Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Sources: Mar-a-Lago Workers May Testify Against Trump At Docs Trial; Democratic Senator Joe Manchin Won't Run For Re-Election; McCarthy Lashes Out Against Colleagues Who Ousted Him; CNN Embeds With Israel's Military At War With Hamas In Gaza; Tens Of Thousands Of Gazans Evacuate Further South; Pentagon: At Least 56 U.S. Members Injured Since October 17 In Attacks In Iraq And Syria. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired November 09, 2023 - 16:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And he may not have a future in journalism as he missed his deadline -- come on, you can be a little late -- also known as his due date by a few days.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yeah, his two middle names come from his paternal and maternal grandfathers. His first name Archer stands for genuineness and boldness. It's also apparently the name of a Taylor Swift song. Baby Archer attended not one, not two, but three Taylor Swift shows before he was born. Sara's a huge fan.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: A new twist in Donald Trump's classified documents case, kind of sounds like a game of clue.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A plumber, a maid, and maybe even a chauffeur -- the names from Mar-a- Lago who could soon be key witnesses in the criminal case against the former president.

And a CNN exclusive. Kevin McCarthy one month after his fall as speaker of the House and not holding back on the so-called crazy eight who voted him out.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: They care a lot about press, not about policy, so they seem to just want the press and the personality.


BROWN: Plus, a political stunner. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin says he won't run for re-election, so will he run for higher office?

(MUSIC) BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

And we start with our law and justice lead, and brand new exclusive CNN reporting about who could be called to testify in Donald Trump's classified documents trial -- from a plumber to a driver to a woodworker to former White House staffers.

You may recall the former president is accused of mishandling classified information after he left office. The FBI executed a search warrant at Trump's Mar-a-Lago property in August of 2022 believing that despite a subpoena, Trump didn't return classified material that belong today the federal government.

Well, according to the indictment the FBI says it found boxes of classified boxes in a storage room at Mar-a-Lago and in a grand ballroom and in a bathroom. Trump's federal indictment included photos of the documents inside Mar-a-Lago and revealed some of the material included information on U.S. defense and nuclear capabilities and on the militaries of foreign governments.

Let's get straight to CNN's Katelyn Polantz.

Katelyn, walk us through this new reporting, these possible witnesses who really were the eyes and ears of Mar-a-Lago.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Pam, eyes and ears is the way to put it. It's a plumber, a maid, a chauffeur, a woodworker, people that Paula Reid and I were able to confirm are very likely witnesses, people that investigators had already spoken with and could be calling at trial to testify against Donald Trump and others, the people who were not just around Donald Trump on a day-to- day basis but were noticing things around the club property. They were aware of visitors coming in and out.

And an example, the woodworker that we learned about, man who was installing crown molding in the bedroom of Donald Trump and noticed some peculiar stacks of papers in that room, wasn't sure what they were. What appears to have been classified records that he at one point thought were movie props. He wasn't sure, but they were suspicious enough he talked to investigators about it.

That's the sort of thing that prosecutors could be presenting at trial just to highlight how unsecure Mar-a-Lago was once you were inside and how accessible these documents were that Trump kept and is accused of criminally mishandling and not giving back to the federal government after he leaves the presidency.

BROWN: Right. I mean, federal prosecutors are no doubt relying on these, what, 150 employees who work at Mar-a-Lago like that woodworker, like that housekeeper trying to piece together what exactly happened with the former president, mishandling the classified information. And it's not just those employees, right? You have Secret Service agents, you have an Australian businessman who could also be called to testify.

POLANTZ: Right, what we've been able to understand is it's not just these 150 or so employees that were working at Mar-a-Lago's contractors, and full timers. There's also Secret Service agents that could be called to testify as prosecution witnesses. There are former intelligence officials. There are top aides of Donald Trump in the political sphere and also in his business world.

But one of the things to note here is that not all of these people might be called, and it's possible that none of these people could be called before the election because right now, the trial is set for May, but we are still waiting to see what Judge Aileen Cannon is going to do. Does she move the trial after the presidential election next year? And thus would we not be hearing from these people about what it was like at Mar-a-Lago after the Trump presidency?

