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Kavanaugh Accuser Willing to Testify to Lawmakers; Calls for Delay of Kavanaugh Vote; White House Stands by Kavanaugh; Wilmington Facing Historic Floods; Flooding 100 Miles Inland in North Carolina. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 17, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- Atlanta and the marvelous Mrs. Mazal are the leading comedy contenders.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for being with us this morning. I'm Poppy Harlow, in New York.

SCIUTTO: I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is at the White House as we speak, as what had seemed like a lock for his confirmation is now thrown into limbo. Very much. Even some Republicans are now calling for a delay before the key committee vote on Kavanaugh, which at least right now in talking in five minutes is still on the schedule for Thursday.

And now the woman who accuses Kavanaugh of sexual assault more than 30 years ago when they were both in high school says through her attorney that she is willing to testify before lawmakers, offering more detail on exactly what she said happened that night.


DEBRA KATZ, ATTORNEY FOR CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: The reason she felt that he might inadvertently kill her is he had his hand over her mouth, and she was having a difficult time breathing. And he is larger, and he was pressing his weight against her. And so inebriated, he was ignoring the fact she was attempting to scream and having a difficult time breathing. She believes that, but for his inebriation and his inability to take her clothes off, he would have raped her.


BOLDUAN: Ariane De Vogue is our CNN Supreme Court reporter. Sunlen Serfaty, is on Capitol Hill for us.

Ariane, first to you.

Judge Kavanaugh, he's putting out a new statement today. What is he saying?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Kate, we just got this statement from Judge Kavanaugh. Let me read it for you. He said, "This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday." He said, "I'm willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation from 36 years ago and defend my integrity."

And what's interesting there, right, is so now we have Brett Kavanaugh saying he's willing to come forward, either in closed or open session. But we also have Christine Blasey Ford, the accuser, whose lawyer said this morning that she's willing to testify.

And what's interesting there's you remember that she sent this letter originally to Senator Dianne Feinstein back in July, and talked about this, but told Feinstein that she didn't want to come publicly forward. So Dianne Feinstein was left with referring the information to the FBI because the woman didn't want to come forward. But then her name began to leak out. She started getting calls from the press. And she changed her mind. She said it the best in the "Washington post" really why she changed her mind. She said, "Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation."

And we heard Debra Katz, her lawyer, speaking to this a little earlier this morning. Take a listen.


KATZ: As Dr. Blasey saw these hearings unfold, her choice became more clear in her mind that she did not want to come forward. He saw this as a highly politicized and a very brutal process. And she was not wanting to inject herself in this because who would want to incur this kind of really highly politicized attack game. But that decision was taken away from her after the hearings when her allegations were essentially leaked.


DE VOGUE: So, Kate, here we hear them both saying that they're going to come forward. We don't know how, open, closed hearing. But what's interesting here is the timing. The Republicans want to move ahead with this. They recognize that some want to hear more, but they think they could maybe even still have this vote on Thursday. The Democrats, they're in no rush.

BOLDUAN: That seems to be the dynamic right now.

Let's get over to Capitol Hill.

Thank you, Ariane.

Let's get over to Capitol Hill and see where the dynamics lie at this moment.

Sunlen, what are you hearing from lawmakers at this moment?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's certainly a fast-moving dynamic. To your point about in the next few hours, they're likely to have a lot of movement. We're out here outside of Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley's office. He faces an incredible amount of pressure at this moment, as these allegations have come forward against Brett Kavanaugh, what his committee will do next. And certainly, mounting pressure on him to potentially delay the committee vote that as of this moment is still scheduled for Thursday out of that committee. He just got a letter from the all Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee en masse, sending a letter to Grassley, calling on him to delay the committee vote on Thursday, saying that the FBI needs time in the investigation to pursue these allegations and look into that. Also coming from a key red state Democrat, Senator Joe Donnelly, his vote key if they face a full Senate. He came out saying the allegations are serious and the committee should hold off on Thursday's scheduled vote. Certainly, over the weekend, we heard from many other key critical swing votes, like Senator Collins, saying more information needs to be learned, and Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.


