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CNN TONIGHT: Intel Community Assessing Potential Damage Of Mar- A-Lago Docs; Sen. Graham: "Riots In The Streets" If DOJ Prosecutes Trump; Serena Williams Advances To Second Round Of U.S. Open, Likely The Final Tennis Tournament Of Her Career. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 29, 2022 - 21:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Finally, a 11 parachutes should deploy, in a precise sequence, and slow the spacecraft to a landing speed of 17 miles per hour, for a splashdown, in the Pacific Ocean. Did you get that? There will be a test.

The news continues. So, let's hand it over to Victor Blackwell and CNN TONIGHT.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, John, thank you.

I'm Victor Blackwell. And this is CNN TONIGHT.

We begin with the possible threat, posed by Donald Trump, keeping classified documents, in his Beach Club.

The Director of National Intelligence tells Congress, her office is digging through the classified documents, to understand the risk of being taken to Mar-a-Lago in the first place.

Then, there's the danger, looming over non-political career civil servants. The Head of the National Archives said threats, from Donald Trump supporters, are coming in.

The Archivist informed the staff of "Messages from the public accusing us of corruption and conspiring against the former President." At the same time, some are congratulating the Archives, for "Bringing him down." Now, the Archivist has made clear that neither is their goal.

But threats like these, we know, go beyond talk. Earlier this month, a man carrying a long gun, trying to enter the FBI Cincinnati office. And that real-world example is crucial context, as politicians, like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, go on Fox, and say this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I'll say this. If there's a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information, after the Clinton debacle, which you presided over and did a hell of a good job, there'll be riots in the streets. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: And just so there's no misunderstanding, he said it again.


GRAHAM: If they tried to prosecute President Trump for mishandling classified information, after Hillary Clinton set up a server, in her basement, there literally will be riots in the street.


BLACKWELL: The former President quickly amplified those comments, and urged the so-called great Agents, and others, in the FBI, to say "We aren't going to take it anymore."

This is the same former President, who just weeks ago, reportedly sent a letter, to the Attorney General, writing, quote, "The country is on fire. What can I do to reduce the heat?"

We've seen how these comments sit with more radicalized members of the MAGA movement, like when Donald Trump told members of the Proud Boys, to stand back and stand by, while a member of the extremist group, testified, under oath, about the impact of those words.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you say that Proud Boys numbers increased after the "Stand back, stand by" comment?

JEREMY BERTINO, PROUD BOYS MEMBER: Exponentially. I'd say tripled, probably.


BLACKWELL: It tripled!

Will Hurd, a Republican, and former congressman, from Texas, joins me now. He served on the Intelligence committee, before leaving Congress, in part because of Donald Trump's comments.

Congressman, it's good to have you.

I want to start with what we learned, from the affidavit. We'll get to the rhetoric, from Lindsey Graham, in a moment.

But we understand that the documents included, this is from the affidavit, Intelligence information, derived from clandestine human sources. That was you! I mean, you were an undercover CIA agent. So, what danger does this type of document, this information, unsecured, present to the people, doing the work you used to do?

WILL HURD, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, FORMER CIA OFFICER, FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE MEMBER: Well, the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Haines is going to figure that out. She's going to review, and her team is going to review, the kind of information they have.

The fact that there was what's called a human classification system, HCS information? This is information that was obtained from human sources. It also had signals intelligence, SIGINT that was included. Also included, things called NOFORN. This is information that we don't even share with our Allies. The fact that that that information was included?

And that was just in the 15 boxes that Trump and his team had handed over, to the National Archives. The fact that that that's in there, it's unbelievable to me. And here's what this does, and the impact this has, on our intelligence operations, around the world.

When I was recruiting assets, and stealing secrets, and handling clandestine sources, and they're - the people that are doing that now, are probably having to answer the question.

They're going to - the assets are probably asking their handlers, "Is this going to happen to me? Is my information that I'm giving you and sharing with you going to get in the wrong hands, and going to end up in somebody's hotel, and potentially get exposed, and impact me and my family?" The lack of trust that this is creating, in all of our Intelligence circles, is tough.


Now, we don't know, if this information has gotten out. And instead of Donald Trump whining, about there being a witch-hunt, against him, he should be talking about, who had access, to these rooms, or these information, so that we can get a proper damage assessment, and know who all had access, and potentially could have used - taken this information, and shared it with adversaries.

