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The Situation Room
FBI Interviewed Top Trump White House Lawyers About Documents Taken To Mar-a-Lago; Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) To Confront Trump Tonight Whether She Wins Or Loses Primary; FBI Facing Unprecedented Number Of Threats Since Mar-a-Lago Search; Biden Signs Landmark Climate, Health Care, Tax Bill Into Law; Explosions Rock Russian Ammunition Depot In Crimea. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 16, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're learning that the FBI has interviewed the former top lawyers in the Trump White House in connection with the investigation of classified documents taken to Mar-a-Lago.
I'll get reaction from the House intelligence committee chairman, Adam Schiff, who is also a key member of the January 6th select committee.
Also this hour, one of the most prominent Republican critics of Trump is at risk of being ousted from Congress. We're tracking Liz Cheney's primary battle in Wyoming and learning how she plans to confront Trump tonight, whether she wins organization loses.
And President Biden just signed a sweeping climate health care and tax bill into law. We're going tell you what's next for the Democrats and their efforts to build on this win as the midterm elections get closer and closer.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's now over a week after FBI agents descended on former President Trump's Florida home. New details are now emerging about the criminal investigation that prompted the search.
CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is following all of these developments, including the high level witnesses who have now been questioned.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, new revelations that former President Trump's two top White House lawyers interviewed with the FBI about classified documents at Mar-a- Lago. White House Council Pat Cipollone and his deputy, Pat Philbin, were Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives when Trump left office. They could have insight about what was taken to Mar-a-Lago and why 11 sets of classified documents remained there until last Monday, when FBI agents searched Trump's Palm Beach home.
The new details come as the court fight for more information about the search is looming. A federal judge announcing he'll hold a hearing Thursday on whether to publicly release the affidavit that provided the basis for last Monday's search. The Justice Department seeking to keep it secret, saying any release would reveal highly sensitive information about witnesses, specific investigative techniques and it would serve as a roadmap to the government's ongoing investigation.
CNN and other media outlets have asked the judge to unseal the affidavit, and Trump himself must weigh in on whether he wants it released by tomorrow.
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think it says there are very significant problems here for President Trump and many of his advisers post-presidency.
SCHNEIDER: Trump has repeatedly railed against the search, calling it a witch hunt, and accusing FBI agents of stealing three of his passports. But Trump's attorney said they'd been returned by Monday night, with the FBI putting out a statement to make clear they were simply swept up in the search as is routine. In executing search warrants, the FBI follows search and seizure procedures ordered by the courts, then returns items that do not need to be retained for law enforcement purpose.
RUDY GIULIANI, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER LAWYER: Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, this is not machine you want counting your votes.
SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, Trump's former lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has officially become a target in another criminal investigation, this one being led by an Atlanta area prosecutor into efforts by Trump and his allies to flip results in Georgia claiming it was rigged.
GIULIANI: The recount being done in Georgia will tell us nothing because these fraudulent ballots will just be counted again.
They look like they're passing out dope, not just ballots. It is quite clear they're stealing votes.
SCHNEIDER: Giuliani is scheduled to appear before the grand jury tomorrow, but it's still unclear if he will answer questions or plead the Fifth.
GIULIANI: The statements that I made are either attorney/client privilege, because they were between me and him, or they were being made on his behalf in order to defend him.
BOLTON: President Trump may be right behind him in terms of liability. If Rudy is in trouble as the target of an investigation, then I think Trump almost certainly is as well.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): And as for the Justice Department, they've made clear in a court filing this week that that classified information investigation is still ongoing.
In the meantime, the battle is escalating between two top House Democrats and the DHS inspector general. Members Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney, they're accusing I.G. Joseph Cuffari of obstructing their investigation into that missing Secret Service text messages. They said that in a letter released this afternoon. But, Wolf, no response just yet from the inspector general's office.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider reporting for us, Jessica, thank you very much. I want to bring in CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, CNN's Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt and CNN Legal Anlyst Elliot Williams.
Elliot, I'll start with you. What does it tell you that the FBI actually interviewed the two top former White House lawyers in this criminal investigation into the handling of classified, very sensitive documents?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's clear, Wolf, that the FBI is homing in on the discrepancies in the handing over of documents.
Clearly, a red flag got set off somewhere between June and now, in which a number of boxes were handed over, but not the full amount.