BROWN: Right, learning about the presidential candidate's behavior during this, right, before the election. So, we'll have to see, of course, Trump wants it moved after. We'll see what the judge decides on this.

Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN's Kristen Holmes and Elie Honig, former federal prosecutors.


ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Pam, in my view, these could be ideal witnesses from a prosecutor's perspective for a few reasons.

First of all, they're normal folks. They're not D.C. insiders. They're maintenance workers, woodworkers, pool staff, people who just work every day that be relatable to a jury.

Second of all, by all appearances, they haven't participated in any wrongdoing or criminality. They're people who happened to be in Mar-a- Lago and see and hear things that are relevant.

And that brings me to the third point, which is access. These are people who are literally on the inside, of inside Mar-a-Lago, and sometimes even as in the case of the crown molding worker that Katelyn talked about, get to go into restricted places where people ordinarily wouldn't get to go. And so, their testimony really could be very, very valuable to prosecutors here.

BROWN: Yeah, I mean, one of them is a housekeeper who cleaned the former president's bedroom, right? Like you said, these are people who have access the typically employees may not have.

And so, Kristen, on that note, how has Trump world been preparing for all these witnesses to possibly share what they know?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, the one thing to come on here is that Trump's legal team knows who the witnesses are. Remember, Trump has been ordered not to communicate about the case with any of the potential witnesses. So, in order to do that, they have to actually know who those witnesses are. So, the number one objective there is finding out what exactly they

know. Now, some of that's going to be easier than others, for example, we know that many of the people who work for Mar-a-Lago, who worked for Donald Trump, are actually being represented by lawyers who are being paid for by Donald Trump. That's going to be the easy part. They know those people, plus witnesses. They know what exactly they said.

It's the other people that are going to be a little bit harder, the people who they're not sure exactly what it is that they know. They don't have any communication with their lawyers. That's where the real preparation comes in, trying to piece that together.

BROWN: And so, Elie, based on what Kristen said, look, this is complicated. I mean, many of these potential witnesses, they are people who still work at Mar-a-Lago, rely on their work for their livelihoods. Trump aligned entities are paying for some of their lawyers.

So, I mean, how valuable will these witnesses potentially be in that context?

HONIG: Well, it certainly puts these witnesses in a difficult position. Anytime someone is having their counsel paid for by somebody else, first of all, it's a deterrent to cooperate because naturally, someone in the position of a less powerful, less wealthy witness, like these people, will fear that if they tell the truth, and it's harmful to the boss, word will make its way back up to the boss.

The second concern is they could lose their lawyers. Donald Trump and his affiliated organizations could decide, it's within their rights, to decide, we're no longer paying for your lawyers. These folks would then have to go out and get their own lawyers, which can be mighty expensive.

We've seen this over and over again in Trump world. We've seen people who were reluctance to come forward at first, while represented by Trump-funded lawyers. Cassidy Hutchinson being one example, and only after they got away, and got their own lawyers, are they fully able to come. So, it's absolutely a complicating dynamic. But it is capable of being overcome.

BROWN: Kristen, there are a wide range of possible witnesses here. You're reporting includes that Trump went ballistic when investigators asked to speak with the maid who cleans his bedroom. Which witnesses are Trump most worried about?

HOLMES: Well, look, there's two sides of the coin here. One of course, as Elie mentioned, is well, these people who have this enormous amount of access. What exactly did they see, what exactly are they going to say? But the other part of this is anyone who is no longer in Trump's orbit, those who are the people who are going to be more complicated for Donald Trump and his legal team to get to because it's still about figuring out what exactly they know, what exactly they're going to say.

And there are people who, one, ended relationships within Mar-a-Lago or with the former president on not great terms. That's a possibility. Anyone who's not stayed within the graces of Donald Trump or his world, that's another possibility. That's where the real concern is going to come in.

Are there people, one, we don't know what they're going to say. We can reach them. We don't know who their lawyers are. Or other people who have essentially turned on the former president. That's something else to look into.

