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Election Offices Targeted With Possible Fentanyl-Laced Letters; Trump Attorneys To Begin Defense In NY Fraud Trial; Ivanka Trump Testifies In Father's Civil Fraud Trial; Dem Sen Joe Manchin Won't Run For Reelection; Vatican To Allow Baptism For Some Trans People, Babies Of Same-Sex Couples. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired November 09, 2023 - 14:30   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: This just into CNN. Federal law enforcement officials are now investigating suspicious letters, potentially laced with Fentanyl, sent to election offices.

CNN's Nick Valencia is on this story.

Nick, bring us up to speed. What do you know?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Boris. A source with knowledge of this situation tells me that at least one of the letters was potentially laced with Fentanyl.

And the Department of Justice tells us that the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service is investigating this.

And one of the counties' election offices that was targeted is here, election offices, I should say, it's here in Fulton County.

And Fulton County has repeatedly been in the news, drawing the ire of the former president. And it has been so far a punching bag, if you will, for the far-right.

Election workers here have been harassed, they've been intimidated.

And at a press conference a short time ago, talking about this activity here, the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, called on election officials to denounce this activity, as well as political candidates.

And he even went a step further, invoking the death of his late son, who overdosed as a result of Fentanyl. Raffensperger said this is a dangerous substance that could be deadly.


BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, (R), GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: Some people like to call Fentanyl a drug, but it's actually poison. It'll kill you. It'll kill you very quickly, very easily. It's very dangerous. We lost our son five and a half years due to a Fentanyl overdose. We

know how deadly this stuff is.


VALENCIA: The reports of these suspicious letters come amid a backdrop of threats towards election officials across the country, not least of which here in Fulton County.

And going a step further as well, the Fulton County Commissioner Rob Pitts says he thinks that this is, in his political upon, a foreshadowing to what Fulton County will see in 2024 -- Boris?

SANCHEZ: Nick Valencia, thank you so much for that report.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The New York attorney general's office has rested its case in the civil fraud trial of Donald Trump and his sons, his adult sons.

Witness testimony included contentious moments between Donald Trump and the judge, of course. And a highly anticipated appearance by his daughter, Ivanka Trump. Now it's the defense team's turn.


Joining us now to discuss, we have CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams.

Elliot, so the defense taking up their case. That is going to start on Monday. What are you expecting? Do you think there are any holes that they will be poking in the prosecution's case? Anything you saw? Vulnerabilities?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think it's holes or vulnerabilities, but I think there's three buckets of arguments you're likely to see from them.

Number one, valuing buildings, putting a dollar amount on what a building is worth is inherently subjective. I think they'll say that, look, who among us hasn't gotten an estimate on a home and had it be sort of fuzzy.

KEILAR: But to a degree, right?

WILLIAMS: I'm just saying, this is what you say in court. I'm not saying it's going to win. But that's one.

Number two, accountants are responsible for some of this. This isn't the fault of the individuals in the Trump family or the Trump Organization. It's the folks that they brought in outside.

And finally -- and both Ivanka Trump and the Trump father and brothers made this point -- it's a victimless crime. They made the argument that banks still wanted to do business with the Trumps. They could not possibly have been harmed by this activity.

That's a definite loser. Because even if banks didn't lose money, you still could have broken the law. And it seems -- it's certainly seems the judge has already found fraud.

The mere fact that banks still wanted to do business with the Trumps doesn't absolve them.

KEILAR: This is a matter of degree, right? The fraud has already been determined here. The defense also signaling they want to file for a mistrial, a motion to mistrial --


KEILAR: -- based on the judge's note passing with a clerk. What do you think about this?

WILLIAMS: Two different things. One, they want to file for what's called a directed verdict, which is saying, OK, the prosecution has rested their case, there's no dispute as to the facts in this case that's even worth going to you, Your Honor, just dismiss the case. They'll lose that outright. That's a loser.

The mistrial, you could separately file for a mistrial to say that the case is so unfair that we could not have gotten a fair trial, that the errors that the judge made along the way are so unfair.

Look, that's a loser, too, but you have to raise those motions at trial, so you have the right to do them later on at appeal. You can't raise an argument like that for the first time on appeal. But they're all going to lose.

And --

KEILAR: Yes. They're preserving --

WILLIAMS: Look at you, counsel. But, no --

KEILAR: You taught me everything I know, Elliot.

WILLIAMS: They're preserving their arguments on appeal, yes.

KEILAR: Let's bring in Kara Scannell. She's actually been in court. She's our eyes and ears there.

Kara, tell us what's been going on and the very latest there.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the judge just ruled that Trump's team can call the expert witnesses they wanted to call.

