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Mar-a-Lago Worker Strikes Deal With Prosecutors; Biden's Approval Rating Drops. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 07, 2023 - 11:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: New polling, new problem signs for President Biden, his popularity seeing a drop among Democrats, as voters now rank their biggest concerns.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Those numbers will be following him as President Biden soon leaves the White House and heads off for a big trip to the G20 summit in India. What his advisers are now saying they need to pull off while there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: An American is stuck in a cave thousands of feet below ground and in urgent need of medical care. The rush to rescue him.

I'm John Berman with Sara Sidner and Kate Bolduan. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SIDNER: Oof. Problematic new polling numbers out this morning for President Biden. The CNN poll finds his approval rating sinking to just 39 percent, Democrats on notice as the 2024 race for the White house heats up.

Among voters' concerns, Biden's age. They're worried about his mental and physical competence, along with how well he understands the concerns of future generations of Americans. Another big issue, the economy; 58 percent say Biden's policies have made economic conditions worse.

All right, with me now, CNN political director David Chalian.


SIDNER: Welcome back once again.

For you, what stands out? There's a lot here.

CHALIAN: There's a lot here, none of it very good for the White house. This is sort of alarm bells going off to sort of spell out for them the task ahead over the next 14 months.

You noted the 39 percent approval rating. He's been hovering down there in that range since the spring. Take a look at this, Sara, how that stacks up to his modern-day predecessors at this stage in their presidency. So Biden is sort of hanging in this area with Trump and Carter.

Just to note, both of those folks lost their reelection efforts when they were running for reelection.

SIDNER: That's right.

CHALIAN: And then just take a look at the mood of the country right now; 30 percent of Americans in this poll say things are going well today, Sara. Seven in 10 Americans say they're going badly.

SIDNER: I am going to make the assumption that the economic concerns are one of the really big issues for Americans. Inflation, not having their jobs give them enough money to sort of keep up.

What are you seeing?

CHALIAN: Yes, no doubt economy is a big part of this, but, as we saw, he's also having problem with Democrats. And their largest concern is centered around age.

So take a look at this. We asked an open-ended question to Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. What is your biggest concern about Biden's candidacy? Forty-nine percent say his age, 7 percent sharpness, 7 percent health, 7 percent effectiveness.

This is all sort of a piece here. That is a big warning sign. And as you noted at the top, when we ask broadly, the overall American population, not just Democrats, three-quarters of Americans in this poll think his age negatively impacts his ability to serve another full term.

SIDNER: Wow. I mean, that is a really stark number and one that I'm sure that the campaign is looking at and worrying about.

Lastly, let's talk about -- a little bit about how he stacks up to his Republican rivals as well.

CHALIAN: Yes, this is the first time this cycle that we have tested these general election matchups against his potential Republican opponents.


CHALIAN: And everything we just said, the economy, age, his approval rating, it all factors in to why he's in these margin of error, basically, tied races.

It is going to be a close presidential election. Only Nikki Haley...

SIDNER: That's fascinating.


SIDNER: The Nikki Haley number is fascinating.

CHALIAN: So interesting, right? She's the only one that tests outside the margin of error, 6 percentage point lead, 49 percent to 43 percent.

We did see her on that debate stage have a strong performance and where she does try to open her pitch a little bit to not just the base. That may have something to do with that there. But take a look at this. This is going to be once again a battle for 50,000 to 100,000 votes in four battleground states.

This is a dead heat race at the moment.

SIDNER: It's really, really interesting to sort of see these numbers. But here's the thing that we all know. You have to get past the primary.

And, right now, who is the person in the lead in the GOP? That would be -- look at me -- I'm ruining your whole...


CHALIAN: Yes. There you go.



SIDNER: ... right, for the GOP. And, obviously, Biden is the only person running at this point.

CHALIAN: That's right, so a Trump-Biden matchup. And you see what it would look like right know.


CHALIAN: Given the Republican advantage in the Electoral College, Joe Biden's team is going to want a stronger advantage in this popular vote to actually assure a Democratic victory in the Electoral College.

SIDNER: It is just a snapshot in time. We should remind people we are not there yet, but we are getting ever closer.

David Chalian, it's always lovely to see you.

CHALIAN: Thank you.

SIDNER: Thank you -- John.


So, look, all this is President Biden's going away gift as he heads to a major trip overseas in just a few hours.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House.

Arlette, what are you hearing this morning?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, yes, President Biden is set this afternoon to depart for the G20 Summit in India.