BROWN: And, then of course, this is all against the backdrop of his other trials and cases, right? You have that civil fraud trial underway in New York right now where Donald Trump is accused of lying about the value of his assets. Trump's defense is scheduled to start Monday. And now we know, their first witness will be Donald Trump Jr., Elie. What do you make of that?

HONIG: Well, it's an interesting decision. What this tells me is that Donald Trump's team has something more they want to get out of Donald Trump, Jr. There was something that they didn't have the opportunity to ask him or when he testified earlier this week, or that did not occur to them to ask him, because what happened earlier this week is the A.G. called Donald Trump Jr. as a witness, Donald Trump team could have cross-examined then but opted not to. So, now, they're saying, well, we want him to be our first defense witness.

The advantage of doing it that way for the defense, is, you will not have this witness as a blank slate. So Donald Trump's lawyers can ask Donald Trump Jr., essentially, anything they want within the realms of relevancy.


But it gives them a sort of orders what they can go through with Donald Trump, Jr. It tells me they're trying to build an affirmative defense. They're not just going to sort of demure and hope for the best.

And we'll see how much different his demeanor on the stand is, when he's on direct examine from friendly lawyers than when he's essentially being examined by the other side, by the A.G.'s lawyers last week.

BROWN: My guess is it's going to be a little different.

HONIG: Probably.

BROWN: Elie Honig, Kristen Holmes, thank you so much.

And up next, the surprise announcement from Senator Joe Manchin. He will not run for reelection. How the move puts his Democratic Party in a bind, as it heads into the critical 2024 election year.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I believe, in my heart of hearts that I've accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia. I made one of the toughest decisions of my life, and decided I will not be running for reelection.


BROWN: Democratic Senator Joe Manchin's surprised announcement today, he will not run for reelection. This will clearly feel questions about his presidential ambitions. But his decision will immediately hit Democrats. In fact, it already is. They're hoping to keep control of the Senate after the 2024 election.


But as we know, right now, they have a slim majority in the Senate. And this is a big blow for them.

I want to bring in CNN's Manu Raju.

So, Manu, how big of a loss is this for Democrats?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a huge loss. I mean, they had been some expectation that he was unlikely to run. He's 76 years old. He was already facing the prospect of a very difficult reelection, facing Jim Justice, the sitting governor, and who has his own primary but is favored in that primary. It's a conservative state.

But the fact he's not running makes it almost certain Democrats will concede privately this is going to flip to the Republican side. And then what is that lead then? It's a 50-50 Senate. They've already incumbents running in red states in Montana and Ohio. That's going to be difficult to hope both of these seats.

And then also in key states, Democrats have seats in Wisconsin, in Michigan, in Pennsylvania and Arizona, the independent senator Kyrsten Sinema. What will she do? It's a complicated state as well.

So the map is difficult for them. They really are only two Republican incumbents they can pick off, Ted Cruz in Texas, Rick Scott of Florida. Those are difficult stage for Democrats. It shows you the decision by Manchin has huge ramifications for the map and also for the first two years of Joe Biden second term or a new president.

BROWN: Huge implications. And let's also talk about this exclusive interview you did with the ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He is still clearly very angry at those who ousted him from his speakership.

RAJU: Yeah, he said there should be consequences for those eight membership who pushed him out, particularly Congressman Nancy Mace. He says she doesn't deserve to be reelected. He also went after Matt Gaetz, who led the charge. Certainly, the Republicans in the House tremendously benefit, if you're no longer in the House. And he also indicated that there's a long ways to go in healing the GOP divisions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCARTHY: It really shows the conference is not united. It hasn't solved the problem if those, that had taken out myself, and you just put somebody else in. You haven't dealt with the consequences for those who put us in this place. I mean, that's what you look -- we're still wondering whether the government is going to be shut down or not. That's a real challenge, and we're going to have to heal ourselves to be able to serve the people.

RAJU: But won't the speaker confront the same problems that you had?

