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Brett Kavanaugh Accuser Says She's Willing to Testify Before Congress. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 17, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Quickly, good morning, everyone. We're so glad you're with us.

New this morning, sources tell us at CNN that Judge Brett Kavanaugh is now open to answering questions under oath about a decades old sexual assault allegation that now threatens to derail his nomination to sit for life on the bench of the nation's highest court.

And that's not all. The lawyer for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor living in Northern California, says that Ford also is willing to testify openly in public about claims she first reported to her Congresswoman Dianne Feinstein back in July. These are about an event she alleges happened 35 years ago. Let's listen.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: 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.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: From President Trump so far a resounding and an uncharacteristic silence, but this morning, one of his closest aides did speak to reporters. I want you to hear some of her remarks.


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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Well, that process was leading up to a committee vote on Thursday. A full Senate vote in time to have Kavanaugh on the job by the first Monday in October. That, of course, when the Supreme Court sits again. Lots of crucial decisions before them. To be very clear, the nominee, and I quote, "categorically and unequivocally denies Professor Ford's assertions," which she outlined for the record with her name attached only yesterday in "The Washington Post." She tells of a high school party in D.C., in the suburbs in the 1980s.

HARLOW: She does, and she says a very drunken Brett Kavanaugh pushed her into a bedroom upstairs at which point, in her words, quote, "Kavanaugh was on top of me while laughing with redacted," though that person's name we now know, "who periodically jumped on to Kavanaugh." She continues in her account by saying, quote, "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."

There are so many questions this morning on so many levels beginning with the extent to which Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation prospects are now different than they were just, you know, 24, 48 hours ago. Let's go to Capitol Hill. Sunlen Serfaty is there.

And Sunlen, as we talk about sort of the fallout here, it's not just her account in "The Washington Post." It is the therapist notes that this reporter who will join us in just a few minutes saw from recounting this back in 2012 in a session. Also, the lie detector test that her attorney recommended she take and that she did take and that her attorney told Alisyn this morning they would be willing to present, you know, to members of the Judiciary Committee, the results of.

So what is the fallout from senators on the Hill?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, Poppy, all of those details are what senators up here on Capitol Hill will have to grapple with over the next few days. I think the story certainly is very fast moving and will certainly pick up pace as lawmakers return to Capitol Hill today, after all these revelations throughout the weekend of these allegations.

Certainly, over the next few hours, incredibly important as we wait to hear potentially the next steps up here as far as the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now we did hear over the weekend from many key senators, some saying that they believe that that vote in the committee, which is still scheduled for Thursday, should be postponed. Others, of course, saying let's wait and see. Let's hear more information.

Certainly, we heard that from Senator Susan Collins, she is a key swing vote. So crucial here to his fate, potentially, in the full Senate. She said the allegations are serious, but she needs more information. Here's what she told CNN over the weekend.


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.


SERFATY: And Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, another key Republican senator vote here, she told CNN over the weekend that committee might need to postpone a vote. Here's what she told CNN.


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.


[10:05:05] SERFATY: Now Senator Jeff Flake, he's a Republican on the Judiciary Committee. He said that he would not feel comfortable voting yes for Kavanaugh until more information is learned. And that is so key here, when you're talking about Republicans on the committee. They hold 11-10 advantage. So potentially one Republican saying no could delay that vote. So all eyes on Chairman Grassley this morning, whether he will bring the accuser in front of the committee. A lot of questions for him as he faces these very serious allegations for this nominee.

SCIUTTO: Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much. And please stay with us.

This morning, the president is still staying silent amid the growing calls to delay Kavanaugh's confirmation vote. Let's go straight to White House correspondent Abby Phillip with the latest.

Abby, really a remarkable turn of events from the White House because yesterday the reporting -- our reporting was that the White House was going to go aggressively.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: After Miss Ford's credibility. This morning, you listen to Kellyanne Conway and others, a marked change in strategy.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim and Poppy. What we're hearing this morning from the White House is that they want this accuser to testify before Congress in one way or another. They also want Kavanaugh to have his moment to rebut those allegations. This is different from what we typically see from this White House, who, you know, according to our reporting, the mantra of this president is don't apologize, don't give any ground. But in this case, the situation is much more delicate. They have to get Kavanaugh through a sharply divided Senate where you now have these very serious allegations that put that nomination in peril.

