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Trump Wraps Combative Testimony in High-Stakes Fraud Trial; New Poll Shows Trump Leads Biden In Multiple 2024 Battlegrounds; New Explosions In Gaza As Israel Claims Progress Against Hamas; Trump Civil Fraud Trial Shines Spotlight On Judge Overseeing Case; Tomorrow: Key Elections Offer Preview Of 2024 Race. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 06, 2023 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, make sure you join me tomorrow night for CNN's special coverage of Election Night in America. We're going to be tracking key races and results in Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi and more. More. Our coverage begins at 6:00 P.M. Eastern right on CNN. I'll be co-anchoring with my bestie, Erin Burnett.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Donald Trump wraps up a day of combative testimony in a New York civil fraud that could up end his business empire. The former president under oath for hours, sparring with the judge who pressed Trump's lawyers to control their client.

Despite Trump's vast legal troubles, a new poll shows he's actually leading President Biden in most of the six key battleground states that could potentially decide the 2024 race for the White House. We're breaking down the eye-popping numbers and the bleak message for Biden one year out.

And there's more breaking news we're following, explosions rocked Gaza as Israel claims new progress against Hamas one month after the horrific terror attacks on October 7th. This as the U.N. secretary- general warns that Gaza is becoming, and I'm quoting now, a graveyard for children.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

First up this hour, the breaking news we're following, Donald Trump on the witness stand and on the attack with the future of his family business at stake. The judge suggesting the defiant former president treated his civil fraud trial like a political rally.

CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the New York City courthouse for us where all of this unfolded today. Kara, walk us through what happened in that sometimes very chaotic courtroom.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was a remarkable day when you have the former president of the United States and current presidential candidate testifying under oath on the witness stand.

Now, during this testimony, it did get combative when Trump brought politics into the courtroom.


SCANNELL (voice over): Tonight, Donald Trump publicly blasting a New York judge and the state's attorney general, capping off marathon day of testimony at the civil fraud trial centered around his sprawling global business empire.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: This is a case that should have never been brought. It's a case that should be dismissed immediately. The fraud is on behalf of the court. The court was the fraudster in this case. It's a terrible thing that's happened here.

SCANNELL: The former president on the witness stand taking questions for just under four hours today. And just moments after going under oath, the mood quickly becoming combative. Inside court, Judge Arthur Engoron repeatedly warning Trump not to give speeches in response to direct questions, and Trump attacking the judge, saying I'm sure the judge will rule against me because he always rules against me. The judge replied, you can attack me, you can do whatever you want, but answer the question.

Soon after things started getting heated with the judge asking Trump's lawyer to control his client, warning that this isn't a political rally. Mr. Kise, that was a simple yes or no question. We got another speech. I beseech you to control him if you can. If you can't, I will. I will excuse him and draw every negative inference that I can. Do you understand that?

At one point during testimony, Trump leaned into the microphone saying this is a very unfair trial, very, very, and I hope the public is watching. Trump testified he did look over the financial statements and acknowledged some property values on them were incorrect, agreeing that his triplex apartment at Trump Tower was overvalued one year, but others undervalued, he said, including Mar-a-Lago.

Still, Trump said the statements were not important and had worthless clauses warning bankers not to rely on them. He added it was the responsibility of internal and external accountants to put together the statements, but he did acknowledge that the banks reviewed them.

New York Attorney General Letitia James addressing those claims head on before the cameras today.

LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: He continued to persistently engage in fraud. The numbers don't lie and Mr. Trump obviously can engage in all of these distractions and that is exactly what he did, what he committed on the stand today, engaging in distractions and engaging in name calling. But I will not be bullied. I will not be harassed.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCANNELL (on camera): Now, Wolf, there's no court tomorrow. The state said they will call Ivanka Trump on Wednesday. Her testimony could go into Thursday and that is when the state will rest their case.

Now, Trump's attorneys said that they will begin presenting their defense on Monday and they said that could go until December 15th.



BLITZER: Kara Scannell outside the courthouse in New York there, thank you very much.