MCCARTHY: No. Look, you get a honeymoon, but it was personal, it was about an ethics complaint. And they can't go through it again. I mean, think about how long it took last time. So, do you think they would do that again?

I don't think -- I think the Democrats also realize that it wouldn't smart for the body itself. I mean --

RAJU: So even if he goes and relies on Democratic votes the way you had to do it, you think that he would be safe and not be pushed out of the speakership?

MCCARTHY: Oh, yeah. I don't think anybody can make a motion to vacate for the rest of its term. I think -- I think he's safe regardless.

RAJU: You really think that these -- if they -- if he does something that upsets them, that nobody will try to push him out for the rest of the Congress?


RAJU: Why? What gives you that confidence?

MCCARTHY: Who are you going to replace him with? You've already taken out Steve Scalise --

RAJU: But some of them, they don't seem to care to think about the long term strategy of this stuff.

MCCARTHY: This is too important.


RAJU: So, that part is actually significant at this moment because they've got to decide how to avoid a government shutdown by the end of next week. Will Mike Johnson, the new speaker, try to keep the government open by passing a bill that relies on Democratic votes? That cost Speaker McCarthy his job as speaker. But if Johnson does it, McCarthy thinks that the Republicans simply don't have the stomach to try to push him out, that Johnson out if he does the same thing.

So we'll see how that plays out, but that is very important to these key moment next week, the funding deadline next Friday.

BROWN: Yeah, Mike Johnson's keeping his cards close to his vest right now, too, in terms of what he might do. McCarthy also brought up some tensions he had with the former House

Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Tell us about that.

RAJU: Yeah, that's right. A couple of things. One, she occupies space, office space, which is a valuable commodity in the Capitol, close to the House floor, after she was ousted -- after she stepped aside as a speaker. But she was ousted from that spot, the office space because of Kevin McCarthy. He said, well, now, there's another former speaker, so I'm sorry. That -- he was downplaying her concerns that she raised.

Also, she said, he she told him back in December that she would not support an effort to replace him for the speakership, saying it would be bad for the House. So he's very concerned, not just at the eight Republicans who pushed him out, the former speaker, the current House Democratic leader, who all voted to kick him out of the speakership, along with those eight Republicans.

So even though it's been more than a month since he lost the job, all that very fresh on his mind, as he adjusts to life as a rank and file member.

BROWN: Yeah, harboring a lot of resentment there.

All right. Manu Raju, thank you. Excellent interview.

And you can see more of Manu's interview with Kevin McCarthy on "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY" at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

So, Senator Manchin may be coy about his possible presidential ambitions. But someone else is not and just announced a 2024 bid.


That's coming up.


BROWN: And we are back with our 2024 lead, and the battle for control of the U.S. Senate getting more interesting today, as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced that he is not running for reelection.

So let's discuss with our panel.

Eva McKend, starting with you. Look, you have a very popular Republican, Jim Justice, already running for Manchin's seat. It's likely, it's expected, right, that he's going to flip the seat. This is a big blow to Democrats.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: It does seem that way, or Congressman Alex Mooney who's also competing for the Republican nomination. Certainly, Republicans are well-positioned in West Virginia.

[16:25:03] Though if you speak to Democrats, they argue and you know this being from South, Pam --


MCKEND: -- being from Kentucky, that they, no state should completely be seated, right? That there is a working class message for West Virginia voters and you should not far up your hands and give up here.

But it's difficult in that state. Paula Jean Swearengin, she's from coal country. She ran a great campaign in 2018, got lots of attention. She ran again in 2020 and lost by 40 points to Shelley Moore Capito, who's currently representing West Virginia in the Senate.

So it's not an easy environment for Democrats in that state.

BROWN: Yeah, at the very least, it will be a huge fight.

And, Manchin, Alice, was intentionally vague in that video he put out about running for president, right? That's the big question. He certainly, though, did not close the door.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, he did not. And, of course, we have the No Labels campaign that's out there, certainly laying the groundwork for a candidate, just like you mentioned. But as you said, he did outline his plans for the future, really working to travel across the country, bring this country together, in a more moderate cohesive way, and certainly whether or not he's the head of that or just working for the movement, that's great.