[11:05:29] SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, (R), ALASKA: If there are more questions that need to be asked and answered, then I think it would be appropriate to allow for that time.


SERFATY: So certainly, the big question at this moment right up here on Capitol Hill is, what will Chairman Grassley do. We heard in the statement, as Ariane noted, from Brett Kavanaugh, that he's open to speaking to the committee., however, the committee deems appropriate. So the big question is, how does the committee deem that appropriate? We also have heard from the accuser who said through her lawyer that she would be willing to come up and testify on Capitol Hill. What form does that take, if and when that happens -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: A lot of questions at this moment, but it seems like there's going to be a lot of motion on this in the next coming hours.

Thanks, Sunlen. Really appreciate it.

The White House standing by its Supreme Court nominee right now. The president uncharacteristically, though, quiet on the topic at the moment.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House.

Abby, what are you hearing from the White House? We know Kavanaugh is there. You can imagine at least what one topic is for them today?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. Kavanaugh is in the building as of right now, and it seems very much that he's preparing for what seems to be a likely possibility that he could testify. Now, we came into this day with a lot of people wondering how the White House was going to address these allegations. This is a president, who in the past, has sought to push back on allegations like this when they have been lobbed against other people close to this White House, like his former staff secretary, Rob Porter, and others. The president, we know, is privately annoyed by all of this. He believes his nominee is being railroaded by what he characterized as old allegations.

But what we're seeing publicly is the White House saying let's hear both sides, let's have Brett Kavanaugh testify and let's have his accuser testify.

Listen to Kellyanne Conway talk about that this morning.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: She should not be intimidated. She should not be ignored. She should testify under oath, and she should do it on Capitol Hill. That's up to the Senate Judiciary Committee. They need to decide the forum.


CONWAY: And Judge Kavanaugh -- and Judge Kavanaugh should also testify as to these 36-year-old allegations.


PHILLIP: So what we're seeing the White House doing is walking a real tightrope here. There's no desire, our sources say, to go after this alleged victim in any way. There's a perception that that could backfire, especially with some of the members of the Senate, the Republican members of the Senate, two women who are keys to Brett Kavanaugh's eventual confirmation vote. So the White House is being very careful here, trying to get out there that they want this woman to testify and allowing the Senate to move forward with their own process -- Kate.


Abby, thanks so much.

A lot to discuss now. Here with me is CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson, and CNN Supreme Court analyst, Joan Biskupic.

Thanks, guys, for being here.

Nia, at the moment, and I just looked, the president has not tweeted about this. But when all of this started coming out, that's exactly the first place that folks are going to look, as you well know. As you heard from Abby, there seems to be somewhat of a concerted effort from the White House in how they're trying to handle this and push this forward publicly. NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and it's

very clear that, you know, they keep talking about the idea that Professor Ford should be heard. What they're not saying is the way in which she should be heard. Should it be behind closed doors, should it be phone calls or should it be public? The only person talking about publicly testifying is Professor Ford. Right? Even I think Kavanaugh put out a statement and said whatever form the Senate deems appropriate, that's the forum he would be willing to testify in. So I think that's pretty telling. We'll see if what happens here, if they do it in private or in public. It seems politically perilous for them to say this should happen behind closed doors.

BOLDUAN: The other element of this is kind of to the argument of what investigation can be done now, right, to the argument that it's unproven. It was so many years ago. What could be proven now? Democrats are saying they should allow time for the FBI to investigate.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You could do a lot of investigating now. Whose House was this? What about the people, she says there were four men, two women there. Let's ask them what happened. Let's look at phone records. This is not an incredibly complicated investigation. But it can be done or it cannot be done.


[11:10:00] TOOBIN: What certainly can't be done is any sort of realistic investigation before Thursday. And Republicans really want to move this thing forward. And you know, Wednesday is Yom Kippur, so where the Senate tends to stand down in deference to its Jewish members, there's no way to get any sort of real investigation before Thursday. Will they delay the vote? Let's see. I don't know.