That part of the damage assessment is going to be harder, especially if Donald Trump, and his team, does not cooperate, in understanding who could have potentially had access to this information.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about some of these calls for greater transparency. Governor Sununu of New Hampshire, is calling for the topics, related to these documents, these top secret documents, to be released.

Is there a way, to do that, to declassify what these documents are about, if not all of the text of those documents? What do you think?

HURD: So, I think, ultimately, for FBI and DOJ, to do something, this significant, right? It's a search of a former President, and we all know, that's never happened before.

When you do something that has never been done, you got to have a level of transparency that we've never seen before. That's why I'm glad we were able to see parts of the affidavit that explained the kind of information they had.

And, I think, ultimately, what the Director of National Intelligence is got to figure out is, could the revelation of the topics, of the information, could that lead to an impact, on sources and methods? Only folks that have read the information, and know the substance of the info.

Let's say this is from human sources that are still providing information to us, or it's coming from a signals intelligence platform that is still in place? That could ultimately impact long-term national security, and our ability, for our Intelligence community, to understand this super-dangerous world that we live in.

Now, if it won't have an impact on sources and method, then sure, we should be able to share that. But it would only happen, if you have a real review of the documents that were in the 15 boxes, which we should have a good idea of. And then, you have this other 11 boxes of information that the FBI found in their search.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the case moving forward. As you mentioned, what we're discussing now, these are documents that were in the 15 boxes that were handed over in January. Of course, there were more documents, in June, as a result of the subpoena, and then more documents taken from Mar-a-Lago, after the search, three weeks ago today.

The former President kept some documents back, obviously. Should the former President be prosecuted for refusing to hand over all the documents as required?

HURD: Let's put it this way, Victor. If I had those documents, in my basement, or extra room, in my house, in San Antonio, Texas, there is no question that I would be prosecuted.

Let's make sure we have a clear understanding of all the information and what the damage assessment is of that. And this is ultimately going to be a question that DOJ has to answer.

We know, the President had information, and was storing it improperly. We know that for a fact. Now, the question that investigators got to figure out is did they know that they were withholding further information, and they lied to the National Archives, and to Department of Justice, in the other info that was found in those 11 boxes, found by the FBI search.

This is something - this is about abuse of power. This is about mishandling our information. This, for me, brings up even more questions, about how did they handle this kind of information, when they were in office, and had regular access, to super-sensitive information, on secrets that are - that's important to protecting our nation, but also about individuals that are risking their lives, in order to give us that understanding.

BLACKWELL: Well, Congressman, two things here. If no person is above the law, and you say that if you had those documents in your basement, you'd face prosecution? It feels like you're 75 percent there. Is that a yes that this former President should be prosecuted, for refusing to hand over these documents?

HURD: Because this is so sensitive. And we got to know the details. Details matter. And this is why I think Merrick Garland understands the stakes that are at play here.


HURD: I think he understands how his agencies are being tarred and feathered by some that are trying to obfuscate what they really did.

And so ultimately, this is going to be a decision that DOJ has to make, based on the details of the information that was in those documents. And it's hard to make that assessment, unless you've actually read what those documents are.


BLACKWELL: All right. I will also say that there was an attorney, for former President Trump, who signed a document, attesting to there being no additional classified information, at Mar-a-Lago, although the statutes and the affidavit don't require the documents, to include classified information.

Let me end where we started with Senator Graham here. When he says, "There will be riots in the streets," do you hear a prediction, or do you hear a threat?

HURD: I hope, I hope, it is him trying to make a prediction, rather than making a threat.

But here's the reality. Whether it's Senator Graham or others, there are some that are making those threats. I think Donald Trump himself is trying to intimate that, in talking about members of the FBI rising up.

We do not need leaders that are trying to fear-monger and erode that trust in all of our - in our institutions. And we need people and then we need leaders that are willing to inspire the country.

And here's the fact, when it comes to Donald Trump. Donald Trump got lucky in 2016. He lost the House. He lost the Senate. And he lost the White House.

And now, anybody because he's getting back into the news cycle, it's having an impact, on other races that are likely - the likelihood of Republicans, to take back the Senate, is extremely low, if not zero, when you have Senator McConnell, talking about the fact that it's more likely that the House flips.

There's also folks, within the House, realizing that the margin of our victory, is going to be more narrow, because of the distractions, of someone, like Donald Trump. And, at this moment in time, this is much bigger than any one of these issues.

We should be focused on these national security threats and technology threats that our country is going to be facing, over the next decade. And depending on how we handle that is going to determine our place in the world. And when you have these kinds of conversations, and this distraction, it hurts not only the party, but it hurts the country.

