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Trump Defends Supreme Court Pick; Brett Kavanaugh Facing Sexual Assault Accusations. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 17, 2018 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:03]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Let me just jog back to 1991. A Supreme Court nominee faced accusations of sexual harassment. Fast forward to 2018. Another Supreme Court nominee faces accusations of sexual and physical assault. And the question is, as the former currently serves a lifetime appointment, will the latter get to do the same?

The fate of President Trump's nominee hangs in the balance. Brett Kavanaugh is forcefully denying allegations by Christine Blasey Ford, who accuses him of holding her down, covering her mouth, and trying to take off her clothes.

She was nearly 15. He was 17 and drunk, according to her account. And, according to her attorney, she feared for her life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 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)

BALDWIN: Keep in mind these points. Ford says she first raised this in detail during the couple's therapy back in 2012, and her husband echoes that. She told her account to "The Washington Post" and her representatives in Congress before his nomination this summer.

But she says she wanted to keep it quiet, fearful what going public would do to her and her family. She says she even took a polygraph test. And then, as reporters closed in and contacted her, she eventually decided it was time she would be the one to tell her story.

Her lawyer says she is willing to testify publicly. And Kavanaugh says he, too, will talk to senators deciding his fate to refute this allegation and -- quote -- "defend his integrity."

In fact, we know he's been meeting White House lawyers today to plan for the next steps. We have not heard from the president publicly, but we have heard from Kellyanne Conway.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Well, this woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored. So let me make very clear. I have spoken with the president. I have spoken Senator Graham and others. This woman will be heard.

She's going to -- I think the Senate Judiciary Committee will decide how and through which forum. In other words, will it be by telephone? Will it be in person? And -- but, remember, too, that has to be weighed against what we have already know, which is that Judge Kavanaugh is a man of character and integrity who has been through six FBI vettings, which I can tell you firsthand are significant and thorough.

He also has been lauded by women from every different aspect of his life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: What is also different than 1991, when Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas, is that 2018 is a new era for women. In addition to the MeToo movement, these accusations come as more and more women are running for office this year than ever before.

We can't jump to conclusions. We don't know if Kavanaugh did what he's accused of doing, but these allegations must be given serious consideration, serious investigation, because the moral history of a person who could spend the rest of his life making judgments on the highest court of the land really matters.

David Chalian is with me here, our CNN political director.

And so, so far, you know, Sunlen Serfaty was standing outside of Chuck Grassley's office, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary, and she was saying, so far, this vote is going on. Do you see that changing?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It could change. And I do this, Brooke, what you just were reporting on there, the context of this political moment that we're in...

BALDWIN: It's not in a vacuum.

CHALIAN: ... is going to dictate the calendar here a little bit, because it is not in a vacuum.

And because of the moment that we're in, the MeToo movement, and an election season that has been powered by female candidates and female voters, really part of that energy on the Democratic side that we have been talking about...

BALDWIN: Sure.

CHALIAN: ... for the last year, it makes Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley's job here about how to calibrate this precarious.

And so they don't want to be seen in any way -- you saw it in Chuck Grassley's statement -- in sort of just rushing this through, or not giving proper time to this. And yet they don't want their nominee to be derailed here either, the president's nominee.

So they have to walk a fine line. We're at Monday afternoon now. Thursday is not that far away.

BALDWIN: In a sense, it feels so far away.

CHALIAN: A lifetime in politics.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

CHALIAN: But to go through this in a way where everyone on the committee feels they have all the information that they need in order to move forward with a vote on recommending Kavanaugh or not to the full Senate, it seems to me that may take a little bit more time.

So, I don't -- I would write that in pencil right now. I would not necessarily write that in pen.

BALDWIN: OK, in pencil.

I want to read. Susan Collins is saying both Kavanaugh and Ford should testify. That's happened in the last couple of hours.