BOLDUAN: I do wonder, I do wonder, Joan, with everyone coming out saying, I'm willing to testify, the alleged victim does, Brett Kavanaugh says, I'm willing and ready to answer more questions, if this can't be done by Thursday, as Jeffrey was laying out, can you make a case to not pause at this moment?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: At this point, Kate, I think it's very hard to make that case. You know, we have the parallel from back in 1991 when Anita Hill came out. At the same time, as a reluctant witness, she testified very compellingly. Clarence Thomas categorically denied it. He still ended up on the Supreme Court. But it was tested at least. It was aired.

One other thing I wanted to mention comparing then to now is how much more polarized we are as well as having the "Me Too" movement.


BISKUPIC: But one thing Clarence Thomas had that Brett Kavanaugh didn't have is a key Senate sponsor, Jack Danforth, a Republican from Missouri who had lined up several colleagues ahead of the confirmation hearings who stayed with Clarence Thomas closely during all of his allegations. Prayed with him in his home. It was a very compelling portrait that they both talked about later. Brett Kavanaugh doesn't have -- it goes into this with a much, much narrower margin for error.


TOOBIN: Another point worth making is what's the rush? You know, the Republicans kept the Antonin Scalia seat open for more than a year and didn't give Merrick Garland a hearing. And left the Supreme Court at eight members --


BOLDUAN: Their argument is he's been vetted and they want to move forward with it. That was the argument today.


BOLDUAN: My wonder is, though, I get -- I'm sure there's a sense from at least some Republicans that they can have this -- they can have these questions asked and answered by Thursday. I think -- I bet you Republicans think they can do that.

TOOBIN: I'm sure they think they can.

HENDERSON: I think that's right. I think they're probably going to try to do that. If you listen to folks talking about this, I think Kellyanne Conway said Graham said maybe you could have her talk Tuesday or something. And you could go forward with the vote on Thursday. Again, I don't know if they have actually talked to her and she's available to talk tomorrow. Would that be public or private, but I think given the sort of boldness of Republicans so far, when it comes to the Supreme Court, the Merrick Garland thing being a prime example, and the fact this is the holy grail of Republican politics, getting that court to be a conservative court, and it's right before election.

BOLDUAN: Let me play for you really quickly what Debra Katz -- she's the attorney for Christine Blasey Ford. And I want to play what her attorney said about any possible hearing when she was asked earlier today.


KATZ: We will consider all options. What I am saying is this has to be fair and thorough. And it can't be part of a slugging match. If we're really trying to get at the truth, hearings should not be used to be weaponize against those who accuse powerful men.


TOOBIN: I don't really know what that means.


BOLDUAN: How a hearing should not be weaponized?

TOOBIN: Yes. I mean --


TOOBIN: Politics takes place in the United States, and that's going to be true no matter what, especially on something as high stakes as this. You know, if she wants to testify in a public hearing, it's going to be a public hearing.

HENDERSON: Yes, and it's going to be ugly.

TOOBIN: And it's going to be ugly. You know, I could understand why she wouldn't want to participate in that, but you can't go in to a public hearing and say, I only want it a certain way. It's up to the Senators, what kind of hearing.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Joan.

BISKUPIC: I was going to say, that's it exactly. It would be brutal for both sides. You know, I can't imagine that right now both of them don't feel a sense of terror. And as much as I think a public hearing is necessary at this point, I think they both have much to fear from the spectacle of that kind of public hearing.

TOOBIN: And how could have you a public hearing under these circumstances without hearing from Mike Judge, who is the third person --


TOOBIN: -- the alleged second assaulter in the room, who has denied it but also said he doesn't remember what was going on. He's also quite a colorful character --


TOOBIN: -- whose testimony would be quite interesting.

HENDERSON: And so much would come up, too. Would they have to call the therapist, for instance, for someone who has the notes saying she talked about it in 2012? It would be a massively viewed hearing, that's for sure.