While the judge certainly scolded Trump and his defense team more than once, the former president's lawyer described his client's testimony as, quote, brilliant.

Let's bring in CNN Anchor Kaitlan Collins who's working her sources in the Trump world. Kaitlan, how does Trump's legal team feel his testimony was received today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf. The attorney who said his answers he believed at times were brilliant and even referenced the fact that he believes he's going to be the next president of the United States was Chris Kise.

And as he was leaving the courthouse today, I watched him walking down those steps in front of the courthouse, the same ones that the attorney general had just come down to make her remarks. And he said into the microphone that Donald Trump was one of the best witnesses in his 30 years of practice that he has ever represented.

And so, publicly, he was praising him at times. Obviously, that's not surprising. Donald Trump likes to surround himself with people who praise him, lawyers included. But I think for other attorneys looking at how today went and what Donald Trump set out to do when he went in there to testify is something that they obviously felt like he needed to do, that he couldn't plead the Fifth here because that would make the judge obviously look poorly upon that and the judge is the person who makes the ultimate decision here of what the penalties could potentially be. That's why he showed up.

But the minute Donald Trump sat on that witness stand, you know, he kept a low tone at times but he got into heated back and forths, as Kara was just laying out, with the judge. And that is not something that typically you would want your client to do with the judge who's going to be making the decision about how much Donald Trump may be paying here, how much of a threat his real estate empire in the city of New York is actually facing.

And so that's a big question here even though the attorneys were praising it. I mean, you could see at points where they were on different pages at the end, when they were getting in an argument about what their next step is going to be. There were points where Chris Kise was speaking to the judge and then Alina Habba, the other attorney, stood up and started speaking to the judge.

There were times today where the judge was not just admonishing Trump, but he was speaking directly to the attorneys, telling them to sit down, telling them to stop with their points of question or their objection, saying that they were overruled and that he really did not find them very valid.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much. Kaitlan, of course, will be back later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern, to anchor her program, The Source. Kaitlan, we'll be watching, for sure.

Let's get some more analysis right now on Trump's testimony. Our legal and political experts are here with me in The Situation Room. And, Laura Coates, let me start with you. What's your major takeaway from what we heard today?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump has seemed to miss the point that this is past summary judgment motion. The judge has already ruled he had engaged in fraud. Now, the question was how expensive would it really be. Instead, Trump tried to prove his innocence on those fraudulent claims. Why? He's well aware that his business acumen, his empire, is all about political currency.

But there's a problem with this. Because, on the one hand, him trying to suggest he's in control, the head honcho, and dots every I, crossed every Ts, and the buck stops here, is at odds with the defense on whether or not he was aware of the material representations that was happening on their actual watch.

BLITZER: Important point indeed. Norm, what's your analysis of the impact, what the impact going to be of this very angry back and forth, this exchange between Trump and the judge?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, we saw the Trump family and business trial strategy on display today. It's a one-two punch. Provoke the judge into overreaching to give Trump an edge on appeal. He knows he's lost at the trial court level but also walk a very fine line of pointing the finger at others, blaming others, so, on appeal, he can say intent wasn't proven, and I thought today failed on both of those counts.

On provoking the judge, they did get his gander up but he didn't cross the line. He threatened to expel Trump but he didn't do it. That was the right thing.

And then in terms of pointing that finger, Trump had his nose rubbed in his prior statements. And he took the bait, for example, they showed him a document in which the valuation was based upon his financial statements, saying he'd keep Mar-a-Lago as a private resident. He signed a document saying it would be a club. It completely pulled the rug out from under a disastrous day.

And all that anger on the stand, you know how he knows he did the wrong thing, Wolf? Look at his demeanor before and after lunch. He saw the harm he was doing. So, terrible day for Donald Trump, obviously.

BLITZER: And all of a sudden he went silent after those original comments he made.

At one point, Gloria, the judge said, and I'm quoting the judge now, to Trump, this is not a political rally, but did Trump essentially treat all this like a political rally?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's where the judge may have gotten it wrong because it was a political rally.


