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Death Toll Rises To Seven As Florence Lashes Carolina Coast; Letter Accuses Kavanaugh Of Sexual Misconduct When In High School; Turley: Dems "Bulldozed High Ground" With Kavanaugh Letter; Is FDA Crackdown On Vaping Politically Timed?; Brandt: Vaping Boom "A Slow- Motion Train Wreck"; Do E-Cigarettes Encourage Smoking?; Seven Dead As Florence Lashes Carolina Coast; How Social Infrastructure Aids Recovery From Natural Disasters; Paul Manafort Pleads Guilty, Cooperating With Mueller. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired September 15, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Tropical Storm Florence continues to hammer the Carolina coast leaving at least seven dead and much destruction in its wake.
And with Brett Kavanaugh seeming all but confirmed to the Supreme Court, the democrats leak a letter accusing him of sexual assault when in high school. Kavanaugh denies the charge. Sixty-five women have written a letter vouching for his character at the time. Is raising this issue now a valid concern or a desperate Hail Mary?
And Paul Manafort, now a cooperating witness with the Mueller investigation. The White House says this has nothing to do with the President or the Trump campaign. Ken Starr is here to discuss.
Plus, the FDA commissioner says the surge in teen vaping is epidemic and is now threatening to penalize or shut down makers and sellers of e-cigarettes. I'm wondering if politics is at the root of the timing.
But first, the death toll from Florence has risen to seven. It has crossed from North to South Carolina leaving nearly a million people without power and brining rain and more rain. It's been downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm, but don't let that fool you. The National Hurricane Center says there's more life-threatening and catastrophic flooding to come.
For the latest, we go to CNN's Nick Valencia in Conway, South Carolina.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Michael. This is potentially what is going to be the future for coastal South Carolina as that rain continues to pour down on us. We know that the story throughout the week has been North Carolina. It was especially hard hit as Hurricane Florence made land fall as a category one, but here in South Carolina today, the story is the rain.
As that storm system hovers over us, this is what has been left behind in Conway. We're about 20 miles away up Highway 501 from Myrtle Beach and these are the homes here on this flood plain. This has been flooded in the past before, but as we understand from the local police, they are especially concerned about this road.
They've closed it to the public, but we're very close to the Waccamaw River. Just a couple of miles away and what they tell me, the local police here, is as that water drains down from North Carolina, it's going to come through the Waccamaw River and that water from the Waccamaw has to go somewhere. And now, as we see it here this morning, it's starting to go here.
A lot of concern from the mayor. They had an emergency curfew this morning. It was lifted at about 7 AM. And just I want to give you a sense of what we're seeing here this morning as we've been here, Michael. That road was not underwater when we got here just an hour ago. It may not seem like much right now, but it is, as I mentioned, what is probably going to be the future for coastal Carolina, specifically here in Conway which is an area that's prone to flooding. Michael?
SMERCONISH: Nick, great report. Thank you. Stay safe.
A letter accusing Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when he was in high school has become a flash point late in his Supreme Court confirmation process. Rumors of the letter began to circulate last week and then Senator Dianne Feinstein said she had forwarded it to the FBI, but the FBI decided not to investigate.
The details began to emerge Friday in this "New Yorker" pierce co- written by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer. The article revealed that the letter's author, who wishes not to be publicly identified, first approached democratic lawmakers in July, shortly after Trump nominated Kavanaugh. In her letter, the woman claims that in the early 1980's when Kavanaugh was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Maryland, she attended a nearby high school.
According to CNN's reporting, the letter alleges that, quote, "Kavanaugh physically pushed her into a bedroom, along with another male. Kavanaugh locked the door from the inside and played loud music that the accuser said precluded successful attempts to yell for help. Both men were drunk, she said, and Kavanaugh attempted to remove her clothes.
At one point, Kavanaugh was on top of her laughing as the other male in the room periodically jumped on to Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh held his hand over her mouth at one point. She said she felt that her life was in danger. She said that she way able to leave the room eventually and go into a hallway bathroom."
There's no indication that the woman reported the incident to law enforcement at the time. She also declined to come forward publicly after sending the letter.
In a statement, Judge Kavanaugh said, "I categorically, unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time." And the other man identified in the letter has come forward to identify himself and deny the incident ever occurred. Mark Judge, a writer in D.C., told "The Weekly Standard", "It's absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way."