BLACKWELL: Former congressman, Will Hurd, thank you.

HURD: Pleasure!

BLACKWELL: An October surprise, in August. That's how some Republicans are characterizing the Mar-a-Lago search, even some, who aren't exactly Donald Trump's biggest defenders. They think the timing is just a little too convenient ahead of the midterms. Do they have a point, or is this just a talking point?

We're getting into all of that with our experts, next.



BLACKWELL: Despite all of the redactions, in the Mar-a-Lago affidavit, one thing was clear. The former President's team took and mishandled highly classified documents.

But that was not the focus of the few Republicans, who came to Trump's defense, on the Sunday shows, this weekend. Instead, they're zeroing in on the timing of the search, ahead of this year's midterm elections.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): Former President Trump has been out of office for going on two years now. Where? Why? You think this is a coincidence just happening a few months before the midterm elections?

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): He should have turned the documents over and apparently had turned a number of documents over. George, what I wonder about is why this could go on for almost two years, and less than 100 days, before the election, suddenly, we're talking about this?


BLACKWELL: Let's get some perspective now, from a top legal mind, former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig; and two political experts, Phil Bump of "The Washington Post," and Scott Jennings, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush.

Gentlemen, good evening to you.

Phil, let me start with you. Is there any credibility to this question of the timing of the search, so close to the midterm elections?

PHIL BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I mean, I think, Senator Blunt made a great point there, which is that Donald Trump turned over some documents in January, right? That was the point.

If you could go back and you can look at the timeline here, the National Archives, May of 2021 said, "Hey, we're missing some stuff, we ought to have," like those infamous letters from Kim Jong-un. January of 2022, Trump turns over all this material, but doesn't turn over all of it, right?

And so, if we're talking about when this thing could have been resolved, we can look at January 2022. If you are trying to resolve this, in good faith, and turn over all the things that you know, you ought to turn over, that's the moment at which it could happen.

Then we start this process, where the National Archives goes to DOJ. DOJ eventually obtains a subpoena, starts interviewing people, and discoverers there is more material there. They go to - they go to Mar- a-Lago, in June. They visit this room, where it's being stored, say, "Hey, you got to secure this a little bit better."

Yes, it's happening right before the midterm elections. But it's also been 18 months, in which Donald Trump has had this material, and he has known that he has had to turn it back over.

BLACKWELL: Scott, if he gave everything to the National Archives, in January, there would be no need for a subpoena or a search.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. I mean, look, he obviously has documents at his house that he shouldn't have had. At the same time, I do think it's a legitimate question about the timing.

And to Philip's point, why did they wait so long to go get it? I mean, we've been told these were grave national security secrets, like this could put the people, and our secrets, in jeopardy. If they're that grave, why didn't you go get them before? I think that's a legitimate question.

And one way the DOJ could potentially resolve it, on the transparency piece, is go to the Intelligence committees, in Congress. They exist for a reason. They can look at these documents. They have clearance. And I think that would begin to give people, political people, an idea of whether this was much ado about nothing, or something as serious as it's been, anonymously sourced, in the press, so far.

BLACKWELL: And you trust there will be no leaks, going to these committees, in Congress?

JENNINGS: I think the Senate Intelligence Committee would be good to go.

BLACKWELL: OK, so don't go to the House. Just Senate!

JENNINGS: But I mean - I mean let's be honest. I mean, look, letting some of these politicians look at these we - I mean, look, they have clearance. We trust these people, to look at documents, all the time. This is part of the process. To me, that would help everybody.

BLACKWELL: Yes, why not do that?

[21:20:00] ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. DOJ's got a tricky middle ground, to try to find here, throughout this, which is on the one hand, there is this great call for transparency, greater than we've seen, in any other case.

On the other hand, they do have to maintain, and adhere, to the sort of prosecutorial principles. I mean, understand, the amount of information and transparency we've already seen in this case is far beyond any normal subject of investigation ever gets.

The affidavit, half of it was blacked out. But half of it we saw last Friday, nobody gets to see those, before anyone gets charged. This is, I can't ever think of that happening. I've seen hundreds or thousands of these affidavits.

So, Merrick Garland, I've certainly been critical of, and I will, I'm sure be continue to be critical of. But I do give him credit here, because he's trying to meet the call for transparency, without compromising those core prosecutorial principles, of due process and fairness.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about what Lindsey Graham is saying that "If Trump is prosecuted, there will be riots in the streets." Why is he doing this? And should he have paired it with, "But there should not be violence, if the president is prosecuted."