These are both -- it's important to note, these are both senior White House staff, but not sort of principals, not -- it's not the president himself. That's where you often get the most valuable testimony you're going get, from people who were around subject to very important, very sensitive conversations, but not the president himself. They are getting very close to the president, and this and other investigations, which we may talk about later on.
BLITZER: Well, let me follow up with Gloria right now. What sort of insight potentially, Gloria, could these two senior officials, both lawyers in the White House, actually provide as to how the former president at the time handled these sensitive documents?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: A lot of insight, because they were the president's representatives to the National Archives at the end of his term. And Patrick Philbin's role really was the middle man. If the Archives felt, hey, we have some documents, but we have some other documents that are missing, they go to Philbin and say can you help us out, can you help us get these documents?
So, he would be very aware of the process. He would be also aware if the president was reluctant to hand over documents. And, by the way, he and Cipollone would also be aware if there was any kind of general sense that the president's documents can be automatically declassified, if that's what he wanted to do. So, they can provide a lot of information.
BLITZER: It's a very, very sensitive and potentially very significant moment indeed.
BLITZER: Kasie, now that the former president of the United States and supporters, for that matter, are demanding release of this affidavit in connection with the search of the Florida home at Mar-a- Lago, is that a political rather than a legal tactic that's ongoing right now?
KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, I think so. And if you look at how the former president has handled these kinds of things in the past the way that his supporters are willing to back him up basically at every turn, you'll see that it doesn't really matter how much you give, right? You have to give and give and give, and the former president still wants more and more and more and still has some problems with what has gone on.
So, I think this is a way for him to continue to gin up support and, frankly, has kind of thrown him in some ways a political lifeline, which we talked about at length.
BLITZER: Yes, very significant as well.
Elliot, on Thursday, a federal judge will weigh, will decide whether to release the actual affidavit. It's a very sensitive development indeed. You say you'd be surprised if this gets released now. Tell us why.
WILLIAMS: I'd be stunned if this got released now, Wolf, for a number of reasons. Affidavits that support search warrants lay out the legal basis and the case for why they believe that property should have been searched. That will reveal, number one, investigative tactics that they used, number two, people that they spoke to, number three, evidence, and, number four, jeopardize the constitutional rights of unaccused people. Regardless of the fact that the former president is polarizing too many individuals in the public, he is still a person who has not yet been charged with a crime and is entitled to that presumption of innocence. And once you start opening up affidavits, you get the Justice Department and the courts down a very, very dangerous road.
Courts tend to look pretty favorably on the Justice Department or prosecutors' decisions to not release these affidavits until someone is charged with a crime or if the case goes away. But even then, the public may never see it. So, I'd be stunned if this became made public this week.
BLITZER: Yes, I would be too.
Gloria, I know you're doing a lot of reporting on this. Are people in the former president's orbit right now still focused on the witness who actually cooperated with the investigators in this Mar-a-Lago search?
BORGER: Well, first of all, I think we can presume the president is pretty focused on it, former president, but it's a topic of conversation among people who used to work at the White House. I spoke with one former senior official who just explained it this way. He said, look, people were interviewed by the FBI. People are interviewed by the FBI. They're going to tell the truth. So, he said to me, don't necessarily think of it as a whistleblower or -- if they're asked a question about do you know there are other documents, they're going to answer it truthfully. And so he believes that is what has occurred.
BLITZER: Kasie, how do you think all these developments, and they're pretty dramatic developments indeed, how do you think they could impact or play in the upcoming midterm elections?
HUNT: Well, I think they're going to have a huge impact, most definitely on the 2024 nominating contest on the Republican side. I think the impact on the midterms is potentially a little bit less clear. But one place I do see it potentially, actually helping Democrats is in putting the focus back on the former president instead of -- typically, midterm elections are referendums on the president in office. And, frankly, Biden had been having a pretty tough time.
But over the course of the summer, he has racked up a series of legislative accomplishments. And now, frankly, the former president is out there and Democratic strategists this whole time have been telling me, we would love for this midterm to be about Donald Trump and not about Joe Biden.
And it seems like they've gotten their wish.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly does.
Elliot, let's talk a little bit about Rudy Giuliani. He is expected to appear tomorrow before a judge grand jury. What do you expect and what could this mean for the former president himself?