So is this a real allegation to be taken seriously or a Hail Mary trying to delay the inevitable?
[09:05:01] This leads me to this week's poll question at my website, smerconish.com. Should allegations of high school sexual misconduct by Judge Brett Kavanaugh delay his nomination vote? Go cast your ballot. I'll give you the result at the end of the hour.
Joining me now to discuss, Jonathan Turley, the professor of constitutional law at George Washington University. He's the author of this recent piece at "The Hill", "Democrats bulldozed 'high ground' with Kavanaugh letter". Professor, thanks so much for being here.
Let me use a tweet by Patti Solis Doyle as an example of a mindset. Put it up on the screen. She said this, "A vote for Kavanaugh cannot be held until there is a full investigation into these allegations. Women on judiciary, don't you agree?" Does she have a point, Jonathan, where Justice Kavanaugh could be making decisions for all of our lives the next 30 years, so some say, why don't we let this thing be sorted out?
JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Well, the problem is that the democrats did have the high ground on issues of timing and also the disclosure of documents. There was new precedence set by this hearing and it wasn't good precedent. The degree to which documents were withheld, the degree to which documents that were produced were stamped confidential or committee confidential.
The democrats had all good points there, but I think that they really lost it in how they handled this. This letter came in in July. They've been sitting on this letter until shortly before the vote. It is a very serious allegation, but it's not fair to Kavanaugh to have a letter come over the transom that's anonymous that makes these allegations, doesn't really give him very much of a chance to respond.
Anita Hill came forward. She had the courage to stand behind what she had alleged and it cost her a great deal, but she came forward to answer questions about the allegations. These newspapers are reporting that this is a law professor. I don't know if that's true, but a law professor knows that she will be protected.
And many would say that she has an obligation, if she has come to Congree with this allegation, to come forward to tell us more of the facts to substantiate it. If the allegation's true, of course this is very serious. But there is -- there has to be a modicum of fairness in this process. This strikes the ...
SMERCONISH: It occurs ...
TURLEY: Yes. Go ahead.
SMERCONISH: It occurs to me, Professor Turley, that Senator Feinstein had opportunity to ask Judge Kavanaugh about this both in public session and had she attended closed session. Apparently, as far as we know, she took no avenue to present this to him and try and get his side of it. I wonder if that's a reflection of her interpretation of the credibility or lack of credibility of the allegation.
TURLEY: Well, I think that people have been rough on Senator Feinstein. She has a letter from someone who wants to remain anonymous, who does not want to go forward with the allegation, but also wrote a letter to Congress for the allegation to be considered. That's a rather odd profile for evidence that Feinstein could use.
So I think she was in a difficult position and she still is. I mean, either the accuser has to come forward to substantiate the allegations or it is grossly unfair to Kavanaugh to face these lingering questions from someone who doesn't want to be identified and reportedly doesn't even want these allegations to go forward.
SMERCONISH: When the story first came out in "The New Yorker", the details of the story, there was a quote from the individual who's now identified himself as being the man allegedly reportedly in the room. Put it up on the screen. From "The New Yorker", "Kavanaugh's classmate said of the woman's allegation, 'I have no recollection of that.'" And when I read it, I thought, man, that's a little strange. That's a little tepid.
TURLEY: All right.
SMERCONISH: Then came "The Weekly Standard" where he identifies himself and it's the sort of quote you'd expect from somebody who says, you know, this is BS. "It's just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way," says Mark Judge. I don't know. Just curious, to me, the change in tone between reporting A and reporting B.
TURLEY: No, I share that reaction to those quotes. I think at the end of the day, both sides -- I know it's impossible to ask for civility or fairness in this politics of distemper that we've had for so many years, but there does have to be some fairness in this -- in this process.
I mean, people have got to put themselves in the position of Judge Kavanaugh who was two weeks away from a vote and suddenly this letter comes over the transom from someone who doesn't want to be identified with allegations that, until recently, were not even fully detailed and people are asking for a delay for the vote. There could be a delay, but you have to substantiate allegations in fairness to the nominee.
SMERCONISH: Right. I agree. One other aspect of this. So Senator Grassley quickly comes forward with a letter signed by 65 women.