JENNINGS: Of course. I mean, political violence is a real problem. I mean, we've seen it manifest itself time and again. I mean, it's been going on for a few years now. This isn't recent.

And we've had people, from shooting up the congressional baseball practice, all the way to going to Brett Kavanaugh's house, to January 6th, to - I mean, all kinds of stuff is going on out there. People, deranged people, hear things, and then they take matters into their own hands. So, everybody everywhere has to denounce and talk against the prospect of political violence.

Do I think that he is making a prediction? Maybe. And obviously, there are people who are extremely amped up about this, which is why I keep going back to this idea of transparency.

Even if you can't make it all public, for national security reasons, at least going to the Congress, and at least getting people that we trust, to look at these documents, a chance to come out, and say, "We saw it. This investigation matters." That might help mollify this.

But your original question? No doubt. We can't. We can't countenance political violence.

HONIG: I agree. I think Lindsey Graham needs to be unequivocally condemned, for those comments. I don't see any way to put a fine gloss on this. I mean to me, why would you say this twice, right? And Donald Trump immediately, not retweeted, re-Truthed, I guess. Feel silly saying that! But that's what it's called. Re-Truthed this, and amplified it. But what would Lindsey Graham's motivation purpose be, in saying that? To me, it's one, to try to send a chilling message, to prosecutors. And two, to put that idea out there, in the minds of people, who might riot. To me, there's no other reason to say that without the obvious disclaimer, Victor that you said, which is, "But this ought to not happen."


JENNINGS: I mean, mobs are bad, and you cannot let justice be derailed.

BLACKWELL: Yes, mobs are bad, yes, thank you for saying that, Scott.

JENNINGS: And the point is, justice cannot be derailed because, of the threat of mobs.


JENNINGS: No matter what issue, politician, party, you can't let angry mobs, derail our institutions. This is what causes a lack of faith, further lack of faith, in institutions. So, just we had to say it, over and over again.


BLACKWELL: And this was Senator Count-Me-Out after January 6th, who said "I'm backed out. I'm not a part of this anymore." You've got new reporting on this?

BUMP: Yes. Well, I mean, you make that point, and it's important, because the context in which he said, "Count me out," was not, "Hey, this Capitol riot is horrible," and so on, so forth. It was, "Look, Donald Trump tried to make his case. And I believe in his case that the election, there's something fishy about it." And that I think, is the key context of what he said over the weekend.

It wasn't just that he was saying there's riots in the streets. He was saying that because of what had happened, because of the government's purported mis-actions, basically leveraging misinformation and false claims that are very prominent, on the Right, because of that we're going to see riots.

So, it wasn't just like, "There's going to be insurrection." It was "People don't trust the government, because they believe these things that are not true," which is exactly what he did, on January 6th.

BLACKWELL: And just--

BUMP: And people believed things that weren't true. And this is what the result was.

JENNINGS: No - I mean, look, Republicans are on probation, over this, because of January, the 6th. I mean, we can't be flippantly discussing mobs in the streets.


JENNINGS: We had mobs in the streets!


JENNINGS: And it was wrong. And it was a terrible thing. So, fooling around with this, even rhetorically, not smart.

BLACKWELL: No, certainly isn't.

All right, Elie, thank you.

HONIG: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Phil, Scott, stick with me.

In a few minutes, we'll talk about how some Republicans, now running for office are dialing back the public stances, thinking maybe they went a little too far to the right.

But next, President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan, some Democrats in tough races are not exactly happy, with the political payoff. We're talking to one of them.



BLACKWELL: When President Biden announced the federal government will forgive student debt, for tens of millions of Americans, many of his allies cheered. But not all of his supporters are celebrating.

There's some Democrats in competitive races, they're distancing themselves from the plan. They fear backlash, from working-class voters, when Democrats seem to be gaining momentum.

Among them, Ohio congressman, Tim Ryan. He is locked in a tighter- than-expected Senate race with Republican J. D. Vance. Ryan says the debt plan, quote, "Sends the wrong message."

Congressman Ryan joins me now.

Congressman, good to have you. Let me start with, you say this sends the wrong message. Why?

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH): Well, I think, one, it sends the wrong message. Every worker out there is struggling right now, not just people who have college degrees or college debt.

I think we need a tax cut, for everybody, right now. A lot of people working construction, home health care, their gas prices are high, too. Their food prices are high, too. So we've got to acknowledge that we need to recognize, everybody is struggling, in this economy.

