Anderson Cooper 360: AG Garland's Motion to Unseal Trump FBI Warrant
August 11, 2022
Read a transcript of the segment below.
ANDERSON COOPER: Judge Gertner, when we spoke earlier this week, you said that something of this magnitude would have been signed off on by the Attorney General himself. We learned today you were certainly right, what do you make of his decision to seek to make public the warrant and the receipt of the items taken?
NANCY GERTNER, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: I thought it was a brilliant move. I thought it was a brilliant move.
I mean, one of the things he said, which is that, you know, we don't usually comment about cases and that makes perfect sense, but we only come in through our filings. And at the moment, he was saying that they were filing a motion to unseal the document.
I mean, it was really brilliant. He wasn't really going off the script. Public documents are obviously something about which he can comment. And so at that moment, he had created in one sense a justification to speak publicly about this. I thought it was absolutely brilliant to do this.
Trump is in an interesting position. On the one hand, if he opposes the unsealing of this, which he has a right to do and if the Judge nevertheless releases it, which, who knows what the Judge would do, you know, he would try to sort of set up an argument later down the line, that there was undo -- if you ever get convicted -- ever get charged, that there was undue publicity. It would be very hard for Donald Trump to make that argument, since he was the source of the publicity.
But I thought it was a brilliant move on the part of Merrick Garland.
COOPER: Daniel, "The Washington Post," as I mentioned reporting tonight, "Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former President Donald Trump's Florida residence on Monday according to people familiar with the investigation." What's your reaction to that and to all that we have seen today?
DANIEL GOLDBERG, FORMER ASSISTANT US ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, I think what's been coming out and what the Attorney General did today reveals a couple of things.
First of all, if you believe all of the reporting, it is clear that Donald Trump did not satisfactorily comply with a grand jury subpoena to turn over all of the documents that he had, that he should not have had, that were classified. And that's why they had to do the search warrant.
I said on Tuesday, right after this happened that it is very likely that there is a witness who can pinpoint exactly what remained there and there has been reporting that that is the case.
Now, Merrick Garland is coming out, and he is saying, hey, if you're going to bash us, and if you're going to twist things around, then show us the receipts. Donald Trump won't do that, so he is going to the Court. And I'm very interested to see what the statutes are that are listed on that search warrant, because it could range from anything and now that we have this information about nuclear information, you know, it could range from nuclear information, it could range from evidence, potentially, that he has been sharing classified information to other people.
There's a wide range of things, and I do think that the statutes will give us an indication of what this investigation is all about. But I do -- you know, he is in a pickle right now, because if he does not oppose then, we're going to find that out. If he does oppose, then he is clearly hiding something.
COOPER: Kaitlan, if "The Washington Post" reporting is accurate, and they were looking for nuclear documents, what do you -- I mean, does anyone you talk to in Trump orbit have any explanation for why the former President of the United States would be holding on to whether it is nuclear documents or any classified documents in a closet or basement at Mar-a-Lago? Is there an explanation for this?
COLLINS: Not so far that we've heard and I think the confusion that even some of his own allies have is why when there was clearly an effort, a fervent effort by the National Archives to get a hold of the documents that he had taken with him to Mar-a-Lago, did they send 15 boxes, but not everything. And that was what investigators had suspected. That was part of the reason why they went down there on June 3rd and met with his attorneys and looked at the room where these documents were being held.
And clearly, they were concerned with the security of these documents, because I was told that five days later, they got an e-mail from these investigators saying you need to further secure the room. They didn't specifically tell them to put a padlock on the door, but that is what they did and I think that's really why there's been such concern about this and about what it was that he took with him not just simply that it was a memento or a document, but that it is something that could compromise National Security related information.
COOPER: I mean, this is the person who dined out on Hillary Clinton's server, like it was an all you can eat buffet. I mean, this is what he ran on and the idea that he would then hoard classified documents -- I mean, I am eager to hear any explanation from anybody in Trump's orbit about this.
COLLINS: Well, I think, Anderson, also, it's not just Trump, it is also several of the Republicans that you're hearing from who were calling on the Attorney General to release the warrant, had been very quiet today since he came out and said, we are actually trying to release, unseal the warrant -- the search warrant and make it publicly known. A lot of those Republicans were the same ones who also were heavily critical of Hillary Clinton for how she handled her private e- mails.
And so I think this is a situation where it could be complicated, because what we've heard so far from allies of the former President, is that what they'll say he already declassified everything because as the President, he has the power to declassify things.
But when things are declassified, they say declassified on them.
COOPER: There's a process.
COLLINS: There is a process. It could potentially get very complicated here.
COOPER: It's not the President saying "I hereby declassify this." I mean, it's -- there is like an actual process.
Judge Gertner, CNN is reporting, as I mentioned that the 15 boxes retrieved in January by the National Archives contain some materials that were part of a Special Access Programs, a classification that includes protocols to significantly limit who would have access to the information, according to a source familiar with what the Archives discovered in the boxes.
What legal impact could that have? I mean, does the level of classification matter?
