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New Audio of Oath Keepers Allegedly Preparing for January 6th; Trump Urges Supreme Court to Intervene in Mar-a-Lago Case; U.N. Plans More Sanctions Against Iran After Violent Crackdown. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 05, 2022 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New evidence in the historic sedition case.

I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

This is the case against five members of the far-right Oath Keepers. A secret audio recording from November of 2020 released by the Justice Department was played in court during day two of the trial.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The recording features group members planning for violence. They discussed bringing weapons to Washington, D.C., being prepared to fight for former President Trump.


STEWART RHODES, OATH KEEPERS LEADER (voice over): If the fight comes, let the fight come. Let Antifa go, if they kinetic on us, then we'll go kinetic back on them. I'm willing to sacrifice myself for that. If they go kinetic, good. If they blow bombs up and shoot us, great, because that brings the president reason and rationale to drop the Insurrection Act.

If you're going to have a fight, guys, you want to start now while he's commander in chief. You do not want to waste this opportunity and let him feel like he has no support.

To go into D.C., but I do want some Oath Keepers to stay on the outside and to stay fully armed and prepared to go in armed if they have to. If the shit kicks off, you rock and roll.


BERMAN: That was Oath Keepers Founder Stewart Rhodes.

With me now is former Federal Prosecutor and Criminal Defense Attorney Katie Cherkasky. Thanks so much for being with us.

You hear that audio. Why have prosecutors introduced that? What do they think it proves?

KATIE CHERKASKY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, this audio is obviously very damning, according to the DOJ's case here. These are conversations between the group that sound like they're specifically planning violence in response to political transfer of power and that's obviously the crux of the government's case in this trial.

But I think on the defense side, there are obviously going to be some holes that can be poked in that audio and that's going to be the big question here, whether the prosecutors can reach that proof beyond a reasonable doubt when there are some questions about the vagueness of some of the comments in there.

BERMAN: We'll talk more about the defense in a second. There's also sound of them talking about weapons. Listen.


KELLY MEGGS, OATH KEEPERS MEMBER: Pepper spray is legal. Tasers are legal. And stun guns are legal. And it doesn't hurt to have a lead pipe with a flag on it.

RHODES: For example, when I was walking through the streets of Portland, I was, quote/unquote, unarmed but I had my helmet in my hand. That was to whack someone right across the face.


BERMAN: So, how does the jury read that?

CHERKASKY: I think that all of the evidence that the prosecutors have put forth in their opening statement was significantly longer than most trials. It was over an hour of painstakingly going through all of the digital evidence they have, the conversations between the folks in this group to show exactly the extent of these plans, the violence that they planned to undertake. And the question, I think, is what was their actual intent there and when were they actually really going to engage in these sort of acts.

BERMAN: One of the issues here is how much of a conspiracy was it? And Stewart Rhodes, they have him on tape actually talking about what constitutes a conspiracy. Listen.


RHODES: We're in an era now where everything is going to be monitored, but now this phone call is being recorded by the NSA and the FBI and CIA, I'm sure. And everything you say can and will be used against you. So, that's why you guys got to have discipline. Don't make it easy for them to pop you with a conspiracy charge and do what they did with the guys in Michigan because they got them hot on the collar, probably after a few beers, got them talking smack. So, be disciplined.


BERMAN: So, we're having this conversation right now but don't have it in a way where they can bring a conspiracy charge. What knowledge does that point to? CHERKASKY: Well, Stewart Rhodes, we have to remember, is a Yale Law grad, been disbarred at this point, but he's not an idiot. He actually walks a very fine legal line, or so he tries. And I think that his entire intent here was to try to find some way that he could really thread the needle to get this to go through and not be charged.

But when you hear this background evidence, I think the jury is going to be very alarmed and appalled by the significant amount of conversations and planning that went into all of this.

BERMAN: Now, the defense. One of the things I should point out, and I believe this is the case, the prosecution admitted this, these recordings are about getting the Oath Keepers to Washington not for January 6th, for an event in November. So, how much does that matter and what else will the defense lean into?

CHERKASKY: Well, that's right. And whenever you have a prosecution case, it's very strong on their opening statement. And then the defense's job is to poke holes and put any sort of reasonable doubt into the context, the dates, the specifics of any language that's used. And if they can convince the jury that there's some question about the intent, the date or what the actually plan was, then that's going to be difficult to secure the conviction on those charges. So, that's really the strategy?

BERMAN: Does the date matter? Does it have to be in regards to a specific date?