And to his credit, look, he's been a tremendous senator for people of West Virginia, with a moderate voice, been a true public servant, not a self servant. But I can tell you this, Republicans are excited about this announcement. Steve Daines, who is the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said this afternoon, we like your odds in West Virginia.

So that gives us the opportunity, potentially, not only to pick up West Virginia, there are two other key seats that are potential pick- ups for Republicans. That is Montana as well as Ohio. So if that were to be the case, then good news for Republicans and possibly regaining control on the Senate.

NAYYERA HAQ, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Pam, let's take a broader than just what's going on in the Senate, and the idea of what this means for organizing as a political party in the modern era. Joe Manchin is a millionaire, a couple of times over, which is very discontent from the majority of people in West Virginia, and he's also an older white man. So if you're looking at the idea of appealing to a moderate audience that either Trump or Biden don't appeal to, Manchin checks a lot of the boxes that have been problematic for voters that are younger, that are more diverse.

So it's not a guarantee that what he has to offer is something that American voters actually want in the presidency. BROWN: We're also learning about Jill Stein announcing the surprise

presidential bid today. She is seeking the Green Party's 2024 nomination, and the question as always, what is this going to mean for Democrats and Republicans? What do you think, Eva?

MCKEND: Well, I think there is an appetite for her candidacy among the progressive left right now, who are very angry at President Biden, specifically for his foreign policy response right now in the Middle East, that they argue is not humanizing Palestinians enough.

So it does make sense why Jill Stein sort of sees a pathway for at least, for her to be in the conversation. But, you know, we have all covered politics in this country. And for a long time, there has never been sort of any pathway for a third party candidate. I suspect this year will be no different.

HAQ: The pathway for third-party is often being the spoiler candidate, right? RFK Jr. running as an independent is likely to pull voters away from Trump.

BROWN: That's the question.

HAQ: And Jill Stein, where would she pull voters from? Is that enough of the margin that at a time when Black and Brown voter enthusiasm is low, who does that hurt and in which states? You look at Florida, you look at North Carolina, looking at Michigan. That's what the 2024 candidates really have to map out.

BROWN: Right, and you look at the polls, and how tied it is between Trump and Biden right now. When you have a candidate like Jill Stein throwing her head in the ring, how does that impact the math?

I also want to ask about your party in particular here, Alice, after the debate last night. Let's take a listen to some of the highlights.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've become a party of losers, at the end of the day.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump's a lot different guy than he was in 2016. He said Republicans were going to get tired of winning. I'm sick of Republicans losing.

RAMASWAMY: She made fun of me for actually joining TikTok, while her own daughter was actually using the app.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Leave my daughter out of your voice.


RAMASWAMY: Here's the truth --

HALEY: You're just scum.

RAMASWAMY: -- the easy answer.

Do you want Cheney in three-inch heels?

HALEY: First, I'd like to say they're are five-inch heels and I don't wear them unless you can run in them.


BROWN: What is your reaction to what you saw?

STEWART: Look, it's great to have a debate. It's great to have to candidates out there contrasting on issues. But, look, Vivek Ramaswamy did himself zero favors last night. His campaign after the debate said, we dropped a bomb. He bombed with women. The insults he had were embarrassing.

Look, this guy s out there on the stage, so desperately wanting a big bro hug from Tucker Carlson, as well as Elon Musk and Joe Rogan. It's embarrassing. And all he did throughout the night, every single powerful woman in his eyesight. He attacked Nikki Haley for wearing heels and supposedly being a bad mother because her daughter is on TikTok.


Going after Ronna McDaniel, the chairman of the RNC, for losing since 2017, when it is Donald Trump's fault the Republicans have lost so significantly.

And also, Kristen Welker, the moderator of the debate, saying she is basically the face of fake news.

And, look, that does not win him any votes with women. They look at that and look at him as a frat boy and not a serious candidate for the president of the United States.

