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CNN TONIGHT: Ex-Trump Officials Not Surprised By Manhandled Classified Docs; DOJ Releases Redacted FBI Affidavit For Mar-A-Lago Search; AZ GOP Senate Candidate Tries To Soften Anti-Abortion Stance, Scrubs Website Ahead Of Midterms. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 26, 2022 - 21:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And there's also an increase in Holocaust denial that these crazy people, out there, say it just was made up. There really was no Holocaust. 6 million Jews were not murdered, by the Nazis. And that has then sadly intensified, in recent years.

And we thought it was really important, to take a tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, here in Washington, which was created, what 30-plus years ago, by the U.S. government, to remember what happened during the Holocaust. Because if we don't remember, God forbid, it could be repeated.


BLITZER: So, I took a tour with Sara Bloomfield, the longtime Museum Director, who's an amazing woman. Indeed all of the people that work at the Museum, are really amazing, the hardworking, dedicated, devoted. All those who were involved in founding and creating the Museum, they deserve a lot of our credit.

And millions of people have toured, the Holocaust Museum, in Washington. It's so important. So, I wanted to take our viewers on a tour. And so I walked around.

Watch this exchange, I had, with Sara Bloomfield, the Museum Director. We're speaking about the shoes, the shoes that are on exhibit, at the Museum. Watch this.


BLITZER: These are shoes, old shoes.

SARA J. BLOOMFIELD, UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM DIRECTOR: This is one of our most iconic exhibits. If you visit these killing centers, today, you see thousands upon thousands of shoes, like this, the shoes of the victims. The Germans took their shoes, because they were going to reuse them, and recycle them, if you will. But, of course, the victims would be killed. But this is what is left of those lives.

BLITZER: These shoes, what are, 80-years-old, 90-years-old? And they're here, the only surviving elements, for all those people, who were exterminated.

J. BLOOMFIELD: This is the trace of the people before they were gassed.

BLITZER: I think of those shoes, you know? My four grandparents, we didn't have anything. I mean, nothing was found, basically. It's just the horrendous, horrendous situation. And it's so important, so timely now, to remind people, who don't know anything about it.


BLITZER: And I think it's so important that I'm sure you'll agree, Jim that people who come to visit Washington, go to the Washington Mall, Raoul Wallenberg Place, 14th Street, and take a tour of this Museum.

Even those of us who have grown up, children of Holocaust survivors, we learn a lot, every time we go there. And it's so, so powerful. So important.

SCIUTTO: I've been. I plan to go back. Wolf Blitzer, it's great to have you on.

Again, Wolf's new Special Report, "NEVER AGAIN: THE UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM," airs tonight, on CNN, at 11 o'clock Eastern Time.

News continues. So, let's hand it over. I called you "The Great Laura Coates," last time. I'm going to call you, the Super-Great Laura Coates, tonight and CNN TONIGHT.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Well, I love it. Tomorrow maybe the Super-Wonderful Great? I don't know. But nice to see you, Jim. Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Good to see you.

COATES: And I'm glad that everyone will know at 11 PM, tonight, right after this that documentary we'll show with Wolf Blitzer.

I am Laura Coates. And this is CNN TONIGHT.

Now, I know, frankly, you've already seen the big headline. The affidavit we've all been waiting for? It's here. I mean, yes, the search warrant affidavit, to search Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is out. And it says that 184 classified documents, including some that were top secret were recovered from Mar-a-Lago, in January.

Now, we've seen this headline, and we've gone through parts of it. But tonight, we're learning more and more of the why. Why federal investigators believed that there was more? Why they needed to search the place, in that way?

Now, I'm not here to simply rehash a headline. I, frankly, I heard it nine hours ago. I want to go beyond it. And I want to really understand, what's in that document, and what is not, in what we've been shown, in these 38 pages. And I also want to know, who it matters to, and for what reason.

We keep hearing about this entire thing. And surely, this affidavit is some kind of an inkblot test. So, we're going to approach it a little bit differently, tonight. I'm going to look at it, at this affidavit, through sort of a different lenses, kind of like the Inkblot. What are you seeing versus this person? I'm going to break it down, collectively, methodically.

First, we start with the facts, as we always should, so everyone's on the same page, and we know exactly what is here.

And I'll talk to three journalists, who've been steeped, in this, since day one. We're going to go and parse through the facts, line by line, things like this line, just how top secret were these 184 documents, for example?

I mean, you see this excerpt here? A lot of acronyms, I admit, an Alphabet City at Washington D.C. is, but it means that the documents had indications that contained human source Intelligence in them, national and defense Intelligence, and more. And we're going to dig into what that really means.


And what does the Justice Department mean, when it says there are quote, a "Significant number of civilian witnesses," just what did they know, and what does that number mean, and what is the context, and how did they help this investigation?

Former president, he can't possibly be taking this well. People in his midst, were talking to investigators? I'm going to get into that too.

