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Trump Faces 37 Criminal Counts in Detailed Indictment; Indictment Shows Documents Kept in Ballroom, Bathroom and Shower; Special Counsel Says, Will Seek Speedy Trial in Trump Case; GOP Allies Defend Trump, Slam DOJ Indictment. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 09, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues with Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett in The Situation Room right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington along with Erin Burnett in New York.
Happening now, breaking news, 37 criminal charges against Donald Trump revealed in a detailed federal indictment that's now public. The former president of the United States accused of storing and hiding very sensitive, highly classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, allegedly conspiring with an aide to defy a subpoena for the material.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And, Wolf, prosecutors say Trump kept secret information in a ballroom, up on a stage, in a bedroom and in a bathroom and even in a shower. The former commander in chief showed off classified materials on two occasions that they detail here in the document, including a document that Trump is said to have described as a, quote, plan of attack.
BLITZER: And tonight, Erin, Special Counsel Jack Smith is vowing a very speedy trial, arguing that laws to protect America's national defense must be enforced as the indictment warrants Trump risked exposing military and nuclear secrets of the United States and its allies.
This is a special edition of The Situation Room, the federal indictment of Donald Trump.
The first ever federal criminal indictment of a former U.S. president is stunning in the scope and the gravity of the allegations and the granular details laid out by the special counsel's team.
Let's begin with our in depth coverage of the charges against Donald J. Trump. Our CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is joining us right now. Paula, there's a lot to unpack, of course, but given us the top lines right now from this 49-page indictment. PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, prosecutors allege that former President Donald Trump willfully retained over 300 classified documents. And among these materials are information about defense and weapons capabilities of both the U.S. and foreign countries, U.S. nuclear programs as well as potential vulnerabilities of the U.S. and its allies to military attacks and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.
And these documents, according to prosecutors, were kept at various locations, including a ballroom, a bathroom, a shower, an office space, his bedroom and a storage room. Now, when it comes to that storage room, the indictment includes a photo showing secrets meant only for a handful of our closest allies strewn across the floor.
Now, prosecutors also allege that on two occasions, the former president shared classified information with people who did not have clearances. Now, they lay out in detail these two incidents. The first was actually a story that CNN broke last week, a meeting at his Bedminster Golf Club in 2021 when he told a group of people that he had in his hand, appears to be showing them something, possibly, that he had sensitive, highly classified information and that he wanted to show it to them, that after leaving the White House, he could no longer declassify it. He also allegedly shared a classified map with a representative from his political action committee.
BLITZER: Paula, Jack Smith, the special counsel, also outlined the efforts by Trump to obstruct the government's efforts to get these documents back.
REID: That's right. Some really incredible details in this indictment about how the former president was appearing to try to pressure his lawyer not to be fully honest or asking if they could just not be honest with the government after the government subpoenaed to try to get their records back, their classified documents back.
They lay out a series of damning episodes where the former president appears to be encouraging one of his aides, Walt Nauta, to move boxes, to hide them not only from Trump's own lawyers but also from investigators. And speaking of Special Counsel Jack Smith, we heard from him for the first time today, he spoke briefly. Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL: Our laws that protect national defense information are critical to the safety and security of the United States and they must be enforced.
Violations of those laws put our country at risk.
Adherence to the rule of law is a bedrock principle of the Department of Justice and our nation's commitment to the rule of law sets an example to the world. We have one set of laws in the country and they apply to everyone. The defendants in this case must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. To that end, my office will seek a speedy trial in this matter consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Jack smith using a short statement to remind people that laws around classified and defense information are about life and death. If these secrets get into the wrong hands, U.S. citizens and some of our allies could potentially die.
Also in his short remarks, he emphasized that he is going to seek a speedy trial, and that is significant because, of course, we are approaching a little over a year-and-a-half here another election. And we know the former president tries to delay legal proceedings in ordinary circumstances, but here, there will be this tension about how quickly this moves. Jack Smith says he would like to move as quickly as possible. Erin?
BURNETT: All right. Paula, thank you very much. And, of course, so many questions, how quickly is quickly and does this get wrapped up before the election? What does that mean for an election?