GERTNER: Well, I think the fact of classification matters. My understanding is that the documents that are classified are clear on their face. And also you ask the why question, and we want to ask the why question, because it really doesn't make sense. But the why question is actually irrelevant.
With respect to classification, the fact of unauthorized possession, when you think about David Petraeus sharing that with his biographer or Sandy Berger, just taking documents from the National Archives, the why doesn't matter. It is the fact of it and that's all you need.
Who knows why he would have done it, but it is unimaginable that he would. And clearly, the higher level of classification justifies this even more, but people are making it appear as if it's a technical violation. It's not a technical violation. This is a violation for which there are -- there's a whole administrative apparatus to make sure that classified information doesn't get out.
GERTNER: So, you know, the protocol makes a difference. But as of your last question, it's not like there's a magic wand. You know, he walks out the door, and he says, okay, everything is declassified, obviously they have to sort of document this.
COOPER: I am sorry to interrupt you. If you could just stand by everyone. I want to bring Josh Dawsey, who shares a byline on "The Washington Post" article.
Josh, what more can you tell us about these documents related to nuclear weapons that you and your colleagues report were being sought by FBI agents at Mar-a-Lago?
JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what we've learned is that the federal government, the FBI was working with subpoenas, they were working cooperatively with the Trump folks and then at some point this summer, they decided to take a more aggressive take, partially because of what they were concerned that was the documents about nuclear programs and multiple sources that escalated their desire that they believe those documents were there to get in immediately.
And it is one of the thing that our sources have explained to us is why you such a step was taken like it was on Monday.
COOPER: Is there any reason according to your sources, that a former president would have these particular kinds of documents in his possession and not have turned them over in the initial cache of documents that were turned over?
DAWSEY: Not that I'm aware of, Anderson, no.
I mean, former Presidents often have taken things with him and they returned back in time. That's happened with others. There have been handovers in the past, but the scope of what former President Trump took, you know, 15 boxes had to give back the first time.
Again, you know, they took 12 more boxes out the other day according to his lawyer, and the content of what he took really make this a totally different kind of experience.
COOPER: Do you have any more information on the level of classification of these documents?
DAWSEY: We know that a lot of the things that what was found there were top secret, the highest levels of classification you could find. He had a lot of documents marked with that and then some of the documents that they had taken back were several pages of classified inventory. And my colleague, Jacqueline Alemany reported.
So there was, you know, extensive documents that the Federal government felt were classified, and some of them were even marked top secret.
COOPER: Josh Dawsey, appreciate the reporting from you and your colleagues. Thanks so much.
I want to go back to the panel here. Daniel, a little bit more information there from Josh Dawsey. What sort of timeline do you think the Department of Justice is on now? Not just I mean, not just related to this subpoena, but does this give it any window into their investigations?
GOLDBERG: Well, I do think that it is showing that this investigation related to the classified documents is significantly escalating and is moving quite quickly. My guess is this is the last resort. We have indication that they've interviewed a number of witnesses. But the questions that Josh raises, and that you raised earlier about the nuclear documents are particularly important when you consider the fact that this has been going on for seven months.
He has known that there has been an interest in these documents for seven months. He received a subpoena for them. So, the question is really important to ask, what is he doing? And why is he continuing to obstruct this investigation to hold on to these documents? It is one thing if you're, you're informed that you have documents that need to be turned over and you say, okay, I'll turn them over.
It's entirely a different thing when you're being asked over and over and compelled to do it, and you don't, and it begs the question, what are you doing with those documents, because it's not simply just to put them in a picture frame on a wall? There has got to be some other reason why Donald Trump is hiding documents, especially scary if they are related to nuclear programs at the highest level of classification. And there are higher levels than top secret.
I was on the House Intelligence Committee, as you know, Anderson, and there are secured compartmental information, which, as Judge Gertner said is super-duper top secret stuff that very few have access to.
COOPER: And Kaitlan, I asked you if there was any explanation for why he would have classified documents and you said from people in Trump orbit, not as of yet.
Have you heard any explanation for why they would not have turned over all the documents initially?
COLLINS: No, that's been a big question that even some of his own allies have raised of why not just turn them over? If it was so clear to you how desperately the National Archives was trying to get a hold of these that they referred it to the Justice Department for an investigation, which is why we are in the position that we're in now, the situation with Garland coming out today to talk about this, and instead for the last several days, the President's attorneys had been framing this as we were cooperating all along. We were kind of shocked by the idea that this search happened on Monday and totally caught off guard.
What they left out initially was that there was this subpoena. There was this other step, that of course, as we reported on Monday, these investigators did go down to Mar-a-Lago to see this. They had a very clear interest in these documents.
And so I think that's why it has raised the question of what could potentially be in there, and I think on Monday. You heard a lot of Republicans very critical of this search, and I think now if it does come out, and it is confirmed that these were documents related to the national security of the United States or nuclear weapons programs for other nations, that is going to potentially quiet them some because obviously, that is not something that can just be hanging out the former President's primary residence in Florida, where obviously it's not under the kind of lock and key that it typically would be.
COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, Daniel Goleman. Nancy Gertner, appreciate it. Thank you.