But it comes that there are some troubling signs, as David ran through, in this recent polling relating to President Biden's reelection. Now, the campaign is not officially commenting on this individual poll, but they have been amplifying some voices, some Democratic voices, who have said that this poll should be taken with a little bit of a grain of salt.

But one Biden aide that I spoke to said that right now their focus is not just on -- is not on this individual poll, but instead looking ahead to what the general election and battleground state polls will ultimately show really heading into next fall, once there is a Republican nominee selected.

Of course, so much of what the Biden campaign has done in these early stages of the campaign is trying to paint this as a race between President Biden and MAGA extremism, drawing on former President Donald Trump.

But some of the issues that David touched on right there are issues really worth focusing on, including when it comes to the president's handling of the economy. Of course, they have been making a big push over the course of the summer to try to sell this Bidenomics vision, trying to convince American voters that the president's policies are paying off for them.

But that polling found that 58 percent of American voters believe that the president's policies have worsened economic conditions, showing that the White House and the campaign still have some room, some movement that they need to make when it comes to the public perception.

One person I spoke with here at the White House earlier said that it will take time for people to feel this economic impact. Of course, they will have the next year to really make that case to voters. Of course, another issue that is of top concern to the general election, to the American voters, but also within the Democratic Party, are these questions about President Biden's age.

And so far the campaign hasn't made headway in improving those numbers. And you saw just the prevalence of the age question. As Vice President Kamala Harris traveled in Indonesia. She did a pair of interviews where she was asked to address the president's age.


QUESTION: You're 58 now. If you win the second term, as you and the president are running to do, he would be 86 at the end of it. "The Wall Street Journal" had a poll showing two-thirds of Democrats say Joe Biden is too old to run again.

Are you prepared to be commander in chief?

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I am, if necessary, but Joe Biden is going to be fine.


SAENZ: So, just an example of some of the areas that the campaign will have to improve on if they are hoping the president will secure a second term here in the White House next November.

BOLDUAN: Arlette, thank you so much.

All right, joining us now for more on all of this is CNN senior political analyst and anchor John Avlon and CNN political commentator Margaret Hoover, also the host of the "Firing Line" on PBS.

It's good to see you guys.

Broad question first. We have been talking and diving into these new poll numbers. And just how bad are they for Joe Biden? What do you see in the trend?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They're bad for Joe Biden. I mean, there's no sugarcoating this. You can move across the aisle and say, take it with a grain of salt.

But the overall issue is that his age and perceptions of vigor are really dragging him down, not just among Republicans, because the partisanship's baked in the cake, but, in this poll, among Democrats and independents, he's seeing serious erosion.

That's a problem for the White House. There's also a perception gap around the economy. The economy is objectively better than it was a year ago and two years ago.


AVLON: And yet this poll,just blows him out of the water and blames him.

BOLDUAN: I have the labor secretary on -- time and space has collapsed -- I think, last week.

AVLON: As it does, yes.

BOLDUAN: But -- and I ask this question almost every time we have someone from the Cabinet or from the administration on. It's like, what's the deal with the economy? If it's going so well and your guys, your policies are working and Bidenomics is the thing, why aren't people feeling mean?

What do you see in these numbers?


First of all, I think part of the reason people don't feel better about the economy and attribute it to Joe Biden is because Joe Biden's not doing victory laps around it in every corner of the country, saying, this is my policies. You have me to think for this. And doesn't your bottom line feel pretty good right now? I think the polling doesn't look good for Joe Biden, as John pointed

out. The difference is that it's not saying Trump v. Biden. As soon as it's Biden against actually Donald Trump, the numbers look a little bit different, and that's the only reason he's still in this, as we're told by many of his advisers.


BOLDUAN: There's a little bit -- there's a -- there's like a -- if you dig into this a little bit into this -- that, it's an interesting bit, because voters are saying that their vote in a Biden/Trump matchup would be based largely on how they feel about Donald Trump, not about Joe Biden.

AVLON: Yes, that's what you're -- typically, a reelection is a referendum on the incumbent. In this case, it's one on Donald Trump more than Biden.

But you're seeing negative partisanship really driving the electorate right now.


AVLON: And that's one of the reasons of feelings for negativity.

The other thing to look at is the independent voters. Biden is really underwater, around 31 percent, Trump even lower, 26 percent.

BOLDUAN: So good news for Biden in that?

AVLON: Again, it's compared to what proposition, as Margaret was saying.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I mean, the independent numbers are interesting.