WILLIAMS: Look, it is never good when you're named the target of an investigation, Wolf. You're either the witness, which means they want testimony from you, the subject, which means that you might have something useful to provide, or you're a target, which means they are investigating you for a possible crime.
So, number one, I would think he would not testify or either plead the Fifth or not couldn't. We will see what happens there.
Now, look, it is very hard to see, Wolf, how Rudy Giuliani is a target of investigation and the president ultimately is not at some point. They were working together in lockstep. We have no indication to suggest that Rudy Giuliani was acting rogue and not acting at the direction of the president. So, I would assume that the prosecutors are also looking at the president's conduct and that we probably hear some more but this is very, very bad for Rudy Giuliani and not particularly good for the president.
BLITZER: Yes, good point indeed. Elliot Williams, Kasie Hunt, Gloria Borger, guys, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, should Congress be allowed to the probable cause affidavit behind the Mar-a-Lago search. I'll ask a key member of the House January 6th select committee, Congressman Adam Schiff. He is standing by live. We will discuss when we come back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:15:00]
BLITZER: Sources are now telling CNN that the FBI interviewed former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his former deputy, Patrick Philbin, earlier this year as part of the investigation into federal documents taken to former President Trump's Florida home at Mar-a- Lago.
Let's get some more in all of these developments. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California is joining us. He is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He's also a key member of the House select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. His book, by the way, is entitled Midnight in Washington, How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could. It is now out in paperback, a very important read indeed. Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for joining us.
How significant is it is that the FBI interviewed these two former White House lawyers in its criminal investigation into the handling of these highly classified documents?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, if that was the focus, that would be very significant as it pertains to the strength of the case in Mar-a- Lago. I don't know on the basis of public reporting whether it was confined to that or also included the January 6th issues.
But those two White House counsel presumably would know if there was any basis to the claim that we're hearing now from people around Trump that he has somehow declassified documents. Because at least if the process was followed that should be followed, they should have submitted whatever documents they wanted declassified to the intelligence community, gotten an opinion as to what damage may be done to national security if they were released, and White House counsel would be a part of that process or knowledgeable about it. So, they might have had some very important testimony in that regard.
BLITZER: Do you accept the reasoning from the U.S. Justice Department, Mr. Chairman, that releasing the affidavit would actually damage their ongoing investigation?
SCHIFF: Yes. You know, I think the Justice Department is acting in good faith. And I read the brief that they filed in opposition to disclosing that affidavit. That affidavit generally signed by an FBI agent sets out the evidence, the witnesses, the observations that lead to the probable cause. And that can be used by a potential defendant or the target of investigation to determine how much they know and what they need to conceal.
We've seen all too often witness intimidation by the former president. We've seen him try to go after anyone who reveals anything about him. And so they have good reason to keep it confidential. And I think they struck the right balance. They moved to disclose the warrant, the inventory. That's pretty exceptional to do that. But they've drawn the line at the affidavit, and I think they've drawn the line in the right place. BLITZER: Senator Lindsey Graham, he said today that the Justice Department should share the affidavit with senators. As you know, Senate Intelligence Committee members, including some of the leaders, they want to see the classified documents that were seized. Should members of Congress, including yourself for that matter, see the affidavit or those seized documents themselves?
SCHIFF: I would like to see the documents and also see a damage assessment that I've called for along with Chairwoman Maloney, a damage assessment by the intelligence community of what harm may have been done by the improper handling of these materials.
In terms of the affidavit, I think that the Justice Department is going to be very reluctant, as it is in investigations, generally, to share information about an ongoing investigation with Congress. But if there is information in the affidavit that indicates that those materials have been compromised in some way, or that is relevant to our oversight of the maintenance of security around our documents and our sources and our methods, I hope the information can be shared with us even if the affidavit the Justice Department is unwilling to share.
BLITZER: On the January 6th investigation, which clearly is still ongoing, Mr. Chairman, Select Committee Chair Bennie Thompson in a letter today, he accused the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security of obstructing your investigation. Do you have reason to believe the inspector general is deliberately hindering that investigation?
SCHIFF: We have deep concerns about it. And I think the actions that he is taking are hindering our investigation. We want to gain access to information about the particular devices these Secret Service agents were using, what the status of any text may be, when they were destroyed, how they were destroyed, and there are profound questions about why it took the inspector general so long to notify Congress that they had been deleted and scrubbed off those devices.
