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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

White House Slams Special Counsel's Comments About Biden's Memory; Newly Unearthed Audio: Trump-Backed RNC Candidate Echoed His 2020 Election Lies, Claimed "Massive Fraud"; Special Counsel Details Threats Against Witnesses In Mar-A-Lago Case In Effort To Protect Their Identities. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And that's it for us. Have a great weekend. The news continues. THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS starts now.


Donald Trump weighing in, after President Biden is facing no charges, in his classified documents investigation. The former President claiming that he cooperated with the Feds, which he didn't, also alleging that Biden did not, which he did. The White House is blasting the report as politically-motivated, and certainly a political headache.

Meanwhile, a potential Trump running mate tells me that she would not have done what Mike Pence did, on January 6th, you know, abiding by that thing called the Constitution? The apparent new Republican litmus test for the second-in-line to the presidency.

Also tonight, Israel's Prime Minister wants its military to have plans, to evacuate Rafah, where over a million Palestinians are sheltering, as the White House is warning that military action there would be a quote, "Disaster."

I'm Kaitlan Collins. And this is THE SOURCE.

When the history books are written, about the 2024 presidential election, there will be a lot to say, about just the last 24 hours alone. Americans now left to wonder if the current president is competent, and if the former President, his likely opponent, is a criminal.

With that as the backdrop here, Donald Trump is wasting no time, jumping all over President Biden, after he was not charged, over his handling of classified documents that were found in his Delaware home.

The White House, meanwhile, is training its fire at the Special Counsel, who cleared Biden, of those charges, but also branded him as an old man who has frequent trouble with his memory. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The comments that were made by that prosecutor: gratuitous, inaccurate, and inappropriate.

Clearly, politically motivated.

IAN SAMS, SPOKESMAN, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL'S OFFICE: When the inevitable conclusion is that the facts and the evidence don't support any charges, you're left to wonder why this report spends time making gratuitous and inappropriate criticisms of the President.


COLLINS: Politically, of course, and what the White House knows, this is a matter that could be an albatross, around the President's necks -- neck, for the next nine months.

Donald Trump certainly isn't going to let it go. Neither are his Republican allies. Listen to what he said tonight, at an NRA event, in Pennsylvania, playing both fast and loose with the facts.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Zero charges against crooked Joe, despite the fact--


TRUMP: --that he willfully retained, willfully retained, and disclosed troves of ultra-classified national security documents.

I cooperated with the very unfriendly and hostile Feds.

Biden fought them all the way. I didn't.

I even gave the DOJ and the FBI lunch, at Mar-a-Lago. You know, they say I didn't behave. I gave them lunch.

If he's not going to be charged, that's up to them. But then I should not be charged.


COLLINS: There's a lot to unpack there.

But perhaps I will start tonight with a quote, from the Special Counsel, Robert Hur, and his report, noting the distinction between the Trump and the Biden documents cases that he says quite the opposite of what you just heard there.

He writes, quote, "After being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite... he not only refused to return the documents for many months, but he also obstructed justice. In contrast, Mr. Biden turned in classified documents to the National

Archives and the Department of Justice, consented to the search of multiple locations, sat for a voluntary interview, and in other ways cooperated with that investigation."

I'm joined tonight by Democratic congressman, from New York, Dan Goldman, who was a federal prosecutor, in the Southern District of New York, and the lead counsel for House managers, in the first Trump impeachment, not the second.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

But you saw the distinction that we just laid out in the two cases. But on President Biden's itself, does he bear responsibility, for having these classified documents, and for sharing this material, disclosing it as well?


REP. DAN GOLDMAN (D-NY): Well, look, I think he has acknowledged that he does bear responsibility, for it. He's taken responsibility for it. He immediately turned it over. He fully cooperated. It was clear that he never intended to keep those documents, which he acknowledges were packed in boxes by his staff.

So, the juxtaposition between the two cases could not be any greater.

And, it makes me wonder, watching that clip, from tonight, of Donald Trump, where he just outright lies, about what happened in his case, and what's in the Special Counsel case.

And it's remarkable to me that everybody is making such a big deal, out of this throwaway comment, about President Biden's memory, when Donald Trump makes a habit, of outright lying, day after day after day. Why are we not talking about this pathological liar, instead of focusing on what was an editorializing by a prosecutor that has no merit to the case at hand?