HOOVER: Lemons out of lemonade, John Avlon.


BOLDUAN: Lemon...

AVLON: There's a pony in there somewhere for Joe Biden. I don't know.

BOLDUAN: Lemonade out of the lemons. If we're going the other direction, I'm not sure what we're landing in.

OK, wait. So then let's talk about Trump v. Biden. The hypothetical matchups show an interesting kind of snapshot in this moment. It's the first time that CNN has done -- asked this question in this cycle, showing basically everything's within the margin of error with Biden v. all of the Republican candidates, except Nikki Haley.

Let's get to that in just one second, because Mike Pence gave this big speech yesterday, populism versus conservatism, and really went after Donald Trump in a way that has not been done before in trying to separate himself from Trump and from the pack. Someone who knows Pence well, Marc Short, was just on with me and --

his former chief of staff. And I asked him, OK, you're trying to make this separation, but how do you call out Trump for leading the country down a path to ruin, when you all were part of the administration and part of the 2016 campaign?

Let me play for you what Marc Short said.


MARC SHORT, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO FORMER VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I think, in 2016, Donald Trump came to conservatives and said, if you nominate me, I will govern as a conservative.

He came to conservatives and said, give me your list of 21 judges for me to put forward. He went to conservatives and said, give me your pro-life platform. He said, I will adopt a tax reform. Those were all things that were implemented during the four years of his presidency that are hallmarks of conservatism.

And so I do think that he governed as a conservative. But I think, as he runs in 2024, Kate, he's not come to conservatives and said, tell me what you would like to see as far as policy. Instead, he said, these are my grievances. I expect you to fight for me, which is a very different platform than he ran in 2016.


BOLDUAN: What do you think of that?

HOOVER: Well, I know Marc Short, and I understand what he's saying there, and I understand the argument conservatives are trying to make and what Mike Pence is actually trying to do to distinguish himself.

I don't think it's going to be effective. But what he's saying is, the extent to which Trump was conservative was because of me and people like me who are in his Cabinet, who he actually deferred to and allowed us to help influence the policies and the policy direction he litigated.

The argument Trump -- Mike Pence made yesterday, right, populism versus conservatism, we're at a time for choosing, was a missed opportunity, actually.

BOLDUAN: Really?

HOOVER: The reason it was a missed opportunity is because he's actually missing the point.

Yes, he's correct the party is at a crossroads in the primary. Are we going to be populists like Donald Trump, or are we going to be conservatives like everybody else? But the primary electorate actually isn't voting on ideas. They're voting on grievance and personality around Trump.

And the other time for choosing that another Republican president gave, not Ronald Reagan, but at the Ronald Reagan Library, Liz Cheney last year, indicated the time for choosing is actually between Trump and the Constitution. And nobody is better positioned to make the case for the Constitution over Donald Trump than Mike Pence, as he demonstrated by last January 6.

So it was a missed opportunity on his point. Why cloak it in ideas? Ideas are the least of it right now. This is about the Constitution.

BOLDUAN: Final thought.

AVLON: My bride is bringing the heat.


AVLON: Good advice for Vice President Pence.

Look, conservatism and populism are traditional opposites. It's good to see him at least stepping out and calling it out, and not just Trump, incidentally. He tried to lump in DeSantis and Ramaswamy in with Trump.


AVLON: And I think that's the right argument to make. It needs to be done forcefully and more to try to break this fever, before it damages the whole country even further.

BOLDUAN: Even if it has absolutely zero impact on the primary, which we will see.

It's great to see you guys. Thank you.

AVLON: You too.


SIDNER: Hoovalon alert, I did not get mine, but I see that it has shown up in our studio in the best possible way.

All right. A Mar-a-Lago employee has flipped on Donald Trump, striking a deal with investigators in the classified documents probe. What we know about him and his potential testimony.

Plus, he's stuck thousands of feet underground and suffering from serious illness. It's a complicated and very risky mission to save an American who is trapped in a cave in Turkey.

And for the 10th time this year, an inmate has died at the Fulton County Jail in Georgia. What is going on there and what officials are doing about it, that's ahead.



SIDNER: We're now learning a lot more about why a Trump employee testified against him in the classified documents probe.

According to a new court filing, special counsel Jack Smith struck a cooperation deal with the Mar-a-Lago I.T. worker described as Trump Employee No. 4 in the indictment. His name is Yuscil Taveras. And according to his former lawyer, he testified in July to avoid being prosecuted himself.


