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Lawyer for Kavanaugh's Accuser Says She's Willing to Testify Before Congress; Calls Grow to Delay Kavanaugh Vote After Accuser Goes Public; Eighteen Dead, Hundreds Rescued as Flooding Emergency Worsens; Growing Fears Levee May Fail in Lumberton, North Carolina. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired September 17, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: You know, he might walk off, like that NFL player at half time. We've got to see how it goes.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Long time to go.

HARLOW: I'm thrilled you're here. Miss you always, Berman, but, you know, I've got you before every morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You guys are crushing it. Go for it.

HARLOW: All right.

SCIUTTO: It's great to be here.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Great to have you, Jim. We'll be watching.

HARLOW: We'll see you guys tomorrow.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

As we begin this show this morning with a new team, we wanted to make you, our viewers, a few very simple assurances. The news will come first, always. We will stick to the facts and we will challenge people of all political views.

HARLOW: We will show you as much of the country and as much of the world as we can every day right here. And when we can, we will show -- we will slow down, we'll take a breath so that you can, as well. Thank you for giving us this chance.

I'm so glad you're here, my friend. Let's get to it. There's a lot of news this morning.

SCIUTTO: It's great to be here. Thanks for welcoming me. We will get right to it because we have major new developments this morning in a critical Supreme Court nomination that had seemed, after months of controversy, almost in the bag.

A psychology professor in Northern California has put her name to a sexual assault allegation from the early 1980s when she and Judge Brett Kavanaugh were both in high school. Now the lawyer representing Christine Blasey Ford tells CNN that Ford is ready and willing to repeat the allegations she first made in a letter to her congresswoman in July, to repeat that allegation under oath before Congress, in public. And moments ago, two sources close to the process say that Brett Kavanaugh, as well, is not opposed to answering more questions and providing more information. That could be, he says, through committee staff interviews, closed or open testimony.

Have a listen now to Ford's attorney this morning just a few moments ago on CNN.


CAMEROTA: Will your client, Christine Ford, be willing to testify in public to the Judiciary Committee?


CAMEROTA: She is willing to do it. Has she been asked by any of the lawmakers to do that?

KATZ: That's interesting. The answer is no.


HARLOW: So Judge Kavanaugh, and I quote him, "categorically and unequivocally denies" Ford's account. And this morning there's every indication the White House is sticking by him, which make these remarks -- listen closely to these remarks from Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, makes those remarks all the more intriguing.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Let me make very clear on behalf of the president with whom I have just spoken at length about this, so put aside all the nonsense that's on TV and in print from people who couldn't possibly be a source familiar with his thinking, she should not be ignored or insulted. She should be heard. But I talked to Senator Lindsey Graham and he said that that could be done tomorrow so that we can proceed forward. And that's really -- we respect the process and are also watching the process.


HARLOW: All right. So let me read to you a portion of the letter that Miss Ford wrote to Senator Dianne Feinstein, her senator on California. This was back on July 30th. This was after Brett Kavanaugh was tapped to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court and she describes a high school party in the D.C. suburbs in Maryland when she -- when he was about 17, she can't remember the exact years, she was about 15 years old, and she says that Kavanaugh then pushed her into an upstairs bedroom and at that point, and I quote, "Kavanaugh was on top of me while laughing with," the name here is redacted, but we know who the person is now.

"Who periodically jumped on to Kavanaugh." She continues, "They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me in their highly inebriated state. With Kavanaugh's hand over my mouth, I feared he may inadvertently kill me."

SCIUTTO: Listen, it's an alarming account there.


SCIUTTO: And sounds like we may be hearing it in public on the Hill soon.


SCIUTTO: The shockwaves, political and legal, moral, ethical just beginning.

We begin our coverage this hour on Capitol Hill with CNN's Manu Raju.

Manu, I mean, remarkable developments just in the last several hours this morning, now with the prospect of public testimony on the Hill, and a couple of Republicans coming out and raising questions, is this nomination in danger now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Potentially. This is a late-hour development that has upended the process dramatically here on the Hill. Republican who -- in the leadership, Senator Chuck Grassley, still wants to move ahead with a Thursday committee vote. The question is, can he? And can he do that without hearing from the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford publicly? That is an ultimate question here.

What Grassley and others on the committee are doing in the next day or so. They plan to have these staff-level discussions with the accuser, with the judge himself and then make a decision on how to move forward. And ultimately, that decision on whether he gets confirmed will probably come down to some key Republican senators, including two moderate Republicans, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, whose votes on the Senate floor will be critical to determining whether he gets that lifetime spot.

[09:05:02] Now last night CNN caught up with Senator Susan Collins as she returned from Maine and this is what she said.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Should the committee vote coming up here this week?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I'm going to be talking with my colleagues but I really don't have anything to add at this point as I've said. I did ask -- I did read the letter last week and asked the judge on a telephone conversation on Friday about it and he was very emphatic in his denial.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you believe the accuser?