The New York attorney general's office tried to block them, saying that they were trying to do redo the summary judgment order by bringing in valuation experts and accounting experts, all to go to the accuracy of these financial statements.

But the judge said, I don't want to be reversed in this case, I don't want a retrial, so he said he would allow the experts to testify. But he said he would exclude anything and stop any testimony that was irrelevant.

So he is allowing Trump's team to call these four expert witnesses that they want to call as part of their defense.

But there was a lot of argument over Trump's team wanting this adverse ruling, making their best pitch as to why the attorney general's office didn't prove their case.

And as part of that argument, they were saying that the New York attorney general's team never presented any evidence from any witness saying that they wouldn't have still given out these loans on the same terms had they known that the financial statements were fraudulent, as the judge decided or otherwise.

And the judge asked the attorney general's lawyer, did you present any evidence of that? And he acknowledged that they actually hadn't. They hadn't called a witness to testify to that.

But they did call one banker who said it in a deposition, but they didn't bring it out at trial.

At any rate, the judge has not ruled on that ruling, although he did say, we will proceed as expected on Monday.

And Trump's team is going to be called back to the stand, Donald Trump Jr. He is going to be their first witness in their defense. And then they will go forward and are able to now call these expert witnesses -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Very interesting.

All right, Kara, if you could stand by for us.

Elliot, break that down for us. What is so significant here?

WILLIAMS: On this question of calling the Trumps to testify, they kind of have to. They've already lost on the question of whether there was fraud or whether there wasn't.

And it's sort of a Hail Mary, to put as my witnesses that they think might be favorable as they can on the stand. That's sort of all the defense has. You know, it's in their interest to do that.

Also, when you call your own witness, you can control their testimony far more than you can if you leave it to the prosecution. S

o if you notice, the prosecution, the attorney general's office called them the first time, and really drove the things that came out of Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr's mouths.

You've got a little more latitude here as a defense attorney. Again, not necessarily a winning strategy, but it's what you've got.

KEILAR: What did you think about Ivanka Trump's testimony? Obviously -- and the New York attorney general said this -- she was disciplined, she was controlled.

But at this time, it seemed like she should have known about some things she didn't seem to know about and that may have affected her credibility.

WILLIAMS: I think that's exactly right. There was a fine line she had to toe in terms of distancing herself from things that she didn't want to be a part of. But also acknowledging that, look, she was an executive of the Trump Organization up until 2017.


And I think it was really hard for her to suggest that she didn't know about these things, when she'd really been a part of the family business all along.

So it might have been a credibility issue. But the case isn't going to rise and fall on the success of her testimony. It's really about all the evidence that was presented before that.

KEILAR: Elliot, always great to have you explain this.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

KEILAR: And I -- I'm able to bust it out --

WILLIAMS: Ah, love it.

KEILAR: -- later, the next time I talk to you.

All right, just ahead, a New Jersey community is on high alert because the FBI and law enforcement are searching for a man wanted in connection with the January 6th attack on the U.S. capitol. We'll have that ahead.



SANCHEZ: Breaking news into CNN. After months of speculation as to whether he would potentially run for re-election or higher office, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has announced he will not seek re- election.

KEILAR: CNN's Manu Raju is on the Hill.

Manu, he had been asked, he had been asked, and now he has finally answered.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and this is a huge moment here in American politics and for the Senate at large. Joe Manchin announcing that he will not run for re-election.

Someone who has been so key with some of the major decisions in the Senate over the last several years, someone who has been the center of all of these fights amid this 50/50 Senate in the last Congress, 51/49 Senate in this Congress, announcing he will not run for re-election.

Something that will have massive implications also in the battle for control of the chamber. This is a state that is very Republican that Donald Trump dominated in his two attempts at the White House.

Joe Manchin is seen as probably the only Democrat with a real shot at hanging onto this seat. But even so, Manchin would have a difficult time running in this very conservative state.

He would be up against potentially the former governor -- the current governor, Jim Justice, who is running in a primary there. If Justice emerges as the candidate, polls have shown that Manchin would be running from behind. It would be a difficult path for him to run for re-election.

But Manchin has fallen out of step with his party as well, as he has criticized Joe Biden, as he has not gone as far as many members on the left had been pushing for.

But Manchin had been thinking about this for some time, debating about exactly what to do, debating about whether to run as an Independent, something that he had considered doing as well.

But making clear here that he doesn't plan to run at all.

In an announcement video that he just posted on social media, indicating that he would try to travel the country to see if there's a movement about whether or not folks could work together in the middle to figure out there's some sort of common ground between the two parties.

What that exactly means is unclear, given the fact that he has toyed with possibly running for president on a third-party ticket as an Independent -- possible, something he has not ruled out -- for months and months and months. Is he suggesting that? He does not address that explicitly.