So, his conduct has raised a lot of questions, and I support the effort Chairman Thompson is making to get to the bottom of it. I've spoken with the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Ale Mayorkas, to make sure whatever ongoing investigation they have ongoing in the department, criminal or civil, doesn't interfere with our ability to get the evidence we need for the purposes of our oversight.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks so much for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, we have more details emerging right now in the search of Mar-a-Lago, as well as imminent threats, this is very disturbing, imminent threats the FBI is now facing in the wake of that search.
And Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney is fighting for her political life right now in Wyoming's primary tonight. Will her stand against Donald Trump spell the end of her career in Congress?
BLITZER: Right now, Representative Liz Cheney is in danger of being ousted from Congress as she wages an uphill battle against a Trump- backed opponent in Wyoming's GOP primary. Win or lose, the vice chair of the January 6th select committee is planning to continue her fight to hold Trump accountable.
CNN's Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us from Jackson, Wyoming, right now. Jeff, I understand you have some new reporting on what we will hear from Cheney later tonight, no matter what the outcome of her primary.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning that Congresswoman Cheney has been spending the last several days intensely working on this speech, I'm told. In fact, she is still working on it this afternoon. But it is going to be framed as the beginning of the next battle, the stage ahead.
Of course, win or lose, they say she'll be delivering the same speech. But the reality here in Wyoming is, Wolf, that, virtually, no one in Cheney's inner circle or outer circle believes that she is headed to victory tonight. The math is simply too difficult to make up in this deeply Republican state.
But I'm told that she is going to use this race as a launching pad to continue her crusade, her fight against the former president, her fight for democracy and to hold him accountable. So, that is what her speech is going to be here this evening outside Jackson, talking about the path forward.
I'm told she is not going to offer any specifics about her role in that should she fall short this evening, but one friend said she will wear this defeat, if she falls short, as a badge of conviction. They're making the point that she is one of the few Republicans who is not capitulated to try and win over Republican voters. She just held her ground.
Of course, the question here is what is the market for this type of message inside the Republican Party, which the former president clearly is still controlling.
BLITZER: Yes. She certainly has a lot of political guts. There is no doubt about that.
Let's turn, while I have you, to Alaska, where Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is fighting for reelection, and Sarah Palin is also looking to make a political comeback. Set the scene for us.
ZELENY: Well, it's really an interesting race unfolding in Alaska. And this is the first time Alaska is using what is called ranked- choice voting. We see that in other states as well, but the first time Alaska is using it. And so, Senator Lisa Murkowski, who also has earned the ire of the former president for voting to impeach him, as well as speaking out against him, she is running against 18 other Republican candidates today. But the top four contenders will go on to the general election in November. So, that gives her a bit of a breathing room, if you will, because the vote is expected to be divided up several ways. Of course, she will have a challenging general election campaign, but, again, she is running against four candidates.
As for Sarah Palin, of course, the former governor, she is trying to jump back into the political fray. She is running in a couple of different ways, a special election this evening that is to fill the seat of longtime Congressman Don Young, who passed away in the spring. She's also on the ballot for the general election of that same seat.
So, a very unusual, peculiar election unfolding in Alaska, but it's likely to send Sarah Palin to Washington if she has a strong showing. But we're told that those results might not be known for a couple of weeks or so. It takes so long to count those ranked-choice votes. Wolf?
BLITZER: We'll see what happens. All right, thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny, reporting.
Let's get some more on tonight's primaries. Joining us now, CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel, CNN Senior Commentator John Kasich, the former Republican Governor of Ohio, is joining us as well.
So, Jamie, I know you're doing a lot of reporting on this as well. What are you learning what we should expect to hear from Representative Cheney later tonight, irrespective of the outcome?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, look, it is likely she is going to lose. As our political director, David Chalian, said earlier today, if she wins, Liz Cheney would be the most surprised person in the world.
I am told that this is clearly not the end of public service for Liz Cheney, and I'm told in tonight's speech she will not announce she is running for president but she will not rule it out. She is going to lean into her next chapter of public service, and that is very much for the moment about Donald Trump.
She has stated over and over again she believes that Donald Trump is a clear and present danger, that democracy is in peril, and I think the steps she takes next, whether it's to run in 2024 or not, are going to be about her battle to make sure Trump is never president again.
BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens on that front.
Governor Kasich, you just heard our Jeff Zeleny report that Representative Cheney will make the case that she is just at the beginning of the battle to protect democracy here in the United States. But who is going to fight against Trump alongside her? JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, it could be a lot of people, Wolf, who are decided that they don't need to be part of the tribe. I mean, part of what we see with Republicans right now, and with Democrats as well, but Republicans, we got the focus on them, is you're part of the tribe. And the minute you decide to say that something is wrong with the tribe or the chief of the tribe or whatever, then you get yourself in a position where you get kicked out. And people don't want to be kicked out because sometimes they get their identity there. They feel comfortable there.
So, for those that decided they want to speak out, follow their conscience, somebody like Liz Cheney, I've done the same thing, Jeff Flake, there's a number of people who have decided that, look, this is just not acceptable to us, and this is not the party that we joined. This is not the kind of a leader that we want America to have. And so there will be more people.
That's the important thing about Liz Cheney. She becomes a role model of what it means to act in conscience, even if you have to sacrifice something in the short-term. But in the long-term, Wolf, she will be highly regarded and will be a model to inspire other people in this country.
BLITZER: So, what do you think, Jamie? What is her political future hold right now? She is probably not going to be speaking, when she speaks later tonight, about the actual results of the election, but she is going to be looking ahead.
GANGEL: She'll be looking ahead. Let's just give some context to this. A lot of people have asked me was there some political calculus for Liz Cheney in doing this. I think you have to remember what she gave up. She voted to impeach Donald Trump. She was the most outspoken. She led that charge. She gave up being in House leadership. She gave up perhaps being the first Republican woman speaker of the House.
I think that she is going to run for some office again and that we will hear about that tonight. Let me leave it there.
BLITZER: Let's see if we do. That would be amazing if we do.
Governor Kasich, would you like to see Representative Cheney actually run against Trump in a 2024 Republican presidential primary?
KASICH: Sure, why not? Look, the problem that she has, and all other people who are not in that Trump mold, is you have to think about the lane and can you raise the money. She is going to have the ideas. Can you raise the money in order to do that, and can you win? I'd love to see her to do that.
But, look, I don't know if she is going the run for public office again, but she is not going fade away. There is a lot of places where her voice will be heard, and we need it today, Wolf. We need for all Americans to understand that the ability to speak out and stand for something. I don't care where you are. If you're in sports, in business, in the media, in politics, you need to stand for something, and you need to follow your conscience. Make sure you're on the right path. That's what friends can advise you. But at the end of the day, you take the heat, you walk a lonely road when you're a leader, and that's okay, because at the end, you've left a mark.
BLITZER: Good advice indeed. John Kasich, thanks very much for joining us. Jamie Gangel, thanks to you as well.
Just ahead, the FBI son high alert right now as it faces an unprecedented volume of violent threats to key personnel after its search of Mar-a-Lago. We have new details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, and the wide ranging threats and what they mean for the bureau. That's next.
BLITZER: We're learning new information tonight about one of the latest in a series of threats against the FBI since agents searched former President Trump's Florida home at Mar-a-Lago.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. He's got new information. Brian, the number of threats clearly is growing with serious concern about potential violence, against all forms of law enforcement.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Law enforcement personnel across the country are really on edge tonight partly because the specific threats against them seem to be getting more ominous.
TODD (voice over): The head of the FBI agent's association tells CNN threats against federal law enforcement are real and imminent. Separately, a law enforcement source tells CNN there is an unprecedented number of threats the FBI is investigating against its personnel in the wake of the FBI's search of Donald Trump's home, Mar- a-Lago.
Here is one, quote, I sincerely believe that if you work for the FBI, then you deserve to die. My only goal is to kill more of them before I drop. I will not spend one second of my life in their custody, threats on social media allegedly made by Adam Bees of Mercer, Pennsylvania, according to court testimonies in the days just after the Mar-a-Lago search.
The Justice Department has unsealed charges against Bees, who's not yet entered a plea.
GREG EHRIE, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, FBI NEWARK: These people are just ingesting this hate all the time. Where did we come in our country where people are calling to hang, destroy, kill, make FBI employees die? I have never seen this before in my 22 years of federal law enforcement.