[11:15:09] BOLDUAN: One other element, Joan, if you can help me out quickly. Senator McConnell, he could skip the committee vote altogether. He could take this straight to the floor. What would that do to Judge Kavanaugh's chances if the Republican leader did that, do you think?

BISKUPIC: I actually think those would decrease his chances of confirmation because that would seem like such a run around. Already, this confirmation hearing process has been marked by, you know, the withdrawal of certain documents, the speed with which the hearings were held. There's already a sense that the Republican majority has been steamrolling this, and to take such an extreme step then, I think that would only hurt Brett Kavanaugh and the whole process. The other thing is I don't -- you know, the Republicans have a

majority in the committee. They probably have as much a fighting chance in the committee as they would have on the floor. So I think that step would be way too bold and frankly counterproductive.

BOLDUAN: I think -- but an important thing that has happened this morning, and a lot has happened this morning, is you have an alleged victim who says she's willing to testify. She's willing to speak publicly to lawmakers or privately to lawmakers, however this pans out. And also you have Brett Kavanaugh, the judge accused here, he's willing to speak with lawmakers again as well. So it seems almost impossible that this is not going to happen. It would -- but we live in the impossible all the time.

Jeffrey, Joan, great to see you. Thank you, Jeffrey, Joan, Nia. Guys, I really appreciate it.

Coming up, we'll turn back to breaking news we've been following all along. The Carolinas weathered the brunt of Florence. But the worst -- and we were saying this at the end of last week -- but the worst could be yet to come. We'll go live to Wilmington as the region is facing historic floods.

Plus, President Trump's legal team seems pretty confident that Paul Manafort's plea deal with the special counsel has no involvement with Trump, has nothing to do with the president. Is that really the case? Can they be so confident? Stay with us.


[11:21:33] BOLDUAN: The worst is still to come. That's the message from officials right now in the Carolinas today, with rising rivers and catastrophic floods, a very, very dangerous threat still. The remnants of Hurricane Florence are now moving through Virginia, but still, drenching the Carolinas in misery. The storm has been blamed for at least 19 deaths. It has knocked out power to more than half a million customers and it's turned some cities into just islands.

Flooding has essentially cut off the city of Wilmington, North Carolina, right now.

And that is where CNN's Kaylee Hartung is at the moment.

Kaylee, what's the latest you're seeing and hearing from folks?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, there's no way in or out of Wilmington right now. Roads impassable from 20 to 40 miles outside of the city, and its surrounding areas, and we don't know how much longer we'll be in this situation. The river, the Cape Fear River that runs alongside Wilmington, continues to rise as we speak. And it's not expected to be below flood level until Wednesday.

So in the meantime, roads are impassable. Frustration is growing here. This gas station behind me, one man with his truck at the front of the pump has been there since 6:00 a.m. but there's gas and no way to pump it here. Some people's need for that resource more dire than others.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a mama at the hospital now. And she needs dialysis and they're trying to tell me they can't transport her from the hospital to right here. We don't have no gas. We're sitting in line. We have been sitting here since 7:00 this morning trying to get gas. She hasn't had dialysis since Wednesday. Today is Monday. It's Monday. It's sad.


HARTUNG: Kate, emotions high, frustrations high. People locked in to this city now, and finding trouble getting access to resources like fuel because those fuel trucks can't get in either -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, and as you said, it could still be days before things really start changing for the better.

Kaylee, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

I want to get over to Meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, this is just a slow-moving nightmare for folks. What are the biggest flood threats right now? It goes from close to 100 miles inland?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It does, and all that water is in a bubble that has to come all the way down into those coastal communities. So even though you're by the ocean, you go our water is gone. No, there's still a lot of water up here in the hills that has to come down.

One more thing we're worried about, some of these storms have been rotating not far southwest of Richmond. Tornado warnings there, about 50 miles away from the city that I love and have lived in.

The rainfall has moved through Pittsburgh and Baltimore into D.C. Showers and thunderstorms will pop up during the day today like they did yesterday. Even a little sun coming out, heating the ground, making those bubbling storms even a little more severe than they have been.