Well, Trump already now striking back after the indictment was unsealed. He unleashed new attacks against the special counsel, Jack Smith, as Trump's legal team begins preparing his defense. Of course, now another change to the legal team, more people departing today.
Our Kristen Holmes is in New Jersey not far from the Trump golf club where the former president has been hold up with his inner circle today. So, Kristen, what are you learning about the mood in Trump world tonight, now that they know he's been indicted, now that they've had a chance to read what is not only a very riveting read but a very damning read in this indictment?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Erin, we spent the day talking about Trump's orbit, my colleague, Alayna Treene and I. And we learned that there was really a shift in the mood in Trump world. As we reported last night, some of these Trump advisers were feeling really bullish. They were talking about how good this was going to be politically. I had one person tell me that they were happy that the indictment came before the fourth quarter was over because they were looking for a fundraising boost like they saw after that Manhattan indictment.
Today, it seemed to shift a little bit. Even this morning Trump played golf with a Florida representative, allies were calling Trump world trying to shore up support for the president. But once the charges were revealed, it seemed to take a shift as people started to weigh what was really in that document. It went from being political to legal, the legal implications of these charges. What is this going to mean? What is a trial actually going to look like? And as you noted, how is this going to affect the election?
I had talked to a number of advisers who said, yes, this might help him win the GOP nomination. There is no doubt this will rile up the base. However, what is this going to do for a general election? And it seems as though it wasn't just the small handful of advisers I had spoken to yesterday but a larger group that this perspective was starting to sink in.
And as we talk about the shifting view and looking at the legal aspect, as you noted, I mean, this is a day where Trump essentially is rebuilding his entire legal team. He has two top of his lawyers who resigned and he is looking at Miami-based lawyers right now. We know that he is scouting that out. And I am talking to a couple of sources down in Florida who have heard about calls that are being made, something to keep an eye on.
But, again, they are taking this seriously, and it really does seem as though the gravity has sunk in of these charges.
BURNETT: An incredible gravity. All right, Kristen, thank you so much. Wolf?
BLITZER: Erin, our legal experts are here to break down the Trump indictment and what happens next. Let's discuss what's going on. And, Andrew McCabe, you're the former deputy director of the FBI. How damning is all of this information in this lengthy indictment?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's incredibly damning. This is a remarkable document. In all of my years of participating in and overseeing national security investigations, I have never seen an indictment with this level of detail, everything from the broad strokes of how deeply the former president was personally involved in the decisions, in the movement, in the review of this material.
So, any chance to defend himself on the grounds of didn't know I had these things, there was no intention, that seems to be obliterated simply by the facts we have in this indictment.
The use of the video surveillance to document the hour and minute that people are going in and out of the storage room counting the number of boxes that leave and comparing them with the much smaller number of boxes that are returned immediately before the lawyer search is just remarkable. It tells a very vivid and very disturbing story.
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just speaking as a reporter, prosecutors always make the cases look really good when they announce these, right? This is when you are presenting to the world, hey, this is my case. It looks really good. It still has to go before a jury, et cetera, and I think this speaks to how Jack Smith really wanted to make it look clear, right, like in a narrative video, everything, that if everyone is going to start talking about this in the months ahead, here's everything that we think you need to know with pictures and graphics and quotes. And I think that's really significant. He's really letting this document do the talking for him. BLITZER: And, Carrie, how serious are these national security implications of what's described in this indictment?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's what strikes me. As I go through the indictment and it lists 31 different documents. That's 31 of the 300 that were found in Mar-a-Lago in the execution of the FBI search, but 31 that are actually each a separate count in the indictment.
And when I'm looking at the classification levels and the descriptions of them, they are documents that pertain to nuclear capabilities, documents that pertain to military plans of the United States, military plans of foreign countries and the classification markings, top secret. That means something that would cause exceptionally grave damage to the United States if revealed. Information that was limited to what is called five eyes.
