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Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Faces Grilling on Capitol Hill. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired September 5, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
[09:00:05] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to CNN's special live coverage of the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
This is day two of what will be at least four days of public vetting for the president's pick to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy and where Kennedy for 30 years was a frequently pivotal swing vote, Kavanaugh is widely expected to tilt the nation's highest court to the right, perhaps for decades. Today will be the first chance for the 21 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to question Kavanaugh who is currently a federal appeals court judge right here in Washington.
We're going to bring that to you live. Our coverage will begin shortly. But first, President Trump and the White House, they are in attack mode this morning. They're intensifying efforts to discredit the legendary investigative journalist Bob Woodward as excerpts from his bombshell new book entitled "Fear" portray a president who is unstable and unfit for office. A presidency careening toward what he describes as a nervous breakdown.
Just a little while ago, President Trump fired off a new tweet saying, and I'm quoting now, "Isn't it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost? Don't know why Washington politicians don't change libel laws."
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, came out slamming Woodward's book and his sourcing for the book a little while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, he may have hundreds of hours of tapes but I think most of those probably come from some disgruntled former employees. It's a lot of anonymous sources. What I can tell you is I've worked alongside the president, under the president, for the last three years. I was part of his campaign. I've been part of the administration since day one and I can tell you that the president -- everything so far that I've seen out of this book doesn't depict what's going on in the building behind me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president's personal attorney this morning Rudy Giuliani also denying that an incident involving him in the book took place, say Woodward or a source are liars. And then Giuliani said this, and I'm quoting, "Most important for libel purposes, he never called me."
CNN's Jamie Gangel has been reporting extensively on all of this. She was first to get a copy of the book together with the "Washington Post."
Jamie, let's talk. I want to get to some other issues. But you heard what Rudy Giuliani, not the president, raising this whole issue of libel. In the book Bob Woodward notes that the president was not very happy with Giuliani when he came out defending the then Republican presidential candidate after that "Access Hollywood" video came up, "Rudy, you're a baby," according to Woodward in the book, said, "I've never seen a worst defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You're like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?"
And now you see what Rudy Giuliani is threatening.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And I e-mailed with Bob Woodward this morning and he says, quote, "I stand by my reporting." I also think it's important to remind people that he -- Woodward had dozens of sources for these books. He did hundreds of hours of interviews that are on tape and these were firsthand sources. People who were in the room at the time or sometimes he was given documents, meeting notes, personal diaries. So he stands by his reporting.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the Defense Secretary General James Mattis, four-star general, retired, there's some very strong quotes from him in this book and now a denial.
GANGEL: So what's very interesting is there is a theme throughout this book that the president's inner circle felt he was a danger to national security. One of the things was that he wanted to pull troops out of South Korea and there's a pattern where the aides would go to him and say you can't do this, they would try to talk him out of it, and when all else failed they would bring in Defense Secretary James Mattis who apparently had a good rapport with the president and we have, from Woodward's book, Woodward reports that Mattis says to President Trump, you can't do this, we're doing this in order to prevent World War III."
Again, we're hearing some denials from Defense Secretary Mattis but once again Bob Woodward says he has dozens of sources and documents, meeting notes and these taped recordings.
BLITZER: There's another devastating section in the book in which Gary Cohn, who was then the president's top economic adviser actually has to go into the Oval Office and take a document off the desk there that the president was getting ready to sign.
[09:05:04] GANGEL: Right. So this is the open for the book. It's the prologue. It's very dramatic. Gary Cohn, according to Woodward, sees this and, quote, "is appalled." And one of the things that we're saying is that draft document is actually reproduced in the book. So there's an example of -- you know, a source material that Woodward had.
It's also important to note that nobody knew where that document had come from. Cohn didn't know, the former staff secretary Rob Porter didn't know. This was not an isolated incident where they would have to go and do something.
BLITZER: In the book, it's not the first time we've heard reports of the White House chief of staff, retired general John Kelly, complaining bitterly about the way the president behaves but in this book it seems to be even more devastating.
GANGEL: Right. So General Kelly has denied ever saying that he called the president, quote, "an idiot." However, it's worth looking at what Woodward writes. Kelly is quoted as saying he's an idiot so General Kelly denies that but the quote goes on, "It's pointless to try to convince him of anything," meaning President Trump. "He's gone off the rails, we're in crazy town."