But even still, as we see a public strategy saying let's not attack this accuser. Let's give her her moment to make these allegations publicly and let the public weigh in on it, our sources also telling us behind the scenes, President Trump is frustrated that his nominee is being put through what he considers to be an unfair process of being smeared by allegations that he believes are long in the past.

This isn't the first time that we've heard this from President Trump. In the past, he's had people close to him, whether it'd be his former staff secretary Rob Porter or his VA nominee dealing with allegations like this. And the president has responded by questioning whether or not it's fair for them to be facing that right now. But for the moment, the White House has to deal with this a little bit differently.

And we've seen President Trump not weigh in publicly on this at all. In a statement reissued today for the third time since Friday, by the way, a White House spokesperson 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 there you see no attempt to address the accusations directly.

They are just allowing the Senate to figure this out. There is no desire, our sources tell us, for the White House to antagonize two of those female GOP senators who are some of the keys to confirming Kavanaugh in the Senate -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: That's a big change. Abby Phillip, thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with Sunlen Serfaty, CNN congressional correspondent, Abigail Tracy, staff writer for "Vanity Fair," Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst, and Nia-Malika Henderson, a CNN senior political writer.

Nia, if we can, we had Christine Blasey Ford's attorney on "NEW DAY" this morning. And she went into detail describing why her client thought, and I'm saying exactly as she said it here, why her client thought she might die during this alleged assault. Let's listen to her account.


KATZ: 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 that she was attempting to scream and having a difficult time breathing. And she believes that but for his inebriation and his inability to take her clothes off, he would have raped her.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Now we learned this morning, Nia-Malika, that Ford is willing to tell the story, to testify under oath in public before the Senate. If that happens, you have the remarkable circumstances where you will hear that account.


SCIUTTO: From the mouth of the female accuser in public. I mean, arguably --

HARLOW: Under oath.

SCIUTTO: Under oath, more dramatic than Anita Hill to some degree because we're talking about something physical here.


SCIUTTO: That's quite a remarkable prospect.

HENDERSON: I think that's right. But obviously reminiscent of Anita Hill in terms of the momentousness of what we could see. I mean, you have her there speaking in front of a panel of senators, all the Republican senators are male. There are obviously some women who are Democratic --

HARLOW: On Judiciary. That's the point --

HENDERSON: On Judiciary, and everyone, they're male. We're talking about people like Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake. Jeff Flake obviously has in some ways been critical of this president, critical of this process. But if you flash back to 1991, it was a monumental moment in American politics. It in many ways kicked off what came next year, which was the year of the woman.

[10:10:03] And that's where we are today. We're in this era of Me Too where you have more women running for office. You have also suburban white women in particular being skeptical of the Republican Party.

HARLOW: And that has to be part of, you know, why we heard what we heard from Kellyanne Conway.


HARLOW: Who is this counselor to the president, very senior on his team, and said this woman cannot be insulted. She must be heard.

Rob Brownstein --

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Less to Kellyanne Conway I think they met (INAUDIBLE) because she cited Lindsey Graham, who basically has said the staff should interview the -- you know, the accuser and Judge Kavanaugh. I mean, the question of whether Republicans in the environment that Nia just cited where you're potentially looking at the biggest, most consequential gender gap we have seen in a midterm election. CNN poll before any of this, 60 percent of women preferred Democrats

for Congress over 36 percent Republicans. That's unusually large. The idea that they could now -- that she is willing to testify, take this vote without allowing her to testify would seem to be an extraordinary political risk.

HARLOW: And to you, Abigail, Kavanaugh's own words could come into play here. I mean, let's remember when he worked on Ken Starr's team in -- you know, in the report and ultimately the impeachment of President Clinton. His own words, in a memo written in 1998, to the team, Ken Starr and his team, about not going easy at all on President Clinton.

Let me read this for you. He said he strongly opposed giving the president any, quote, "break in the questioning regarding the details of the Monica Lewinsky relationship." He also said that Clinton, quote, "disgrace his office, the legal system, and the American people through all of this." He said, "It's our job to make his pattern of revolting behavior clear piece by painful piece."

So you would think that he would want the same scrutiny here.