Look, I'm not trying to ignore the fact that this is a huge burden. I think we can do things, like allow people to renegotiate down the interest rates, on their loan. It's outrageous 8 percent, 9 percent, 10 percent, 12 percent. So, we should be able to allow them to do that.

But the other piece of this too, is that there's absolutely no solution, into fixing the extraordinary increases, in college costs. So, if you've got a kid, in college, right now, prices are still going through the roof.

So, if we're going to do something, like this, you need to tie it to being able to control college costs, and university costs, going forward, so that we're not going to be back in the same boat, in five years, or 10 years, having to spend another $300 billion, $400 billion, to do the same thing. Just doesn't make any sense to me!

BLACKWELL: You make a good point, on the cost, and bringing the cost of college down. But you have, for years, advocated for more than just renegotiating the debt.


Let's go back to 2018, when you called on Congress to, quote, "Do more to help bring down debt, and make college more affordable." In 2018, you tweeted in favor of student debt relief.

2020, you voted in favor of a bill that included plans, to cancel up to $10,000 in student loan debt. Later that year, you co-sponsored bipartisan legislation, to provide student debt relief, to essential workers.

Also in 2020, you supported an amendment, to the National Defense Authorization Act that required the federal government, to provide $10,000, in assistance, to some private student loan holders.

When did you change your mind?

RYAN: Well, look, I'm the first to acknowledge that college is extremely high, extremely pricey, most people can't afford it, that the interest rates are way too high, and we need to do something to be helpful. But I don't think doing that just in a vacuum without doing anything, to control college costs.

Like, look, yes, of course, everybody's for helping out these people, who are getting charged 10 percent, or 12 percent. We have to do something. But that shouldn't happen in a vacuum. It needs to be happened, especially coming out of the Pandemic, especially with huge inflation, we've got to help all workers.

So, that's why I say, if you're going to do this, let's do a broad tax cut that helps all working families. And if you're going to do something, with college debt, then you better do something equally as bold, with college costs. Because there's no way we should just throw money, at this problem, without solving the actual root cause of the problem. And that's the argument, I'm trying to make.

We support these kinds of things. But you can't do it in a vacuum. You've got to make sure you're controlling college costs, and that everybody else, who's working just as hard, making $40,000, $50,000, they may have bought a truck, went into the building, and construction trades, when they had to buy a truck, no one's going to take care of their loan.


RYAN: You're traveling around, the home health care worker, you're paying $3.54 a gallon of gas. Who's helping that person? So, all I'm saying is everybody needs help. That's how we should address this. And if you're going to zero in on college loans, and debt, you better do something about college costs.

BLACKWELL: I hear what you're saying, today. I'm saying that these proposals that you made over 2018 and 2020 didn't call for renegotiation of debt, or for a broad tax cut. These were cancelations or forgiveness of college loans.

But let me move on here. You are certainly in a state, where the votes of working-class Ohioans that's going to be what if you go to the Senate is going to carry you there.

The President said that a portion of the Trump movement, the extreme MAGA philosophy, he calls it like semi-fascism. Does that hurt you with the voters you need to win in November?

RYAN: No, no. Look, it's straight - if you're storming the Capitol, on January 6th, if you're beating the United States Capitol Police, over the head, with a lead pipe, in order to overturn an election?

If you are making bold steps, to ban books, and to do all of these things that are, even to the point, where you want to control a woman's body, to the point where if a 10-year-old girl is raped, you say that the government should mandate that pregnancy?

You have a Supreme Court justice saying they want to get rid of birth control, nullify marriages? I mean, what else would you talk about?

How else do you explain this other than a small group of people, who have hijacked the Supreme Court? They've hijacked state legislatures. And what they've done, in the short-term, and what they're going to do in the long-term, is continue to hurt working-class people.

We're not going to have a great economy, if we have a government that's interfering in everybody's personal life. They want to punish businesses, where they don't agree with a culture, like they're doing down in Florida.

Like, this is huge governmental overreach, the largest governmental overreach, we've seen, in our lifetime, a complete violation of the personal freedoms, the free markets, free businesses. This is a governmental attack.

And so, these people, you can call it what you want. But to me, it seems a lot like people, who want to get a hold of the government, and punish people, and control people. And I will tell you that I'm traveling around Ohio, which is a purple state, back-and-forth, 88 counties, rural Ohio, people are fed up with the government overreach. They want the government out of their lives, and they want to go about their business. And if they have a tricky problem, or tragedy, in their life, they want to be able to deal with it.