COLLINS: I think we definitely talk about both, certainly on this show.

And I want to talk about the memory stuff in a moment.

But on the case itself here, the investigation, you worked at SDNY, so did Elie Honig, your former colleague. He said last night to me that he thought it was actually a close call, on whether or not to charge Biden. Is that how you read the report?

GOLDMAN: Not at all. I think there's a significant distinction. And I love Elie. But there's a significant distinction that you have to draw, between documents that have classified markings on them, and President Biden's notes, taken from classified documents that he would either use for a memo.

He gets the presidential daily briefing. He can take them back and forth to his home. There are different rules, for the Vice President, than there are for someone like me who gets access to classified information.


GOLDMAN: But only in a SCIF.

And so, on their face, those notes would not have markings, and it would not necessarily be obvious that they contain classified information. And so, there's no evidence here that he was intentionally holding on, or had any intent, to disclose this information, beyond the immediate realm that he held. And that is a significant distinction between docs--

COLLINS: But there were some documents that had -- they were marked classified. He noted that, when he was speaking to the ghost writer.

And it does say that some of them were related to human sources, which is obviously some of the most sensitive intelligence. And I know that you care about that, because you talked about it, when Trump was, reported--

GOLDMAN: Absolutely.

COLLINS: --on talking about a document. You talked about the concern of it, putting the women and men of the intelligence community in danger.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely. And that is a very significant concern.

Again, were those human sources? What's that classified information in the notes that he took, in that memo, in 2009, eight years before he left the office?

No one is defending the fact that he took classified information. And frankly, we've had conversations, on the Oversight Committee, about strengthening the law, around presidential, vice presidential access, to classified information, because we now have President Trump, who had -- who took documents, Mike Pence, President Biden.

The critical difference, between Trump and Pence and Biden, is that Trump went to such great lengths, to conceal the documents that--

COLLINS: Even from his own attorney.

GOLDMAN: And obstructed justice. Why would you do that unless you had some sort of intent, to do something wrong with them?

COLLINS: Yes, you know--

GOLDMAN: And so, that's why these cases really break apart, and why this wasn't a close call for Biden, and why Donald Trump was charged.

COLLINS: You mentioned the memory references. You said it was a singular incident in here. I mean, I understand a lot of -- mostly the entire White House thinks, it was gratuitous. They've been very critical. But there were numerous instances in it. And it also, it's not really a one-off, because there were moments.

And we've covered Donald Trump's moments as well, when he calls, Nancy Pelosi, Nikki Haley, and exchanges them.

But Biden, this week, twice has referenced dead European leaders, when he was talking about ones who are very much still alive. And I wonder does that give fuel to the fire that voters are already concerned about his age?

GOLDMAN: Well, look, I think one of the things that you do have to recognize, about President Biden's age, is the flip side of this coin, is that he has a tremendous amount of wisdom and experience.

And he dealt with Mitterrand. And so, he had many, many interactions with the former French Prime Minister, and he mistook the current French Prime Minister, for the former one. Same thing with Germany.


But the reality is? And I experienced this firsthand, when he called me, on October 7th, and I was in Israel, the day before this interview, with the Special Counsel.

His understanding and mastery of a complicated geopolitical situation, in the hours after the original attack, and as he described to me the different messages, that he was sending, to the different players, was remarkable. And which demonstrated his experience, and his wisdom, which we've seen, in how he's dealt with Ukraine, and how he's managed to keep this conflict in the Middle East, focused on Gaza.

So, does he have a memory lapse, occasionally? It's quite possible. I think a lot of people do. Mike Johnson mistook Israel and Iran, last Sunday, on "Meet the Press." But is it -- is it also true that in five hours of his interview, he recounted very specific conversations, from many, many years ago?

COLLINS: Should the White House release the transcript of that -- or DOJ release the transcript of that interview, just so everyone can read for themselves, how that conversation went?

GOLDMAN: I think it would be helpful. I do. I think that, at this point, it's something that we would all like to see.

Because from my conversations with the White House, there were some very detailed recollections, that he had, that were not included in the Special Counsel report. So, why are you just picking and choosing these -- these specific examples, when there are many other examples that would demonstrate the opposite?

And as somebody who judged credibility of witnesses all the time, I would not overemphasize the fact that you might have been off, as you were describing a particular event, and trying to recall, whether it was 2009, 2013. I don't view that as such a big deal. And I'd be shocked if he truly did not remember the date that his son died.