[09:10:02] Kavanaugh went to an all male school so they were not classmates, per se, but they all knew him at the time and they vouched for his character. I could put that -- there it is. And some immediately say, "A-ha. See, the republicans, they knew this was out there. That's why they were able to quickly pull together that letter." What's your take on this issue? TURLEY: Yes. I've never been very persuaded by these types of letters. In fairness to the woman who wrote the accusation, he could have perfectly good relationships with every other female back in high school and have caused this assault. So I've never put much stake in those types of letters.
I think the thing we have to focus on is if this accuser truly believes that this is something that we should consider, and it would be something we should consider if it's true, then I think she's got to come forward and she's got to take the allegations she gave to Congress and stand behind them and tell us more.
SMERCONISH: I agree.
SMERCONISH: Yes. Yes. Allow us to take your allegation seriously. Unfortunately, you've got to come forward and get into this fray.
TURLEY: I'm afraid that's true.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Professor Turley. Appreciate it.
TURLEY: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Yes. What are your thoughts? Tweet me @SMERCONISH. Go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. Catherine, what do we have?
"Smerconish, valued concern or Hail Mary, can't it be both?" It can be. It's hard, Jennernate, for us to know exactly what it is, but based on the very thin allegation and the fact that it's been there apparently since July, was not acted upon, I want to know why didn't Senator Feinstein ask Kavanaugh about this.
That was the first reaction that I had. If she's had it -- and I know that a member of Congress has had it since July. For however long, Senator Feinstein has had it, if she thought it was credible, she should have put it to him. She could have done so in closed session, by the way.
I want to know what you think. Go to my website at smerconish.com. Answer this question. Do it right now. Should allegations of high school sexual misconduct by Judge Brett Kavanaugh delay his nomination vote? Results at the end of the hour.
Still to come, the FDA has given the e-cigarette industry 60 days to prove that they can keep their products away from minors. Hey, there's an election just about that far in our future. Is that a coincidence? We'll have the latest, as well, on the damage and destruction caused by Tropical Storm Florence on the Carolina coast where at least seven have died.
[09:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMERCONISH: The FDA this week delivered an ultimatum to retailers and manufacturers of nicotine vape products, also called e-cigarettes. My question is is this a public health crisis, a political maneuver or both? The FDA has given the industry 60 days to prove that they can keep their products away from minors.
The FDA said that in 2016, the number of high school and middle school students using nicotine vape products was more than 2 million. It is, according to Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, a national trend of epidemic proportion. But the FDA's stance could threaten a product that, for some, does more good than harm. Nicotine vaping is also a form of substitution that has helped wean many adults from harmful traditional cigarettes.
Although we're witnessing historically declining rates of smoking, the CDC notes that roughly 15 percent of American adults still smoke cigarettes, but the FDA believes that vaping's threat to younger demographics outweighs its beneficial effect for adults.
Here's what the FDA commissioner said, "The FDA won't tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a trade- off for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products." So the FDA has demanded that vaping manufacturers, quote, "Demonstrate that they're truly committed to keeping these new products out of the hands of kids and they must find a way to reverse this trend."
And the FDA has given the industry 60 days to prove that it can keep the products away from minors, but what does that mean exactly? As I read the FDA release, I wondered if the ultimatum that it presented to the vaping industry already constitutes a closed case and I can't help but wonder if the timing is politically motivated.
Consider this. It's a bit out of character for the normally deregulating Trump administration known for rolling back environmental and health standards to give an ultimatum to an industry that it must act or face more regulation. And it seems a bit too fitting to the political calendar. Why 60 days? That guarantees that the vaping will be at dinner table and news conversation right through the election.
Seen as such, it's win-win for the administration. Win one, the FDA ultimatum is a defense of America's susceptible youth. How is anyone to take issue with the image put forth of 2 million kids suffering from the whims of an industry and drug that has unknown health hazards? A youth in peril of vaping seems perfect to tap into suburban fears of what has truly been a rampant phenomena and would transcend party affiliations in gaining sympathy.
Win two, also from a political point of view, the FDA doesn't even need to follow up on its threat to the vaping industry. The wording is so vague that it's hard to imagine how exactly they'd even do so. Moreover, companies like JUUL have already taken a number of initiatives to do the very thing the FDA has asked them to do. And as I pointed out, the deadline is a very convenient five days after the midterm election.