General Kelly doesn't deny anything else in the quote and there are other quotes that Woodward has from him saying the president's unhinged, that there are dangerous impulses, erratic. Again, General Kelly has not come out to say those. And, frankly, saying someone is unhinged, especially the president of the United States, I think is of a great deal more concern than someone maybe throwing and saying oh, someone's an idiot, unhinged, erratic. These are very concerning.
BLITZER: Yes. It's all awful.
BLITZER: When you look at it.
I want to bring in our chief political correspondent Dana Bash who's been following this. The reaction is pouring in. What kind of reaction especially from Capitol Hill, Dana, are you hearing?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a couple of different sort of pods of reaction. First of all, some of southern Democrats and Republicans reacting to the term that the president allegedly used about Jeff Sessions.
BLITZER: Well, let me read -- let me read and remind our viewers what the president, according to this book by Bob Woodward said of the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, "This guy is mentally retarded. He is this dumb southerner," and then he mocked Sessions by feigning a southern accent.
BASH: Right, so on that particular one you have southern senators, as I said, of both parties saying this is outrageous to describe anybody from the south that way, and then of course using the R word is just something that you don't do anymore. You just don't do it. That is something specifically the president understanding how bad that looks on all of those levels has tweeted out saying, I didn't do that, I didn't say that word, and I wouldn't describe a southerner that way because he also understands that's his base. I mean, that's Trump country in a big way.
BLITZER: Jeff Sessions is from Alabama.
BASH: And Jeff Sessions is from Alabama. But just in the more broader picture of this, as Jamie was talking about, describing somebody who is unhinged, who doesn't get it, who won't listen, who is obviously very quick to temper and lash out at his aides, that is something that is described in only way I think what Bob Woodward can do in this book, but it's something that we have been reporting on since almost day one of this presidency.
That that is the way that this president conducts himself and more importantly as it was described to me by somebody who knows the president and has worked with the president that you also have to remember that he is a civilian president and he has not been around some of these things, and more importantly he also is not somebody who is steeped in history or understanding of things like the fact that we have -- that the United States has troops at the DMZ in Korea and why it needs to be there, and it does take a while and it has frustrated many an aide in the fact that it takes a long time to explain to the president.
The president of the United States, why some of the most fundamental things are the way they are. Like troops there, like, for example, you can't target a leader even if it's Assad with the U.S. military. It's just not something that you can do. You're not supposed to do that.
BLITZER: For assassination.
BASH: Right. It's illegal.
GANGEL: So one of the things that's stunning is that's all true. And you can have a temper and you can be profane but I think one of the most shocking things that will come out of the Woodward book is that he reports that this continues over a period of time. Right through General Kelly being chief of staff and that President Trump, according to Woodward's reporting, still doesn't get it.
[09:10:05] They have an intervention where they bring him over to the Pentagon and they try to explain to him again about South Korea. And he still doesn't buy it. So it's not -- you don't see a learning curve. They're in the same place with him.
BLITZER: But you know, Dana, you and I, and Jamie, we've seen this sort of play out after every book by Bob Woodward comes out, going back to Watergate and Nixon. What he wrote with Carl Bernstein, but he's written books about every American president, and the initial reaction is all these deny, deny, deny, but over time Woodward emerges pretty legendary.
BASH: Look, this is -- legendary is the right word. This is the genius of Bob Woodward is that because he understands that his heft and his gravitas, because of his work during Watergate with Carl Bernstein, that he gets people to talk to him and when people start to talk and hear that other people are talking, they want to talk, too, because they want to make sure their side of the story gets in. I mean, in some ways it's reporting 101 but it's taken to another level when you have somebody who works like this and somebody whose name is Bob Woodward.
BLITZER: I remember interviewing Bob Woodward when his book on President Obama came out I think in 2013.
BASH: That's right.
BLITZER: And I had him on my show and he said he was getting threats from senior White House staffs about some of the stuff he had written about President Obama so sort of gone through this.
BASH: And remember -- and remember the problem that President Trump has is that, you know, there's a tweet for everything? He has said that he believes that Bob Woodward is fair and has done really good work. He even said something to that effect when they spoke in the audiotape that Bob Woodward really --
BLITZER: Yes. All very significant.
Everybody, stand by, there's more news we're following, including breaking news.
A major Democratic primary upset in Massachusetts. The Boston city councilor Ayanna Pressley ousting the 10-term incumbent congressman, Mike Capuano. In her victory speech, Pressley called President Trump a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt man. Those are her words.
Our national correspondent Miguel Marquez is joining us now from Jamaica Plain, in Boston.