RYAN: And so, we're not going to get in the name-calling. But my goodness gracious, there's a lot of people who want to do a lot of controlling out there.

BLACKWELL: All right, Congressman Tim Ryan, thank you.

RYAN: Thank you. Appreciate you having me.


BLACKWELL: All right, what a difference a summer can make? Just a few months ago, Republicans thought that the House and Senate were theirs, to lose. Well now, the sure thing doesn't look so sure anymore. Some candidates are trying to step a little bit to the left, as the winds shift and the midterms approach.


BLACKWELL: The political winds appear to be shifting, for Republicans, in Washington. Sure, they are still expected to take the House, in the fall.

But a new CBS/YouGov poll shows that their projected gains are shrinking. The polls suggest that three key issues are driving the change, abortion, falling gas prices, and anything that diverts attention, from the economy, namely Donald Trump.

The proof is not only in what GOP candidates are putting on their websites, but also what they're taking off of those sites.

Take Arizona Republican, Blake Masters, who is scrubbing Trump's 2020 election lies, from his Senate campaign website.

Now, earlier this month, the section of the Masters' plan read, quote, "We need to get serious about election integrity. The 2020 election was a rotten mess - if we had had a free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today and America would be so much better off."

Now, look at the right side of your screen. That's what's there now. "We need to get serious about election integrity." He dropped everything else!


Masters has also edited his website, to tone down his position, on abortion. Doug Mastriano, a candidate for governor, in Pennsylvania, has also gone silent about it, despite once calling abortion, his number one issue.

Let's bring in Maria Cardona, into the conversation, tonight. Scott Jennings, Phil Bump, are also back with me.

Scott, how can Blake Masters run away from the election denial, when that really was what sealed the endorsement, from President Trump, for his nomination?

JENNINGS: Yes, you can't.


JENNINGS: I mean, because, it's the Year of our Lord 2022. Everything you say, is videotaped, and audio-recorded, and archived on the internet. So, you really can't. No.

What you can control is what you choose to focus on. And so, you can run - and this happens all the time, in both parties. People focus on certain issues in primaries, and then change their focus for general elections, pivoting, if you will. And that's what I would encourage any of these general election candidates to do.

Running an election, a general election, focused on Trump, and the 2020 election, is a folly. Running it on inflation and quality of life, crime, cost of living, those are good ideas.

And so, you can't really get away from what you did. But you can focus on the issues that matter to more general election voters, which is what I hope they're doing.

BLACKWELL: Is that going to work?



CARDONA: Because there was a poll recently that showed that threats to our democracy, Victor was the number one issue for Americans.

Turns out Americans like their democracy. They like their Constitution. They don't like when they see Insurrectionists, trying to destroy the Capitol, trying to overturn a free and fair election.

And when you have 147 Members of Congress that are still there, today, that are all running for re-election, who voted to not certify, or who didn't vote to certify the election? And when you have over 100 GOP candidates, who won in the primaries, many of which are election- deniers? Americans understand how dangerous that is.

Put on top of that Roe v. Wade, the fact that women no longer have the right, to have agency over their own bodies, and that state legislatures are passing egregious law, after egregious law that put women's lives in danger? We saw what happened in Kansas. We saw what is happening all over the country. That's why you have these Republicans scared about that, wanting to scrub their websites, trying to pretend that they didn't say all those things. The general election is about a contrast. Everything that they said goes to that contrast. And that's what Democrats are going to be focusing on.

BLACKWELL: We've asked Democrats, so many times, what were the lessons of the Kansas vote, of New York 19 (ph), as well.

What's the lesson for Republicans from these votes?

BUMP: Yes, I mean, I think that the very fact that - I mean, and Scott's absolutely right, of course that when you get into a general election, you move to the middle. I mean, it's sort of fascinating, Doug Mastriano hasn't done that clearly. So, he's sort of exception to the rule here.

But we see, the fact that they are changing this? They do a lot more polling than we do, right? The media - and polling is expensive. Campaigns spent a lot of time and energy on this. The fact that they are focusing on these changes, suggests that they understand these are points of weakness. So, I think that itself bolsters the idea.

But again, look, we are still at some distance, from Election Day. And I think that there is a lot of enthusiasm, among Democrats, right now, seeing a lot of changes that have happened, over the course of the past several weeks that no one should feel confident, are going to carry through to November. They may. It may. That may be the case. But there's still a lot of time for things to change.