[15:05:02]

I want to read a tweet from Alyssa Milano, who has pointed out what Senator Collins had said some months ago on Senator Al Franken. So just she writes: "A little reminder, Senator Collins." This from 2017, one week after the allegations. Collins: "Franken allegations credible, disgusting, appalling." She says: "Your move. The women of America are waiting."

You spoke to how we are in a different place with women now. And also, I'm just wondering, do you think in terms of, you know, red state Democrats, Collins, Murkowski, do they have more cover given that this is happening?

CHALIAN: Well, it's a good question.

Also, another difference from 1991 to now, when Anita Hill went to go testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she was testifying before a panel entirely made up of men.

BALDWIN: That's a great point.

CHALIAN: So it would also look very different, just in terms of who the senators are that she'd be talking to. There are several women on that committee now. So that also would be a different dynamic at play. In terms of

Collins and Murkowski, as we have always known, are the two Republican key votes here.

BALDWIN: Yes.

CHALIAN: They remain so even more so now, which is why listening to them for sort of the tea leaves and doing some reading there is important.

Yes, if Collins or Murkowski, to answer your question, start getting a little nervous or express real reservations about this nomination, that is going to give some of these deep red state Democrats who are up for reelection this year, like a Joe Manchin or a Heidi Heitkamp, where they may have been leaning towards favoring Kavanaugh's nom, it's going to give them cover to be able to say, listen, not even all the Republicans are unified, so I may not go that way.

BALDWIN: Yes. We played the sound from Kellyanne Conway earlier. What do you make of this president's reticence publicly?

CHALIAN: It's a difficult political strategy that we're seeing right now than we have seen, right?

Obviously, he's not a perfect messenger on this because of the accusations that have been made against him in this realm. So, it's complicated.

BALDWIN: Actually, let me stop you mid-sentence...

CHALIAN: Oh, sorry.

BALDWIN: ... because I just got in my ear -- thank you to my executive producer saying Trump did just make comments on this, defending Kavanaugh.

So he has now. I mean, he is a -- what did you say, a complex messenger, or however you said it, is exactly right. But now at least we're hearing he is defending him.

CHALIAN: Which I think is to be expected. I don't think anybody thought he -- just on the allegation alone, that he was going to pull the nomination.

BALDWIN: Sure.

CHALIAN: So the president is defending the man that he has nominated to the Supreme Court.

BALDWIN: Sure.

CHALIAN: And I don't think Kellyanne Conway necessarily contradicted that this morning. What she said was -- and what I meant by there's a different political strategy at play than we have seen previously in these kind of instances from the White House, she said...

BALDWIN: She should be heard.

CHALIAN: She should be heard.

BALDWIN: Yes.

CHALIAN: So there wasn't an instant sort of, that's discredited and we must move forward. I'm curious to hear the president's remarks -- I haven't heard them -- in how he contextualizes his support for Kavanaugh here, and whether he thinks also that there should be a full hearing from this woman about her experience, as she speaks it.

Kellyanne Conway getting out there and saying that indicated to me from a political point of view she understands how politically precarious this moment is. And she wanted to make sure not to just dismiss it out of hand. That was a key indicator to me that the White House really understood they have a problem on their hands.

BALDWIN: I think we're getting the tape. Do we have tape? Or we will have tape, eventually, I think -- eventually, it's coming. Not yet, he says.

So hang tight, because I may want you for that.

CHALIAN: Sure.

BALDWIN: Meantime, let's just go back to 1991 and the Clarence Thomas hearings. I want to play a clip for you.

It may be 27 years old, but the comments seem strikingly current.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANITA HILL, FORMER THOMAS COLLEAGUE: After a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters. His conversations were very vivid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever refer to your private parts in conversations with Professor Hill?

CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: Absolutely not, Senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever brag to Professor Hill about your sexual prowess?

THOMAS: No, Senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why in God's name would you ever speak to a man like that the rest of your life?

