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Dems Fear Losing Senate Majority After Manchin Announcement; Democrats Face Uphill Climb To Keep Senate Majority In 2024; Manchin Won't Seek Reelection, Hints At Possible White House Run; Voters Say They Want Third Option In Biden-Trump Rematch; Sources: Mar-A-Lago Workers Could Testify In Docs Case; Trump Again Suggests He Would Weaponize DOJ Against Political Enemies If Reelected. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 10, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, the Democratic nightmare before Christmas. Joe Manchin says, he's retiring from the Senate, leaving a blue seat open in a very red state. And leaving a lot of people wondering, what does the future hold for Manchin? And does it include a run for president?

Plus, the maid, the woodworker, the chauffeur and the plumber. Exclusive CNN reporting on who saw what a Mar-a-Logo -- who saw what rather at Mar-a-Lago and how worried should Donald Trump be about what his employees would stand on the stand. And the House is a mess.

That's how one senior GOP congressman summed up to the new speaker strategy to avoid a government shutdown. So, what's Mike Johnson going to do with just one week to go until the country can't pay its bills?

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

We begin today with a one-man political earthquake. Joe Manchin, he's shaken up the political world by announcing that he won't seek reelection. Republicans are rejoicing now that they're all but assured to pick up his seat in the Senate, which takes them one step closer to claiming the Senate majority. And there's also this. Manchin fanned Democrats worst fears that he might run for president as an independent next year.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D-WV): What I will be doing is traveling the country. And speaking out to see if there's an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together. We need to take back America and not let this divisive hatred further pull us apart.


BASH: CNN's Melanie Zanona is live on Capitol Hill. Melanie, what are you hearing from your sources there? MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. Well, this is a scenario that Democrats were dreading, and Republicans were really dreaming about. But we are learning that GOP leaders worked very deliberately behind the scenes to actually try to make a Manchin retirement into a reality.

Sources tell CNN that Mitch McConnell personally recruited Jim Justice, the popular Republican governor to run for the seat. And meanwhile, Steve James, the head of the Senate GOP campaign arm got former President Donald Trump to endorse Jim Justice. So essentially, they were trying to make it as unattractive as possible for Joe Manchin to run again, at least for Senate.

Now, there are still questions about whether Joe Manchin has some higher political ambitions. He has flirted in the past with the idea of running as a third-party candidate for president. It's something he has not rolled out. And the group new labels event that he spoke out in earlier this summer, they're offering potentially a so-called unity ticket in 2024. So, we'll see what Joe Manchin decides to do. But in the short-term, no doubt this is a massive blow for Democrats and their hopes of keeping the majority. Dana?

BASH: Thank you so much for that reporting. Melanie, appreciate it. I want to bring this conversation here into the table. CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times, and CNN's Eva McKend. Happy Friday to one at all, for those who celebrate.


BASH: Exactly, what is it Friday? This is so fascinating on so many levels what we saw happen with Joe Manchin. Let's just stick first and foremost with the immediate, which is the United States Senate. You and I walked around those hallways many years ago together, for many years. We understand how seismic this is, I mean, we all do for what they're hoping to do in the Senate, which is the Democrats, which is keep control.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Right. And they have a very small margin of control right now. This was already going to be a pretty hard year for them. They have competitive races in a lot of competitive states and red other red states like Montana. And you know, some swing states like Arizona and Nevada, and you know, Pennsylvania, Ohio, these are all going to be hard races.

And he was the last -- Manchin was the last sort of foot to fall. Everyone else had decided what they were going to do. And that was real coup for Democrats that Jon Tester and Sherrod Brown both decided they were going to run again, even though the terrain is so unfriendly there in their states.


This is something that Joe Manchin has been flirting with really for, you know, the whole six years of this term, right? He almost didn't run again in 2018. And so, this is, you know, it's something that Democrats were thinking was a possibility but we're really hoping to avoid, and it just makes their climb that much steeper to keep control.

BASH: Julie, you mentioned smartly the terrain, the difficult terrain that Democrats are facing, not just in West Virginia, but in so many of these key seats where Democrats are trying to hold on to their Senate seats. We have up there, I mean, West Virginia, just to explain why we're saying it's a goner, very, very likely a goner for Democrats.

Trump won there by almost 40 percent, and then the states where there are Democratic incumbents running like Montana, 16 percent Ohio, eight Arizona was a bit closer. In fact, the rest were very, very close, even though they went for Biden.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: They weren't. And the question has always been, can the brand of the senators outstand or withstand all these headwinds. And his brand is as good as it gets in West Virginia, Joe Manchin, but he also knew this was going to be a very difficult race because of Jim Justice. He's the governor. I mean, their baby dog, his dog who is at every press conference with him, and they've become part of the culture there.