And in the past four midterm elections, in three of them, we've seen changes, against Democrats. And I think that that is sort of the asterisk that hangs around all of this.

JENNINGS: Another thing about this issue of what you focus on in a general election? It's also happening to the Democrats. You just had Tim Ryan, from Ohio on. And he's on here, for the second day in a row, on CNN, bashing Joe Biden's big student debt relief plan.

There's a reason he's bashing it, because he's trying to pivot more to what middle-class, working-class voters in Ohio want, as opposed to what the most partisan or fringe Liberal Democrat primary voters would want. So, it's a pretty common thing. And as you did, on the interview, you questioned him about his past votes, and his quest - and his past statements.

So, I don't think it's too uncommon, for general election candidates, in high-profile races, to be doing this. But, of course, everything you've said is always going to be on the record. So, it doesn't absolve you, from answering the questions.

CARDONA: That's very different than what Masters is doing, or what all of these other Republicans, trying to run away from the most extreme things that they said and did.

Tim Ryan, what I heard him say, is that he thinks that this kind of relief should be given to everybody. And look, I agree, Joe Biden agrees, the fact that we can't do that right now, because Republicans would never go for it, means that Joe Biden had to do something that he had the power to do through executive order.

BLACKWELL: That's what you heard, when Tim Ryan, he said--


JENNINGS: Wait, wait, wait, wait, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!

BLACKWELL: --everybody.

CARDONA: Yes, yes, I did.


CARDONA: And, by the way?

JENNINGS: You said, Tim Ryan, agreed with Joe Biden?

CARDONA: And, by the way, he's right.

JENNINGS: You know--

CARDONA: He's right about having to reform the whole education, the way that we actually educate our kids in this country, absolutely that's got to have--

JENNINGS: Wait a minute.

CARDONA: --that there has to be a fix. What I heard from him is that this does not do it. And he's right. This isn't a fix.


But Joe Biden was not looking for the fix. He was looking, to help students, who have crushing student debt. And, by the way, it was a campaign promise. This is something that is going to help a hell of a lot of kids, young people that he had promised to help. It is hugely popular.

BUMP: But here's--

CARDONA: And it's going to be something that he's going to run on, and Democrats as well.

BUMP: Here's the other parts of this that ties in both of these themes. Tim Ryan can also be very confident in going after this, because he knows that the people, who this is benefiting, are like, "Yes, I'm going to go out and vote for Democrats," right?

CARDONA: That's right.

BUMP: He doesn't need to appeal to those Democrats anymore.

CARDONA: Right. BUMP: Because Joe Biden did it, for him, right?


BUMP: And so, it's the same thing, like Masters can go ahead, and scrub that stuff about the election stuff, because he knows all those Republicans that he appealed to, in the primary, are going to come out and vote for him, in November, anyway. So that's the other flip - the flip side of this is that now the bases are engaged?


BUMP: You still got to turn them out. But now you can move to the middle. And that's what Ryan's doing, because he knows that he--

CARDONA: But I see there's a huge problem, for Republicans, because the moderates and the independents are way against what - the extreme positions that they have taken, during the primaries, and that is going to be really tough for them to run away from.


CARDONA: And certainly, their Democratic opponents are not going to let them do that.

JENNINGS: Why do you think it is that Ryan in Ohio, Cortez Masto, in Nevada, Bennet, in Colorado, several moderate Democrats, supposed moderates, in purple districts, in the House, why do you think it is they all immediately, immediately, came out against this Biden plan?

Because they're doing the same thing that we're talking about Masters doing. They are desperately trying to get away from something that they think is going to sound extreme, to the middle-of-the-road voters, in their state. You've got scores of Democrats coming out against this thing. It's the exact same tactic.

CARDONA: It's not the same thing.

JENNINGS: Trying to not play to the fringe.

CARDONA: I agree with you that that is - they can do whatever they want, because they know which voters they need to appeal to.


CARDONA: But wanting to give students relief, $10,000 is very different, from wanting to destroy our Constitution, and take away women's right to choose, what they want to do with their own bodies.

BLACKWELL: All right, Maria, Phil, Scott, we got color here. Thank you all. Of course, passionate issue.

It could have been game-set career tonight, for Serena Williams, an amazing legendary, historic, beautiful career, to put it mildly. But she's not done yet!



BLACKWELL: Let's talk a little sports. We got some good news, and bad news, for you, tonight.