HILL: I was afraid of retaliation. I was afraid of damage to my professional life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: With me now, CNN Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic, who has covered the highest court in the land for more than 25 years.

And I know that, Joan, there are all kinds of similarities between then and now, but first highlight the differences for me.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.

And, boy, hearing that tape, it just reminds me of the sense of anticipation then and now. What's going to happen next? How will the accuser present herself and how will the nominee counter her allegations?

But here's what's different. Obviously, we have had this movement, this MeToo movement, that actually forced off the committee Al Franken. So the members of the committee don't have to go too far to see the consequences of it.

We have different kinds of allegations here. With Hill and Thomas, they were both adults. She was working for him at the EEOC and the Department of Education. It was sexual harassment. She never alleged that he had touched her.

[15:10:04]

In the case of Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, she says that he pulled her into a bedroom, pinned her down, and sexually assaulted her. They were both teenagers at the time, much different than these adults.

We also have the context of a very partisan process. He's within just, you know, 51-49, Republicans control. There's very little margin of error here. Back in 1991, in the end, Clarence Thomas was confirmed 52-48, with the help of 11 Democrats. That's such a different atmosphere.

BALDWIN: And that was the closest it's ever been, right, that sort of vote margin.

BISKUPIC: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BISKUPIC: Closest, Brooke, in a full century.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

And then, OK, so you walked through the differences. What about the similarities?

BISKUPIC: Well, here we have this -- you know, it feels very late in the game, but it's because women had actually come forward, but their grievances hadn't been fully aired.

The committee didn't know exactly how to handle them. Both of them, Anita Hill and Christine Ford, didn't want to come public. So it was simmering in the background. It burst out in public with their names on the weekend before crucial Senate votes. In both cases, the nominees have categorically denied the allegations.

So you have those kinds of similarities. And they're both so sexually charged, which makes everything so tricky right now.

BALDWIN: Joan, thank you so much.

And as you have just highlighted what happened, you know, back in '91 vs. now, we're now hearing, as I mentioned, from the president of the United States. We are turning that tape around for you momentarily on how he's feeling, how he's defending, and if he's speaking about hearing from Ms. Ford as well. We're going to get that for you in just a second.

Stay with me. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:15:28]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... everybody.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Judge Kavanaugh is one of the finest people that I have ever known. He's an outstanding intellect, an outstanding judge, respected by everybody.

Never had even a little blemish on his record. The FBI has, I think, gone through a process six times with him over the years, where he went to higher and higher positions.

He is somebody very special. At the same time, we want to go through a process. We want to make sure everything is perfect, everything is just right.

I wish the Democrats could have done this a lot sooner, because they had this information for many months. And they shouldn't have waited until literally the last days. They should have done it a lot sooner.

But with all of that being said, we want to go through the process.

One thing I will say is that, as I understand it, Judge Kavanaugh spent quite a bit of time with Senator Feinstein, and it wasn't even brought up at that meeting. And she had this information.

So, you would have thought, certainly, that she would have brought it up at the meeting, not wait until everything's finished, and then have to start a process all over again.

But, with all of it being said, we want to go through a full process. I have great confidence in the U.S. Senate and in their procedures and what they're doing. And I think that's probably what they're going to do.

They will go through a process and hear everybody out. I think it's important. I believe they think it's important.

But, again, he is one of the great intellects and one of the finest people that anybody has known. You look at his references, I have never seen anything quite like it. So they will go through that process, and we will get it done.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Should there be a delay?

TRUMP: I don't know. It depends on the process. I would like to see a complete process. I would like everybody to be very happy.

Most importantly, I want the American people to be happy, because they're getting somebody that is great. I want him to go in at the absolute highest level. And I think, to do that, you have to go through this.

If it takes a little delay, it will take a little delay. It shouldn't, certainly, be very much.

But, again, this is something that should have been brought up long before this. They had the information in July, as I understand it. That's a long time ago.