COLLINS: You think the transcript will show otherwise? GOLDMAN: I don't know. But I -- the transcript may be accurate.

But what you have to understand is the context means everything. And so, it might, who knows what was going on before, what they were talking about before, where his mind was? Was he -- were they talking about something that he had to readjust to 20 years later? All of those things have an impact.

And I've debriefed many, many witnesses. And sometimes, it takes some time. Especially when you're the Vice President, and year after year after year, your schedule is effectively the same? The years will blend together.

COLLINS: Congressman Dan Goldman, great to have you here, on set, especially. Thank you for joining us tonight.

GOLDMAN: Thank you.

COLLINS: A shiver may have gone down every Democrat's spine, yesterday, when this report was released. And that's because for some, certainly those who worked on Hillary Clinton's campaign, it had echoes of 2016.

Of course, in that election, one topic dominated the campaigns, of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A growing firestorm over her emails.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And her private emails.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 3,000 more pages of email from Hillary Clinton's personal account.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her private email server scandal.

TRUMP: She deleted the emails.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.


COLLINS: Then, on June 5th, then FBI Director, James Comey, walked in front of the cameras, and said this.



There is evidence that they were extremely careless, in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.



B. COMEY: There is evidence of potential violations, of the statutes, regarding the handling of classified information.


COLLINS: In the months that followed, eight out of the nine straight Gallup polls found that the one word Americans heard the most, about Hillary Clinton then, was email.

Yet, in the resulting media coverage, there was very little mention of this part.


B. COMEY: No reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.


COLLINS: Fast forward to where we are now, as polls do show that 76 percent of Americans already say President Biden's age is a problem. It's a reality that Republicans are often happy to bring up.



REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Joe Biden is too old.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): And everyone's saying he's too old.


COLLINS: That's where Special Counsel -- Special Counsel Hur, and his report, comes into the picture, with this report, to Congress that describes the President, and I'm quoting the Special Counsel now, as an "Elderly man with a poor memory," and that "Mr. Biden's memory also appeared to have significant limitations."

The political reality remains that even the very first line of the report, which states, "We conclude that no criminal charges are warranted in this matter," does risk being overlooked.

Proof of how many, the reminder of Comey, gave some Democrats, heart palpitations, listen to the words of a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, telling the New York Times, "The first text I got this morning was, 'Were you thoroughly triggered last night?'"

It's a moment in time that my next guest knows, just as well as about anybody. Here tonight is the former Deputy Director of the FBI, who had a front seat -- front-row seat in 2016, Andrew McCabe.

Thank you so much, for being here. I mean, did you have Comey flashbacks, as you were reading through Hur's report, yesterday?


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, yes, I did. I mean, it's there's some nauseating similarities to, to that situation from July 5th, 2016, and to what we saw on the report yesterday.

COLLINS: Can you just, though talk through the differences here? Because there is a difference in the sense of what Jim Comey was obligated to do, and what Robert Hur here was obligated to do, in the sense that he's a Special Counsel, he had to issue a report here. He did not have an option. Maybe he didn't have to put the mentions of Biden's memory in there. But he did actually have to issue a report here.

MCCABE: Sure. So, that's exactly right.

So, the regulations that govern the conduct and the appointment of Special Counsels require that at the end of the investigation, the Special Counsel must submit a report to the Attorney General. And it's got to explain what he found, and why he is either pursuing or declining charges. And to be clear, Rob Hur's report checks those boxes. In great detail, lays out what he found, and of course, why he's not pursuing charges.

The difference with the situation with Jim Comey, Jim was not a Special Counsel. He was not under any sort of obligation, certainly not under an obligation, to make a public statement, about what we thought of the investigation, we had conducted into the emails.

Jim felt that it was important and necessary, for the public to understand, for us to be transparent, about what we found, and what we thought about the case, because the case had been so public, since its inception. The public knew about the investigation before we ever even got it from the -- from the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.

So, there was so much anticipation that Jim felt that there was no one in a better position than us. We had done the investigation, and we should go out and tell the public what our conclusion was. And I think that was, you now, those were questionable decisions.

I think where we stepped far over the line, and made a mistake was in Jim's rhetoric, clearly criticizing Hillary Clinton, but of course not recommending that she be charged. The use of those terms was very likely a violation of DOJ policy that says you don't say bad things about someone, who you're not going to charge.