I mean, everything Trump was doing was talking to his voters, talking to the base and talking to others. And at one point, he said I hope people are watching this.

So, you know, this was a political strategy more than it was a legal strategy. He is playing the victim here. He went off on the judge saying that you're treating me badly. He accused them of disrespecting him in many ways. And what he wants to get across to the voters is I'm fighting. And if they can do this to me, they can do this to you.

And I think in that sense, this was come completely political. I mean, what he said outside the courtroom was the same thing he said inside. There really wasn't a difference. And if his lawyers said that he did a great job, maybe they're thinking politically more than legally here.

BLITZER: The word is brilliant job.

BORGER: Oh, brilliant, right.

BLITZER: Trump is -- as you know, John King, Trump is already fundraising off of his testimony and there is some new polling that shows him actually ahead of Biden in the 2024 contest. How does what happened today play into 2024?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. We'll see where we are a year from now. Right now, the incumbent president, President Biden, is in deep trouble, very deep trouble, no question.

Does the cumulative effect, the first, the fraud trial, then other trials next year hurt Trump? We'll get there when we get there. But Trump is using his old playbook but also trying to adapt that new strategy a bit heading into the election. First, he's a primary candidate. He's the overwhelming favorite right now. So, what's your job? Keep your support from collapsing.

So, outside the courtroom, Gloria used the word, victim. He wants people to think he's a victim. Joe Biden is after me. There is zero evidence of that. Joe Biden has nothing to do with this fraud case, absolutely nothing.

But Donald Trump wants to tell his supporters on camera repeated in the MAGA media ecosphere that Joe Biden is doing this to me because he doesn't want to be seen as the victim. I mean, he does want to be seen as the victim, not as a cheat, not as a fraud, not as a liar, not as a myth of all the business finances. And so far, it has worked for Trump.

The question is when -- this judge has already said he's a fraud. This is really about damages, how much does he pay. Does that have an impact and does then Trump adjust his strategy heading into the -- I would argue, look, nobody wants to elect a president who's a cheat but I think it's more relevant when it's next year, when it's election interference, essentially trying to steal your democracy. Those are more serious charges, I would think, for picking a president. So, he's working on his playbook here. And so far, it's working actually in his sphere.

BLITZER: The numbers are backing him up. Go ahead.

COATES: Look at the optics here. I mean, he is trying to be the commander-in-chief and to run the country. One of the things that the attorney general, Letitia James, is asking for is a conservatorship over the business and the empire, to remove his ability to run that, because you are incapable by being a fraudster of doing that.

If you're a Democratic strategist looking at this in the political context that he seems to be in, what would be the better ammunition to go against this person? Which is one of the reasons, of course, people are asking themselves why is this not a jury trial. Because, in part, there's a equitable relief, as in, how do we ensure -- these are not monetary damages. I'm asking for the refusal to allow you to do business. That's one of the points of contention here that will likely be addressed later on as to the decision of not to ask for or to allow for a jury trial.

EISEN: That's backed up by one piece of data in that New York Times poll, which was negative for Biden. It's gotten some criticism. There's a debate about the validity of the poll. But to Laura's point about who do people want, and John's point, who do people want, what kind of person, when the poll asks if Donald Trump is convicted, would you support him? The numbers swung dramatically, dramatically in Biden's direction in state after state after state.

And that's what's at stake here in this fraud trial is setting up that question of Trump's culpability for election interference criminally.

BORGER: He's walking such a fine line because, on the one hand, he's the strong man. He's the commander-in-chief. He won't be bullied. He won't be victimized. But on the other hand, he wants to play the victim here of a weaponization of the Justice Department, which has nothing to do with this. So, he was walking this very fine line and he doesn't do nuance very well.

So, I think it was a difficult day for him but you could literally see the conflict he had in answering a lot of questions.

KING: Right. But to Norm's point, Trump doesn't do nuance but he does get politics. And so he's trying to delegitimize any conviction starting with the fraud case, in which he's somehow really been convicted of already. It's about damages. But he's trying to delegitimize it. If any institution with a Democrat or any institution, period, with a judge or a court does this to me, don't believe it. It's not real.