CHERKASKY: That date doesn't matter on its face, but it plays into the entire case of the prosecution.


So, certainly, if there's doubt about, oh, they weren't even talking about January 6th, they were talking about another march where they went, there was no violence, so no issue. So, there's going to be questions that the jury will have with that, but it's not the be all that ends all, but, certainly, it plays into the bigger case for the prosecution.

BERMAN: All right. Thank you so much for helping us understand what we have now heard out loud, which is interesting to hear this kind of thing from a federal trial. Katie Cherkasky, thank you so much for being with us.

CHERKASKY: Thank you.

KEILAR: Former President Trump is urging the Supreme Court to intervene in the dispute over materials the FBI seized from his Mar-a- Lago home this summer. Trump's attorneys are requesting that the 100 or so documents marked as classified and taken from Mar-a-Lago become part of the special master's review. This could bolster his attempts to challenge the Mar-a-Lago search in court and have the documents returned to him.

Joining us is now with more on this story is CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz. Okay. Katelyn, what exactly is Trump's team asking for here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Bri, that they're asking for is they want things to go back to Judge Aileen Cannon. They want what she was doing and how she had set up the special master review of all of the documents seized in Mar-a-Lago. They want to put it back in her control.

It was somewhat taken out of her control because there were all of these boxes, 33 boxes, seized, all of that was supposed to go to the special master after she had set the terms. But then the 11th Circuit, the court of appeals, had stepped in and said, no, actually, the Justice Department really wants to be able to work with 100 documents marked as classified that were found in that stash first, they want to do an intelligence review of it, they want to use it in a criminal investigation. Let's let them do that.

So, Trump's team, they don't want that. They want those 100 classified marked documents back in under the special master perhaps so that they can even get access to them.

And I want to read something that they wrote because it shows how much they liked what Judge Cannon was doing. They wrote in their filing yesterday, in sum, the district court, that's Aileen Cannon, Judge Aileen Cannon, exercised its lawful discretion and denied the government the ability to evade any oversight and to skip forward towards a preordained conclusion. Given the detailed support and findings, this discretion cannot be said to have been abused, so, head back to her.

When they say a preordained conclusion, what they're talking about there is whether or not these records are classified and whether the Justice Department gets to make the call or Trump has a say in it too.

KEILAR: Look, Judge Cannon was overrode by the appeals court, that is for sure. And if you're Trump, of course, you want Judge Cannon to be the one overseeing this. She was significantly more friendly to him. But how is DOJ going to respond here?

POLANTZ: Well, they're probably going to say a lot of the same things that they've been saying that have been winning arguments for them, at least with the appeals court. First of all, they have been saying that classified markings -- documents with classified markings should be treated as such. And so that's a big thing. And then the other thing is they're going to have about a week to respond. Justice Clarence Thomas did ask them to come in and respond in about a week.

KEILAR: How could this impact the criminal investigation?

POLANTZ: Yes, that's the big question here. And right now, things are going to be the status quo. The Justice Department has these 100 documents marked as classified. They're going to continue to be able to work on them until the Supreme Court says something or does something here.

But at the end of the day, even if the Supreme Court steps in and puts these 100 documents back into the pool with the special master, we're not totally clear how much that's going to impact the finality of this investigation, where it ultimately goes. It might just slow it down a little bit.

KEILAR: Katelyn Polantz, great reporting. Thank you so much.

BERMAN: This morning, President Biden will travel to Fort Myers, Florida, and get a briefing from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on the post-Hurricane Ian efforts there. The White House says the two leaders have publically put aside their sharp political differences during their response to the hurricane. They've also talked at least three times by phone to coordinate relief efforts. The president will also meet with Floridians whose homes and businesses have either been damaged or destroyed by the storm and to thank officials for their response in the recovery efforts.

KEILAR: Members of the United States Women's National Soccer Team are demanding immediate changes following the reported that found systemic abuse and misconduct within women's professional soccer in the U.S. Two-time World Cup winner Becky Sauerbrunn, who, with fellow national team defender Alana Cook, telling the media that the women in the league are angry at the lack of action since allegations were first revealed over a year ago.


BECKY SAUERBRUNN, DEFENDER, U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM: The players are not doing well. We are horrified and heartbroken and frustrated and exhausted and really, really angry.

I think for so long, this has always fallen on the player to demand change, and that is because the people in authority and decision- making positions have repeatedly failed to protect us.


ALANA COOK, DEFENDER, U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM: For so long, it's been on the players to handle these things and to speak out. And I think to Becky's point, it shouldn't be on us any longer. We deserve an environment where we get to go out and play and enjoy doing what we do. And we deserve to be in an environment that is safe.