TODD: And in at least one case, a suspect did more than just call for violence. Law enforcement authorities say Ricky Schiffer tried to breach the FBI's Cincinnati field office with an AR-15-style rifle before being killed by law enforcement in a roadside standoff last week.
A social media account bearing Schiffer's name posted about what they termed a call to arms following Mar-a-Lago search.
Also after Mar-a-Lago, a joint bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security obtained by CNN warned of a threat to place a so-called dirty bomb in front of FBI headquarters.
The bulletin site calls for civil war, armed rebellion, says specific law enforcement agents and the judge who approved the Mar-a-Lago search warrant have been threatened with death. Analysts say far-right extremists, including white supremacists who have access to firearms and explosives could target FBI agents in the field.
JON LEWIS, RESEARCH FELLOW, PROGRAM ON EXTREMISM AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: So, now if you're an FBI agent, every single door-knock you do, every single individual you go to interview as it relates to the ongoing January 6th investigation, now you have to worry about do they want you dead when you knock on that door.
EHRIE: What can't be accounted for is what this does to the psyche of the average FBI employee, who is always on the lookout for threats. But this is an added burden to these men and women who are trying to defend the Constitution and our rights.
TODD (on camera): The concerns in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search go beyond threats to the FBI. Former FBI Special Agent Greg Ehrie, who also monitors threats for the Anti-Defamation League, says they're worried about violent extremists targeting the midterm elections this November, specifically possibly targeting polling stations or circulating disinformation about the election results. Wolf?
BLITZER: So, so disturbing indeed. Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very much.
Let's discuss this and more with CNN National Security Analyst, the former director of National Intelligence, retired General James Clapper. General Clapper, thanks so much for joining us.
What would you say to the former president of the United States and his allies for that matter who are attacking the integrity of the FBI amid this incredibly heightened threat level that's ongoing right now?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I guess I would, if I had the opportunity, appeal to them to lower the temperature, as apparently the former president, Trump, himself said through an intermediary to the attorney general. And the former president could do a lot to lower that temperature and lower the threat level, which is unprecedented and appalling.
The FBI is our main line of defense against terrorism and all kinds of criminal activity in this country, and you have the brave men and women of the FBI that, day in and day out, are kind of putting their lives on the line any way. And then to add to that the threat to them and, by extension, the threats to their families has got to be a distraction. So, it's very disturbing, and there is a lot more that political figures in this country could do to lower that threat level.
BLITZER: As you correctly say, this is unprecedented, the threat level right now, as far as the FBI is concerned.
A federal judge will hold a hearing this Thursday on whether to release the affidavit for the search of former President Trump's Florida home. How damaging could it be to release the affidavit amid an ongoing investigation relating to these highly classified documents?
CLAPPER: Well, I'm not an attorney here but it would seem to me this could be potentially extremely damaging, since it would lay out the evidentiary basis for the action that's been taken so far, notably the and seizure, perhaps identify witnesses and thereby intimidate future witnesses, and in the course of the revelations, perhaps compromise or expose what was in some of the documents.
So, for me as a layman, I can't see agreement to expose that affidavit. I think, personally, it would be a big mistake.
BLITZER: Yes. And the Justice Department itself is warning that releasing the affidavit now would, quote, likely chill future cooperation by witnesses in this investigation as well as in other high profile investigations. I assume you agree with that?
CLAPPER: I certainly do.
BLITZER: Did you ever expect to see so many Republicans making excuses for Trump potentially mishandling these highly classified top secret documents?
CLAPPER: Well, I guess nothing surprises me anymore. You know, this falls under the general rubric of stunning but not surprising. I guess there are no limits to what Donald Trump can do or say that would evoke a critical reaction from most Republicans, which I think is regrettable. And I'll leave the inconsistency and hypocrisy here out of this but I think it's pretty deplorable.
BLITZER: What do you fear the potential, potential national security implications were of these top secret documents being at Mar-a-Lago?
CLAPPER: Well, that's a -- that is a great question, and it's a little hard to answer in the absence of knowing the substantive content of these documents. The fact that at least some of them were ascribed as top secret, or SCI, which is pretty sensitive material in and of itself would indicate there is the danger of exposure. So and that -- and not knowing what the actual physical security, which is not an authorized storage face and the lack of knowledge I guess of sort of the audit trail on who had access to these documents.