I'm looking at the classification markings here in documents, five eyes. That's information that the United States government intelligence community only shares with its closest intelligence partners, just a small number of countries, other information that's marked on a caveat that's FISA, F-I-S-A, which refers to the Foreign Service Intelligence Act, so that sensitive surveillance information obtained under a court order that goes to the foreign intelligence surveillance court.
So, it just brings home the gravity of why we are here where we are, which is why did the Justice Department have to conduct such a thorough investigation, why did they end up at the point that they ended up having to bring this indictment. And part of it pertains to the series of the national security consequences of the information that the president was retaining and then not returning. And that that's what gets into the obstruction side of things.
BLITZER: Very damning, indeed. Speaking of all of that, 31 charges, as you know, Andrew, related to specific documents, but there were hundreds of documents. Why only 31 charges relate to documents?
MCCABE: Well, Wolf, there's a real concern in the Justice Department and across the U.S. Intelligence Community, any time you're bringing charges under the Espionage Act, one of the challenges is the evidence itself might be so sensitive, you can't actually threaten it or risk taking it into court and having it exposed.
I think what we can assume with the 31 documents they have chosen to use in this indictment is these 31 have gone through that coordination process. DOJ has likely gone to each of the intelligence community entities and gotten their approval for putting these documents essentially through the judicial system. So, they, I'm sure, were documents that they couldn't do that with. There are probably some others that were less important. But I would expect they selected these very specifically with the participation of the rest of the intelligence community.
BLITZER: It's interesting. George Conway, that Trump allegedly suggested that his attorney either hide or destroy various highly classified documents. What's your assessment of the obstruction portion of this case?
GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE LAWYER: Oh, it's devastating. And you could just take almost any page and any paragraph and you basically have proved beyond a reasonable doubt in paragraph 54, I don't want anybody looking, I don't want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don't. What happens if we -- what happens if we just don't respond at all? Wouldn't it be better if we just told him we don't have anything here? Lies, he's asking his lawyer to lie, which is why Judge Howard here in District of Columbia ordered that all the legal testimony, all of his lawyers testify.
And that's what -- that's what's so devastating here, is that this -- as Director McCabe pointed out, the directness of his contact with the obstruction is so short. It's such a short distance between him and the obstructive act. It's just him and this guy, Nauta.
And with Nixon, it took a long chain of people that led to Nixon. Nixon was way up at the top of a pyramid. And even though he was the last to know, Trump is here in the boxes messing with the boxes, moving them around. It is at his home, in his bathroom, over a toilet. I mean, it's crazy how powerful this evidence is, and you just take 1/10 of this and you have a case that's airtight.
BLITZER: Yes, very, very powerful case, indeed. Audie Cornish is with us as well.
The indictment lists public statements Trump had previously made about the importance of protecting classified information. I want to play some clips. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information classified information. No one will be above the law.
We can't have someone in the Oval Office who doesn't understand the meaning of the word confidential or classified.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's your reaction when you hear what he used to say as opposed to what he actually did?
CORNISH: Well, politically, it's not all that unusual. You could probably play a similar round of clips around like deficit reduction or taxes, et cetera. I mean, that's kind of his M.O. in terms of this is okay for me to do, it's not okay for someone else to do.
I think the question I have going forward is what are the other candidates going to have to do over the next couple of months to kind of mitigate the effect of this on the entire campaign. Because it means that instead of talking about any of the political issues you want to talk about or the economy, et cetera, you won't only be asked about Trump and this indictment, you'll be asked, should a future president pardon a former president? Should the future president do X, Y and Z? Everything becomes a kind of litmus test for the voter while they're balancing the old litmus test in the party, which his to back Trump no matter what,
BLITZER: And, George Conway, I'm curious, 37 felony counts included in this lengthy, lengthy indictment, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum prison term of, what, 20 years. If he's convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice, the spirit which you think he's got -- there's a strong case, he was involved in a conspiracy to obstruct justice, will he wind up in jail?
CONWAY: Well, I've always hesitated in the following -- I think he will be convicted of multiple felonies. And then the question is whether or not he has to be incarcerated in some fashion, whether it is in home detention or actual U.S. Bureau of Prisons, I don't see how he does not serve some kind of a sentence for this. It's just too much.