Now, that will work with his base, or at least it has up to now. The question is with the swing voters Norm was talking about. And that is a TBD.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a huge question. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.


And to our viewers, be sure to catch Laura Coates Live, that's the name of her program, later tonight, 11:00 P.M. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Still ahead, we'll have much more on the new poll showing Trump actually leading President Biden in several swing states. The new 2024 snapshot and the rising anxiety for Democrats, we have details, that's next.


BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news on Donald Trump's testimony today in his civil fraud trial in New York. Trump slamming the case against him while also touting a new poll showing he actually leads President Biden in multiple 2024 battleground states. Look at this.


TRUMP: To think that we're being sued and spending all this time and money and you have people being killed all over the world that this country could stop. With inflation and all of the other problems that this country has, I think it's a disgrace.

And when you look at the numbers, the poll numbers that came out today from The New York Times and CBS, people are sick and tired of what's happening.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with our political team, and David Chalian is with us, our CNN political director.

David, take a look at this poll, this New York Times/Siena College poll, which shows Trump not only leading Biden nationally, but it also shows he's leading Biden in several of these key swing states that are going to be critically important if he's going to get elected next time around.


Is Trump gaining right now in spite of his legal problems or because of all those legal problems?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I would argue he's gaining because of them. And I know a lot of people say, oh, yes, it just helps him in the primary, but not the general. I would argue it may be helping him in both. Because what Donald Trump has done with these trials is fortify his Republican base of support.

And that is something across all these polls we see not happening in equal measure on the Democratic side with Joe Biden. He has not consolidated his Democratic support. In fact, I think when you look under these numbers, you see Joe Biden is struggling with almost every piece of his winning coalition from 2020, young voters, voters of color, independent voters. Look there. Those are six battleground states that were tested The New York Times, six critical battleground states, five of which Joe Biden flipped from red to blue in his election victory.

And what you see four with clear Trump leads and two that are margin of error races in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. This isn't just like alarm bells going off. This is causing real consternation inside the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: Good point. John, what does it say to you that in this poll, Trump is making substantial gains in these swing states among non- white voters?

KING: I would read that it's more about Biden than it is about Trump, in that, as David said, key pieces of President Biden's coalition are looking elsewhere. They are shopping. It doesn't mean they're going to end up there, it doesn't mean they're going to go to a new candidate, but a year out, they are looking around. Why do you look around? You look for a new car when you don't like your current car.

And so they're looking at the economy. They're looking at inflation. As I've been traveling, they're looking at where is he, where's the visibility. We don't see our president. We don't see him doing things in the black community. Criminal justice reform, what have you done? Latino community, economics, and so where are you?

And so I view this more young voters, Latino voters, black voters, three critical pieces of any Democratic coalition, three critical pieces of President Biden flipping those states. David just talked five of those six he flipped. Trump won them against Hillary Clinton. So, they're looking for -- they're open to voting for somebody else. That tells you they are very unhappy with the incumbent president.

And the Biden team thinks, oh, just put Trump on the ballot, we'll be fine. If they think that, they have an issue, because Trump's voters are going to come. If these voters go to Trump, then President Biden is toast. But even if they don't go Trump and they stay home, the margins matter in these close states. And so the Democrats have a problem right now, the president does.

BLITZER: And on that point, Gloria, how notable is it that Trump and Biden are basically neck and neck among voters under 30? That was a big bloc for Biden last time around.

BORGER: It was a huge bloc for Biden and I think it's really troubling. I mean, when you look deeper into this poll, younger voters prefer Trump by 28 points on the economy. And what does that tell you? Well, it tells you that young people may be shopping for a house and the mortgage rates are high. The fuel prices are high. Their pay hasn't increased and they're not seeing him -- as John says, they're not seeing him out there.

So, they were very important to Joe Biden and what he's got to do is not only convince them he's working for them but he's also got motivate them to get out there and vote, and it isn't easy to motivate young voters. And so he's got to do both of those things. So, I think the numbers on young voters are really stunning.