COLLINS: So, you think what Comey did as that day, you think he was wrong?

MCCABE: I do. I do. And that's not an easy thing for me to conclude, because I was a very close -- worked very closely with Jim. I was on that team. I reviewed his remarks, before he made them. But in retrospect, I think I should have worked harder, to convince him not to use those terms, and possibly not to make the statement at all.

Nevertheless, it is what it is. Jim made the decision, to go forward in the way he did. And I think that the effect of that statement, I mean, who's to say how great of an effect it had on the -- on the election. There's no question it was not positive, for Secretary Clinton.

And then of course, the entire thing was accelerated in, with a decision in November, to announce that we had reopened the case, which is a totally separate matter, but had massive consequences, I'm afraid.

COLLINS: When you read in this Special Counsel's report, those comments, not just the one, there were multiple, about Biden's memory, did it stand out to you, as going against or around what the protocol would be, for a report like this?

MCCABE: Yes, Kaitlan, it really does. I mean, it really felt like it was another instance of a very high-profile investigator, who was coming out with a conclusion that he likely knew would not be accepted or embraced by many people.

And kind of attempting to kind of even-out the scales, in other words, to play to the sort of, to the -- to the sort of -- the segment of the audience that was going to be frustrated, by the fact that he concluded not to pursue charges. That's what it felt like, to me. That's my opinion.

I have a lot of concerns with some of the things, the way that he talked about the evidence in the report, the way that -- the kind of the headline, from the report isn't supported, when you get down into the meat of the analysis, of things, like the sufficiency of the evidence.

It's question -- I have all kinds of questions, why, in several places, he says that President Biden willfully retained national defense information, and then goes on to say, after page 200, that the evidence to -- there is insufficient evidence to support that conclusion, and that's why he wasn't pursuing charges.

So, it's, there's a lot of inconsistencies, in the report that I think are ultimately damaging, to the subject.

COLLINS: Yes. He said at one point that if you were trying to really keep documents, you wouldn't necessarily put them in a box, in your garage, next to all kinds of trash, or things you're throwing out.


Andrew McCabe, obviously, you're the perfect voice on this. Thank you so much, for joining, tonight.

MCCABE: Thanks, Kaitlan. COLLINS: Up next, we're going to talk about Trump's iron grip, on the GOP, as Republicans are rushing to outdo one another, on embracing his election lies, including some new reporting, here on CNN, tonight, about the person who could become the new Chair of the Republican National Committee.

Also tonight, we are getting a warning, from the White House, about Israel, when that it seems to be planning a military operation in Rafah, where over a million civilians are sheltering, right now. What the Prime Minister there has asked his military to do.


COLLINS: Tonight, there is new audio that was uncovered, by CNN's KFILE team, showing how the man that Donald Trump is hoping, will be the next leader, of the Republican National Committee, has repeated the very same election lies that Trump himself has told many times.


MICHAEL WHATLEY, CHAIRMAN OF NC REPUBLICAN PARTY: Regardless of how these lawsuits come out around the country, with the presidential race, we do know that there was massive fraud that took place.

We know that it took place in places like Milwaukee and Detroit and Philadelphia.


COLLINS: Nope. No, it didn't. There is none of that.


But that was the voice of Michael Whatley, who I should note is the current Chair of the North Carolina Republican Party. He could soon be at the helm of the RNC, as our reporting, last week, that Ronna Romney McDaniel is expected to step down from that role, after the South Carolina primary.

The former President's 2020 election denialism also appears to have become a new litmus test, in his choice, as potential choice for vice president.

Take, for example, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, and Senator J.D. Vance, two people that our sources say are under consideration to be VP, potentially.


COLLINS: Had you been Vice President, on January 6, 2021, what would you have done?

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): I stood up for the Constitution. I believe it was an unconstitutional--

COLLINS: No. What would you have done, if you were Vice President? STEFANIK: I would not have done what Mike Pence did. I don't think that was the right approach.

SEN. J.D. VANCE (R-OH): If I had been Vice President, I would have told the states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and so many others, that we needed to have multiple slates of electors, and I think the U.S. Congress should have fought over it from there. That is the legitimate way to deal with an election that a lot of folks, including me, think had a lot of problems in 2020. I think that's what we should have done.