Joining me now, Allan Brandt, professor at the Harvard Medical School and author of the book "The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America". Is there, Professor, any off-ramp for the industry in light of this edict from the FDA?
ALLAN BRANDT, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE AND HISTORY OF SCIENCE AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, I think the industry is going to have to take underage use of e-cigarettes extremely seriously, both in this immediate period of Commissioner Gottlieb's demand, but in the longer term as well because in some ways I do think this is an issue that transcends blue and red, republican and democrat, because what we're really seeing is the tremendous up-take of nicotine in first-time users.
[09:07:05] This is not people trying to reduce their use of traditional tobacco burning cigarettes. What we're really seeing is an enormous market in high school students, middle school students and a giant industry is being created around that market.
And so in one sense, I think what we're seeing is a slow motion train wreck and that rather than things getting better, as they did around tobacco and nicotine through the last 30,40 years, we could really addict a new generation of kids who ultimately may end up using a range of tobacco products that we don't really understand.
So I think that Gottlieb's move this week is tremendously important and, quite frankly, I think these are the kinds of things that can't wait for election cycles. This is a -- this is a public health disaster that is already moving along.
SMERCONISH: Well, look, my cynicism stems from the fact that I have the midterms on the brain.
SMERCONISH: And so when somebody says to me 60 days out, the only thing I can think of is November 6th. Professor, here's the conundrum as I understand it. I get what you're saying. Regardless of whether vaping, e-cigarettes, lead to combustible cigarettes, you're saying they're bad enough in and of themselves because of the nicotine delivery.
How do we keep them out of the hands of teens, middle schoolers, high schoolers, but protect the ability of those who are using it as a substitution model to get away from a combustible cigarette? Because I think we want that, right? We'd rather you be vaping than smoking a combustible cigarette?
BRANDT: Well, there are a lot of issues in your question. One thing we know is that for many kids their first nicotine use is now becoming e- cigarettes and that the market has been very aggressively pitched to them. It's a market that's been growing tremendously. So we have this dilemma that here's a product in some ways rationalized by the notion that it will assist people in reducing the harms of traditional combustible cigarettes.
First, it seems absolutely clear that JUUL and other companies have really directed their product to very young teenagers, middle school students, high school students. They have flavors like mango, creme brulee, fruit medley. Some of the other companies have gummy bear and bubble gum and these flavorings and these products are easier to smoke than combustible tobacco, are creating this dilemma.
Now, what is the evidence really at this point that these products are really assisting smokers in ending the use of combustible, highly dangerous nicotine-rich cigarettes? Well, it's unresolved.
BRANDT: So on the one hand, we don't have great data to show that this product actually works for the purposes that the companies have been aggressively suggesting. And what we do know is that this has rapidly become a billion dollar industry. JUUL, the leader in the industry, which has 60 percent to 70 percent of all sales now, has been valued around $17 billion by Wall Street.
That puts it in the territory of Uber and Airbnb and I think this has been happening below the radar. You know, appropriately CNN's been covreing the hurricane in the Carolinas intensively, as it should, over these last few days and it's a emergency. But sometimes things like this are happening and the market is big, the means of promoting through the internet, advertisements on Instagram.
So we're watching the beginning of a public health disaster and I think it's very appropriate for the FDA to demand, for example, that these companies stop selling flavored products, that they have much more aggressive restrictions on youth sales.
I went on the JUUL site this morning and the first thing it says, "Are you over 21 or not?" And I put ...
SMERCONISH: Right. I put that on the screen. Yes.
BRANDT: Yes. And no kid is going to say, "Yes, I'm under 21 so I can't see the JUUL site."
SMERCONISH: That's a good point.
BRANDT: And these products are becoming widely available.
SMERCONISH: Professor, come back and discuss this with me at a different time. Thank you so much for being here.
BRANDT: I'd be pleased to. Thanks for having me on.
SMERCONISH: Here's some of what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. What do we have?
[09:25:10] "Smerconish, unless these manufacturers are selling their products in a clear way to children, the flavors alone aren't a reason to ban them. Adults can like mango and cotton candy flavors too. I don't smoke anything, yet I agree that this could be too severe."