Then, after our journalists, I'm going to talk to our legal and investigative pros. They're on this set, right now. And they've got their copies of the affidavit. We're going to see what they think of, and what goes through their minds, and how to view it through their expert eyes, and how they look at a line, like this one?

Quote, "There is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at the PREMISES." Do they think there was enough probable cause? We're going to break it all down.

And then, of course, there's this. And I want you to focus on, at some points, the minutiae. Not just the 38 pages, and all the words that are there, but let's focus on a single letter, the little "e" you see, in parentheses, there. That is a specific part of the Espionage Act. And it's a detail, frankly, we didn't actually know about before, but what it could mean for Trump and his allies? We're going to delve into that.

And after that, I'm going to talk politics, and look at how all of this might come out in the wash.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a political attack on our country and it's a disgrace. And the people understand it.


COATES: Do they? How are the voters, a la the people, understanding it, and viewing it? I've got three politics pros, to break it down for us.

But let's just admit, this so far is like the biggest puzzle piece that we've gotten, so far, into the search warrant. We've received it - a lot of information. But to date, this is the biggest puzzle piece.

And now, I want to talk specifics about what it tells us and the overall picture that it now creates, and most importantly, what it means.

Let's go to our three top reporters. Senior Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider; CNN National Correspondent, Kristen Holmes; and POLITICO's Senior Legal Affairs reporter, Kyle Cheney.

I'm so glad to see you all here. We've been waiting for this information. Although it's redacted, there is a lot there.

Kyle, let me begin with you here. Because now we know the tally of classified info, just in those January boxes, right, 184 classified documents, 67, "Confidential," 92, "Secret," 25 "Top secret." And what's more, some of these docs had an alphabet soup, of markings, like "HCS," and "SI," and "ORCON."

What was so alarming to the investigators about this?

KYLE CHENEY, SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, that alphabet soup, you just described, it's really gave us the best sense of why the Justice Department took this, as seriously as they did.

HCS, human source Intelligence, people out there, risking their lives, to get Intelligence to United States, are in this information, sitting in a unsecured basement, essentially, things like Special Intelligence, things that are gathered from foreign intercepts, that again, some of the most highly classified and protected secrets that the U.S. government has, sitting in a box, somewhere, mixed in with other materials, personal items, things that have nothing to do with this kind of information.

And so that's again, you just said, that's the 15 boxes that were given back to the Archives, in January. That's not including what was discovered there, subsequently, when DOJ went to visit, and then in the search.

So, they not only were alarmed by what they received, voluntarily, back in January, but then have discovered more information, we should have a lot of insight into. So presumably, it's even more alarming than that.

COATES: That's a really important point, we have to underscore. This is information in the affidavit before they executed the search warrant. This is what they were using, to justify the search that we heard about, two weeks ago.

And Jessica, to that point, I mean, a major point that was mostly redacted, in the Affidavit, was on page 26. And it says, "There is probable cause to believe that documents contain Classified NDI and Presidential Records remain at the premises."

And, of course, they were right about it. They got a dozen more boxes, on August 8th. And even though on June 3rd, the dates are in order, on June 3rd, Christina Bobb, who was Trump's attorney, said that all classified material had already been returned.

So, what does the affidavit signal about maybe potential charges here, knowing that timeline?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It gives a lot more details, as to what investigators were building on.

Because remember, we saw, in the search warrant application that was released recently that investigators, they're specifically focusing on three different criminal statutes that include willful retention of National Defense Information, concealment of government records, and obstruction.


And what we're seeing now is the unredacted parts of this affidavit really give us the glimpses of how investigators are building their case, on all three of those. So, we see how extensive the classified information was that they retrieved in January, and how it did cover, in fact, National Defense Information, which is in this willful retention statute.

The affidavit, you mentioned it Laura, it refers, several times, to obstruction, saying that these investigators believed in fact, they would find evidence, of obstruction, at Mar-a-Lago, when they serve that search warrant.

And then concealment of the records, that's seen in the back-and-forth with the Archives, Trump's team, the fact that they weren't relinquishing this material.

And then you mentioned, June 3rd. That was when Trump's lawyers signed that affidavit, saying that there was no more information, at Mar-a- Lago, which we obviously know, was not true, because of the search warrant, and what was taken then, including 11 sets of classified documents. So, the question is, does that letter play any part, in this obstruction, or concealment, criminal statutes?

So, a lot of questions here, but we're getting a bit more information, as to the underlying information, tonight, in the affidavit.

COATES: So important to think about, and the idea of that certification, saying "There's nothing else here," and then, having these boxes removed, even after the search warrant.

And Kristen, to you, I mean, the DOJ mentions that it's trying to protect civilian witnesses. They've got all these redactions.