HAQ: Yeah, he's making the mistake of thinking that as a young brown man, he can do exactly what Donald Trump did, but Donald Trump has the voters already in his pocket. And that's the challenge for everybody there.

It was interesting to see Nikki Haley show up with the stilettos to a knife fight but -- and I appreciated that because so many of us do have to run around in heels. But nobody on that stage actually spoke to people like me, women, who are suburban and mothers, about staying out of our health care issues, staying out of our children and three choices in school and what they might be when they grew up.

And that's -- in their infighting, they're missing that deeply compelling message of values.

BROWN: I want to actually talk about that little more about, you know, women and their health care rights and so forth because, you know, the issue of abortion was looming large. In fact, it didn't come up until 19 minutes into the debate. But what I did come up, this is how the candidates responded. Let's listen to what Governor Ron DeSantis said in particular. He

blamed and how he blamed the loss in Ohio.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All the stuff that's happened to the pro-life cause, they have been caught flat- footed on these referenda, and they have been losing the referenda.


BROWN: So did any of you -- and I let anyone jump in here. Did any of you get a sense any of them have figured out how to get ahead of this issue? How to address it? Of course, we saw all this big Democratic gains with the momentum on abortion rights.

MCKEND: No, to me it seems like there are still flailing on a consistent strategy as a party here. Overall, though, I don't think that the debate is really going to move that needle all that much. It is more consequential, the work they're doing in the states.

I had an Iowa pastor tell me he was previously supporting Vivek Ramaswamy. Now he's in Governor DeSantis's camp, due part to the -- to the support from the governor of Iowa for DeSantis --

BROWN: It's interesting he didn't even talk about that last night, right, surprisingly.

MCKEND: Yeah, and that's probably more important than theatrics last night.

BROWN: Yeah. All right. Ladies, thank you so much. Great discussion.

Up next, on THE LEAD, CNN's 90 minutes inside Gaza, the visible fresh wounds of war one month into conflict.



BROWN: You are looking at video from Gaza, just moments ago, where flares are lighting up the night sky and Israeli forces are fighting with Hamas.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has a firsthand look inside Gaza today. And we want to warn our viewers, CNN reported from Gaza under an -- Israel, Israeli Defense Forces escort at all times, which is a condition for journalists to embed with the IDF. Media outlets must submit footage filmed in Gaza to the Israeli military for review.

But CNN did not submit its script for this report to the IDF and CNN had editorial control over this final product.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Through the breach, we enter northern Gaza at the Erez border crossing. The land here, once fertile farmland, is barren. And the trees that might have provided enemy cover, destroyed.

In the distance, smoke from Israeli or strike is a stark reminder that this is day 34 of a war that may stretch much longer.

On Thursday, the IDF chief of staff and the head of the country's internal security service entered Gaza, and promised strength through cooperation.

Everyone is doing everything, said General Herzi Halevi, just so you can be a strong as possible.

Along our path, in northern Gaza, the signs of civilian life have given way to the constant hum of drones, and distant echoes of artillery.

Our time with the IDF began at the coordination base for the border crossing, the first international media to visit the site. The terror attack on October 7th, hit hard here. Scars of machine gun fire and RPGs still visible. The base was mostly empty on the holiday, but not entirely. The IDF says nine soldiers were killed here and three kidnapped.

It took 12 hours for Israel to regain control of the base. Now, it's one of the main gates to Gaza.

A month into the war, more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza, according to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian health ministry there.

The IDF says 35 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the strip since the start of the incursion. The October 7th attack by Hamas in Israel killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians.

We stopped at an overlook near the town of Jabalia. One of the things uncovered here on this hill near Jabalia is a meeting point of three different tunnels. You can see, if you take a look, that's one, two, three. They came together here. And it let Hamas move under ground quickly, below their feet and out of sight.

Colonel Tal, the tank commander, said there were many explosions here, or many trenches. There were a lot of weapons and ammunition. We found a storage site with many explosives against tanks, RPGs.

Even from a distance of the scale of destruction is stunning. Apartment buildings, homes, neighborhoods, decimated.