ABIGAIL TRACY, STAFF REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: Absolutely. You listen to that language and it's so laced with morality and kind of, you know, presenting this front of, you know, what an office means. And sort of the standards that individuals holding those offices should reach. And I think when we're looking at these allegations that have come forward, you know, they absolutely require further investigation and further questions from senators because of the justice role that he would play for life.

And I think when you look at that morality that he's trying to hold Bill Clinton to, you know, back during the Ken Starr investigation, one would expect that, you know, outside looking in he would hope that a justice would also reach those standards.


BROWNSTEIN: Part of the backdrop here is that Democrats already believe he has been untruthful in his testimony on several key points, both in this hearing and in his earlier confirmation. So in that sense, you know, whether there's a pattern of behavior like this, there is a pattern of questioning the veracity of his statements that becomes relevant on whether you need to hear from him directly again on this issue.

SCIUTTO: But we should not, as of yet, no one is alleging -- there's no evidence of a pattern.

BROWNSTEIN: No -- right. Exactly.

SCIUTTO: There's a serious allegation to be distinguished from other cases that we've seen recently.

HARLOW: That's a good point. SCIUTTO: And of course Kavanaugh has the right to give his side of

the story. And that's part of, I imagine, his agreement here to say that he'd be willing to tell his story as well.

But, Sunlen, I want to ask you this question, because as Ron noted, Kellyanne Conway, she mentioned the process, which is they still want to go ahead. They want to -- sort of said yes, let her be heard. Hopefully at a staff level so it's not public, we don't want an Anita Hill moment. But we want to go -- go ahead with Thursday.

Is that really realistic when you have not just Democrats now but Republicans expressing concern about hearing the story? Are they really going to turn on a dime so quickly, have a vote on Thursday and everything is fine?

SERFATY: Who knows. Actually, Jim, I think is the most honest assessment I can give you. I mean, I think it's potentially unrealistic to push towards that. But I think time will tell. As of now, the committee vote is still on for Thursday, but I think this can twist and change at a moment's notice, and I think so important is getting the gauge and the temperature of these key senators.

We are waiting to hear from Senator Chuck Grassley. Camped outside of his office. That's where I'll go to right after I finish talking with you guys to hear what his next steps are. What is Mitch McConnell saying as these folks return up here on the Hill? That will tell us a lot on the very real potentials that that could go forward on Thursday.


SERFATY: And also, of course, his broader future.


SCIUTTO: You know what, we -- and just to note. This is -- this was already an important vote, confirmation. This is the ninth vote, really, the dividing vote on a very divided court. You're coming up to midterm elections. First of all the Republican margin in the Senate is already 51-49. You have a difficult -- I mean, granted, the House map looks much more difficult for Republicans than the Senate, but you have the midterms coming up.

I mean, there's a lot of political pressure here. This is a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. You know, this is not a two-year term, a four-year term. It's a lifetime appointment.

HENDERSON: And all of that would argue for letting this air out. Right?


HENDERSON: You want to vote for time. You want to have as much out in the public view in terms of his record and what his statements are about this allegation. But on the other hand, if you're a Republican, you also worry about that because they obviously are worried about the campaign.

[10:15:05] But this is sort of the holy grail for conservatives, to have a conservative court. This is what they've been working toward for decades.

HARLOW: And his vote is not an Anthony Kennedy swing vote.



HARLOW: He could not be more different frankly in many ways.


BROWNSTEIN: The oldest member of the five Republican justices, if he gets confirmed, would be Clarence Thomas who's 70 which means this court majority could be in 15 years.

HARLOW: Let me just in -- apologies, but we've just learned that Brett Kavanaugh is at the White House. And we have not heard from the president yet, Jim, as you noted this morning.


HARLOW: We know he's at the White House. What conversations are happening, that reporting I'm sure we will get in moments.

Let me just ask you, Abigail. You know, the eyes are on Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Two senators who also had major questions about where does this judge stand on "Roe v. Wade." Two senators who were highly critical of former Democratic senator from Minnesota Al Franken who pushed for him to leave amid those multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

What do they do now is the key question. Jennifer Rubin, you pointed out this column to me last night in "The Washington Post," a conservative columnist in "The Washington Post." Let me just read you a little bit of what she said.

"Once more, all eyes turn to Collins, Murkowski, and perhaps another brave Republican or two. Will they be dutiful partisans or act like responsible members of an equal branch of government?" I mean, this is the job of Congress. You check the other branches.