How do you think Trump's people are seeing this, this idea of all of the redacted information, but it's covering up, likely, the names of people, who've been instrumental, in providing probable cause basis?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, this idea and focus, on witnesses, and a potential mole, or moles, has been something that has been floating around Trump-world, since the search. Did somebody flip? Did multiple people flip? How did the FBI know exactly where to go?

And I cannot tell you, the number of sources, who called me and pointed the finger at someone else, saying it had to be this person. And that just goes to show you, the paranoia that happens, when you work for Trump, or around him.

But underneath that, I want to point out one thing, which is that we have reported that federal investigators talked to a number of aides, down at Mar-a-Lago, including Molly Michael, his executive assistant, who was the point of contact, for the National Archives, among others, who went down from the White House.

So, underneath all of that finger-pointing, there is somewhat of an understanding that those aides' names are probably going to be in the document. And there's a lot of questions, about whether or not there was somebody, or multiple people, who flipped, who gave a lot of information, specifics, or if this was some sort of culmination, of these interviews, with aides that we know happened at Mar-a-Lago.

And the other thing that I wanted to point out here, and this is, Kyle mentioned this, how there's a lot of discussion about the classified documents, being found, among just regular documents, being completely unfoldered (ph), unidentified, in the midst of personal correspondence, as well as photos and letters.

And I spoke to a number of former Trump staffers, both from the White House, and from Mar-a-Lago, who said they were not at all surprised to hear this, because of Trump's poor record-keeping.

That, he was known to walk around, the White House, or Mar-a-Lago, pick up boxes, go through, rifle through, move stuff from one box to another, without any sort of reasoning behind it, that he also was known to pick up important records, and documents, and write on them, even though aides told him not to.

And I had one source point out to me that he was always showing off some of these presidential records, including those love letters, with Kim Jong-un, essentially another example here, of how there was no real system, in place, nobody actually watching, what was going on here. So again, they were not surprised to see that.


COATES: Kyle Cheney, Kristen Holmes, thank you so much.

Jessica, I'll see you here, in studio, after the break. It's just astonishing to think about. I mean it's one thing to talk about "Alphabet City" and "Alphabet Soup." But to think about all of this being mixed together, as if each thing does not mean something, in terms of a classification, is truly stunning.

Look, we're just getting started. And as we examine the impact of this affidavit, we're going to go through the paperwork, with FBI, with DOJ veterans, and we're going to examine the legal exposure, for Donald Trump, who one ally says quote, "Really needs a competent defense attorney." That person's name? Captain Obvious!

Right back.



COATES: All right, so one thing the redacted yet revealing affidavit does not do, is point the finger, directly, at Donald Trump, and allege specifically that he committed a crime. It doesn't accuse, frankly, anyone of actually committing a crime. That's not really how affidavits work, though, and probable cause findings.

But we do know that the former President, and his legal team, they huddled, earlier this week, at his New Jersey Golf Club. And it wasn't necessarily to hit the links. Some of his allies are telling us, they're concerned about what's in the affidavit.

And one of those allies says Trump, quote, "Really needs a competent defense attorney, even more so now," which suggests he maybe doesn't have one, at the moment.

Let's talk about the potential legal fallout of all of this.

Jessica Schneider, is back with us, and not only is she a reporter, but she is also a lawyer, which is why we like her so much, of course.

We also have former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Elliot Williams; and former FBI Chief of Counterespionage, Peter Strzok.

We like you too, anyone who's not a lawyer, OK? FYI. Don't feel badly about it.

Look, I mean, first of all, Peter, think about this. You have obviously overseen a number of investigations. You know how this looks. You know how there's been a lot of backlash.

But then, is this kind of vindication that they were able to find things, the affidavit tells, "Hey, here's what we were looking for." They didn't have a whole black-lined, redacted memo, for the entire thing. Is this some form of vindication, for those, who have doubted, why this took place?


PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI CHIEF OF COUNTERESPIONAGE SECTION, AUTHOR, "COMPROMISED": I don't know that I'd call it so much vindication. It's just a confirmation that DOJ and the FBI are doing things exactly right. They're doing things in accordance with the law. They're doing things by the book.

And, I think, look, when you see, what's here in front of us, unredacted, and it's a really disturbing tale. But keep in mind, half of this, 18 pages, easily, are completely blacked-out.

So, the things that investigators were looking at, the real critical items that show people trying to obstruct, that show why they think there's still classified information there? We don't know what's there, because that's all still redacted, so.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: This significant number of civilian witnesses, it's a line that sort of nestled on the first page, and they don't make a big deal about it. They referenced the number of witnesses again, once in the document on page five.

It debunks this idea that, number one, they hadn't adequately or effectively planned, or prepped, or prepared for this, before executing - like they just swept in, and did a raid on Mar-a-Lago.

What this suggests is that this wasn't one disgruntled maid, at Mar-a- Lago that picked up the phone, and called the FBI. But that the Justice Department and the FBI had spent a significant amount of time, building witnesses, working evidence, before they even got in the door of Mar-a-Lago.



