Transcript: Robert Costa and Michael Morell on “Face the Nation”, August 28, 2022

0

The following is a transcript of a chat with Robert Costa and Michael Morell that aired Sunday, August 28, 2022 on “Face the Nation”.


MAJOR GARRET:

Hello everyone. Welcome to “Face the Nation”. Margaret is out and we hope in the final stages of recovering from COVID-19. August has been, there really is no other way to put it, an amazing month here in Washington. And one of our tasks today is to work to understand the legal and national security implications of Friday’s release of a redacted affidavit outlining the rationale for the FBI’s recovery of classified documents stored in the resort town of Mar -a-Lago of former President Trump. To help us out, CBS News chief election and campaign correspondent Robert Costa is back from West Palm Beach, Florida, and we’ve also brought in Michael Morell, former acting CIA director, now CBS News national security contributor. Gentlemen, hello. Bob, I want to start with you. Describe to the audience what you see as the potential legal peril for the former president.

CBS NEWS ELECTION CHIEF AND CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT ROBERT COSTA:

The government’s affidavit makes that clear. There have been tensions between Trump’s legal team and federal investigators for months over his handling of classified documents. The affidavit mentions a possible obstruction. He also mentions how Trump had in his possession, in their opinion, very sensitive documents that could even deal with information from human intelligence sources, which led them to have the FBI search the property, Mar-a-Lago. , just weeks ago.

MAJOR GARRET:

And there is of course a political dimension to this. How do you rate that? And you were in West Palm Beach all week. What’s the vibe there?

COST:

This injects uncertainty into the midterm elections. For Republicans, he’s their party’s standard bearer, even though he’s former President Donald Trump, he’s eyeing a 2024 presidential bid. So many of the party’s candidates echo his version of politics. . Now seeing him face legal challenges in all areas, not just Florida, adds that uncertainty to the discussion.

MAJOR GARRET:

And one thing that happened recently, a judge reviewing a request from the former president for a special master’s put in a legal document that this judge might be inclined to do that. Does this change anything from your point of view?

COST:

To be determined at this stage. We’ll see in the coming days if a so-called special master or neutral party is appointed by a federal judge in Florida to review and return the evidence. They asked the government to provide a list of information. It could go in that direction, but let’s remember that the government has already set up a screening team in the Justice Department that is looking at what it gathered weeks ago. This is therefore a late entry into the legal discussion.

MAJOR GARRET:

Mike Morell, review the affidavit for our audience, please.

FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR OF CIA NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR AND CBS NEWS MICHAEL MORELL:

Major, I had two reactions reading it. The first was the fact that these documents were intermingled with unclassified documents. You had classified documents in the vast majority of boxes. It suggested to me negligence in the handling of classified documents at the White House. The two White Houses that I know best, the Bush White House and the Obama White House, there were very rigorous and strict protocols when it came to handling classified information, where records were kept, retrievals were carried out. This is what normally happens. This did not happen in this case, it seems to me. The second thing that jumped out at me were the markings, the HCS, the human control system, and the SI, the special intelligence. A human control system means information from CIA spies. And special intelligence means information from the technical operations of the national security agency. It’s the… it’s the most sensitive material in the United States intelligence community.

MAJOR GARRET:

So the next natural question seems to me to be, how vulnerable were the documents you just talked about that were described in this affidavit to compromise?

MOREL:

So I think they were vulnerable. Even in the White House, since they seem to have been mishandled in the White House as well, okay, we have to look at that Mar-a-Lago as well. And as the damage assessment progresses, I think they need to look at those two places. Not everyone in the White House has top secret clearance. You therefore have to worry about who has had access to these documents, who has not had the authorization to do so. In terms of the vulnerability of foreign intelligence services, a bit of context. If you look at the history of espionage in the United States, you will see a number of Americans who have been accused and convicted of espionage. And when you look at how long they spied before they got caught and you do all these calculations, what you–what you learn is that at any given time, there’s an average of four Americans who spy for foreign intelligence services without our knowledge. that at the time. And those are the ones we finally caught. So there’s a lot of espionage in Washington, isn’t there? And if you’re a foreign intelligence service and you want to target the United States government, what’s the number one place you want to target? The White House.

MAJOR GARRET:

You mentioned your experience with the Bush and Obama White Houses. There is a procedure inside the building, obviously, for classified and secure documents. Is there a similar process offsite, for any president? Is that in a place like Mar-a-Lago or for President Biden right now when he returns to Delaware?

MOREL:

So there are — there are things called SCIFs, sensitive compartmented information locations, that are actually approved to hold classified information. I had one in my attic when I was assistant manager. And you have the right to hold classifieds there, but these are places that are approved by security agents, aren’t they?

MAJOR GARRET:

And if they’re not, then they’re not following procedures and maybe they’re not following federal law?

MOREL:

To correct. And you-and you could be at risk in these instances of mishandling classified information.

MAJOR GARRET:

And Mike, it’s a question that circles around that relentlessly. Is there a formalized process for a president to declassify classified information?

MOREL:

Unfortunately no. There are laws that allow the president to declassify information. The Supreme Court has upheld these laws on several occasions. But these bylaws don’t outline a step-by-step process for the president to do so. So it’s murky. I actually know of a case from the Bush White House where President Bush declassified part of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMDs from 2002 so that Scooter Libby could use that information in his grand jury testimony. And President Bush did it without ever telling the intelligence community. So presidents can do that, right? But there is a proper way to do it and the proper way to do it is to cover it with paper, right? Have the President sign a document indicating that I hereby declassify this information.

MAJOR GARRET:

With important reporting and context, Bob Costa, Mike Morell, thank you very much.

Share.

Comments are closed.