Aurora, I'll simply say this. Anecdotally, I base this anecdotally as a father of four, three of them boys. One of them is still in high school. I'm not defending nicotine vaping, right? We'd all, as parents, rather that no one, none of our kids, are involved with e- cigarettes, but they don't desire to smoke combustible cigarettes. Anecdotally, I tell you. They may think it's cool to vape, but they think that smoking cigarettes is dirty and it holds no appeal. So it's not a gateway argument.
Now, to the Professor's point, he thinks there are health risks in and of themselves that should cause us to want to regulate the industry. But it's confusing because you need to protect the ability of those using it as a substitution model at the same time. If somebody is smoking cigarettes and wants to get off it and chooses to vape, we'd rather have them vape, I think, as a societal health matter.
I remind you, go to smerconish.com and answer today's poll question. Should allegations of high school sexual misconduct by Judge Brett Kavanaugh delay his nomination vote? You crashed the website twice already, but it's back up and running.
Still to come, the latest on Florence. At least seven dead, hundreds of thousands without power, hundreds rescued and predictions of catastrophic flooding.
And the plea agreement reached Friday between Paul Manafort and the special Counsel's Office requires Manafort to cooperate fully on, quote, "Any and all matters." What might this mean for the President? I'll ask Ken Starr.
SMERCONISH: Sadly seven deaths now as Florence continues to batter the Carolinas leaving destruction in its wake. Hundreds have been rescued, more remain stranded. Plus, to a million people are without power and the rain just keeps on coming, bringing catastrophic and life threatening flooding.
Polo Sandoval is live with an update from Lumberton, North Carolina. Polo --
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, as that rain continues to come down let's talk about what we can expect in the days ahead and why the flooding threat will continue into the next few days, even after the clouds of this very slow moving storm dissipate, the real threat could still be ahead for many communities because all of that water has to go somewhere. It will slowly make its way into the network of creeks, streams and rivers like this one.
This is the Lumber River. We're in the city of Lumberton, North Carolina. The concern here is that all of this water is eventually going to end up in some of these bodies of water and could pose a very serious flooding risk. This river was very swollen about two years ago when Hurricane Matthew swept through the region here. Dumped about 20 inches of rain here in Lumberton, North Carolina and that is why there are many people here who have been coming together to try to keep that from happening again.
Something that we saw yesterday, Michael, was interesting. There was some (INAUDIBLE) that was issued online so there was strangers, volunteers, city officials that came together to fill up sand bags to cover up what they believe is a place where some of that water made its way into the town two years ago essentially putting a cork in the bottle here to try to keep that from happening again.
And that is something that we're seeing communities throughout the southeast. People coming together, trying to basically keep this water from reaching their communities because that is what the real threat that is posing. At least the real threat that's posing some of these communities.
Many people here, Michael, believe that the worst could still be ahead. Yes, they were spared the wind damage but the flood waters that could still be in their future -- Michael.
SMERCONISH: Polo, thanks for the report.
When a natural disaster like Florence knocks down our infrastructure what helps us recover is something my next guest refers to us the social infrastructure. Locals like book stores, parks, community centers, churches, the ties that help us out.
This is just one aspect of the new book by Eric Klinenberg "Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life." Eric is a professor of sociology at NYU and director of its institute for public knowledge.
Polo's report just teed up beautifully the focus of your work as he was talking about volunteerism. We so often talk (INAUDIBLE) as well about first responders. But this social fabric bears the brunt of a storm like this.
ERIC KLINENBERG, PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Absolutely and in fact your neighbors are your first responders. And whether they know who you are and how to reach you and whether you have places where you together is going to determine not only how quickly you recover but also in many cases whether or not you survive.
SMERCONISH: The library often becomes a focal point. Do you know that today in the Philadelphia Inquirer the lead story of the Web site when I checked a few minutes ago is about a $7.1 million invesment in a library and, Professors, some may say, why are we still investing in libraries?
Speak to me about the value of that part of our social infrastructure.
KLINENBERG: Well, they're a core part of the social infrastructure and as we think about rebuilding the infrastructure for our cities and our nation, libraries and other social infrastructure could be part of it.
When it comes to disaster relief we have seen in previous hurricanes, including Maria, and Harvey, and Sandy where I was very involved in New York City that libraries operated as resilient centers. They were places where people could mount relief efforts. Many wound up providing food and shelter and other kinds of assistances.