His testimony implicated Donald Trump and his co-defendants, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, in their alleged efforts to delete security camera footage from Mar-a-Lago.

Former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams is joining us now.

Welcome back, Elliot, with some snazzy new glasses and a great tie. We will talk about that later.


SIDNER: This is more important right now.

Let's talk about the allegations in this indictment, that De Oliveira told Taveras, who is named as Employee No. 4, that "the boss" -- quote, unquote -- wanted a surveillance footage deleted. And Taveras' testimony, it seems like, could be really crucial in this.

How much might this impact this case against Donald Trump?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So it could be very crucial testimony.

So, big picture, Sara, why witnesses matter and how you got a witness to matter is when somebody can testify firsthand as to conversations that they had either with a defendant or a co-conspirator. And, here, Taveras worked or at least had communication with De Oliveira and Nauta and others and can be certainly placed close to the former president.

Now, look, it appears that he can't implicate the president himself. But an important question is always what you can get into court. And conversations that an individual has, rather than ones he overheard or saw, are going to be incredibly valuable.

So, yes, this could be quite useful testimony that could get admitted into court.

SIDNER: I'm curious, as we see you and others sort of have said, look, there are likely going to be people who flip here, who start saying what they know because they don't want to be prosecuted.

Now that we have this one in the documents case, do you see others following? Once the sort of -- the Band-Aid is torn off, if you will, do you see others following?

WILLIAMS: Yes, the Band-Aid analogy is a very good one. Look, witnesses have an incredible incentive to flip or provide

testimony for the government. Number one, typically pleading guilty tends to give individuals or defendants lower sentences. That's just how our system works. Some -- many people call it the trial penalty, that you get a penalty for going to trial because you get a higher sentence if you're convicted then.

So it's -- and also providing testimony that helps prosecutors, truthful testimony, also can work toward someone's favor. Also note that Taveras might have been charged with making false statements or perjury.

SIDNER: Right.

WILLIAMS: So he gets himself out of potentially going to jail by going here.

So the incentives are many for him and any other witnesses or defendants that might have something to say.

SIDNER: Yes, we are seeing this happen.

And we should note that, when they get a different attorney, suddenly, this seems to be the case, that people start to say like, uh-oh, like, I could be in real trouble here. They do not have attorneys that are being paid by Donald Trump, like, for example, Walt Nauta.

All right, I want to move on to the case in Georgia, where the DA is saying, look, I think the trial will be about four months -- this is what she submitted to the court -- and include over 150 witnesses with, potentially, maybe not, but potentially 19 different defendants.

Is this possible? Because the judge seemed to be a bit skeptical here that that could actually happen.

WILLIAMS: Look, we are Americans. Anything is possible for us, Sara.

But, look, this is not going to happen. When you talk about 150 witnesses, you're not just talking about each of them taking the stand. You're talking about possibly the lawyers to all 18 or 19 defendants cross-examining those witnesses.

So, each person might face multiple rounds of questioning alone. Then you get to the question of whether some of these defendants might get removed to federal court, might have different reasons to sever out their cases and so on. So there are just complicated legal questions. Four months is very, very ambitious under even the best of circumstances.

And there are any number of questions that are going to complicate this case. It's just I -- I just don't think that's likely.

SIDNER: It will be very interesting to see how this happens. There could be some people peeled off that go actually have their cases heard in federal court. A lot of things can happen from now until the date that is set, including that date moving. So, Elliot Williams, don't go anywhere. Just sit in that chair for the

next, I don't know, six, seven months, and we will be coming back to you.


WILLIAMS: I got you.

SIDNER: All right, John.


BERMAN: You can take food breaks.



BERMAN: All right, a dangerous mission to save a man's life. An American trapped in a cave more than 3,000 feet underground.

And an inmate has died in Atlanta's Fulton County Jail, the 10th to die there this year.



BOLDUAN: Right now, some 150 rescuers are involved in what's become a complex mission to rescue an American cave expert.

He is now stuck thousands of feet below the surface. His name is Mark Dickey. He's part of a research team working in a cave in Turkey. It's the third deepest cave in Turkey, with a total depth of more than 4,100 feet.

Now, Dickey fell ill at a depth of more than 3,600 feet down. He was then taken to the team's base camp at around 3,400 feet. That is where rescuers on the surface are now trying to reach -- now trying to reach out to get him stabilized and get him out.

CNN's Eleni Giokos joins me now with more on this.