COLLINS: It was a legitimate election. There were no problems. Everyone has said that.

But underneath those answers, it is a clear political calculation that those two lawmakers are making.

I should note, the Vice President only has a ceremonial role, when it comes to counting the electoral votes, something that we noted, to the Congresswoman.


COLLINS: Come, this election, when Vice President Harris is in that position, would you be OK, if she rejected the votes, if Donald Trump wins?

STEFANIK: Listen, we need to make sure the election is constitutional, and legal. We're talking about Democrats--

COLLINS: It was legal.


COLLINS: Joining me tonight, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings; and the National Coalitions Director for the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign, Ashley Allison.

Scott, you are a lifelong Republican. As I noted, you worked for Bush. You also have been a senior adviser to Mitch McConnell. Is this the new litmus test, to be the Republican vice president?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it's certainly a performative moment, for people. Because obviously, Donald Trump didn't end, on very good terms, with his last Vice President, over this very issue. So, I'm not surprised to hear them saying that.

I mean, the reality is, what else can you do? I mean, the idea that you would require all the states to send multiple slates of electors? Well, why should we even vote? Why don't -- why don't we just do that at the outset, and save ourselves a lot of time, and let the Congress fight it out. Now, it should be noted, that Congress has since changed the law, and they passed the Electoral Count Reform Act. People, I think, have forgotten. But this has all been clarified that the Vice President has no role, in rejecting or doing anything to this, other than the ceremonial duties of presiding. So fortunately, in the future, there should not be any question, about what this person can or can't do.

But yes, it's performative. They feel like they have to say it. They're checking the box.

COLLINS: Ashley, I just can't get out of my head, hearing Congresswoman Stefanik so ardently defend the idea, of not doing what Pence did, which was just his job there, though. The idea of these Republicans, and how hair on fire, they would be, if Vice President Harris tried to take that tactic.

ASHLEY ALLISON, FORMER OBAMA WH SENIOR POLICY ADVISER: Yes, I've really been thinking, over the last three years, why individuals continue to push the big lie that Donald Trump did not lose the election, and that this election was false.

And the three things I can come up with is one, that they actually believe it. And so, they are pushing something that is untrue.

Two, they don't believe it, but they are willing to cheat to win an election.

Or three, particularly what Whatley is saying, who is the North Carolina Republican Party Chair, and potentially the next National Republican Party Chair, that he speaks of urban centers that have voters of color, or people of color, who showed up, in record number, to elect someone, who was not Donald Trump. And so, there is an effort, potentially, to disenfranchise those voters.

Regardless of any of the three reasons why they would be saying it, it's problematic, and it's anti-democratic, and it's why it's so troubling that Donald Trump continues to be the front leader.

But I'm not just going to give these folks a pass. And I appreciate Scott saying it's performative, and saying it's performative. These folks are leaders. Well, they're supposed to be leaders. And so, I expect more than performance. I actually suspect -- expect some substance, and for them to do the right thing.

And for Stefanik, in that interview, the other night, when you continued to ask her, and she just flat-out said she wouldn't have done it, should never be held -- holding office. She shouldn't even be in the Congress, right now, if she actually thinks that that is what should have happened, on January 6, or that's what she would do, if she was Vice President. That is extremely troubling, and voters should be paying attention to that.

COLLINS: Scott, do you think it's disqualifying?

JENNINGS: Well, it won't be disqualifying to the person, who makes the decision. And that's Donald Trump. I mean, ultimately, look, I, as I said, I -- and I said many times, on

and after January the 6th, I think what happened that day was shameful. There is no world in which the Vice President of the United States should be able to unilaterally change the outcome of an election. That's ridiculous. And I think the reforms that have been put in place have made that clear, moving forward.


But do you think Donald Trump is going to pick somebody, who he hears on television say, oh, I totally disagree with Donald? Of course not. I mean, so the performative aspect here is what matters. And they're doing that -- doing what they think they have to do, to be in the mix here.

COLLINS: Yes, clearly an audition.

Scott Jennings, Ashley Allison, thank you both, for joining, on a Friday night.

Up next, here on THE SOURCE, Prime Minister Netanyahu, today, asking the Israeli military, to plan for the evacuation of Rafah. Why the implications of that would be so big? We'll talk about them with former Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, in a moment, and whether that is even possible.


