very similar to the conduct that he was charged by federal prosecutors in 2020, and that was for allegedly, along with co-conspirators, misleading donors who donated money in this fundraising effort to raise money to build a wall along the Southern U.S. border. And that was this entity called We Build the Wall.

Now, Bannon was charged, along with co-conspirators, in August of 2020. He was then pardoned as former President Donald Trump was leaving office. That's when the Manhattan district attorney's office opened their

investigation, and because he was pardoned before he was actually gone to trial or pled guilty or was convicted, prosecutors in Manhattan believe that there's this issue of double jeopardy doesn't apply.

So they've been conducting this investigation, and as we reported in June, some of the closest people to Bannon were brought before the state grand jury. That was a signal that this investigation was really picking up some steam.

Now we're learning that prosecutors have obtained an indictment from that grand jury, and Bannon is going to surrender in New York.

He has called these charges phony and said that they're nothing more than a partisan political weaponization of the criminal justice system.

Of course, this comes just two months after Bannon was convicted of federal charges of contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena by the House Select Committee investigating January 6.

BERMAN: I'm glad you brought up the issue of double jeopardy, because some people might remember that Paul Manafort was convicted and then pardoned of federal charges, but the difference here, again, is Bannon never went to trial.

SCANNELL: That's right. I mean, that's the difference. Bannon was charged in this case, and it was going through the criminal justice system; but he had never gone to trial. It hadn't come up to trial. He certainly didn't plead guilty to it. He pleaded not guilty and denied those charges. And then, he was pardoned before it ever got beyond that.

So lawyers I've spoken with say that it doesn't apply in the same way in this context.

BERMAN: All right. Very interesting. The legal problems mount for Steve Bannon. Kara Scannell, great to have you here. Thank you.

KEILAR: A big development this morning in the investigation into highly-classified documents found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort.

The "Washington Post" is reporting that a document describing a foreign government's nuclear capabilities was among the files seized in the FBI's search last month.

"The Post" writes, quote, "Some of the seized documents detail top- secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them."

Joining us now is CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He is also "The New York Times" White House and national security correspondent and the author of "The Perfect Weapon."


on what's in the documents. There's a lot here we still don't know. "The Post" did very good work, but we don't know what country we're discussing here and what country's nuclear program.

You can kind of narrow the field here. There are only nine nuclear weapons states right now, some declared, some not declared. Seems unlikely that Donald Trump would have a particular interest in, say, Britain or France's nuclear program or even Israel's.

He long had a deep interest, Brianna, in, of course, North Korea when he was negotiating with Kim Jong-un. In those summits, he said, in fact, that the end of the first summit he was certain they would begin turning over their nuclear weapons within six months. They've never turned over a single one.

And of course, he had a deep interest in Iran. So I think those would probably be the most likely. And we know, of course, that he kept his letters, what he used to call the love letters, from Kim Jong-un, which he then voluntarily turned back over to the government.

KEILAR: Why hang onto them, though? What would the point be of hanging onto this information? Keep in mind, this is the information that was taken in the search of Mar-a-Lago most recently. So he hung onto this after multiple requests to get this from the federal government.

SANGER: This is one of the great mysteries, and there are many different theories.

Of course, he always said, you know, these documents are mine. He didn't really have a concept of the Presidential Records Act, saying that they actually belonged to the American people, that they're under the control of the Archives.

I imagine that he could have thought about using them; as he has said; for memoirs or his presidential library. But Donald Trump does not seem like the kind of person who has spent a lot of time thinking about writing a memoir or putting his library together.


There's also the possibility that many other states that he might want to be dealing with in the future, either on a -- in a business sense or in the role of an ex-president, have a deep interest in this. I mean, all of the Arab states that he dealt with obviously are very fixated on the Iranian program.

KEILAR: A federal judge has OKed a special master, a third party, going through these documents. What does that look like now? If you're talking about information that is so sensitive and clearly has nothing to do with attorney/client privilege and so few people even are supposed to see it, how does that play out?

SANGER: It's a really hard question, because presumably, who the special master would have to have a clearance. But even a clearance isn't going to help you with that subset of documents that we saw in that famous photograph that indicated SCI, sensitive compartmentalized information, which is available only to a very small circle, even of people who have clearances.