COLLINS: I don't know enough to make a judgment at this point.


RAJU: Similarly, Lisa Murkowski, she returned, was asked by CNN about this as well. She also said she has more questions.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: There are more questions that need to be asked and answered and I think it would be appropriate to allow for that time.


RAJU: So now the math here is critical. Because if those two Republican senators were to vote no and all the Democrats would also stay in unison opposition to this nomination, he would not get confirmed to that lifetime spot. So that means that Kavanaugh, undoubtedly, would have to answer more questions, privately, potentially publicly. And whether they can schedule that hearing before Thursday, whether they can answer it to the satisfaction of Republican senators and whether they can get him through to the Senate floor next week, all major questions that we may get answers to in the next 48 hours or so -- guys.

HARLOW: OK. Manu, stay with us. All right. But we do want to get some reaction, what's going on at the White House because this morning still no word directly from the president, amid these growing calls from Democrats and some Republicans to delay.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Silence on Twitter this morning on this issue.

HARLOW: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Remarkably. Yes.

HARLOW: That's a good point.

Let's get to the White House. Abby Philip joins us there this morning.

So, Abby, you know, there was a lot of talk yesterday about the White House strategy. What was it going to be? How aggressively would the White House go after Miss Ford's credibility here? This morning from Kellyanne, others, we're seeing a marked change in strategy.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Poppy and Jim. This morning we are hearing more from the White House about how they want to approach this. And the message is pretty clear. We want to hear from this accuser. There is no desire in the White House right now to publicly slam this accuser, given the political climate, both the Me Too Movement and the political realities on Capitol Hill where you have potentially two GOP Senate women who are pivotal votes in this process.

But at the same time, our sources are telling us that President Trump is annoyed by the perception that his nominee to the highest court is being dragged through the mud by Democrats because of what he considers to be old allegations. Now this is nothing new for President Trump. In the past we've seen him side with people around him who have been accused of things from in their past. He's questioned whether it's valid to ruin someone's current reputation because of something that might have happened long time ago.

And privately according to officials he is voicing those same concerns but as you pointed out, President Trump hasn't tweeted about this. And that's notable. The White House now saying they want both Kavanaugh and his accuser to testify before Congress in some capacity and the White House is also reiterating a statement that was issued by Kavanaugh on Friday that says this.

"On Friday, Judge Kavanaugh categorically and unequivocally denied this allegation. This has not changed. Judge Kavanaugh and the White House both stand by that statement." So the White House standing by their nominee right now. There are no plans to withdraw his nomination. But there are really open questions about how long this is going to go on and what the impact of these allegations will have on the timing of how quickly Kavanaugh's nomination goes forward -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip at the White House this morning, thanks very much.

Joining us now, CNN Supreme Court analyst Joan Biscupic, our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, also back with us now on Capitol Hill, Manu Raju.

Jeffrey Toobin, even in the last several hours, remarkable developments on this with the accuser willing to testify in public, the accused now probably with little choice, saying that he's willing at least to offer more information. And the White House changing their strategy. Help us understand how seismic those events are.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it seems to me inconceivable at this point that there will not be public testimony from both Miss Ford and Judge Kavanaugh at this point. How can you have an allegation of this magnitude and the Senate saying we're not interested in hearing from her? That seems to me impossible.

How that testimony comes about and when I think is very much an open question. Obviously the Republicans would like this all to take place in a way to allow this Thursday vote to take place. These are the same Republicans who kept a seat on the Supreme Court open for more than a year. So their argument -- you know, with the Merrick Garland situation. So their argument that this has to be done this week, I think, is going to be a little tough to make.

[09:10:10] HARLOW: So most of the Republicans. Right? I mean, not Flake, not Murkowski. Some of them who are calling for this to --

TOOBIN: Well, they haven't said what schedule they want it to be. And I mean, maybe they will say well, I want to hear but I want to hear it tomorrow. And you know, it's hard to imagine that things could go that quickly, especially since Wednesday is Yom Kippur where --

HARLOW: Good point.

TOOBIN: You know, a lot of senators will not be --

HARLOW: Good point.

TOOBIN: Will not be participating so it would have to be tomorrow. And, you know, it just seems inconceivable this could all be pulled together that fast. But people can do things fast when they want to.

HARLOW: Joan, you have a fascinating piece on this morning, on the comparisons, the echoes of Anita Hill, right? There are similarities, there are differences here. Remember, Clarence Thomas called those allegations a high-tech lynching. This is also the Me Too Movement and moment. Walk us through it.