COATES: Which makes sense, right to think about this, Jessica? Because there's significant - I mean, you don't have a probable cause finding that a judge is going to say, "Oh, former President, how many you got? You got one witness? Great! Bring the person in."

SCHNEIDER: And not only, to Peter's point, did the DOJ do things, by the book, here. But they gave significant deference, to Trump's legal team. They tried to work with the legal team.

It goes through this timeline, even more, in depth, in this affidavit, the fact that the National Archives referred this, to the Justice Department, in February. Then, it was sort of sat on, until mid-May, when the FBI was finally able to go through those boxes, and see just how highly classified, the material was inside.

Throughout this process, they're going back-and-forth, with Trump's lawyers, giving them the opportunity to cooperate, and give this back.

WILLIAMS: And that action - this all of this back-and-forth actually supports the idea of an obstruction of justice charge, because of the fact that the President, and his team, were put on notice that they have these documents, and were asked, multiple times, both by the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Justice Department, to turn them over, right?

COATES: But it also supports this idea that - I mean, what, you're FBI.

WILLIAMS: And it supports (ph).

COATES: What took so long? How much deference do you give? I mean, I know, it's the former President. But there's that phrase, "No one above the law." I don't know the average civilian that gets to have a back-and-forth, back-and-forth, when I think you have what I want.

STRZOK: I think it definitely takes time. Because, keep in mind, just at the Archives, they needed to get it back. And once they did, they had to look at it, to figure out that there was stuff that they thought, potentially, was classified that they needed to refer to the FBI. There's back-and-forth about whether that information could be shared, whether they needed a subpoena.

But to Elliot's point, I think, what's really critical, what sticks in my mind, as part of all this process, is that June meeting, down at Mar-a-Lago, between the Department of Justice, and Trump's attorneys, where they tell him, "Look, you do not have a place at Mar-a-Lago that is certified, and legally, can be used, to store classified information." They follow that up, with a letter, two days later, and the attorneys write back, saying "Letter received."

So what, on the one hand, you see DOJ sort of being cautious. But what they're also doing is papering the record, to show, "You can't do this. It's against the law. And we're telling you not once, not twice, but multiple times."

COATES: And the lawyers then respond. I mean, they were responding right, to say what they had, or did not have. And, at one point, as we know, even say, "Nothing else is here." And then lo and behold, the receipt that came from that search at Mar-a-Lago indicated that they actually had more there.

I want to go into a little bit of the minutiae, Elliot.


COATES: Because hidden with the affidavit, I want you to comment to this, as well as Jessica, there is the lowercase "e" hidden in the code. This is - it tells you there's lawyers at the table, who are like "Turn your page, to the little tiny 'e.'" That's the focus here. It's 18 USC 793(e), and it relates to the Espionage Act, saying the code - the code doesn't use the term classified information.


COATES: It doesn't mean that the mishandling though declassified docs could also be a crime?

WILLIAMS: Right. So - and we've gotten on this classification and declassification train that somehow if the President had declassified these documents, therefore there would have been no crime committed. And that's simply not accurate.

Now, look, there's a number of other problems and regulations, when you mishandle sensitive or classified information. But merely having certain documents, in your possession, is itself possibly a criminal offence.


WILLIAMS: And that's what they're getting at here.

COATES: And it's not just the idea, Jessica, right that you're just, you know - I know, oftentimes, the government's accused of over- classifying everything. They over - prosecutors indict a ham sandwich, they classify it McDonald's wrapper, right?

But this - they actually go through, a lot of different categories, here. And that's very shocking, just the breath.

SCHNEIDER: It is. And some of the people, who I've spoken with, who routinely have, or are in the past have dealt with this type of information, they've been appalled, when this came out today--


SCHNEIDER: --just how highly classified this information was that was sort of haphazardly thrown around in boxes, at Mar-a-Lago.

You're talking about information that implicates human sources that are operating around the world. That if that information gets out, they could be targeted, they could be jailed. They could be killed.



SCHNEIDER: So yes, this was extremely sensitive information, in many different realms.


COATES: You've handled this information, Peter.


COATES: I mean this is - you're talking about - can you imagine a Post-it note, here, a calendar, here, and then classified and this highly sensitive material there?

STRZOK: Yes. No, not at all. I mean, the way, when you start talking about top secret information that's Sensitive Compartmented Information, containing things like, we saw the acronym HCS, HUMINT Control System.

This is dealing with human sources at a level that you might be able to not only know, what they're reporting on, but in the hands of the wrong person, say, in China, in Russia and Cuba, they could figure out, specifically, who was providing that information, go out, round them up, shoot them, imprisonment for life, would be the worst case. But this is handled at the most restrictive levels, in the United States government. And this--


STRZOK: --and this idea that it's just floating around Mar-a-Lago is crazy.