And there is a lot of traffic in and out of Mar-a-Lago, which is a large sprawling installation, a loft people in and out of it. So, potentially, this is -- it's dangerous to national security and is quite disturbing.
BLITZER: Yeah, very disturbing indeed.
All right. James Clapper, thank you very much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation.
Coming up, President Biden signs what he calls one of the most significant laws in U.S. history. We have details of the landmark climate, health care, and tax bill. That's next.
COLLINS: A major victory for President Biden and the Democrats today as he signed the sweeping $750 billion Inflation Reduction Act into law just a little while ago.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, how significant is this bill for the Biden agenda?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's very significant, Wolf. And it looks a lot different than that Build Back Better proposal Democrats were talking about a year ago. It's still a substantial piece of legislation that has big investments in fighting climate change and reducing health care costs, also establishing that corporate minimum tax to pay for it all. You saw President Biden touting this as he signed this bill into law at the White House, something that just a few months ago people here even in the administration weren't quite sure was going to happen, Wolf.
But one thing that's also changed from what Democrats were talking about last year is the name of this. It is now called the Inflation Reduction Act after once being referred to as build back better. There have been some questions about just how much inflation it's going to reduce after the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said it wasn't really going to have a big affect on inflation.
I asked Senator Manchin who was obviously instrumental into getting this passed about that earlier tonight, Wolf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: How do you make sure the bill --
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): They haven't been always right, I can tell you. Everything we're doing is reducing the cost individuals are burdened with. How they say that's not going to help inflation, I have no idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So, Senator Manchin casting doubt on that estimate that it's not going to do a lot to reduce inflation, not only this year but next year, Wolf.
You'll see President Biden touting this for the months ahead. This is something they're hosting will boost Democrats in the November midterm elections. They're going have a formal celebration for this bill on September 6th. That's when many more lawmakers will be here in Washington.
Wolf, we're also told cabinet secretaries and other officials will be on the road over the next two weeks, going out and taking on the next challenge which is implementing this bill, but also selling it to the American people.
And, Wolf, all this comes as we should note that the first lady Jill Biden didn't return with the president from Washington from South Carolina where they had been vacationing because she tested positive for COVID-19. She will stay there until she gets two consecutive negative tests. She's taking the antiviral known as Paxlovid. Because the president is considered a close contact, that's why you saw him wearing a mask when he was here at the White House today.
BLITZER: And we, of course, wish her a speedy, speedy recovery.
Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.
Just ahead, explosions rock an ammunition depot in Russian-controlled Crimea. We'll go live to Ukraine when we come back.
BLITZER: Truly powerful explosions rocking a Russian ammunition depot in Crimea which Moscow seized from Ukraine back in 2014.
CNN's senior international correspondent David McKenzie has more from Kyiv.
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Explosions peppering the horizon in Russian occupied Crimea. Just a few miles away, commuters reacting in shock. Filming the blast with their mobile phones.
Even the bus is moving, they say. Six kilometers away, the bus is shaking.
The blast at an ammunition depot in northern Crimea, causing damage to power lines, a power plant, railway tracks and residential buildings. Branded sabotage by Russia's military. Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for the incident, but a Ukrainian
presidential adviser called it demilitarization in action.
It's the second major security incident in Crimea in one week. Last Tuesday, massive explosions at a Russian air base on Crimea's west coast, close to beach going tourists. A major psychological blow.
The Russian defense ministry blaming it on accidental detonation of ammunition.
On the southern battlefield, inspectors from the Atomic Energy Agency still unable to get into the massive Zaporizhzhia power plant to insure its safety. Russian officials blaming the U.N. for the delay. The U.N. denies that, saying it's ready to provide security and logistics. Russia and Ukraine blame each other for dangerous strikes near the plant which has continued to operate.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Monday calling on the world to introduce tough sanctions as a response to Russia's, quote, nuclear blackmail.
PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The provocative shelling of the territory of the plant continues, under cover of the plant, the invaders are shelling nearby towns and communities. The Russian military hides munitions and equipment at the facilities of the plant.
MCKENZIE (on camera): Now, Ukrainian officials still haven't commented directly on those blasts in Russian-occupied Crimea. Late Tuesday, President Zelenskyy did warn Ukrainian nationals to keep away from Russian military assets in Crimea.
David McKenzie, CNN, Kyiv.
BLITZER: Thank you, David.
And thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.