COLLINS: Tonight, Israel is planning what it says would be a new offensive, into the southern Gaza city of Rafah. It's the corner of the enclave that Israeli forces had told Palestinian civilians to go, for several months now.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says that the military is drawing up plans, to evacuate those civilians. But right now, Israel has offered no clear answers, on where they would go, or how that would even be facilitated.


What we do know is we have these satellite images, over Rafah that really speak for themselves. It's a city that once housed roughly 280,000 people. It is now a center for the displaced, with more than a million people, crammed in there, all living in makeshift tents.

Joining me tonight is the former Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, who served in the Trump administration, and is here on THE SOURCE, I should note, for the first time, as a new CNN Global Affairs Analyst.

It's great to have you, Secretary Esper. We rely on you so much. So, it's great to have you officially on the team.

On this decision, and this plan, by Netanyahu, I mean, it is 1.3 million people roughly that are sheltering in Rafah, right now. If you're the IDF, how unrealistic is it that this order that you just got from the Prime Minister? MARK ESPER, FORMER TRUMP DEFENSE SECRETARY, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. Well, thanks, Kaitlan. First of all, it's nice to be with you tonight.

Look, you're talking about moving 1.3 million people. And a clear timeline isn't given. Would this be days, weeks? Where do you move them to? Because Egypt has said they did not want them there.

And of course, Rafah is right up against the Israeli-Egyptian border. It's a sealed border. And so, I don't know where you push them to. Do you push them back up north? But you have to provide for food and sanitation and some type of housing along the way. So, it seems unrealistic.

But I understand, on one hand, what they're trying to do. They want to move people out, so they could isolate the build-up area, and move in, and go after Hamas. I mean, Netanyahu has stated there's up to four Hamas battalions, positioned there, holding out. And I assume there's probably more below ground as well.

So, they're in this -- they're in this fix, right now. How do you do that, while still limiting civilian casualties, which they continue to be criticized about? And the numbers continue to rise at the same time.

COLLINS: Yes. And the White House has said what a disaster it would be, if this -- if they do try to carry this out.

And President Biden, last night, was asked, during that press conference that was mainly focused, on the Special Counsel's report. But he did it about Israel's war, and how it's been conducted. This is what he told reporters.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The conduct of the response in Gaza -- in the Gaza Strip has been over the top.


COLLINS: It may not sound incredibly blunt. But it's probably the sharpest criticism that we've heard from Biden, on how Israel has done this.

I wonder if you think it makes a difference to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

ESPER: It doesn't appear to make a difference. But it should.

Now, look, first of all, the President's words were imprecise. What does that mean, "Over the top?" I think we would all agree, there's too many civilian casualties, right? But is he calling that -- is he saying they're breaking international laws? He's saying they're being indiscriminate? It's unclear.

Look, I think there are things we should do to try and assist the Israelis, right? Are there U.S. Military planners over there, helping them, looking over their shoulders, just to make sure that is consistent with the laws of war, or that limits collateral damage, something that we take special care for? Maybe there are other things they could try. Maybe they should suspend airstrikes, for a while, and make this really a ground-based attack and focus.

So, I think we need some more clarity there.

On the other hand, look, I think part of the problem is that Netanyahu is not clear, about what he intends to accomplish here. He keeps talking about defeating Hamas, which is not going to be possible. It's an ideology. You're never going to kill every last fighter.

So, I think if he would define more of what he wants to do, for example, take out their senior leadership, and destroy their means of attacking Israel, which would mean getting into the tunnels? Then that gives you a little more -- a little bit more specificity, and seems like more realistic objectives to achieve.

So, look, there's a lot of imprecision here. I think the Israelis continuing the need to work to do better. But clearly, they have the right to self-defense. And we can't forget about what happened October, what -- on October 7th, and what Hamas has continued to pledge to do, time and time again.

COLLINS: Yes. It's a balancing act.

Secretary Esper, great to have you, here tonight. Thank you.

ESPER: Thanks, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Up next here, on THE SOURCE, there are new concerns, when it comes to the Trump classified documents case, one that he said he'd been cooperating with earlier, which he did not.

This is coming from Special Counsel, Jack Smith, though. And right now, he is worried, about threats to witnesses, in that case. We'll tell you his biggest concern, right after a quick break.



COLLINS: Tonight, the Special Counsel, Jack Smith, is fighting to protect the identity of witnesses, in Donald Trump's classified documents case.