JOAN BISCUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Sure. I remember so vividly. It was also on a weekend, in early fall in 1991 when this thunderbolt struck. There are some similarities. I'll mention those briefly. It was a woman who did not want to come forward initially, encouraged to come forward after there was a leak, sexual allegations, both of them, and the Senate was approaching a key vote.

But what's different now, Poppy and Jim, is the fact that the Me Too Movement atmosphere, also the nature of the allegations. Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas were both adults at the time of the alleged misconduct and here we have teenagers back in the early '80s. So that's also different. And to stress the very partisan atmosphere that we have today.

Back in 1991, in the end, Clarence Thomas was confirmed 52-48 with the help of 11 Democrats.

HARLOW: Right.

BISCUPIC: It's really hard to think that Democrats would switch over in this atmosphere irrespective of what allegations come forward.

SCIUTTO: Right. And to be clear, in fairness, folks have made comparisons to Thomas or to Clinton, you know, those were multiple allegations over years. This is a very serious one. We don't know but we have no evidence of a pattern here. And that's an important distinction.

Manu, if I can go to you, it's been a fascinating change in the White House strategy here. Because yesterday our reporters were saying the White House was going to go hard, possibly, after the accuser. And you saw some of that in Donald Trump Jr.'s posting on Instagram which we'll throw up on the screen here, which was -- HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: You know, using this kind of child-like letter here to diminish and dismiss Miss Ford's allegations.

HARLOW: Right. Saying, "Hi, Cindy, will you be my girlfriend, yes or no, love, Bret."

SCIUTTO: Pretty remarkable under any circumstances. Meanwhile today you have Kellyanne Conway saying no, she should not be insulted. She should not be dismissed.


SCIUTTO: I wonder if that change is in response somewhat to developments on Capitol Hill and you have a couple of Republicans coming out saying, listen, we've got to give, we've got to hear from this woman, Flake, Murkowski, you have a red state Democrat in Doug Jones as well.

RAJU: No question about it. I mean, if the White House and the president began to aggressively attack this accuser, you're going to see at least a handful of Republicans start to push back, and may that would be enough to deter Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski for voting for Kavanaugh ultimately. So this White House strategy now to back off a little bit, allow her to have her testimony heard.

Probably the one thing that they'll have to do at the moment because it's still a very difficult line they're going to have to walk over the next day or so to hear her testimony, make sure that they don't go -- they don't overreach in trying to discredit her and also seem like they're -- still want to move forward with this nomination by a Thursday vote on the Senate floor next week.


RAJU: So it's going to be challenging for the Republicans to not go after her credibility. The question is, can the president lay off Twitter? That's --

SCIUTTO: Is that timeline -- is that timeline, a practical matter, more than challenging, just unrealistic? So imagine, you have public testimony on an allegation of this gravity, we're on Monday, and by Thursday you still have a vote in committee? I mean, is that at all realistic?

RAJU: For the Republicans who've been pushing this through, it is realistic. The question is, if they get enough pushback from their rank and file, do they change that schedule? Uncertain yet. We've not also heard from Senator McConnell, majority leader, about his plans. But no signs that he's changing them yet.

HARLOW: Right. What will Mitch McConnell do is a huge question this morning.

Jeffrey Toobin, the polling for Kavanaugh overall that CNN did, September 6th to 9th, so, right, sort of in the middle and after his testimony wasn't good anyways. I mean, he had 38 percent of Americans overall irrespective of party, who thought he should be confirmed. Just 38 percent. I think that's the lowest (INAUDIBLE) among women, 31 percent only. Only 31 percent of women believe that Kavanaugh should be confirmed. That was before any of these allegations came to life.

TOOBIN: And remember, too, that the issues that came up in his confirmation hearing, chiefly among them "Roe v. Wade," and the claim that he will be a vote against Roe v. Wade by Democrats, he of course did not take a position one way or another.


Roe v. Wade is very popular in this country with Democrats as well as Republicans. That you know, the idea that the government can allow states to ban abortion is not one that's popular and that is an issue that Democrats tried to associate him with very carefully, very significantly.

Whether -- so the idea that the Democrats would pay a heavy price for opposing him, giving polling numbers like this seems incorrect.

HARLOW: That makes you wonder if it gives those red-state Democrats more wiggle room.

SCIUTTO: Yes, absolutely.

TOOBIN: They have pretty much cover to oppose him before all this --

HARLOW: Now, this --

TOOBIN: Came out, but this -- it's hard to imagine how this makes Kavanaugh --

HARLOW: Yes --

TOOBIN: More likely to be confirmed. He --

SCIUTTO: Right --

TOOBIN: May yet be confirmed --

HARLOW: Yes --

TOOBIN: But certainly this doesn't help.