There are places that are in communities throughout the country where we can reach common ground. And it's -- it's a time in this country now and you've been talking about this on your show where we are so divided in so many ways but we're -- we should all be unified when it comes to figuring out not just how to cope with a disaster but also how to deal with the storms like this that are coming because of climate change.
SMERCONISH: Is this a reminder of our infrastructure in sad need of repair?
KLINENBERG: I think we get them almost every day but here is where we see it most explicitly. We have neglected for far too long to modernize the infrastructure that our society depends upon. And we have seen the power go out and the water lap over the flimsy protections we've setup. Our communication goes down.
But what I'm also persuaded of is that we have -- we have neglected our social infrastructure as well. Not just our libraries but our parks and our playgrounds, our child care centers. The shared place where we come together and I think that's one of reason so many Americans feel disconnected from one another right now and don't have that sense of shared purpose.
What I've observed over years of doing research is that that social infrastructure is going to determine how you'll fair in an event like this but also determines the quality of your life every day and even your longevity. So we see in neighborhoods across the country that places that had a robust social infrastructure, places that draw people out and together have greater longevity, have better overall health, more social capital and more capacity to survive these kinds of storms than places where the social infrastructure has been degraded.
SMERCONISH: A final point, Professor. Folks are still in harm's way but when we get through this, the rebuilding process you would argue needs to take into account that social infrastructure in the rebuild.
KLINENBERG: Very much so because there is no wall that can protect us from the water that you're seeing here. We are not going to be able to block out the threats that we're getting altogether. And at the end of the day what's going to help us connect on all kinds of things, whether the issue is improving health or the quality of our social ties or our capacity to make it through climate change, we're going to have to invest in places where we can come together.
And so I think this is a great reminder that we have resources coming to invest in one another and that when we sit down to talk about where we should pull our resources and make investments, the social infrastructure needs to be at the top of our list.
SMERCONISH: "Palaces for the People." Professor Klinenberg, thank you so much for being here.
KLINENBERG: Thanks. I appreciate you having me.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's new plea deal includes cooperation with Robert Mueller. What does he know and what might this mean for the president? I'm about to ask former special prosecutor, Ken Starr.
SMERCONISH: Paul Manafort pled guilty to additional charges Friday. But the bigger story is that the plea included cooperation with the Justice Department including special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The former Trump campaign chair pled guilty to one count of conspiracy against the U.S., one count conspiracy to obstruct justice for his attempts to tamper with witnesses. Manafort's deal includes cooperation on -- quote -- "any and all matters."
President Donald Trump is not mentioned in Friday's filing nor is Manafort's role in his campaign. In a statement White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN, "This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated."
Joining me now, the perfect guest to discuss this with Ken Starr, the special prosecutor in the investigation of President Bill Clinton 20 years ago, who just published a new book about that experience, "Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation."
Judge, in this case, Paul Manafort is offering evidence in return for leniency. So we're all trying to read the tea leaves. What might that evidence be that he has that would interest Robert Mueller?
KEN STARR, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR IN THE INVESTIGATION OF PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, thank you, Michael, for having me on.
And, first of all, we don't know of course. But actually to be precise what he's offered is cooperation. And this is what prosecutors want. It's what Bob Mueller wants.
You want the person who is previously your adversary, the defendant to come over to what we would call away from the dark side and now to work collaboratively with prosecutors and investigators in getting to the bottom of things. So we will know soon I think some of the things that Paul Manafort may be revealing. Whether those affect the president or not of course remains to be seen. SMERCONISH: It just -- it just strains credulity to think that what he'd be cooperating about would be matters of tax evasion or bank fraud.
STARR: I think the prosecutors to do their job are going to want to know a wide variety of things. But what we know from the public record is that there was a June 2016 meeting during the campaign with certain Russian interests and that Paul Manafort attended part of that meeting.
I've seen different accounts of it. So obviously that would be a good starting place. But, you know, Paul Manafort has, I gather, at least likely, a lot of insights on the international arena that, in light of the ties of his clients to Russia and I'm talking about his Ukrainian clients, he may be able to open up brand new avenues of investigation for the Justice Department, whether for Bob Mueller or not. Because we know from the two Mueller indictments that have been brought against Russian individuals and organizations there was an enormous amount of Russian skullduggery and interference with their campaigns and they're at it again.