If he -- if he doesn't go to jail or be put in house arrest, then we might as well just give up on enforcing the laws, protecting classified, sensitive national defense information.
BLITZER: Do you think he's going to wind up in jail?
CORDERO: I'm not going to make that prediction because I think we're a long way away from that. We're just at the charging stage. I think there's an opportunity if he were serious about addressing the serious criminal charges ahead of him to engage with the Justice Department in plea discussions. But this is a really hefty indictment. These are really serious charges. And if it was anyone else, the person would likely be in jail.
BLITZER: Yes, I assume you're right. All right, guys, thanks very, very much.
Still ahead, we're going to tell you what we're learning right now about security concerns just ahead of Trump's scheduled court appearance in Miami next week.
Plus, a close-up look at the Trump-appointed judge named to oversee the former president's case. Why was she chosen? Stay with us.
BLITZER: We're back with our special coverage of the federal indictment of Donald Trump unsealed just a few hours ago. Tonight, CNN has learned that FBI special agents are actively working to identify possible threats linked to Trump's expected court appearance in Florida next week.
CNN's Kara Scannell is just outside the courthouse in Miami for us. Kara, tell us about the FBI's work surrounding Trump's court appearance. KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. So, law enforcement sources tell our colleagues that FBI agents who are working in the domestic terrorism squads across the nation are looking to identify any possible threats that could be connected to the arraignment next week. This is part of the practice of what the FBI does all the time but they're really focusing in on this to see if there was anything that would bubble up to cause concern.
I mean, this comes as we know there is a broader look of security around here. Other law enforcement sources told us this morning that there was a threat assessment at the courthouse where I am and at this surrounding area, and they found that there were no credible threats. We expect those sorts of reviews to be continuous leading up until Tuesday.
And, of course, the Secret Service, they are charged with protecting the former president. They have said that they are not taking any special precautions other than what they already do. And we know that the Secret Service's practice with moving Trump around Mar-a-Lago is just about 70 miles north of here and it all went through this drill two months ago when Trump was arraigned in New York on those state charges. In that instance, the Secret Service coordinated with the local law enforcement and they were able to carve out a safe path for Trump arrive at the building.
We expect the same thing to take place here at the city of Miami P.D., said that they are working and they will help with any kind of detours or road closures in order to assure that Trump has a safe arraignment here.
We're still waiting for specific details of how that will play out and how it will take place. But court sources say that the way that they usually do this is both bring him in, he will surrender here and they'll process him. He will have his arraignment where he has said he will plead not guilty. Erin?
BURNETT: All right. Kara, thank you. And with me, Ryan Goodman, Elliot Williams, Mondaire Jones and Scott Jennings.
So, Mondaire, you hear Kara's reporting, nothing special on security. Do you have security concerns at this point given what we're looking at?
MONDAIRE JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I've got security concerns for members of Congress. So, the idea that this wouldn't require heightened security, which I don't is what she was saying, I think is misleading. I think you're going to see a beefed up security presence from what you would normally see at an arraignment, and that would be the appropriate thing, because you have got both the president of the United States sort of signaling the people -- excuse me, the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, signaling people that they should get ready to fight, so to speak, and then you've got more explicit language from some of the Freedom Caucus members within the House Republican caucus saying that an eye for an eye, and stand by and stand ready. I mean, that is the kind of language that incites violence. We have seen that before on January 6th.
BURNETT: Well, we did, right. We have seen that before.
Scott, also in this context, Trump doing what Trump does, he's coming out, he's putting out a picture of Jack Smith, the special counsel, calling him a deranged lunatic and deranged psycho. These are the kinds of things that some people interpret as a go.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I'm not as worried about this on the security side. I think some of the language from some of the members that you mentioned is frankly irresponsible. I think this is political posturing from Trump, and I think it's candidly to be expected. This is what he does to all the people that he considers to be a political threat to him.