That's what makes the nuclear nature of these documents so interesting, because one would assume that if it's SCI, it may well have to do with operations against some of these programs. And of course, of the programs that we know of, the two the U.S. has focused the most on in running operations that we've revealed in "The Times" in past years, to try to stop or to slow, have been North Korea and Iran.

KEILAR: Fascinating. David Sanger, thank you so much. Such important context as we look at just what this means.

SANGER: Great to be with you.

KEILAR: So we're also going to get some reaction from Mark Esper, the former secretary of defense during the Trump administration, ahead.

BERMAN: So California narrowly avoided rolling blackouts overnight as extreme heat taxed the state's energy grid. This comes after state officials declared a Stage 3 energy emergency there for several hours last night, asking for, quote, "maximum conservation by consumers."

With me now, Bill Weir, CNN's chief climate correspondent. This was touch and go --


BERMAN: -- overnight for the biggest state, most populous state by far in the country. What was the situation?

WEIR: Well, it looks like Californians avoided these rolling blackouts by conserving, maybe setting the air conditioner a little higher than they would normally have for comfort levels.

But yes, it's touch and go these days because of this relentless heat out there. Sacramento yesterday, all-time record: 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

And this is a place that has -- that has seen the longest dry spell on record in the last year, 212 days, broken up by the rainiest single rain event ever, 5.5 inches in a day, and then the driest start to a season, now the hottest day. It's just this whiplash of extremes.

BERMAN: The extremes really are extraordinary. We know from covering weather events for years, heat can actually be the deadliest weather disaster.

WEIR: It is.

BERMAN: And now there are movements, really, across the country to start naming heat waves.

WEIR: Exactly.

BERMAN: Like hurricanes are named. What's the reasoning behind that?

WEIR: It is. It's to educate the public.

Seville, Spain, became the first community to do this officially. Naming a heat wave like you would a hurricane. California now has passed through their House and Senate, just needs the governor's signature, that by 2025 they want to categorize heat waves the way you would hurricane events.

And it is -- it's the silent killer. Right? It kills about 150 people a year, way more than hurricanes and tornadoes. But you don't think about it in the same way. Right?

And there have been meteorologist conventions recently where they're talking about what colors to use. Like we've run out of alarming colors when it comes to more extreme tornadoes or heat waves now.

But it's important that people understand it's here, it's deadly and it's extended, more so than --

BERMAN: And the idea really would just be to create a mental shift among the population --

WEIR: Exactly.

BERMAN: -- that this is really bad.

WEIR: This is bad and to look out for the vulnerable.

BERMAN: Let's talk about the United Kingdom.


BERMAN: Because there's a new government there. Liz Truss is the new prime minister there. She met with the queen yesterday. She named her cabinet. Actually, the most diverse cabinet in the history of Britain. That's a separate matter.

But the person she has named as energy secretary is Jacob Reese-Mogg, who is someone who has suggested that there's been too much attention to the notion of climate change, overreaction, he has suggested, to climate change. And he thinks instead of trying to stop it, people should just adapt to it.

WEIR: Yes. He's been on record just in op-ed pieces that climate alarmism is to blame for high energy prices or that, you know, the Met Office, the weather meteorological office of the U.K., can't predict next week's temperature forecast, so how do we know what's going to happen in ten years from now?

It's troubling for climate activists in the U.K., who saw Boris Johnson as somebody who talked a good game but really didn't back it up with policy or budgets.

But now what's happened here, really, on a global, if you back off in the rich democracies -- it happened in Australia, happened here in the United States -- there's this pendulum between climate concern and sort of denial or delay. Right?


And the U.K., having influenced so many other countries around the world. These developing nations look to the U.S., the U.K., the E.U. for clues on how to avoid, you know, the industrial revolution mistakes of the past.

So we'll see how this plays out. He says his main concern now is energy prices for Britons. You know, the same kind of, you know, touch points we see in the United States here.

But Liz Truss, she was an environmental minister for a while. She didn't care for solar panels on the rolling green fields of England. She wanted the countryside reserved for sort of agriculture and maybe move the clean energy to the cities. But who knows how this will play out. It's just the first early days of the government.

BERMAN: As you say, the pendulum swings. Sometimes it's hard for the U.S. pendulum to swing to line up with other nations' pendulum swings to get things done and make progress here.

Bill Weir, great to see you.

WEIR: Good to see you, John.