TRACY: Yes, I --

HARLOW: So what happens?

TRACY: I think when we're looking at it, obviously Collins and Murkowski have been two key votes already. They were the ones who publicly wavered on whether they'll support Brett Kavanaugh. But I think at this moment one would hope that we'd be looking to more than just two senators. But I also think they do have a lot of power right now. They could say we will vote no unless we hear from this woman. And I think, you know, not allowing Ford to testify sends a very clear

message to women in America that their voice doesn't matter. And I think that is something that Republicans should at this point in time really avoid at all costs, especially looking ahead to the midterms and, you know, just from a -- you know, treating women and alleged victims fairly.

SCIUTTO: Well, if there was any doubt about how Brett Kavanaugh is going to respond to this, we just have a statement in from Judge Brett Kavanaugh. This is per the White House pool. I'm just going to read it in its entirety here and I'm quoting.

"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," he goes on, "I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday. I am 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."


SCIUTTO: That, the full statement from Brett Kavanaugh. We're going to get back to that shortly.

HARLOW: A full denial, says he doesn't even know who it was until yesterday.

SCIUTTO: Reiterating his willingness to go before them.

HARLOW: Yes. In any capacity. We're going to have a live report from the White House. We're going to dive into all of this. Stay with us. We're back with the breaking news.


[10:22:19] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. The breaking news. Fast-moving developments regarding Judge Kavanaugh. He is at the White House. And as he arrives at the White House, releases a new statement regarding these allegations against him from some 35 years ago. Our Abby Phillip is there.

Abby, what can you tell us?

PHILLIP: Well, hi, Jim. This new statement from Brett Kavanaugh is far more detailed than the one that we had before. And let me just read it to you. He says, "This is completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes to her or to anyone else. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday. I'm willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way that the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation from 36 years ago and defend my integrity."

So Kavanaugh there saying he didn't even know who was behind the allegations when they were being made. It's unclear, though, based on this statement, whether he's implying that he now recognizes this person. I think we'll have to ask the White House more for details about that, but clearly, this is Kavanaugh coming out strongly and saying he's willing to come forward. He's willing to testify. We heard this telegraphed by some White House aides earlier today, saying that they wanted both the accuser to testify and Kavanaugh to testify.

If that happens, that would be a really extraordinary side-by-side of both of these individuals giving their side of the story. We're also asking the White House now what Kavanaugh is doing here in this building, what kind of meetings he's holding and if perhaps he might be meeting with President Trump -- Jim and Poppy.


SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip, thanks very much there.

And yes, a remarkable prospect to have them side-by-side under oath in public, if that's the way it plays out because clearly Republicans are still holding out the possibility it could be in private.

Nia, is there any way to keep this behind closed doors?

HENDERSON: You know, it seems difficult. In that statement, he doesn't say that he's willing to do it in public. He says he's willing to do it in any way that the Senate deems appropriate or whatever.

SCIUTTO: Leave it up to them, yes.

HENDERSON: Leave it up to them. So he's sort of leaving the door open there for something to happen behind closed doors. And Abby did note something really fascinating here. Did he actually know this woman?

BROWNSTEIN: He didn't say he didn't.

HENDERSON: He didn't say he didn't. That's still an open question. And these are the kind of questions that you would get at, you know, behind closed doors or open hearing.

HARLOW: Well, I think we know --


HARLOW: We know they went to high school together.


HARLOW: The yearbook shows that. But --

HENDERSON: They didn't go to high school together because --


HENDERSON: He -- different schools.

HARLOW: Good point. Good point.

HENDERSON: He went to a boys school.


HENDERSON: But they all I guess socialized together and --

HARLOW: Yes. Good point.

HENDERSON: So -- but yes.

HARLOW: Good point.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, the -- I was going to say real quick, the root of this tree is that he was nominated by President Trump, right, who has faced the women's march from the -- you know, the first days of his presidency. Right?

[10:25:02] Democrats, I believe, have a record number of women who have been nominated in the House. In the governor's races, they have been selecting women through this nomination process, out of -- driven by this backlash, particularly among professional white women where the polling has the potential for Democrats to have the widest advantage among those women they have ever had in a midterm election.