Let me say about the indictment. It is a special mix of irresponsible behavior and stupidity. I mean, had he just given it back, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But the irresponsible piece of it, I mean, you can argue that Hillary Clinton got away with something and Joe Biden gets away with it, whatever, but you can't look at this indictment and say, this is fine. This goes to the core of what it means to be a responsible person with the title of commander in chief. It's really damning.
BURNETT: Yes, it is, and there's nothing fine about it, I mean, when you go through it.
Let me just actually start with the power of images in here, Elliot. There are -- I'm just looking here on page -- you hear the documents moving. And they move from here to here to here. And at one point we see on page 10 they're sitting up on what looks like a ballroom stage, just an empty ballroom full of documents, and then they keep blanketing with pictures, the bathroom with the chandelier, a closet, a shower, boxes spilled with things that are only supposed to be seen by five eyes, America's tightest allies, right, the U.K., Australia. And they put all of these pictures in here just to have everyone understand, aside from the fact Trump was directing someone to hide them that this is where they were stored.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's important that you said, just to have everyone understand. So, a quick word on how indictments work, you don't need to put anything much in the indictment instead of putting the defendant and the person, to an extent, on notices of what the charges are that are being brought against the person. They could have made this four or five pages long and just bold it out, these are the things that we're alleging that happened --
BURNETT: They need to show the pictures.
WILLIAMS: They need to show the pictures. What the pictures do and will be very powerful at a trial is this is the level of recklessness, carelessness, egregiousness, whatever words you want to use and it's powerful evidence.
One more thing to add to that, the icing on the cake in that sense are the statements George Conway pointed out a little bit earlier, statements such as, well, look, isn't it better if there are no documents or wouldn't it be better if we just move them or just said we didn't have anything else. Those are statements that helped former conspiracy and put meat on the bones on those folks (ph).
BURNETT: Right. And, Ryan, they go through and they talk about when the attorney, Trump attorney number one, was coming to go through the documents, Trump delayed his plans to go to Bedminster, stayed in Mar- a-Lago because he wanted to be there for that. Then he talks to Walt Nauta and they do the timestamps on the phone conversation. This many boxes moved, then this many, then this many and then only a few go back. And then he presents to his own lawyer, this is everything. I mean, it's all here in black and white.
RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO THE GENERAL COUNSEL OF DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: That's right. And it's --
BURNETT: Except for a motive. I mean, clearly, something happened, right? We don't know why.
GOODMAN: We don't know why. They didn't tell us what their theory of the case is as to what's the motivation. Motive is not necessary for the criminal law, it's just whether or not he intentionally held the documents back, not why he did it.
GOODMANP: And I do also think it is not just about what he did but the evidence that he did it. That's what's so incredible about this document. So, we're talking about photographs, but we're also talking about a unique or rare opportunity for prosecutors to peer into the relationship and the communications between a client and their attorney. That's what they have here. So, when we say this is what he said to his attorney, Corcoran, that's what Corcoran has told them. And according to The New York Times, Corcoran narrated to himself in a long drive in which he audio recorded this, sort of being his own voice.
BURNETT: And it's amazing. It is all there, the text messages, all of it, all of the communications.
WILLIAMS: And, look, we've been attorneys for a long time. We've been around attorneys that have been attorneys for a long time. Most prosecutors have really never seen a case in which the attorney-client privilege is pierced in a criminal case. It's so rare for it to happen for prosecutors to go to a court and say, we believe the crime occurred, the conversations that happened with between the person and their attorney are so damning that they have to be brought into court. I've never seen it happen.
BURNETT: And it happened here.
All right, and now here we are, though, in the case now where the judge. Remember last night, we were all sitting here saying, okay, it could possibly be Aileen Cannon, but there are 26 judges and it's random, and the wheel of fortune turns and it is Aileen Cannon. I mean, pretty amazing. Scott? JENNINGS: Yes.
I just --
BURNETT: I mean, probability is a science?
JENNINGS: But I'm not a person who wants to, you know, go crazy about process and people until something tells me it's time to go crazy. This person is a federal judge who was confirmed by the United States Senate who will empanel a jury.