And nobody mentioned it until the other day. It's very -- you know, it's very unfortunate that they didn't mention it sooner. But, with all of that being said, it will, I'm sure, work out very well.

You're talking about an individual who is as high a quality individual as you will ever see.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Have you spoken to...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I have not spoken to Judge Kavanaugh.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Has he offered to withdraw?

TRUMP: Next question? What a ridiculous question that is.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Say it?

QUESTION: Do you think his path towards confirmation is on track?

TRUMP: Oh, I think he's on track, yes. I mean, I think he's very much on track.

If they delay it just a little bit to make sure everybody's happy -- they want to be happy. I can tell you, the Republican senators want to be 100 percent happy themselves. They're doing it very, very professionally. Again, this should have been brought up a long time ago.

Thank you. Thank you very much, everybody.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. Let's go. Guys, let's go.

TRUMP: Yes, you're going to see on China today. Right after close of business, we will be announcing something, and it will be a lot of money coming into the coffers of the United States of America, a lot of money coming in.

But you will be seeing what we're doing right after close of business today, the markets' closing. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go.

TRUMP: You will see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right. So that is the first time we have heard from this president publicly speaking about the woman who says his Supreme Court nominee sexually, physically assaulted her way back when they were in high school.

And so just to highlight some of the headlines, the president there obviously saying over and over he wished the Democrats had brought this forward sooner, but though he did say he would like to hear everybody out, right, this notion that she would, vis-a-vis her attorney, saying she would testify in front of this committee, and he's saying he's OK with a little delay.

David Chalian, you were listening as well.

Oh, and more note, we -- when he said that that was ridiculous, the question was, are you thinking about withdrawing, withdrawing his name? That's ridiculous, so said the president.

Very careful in his words.

CHALIAN: Yes, that was -- that was not Twitter Donald Trump and that was not scorched earth Donald Trump.

That was not somebody who just went out and just scolded the Democrats or somehow accused this woman who's telling a story about surviving a sexual assault.

[15:20:05]

He didn't do any of that. He didn't disparage the woman in any way. This is -- this was one of the more disciplined outings I have seen from the president, again, I think pointing to just how sensitive this moment is to get his nominee on the Supreme Court.

And so, yes, he threw an elbow to the Democrats to say, hey, I think you're playing politics on the timing here and this should have come out a lot sooner. But that being said, he echoed what Kellyanne Conway said this morning. Everyone should be heard here. A full process should go through.

And I told you before, Brooke, mark that Thursday event in the vote in committee in pencil. I think he just took the eraser side of the pencil and said, it's OK if it's a little delayed after that, giving some breathing room for Republicans to be able to go through a process here where they feel 100 percent complete and secure in getting Kavanaugh onto the court, which is, of course, their ultimate goal.

BALDWIN: Right.

CHALIAN: And they want to do it in a way that is totally unimpeachable. And so the president just gave the space and the ability for the Republicans to now go through and do that.

BALDWIN: David, thank you very much.

CHALIAN: Sure.

BALDWIN: Let's go to the White House and our senior White House correspondent there, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, what did you think of the president just then?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, there's no question that the president is continuing his discipline over these Supreme Court nominees.

This has been the single most disciplined area of his presidency, the first Supreme Court vacancy and now this second one. He's very much following the playbook here that his advisers have laid out for him.

I really can't recall, at least in this instance, something where he has been as measured, I would say, and on a subject that we have seen him be not measured before. He -- his instinct, initially, I was thinking back about a year ago to those accusations of sexual misconduct against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

He seized on those. That -- we did not see President Trump doing that today. So we will see if this continues going forward. But this also has the hand, Brooke, of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in it. This is both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, Capitol Hill and the White House, working to do everything they can to keep this nomination on track.

They believe the best way to do that is to say, you know, we will have a hearing, we will hear from both sides. The president even acknowledging there he's fine a short -- you know, a hold in this, a pause in this, if it gets the outcome that the American people want.