BLITZER: I think so, too.

CHALIAN: Across all the polling we see right in terms of motivation, broadly, Republicans are more motivated about this election than are Democrats. That is something that the White House is going to solve for.

BLITZER: It's interesting, because I thought it was interesting that the voters also said they would trust Trump more than Biden on several key policy issues, including national security, immigration, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the economy. Were you surprised to see Trump ahead of Biden on these substantive policy issues?

CHALIAN: I mean, given the sour mood of the country that we're seeing and given Biden's unpopularity, I wasn't terribly surprised to see that that is also impacting where people are on the issues. We have seen some issues, like abortion rights, which still plays to the president's favor here, but even an issue like democracy and voting rights is something that's dividing the electorate because it means different things to each party. So, on the issue landscape, there's no clear, maybe safe for abortion rights, sort of winner right now for Joe Biden.

BORGER: And also the age. I mean, we haven't talked about the age issue. And that's something you can't escape, young voters in particular, even though Donald Trump is not a youngster.

BLITZER: He's almost as old as Biden.

BORGER: Right. But that is something that they can't do anything about.

CHALIAN: No. He'll be older a year from now.

BORGER: Exactly.

KING: And you notice in the travels talking to voters. Their president needs to change minds on the economy, these young people. Hey, look at all the things I did for the climate. He needs to talk about inflation and try to say, look, prices may not be going down but they stopped going up, whatever he can do to make his case.


But if people have a threshold impression you're not up to the job, they don't read the bottom part of the resume. They don't let you make your points. And I think that's part of the president's challenge right now. When I'm traveling the country and talking to voters, even people who love and are gratefully kicked Donald Trump out of the White House, say, I don't know if he's still up to the job.

And so how do you say, let to me talk to you about the economy, let me talk to you about the climate, let me talk to you about anything, if they've made a threshold decision it's time to go? And so he has a vitality challenge.

BLITZER: You've been crisscrossing the country talking to voters, doing an excellent job. John, thank you very much, and to all of you, thanks very much.

Coming up, I'll get reaction to President Biden's bleak new poll numbers from a former top adviser to the Obama-Biden campaign, who says the president should consider actually dropping out of the race. David Axelrod is standing by. We'll discuss.

We'll also go live to the Middle East for the latest on the Israel- Hamas war and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: In the Middle East tonight, Israel is claiming new progress in Gaza striking 450 Hamas targets in the last 24 hours as Israeli ground forces split the enclave in two.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is standing by for us in Ashkelon, Israel, not far from Gaza. Jeremy, what have you seen tonight?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, throughout the day and tonight, Israeli forces continuing to conduct heavy bombardment of the Gaza Strip. We watched throughout the day today as we were in Sderot overlooking Gaza City as Israeli forces continued to pound the Gaza Strip. We also saw as night broke that there were flares being put up indicating ground operations actively happening in Gaza.

Last night and the day before, 450 strikes were carried out by Israel in forces. And now, the Israeli military says that it has completed its encirclement of Gaza City and that it has effectively split up Gaza in two, into a northern and southern half, even though commanders on the ground who I spoke with this weekend told me there is still very much an active danger of underground tunnels.

Tonight, an IDF spokesman says that the Israeli military is continuing to carry out ground operations and saying that they are continuing to advance around and inside Gaza City to put more pressure on Hamas. But all of this, Wolf, is coming as the death toll in Gaza continues to rise. Today, at Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, some of our freelance reporters reporting that over 100 fatalities were reported at the hospital just today. All of this as the death toll in Gaza, Wolf, has now risen to above 10,000, according to the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health. Of those 10,000, they say that 40 percent are children.

BLITZER: Jeremy, I know you recently embedded with the IDF troops going into Gaza. You were in Gaza. What did you see?

DIAMOND: Yes, that's right, Wolf. We got the opportunity this weekend to go in with Israeli forces into Gaza. We should note that during our time there, we were under the observation of Israeli commanders, not permitted to go beyond the areas where they authorized us to go. And we did need to submit our materials for review to Israeli military officials. The only material that they censored in this case was one image of sensitive technology on top of an armored personnel carrier.