Now, we were saying earlier she could say I'll set a trial date way off into the future, which I guess would possibly set off alarm bells and it's not going to be a speedy trial. But I haven't seen anything yet that causes me to want to get on my jump to conclusions math. So, I want to see play out before we get worried.
BURNETT: So, Ryan, can I ask a question on that to his point? I mean, obviously, she has a history, right? Her ruling on Trump was overruled by a panel of Republican judges widely seen as absurd. But she hasn't done anything yet here. Does -- should the special counsel move immediately to have her recused do they wait? How does this play out?
GOODMAN: I think they could move and have her recused or reassigned to different judge immediately based on her prior decisions. Yes, she was just overturned by the court of appeals unanimously and all three members were Republican appointees, but her decision was -- absurd is a perfectly apt word for it, totally beyond the confines of law. It was made up.
The entire legal community essentially considers it bankrupt, bogus legal analysis and she was doing it, it had to be in bias in favor of trying to help Trump in that same situation which is related to the same situation. That's the argument that I think they can make.
BURNETT: All right. Well, all stay with us, of course, as our conversation continues and our special coverage.
Just ahead, the Trump indictment painting a damning portrait of a commander in chief whose mishandling documents, the indictment says, put America's national security at risk. We're going to talk to the former defense secretary and the former director of the CIA, Leon Panetta.
BLITZER: The 37-count federal indictment against Donald Trump accuses the former president of brazenly mishandling very sensitive, highly classified documents, crimes that betray the oath he once took and defend the nation.
Joining us now, the former defense secretary, Leon Panetta, who also served CIA director. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. As you know, in these highly classified documents, some of these documents related to nuclear weapons, attack plans, and a lot more sensitive information and they were held at times in very public areas of the Mar-a-Lago resort. Have you ever seen anything like this, like this indictment?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't think we've ever in the history of this country have seen an indictment of a president of the United States where the issue was putting our national security at risk. I'm just reading from the indictment itself. It says the unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, our foreign relations, the safety of United States military and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods. All of that involves our national security.
BLITZER: If you were still serving as the defense secretary or the CIA director, Mr. Secretary, how would you explain this to America's closest allies whose own security may have been undermined?
PANETTA: Well, that's what concerns me. I mean, I -- you know, if January 6th was about a president who put our democracy at risk, I think June 9th is going to be remembered as a day when we found out that a president put our national security at risk, and our allies and our adversaries are all going to be paying attention, particularly our allies who we share sensitive intelligence information with.
We gather this information putting people's lives on the line. We try to provide that information to the leaders of our country so they're informed about the threats that are facing our country and we try to protect that information and protect those sources. Our allies are going to be asking the question just exactly what are we doing to make sure that we are protecting our sources of information and the secrets that we gather.
BLITZER: Yes, and the stakes are so, so enormous. As you know, Trump and his allies, his supporters, they're already going big time after the special counsel, Jack Smith, and the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI, for that matter. How concerned are you, Mr. Secretary, that those words could actually once again incite violence?
PANETTA: I worry a great deal about that because we saw what happened on January 6th. And, you know, we heard the words of those who were saying that that could be a day when violence could break out. And when you hear the words of violence again, you worry that there are going to be those who will decide to take the law into their own hands in a violent way.
So, I worry that this country is at a moment in time when respect for the laws, respect for our constitution, respect for those who are elected in our country to enforce the Constitution of the United States, I think all of that is in jeopardy at this moment.
BLITZER: Yes, I know that law enforcement is concerned about potentially another insurrection. Let's hope that doesn't happen. Secretary Leon Panetta, thanks, as usual, for joining us. I always appreciate it.
PANETTA: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And still ahead, new Republican reaction up on Capitol Hill. A key senator just weighed in on the Trump indictment. And we'll also discuss Trump's legal strategy with a Florida-based lawyer who reportedly turned down an offer to represent him.
BLITZER: Some of Donald Trump's staunchest allies have come out swinging after the former president's indictment in the classified documents investigation. Now that they've seen the very serious and very detailed charges, let's check in with our chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju.
He's up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, we knew the former president had been working to get support from Republicans on Capitol Hill but if an indictment should happen, it's now happened.