KEILAR: This morning, the Texas Department of Public Safety suspending two officers amid an investigation of their actions during the Uvalde school massacre. The agency says it's also revising its training for mass shootings in the wake of the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has more.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: John and Brianna, the Texas Department of Public Safety not revealing why these officers are now under formal investigation with the inspector general, these five officers and these two officers who have now been suspended with pay.

The agency is now releasing or giving up any information as to why they have taken this step. But we know that 91 Department of Public Safety officers were on scene on May 24, some of them inside Robb Elementary, many of them outside.

You know, much of the blame for what police didn't do that day has been placed on the now fired school police chief, Pete Arredondo. And many here criticize the head of the Department of Public Safety for coming out and placing all that blame on one individual.

And now it seems that there has been some indications here that something has turned up in the internal investigation that the Department of Public Safety has been conducting which has now forced them to have this formal investigation and then suspending these two officers with pay -- John, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Shimon, thank you for that report.

Seventeen months in, the Biden cabinet remains the same. That is in sharp contrast to Trump's musical chairs.

Plus, the Obamas return to the White House today for the unveiling of their portraits. We're going to break down the history and some drama of unveilings past.

BERMAN: And one of America's rising young tennis stars exits the U.S. Open.



BERMAN: Zero turnover, no changes. Seventeen months into his presidency, President Biden's cabinet remains the same. And we all saw it yesterday as all 24 officials gathered for a meeting at the White House.

This stands in contrast to the changes made by Donald Trump during his administration.

With us now is CNN politics reporter and editor at charge, Chris Cillizza. It was a familiar picture that we saw yesterday, Chris.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: It was, John. Let me just illustrate that for you.

Look, this is -- we showed this when Joe Biden's administration started. There have been absolutely zero changes in his cabinet and his senior sort of -- the senior level. You have director of OMB, Small Business Administration. All of these people were there at the start.

Now you say, OK, what's the news? Here is Donald Trump's cabinet at this point. Now, I want to highlight a few things here.

It wasn't just small changes. Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state, was gone. Tom Price, his Health and Human Services secretary, was gone. His chief of staff, Reince Priebus, was gone; and John Kelly, his -- his homeland security secretary, had moved over to be his chief of staff.

Now, that was just right now. What about two years on? A lot more "X" marks. And again, really important people. We know about Tillerson. Jim Mattis, his secretary of defense, was gone. Jeff Sessions had been fired the day after the 2018 election. Ryan Zinke had resigned in sort of a pretty big, major controversy. The secretary of Veterans Affairs was gone. Again, Tom Price was gone. Reince Priebus was gone.

Donald Trump went through -- let me get this out so I don't have too much writing on the screen -- Donald Trump had gotten rid of, by the time this was all over -- I'm going to write it on here -- he had gone through four chiefs of staff, he had gone through five secretaries of homeland security, John. The turnover here is telling, I think, of who these two guys are. Joe

Biden is an institutionalist, spent his life in the Senate. He's had the same people around him in terms of top aides for years and years and years and years.

Donald Trump is a guy who got famous by telling people, You're fired, right? He is someone who looks to blame, tends to look for a scapegoat, likes change, likes to sort of make changes on a whim.

So I think you're seeing the different personalities come through. Joe Biden is not a guy who jumps quickly, makes changes quickly, sometimes to his detriment candidly. But I think that's why you're seeing what you're seeing here. But it is a radical difference in approach.

BERMAN: I think Trump may have been the outlier there, compared to some past presidents. We'll see what happens after the midterms. It would be unusual if there wasn't at least some change after the midterm elections, but we'll have to wait and see on that.

Chris Cillizza, wonderful to see you this morning.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, my friend. Same.

KEILAR: Today, former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are returning to the White House for an event hosted by the Bidens, to unveil the Obama's official White House portraits.

The unveiling of official White House portraits is a decades-long tradition that former President Trump broke when he declined to host the Obamas.

Kate Bennett is here with all the details -- Kate.


KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the Obamas haven't -- Michelle Obama has not been back to the White House since she left in 2017. This is, of course, a tradition that goes back many, many, many years.

And it is resuming after that break during Donald Trump's presidency.


BENNETT (voice-over): A tradition returning to the White House, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama to visit the White House for their official portrait unveiling.

This is the first time the former first lady is visiting the White House since leaving in 2017, while former President Obama attended an event at the White House earlier this year.