WILLIAMS: So, a number of us, around this table, have had security clearances before. It can't be said enough, what even the world's "Top Secret" mean. And top secret documents weren't even the most secure document - the most sensitive documents. Top secret means that if it were to be disclosed, it could cause quote, "Exceptionally grave harm to U.S. national security."


WILLIAMS: That is a big deal. You're not talking about someone's Social Security number, or background information. These are actually important national security documents.

COATES: And, to your point, everyone, I mean, I hope people realize the "Human," in the human sourcing information, and that this could be foreign assets as well. So, you could think about what our global standing is, at a time when, just two years ago, we were talking about trying to redeem ourselves, in the eyes of the global Intelligence community.

Stick around, everyone. Jessica, Peter, Elliot, thank you so much.

Look, we're going to move to the political impact, for Trump, in an investigation, he claims is entirely political. Does the affidavit disprove that notion? That was rhetorical! That's next.



COATES: All right, we talked about the legal fallout, so far. So now, to the political fallout, from today's blacked-out bombshell.

Donald Trump, and his defenders, are talking more about persecution than prosecution. They say the whole thing is political, which we've heard this trend before.

Even the spokesman tweeted, quote, "The release of the heavily redacted, overtly political affidavit only proves that the Biden administration is desperate to cover up their unprecedented, unnecessary and un-American raid against President Donald J. Trump," unquote.

So, is this how their argument will look, as Trump maybe ponders a 2024 run? Let's talk about it now, with former Democratic senator, Doug Jones; Alice Stewart, who worked for the GOP senator, Ted Cruz; and Ramesh Ponnuru, from the National Review. Glad to have you all here.

Look, this, we've heard, in many ways, as Yogi Berra would say, "Deja vu all over again," the idea that persecution, this is a political hit job, the witch-hunt, a different iteration now being used. I mean, it's a 38-page document. Obviously, the length doesn't dictate whether it's political or not. But in going through it, it does not ring political.

You've been a U.S. attorney. What is your thought?

DOUG JONES, (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: There's nothing in there that's political. Not one sentence, not one word, not one period, comma, whatever, there's nothing in that document that is political.

It is standard fair. It is setting forth some pretty serious allegations. It gives the statutes. It gives the classifications. It really sets forth a document. There's nothing in that that would indicate political.

And, by the way, anybody that's ever done any federal criminal work, or any state criminal work that's ever been involved in a high- profile, or even a low-level, public official? The defense de jures (ph) it's political. "It's political. It's political." But, you know, I mean? And some of them are. But if someone has committed a crime, it really needs to be prosecuted.

COATES: We're not - yes.

JONES: And that's the issue, here.

COATES: We're not here yet with the prosecution. You obviously know. But the sort of the talking point will be, "Fine. This is a self- fulfilling prophecy. You got 38 pages of one. You want to go after him, you're going to go after him. So, the reason you're targeting him in the first place, is that."

Is that what the talking point is?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER TED CRUZ COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. Look, me personally, I think Donald Trump should not have had these documents. He did not store them properly. When he was asked to return them, he should have done so immediately.

And ignorance is not a defense. And there should be consequences. Even Karl Rove, who is a fan of Trump, has said he should not have had these. It's in violation of the Presidential Records Act.

But there is the other facet of the Republican Party. Many view him as the victim. They look at what the DOJ and the FBI has done, as going after him, as a prosecutorial witch-hunt.

And they look at this 38-page document. About two-thirds of it is redacted. And while they do respect, covering up, for sources and methods, they say that a lot of this heavily redacted material, is a way to avoid transparency. And they say that the DOJ and FBI are doing bidding for the Democratic Party.

And many Republicans, who were ready to turn their back on Trump, and look to someone else, in 2024, now view him as a victim or a martyr, and they're ready to get on board and support him.

COATES: What do you think, Ramesh? I mean, the idea here, in fact? And you mentioned ignorance, Alice.

And part of the ignorance, I don't mean it in just a pejorative way, you try to - if you're talking about a narrative, you want to capitalize, on what you don't know, what the electorate might not know. Maybe he does declassify.

I mean, President Biden came out, to talk about the idea of the notion that you can declassify, in a blanket way. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump said that he declassified all these documents. Could he have just declassified them all?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: "Well, I just want to know, I've declassified everything in the world. I'm President. I can do it --" come on!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without a specialized area in which you can view classified documents, is it ever appropriate for a President to bring classified and top secret documents home with them?

BIDEN: It depends on the document, and it depends on how secure the room is.


COATES: I mean, Ramesh, for him, home is like upstairs, to be fair, not Mar-a-Lago.

RAMESH PONNURU, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Yes. I've actually - I don't disagree with what the President said. I'm not sure that it was wise, for him, to engage, on this level, to begin with. This is such a delicate question.