Starting with the good news, Serena Williams will advance to the second round of the U.S. Open. She defeated her opponent in two sets, 6-3, 6-3. Here's the not so great news. It is likely the final tennis tournament, of her career.

And the tributes continue to pour in, for the athlete, who has won 23 Grand Slam titles. She entered Arthur Ashe Stadium, tonight, to a standing ovation, cheers all around.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King wrote, "She's the GOAT, the greatest of all time - or at least the greatest of her time, since every generation gets better. Serena has changed how tennis is played."

Now, earlier today, the 40-year-old posted a cover of herself, from TIME Magazine, with a caption "Thank you everyone. It's been incredible."

Here to talk about Serena's dynamic impact, CNN Sports Analyst, Christine Brennan.

Christine, it is good to have you with me tonight.

It's going to be hard to say goodbye to Serena, when this is all over, because she has been so great, not just for women's tennis, but for sports.


The good news is we've got another 48 hours, before we have to say goodbye to her, as a singles player, at least 48 hours because she did win. And it felt like a title fight, like a heavyweight fight, or a Super Bowl Sunday.

The atmosphere at the U.S. Open was electric. I've covered many of them. And that was certainly as loud, listening to it, as I've ever heard. She deserves that, and more. And it's truly a celebration of not just a fabulous athlete, the greatest of all time, one of the most important athletes, in any sport, in the world, over the last couple of decades.

But it's also a celebration of an era, and a time in sports, and celebrating not only a Black woman, but of course a female athlete, at a time, when we look at women athletes, so differently, than we did 10 years or 15 years ago, in part, and maybe mostly because of the way Serena Williams has carried herself, and won, and won, and won, all of these years.

BLACKWELL: Yes, she's won so many years, but still falling short of Margaret Court's Grand Slam title. Margaret has 24 - had 24. Serena at 23. I've been fortunate enough to be at a few ladies finals, where she has just come up short, as the runner-up.

But still, even without breaking that record, and she certainly chased it, there just really is no one who ties her. A lot of people, who are called the GOAT in sports, they play team sports, right? Tom Brady plays a team sport. Serena is out there, on her own, doing this.

BRENNAN: That's true. I mean, there's nowhere to hide. You make a mistake? It's all on you. I think that's why we have grown to love tennis. It's a sport I played my whole life. And grown to love Serena, and the power, and her ability to win.

As you said, she's fallen short for hitting (ph) 24. But this is the most competitive time, in the history of women's tennis. So, she is the greatest of all time. It's so much harder for her to win now than it was in the pre - pre the 19 what - 1970s or 1980s.

And so, I think that's one of the things we're seeing here that Serena has just so dominated at the most important and most difficult time to do it, and has made it, I think, all the more interesting for people to watch, and to see the emotions.

And you see, she wears her heart, Victor, on her sleeve. You almost don't even have to look at the scoreboard, if she won 6-3, 6-3. You can tell just how she's reacting. And her mood, and the anger, or the happiness, and we saw that increase as she got that first serve going, and started to dominate the match, tonight.


BLACKWELL: Yes. I hope we have more than 48 hours, with her, as an active player. But what's next?

BRENNAN: Well certainly, she'll be able to play doubles, with their sister. So, we will have a little lot longer, probably. And again, she could keep winning, although it's going to get tougher, obviously, as it moves along. This is only her fifth match it's in 15 months.


BRENNAN: So, she's been injured and out for quite a bit.

But what's next? The sky's the limit. I mean, she will be a part of our lives, I think, Victor, for the rest of our lives, whether she's selling products, a spokesperson, obviously, a working mom, and all the things that Serena loves to do. So, she'll be a big part of American lives, and lives of people, around the world, for many, many years to come.

BLACKWELL: All right, Christine Brennan, thank you.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Victor.

BLACKWELL: We'll be right back.


BLACKWELL: All right, that's it for us, tonight.

I am Victor Blackwell. Be sure to join me, and Alisyn Camerota, on "CNN NEWSROOM," tomorrow, from 2 PM to 4 PM Eastern. And I'll be back here tomorrow night, at 9.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.

Hey, Don?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, DON LEMON TONIGHT: Not so fast there, Mr. Blackwell!

BLACKWELL: All right.

LEMON: It's a big deal, happening over, in Flushing Meadows, don't you think?

BLACKWELL: Yes, yes it is. I mean, it - I'm here with you. But I would have been there, to me, watching Serena.

LEMON: I was like, of all nights, why are you working tonight? You should be at the U.S. Open!