And the thought that you could now push through this vote without allowing her, essentially her day in court before the American people through a public hearing, they can do it and they may do it.


BROWNSTEIN: But it an extraordinary political risk given the backdrop.

SCIUTTO: They could -- I mean, conceivably, they could make that political judgment whether wise or not to say that that crucial fifth conservative vote with an uncertain midterm election coming up, that it may be worth --

BROWNSTEIN: And the Senate landscape is very different than the House.


BROWNSTEIN: I mean, the people who have most fear this would be the House.



HARLOW: So, guys, Kellyanne Conway, again, after saying look, this woman should not be ignored or insulted, she should be heard, here's what she just wrote on Twitter. "Hundreds of women have come forward to speak about Judge Kavanaugh's character and integrity. Those who knew him in high school, college, law school, the Bush White House, his law clerks, moms of girls he coached in youth basketball. This matters."

So there's that, and it reminds me of this letter that -- before we knew who the accuser was, but after we knew about the accusations, 65 women signed a letter that have known Kavanaugh since high school, speaking to his, what they call his integrity, et cetera, and we have some of them on camera. They went on FOX News. Let's listen to those women.


MEGHAN MCCALEB, HIGH SCHOOL FRIEND OF KAVANAUGH: He always treated us girls with respect, always. And it was simple to find 65 women to sign that letter, from five different high schools, everybody jumped on board and was happy to sign it on his behalf.

PORTER WILKINSON, FORMER KAVANAUGH LAW CLERK: He is unfailingly kind and respectful, and a man of the highest character. Unassailable integrity, and these allegations are flatly inconsistent with the man that I have known well for over a decade.


HARLOW: Abigail, should this come to public testimony by both of them, by the accuser and the accused, you know, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee? You would think as we saw with Anita Hill, character witnesses coming as well. You know, you'd hope that on both sides, all of those witnesses would be heard this time around, as was not the case in 1991.



HARLOW: But you know, you hear from those women. I mean, this is really, he said she said.

TRACY: Right, I think one of the interesting things about the list of women is this morning I saw fresh reports from political reporters that, you know, they followed up with the women since the more detailed report in "The Washington Post" came out, and they're not still getting -- they haven't been able to get the same support from some of the women that they've reached out to. Either a lack of comment or two have still stood by Kavanaugh since the report.

And this was obviously before I was here, so the numbers could have changed a little bit. But I think over the weekend, a lot has changed just in terms of the details and the, you know, sort of what these allegations are. There's a face to it, and I do think that kind of changes the calculus. And I think when you look at Judge Kavanaugh prior to this, he had incredibly low support among women already.

HARLOW: 31 percent.

TRACY: Right, so I think when you're looking at this and you're looking forward, I do think that there will be a push for -- if Ford comes forward, for her to speak publicly and for people to see Kavanaugh's response publicly as well. I think it would be very hard for this to be something that stays behind closed doors.

SCIUTTO: No question. And you know, the point about the letters and an individual or perhaps a handful, we've had this happen before in other cases in the Me Too Movement. And it's possible both could be true.



HENDERSON: That's the thing. Like, I mean, no one was with him 24 hours a day, right? So just because he was nice to someone else doesn't mean he treated other people the same way. So, you know, but this is all a conversation that needs to be had.

SCIUTTO: So many questions, and listen, it speaks to this very prospect that the Senate is facing here. There's so many questions that need to be answered. They may have innocent answers to them, right? And you also have another voice in this, which is Kavanaugh's voice, that he has every right to be spoken and heard from, but boy, it's really hard to see how you don't have those questions at least addressed.

BROWNSTEIN: To Nia's point from before, you have an all-male Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They will be deciding whether to give her her day in front of the public seven weeks before an election when Republicans are facing potentially historic deficits particularly among white collar, white women.

HENDERSON: Yes. And she is a white collar white woman, so in some ways that's a different calculus here.

HARLOW: Good point.


HARLOW: Thank you all very much for being here on the breaking news.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

HARLOW: Again, hearing for the first time directly from the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in his words, after the name and identity and the full story from her side, from this woman, comes forward. Much more on that ahead.

Also, the breaking news of Hurricane Florence and the aftermath, the deadly wrath. A levee is on the verge of failing, potentially unleashing more catastrophic flooding after Florence submerges communities along the Carolina Coast. We're going to take you there live.