So, this was going to be difficult. But for all the democratic complaining about Joe Manchin over the last several years about his dithering and his deliverance. Now they're going to see what it's like to not have him in the Senate. And that is just the blunt reality of this. Now, all of those races up there on the maps are very interesting.

Jon Tester and Sherrod Brown in Montana and Ohio respectively, also have very good brands. So that is going to be a defining story of the next year. But even if they both win, it is still Democrats have to run the table perfectly, and that's a tall-tall order.

BASH: So, let's turn back to Joe Manchin and what he's going to do. But you've been doing a lot of work on potential third-party candidates, actual third-party candidates. The question is whether he's going to end up being one of them. I'm talking about a candidate for president of the United States.

We don't know. We do what we do know, is that a couple things. Number one, he said in that video that he released yesterday, that he wants to go around the country and see if there's a middle. He's been talking about that anybody who's listened to Joe Manchin understands that he is very frustrated with the extremes in both parties, particularly his own.

And he's very worried about the sort of raw politics in this country. He also really, really doesn't like Donald Trump. And so, it's hard to imagine that he will do anything that will help reelect Donald Trump, but?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He loves also to be the center of attention in the topic of conversation. So that might be some of the motivation here to engage in this national tour. But it would be a tremendous sacrifice. We know that during his Senate campaigns, who really relied on the Democratic apparatus for fundraising, that he wasn't a prolific fundraiser personally.

So how would that play out? Who is funding, you know, this last-minute effort? If he decides to enter 2024, really quickly just want to take a contrarian position on the panel. I do not think this is as immediately dire for Democrats as conventional wisdom is -- -

BASH: So interesting, why?

MCKEND: I think that this really stretches Democrats to invest in other places. So, I just got off the phone with Debbie Mucarsel- Powell's campaign. She's running in Florida. She thinks that she can really speak to Latinos in that state in the way that Senator Scott can. And so, Democrats will now really have to invest heavily in these new candidates. And in a way that, you know, they don't have to -- they can't rely on Senator Manchin anymore.

BASH: Although, the question is whether they will invest, right, when they have so much terrain to go across. But that's a really interesting contrarian view. We love contrarian views here. Let's just talk about sort of why Democrats in particular Joe Biden specifically is and should be worried about a third-party run.

Just one example of somebody who is not well-known, Jill Stein. And what she did the presence that she had on ballots in Michigan, in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin back in 2016. Did the votes that she had from voters, if they went to Hillary Clinton, it would have made the difference for her in those three states and Hillary Clinton would have been president.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Right, absolutely. I mean, anything on the margins, particularly on the margins toward the center, which is where Joe Manchin would be running is going to be a problem for President Biden's reelection. He really has to worry about keeping the Democratic coalition together. We've already seen a lot of polling recently. There is a very big concern to the White House.

They're trying to, you know, keep calm about it and keep focused on, you know, the campaign to come. But clearly, there is anxiety that he's not going to be able to unite the Democratic coalition, and anybody who is seen as a plausible alternative to him, but not Donald Trump or but not the Republican is going to be a challenge.


BASH: OK, exactly, right. Let's put a name out there or some letters RFK Jr. There was a focus group that was run by the third-way, and they talked to Trump to Biden voters. So, Trump 2016, Biden in 2020, and they talked about RFK Jr. Watch this?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a three-way race, Trump, Biden and Robert Kennedy Jr. How many of you by a show of fingers in that race would take Trump? None of you. I mean, how many of you would take Biden? One of you. How many of you would take Kennedy?


BASH: I should say that was not the third way that was a done by engages.

ZELENY: Right. And the sentiment for those, these are third-party candidates. Historically, the polling would show that they do better in polls than they actually do on election day, because people don't necessarily pull the trigger.

Joe Manchin is a problem for President Biden, theoretically here, but he's not on the ballot. And it's very challenging for him to get on the ballot. The no labels idea. They've already said, they're going to put a Republican at the top of the ticket.

So, unless they change that, and all of us who have covered Joe Manchin, can we picture him as number two. Can we picture him? I asked one of his advisers this morning, and he said, hell no.

BASH: Hard no.

ZELENY: So, the reality here, Joe Manchin will travel across the country. I was in New Hampshire with him in July when he went up for that event. Even in politically astute New Hampshire, there's interest in Joe Manchin, but there's not -- he hasn't sort of built this among them. So, Jill Stein is a much bigger problem.

BASH: Yes. She is running.

ZELENY: I think she is on the Green Party and they're on the ballot.