But while we were in Gaza, Wolf, as we crossed in on those armored personnel carriers, I want you see that moment as we learned that we had crossed into the Gaza Strip.


DIAMOND: The Israeli military is taking us into Gaza. We are inside an armored personnel carrier right now just crossed into Gaza, here, the southern port of Gaza City.


DIAMOND: And, Wolf, once we had been in that armored personnel carrier for about 20 minutes starting and stopping so that the driver could check to see if there were any Hamas militants seeking to ambush our convoy, we arrived at a military post about a kilometer inside the Gaza Strip overlooking Gaza City, and there was active fighting happening all around us. The closest contact line was about 100 meters away. We could hear small arms fire, we could short range missiles being launched.

This is where Israeli officials say that they were cutting Gaza from north to south. It's also where they say they're trying to establish a humanitarian corridor. But they made clear that that danger of underground tunnels remains for their forces. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Jeremy Diamond, excellent reporting, stay safe over there. Thank you very much.

Let's go now to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as the United Nations is warning that the territory is, quote, becoming a graveyard for children.

CNN's Melissa Bell is joining us from Cairo, Egypt, right now. Melissa, we saw the Rafah crossing open once again from Gaza into Egypt. What's the latest?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've now seen an extra 99 foreign passport holders pass through the Rafah crossing and into the safety of Egypt, Wolf, still leaving many thousands inside. Overall, it's now over 1,100 foreign nationals that have come across but many more need to get through.

Fairly chaotic scenes again at the Rafah crossing, that system of lists with names on it that goes up each day when the Rafah crossing is open to those who will be able to come across, the lucky few. The situation even as those many thousands, including many Americans who stay stuck inside Gaza, seriously worsening.

We've heard these urgent calls on the part of the U.N. secretary- general saying, look, this is no longer just a humanitarian crisis. We're talking about a crisis of humanity, some 18 U.N. agencies getting together today to call for those humanitarian pauses that have been on the lips of so many regional leaders and now also on the lips of the United States, urgent need for these humanitarian pauses to be able to get some much needed relief through.


BLITZER: What we're hearing, Wolf, is that what is happening now as a result of the massive displacement of the Gazan population, some 70 percent of the 2 million people who live inside Gaza are now internally displaced and living in terrible conditions. That's according to the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinian refugees that's been speaking about the sanitary situation and now in some of its own shelters.

Not only are they tending to get bombed regularly by the IDS, you're also speaking about overcrowded conditions, the lack of food, lack of water, lack of sanitation that is now leading, as had been expected, to skin diseases and all kinds of ailments, an urgent need to get in. For the time being, it doesn't appear that Israel is on this thing, though, Wolf.

BLITZER: Melissa Bell in Cairo for us, thanks for that update.

Just ahead, the Biden campaign is downplaying bleak new poll numbers for the president in a potential rematch against Donald Trump. Should the president consider dropping out of the race? I'll get reaction from a former top adviser to the Obama-Biden campaign who says he should think about stepping aside.



BLITZER: President Biden's campaign is downplaying a very grim new poll showing Donald Trump leading in multiple battleground states, but many Democrats are sounding the alarm, including David Axelrod, the chief strategist for the 2012 Obama-Biden presidential campaign, who tweeted that the poll, quote, will send tremors of doubt through the party.

David is joining us right now. David, thanks very much for joining us. These are very brutal poll numbers. This is a New York Times/Siena College poll. The results for the president pretty bad. You suggested he should at least consider dropping out while also saying it's his decision. But as a Democrat concerned about Donald Trump, what do you want Biden to do?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I want him to consider what is best in terms of the goal that I know he is committed to, which is defeating Trump. And if he believes based on not just what it's in his heart, but what's in data and what he's being told that he has the best chance to do it, then he should run.