Miguel, this is another huge Democratic upset like Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez's win in New York City back in June.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this follows a pattern not only with Ocasio-Cortez but with Gillum in Florida and with Stacey Abrams in Georgia, of African-Americans and people from outside the mainstream. And she -- even though she was a city councilor in Boston. She worked in Democratic politics for many years. She was sort of the mainstream Democrat, progressives certainly, she was running against a progressive Mike Capuano, not exactly a centrist Democrat by any stretch, by American standards certainly, far to the left.
A deeply blue district and she ran as an outsider and captured this seat resoundingly. She was -- this seat was tested a couple of times. In February, and just a few weeks ago in August, Mike Capuano was up, 12 points, then 13 points early August. She won by almost 20 points. Within an hour, hour and a half after the polls closing Capuano was already conceding realizing that she just got the votes out in places that he could not do it and it sends a very strong signal to the rest of the party that that's where individuals like Pressley, they want to take the party.
They want voices like her. She relied very much on her personal story, a survivor of sexual assault, raised by a single mother. That's what they want to hear and, you know, the blue wave is happening and it's taking some Democrats with it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Big upset there in Massachusetts. Miguel, thank you very much.
All right. Just minutes from now day two of what has already been a rather contentious hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Today the president's pick faces a fierce round of questioning by senators. We'll have live coverage starting right after this break.
[09:15:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Welcome back. Take a look at these live pictures coming in from Capitol Hill right now where the confirmation hearing for President Trump's second U.S. Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh will resume in just minutes.
Today, lawmakers start actual questioning of Kavanaugh, yesterday, they were simply opening statements by the senators and Judge Kavanaugh. Democrats expected to grill him on several issues, including abortion rights for women, healthcare, executive power among others.
I have a group of experts and analysts with me, we'll assess as we continue to watch this -- remind our viewers, Jeffrey Toobin, why this is so significant, why the decision by the U.S. Judiciary Committee and the U.S. Senate could have impacts not for four years or eight years, but for 30 or 40 years.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the Supreme Court has been divided much like American politics for the past couple of years. There are five -- there have been five Republican appointees and four Democratic appointees. But one of the Republicans was Anthony Kennedy who won several important issues like abortion rights, like affirmative action, voted with the Democrats.
And that is why and that is only why Roe v. Wade has survived as the law of the land because Anthony Kennedy was on the court. This is Anthony Kennedy's seat, and the question is -- and you know, today is the day we're going to start to hear about the substance of the Supreme Court.
Will Roe v. Wade survive? Will universities be allowed to use race in admissions? May bakers and other small business owners say to gay people, "you're not allowed in here" and the court says that's OK.
BLITZER: It's a whole start, just --
TOOBIN: No, not true?
RICK SANTORUM, FORMER UNITED STATES SENATOR: The idea that there's a contention that bakers don't allow gay people in their shops, that is never been the issue and it's not the issue.
[09:20:00] TOOBIN: If they can go in, they just can't buy anything --
SANTORUM: No, in fact, to bake a cake for a religious -- for a ceremony that violates their religious tenets. That's a fundamentally different thing than walking in the door and quit trying to be extremist on these things when that's not the issue and you know it's not the issue --
TOOBIN: And when I totally know it's the issue --
SANTORUM: You know, it's not the issue --
TOOBIN: I totally -- for example --
SANTORUM: People walking into a bakery? No one is saying you can't walk in and buy a cupcake in a bakery --
TOOBIN: But --
SANTORUM: Nowhere, anywhere, no one --
TOOBIN: So there are some products gay people can buy and some products they can't --
SANTORUM: It's not a matter of products. It's a matter of using someone's artistic talent to design something for a specific purpose. And you know, that's the case, quit trying to distort it.
TOOBIN: How about when an inn owner says, you know, my inn is a product of my artistic and personal vision, so an inn owner says I don't want gay people staying here, that's what the next case is about --
SANTORUM: I just -- well, and I would probably side with you on that because if you open your inn up for public accommodation, then you have to take everybody. But if you're asking someone to specifically perform an act in concert with an act that is contrary to their religious values, that's different and you know the difference.
TOOBIN: I know --
SANTORUM: But that's not what you stated.
TOOBIN: Rick, you keep saying that, you know, these cases are so easy. Watch what happens. Watch how gay people are being denied service --
SANTORUM: I will watch that. I will watch that.
TOOBIN: Denied service.