BASH: Yes. That's exactly right. I went back to 2016, but we should emphasize that. First it was Cornel West, running on the Green Party ticket. Now, Jill Stein is doing it. He is still running. But the RFK situation, he has the same challenge as anybody would who's not already on the ballot, like Green Party ticket on ballots. But let's just say, he gets on one in a swing state. And some of that sentiment we just saw on that focus group holds.

MCKEND: It's certainly not helpful. But I do wonder how many folks that do vote for these third-party candidates? How many of them wouldn't vote anyway? So, if you are so dejected with the two-party system, that you're then going to vote for a third-party candidate, it seems like the alternative for many of those voters is just staying home.

BASH: All right, everybody standby. Up next, a maid, a plumber or chauffeur. It's not a who done it. It's who prosecutors may call to the witness stand to testify against their boss in Donald Trump's Mar- a-Lago documents case. We have a CNN exclusive next.




BASH: Just into CNN, the judge in Donald Trump's classified documents case has ruled the case will in fact go to trial in May. The former president has pushed repeatedly for the trial to be moved until after the election.

But Judge Aileen Cannon's decision sets the case on a collision course with Trump's increasingly likely general election bid for the White House. This comes after CNN exclusively learned that a plumber, a maid, a chauffeur and a woodworker from Mar-a-Lago may be called to testify against Donald Trump as part of that federal investigation.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz broke this story and joins me now with more. Katelyn?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Dana, these people are people whom the prosecutors have already spoken with. They've some of them, they've brought to the grand jury, and who they may be calling as witnesses to trial to testify against Donald Trump. These are the types of people who may be able to really bring to life what Mar-a-Lago was like after the Trump presidency where Donald Trump is there.

There are boxes of documents there. There are stacks of papers around the property and there are people who are coming in and out, not just the regular staffers, political staffers, former White House aides of Trump who are there at Mar-a-Lago who we've heard lots about, but there are also people who are temporary employees.

This woodworker going in to install crown molding in Trump's bedroom, and noticing stacks of papers that he thought were so unusual because of the markings on them that he thought that they were movie props. There are others, the chauffeur, there were people who are noticing things, people who are in the private spaces in Mar-a-Lago, who certainly didn't have the security clearances needed.

So, the prosecutors could use these people, Dana, to really highlight how unsecured it was to have the nation's secrets at Mar-a-Lago in Trump's possession after the presidency.

BASH: And Katelyn, what is your new reporting reveal about how the former president deals with the people who work for him especially employees at Mar-a-Lago?

POLANTZ: Dana, I'm sure you will find it as a surprise that Trump runs his club, like it's his kingdom. He's the king and he is very unhappy whenever prosecutors' investigators encroach on that territory. The two things that came out in this was the one was that he went ballistic when he found out that the maid who cleans his bedroom suite so, the person cleaning both his and Melania Trump's private quarters.

When that person was approached by investigators and that person, she is a possible witness here. According to our reporting and our sources. He also was quite unhappy that one of the key witnesses in this case, a man who cut a cooperation deal with prosecutors, got rid of his Trump provided attorneys and got a new lawyer. He kept working there at Mar-a-Lago until just recently.

And when Trump found out he was resigning recently, he was quite unhappy that this person had stayed on, prosecutors are very likely looking to see how Trump is responding to these people. And if he's trying to talk to them about this case.

BASH: I'm sure they are. Such excellent reporting, as always, really, really interesting. Katelyn, thank you. And our panel is back. Now, we're also joined by Karen Friedman Agnifilo, CNN legal analyst and former Chief Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan D.A. 's office. Karen, I'll start with you. What do you make of Katelyn's reporting?


KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think this is very common for prosecutors. It's kind of prosecutors one-on-one especially, when you're dealing with very wealthy people who have staff, and very wealthy people who have staff sometimes treat them as if they're just not existent, right. They're just sort of the silent witnesses who they don't even realize they're talking in front of or doing things in front of.

And so, it's very common in a situation like this for a prosecutor to expand their investigation to try to speak to those individuals to see if they overheard or saw anything unusual. So, it's not surprising that this is what Jack Smith is doing. And I think they could be very valuable witnesses who were privy to things that people don't even realize they were privy to.

Bash: I'm sure they've been privy to a lot of things. Maybe this is just the tip of the iceberg. This, of course, is playing immediately on the campaign trail. And Chris Christie, who reminds us that he is not only a former friend of Donald Trump, but a former federal prosecutor, was talking to Kaitlan Collins last night. And here's what he said.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think what you're seeing is just how thorough Jack Smith's investigation has been, and that there's no one who has seen or heard anything at Mar-a-Lago regarding these documents, who is going to be immune from testifying if they believe they have relevant information.