But, you know, the thing that irritates me a little bit, Wolf, is this notion that people who are concerned are bedwetters is a phrase actually I think originated in 2008 Obama campaign in a much different context. There is reason to be concerned and people shouldn't dismiss these polls. And should the president press forward, I think that they need to really take this another notch up and turn this into a comparative campaign.

You know, these polls reflect a kind of sour mood in the country about the direction of the country, direction of the economy, and they really have to turn this into an aggressive comparative campaign. They've got a very kind of historically, epically flawed candidate on the other side, but they have to start drawing those comparisons on every issue, not just on the issue of democracy itself, but on the economy and other things because Biden has a very strong record to point to on issues like pharmaceutical costs, for example, where Trump did nothing and the Republican Party would repeal what Biden has done in terms of lowering the cost of insulin and some prescription drug prices.

BLITZER: So, David --

AXELROD: These are issues that could work for him. But if he's going to run, they've got to run full out starting right now and they've got to put it into a comparative frame.

BLITZER: So, do you think he should drop out?

AXELROD: Wolf, I'm not going to -- I think he is entitled to make that decision on his own. And I've said many times, I don't think a primary challenge would be successful. It would only weaken him. So, I've not encouraged that. But I think, you know, he has a record to be proud of and I think history will be kind to Joe Biden based on what he's done in his first -- in his term as president.

And, you know, the question is how will it end? Will it end with the defeat of Trump or not? That's what he has to consider because how it ends is important.

BLITZER: So, if you were advising him, what would you tell him?

AXELROD: I would tell him it was a very tough race and I would tell him it's a tough race for this reason. Look, Barack Obama, as the Biden campaign has pointed out several times in the last day, was -- had poll -- bad poll numbers a year before the election. Yes, The New York Times did have a magazine story that said is Obama toast and put his chances at winning at 40 percent.

But it was a different situation. It was different because Donald Trump wasn't on the other side. And it was different because he was 30 years younger than President Biden. And one of the things that was alarming in the poll, but it was consistent with many other polls that we've seen is that people are concerned about the issue of age.

And the thing that he needs to fight off is this notion that things are out of control and he's not in command, and they have to be aware of that. So, I think that these poll numbers are going to be taken seriously. It doesn't necessarily mean that he should drop out of the race. He should consider where he is and they should make some adjustments to kick this into the comparative frame that they're going to need to win.


He's the one who often says don't compare me to the almighty. Compare me to the alternative. Well start making the comparison, Mr. President, and do it on a regular basis.

BLITZER: We shall see.

All right. David Axelrod, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.

AXELROD: Good to see you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, Donald Trump takes the witness stand in the New York civil fraud trial that threatens his entire business empire. We're going to take a closer look at the judge overseeing the trial who's clashed with the former president.


BLITZER: More now in the judge overseeing Donald Trump's civil fraud trial in New York.

Brian Todd is taking a closer look at Judge Arthur Engeron's background and judicial record.

Brian, what can you tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he is a judge who's had some very diverse life experiences even while Trump and his allies constantly attack the judge.



TODD (voice-over): Judge Arthur Engoron might be hard pressed to name a defendant in any of his cases who's been as contentious with him as Donald Trump, defendant. The judge called Trump to the stand and rebuked him, fining him $10,000 for public comments that the judge perceived as a tax on his clerk.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: This judge is a very partisan judge with a person who's very partisan sitting alongside of him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is.

TODD: Trump and his lawyers claim Trump was speaking about Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen and not about the clerk. The judge had previously fined him $5,000 for a social media post attacking the clerk. On Friday, Judge Engoron expanded a gag order against Trump and back in 2022, he fined Trump $110,000 for being in contempt of court, writing that Trump, quote, willfully disobeyed an order to provide documents by a certain time.

How contentious is this between the judge and the defendant compared to other cases?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's much more contentious than other cases because usually a client would be working with the lawyers to not irritate the judge.

TODD: But if Donald Trump's an outlier as a defendant, so too is Arthur Engoron as a jurist. As a college student at Columbia, he drove a taxi.

Quote, I love the freedom, the instant cash, getting to meet people, learning how to drive like a maniac without being caught, he once said in court, according to "The New York Post".