Now that it has happened, what are lawmakers where you are up on Congress saying?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, actually, a vast majority of House members and senators have yet to weigh in because of the fact that Congress has been gone since the indictment has been unsealed, since the news of the indictment yesterday. Members don't return until Monday. So, some of the most vocal supporters have come out in Twitter to rush to Donald Trump's defense, even though some who rushed to his defense have been quiet today in the aftermath of all of the details coming out from this indictment.
Well, there's been notable silence too on the Republican side from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who has not said a word about any of this. It's different for Kevin McCarthy, the House speaker who did defend him yesterday and did defend him today. Today, McCarthy indicted that he would support an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Jim Jordan, to look into Merrick Garland's communications that he was having ahead of the search at Donald Trump's home in Mar-a-Lago that retrieved all those classified documents that we learned about in today's indictment, and McCarthy indicated that they have questions for Garland.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): This is going to disrupt this nation because it goes to the core of equal justice for all, which is not being seen today and we are not going to stand for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now, McCarthy is trying to compare the situation involving Donald Trump with the classified documents mishandling of President Biden and secretary -- former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, though those cases are much different, the facts are much different. But expect that to be the Republican argument going forward.
Now, there are also some critics of Donald Trump who are speaking out, including one who just put out a statement moments ago, Senator Lisa Murkowski, one of the senators who voted to convict Donald Trump in the second impeachment trial, said that this is an issue that should not be easily dismissed by the Republicans, gone on saying: Still the charges in this case are quite serious and cannot be casually dismissed. Mishandling classified documents is a federal crime because it can expose national secrets as well as the sources and methods they were obtained through. The unlawful retention and obstruction of justice related to classified documents are also criminal matters.
And, Erin, Democratic leaders have said very little about this. They did issue a statement today saying let the process play out. So, expect more reaction when members come back to Capitol Hill.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: All right. Manu, thank you very much.
And joining me now is David Oscar Markus. He's a Florida-based criminal attorney. He represented Hillary Clinton in Donald Trump's failed lawsuit against her, and also successfully represented the former Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in a federal corruption case.
So, David, I really appreciate your time. I want to start with something really fundamental here, right? Because there was a lot of congratulations, hey, the special counsel by bringing this in Florida was smart. They're avoiding venue challenges in Washington that would have slowed the whole thing down, but you think the DOJ made a major mistake by choosing to bring the case in Florida. Tell me why.
DAVID OSCAR MARKUS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That's exactly right, Erin. I think it's a disaster for them. It's not only home court advantage for Trump, it's literally in his backyard in West Palm Beach. So, the government is going to have to convince 12 jurors unanimously to convict. And that's going to be really, really hard to do in West Palm where Donald Trump has a ton of support. And so, they're going to have to convince all 12. I think it's going to be tough.
BURNETT: Right. And you point out because this will have to be unanimous. From what you saw today, though, when you read through the indictment, do you think if you look at a jury, you know, everyone comes into a jury with an opinion on someone like Donald Trump, does a jury automatically acquit just because they like him after you read this indictment? Or do you think there's a chance there could be a conviction?
MARKUS: Well, listen, you know, Donald Trump enjoys the presumption of innocence like anyone else. The indictment is powerful.
MARCUS: I mean, you read the indictment, it's not just a speaking indictment, it's a show and tell indictment, there's pictures. You don't see that all too often.
So, the jurors are going to have to wade through that. It's more than that. Indictments aren't proof. The government is going to have to prove up the allegations.
And we just saw this in the Gillum case in Tallahassee. So, the government, you read the indictment, there were 19 counts there. They didn't come close to proving it up. They underestimated being in Andrew Gillum's home in Tallahassee. So, similar kind of thing here.
BURNETT: All right. So, now we know the judge. We've confirmed that the Federal District Judge Aileen Cannon will initially oversee the case. Now, she's, of course, the Trump appointed judge who made that series of very highly criticized decisions related to the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago last year, including her appointment of the special master to review the documents. This was ultimately overturned by an appeals court, all of whom were appointed by conservative Republicans.