MCKEND: I mean, it's remarkable, like all of this is happening, it seems like Trump is taking incoming from all sides. And he's simultaneously campaigning and using all of this to fundraise. Something that I have found remarkable in recent days is his response to all of this. He's, again called for the weaponization of institutions, if he is reelected. I mean, that really allows Democrats to continue to make an argument that they have long wanted to make that he is a threat to our democracy. BASH: It does, but it also gins up people who he has convinced for, what, eight years now, more, that he's -- it's happening to him now. It could happen to you, sort of regular non-billionaire non- presidential candidate tomorrow. And so, let's just hear a little bit of what he's been saying that you mentioned, Eva, about the weaponization, "of DOJ."


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: They've weaponized the Justice Department, they've weaponized the FBI. And they've come at me with the worst indictment. If they want to follow through on this, yes, it could certainly happen in reverse, it could certainly happen in reverse. What they've done is they've released the genie out of the box. They have done something that allows the next party.

I mean, if somebody, if I happen to be president, and I see somebody who's doing well and beating me very badly, I say, go down and indict them. Mostly what that would be, you know, they would be out of business. They'd be out, they'd be out of the election. In my case, it was they were such pathetic indictments.


BASH: OK. Just to be clear, I just want to say it again. Jack Smith is not Joe Biden. Jack Smith is, according to him, and to the Biden White House, staying as separate as he possibly can entirely possible, entirely separate rather from the president of the United States. He is saying, he would not do that.

ZELENY: And the Fulton County D.A., and all the other cases as well, this has nothing to do with it Biden administration. What the former president has been somewhat successful, at least among his base and doing is, blending everything together and saying that this is his opponent going after him.

You'll remember why he got into the first-place last fall, because he knew that these indictments were coming. This is all part of the plan to sort of set this up. But it's extraordinary what the former president is saying there, that yes, he in fact, would use his DOJ.

And one of his biggest regrets and frustrations we all remember is picking Jeff Sessions as his first attorney general. And he recused himself that day. I remember that afternoon very well. He was furious about that. So that has set this into motion that yes, he would do this. So, this goes well beyond saying the quiet part out loud. I mean, he's just admitting exactly, what he will do.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Absolutely. And it's two things really right, because by saying these things, he's undercutting the whole premise of the prosecutions against him, right? This is a way of saying, this is all political, this is not legitimate. There's nothing to this, but he's also messaging to his own supporters and to people he wants to be his supporters that if he gets back into office, he's going to take revenge. He's going to retaliate. We've already seen we have -- my colleagues at the times have reported that he's looking for lawyers who will not say no to him. He had a lot of lawyers, including Jeff Sessions, but also White House lawyers and others in his administration, who said no to him on some of the most extreme things he wanted to do. He is looking for lawyers who will not do that the next time.


So, he is telling people exactly what he plans to do, both to sort of insulate himself against the charges he's facing and to build up his support. And there is a lot of evidence that that is working to really motivate Republicans. You hear Republicans on Capitol Hill repeating it. It's an element of all of their campaigns, that the Justice Department is weaponized against the riot. And it could be a pretty powerful tool for them.

BASH: Karen, what are you waiting?

MCKEND: Independent voters, you know, independent voters hear this, and then what, right? They are going to be worried about our institutions, even if they are cool on the White House school on this administration and domestic policy matters. You hear that he's ready to burn down the House. You want to vote for him again.

BASH: Karen, I want to bring you in on this notion of weaponization of the Justice Department. This isn't something again, that he's saying. Well, he is saying it's happening against him without evidence. But more importantly, he's promising to do that if he is president again.

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: Yes. That's one of the most dangerous things that he has said, frankly, there has to be a separation between politics and the justice system. There always has been. It's why, for example, Joe Biden, when there was -- when his own son Hunter was being investigated. He said, you know what, I'm going to separate this out, and I'm going to keep a Trump appointed United States Attorney, David Weiss.

I'm not going to put my own person in. The fix shouldn't be in. This should be totally neutral so that people will trust the investigation. I'm going to keep the Trump United States attorney in who's now special counsel, right? This is a tradition in all of prosecutions.

And you know, justice has to be blind. It has to be without fear or favor. And if he's going to actually weaponize the Justice Department, unlike it's not weaponized now, he's just saying it is. But if he's going to do that, that's a very, very -- going to be a very dark and dangerous time for America. The justice system has to be blind.

BASH: Karen, thank you so much for that. Thank you, everybody here. Congress only has one week left to prevent a government shutdown. But the House and Senate have already gone home for a long holiday weekend. And they beat the clock. We'll go live to Capitol Hill next.