After some time as a musician, he went to NYU law school. Then, he writes, his career path has been, quote, a Park Avenue litigator, a piano and drum teacher, a moderately successful bar band keyboard player, a law clerk to a judge, and now an elected New York state Supreme Court justice.

One former supervisor says --

DONALD ZAKARIN, FORMER COLLEAGUE OF JUDGE ENGORON: He has a broad background. He didn't follow a very straight line. He followed what I would consider a very jagged line in his career.

TODD: Trump and his two eldest sons are accused in this case of fraudulently inflating the value of their properties to get more favorable loans and insurance policies. The Trumps have denied any wrongdoing, and Donald Trump has relentlessly gone after Judge Engoron for being partisan.

TRUMP: He's a Democrat operative and he's a disgrace to people that call themselves judges.

TODD: Engoron was elected as a Democrat and has held membership in the ACLU.

WU: Trump's team is going to argue that all these folks are in the liberal camp and that's why they're persecuting him. But I don't think that's any kind of problem for this judge.


TODD (on camera): In the end, Judge Engoron will have had enormous influence over this case against Trump. He's overseeing the case as the judge. He'll decide on the verdict since there's no jury, and he'll decide on the penalties if the outcome of the case does not go Trump's way, including possibly $250 million in penalties that the prosecutor has asked for. And he could also decide whether the Trump family could continue doing business in New York.

Wolf, a lot weighing on this judge.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, good report, thank you very much. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, voters head to the polls tomorrow in several states in what could be a preview of next year's presidential race.

We'll take a closer look at some of the major races and issues that voters will be deciding, including a live report from the key state of Ohio, where an abortion rights initiative is on the ballot.



BLITZER: Elections in several states tomorrow will be seen as a test of the issues and messages that could shape next year's presidential race.

CNN's senior national correspondent Kyung Lah is joining us live from Columbus, Ohio, right now. That's where abortion rights and marijuana legalization are on the ballot tomorrow.

Kyung, how much of a bellwether is tomorrow's election in Ohio where you are?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, recreational marijuana is indeed, Wolf, on the ballot but for the bellwether issue. We are really looking at the abortion issue. Here in Ohio, it is called issue one. If this passes, it would be the first Republican state where voters would be enshrining abortion rights into the state Constitution. Essentially, voters in a red state voting to protect abortion rights, a real test of that Democratic theory that they can animate independent voters to come out to protect abortion rights.

And, Wolf, we are seeing on the ground, at one of the ballot locations we went to in Franklin county, voters still dropping off their ballots early. Vote numbers are showing that for an off-year election, Wolf, this is going to be a high-turnout-race election.

BLITZER: Certainly will be.

What are some of the other key races to watch tomorrow, Kyung?

LAH: Yeah, we're watching in particular two particular states. I want to start with Virginia. In Virginia, what is at stake is control of the state house. Now, why are we paying attention to it? Because Virginia and what voters do there in their state really in the last two cycles have signaled what it's going to look like the following year.

So we are anxiously waiting to see what the results are in Virginia and also in Kentucky you have a Democratic Governor Andy Beshear who is the incumbent. He is trying to defend his job in the face of a Republican challenger David Cameron. He has the backing of Donald Trump. Can he hold onto his job in a red state, wolf?

BLITZER: Kyung, how is turnout looking in Ohio where you are?

LAH: Yeah, the turnout is really interesting, because we can compare it directly to what happened in August. In August, voters were told do they want to change the threshold for changing how to change their state constitution? Voters back then rejected it. And so, what we can do is compare what November looks like to what August looks like.

And so far, November is outpacing august when it comes to those early vote numbers. Whether or not that signals anything, either way, we really do have to wait until tomorrow. But we are hearing optimism from the side of the pro-Issue 1 voters, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kyung Lah in Columbus, Ohio, for us. Thank you very much.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back tomorrow with Kaitlan Collins starting at 4:00 p.m. Eastern for CNN special coverage of Election Day in America.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.