We learned this, from a new court filing, where Smith details the gravity, of keeping their identities secret, from the former President and his allies, saying quote, "Witnesses, agents, and judicial officers in this very case have been harassed and intimidated, and the further outing of additional witnesses will pose a similarly intolerable risk of turning their lives upside down."

Here with me, tonight, CNN's Legal Analyst, and former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers. Can we just talk about what Jack Smith is trying to do here? Because he's been having this battle, since mid-January. But he's making very clear his concern tonight.


Because she already ruled that these documents disclose the identities of all of these prospective witnesses that were turned over, in discovery, to the defense, as they must be. The defense then attaches them to motions in front of the judge. And then, she says, oh, well, they've attached them to motions. Now these documents have to be disclosed.

So, he's asking for a motion for reconsideration now, and saying, obviously, what you said, the harm to these witnesses is manifest, they've been threatened, et cetera. But also, she used the wrong legal standards.

They're saying, listen, you have to reconsider this. This is the correct legal standard. We don't have to show what you said, we have to show. And look at the harm here, in this very case. People have already been threatened. Their lives are being turned upside down.

COLLINS: Well, one person apparently has been so threatened that it prompted a separate federal investigation into that.

RODGERS: Yes. I mean, we've seen what's happened in countless other cases, right? All of the other criminal cases, civil matters, anytime the former President kind of targets someone, and starts talking about them, and how they've wronged him? These people have their lives harmed.

And so, it's not just about the notion of physical harm to people, and problems with their lives. It's also about the integrity of the case. I mean, when witnesses see that when they're being threatened, when they see other people being threatened, it makes them much less likely, to want to stand up, and go do their duty and testify. So, it really can harm the case here.


COLLINS: What could these threats look like, in the sense of -- I'm just thinking, in other instances, where witnesses have said, I had an attorney, who is being paid for, by Donald Trump, or his allies. I was influenced, by that attorney, then to only reveal certain information.

And then, in the case of this one, when the superseding indictment was added, there was a new co-defendant, because he essentially didn't tell the full truth, and then got a different attorney.

RODGERS: Yes. So, there's all sorts of things that could be happening.

But one thing that's really unique to this situation is this notion of not contacting people yourself, or having other people contact them. But instead, just speaking publicly about people, and saying, oh,

these people should really do the right thing, you know, they shouldn't be lying about me they should be saying such and such, and knowing that that will then impact those witnesses indirectly.

COLLINS: Jennifer Rodgers, we'll be watching closely, to see what, of course, the judge here decides. Thank you for breaking it all down for us.

Up next, we are going to Vegas, baby, where Sin City is swiftly getting set for the Super Bowl. See what I did there? We'll tailor our next conversation with a former NFL star.



COLLINS: We are now just days away from Super Bowl LVIII, this Sunday, in Las Vegas. The reigning champs, the Kansas City Chiefs are taking on the San Francisco 49ers.

For the 49ers, it's a revenge game of sorts, following their loss to the Chiefs, in the Super Bowl, four years ago.

And of course, a win for Kansas City would really cement them as the NFL's new dynasty. That would be three championships in just five years.

Here to talk about this is former NFL star himself, and wide receiver, Donte Stallworth, who I should note, has also played in a Super Bowl, so has perfect experience, to join us, here tonight.

I mean, I just wonder what you're going to be watching for the most, in this game.

DONTE STALLWORTH, FORMER NFL WIDE RECEIVER: One of the things, Kaitlan that I'm going to be watching for, is really how the Chiefs handle the pressure, from the 49ers.

Can the 49ers get pressure on Patrick Mahomes. Because if you're -- if he's allowed to sit back there, and go through all of his reads, and make the plays that he does, with his legs, and extending plays, it's going to be a long, long day for the 49ers.

But I think the 49ers, on their end, they're going to have to make sure that they stick to the run, run the ball, and get the play action passes going, to get Brock Purdy, a little more confidence, going into this Super Bowl, because it's a big game for him. It's a big game for everyone, but especially him, being so young, and all of this -- all this attention that's been put on him.

But it'll be interesting. It's always going to be a great game, the Super Bowl, and I'm excited for this one for sure.

COLLINS: Yes. And on Patrick Mahomes, I mean, he's just been in these conversations now, with one of your former teammates, and someone, who won the Super Bowl, seven times, Tom Brady.