HARLOW: Joan, just final thought from you on all this, and this is -- you know, you live and breathe to this stuff, as does Jeffrey.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Yes, and I remember so well when Anita Hill then did come forward with her testimony in a very steady voice, graphically --


BISKUPIC: Detailing, you know, these pornographic conversations that she alleged that her boss at the time, Clarence Thomas, was making toward her. But then he came back and you read that comment earlier about the high-tech lynching, but he also said, you know, this is a circus, this is a circus and you know, I just shoulder to think what's in store over the next 48 hours.

But this is real and I think both individuals need to tell their stories in a public way.

SCIUTTO: And it sounds like that may very well be what we're going to see this week --


HARLOW: Yes --


HARLOW: Absolutely, thank you all, don't go far because this develops minute by minute. Our Jeffrey, Toobin, Joan Biskupic, Manu Raju, also of course, we're all over the flooding and the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas. There is more rain to come, it has being blamed for more than a dozen deaths and we're on it.

SCIUTTO: And U.S. border patrol agent turns alleged serial killer, shooting four people just over the past two weeks. How one woman narrowly escaped his grasp and alerted police.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back this morning. The crisis is worsening in the Carolinas as the flood emergency following Florence spreads. Entire communities cut off, rivers still rising there. So far, over 1,000 rescues have taken place.

HARLOW: Right, I mean, they were warning this was going to be a story of prolonged rain and that's what it's turning into. I mean, you're looking at 18 deaths now blamed on Florence. The latest is a 3-month- old baby that was killed when this tree fell. The threat is not over.

Cities like Fayetteville and Lumberton, North Carolina in danger. Let's go to Lumberton, Polo Sandoval joins us there with more and then we'll get to Erica Hill in Fayetteville. Polo, what do you see?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, Poppy, it has been an extremely eventful 24 hours for the people here in Lumberton, North Carolina. Of course, as we now know, they've been through this before two years ago with Hurricane Matthew. It seems that history is repeating itself at least in some way.

Many businesses this morning still under water, likely going to stay that way for several days. Yesterday, we were with the United States Coast Guard as a make-shift levy began to fail yesterday afternoon. It was basically set up to try to keep the floodwaters at bay. However, we witnessed the water begin to seep through the rocks and the sand that had been piled up.

Though it was compromised though that at least bought at least 1,300 residents in this city some time to head to some nearby shelters where they remain today. The main levy along the Lumber River which is the source of all this water is still holding up.

According to city officials that last checked, they say it is still doing its job. The Lumber River is cresting as we speak according to the information that's coming in. It's expected to drop about a foot shortly after that. But it will stay there, which means until it keeps dropping these floodwaters will remain, Jim and Poppy, and that could possibly take several days.

HARLOW: OK, Polo, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Listen, you see it there, homes and communities entirely under water. Officials in Fayetteville warning that, yes, the worst is yet to come. Erica Hill joining us now with the latest. Good morning Erica, I mean, you see some of these pictures, particularly from the air, and it looks like communities have become islands in a river. What are you seeing where you are?

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and in some areas they certainly have, we know that's the case in Wilmington, North Carolina. Here where we are in Fayetteville, the road behind me was actually closed when we came down here this morning. It was open last night and people have been driving around these barriers all morning.

Just about five minutes ago, a police officer came by and dragged some of these signs back across the road, he said people have been moving them this morning because they just want to get where they need to go. That is a major concern for folks here in Fayetteville.

The rain has stopped, we're seeing some blue skies, this welcome respite obviously, from the water. But the threat is really now only just beginning. The mayor telling me yesterday, his biggest concern is how quickly the water is moving. We're focused specifically on the little river and the Cape Fear River here.

Folks within a mile of those rivers are under mandatory evacuations, and Matthew is also really top of mind here just as it is for folks in Lumberton. They learned a lot after the flooding there with Matthew. The Cape Fear River crested at 53 feet during Matthew.

It is projected to crest at 62 feet tomorrow morning. That means a much wider area for potential damage, for flooding, and that is why officials are clear this morning. They are just as concerned as they were yesterday, and this is not the time for folks to become complacent because the flooding is really only just now going to kick into high gear.

[09:25:00] SCIUTTO: Erica Hill, that's wise advice, and we can only repeat that. Listen to the warnings, don't move --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Warning signs, road signs, they're there for a reason --

HARLOW: Of course --

SCIUTTO: Thank you very much for being --

HARLOW: Thanks Erica --

SCIUTTO: There for us. Brett Kavanaugh is facing sexual assault allegations from when he was in high school. His accuser's lawyer says that she is willing now to testify in public before Congress. What happens next? We're going to discuss.


SCIUTTO: Republican Senator Susan Collins is questioning the timing --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Of these accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But this morning, the attorney representing Christine Ford is pushing back hard on those asking why now and any talk of the timing being politically -- oh, sorry, this is some live picture here now.

This is Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee leaving his home this morning. He just walked behind the car there --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Probably hidden now by that tree.