Manafort may be uniquely positioned to offer valuable information with respect to the entire Russian apparatus. Perhaps not but I would not be surprise if he knows a whole lot about what the Russians do in the international arena and it's not good.
SMERCONISH: Judge, it occurs to me that despite the president's kind words via Twitter about Manafort, at least in comparison to Michael Cohen, Manafort must not have really believed that a pardon would be forthcoming from the president or he wouldn't have gone this route.
STARR: I doubt that there is any conversation whatsoever direct or indirect. As I recount in my book, we do have very important information and I reveal this in the book that Bill Clinton was making overtures to a very important witness, Susan McDougal, when she was on trial. That I report and we will see but there's been no indication that President Trump has done that.
So I think you're right it's an indication that the record is clean and that Paul Manafort had to face a very uncertain and not attractive future without any assurance of presidential involvement.
SMERCONISH: So here's what I've most wanted to ask you. We have an election less than two months away. In what respect, if any are the hands of Robert Mueller tied because of the impending election?
STARR: It is a factor to be considered by a justice (INAUDIBLE) prosecutor, namely that his or her actions should not, if possible, foreseeably interfere with the democratic process. As important as the criminal justice process is and to move forward with alacrity with an investigation, still in all as I recount in the book, we were very eager once we had the unhappy facts that we had, to get those facts involving President Clinton's perjury and obstruction of justice to the House of Representatives as soon as possible. And so the House had the benefit of that and then determined to postpone any consideration of it for several months until elections were over.
It's a very important factor in our democratic society not to have the criminal justice system foreseeably interfere with our election process.
SMERCONISH: If his -- a quick final answer.
SMERCONISH: If his work right now is finished with regard to collusion or obstruction, must he with withhold handing his report over to Rod Rosenstein?
STARR: No, he doesn't have to. It's the fact that these are judgment calls. And what he would do is he would sit down with the attorney general, namely Rod Rosenstein as the acting attorney general, and they would vet this.
They would consider it. Both are very honorable men and they would come to a judgment, obviously have advisers and counselors around them, as to what is in fact the appropriate thing to do but they'll be very mindful of James Comey's unfortunate involvement --
STARR: -- in a way that may have had some effect on the election in 2016.
SMERCONISH: Judge, good luck with the book. Thank you.
STARR: Thanks, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Still to come your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments.
And we'll give you the final result of the survey question. You have one last shot to vote. "Should allegations of high school sexual misconduct by Judge Brett Kavanaugh delay his nomination vote?" That's upcoming.
SMERCONISH: Well, this will be interesting. The survey question at Smerconish.com the past hour. "Should allegations of high school sexual misconduct by Judge Brett Kavanaugh delay his nomination?" The survey says with 10,000 -- wow -- 10,986 votes cast, that was not my wow moment.
My wow moment is that let's call it 70 percent say it should be delayed. I'm not in the 70 percent. Not based on these facts. No. There needs to be more of a showing in order for me to say that this process ought to come to a halt.
And I get as I pointed out with Jonathan Turley that he'll impact our lives for the next 30 years, but sadly I think that the alleged victim in this case is going to have to come forward in order to bring this process to a close. And as I said earlier, I am persuaded in part by the fact that a Democratic member of the House and Senator Feinstein have had this letter for a long time period, and Senator Feinstein didn't think it important enough to question him on or to attend to private session where she could have done so out of the limelight.
So makes me a bit skeptical. But if this woman is prepared to come forward and tell it, believe me, I would want to give her the forum to do so and to likewise question Judge Kavanaugh.
What have we got, Catherine (ph)? Sorry. I went on too long, didn't I?
"Smerconish, I am a Democrat and Kavanaugh accuser needs to come forward. Put up or shut up delegitimizes #MeToo."
Thank you, Karen.
What's next? "Smerconish, I haven't smoked in almost a year because of Juul. I love the flavors. Stores need to ID and parents need to parent" -- look, here's how I see this. And we had a huge reacting to vaping.
Well, I am not surprised. I want to protect you who are using a Juul as substitution. Rather have you do that than smoke a combustible cigarette. And at the same time figure out a way to keep them out of the hands of kids.
I'll see you next week.