My understanding is that there were 26 judges and they had said it was going to be random who got assigned. So, out of one of 26, what are the odds that Judge Cannon gets this case?
MARKUS: Right. I think this was another error by the government. On the indictment itself if you look at the very last page, they have to check off where they want the indictment, what division it is. They checked off West Palm Beach here.
And so, it's not -- they don't have an option of all 26 judges. They only had an option of the three judges in West Palm Beach. There are only three, Cannon being one of them. So, yes, Trump won the legal lottery by getting Aileen Cannon.
But the government decided that they wanted to narrow the scope of how many judges could get it to three. They got stung by getting Judge Cannon here.
BURNETT: Right. Well, as you point out, one in 26 sounds sinister. One in three, we can all do the math, you've got a really decent chance at that.
One final question for you, David, if I may, according to "The Washington Post," you turned down an offer to represent Donald Trump. Is that something you can confirm or deny to me?
MARKUS: Yeah, I'm not going to talk about that one way or the other. I'm happy to talk to the indictment venue, the judge, those types of things down here in south Florida. I'm happy to talk about the Heat, but I can't talk about that.
BURNETT: All right. Well, you're a lawyer. I'm not going to tell anyone to read anything into it. We'll take it at face value what you said.
All right. David, thank you so much, I appreciate your time.
MARKUS: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. You, too.
And coming up, we'll take a closer look at Judge Aileen Cannon, her record and why this assignment to this particular case is so controversial.
BLITZER: Now that the indictment of Donald Trump has been unsealed, focus is now shifting to his first court appearance next week. And the controversial Trump-appointed judge who is now overseeing the case.
Brian Todd is working the story.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, this 42-year-old judge from south Florida faces enormous scrutiny because of her history with former President Trump. Multiple sources familiar with the matter tell CNN, Federal District Judge Aileen Cannon has been assigned at least initially to oversee the criminal case against Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation.
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: If she does end up with this case on a permanent basis, I'm concerned that her bias is out there that she will not handle the case fairly.
TODD: The concern stemming not only from the fact that Donald Trump appointed Cannon to the federal bench when he was president but also from her earlier involvement in the Mar-a-Lago documents probe.
Last year, she approved Trump's request to block Justice Department access to the recovered documents until a special master could review them for potential executive privilege, a ruling that even surprised legal conservatives.
WILLIAM BARR, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER TRUMP: The opinion I think was wrong, and I think the government should appeal it. It's deeply flawed in a number of ways.
TODD: The government did appeal cannon's ruling, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it. If she now oversees Trump's federal criminal trial --
RODGERS: She only has to take really small steps in order to throw this thing off track for the Justice Department by delaying it until we're past the election and Trump, of course, hopes that if he manages to get himself elected again, this case goes away, as he would direct his Justice Department to drop it. TODD: But a former colleague of Cannon's in private practice disputes
accusations that she favors Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that she has any bias at all. I know that she would do the right thing.
TODD: Judge Cannon was nominated to the federal bench by Trump in May of 2020, confirmed later that year. During her confirmation hearing, Cannon thanked members of her family, including her maternal grandparents who she said had to flee Cuba in 1960, and her mother.
AILEEN CANNON, FEDERAL JUDGE: To my loving mother, Mercedes, who at the age of 7 had to flee the repressive Castro regime in search of freedom and security -- thank you for teaching me about the blessing that of this country and for the importance of securing the rule of law for generations to come.
TODD: A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, Aileen Cannon once practiced law at a firm in Washington where she said she handled cases related to government investigations. She also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida in the major crimes division.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I learned one thing about working with Judge Cannon, I know that she can be counted upon to work as hard as she can work to get the right answers.
TODD (on camera): We reached out to Judge Cannon's chambers and asked response to the criticism that she's been biased towards former President Trump. We didn't hear back.
During her confirmation hearings, she was asked if she had any discussions about loyalty to Trump. She decisively responded, no -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you very, very much. Brian Todd reporting for us.
Still ahead, new details emerging right now in the Trump indictment and just how much prison time potentially he could be facing. Our special coverage continues right after this.