Even if the law does call, for having done this search, of a former President's home, I think that it reasonably raises all sorts of questions, and the President should keep as much of it at arm's length. The sitting president that is, as he can.


On the other questions, involved in this, I think that it is going to become harder and harder, to make any argument, for Trump, on the possession of these documents. It just seems to me just a slam-dunk case--


PONNURU: --that that was government material. Now, the question of whether he should be prosecuted for anything that is related to that? That's a different question. And that will affect the politics of this.

And what you're going to see, a lot, is a word that I haven't heard so far, tonight, on CNN, "Hillary Clinton," right? The argument--

COATES: Well, because it's two words, that's why.

PONNURU: Yes. Two words! The arguments are going to - the argument' going to be, this is not the even-handed application of justice. Sure. It was foolish for Trump's spokesman to say it's overtly political, this affidavit. It's not - obviously not overtly political.

But if some people, David Petraeus, Hillary Clinton get pretty light sort of slaps on the wrist, for the mistreatment of classified material--


PONNURU: --for the recklessness with national security? People who support Trump, or people who are just sympathetic to him, or people who just think, maybe he's not even a good guy, but the--

COATES: You're nodding along?

JONES: Yes, yes.

PONNURU: --there's been persecution--

JONES: I don't disagree with that at all--


JONES: --from a political side. And that's the one thing that I - it's just absolutely, Laura, with no disrespect to the media, it's driving me crazy. Everybody's making this about "Trump, Trump, Trump." And it's really about the "Documents, documents, documents," and it's about national security.

And what we see, from this document, is that the FBI, and the National Archives, spent a lot of time, trying to get these documents back. Clearly, the FBI looked at the documents that were classified, saw that there was a problem, continued to work, to try to get these documents back.

But that - it's an important point that had been made. The FBI clearly looked at the documents that contained - contained in those 15 boxes, saw that there was some serious issues that they had to work on, and decided to go after more.

And we need to be talking about this, in terms of there may not ever be a prosecution, of this case.


JONES: Quite frankly, that would be fine, if there was none. But getting these documents back, was very serious, and needed to be done.


PONNURU: I read the affidavit. Affidavit is consistent with, the prime thing is get these documents back.

JONES: Absolutely.

COATES: We're going to talk more about this. Stick around. Don't worry, I'll get back to you as well, everyone.

I want to talk about what the voters actually might think about this, because that's part of what's happening, in the court of public electoral opinion. We'll have to think about in the next 74 days, even beyond Donald Trump's impact.

Coming up, how candidates are changing their message, to try and meet the moment. And that includes a Republican Senate-hopeful, scrubbing his website, of strict views, against abortion, next.



COATES: All right. The old pre-September Shuffle. With 74 days left until the midterms, some candidates are trying to shift their message, to appeal to a broader electorate, outside the primary, like Arizona Republican Senate candidate, Blake Masters, who is now softening his position, on abortion. The 36-year-old scrubbed his website, of his support, of a federal personhood law, and other strict anti-abortion positions.

And across the aisle, Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger is leaning into abortion rights, with a new ad. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First, Yesli Vega cheered the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Next, Vega was caught on tape saying women can't get pregnant from rape.

Yesli Vega is too extreme for Virginia.


COATES: Well back with me now, Doug Jones, and Alice Stewart. They're joined by CNN Political Commentator, Ashley Allison.

Glad to have you all here.

I mean, look, we're talking about, in many respects, this big news, today, of the affidavit, and seeing all the information. The shadow of Donald Trump looms pretty big. But there is the midterm elections, 70- something days away. And I'm sure they want to talk about anything but Trump.


COATES: When you look at this, what is this messaging scrubbing, really about? Is this just prudent? Is it disingenuous? What are your thoughts?

STEWART: First of all, Trump is not on the ballot in November. So, that is a talking point that the Democrats love to tout. But he's not on the ballot.

And Democrats would love nothing more than to talk about anything but inflation and recession, high prices, rising crime, and inflationary factors, across the board. They would certainly love that.

But here's the thing, abortion, when it has been on the ballot, specifically in Kansas, and in New York 19, when that is the single issue, and then the candidate in 19 made that the sole focus, it does galvanize people. I'll give it to the Democrats. They really got the women out. They got voters out. And abortion was a galvanizing issue.

But as we move the next 74 days, Republicans are going to look at the real issues that everyday Americans, across this country, are concerned with. And that is the pocketbook issues, the kitchen table issues, the economy and inflation. Republicans are going to focus on that, focus on what we are currently seeing, with inflation, and the - a bad economy.

But the more the Democrats continue to spin, like we just did, with the Inflation Reduction Act, as we've done with many climate change proposals, the more the Democrat spin, it gives more fuel for Republicans--

COATES: Well, you say it's to spin. I mean, you say, "Spin." But Biden would say, "Success." That's his "S" word.