If he does end up getting his third ring, on Sunday, I mean, he's only 28-years-old, I should remind everyone, where does that put him in contention, when it comes to the discussions, about the greatest quarterbacks that we've ever seen in the NFL?

STALLWORTH: You definitely have to put him in there. He is the -- he will be the youngest player, at the age of 28, to start four games at quarterback. And with him winning two Super Bowls already, he's in there, with the likes of guys that have -- that have already been in the Hall of Fame. So, I think his legacy is, at a very young age, he's already seeing himself as a Hall of Famer.

But when you're talking about some of the greats or the greatest of all time (ph), he's already mentioned the fact that he wants to catch Tom Brady, Seven Super Bowls. He's 28-years-old. The Chiefs are playing really well. They've got like a good mix of talent, young talent, and an old veteran leadership on that team.


STALLWORTH: They have a chance to win a lot more. But he's definitely already in that conversation. And he deserves all the praise that he gets.

COLLINS: All right. So, this game is happening, in Vegas. I'm coming, tomorrow, after the show's over, tonight.

And the last time I was in Las Vegas was last March. That was when I came to see Taylor Swift play, in her concert, as she was kicking off her Eras Tour. Obviously, people are hoping, expecting that she's going to be there on Sunday as well.

Are you a Swiftie?

STALLWORTH: You know what? I appreciate her music. I haven't like bought new (ph) cool songs, I must admit. She is -- she is obviously beloved by a lot of people (inaudible) long time ago at the Country Music Awards, very down to earth, very humble person.

And I personally like, I've been enjoying all this talk about her being at the games, and everything. I think it's pretty cool. She's bringing a new audience to the game of the NFL. And the NFL game is growing it seems like, every single year. And she's brought a big audience with her star power to the NFL.

A lot of young girls have been watching the games. And I remember I seeing this video, this Instagram video, of this mother, asking her 3- year-old or 4-year-old daughter, asking her who's her favorite player on the Chiefs, and she says, Taylor Swift. So, I thought that was pretty cool.

I know a lot of people are annoyed about it. But get a life. It's fine. She's all right.

COLLINS: "Get a life." I love that. All right, Donte Stallworth, can't wait to see what happens, on Sunday.

Also coming up here, on CNN, a private plane, crashed into a busy Florida interstate, not far from the airport. Major questions about what went wrong. We'll give you the latest, right after a quick break.



COLLINS: Look at this new video, out of Naples, Florida, tonight. A private plane actually crashed on Interstate 75, there, quickly engulfed in flames, as you can see here.


COLLINS: It was really just a few miles from the airport, when this plane went down. It hit a vehicle on the highway. What we are hearing from officials, tonight, is that two people, who were on board, were killed. Three others survived. No update on their conditions just yet.

But in air traffic control audio, from just before the crash, the pilots said that they had lost both engines. The pilots' last-recorded words on that audio: We are cleared to land, but we are not going to make the runway.

I should note the FAA and the NTSB are now investigating this. We'll keep you updated.

Before you go, of course, as we just mentioned, talking about the Super Bowl. Super Bowl champion, Michael Oher's name, you might remember him, from the hit movie, "The Blind Side."

There's a whole lot more to his story though. And there's a new CNN FlashDoc, "BLINDSIDED" that takes a closer look at it.


COOPER: Controversy surrounding the hit movie, "The Blind Side."

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Oher, blindsided, he says, by his family at the center of the Hollywood blockbuster.

COOPER: Alleging they earned millions from pushing a false narrative that they adopted him.

ANTHONY BURROW (ph), OHER'S FORMER CAREGIVER: In the movie, it depicted a totally different person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael really didn't like the movie from the very beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They followed him everywhere, while he was in the NFL. There's no escaping it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He felt like someone was making money from this movie, and it wasn't him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said that they never intended to adopt Michael?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that, you know, as they trying to say in the south, you've got some 'splaining to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seemed to be all love, and a lot was offered.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was portrayed as unable, without the help of the Tuohy family, to have made his way in the world.


It allows us to go around and talk about the Michael Ohers of the world that need a forever family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know what a conservatorship is now, thanks to Britney Spears. To hear that something like that had gone on, it strikes a nerve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They blindsided him, from the start.



COLLINS: And thank you so much, for joining us, tonight.