KEILAR: And a former professional soccer player who was on a team with one of the alleged abusive coaches told CNN's Jake Tapper this.


JOANNA LOHMAN, FORMER PROFESSIONAL SOCCER PLAYER: It wasn't just a culture of silence, it was actually a culture of cover up. And as a player who played in the league for 16-plus years, I've seen it with my own eyes, we knew this stuff was going on.


KEILAR: Some of those players are members of the U.S. National Team, the defending World Cup champions. The team is in London ahead of an exhibition match against European champions, England. They say the report and the, quote, atrocities, as they put it, reported there have marred the upcoming games.

BERMAN: News this morning about Alzheimer's disease. An experimental drug recently made headlines when the companies testing it said it could potentially slow progression of the disease by 27 percent. But experts say they now still have a lot of questions.

With us is Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent. Sanjay, what are these questions?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the biggest thing, first of all, is that we've only heard from the company itself so far. We need to have an independent review. So, a lot of times these headlines, that's what people pay attention to, but that needs to be assessed.

Also when you talk about 27 percent reduction, how exactly did they assess that? Again, that's going to be part of this sort of review. 27 percent may not sound like a lot but it could keep somebody more likely to be functional or independent for a longer period of time. But how exactly do they assess that? Is that standardized?

I think one of the biggest things here was that there was some degree of side effects with the drug versus placebo. Now, when you look at these side effects, such as brain bleeds and brain swelling, they sound understandably very concerning, and they are, but these were mostly manageable side effects.

I think one of the interesting things that was brought up, though, was that can you still have a blinded study if you still have obvious side effects like this. Don't people know, the patients themselves, the practitioners know that a particular population is now getting the drug versus not and is that really a blinded study?

And I think the last thing, really, is we need to know the cost of medications like this. There was another medication, you may remember. I think it was last year or earlier this year, Aduhelm, that was approved for a period of time, $56,000, this medication cost. So, when you're starting to talk about people being diagnosed more and more with dementia, Alzheimer's dementia, if you start layering in these costs, is that going to be sustainable?

So, some of these questions are about the study itself and some of these are about the practicality of actually having a drug like this come forward.

KEILAR: Sanjay, why is it so difficult to develop a treatment for Alzheimer's?

GUPTA: You know, this is sort of life's work for so many people, and the research around this has often been called the valley of death in the neuroscience world because there have been so many failed trials, hundreds of failed trials around Alzheimer's. And I will tell you, this is the 16th drug probably that's been put forth that helps decreases the amount amyloid plaques in the brain.

Now, these amyloid plaques, these sticky plaques and tangles, oftentimes develop in this area of the brain first. That's an area that's responsible for short-term memories. But, eventually, those plagues and tangles may be all over the brain. And it's not something that's like really discreet, for example, as you might see with Parkinson's disease.

I think what's been so interesting is that there have been drugs that have done a good job of clearing these plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's out in the past. They've been able to clear those plaques. But they weren't associated with the benefit in cognition.

So, the thing that's got people excited about this drug is that it may be doing both. It may be both clearing these plaques and improving cognition. But we still don't fully understand, Bri, is there a connection between these two things? Maybe plaques and tangles in the brain are normal and expected to some extent and aren't the sort of root cause of this decreased cognition.

My point is we've been studying this for a long time and we're still not entirely sure what the mechanism of Alzheimer's is. But what we do know is that within the next couple of decades, someone is likely to be diagnosed every few seconds with this disease. There will be 150 million people around the world. So, it's going to become one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases out there and we need good, accessible, inexpensive treatments for it.

BERMAN: Yes. And any sign of progress, any sign of hope would be welcome.

Sanjay, shifting gears here. There's also a new analysis about how the COVID boosters, the reformulated COVID boosters, what kind of impact they could have on the winter season.


What does the analysis say?

GUPTA: Well, look, I mean, we know that these viruses will tend to spread more as the weather gets cooler and dryer. So, COVID is still around. I think that's very clear. What this analysis did, and this was from the Commonwealth Fund and from Yale, they basically said, okay, look, if you stay at the current sort of booster rate, what's going to happen? And what they expect is that, you know, we'll peak around 1,000 deaths per day again sometime over the fall and winter. But if we increase eligible boosted to closer to just over 50 percent, which incidentally is around flu vaccine uptake, then we could potentially save 75,000 lives. If we get closer to 80 percent, 90,000 lives could be saved by the end of March, by the end of winter.