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER NATIONAL COALITIONS DIRECTOR, BIDEN-HARRIS 2020 CAMPAIGN, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE STAFF MEMBER: I agree. I mean, Trump is not on the ballot. But he definitely is looming, in every election, and endorsing candidates. And his endorsement has actually helped a lot of election-deniers, move through primaries, and will be on the ballot, which is dangerous in and of itself.

But I would say that these candidates, who are scrubbing their websites, from what their stance on abortion? Maya Angelou says, "When somebody shows you who they are, believe it." We have to hold them to account.

Just because you took something off the internet doesn't mean it's not still real. You better believe that if Masters gets into as the Senator of Arizona, he will push, to try and make a federal ban, on abortion. He said it before, and he would do it again. And voters know that.

And I think they're running scared. Republicans, they did a lot of work, for the 50 years, to ban Roe. And now, they did an overreach. The court did overreach. And voters are going to come out.


And it's not just women. It's not just young people. It's independent voters, and it is some Republicans. Because this is an issue that we know that over 60 percent of Americans support a woman's right to choose. And if this is on - and it might not literally be on the ballot. But it is a part of the everyday life.


JONES: And one, I think Trump is on the ballot. His name's not on. But you look at everything, he is on the ballot.

ALLISON: That's right.

JONES: There is no question about it. In most States, and at least in the critical races.

And I invite the American public, to talk about the economy, and to talk about things. Because the thing that the American public want, is somebody working for them, and doing something. They may not agree on everything. But they want to see action taken. They want to see people, out there, trying to talk about.

There is not a single Republican candidate, for the United States Senate that has a plan that has talked about how to reduce gas prices, which are coming down, dramatically, which talks about how to growth in our economy, which talks about the historic jobs, and how they're going to match that, if they get elected.

At least, this administration, and the Democrats, are giving the American people something that they can sink their teeth into. They want to see people doing some things in action.

And you couple that with the contrast of Republicans, who want to ban books, who have adopted cancel culture, who have decided that women should not be able to choose that a bunch of folks, in state capitols can do that for them? I think that contrast is growing.

COATES: Alice totally agrees with everything you just said, so.


COATES: Oh, just one little--

STEWART: One little thing, with all due respect of the fine senator, look, Democrats are going to have a really difficult time, when this Inflation Reduction Act, which is anything but reducing inflation, doesn't follow through with that.

Why is it that Joe Manchin, and other Democrats that have been asked by reporters, and the people, "When are we going to see inflation reduce?" No one has an answer.

JONES: Tell that to the--

STEWART: So, when people realize that they're going to see that--


STEWART: --they were sold a bulletin (ph).

JONES: Tell that to the seniors, who have a $2,000 cap.

ALLISON: That's right.

JONES: Tell that to Medicare recipients, they're going to see prices come down, because they can negotiate. Tell that to the young folks, who for the first time ever, we are investing in climate, with good- paying jobs that can do that.

It is not going to have an inflation reduction, in the immediate future. But people want to see reactions, they want to see people acting for it.

ALLISON: And I would also--

JONES: That's what they're going to see, I think.

ALLISON: And I would also say, it's not just they want to see people acting. I think the American people also understand that it's Republicans that are preventing more, from actually happening.

JONES: A lot of it, absolutely.

ALLISON: And so, not only are they saying, "We don't want a woman's right to choose, but we don't want to help you. We don't want to cap insulin. We don't want gas prices to go down. We want to give corporations tax breaks, and not Middle America."

JONES: Well.

ALLISON: And when you put that contrast together that everyday American, in my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, know that they might not agree with everything, but it's Democrats that are going to fight for them and try and improve the quality of their life.

STEWART: And Republicans also didn't want to pay off student loan debt, for people that incurred debt--

JONES: Oh, that's another - that's another whole segment.

ALLISON: Don't get me started!

STEWART: People that worked hard to have no college debt now have college debt.


JONES: Some.

COATES: But you know what? The idea of incrementalism will probably fit into all these conversations. It's the idea of the old sort of curse of politics. Have you done enough? Is it too little? Is it too much? We'll see in November.

Doug, Alice, and Ashley, thank you so much.

And look, a much different debate ahead. Now you know, the Miranda warning right? You can recite it. You've watched every Law & Order marathon, every what, New Year's Day and Sunday too?

"Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law." But what about before someone gets arrested? And what if those words, are actually in rap lyrics? The legal battle against two star rappers, part of the conversation, tonight, next.



COATES: So, here's a question, you're probably not hearing anywhere else.

Could rapping about a crime ultimately get you convicted of that crime? Fulton County Georgia D.A. Fani Willis is thinking about it. Her team is handling the criminal cases, against Atlanta rappers, Young Thug and Gunna. Both men were arrested, in May, on suspicion of gang activity.