Colonel Tal says the area is almost completely evacuated. We don't see civilians in our eyes. We see sometimes terrorists, but the majority of civilians haven't been here in a while.


They've all gone south in the direction of the heart of the strip. As we talk, we heard rocket fire and see the trails of the launches triggering red alerts in Ashdod. After about 90 minutes inside northern Gaza, we make our way out, hugging the border wall for safety. Even here, so close to the exit, we stopped briefly until the dust clears and make sure the way ahead is safe.

In the distance, once again, the smoke from another strike.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): The IDF says they have encircled Gaza City and are moving in, working their way towards the heart of the city. The IDF spokesperson also said earlier today, they'll be expanding the ground operation -- Pam.

BROWN: And, Oren, for the first-time, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad says it has two hostages and is prepared to release two of them?

LIEBERMANN: Yes, that's the statement we saw from Islamic Jihad just a short time ago. Islamic Jihad claimed they had some 30 hostages shortly after October 7th. That number nearly impossible to verify.

The IDF did respond to the statement from Islamic Jihad saying, look, it's important as a group of life. But they won't address it beyond that, viewing it as psychological terror -- Pam.

BROWN: CNN's Oren Liebermann, thank you so much, Oren.

Well, new images also give us a glimpse of southern Gaza, the dire conditions where civilians are supposed to be finding a safe shelter, up next.



BROWN: Today, a, quote, first step according to the White House in easing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel agreed to formalize a daily four-hour pause in military operations there. The stop in violence will allow aid to flow in and civilians to get out. But a senior Israeli official says it will only apply to specific neighborhoods in the warzone.

And as CNN's Salma Abdelaziz reports, there is much more to be done to ease the suffering of more than a million displaced Gazans.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you are among those still in northern Gaza, this is what life looks like now, the heart of a battle zone.

May God protect us, this man says. Those who do not have the means to live, we will have to stay where we are, it's as if they sentenced us to death. The Israeli military continues to call on all residents of northern

Gaza to move south. It is the forced exodus of an entire population, Palestinians say.

But some are unable or unwilling to heed the warning. Thousands of them are taking shelter at Gaza City hospitals, among them patients that can't be moved, families too afraid to travel through bombs and bullets, and medical staff loyal to a duty of care.

Dr. Mohammad Abu Namoos says he has sent his family away, but he will stay behind. What can be done, there's no other way out of this, there is no safety, he says. That's why it's best if I get my family out so I can focus on treating patients.

On Wednesday alone, as many as 50,000 people made the perilous journey south via the time-limited corridors set up by the Israeli military.

REAR ADM. DANIEL HAGARI, ISRAELI MILITARY SPOKESMAN (through translator): They're moving because they understand that Hamas has lost control in the north, and that the south is safer, a safer area where they can receive medicine, water, and food. They understand it's an improvement.

ABDELAZIZ: But the south is not safe, and hardly an improvement. Israeli airstrikes level homes here, too. And the conditions for the estimated 1.5 million now cramped in this corner of the enclave are described as inhumane. Thousands of the displaced are living on the street.

There is no aid, no water, the toilets are closed, she says, and no bakeries. We get a single loaf of bread every three or four days after waiting in long lines for half a day.

And U.N. shelters are overcrowded. At one site at least 600 people must share a single toilet, the U.N. Says.

And as for humanitarian assistance, it is so far a drop in the ocean of need.

VOLKER TURKER, UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: This is the gateway to a hellish nightmare, and then I see in front of me the lifeline that would bring relief and humanitarian assistance, which until now has not been enough, woefully inadequate.

ABDELAZIZ: The conditions are so dire that this family says they decided to leave a U.N. shelter and move back into the ruins of their bombed out home.

We're still afraid, of course, for our children but it's the lesser of two evils, this father says. At least it's better than being surrounded by disease, hunger, and fear. At least here, our children are at home.

With three out of every four Gazans internally displaced, the U.N. estimates home is what so many dream of here, but many fear that that sense of normalcy will never return. Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


BROWN: And thank you to CNN's Salma for that report.