So, these are the numbers out there. It still boggles my mind a little bit that we haven't seen more protective measures taking place in the form of these boosters. But the models, I mean, maybe they make a little bit of difference for people who are sort of on the fence, saying, hey, do I really need it? Do I not? Tens of thousands of lives potentially saved if we increase the uptake.

BERMAN: The boosters are out there. People just need to take them. That's a lot of lives potentially saved.

Sanjay, great to see you this morning. Thank you.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

BERMAN: So, Elon Musk with this stunning reversal, now agreeing to buy Twitter at full price. Does he actually mean it?

And the former president, Donald Trump, praising the current United Kingdom prime minister's plan to cut taxes for the wealthy, even after she and her party were forced to drop the proposal.

KEILAR: And U.S. and South Korea firing four missiles off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula in response to North Korea launching a missile over Japan. We will talk to former Defense Secretary Mark Esper next.



BERMAN: New this morning, the U.S. is planning to deliver more sanctions against those in Iran cracking down on protesters. Nationwide demonstrations intensified following the death of a woman arrested for violating the country's dress code.

Our CNN's correspondents bringing the morning's headlines from around the world.

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: I'm Nada Bashir in London. And as anti- regime demonstrations continue to sweep across Iran, the U.S. and European Union are expected to ramp up penalties on Tehran in response to the government's violent crackdown on peaceful protesters.

According to a source familiar with the Biden administration's plan of action, the White House is set to issue additional sanctions against law enforcement officials and those directly involved in violently repressing demonstrations across the country.

Meanwhile in Europe, further sanctions on Iran are now also under consideration. The European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, saying on Tuesday that the bloc will consider all available options to hold the Iranian regime to account.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Scott McLean in London. Ukrainian police say that they have uncovered a torture chamber in a town in the Kharkiv region recently retaken by Ukraine. National police investigators say that local residents alerted them to the basement of a house where they say that the Russians held captive both soldiers and civilians. There, they found wire, rope and a box of torn-out dentures.

Police say that local residents heard constant screaming coming from that house. Prosecutors are now trying to establish what exactly took place inside of that basement.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Paula Hancocks in Seoul. The U.S. and South Korea launched missiles off the east coast of Korea and carried out a bombing drill with fighter jets off the west coast, both a coordinated attempt to show North Korea that they are able, militarily capable to striking back should they decide to. This was after North Korea carried out an intermediate range ballistic missile launch over Japan on Tuesday. There will be a United Nation Security Council public hearing later today, Russia and China highly unlikely to denounce Pyongyang.

KEILAR: North Korea's latest provocation garnering that rapid response for the U.S and South Korea. The White House explaining its decision for that missile launch.


JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: We -- and this is not the first time we've done this in response to provocations by the north, to make sure that we can demonstrate our own capabilities bilaterally with the South Koreans and with the Japanese.

We have made it clear to Kim Jong-un we're willing to sit down with no preconditions, we want to see the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He hasn't shown an inclination to move in that direction and, quite, frankly, he's moving in the opposite direction, by continuing to conduct these missile tests, which are violations of Security Council resolutions.


KEILAR: Joining us now to discuss is former Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Sir, thank you so much for taking the time out this morning to talk to us about this.

You're seeing this. I mean, what a remarkable escalation from North Korea and this response from the U.S. and South Korea. How do you see what is happening here and what are your concerns?

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, first of all, good morning, Brianna, it's good to be with you.

Look, I'm not surprised in some ways. The United States and South Korea reinstituted joint military drills that began in late August. Kim Jong-un does not like this. And, of course, we had the U.S. Navy and the aircraft carrier, USS Reagan, doing exercises in the past couple of weeks. All of these things are reasons for Kim Jong-un to kind of speak up, to do something, to bring the attention back on him at a time when the world is focused, frankly, in Europe with Ukraine and Russia.

KEILAR: When President Obama left the White House, he told Trump, he told the Trump administration that North Korea would be the biggest threat. Do you think that holds? ESPER: In many ways, it does, more of an immediate threat. When I came into office, I write about this in my memoir, I was surprised in 2017, late 2017, we were preparing to go to for war. The army was prepositioning weapons and ammunition, we were stockpiling, we were rehearsing, doing those things. And, look, this -- the peninsula could flare up at any moment.


So, I think it is an immediate concern.