And Willis says that she might just use lyrics, from Thug's YSL collective/record label, to help prosecute her case. Now, this is a controversial practice that's been going on and used for decades. But is it fair?

Let's have the conversation now. And joining me is civil rights attorney, and Temple University professor, Timothy Welbeck.

Professor, welcome to the program. I'm glad to have the conversation with you.

TIMOTHY WELBECK, PROFESSOR & DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR ANTI-RACISM, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY: Thank you for having me. And thank you for taking the time to have this conversation.

COATES: For many people - you may have read the indictments, of course, out there, but I know you have.

And the idea of thinking about that old phrase, of "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law," now they normally mean, in the course of an interaction, with a Police officer, after a crime has actually occurred, right? But they - or alleged to have occurred.

Here, is this practice, should it be fair, should it be used, does it violate a constitutional or civil rights notion? WELBECK: Yes. On its face, I generally discourage to practice. It's, on it's - it leads to a First Amendment violation, potentially. And also, it has a potential chilling effect, on artistic expression.

When you had a reference to the Miranda rights, and as you suggested, it is dealing with direct interactions with law enforcement, and what's said, in those moments, could potentially be incriminating, and used in legal proceedings.

But artistic expression that one has used as a means to convey their lived experience, or just delving into the depths of their imagination, it's not something that you should suffer criminal liability for.

COATES: And yet, if you think about, I mean, one could possibly say, "Look, I didn't confess to a crime. I didn't. I wasn't rapping my confession. It was my artistry at play here." And it could be used - as the retort could be used to suggest that you're just couching it, in that language, to get First Amendment protection, to avoid criminality, and prosecution.

But isn't it a practice, in terms of what's being used? These are public statements. Why do you think Fani Willis, and other D.A.s, really, across the country, have used this, why shouldn't they be able to do so on the notion of, "Hey, then everyone's going to claim it's artistic expression, when it very well may be a confession."

WELBECK: So, that's a good question. On its face, again, if an artist is delving into various forms of creative expression? That should not impose some form of criminal liability.


We don't do this with any other form of art. We haven't paraded Stephen King into court, and asked him to give an account of the murderous intent, of some of his novels, or some of his films that have - or some films that were adapted from his novels.

And similarly speaking, we shouldn't do this, with hip-hop artists as well.

It's one thing if their lyrics signal information or knowledge of a crime that only the person, who could have committed it would have known. That in and of itself is a different set of circumstances. But just blanket statements that people are making, in the course of scope with their lyrics, is not something that prosecutors should be using in court.

COATES: And of course, we can't overlook the fact that we are talking about particular genre of music that has a history of being stigmatized--


COATES: --as being violent, and is something that's oftentimes is used to fuel existing stereotypes, and even to create new ones, even unjustifiably, of course.

Do you think that the stigma surrounding or the way in which people have traditionally come to understand, over the course of these modern musical history, rap music, that it's the genre itself, that at times is on trial?

WELBECK: Yes, absolutely. And the genre has been on trial, almost since its inception, at the point, at which it entered into the mainstream populace, and its attention that came with it, people have found ways to stigmatize it, in part because it leads to a broader narrative of Black criminality. And it begins to paint narratives about young Black men and women, who are said to have a greater propensity, towards committing crimes, and other violent acts.

And so, hip-hop, as a culture, and rap, as one of the forms of music and art that it has inspired, is on trial, so to speak, when we have various conversations like this, particularly when you look at the long-protracted history, of public relations campaigns, of people trying to not only censor rap, and also stigmatize it, but further look at ways that they can say that this is a detrimental form of communication, for the public.

COATES: And in fact, interestingly enough, as part of your work, as a professor, you believe that infusing even lectures, at time, with different artistic expressions like rap and et cetera, can be a way for people to better-understand a topic, and an issue.

Finally, real quick for you, Professor, on this point, because it's to me a little bit striking, about this very notion. And that is, are we seeing this with other forms of music? Are we seeing this used with - you mentioned Stephen King, for example.

But it's in other jurisdictions, legislation around trying to protect artists, in this very thing? Are we going to see a bit of a blueprint created all across this country?

WELBECK: I certainly would hope so. And I applaud the legislation in California, and in New York, that seek to limit the means, in which we use rap lyrics, to criminalize their subjects.

And particularly, it's requiring prosecutors, to meet their constitutional burden. If these prosecutors are successful, they will deprive people of their life, their liberty, and their property. That requires due process, according to the Constitution. And if you're just using rap lyrics, the evidence that you're presenting is insufficient.

COATES: The burden's got to be there. And of course, you can't use anything, just to say that "You seem like a criminal. Therefore, you must have done this crime." We call that unlawful propensity evidence.

Thank you, Professor Timothy Welbeck.

WELBECK: Thank you.

COATES: A very fascinating conversation! WELBECK: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

COATES: Still ahead, an FBI affidavit that's both redacted and revealing.