But Manchin is 76 years old. Has made clear that he's not going to run again. Something that a lot of people in the Senate had expected.

But still, the fact that he has made this decision at this point will have major ramifications for legislating in the Senate and for also control of the Senate next year, as they battle it out.

I asked him about -- there have been rumors about what he will do, just before this announcement video came out.

I asked him, when will you make a decision to run for re-election? He said when the time is right, the time is right. And moments later, he posted that video saying, he's stepping down -- guys?

SANCHEZ: Interesting timing there on that question, Manu.

Before we get into the possibility of him running for president, let's take a step back and pull on a thread that you presented, which is control of the Senate, and what that means for races going into 2024. What are the implications here for Democrats with very tenuous control

of that chamber right now?

RAJU: Look, there are several states in which Republicans -- are Republican states that Donald Trump won, West Virginia, Montana, Ohio, all with Democratic incumbents.

Without an incumbent, it is much easier to flip this seat. Republicans will be heavily favored to pick up that seat. Right now, it's a 51-49 Senate. Just picking up that one seat, it's a 50/50 Senate.

And you have Jon Tester, who's running for re-election in Montana, who has a difficult road to reelection. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, also with a huge battle on his hand to win re-election.

But Republicans plan to contest in states like Pennsylvania, also, key to the Republican majority. That will be a big battle as well.

Michigan, we'll see how that plays out. Wisconsin, another state. All Democratic incumbents sitting in those seats.

The challenge for Democrats heading into next year and keeping control of the Senate is the fact that there just aren't many Republican targets. The only real ones are Ted Cruz in Texas and Rick Scott in Florida, two states that are Republican states.

Texas is more strongly a Republican state than Florida, but Florida is increasingly a GOP state. It will be very difficult for Democrats to pick off either of those two incumbents.

So Manchin is gone and let's say all of the incumbents are gone, it's a 50/50 Senate. The White House could determine who goes which way. But if Tester loses or Brown loses, that means Republicans could be back in the majority again.

After falling short in the last cycle, have a real serious shot, especially in the aftermath of this Manchin announcement -- guys?

SANCHEZ: Huge ramifications, potentially, for Capitol Hill --


SANCHEZ: -- and even potentially a presidential race.

KEILAR: Really could be.

All right, Manu, thank you so much.


And coming up, conservative critics slamming the Vatican after a surprising move to allow some trans people and babies of same-sex couples to be baptized.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SANCHEZ: Now to an unexpected ruling from the Vatican, opening the door in some cases for Catholic baptism for transgender people and babies of same-sex couples.

The church still considers the homosexual lifestyle a sin but this ruling is being welcomed by many in the LGBT community.

CNN's Barbie Latza Nadeau is in Rome with more.

And, Barbie, this ruling, there's been several sermons by Frances when he speaks of inclusion. Obviously, this would that be happening if he didn't support it, right?

BARBIE LATZA NADEAU, CNN REPORTER: That's right. Nothing really happens without the pope's stamp of approval.

What is interesting is these same questions were brought up in front of the same pope in 2015, and he said no to all of them.

But in each of these cases, there is kind of a test. With regards to transgender adults, they can be baptized, they can be witnesses at a wedding, they can be a godfather to Catholic children, a godmother to Catholic children.


You know, these are important things. But only, according to this document, if it doesn't cause a scandal or is somehow disorienting to the people involved.

Same thing with babies of same-sex parents. They can be baptized as long as they're brought up in line with the Catholic Church, which, of course, would be complicated because their parents would essentially be living in sin according to the Catholic Church.

Now, this is all on a case-by-case basis, and it definitely points to pastoral prudence. Which means in churches and dioceses where there are conservative Catholics, which don't like this ruling at all, probably not going to happen.

But in those more liberal dioceses, you can that they may be opening the door more to people who are Catholic in the LGBT community who have been more welcoming to this sort of action -- Boris?

SANCHEZ: So, Barbie, the ruling says "in some cases" baptisms will be allowed. What are the new rules specifically?

NADEAU: Yes. The "in some cases," again, it's going to be up to the pastoral prudence. It's going to be up to the priests. And it's really been a very -- we're talking about a ruling, a global ruling, not just in the United States, not just here in Europe.

There will be cases where this is welcomed and it will happen on a very regular basis. Maybe the churches, maybe in a community next to one that allows it that won't allow it. So the rules are very vague. The Vatican uploaded this on the Web site with absolutely no fanfare

last night and no context, so I'm sure there will be lots of questions as this goes along -- Boris?

SANCHEZ: Yes, certainly.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, thank you so much.

Stay with CNN NEWS CENTRAL. We're back in just a moment.