Israel's right wing government is changing the rules for members of its military and one soldier's story had a lot to do with it. Jake Tapper met with him and Israel, and he's going to share that story, up next.



BROWN: Just in, the Pentagon says at least 56 U.S. troops have been injured in the ongoing attacks carried out by Iranian-backed groups against U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq. Some injuries were described as traumatic brain injuries, while others were said to be less serious. The Pentagon says all 56 service members have returned to duty, including those who were treated at military hospitals.

The Israeli government is setting a new precedent for how the military recognizes gay couples. And it's due in part to this story of an IDF soldier and his fiance, who will never get to see their waiting day.


OMER OHANA, PARTNER OF FALLEN IDF SOLDIER: The officers from the army came to my house. They didn't say anything. They didn't need to.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "THE LEAD" (voice-over): It was that moment Omer Ohana's first worst fears became official.


His fiance and the future they plan together were suddenly gone, just days before they're waiting.

When were you supposed to get married?

OHANA: October 20th. It was supposed to be the weekend of the wedding.

TAPPER: Omer and his love, Reserve Captain Sagi Golan had made a deal, the morning of October 7th, to check in with each other every hour.

When the messages stopped coming, Omer turned to their guest list.

OHANA: I called each one of his, each one that was tagged in that waiting invites. And I started gathering information and why he wasn't answering, inside of me, we already knew.

But we had hope. Maybe he's injured. Maybe he was kidnapped, and maybe he was taken as a hostage. TAPPER: Omer and Sagi's mother waited four excruciating days before

they got the news.

ETI GOLAN, MOTHER OF FALLEN IDF SOLDIER (through translator): I drove to his base, the main base he serves on. And then I got my answer, that they didn't know what was happening with Sagi and some of his soldiers. Then I understood. It wasn't an official answer, but Omer and I already understood what they were saying.

TAPPER: Sagi was killed Saturday night, at kibbutz Be'eri, while evacuating innocent families from one of the most dangerous and deadly attacks of the war.

GOLAN: When he saw what those scum humans that there, and when he saw this awful atrocities, he said to his soldiers, we were fighting for our home. We are fighting for our existence. And we will fight until we win.

OHANA: There is nothing that can compensate on the sacrifice of all the children and all the women he saw butchered on the street when he walked there. He died with those images. He died with -- he died after he picked up a little children and hugged him after he evacuated all of those Israeli (INAUDIBLE) from the shelters.

TAPPER: While working through unimaginable grave, Omer says the fact that he and Sagi were a gay couple made his worst moments even harder, including the effect there was no place for a same-sex partner to sign on the postmortem paperwork.

OHANA: For his whole life, he volunteered in so many countries and in so many platforms, and he thought it was for equality. With his death, I experienced inequality that I never thought I would feel, you know? Sadness is always the main feeling that controls your heart. But when you understand stuff, you're also filled with anger.

TAPPER: After Omer spoke out about his experience, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed an amendment this week recognizing the same sex partners of fallen service members as widows and widowers. They and other common law partners will now receive the same access to financial, magical, and societal benefits as straight, married couples.

OHANA: Sagi was a light and I'm going to remember him as a light. And everybody will know -- and I everybody will know --

TAPPER: That light is going to burn for --

OHANA: For a long time.


OHANA: But it's going to light the Israeli Labok (ph), it's going to light the Knesset, it's going to unify the people.

TAPPER: In Israel, only marriages between men and women of the same religion can be formed. Even though Omer and Sagi's marriage wouldn't be recognized, that did not stop them from planning every detail of the ceremony.

Omer it is so grief-stricken that he can hardly tell me that these flowers from his fiance's Sagi's funeral were the same bouquets intended for their wedding day.

OHANA: It was supposed to be the centerpiece for the wedding. This Sagi's suit, the color of his eyes. This is my suit, the white one.

TAPPER: I'm so sorry, Omer.

Jack Tapper, CNN, Herzliya, Israel.


BROWN: Well, if you ever miss an episode of THE LEAD, you can listen to the show wherever you get our podcasts.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer, in "THE SITUATION ROOM".