SANTORUM: Because I will -- TOOBIN: Just like --
SANTORUM: Stand with you on that --
TOOBIN: Just like after --
SANTORUM: And I will stand with you on that --
TOOBIN: The Civil Rights Act passed --
SANTORUM: And anybody who shares my philosophy that won't stand with you on that issue.
TOOBIN: Well, this is why these hearings are interesting.
SANTORUM: Don't distort -- don't distort --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Forget the hearing, let's just listen to you guys.
BLITZER: Yes, that's -- have a good debate, you know, John King is with us as well. It looks like the Republican -- the president and the Republican majority, they have the votes to get Judge Kavanaugh confirmed.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They do. What's so interesting is, you look at the first day yesterday, it was all about the Democrats protesting, trying to throw a wrench in the wheels, complaining about the process, complaining they haven't been given all access to the documents. So the Democrats have been the big part of the story here.
But in honesty, as we get to substance today and these legitimate debates -- and at times legitimate conservative complaints that the issues are being exaggerated, but this is about two people, really, it's about two people, especially now that Arizona's former Senator Jon Kyl is coming back to the Senate to take the McCain seat on a temporary basis.
He's a reliable deputy of Mitch McConnell, Mitch McConnell knows he has that vote. He was actually Brett Kavanaugh's Sherpa. He was helping guide the nomination, so we know where he's going to come out. This comes down to two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski who by -- have not said how they're going to vote yet.
But who by all indications have said I respect Judge Kavanaugh, I had good meetings with Judge Kavanaugh on the issue of Roe v. Wade, he says stare decisis, precedent is important to him. If the Democrats cannot swing those senators, Brett Kavanaugh will be the next Supreme Court Justice --
BLITZER: Well --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's two, there's also a couple of Democrats who are also in a very difficult situation to vote against.
KING: Oh, I think absolutely, there are three or four --
SANTORUM: Yes --
KING: Red state, Trump state Democrats up for re-election this year. They're going to wait though. Those Democrats --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes --
KING: Are going to hold back, hoping that either Collins or Murkowski cracks, but if they don't --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then --
KING: Then I believe you'll see --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And both --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It used to be only one --
SANTORUM: Now, they both have to go. Now, I -- if they stay and say they were going to vote, yes, then I suspect you'll see two or three of those red state Democrats say --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least --
SANTORUM: I'm going to vote yes, too.
BLITZER: We see the senators, they are beginning to arrive right now within minutes. The questioning of Judge Kavanaugh will actually begin, and you know, Jen Psaki used to work for President Obama -- it underscores this discussion we're having right now that elections really do matter here in the United States and they have enormously significant consequences.
JENNIFER PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, absolutely. Look, I think we can all be honest that we thought Hillary Clinton was going to win in 2016, almost everyone did. And when Merrick Garland was treated so unfairly by the Republican Senate, the assumption was either Merrick Garland or maybe even a more liberal justice would be nominated by Hillary Clinton.
That's obviously not what happened, but I think this is a reminder. There's a lot of objectives for Democratic senators today. Yes, I think they all know, they probably are not going to prevent Brett Kavanaugh from being on the Supreme Court. Some of them may vote for him -- I agree with what many of you have said.
But they want to show the base that they are fighting, they want to show Democrats out there that this is something they should stay tuned into because this matters, and Republicans in the Senate are treating this process unfairly, and they want to wake people up to what the consequences are in two months.
So that is very present today, I'll be interested to see what people like Senator Klobuchar bring to the table today. We didn't -- we haven't -- there hasn't been a lot of attention on her line of questioning yesterday, but she really raised the key question here, which is we have this president who is serving in a time where he could -- I know he may not be indicted, but he is -- under his whole thing -- his whole institution is under investigation, his whole presidency is under investigation.
And he is saying they should live by a different set of laws. And she raised that question yesterday, I think that will come up a lot today in the Roe v. Wade.
[09:25:00] BLITZER: Let's take a quick break, the hearing is about to begin, the actual questioning of Judge Kavanaugh will start much more right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back, we're just moments away now from the start of this, the second day of hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's second nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. I want to bring back our panelists and our analysts, as you see, the senators, they're standing, they're waiting for Judge Kavanaugh, the Chairman of the Committee Chuck Grassley will call this session to order.
The questioning will actually begin -- I assume he will go first. The Ranking Member Senator Dianne Feinstein of California will go second. Then there's 21 senators all together and they will each have a lot of time to ask tough questions as tough or as easy questions as they respectively want -- I anticipate.