Obama and Biden share a close bond after Biden served as Obama's vice president for eight years.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: President Biden and dr. Biden are honored to have former President Obama and firster first lady Michelle Obama back to the White House for the unveiling of their portraits, which will hang on the walls of the White House forever as reminders of the power of hope and change.

BENNETT (voice-over): The event is a long-standing tradition.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Clinton and Senator Clinton, welcome home.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Welcome back to the house that you called home for eight years.

BENNETT (voice-over): Sitting presidents host their immediate predecessors to unveil their official portraits in a bipartisan, light-hearted event, as seen when the Clintons welcomed the Bushes for their unveiling after Bill Clinton unseated George H.W. Bush.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As Americans look for ways to come together to deal with the challenges we face today, they can do well in looking to the lives of President and Mrs. Bush.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, President Clinton, for those overly generous words, as a kind assessment of what I and so many here in this room tried to do. Frankly, I needed those kind words.

BENNETT (voice-over): Former President Donald Trump broke this tradition and declined to host the Obamas for their portrait unveiling.

Trump even moved the portraits of former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to the rarely-used old family dining room. Biden returned the portraits back to their original displays in the Grand Foyer last year.

The tradition started with former first lady Jackie Kennedy, who began the policy of procuring life portraits of the presidents and first ladies. The Kennedys' portraits were unveiled in 1971.

The event has served as a time for presidents and first ladies to honor their predecessors.

OBAMA: George, you went out of your way to make sure that the transition to a new administration was as seamless as possible.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Laura for providing such a wonderful model of strength and grace for me to follow.

BENNETT (voice-over): And also crack jokes.

CLINTON: President Bush, if I look half as good as you do when I leave office, I'll be a happy man.

G.W. BUSH: When you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, "What would George do?"


BENNETT (on camera): It is an interesting tradition, and of course, you know, you've got to welcome back the guy who beat you or you didn't campaign for, and he's going to move into your room and work in your office and live in your house. So it is sort of a strange thing.

But I will say also, it's important to note that the White House Historical Association pays for these portraits. People always say, well, who pays? Does the taxpayer pay? It is the White House Historical Association, raised by donations. It's nonpartisan.

And they're different than the portraits that are at the National Portrait Gallery. The White House portraits are official. The portrait gallery is a component of the Smithsonian.

So just so -- the Trump portraits we hear are in the works for the White House. Now, whether the Bidens decide to invite the Trumps back to unveil, we'll have to see. But they're -- the Trumps' portraits for the National Portrait Gallery are also in the works.

KEILAR: Yes. Are they going to pick up that tradition after Trump that Trump himself did not? It will be a really big question.

BENNETT: It will be. And I have a feeling they will. This is, as we just saw, something that is a jovial, lighthearted moment. And no matter what the animosity is, it's nice to see it return back to the White House.

BERMAN: And look, one of the remarkable things there that we heard is we heard these past presidents. We heard George W. Bush say, "Welcome home," and you heard Barack Obama say, "Welcome to the place that you called home."

Could you conceive of Donald Trump having said that to the Obamas when he was in the White House? And frankly, it's hard -- I just -- in this political environment, it's just hard to imagine a moment like that.

BENNETT: Well, also, we have to remember, there was no exchange -- I mean, the Trumps left that day. There was no, you know, helping out for transition. They just took off.

So there's certainly, you know -- there's no indication that that would have been a ceremony that they would have attended anyway and may not attend in the future. We'll have to see.


KEILAR: Kate, great report. Thank you for sharing it with us.

BENNETT: Thank you.

KEILAR: A border battle. The escalating war of words between Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot and Texas Governor Greg Abbott over migrants. Lightfoot accusing Abbott of treating them, quote, "like freight." BERMAN: And fresh off his shocking upset of Rafael Nadal at the U.S.

Open, American Francis Tiafoe returns to the court today.


BERMAN: A disappointing loss at the U.S. Open for one of the brightest young American tennis stars. Eighteen-year-old Coco Gauff dropped her quarter final match to Caroline Garcia of France Tuesday night.


COCO GAUFF, AMERICAN TENNIS PLAYER: First quarter final, too, at the U.S. Open. So there's a lot to be proud of. But, like I said, I'm definitely disappointed, but I think it makes me want to work even harder. And I feel like I know what I have to do.