A new winner or loser, depending on your view, Elizabethtown with 36 inches of rain, bumping down Swansboro in North Carolina. We'll see temperatures here warm up in South Carolina and more showers pop up again. So, Marion, you could get higher than that at 18 inches of rainfall.

This is what all this means. Because of all this water on the ground, we're going to see the flooding continue. The flood all the way from the northern part in Piedmont and down even into low country, that water has to run downhill and that's how it's going. And 20 rivers and basins are out of their banks right now at major or record flood stage. There's even a chance of some of that rain falling farther to the north, farther to the north, flash flood watches are in effect.

Kate, something unbelievable. Some of these gauges are broken because the water is higher than anyone ever expected it to be. The gauge can't go that high. Unbelievable.

[11:25:15] BOLDUAN: Chad, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

As Chad is talking about the historic flooding in North Carolina reaches at least 100 miles inland -- that's how massive this storm is -- and the impact being felt throughout the state. Check out this video from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Just look at that.

Joining me right now is a man who represents the district, Republican Congressman Richard Hudson, on the phone.

Congressman, can you hear me?

REP. RICHARD HUDSON, (R) NORTH CAROLINA (via telephone): I can hear you, Kate. How are you doing today?

BOLDUAN: I'm doing OK. I'm more concerned about how every in Fayetteville is doing. That's where you are at the moment. I'm looking at this drone video we were able to get over Fayetteville. It's remarkable to see the water levels there. What is the latest? What are you seeing there?

HUDSON: Well, probably what you're seeing. They're saying 500-year flood levels. We had a 500-year flood two years ago. We weren't expecting another one this soon. And in fact, a lot of places were still rebuilding from Hurricane Matthew, and now here we are again.

And you know, the message to people out there's this is not over. In fact, the Cape Fear River is not going to crest until tomorrow morning. And we're still expecting areas like Little River, the main cut-through road a lot of folks use here, and it's completely under water. Things are improving, conditions are improving, but we're not out of the woods yet.

BOLDUAN: Definitely not out of the woods yet. There have been over 1,000 rescues from the storm throughout the state. Are you still hearing about rescues happening now?

HUDSON: We are. There's over 1,200 swift-water rescue folks deployed in the state. I'm at Ft. Bragg now, part of my visit here. I'm going to visit the FEMA staging area where a lot of the folks are based. Just incredible bravery, incredible sacrifice that folks from all over the countries are coming to help out with. Our military, Army personnel are out in the communities helping folks. Still people being rescued. And people still need to heed warnings. We're still having communities that need to be evacuated. There was a three-story apartment building that was just evacuated a few hours ago. We're not out of the woods yet.

BOLDUAN: What do your constituents need now? I was talking to a reporter on the ground in a different part of the state. Folks are tired. They need resources. People are frustrated. It's tough. What do constituents need right now?

HUDSON: People are frustrated. I was just in one of our shelters. Folks have been there several days now. Nerves are frayed. They didn't have enough cots in this one particular place, but the Red Cross is now bringing cots in. They almost ran out of water yesterday. They got 15 cases of water donated this morning. People are responding to the needs. The needs are many. I would just ask people to, if they want to contribute, contribute to one of the organizations you have heard of before like the Red Cross and others that are out there helping because there are a lot of needs. And there's going to be even more needs. This is not a matter of hours and days. It's a matter of weeks and months and maybe even years to fully recover from the storm.

BOLDUAN: And they're still in the middle of it. We might not be seeing wind blowing, trees falling, and you know, reporters getting blown around, but people are still in the middle of this crisis as we speak.

Congressman, thank you for jumping on. Appreciate you giving a perspective of what you're seeing in your district.

HUDSON: Thanks for telling the story. We appreciate you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, a decades-old sexual assault allegation turning the tables right now on what had appeared to be a relatively easy Supreme Court nomination. Now both Brett Kavanaugh and the woman accusing him say they're ready to talk. Are public hearings where this goes next?