On the other hand, there is kind of a steadiness to it, if you will, over the past many decades, but you have to keep a careful eye, you have to show a sense of resolve and strength. And it's good to see that the United States and South Korea, and I might add in Japan as well, are unified now and showing a lot more commitment to pressing back against the North Koreans.

KEILAR: You mentioned Russia and the rhetoric that we're hearing from Vladimir Putin is very alarming. He's talking a lot more about nuclear weapons. And it seems more likely than ever he might consider doing that. But I wonder how likely do you think that is? Do you think he really would do it?

ESPER: We don't know. I think it's unlikely but possible. And I think the more the Ukrainians continue to seize ground in the east and in the south, I think the more desperate Putin becomes. I mean, look, this has been a strategic failure in multiple ways since it began in February. And now, finally, the Russian people are speaking up. You have protests going on throughout the country. Hundreds of thousands of Russians have left Russia to avoid this draft. I think Putin continues to paint himself in a corner without any and limiting his options to get out of this mess he's created.

KEILAR: Obviously, we're trying to get a sense of what would that like if he did that. We were speaking to Nuclear Expert Joe Cirincione yesterday who wrote this great piece in The Washington Post about what Putin's options would be. And the most likely of the four scenarios would be, in his opinion, a low-yield nuclear weapon that would be used on a Ukrainian military target. We're talking something about in the range of ten kilotons of TNT, the equivalent of. Just for reference, Hiroshima was 15 kilotons. So, this is pretty big.

Do you think that's correct? Is that, do you think, his most likely avenue?

ESPER: I think anywhere between one to ten kilotons. You're right. Hiroshima was 15 kilotons. It killed 70,000 people, destroyed five square miles of territory around the city. And I think the way he would deliver it mostly likely in these cases is through a gravity bomb delivered by an aircraft or some type of Iskander cruise missile.

I would argue the thing for the administration to do is to bring the allies together now, talk about back-channelling to Moscow but publicly say, look, if we see some type of strategic indication that you're pulling tactical nuclear weapons out of the storage areas, we're going to put an air cap up above Ukraine and we're going to shoot down anything that comes towards Ukraine that might be carrying a nuclear weapon. There are things like that we could do to prevent this, to kind of calm this down and keep Putin contained.

KEILAR: Ukraine at this point wants longer range weapons than even the HIMARS. And it is offering to give the U.S. oversight, essentially veto power over Russian targets. Would that plunge the U.S. directly into war, in your opinion?

ESPER: I don't believe so. So, we've thought this early on when we talked about other weapons, about HIMARS. I thought we should have provided the MIG-29s. I don't know why the European allies, the Germans, in particular, aren't providing them Leopard tanks. I think the ATACMS are another good thing that you could put on the table now. They could reach into Russia.

And you say to Putin, look, if we see some type of movement with regard on escalation, we are going to provide the Ukrainians ATACMS right now and make sure they have the means to defend themselves. There's no reason why we can't be at least training the Ukrainians now on these and other systems.

KEILAR: Yes. The ATACMS, longer range than the current HIMARS systems that they have.

ESPER: 150-plus systems, right.

KEILAR: I do want to ask you before I let you go about Iran go. What are you thinking as you watch this? Is this something that could turn the tide? You have young women who are really leading the protests there, centered around wearing the hijab.

ESPER: You have got to really admire the bravery of these young women who are standing and up they are leading the broader population, really, the middle class of Iran to stand up and say, enough of this kleptocracy that's running the country, enough of the theocracy that's suppressing them and the economic mismanagement of the country. I think we need to support the Iranian people who want freedom. They've been under the strict rule, these ayatollahs, now for about 40, 50 years. It's time for this to end. It's time to give them the freedom they deserve.

KEILAR: Does this make the difference though? I don't hear you saying that, which is why I ask. Do you just have doubts about how much they're going to crackdown on this?

ESPER: It can. It has to grow. The security forces have killed over 50 people, imprisoned many, many more. We have to kind of give -- we, being the United States and our European allies, support them. And let's see. It may take off, it may spread. But you have a tough government there now in Tehran, the ayatollah presumably has ill health. They may be looking at a transition of power some time. It will be curious to see how they react as well.

KEILAR: It is extraordinary what we're seeing there, and we certainly appreciate your perspective on it this morning. Former Secretary Mark Esper, thank you.

ESPER: Thank you.

KEILAR: Elon Musk may be buying Twitter after all, so does that mean that former President Trump will soon be back on the platform?

BERMAN: And secret recordings of the Oath Keepers allegedly planning for violence played by prosecutors in court. We're going to speak to the ex-wife of the Oath Keeper leader ahead.