The only sign there, I think, of the president's actual -- probably what he's thinking, we know he's angry a little bit behind the scenes here. When a reporter in the room asked him if Judge Kavanaugh offered to withdraw the nomination, he said, that's a ridiculous question.

But, as of now, Brooke, very disciplined White House here. They believe they can still get Judge Kavanaugh through this process. But, boy, looking so much different than it did just a few days ago, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Mm-hmm. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Let's have a bigger discussion. I have got Jim Schultz with me, CNN legal commentator, former White House lawyer under President Trump. Also with us, CNN national reporter Maeve Reston and CNN legal analyst Areva Martin, who is a civil rights attorney.

So, welcome to all of you.

We've got a lot of news coming in here.

Jim, just first to you, you heard the words describing President Trump, disciplined, measured. What did you make of how he handled that just then?

JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: I think he had the right tone.

Look, these are serious allegations and they need to be taken seriously. And a process needs to be borne out here. You know, these allegations were available to Senator Feinstein back in July. At that time, she could have sent them over to the FBI and the FBI could have done that as part of their initial background investigation. She chose not to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Let me just jump in. She was respecting the wishes of the woman we now know as Christine Blasey Ford, who did not want to go public on this.

SCHULTZ: Well, and Senate Democratic staff decided not to respect her wishes by leaking it.

But let's get back to the process for a second. The issue here is, that could have gone through a confidential process where he could have been questioned about it and then he could have been questioned by the committee in closed-door meetings.

That didn't happen here. So what we're now faced with, because the process wasn't followed, now we're faced with, well, what do we do now days before? Well, what do they do now days before? I'm heartened by the fact that Brett Kavanaugh, Judge Kavanaugh came

out and said he is going to be willing to testify under oath as it relates to this issue. I'm heartened by the fact that the witness has come forward and willing to discuss it, notwithstanding the fact that the Democrats leaked this information.

I think that's good for the American people to be able to hear it and make credibility judgments on their own. And let's not forget, they could also bring in the other witness in this and have discussions with him as well. So I think there's a real opportunity here to bear out the facts, let the American people and the Senate, who ultimately have the vote on this, make their credibility judgments on their own.

BALDWIN: Right, the other witness who also denies this ever happened.

Areva, how do you see it?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, first of all, I don't know where this comment is coming from that the Democrats leaked it. There's absolutely no evidence that the Democrats leaked this information.

[15:25:06]

Senator Feinstein respected the wishes of this victim, because this victim knew what would happen if she came forward. We have seen it time and time again. When women come forward and tell their story, they are no longer the victims. They become the villain. They get attacked. They get humiliated.

We have watched Anita Hill get annihilated as she told her story about Justice Clarence Thomas. So I think we should just step it back a little and should be talking about the bravery and the courage that it takes for a woman to come forward and to even tell her story.

Even in this era of MeToo, it's still incredibly difficult for women to talk about sexual harassment and sexual assault. So, this big rush to have the hearing, I don't know what the rush is about. Obviously, if it takes a week, if it takes two weeks to get to the truth, I think the country deserves, the American people deserve to have these serious allegations vetted, with not just a hearing between the two people involved, but there possibly are other witnesses, Brooke, who were at this party, other people who can shed light on what happened that night.

And they all have information, I think, that's invaluable to us getting to the truth and knowing whether this guy, Brett Kavanaugh, if this judge should have a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.

BALDWIN: She, Maeve, did not want to come forward. She had written this letter back in July. She reached out to "The Washington Post" tip line back in the summer. Senator Feinstein respected her wishes. She took this polygraph test, passed the polygraph test.

And it's no wonder. You know, she really grappled this. It is no wonder why women are so hesitant to come forward. MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely,

because she knew what was about to happen to her life.

I mean, she's now no longer staying at her house, as we know from our reporters, M.J. Lee, who's been following this case. And I think that one of the most breathtaking things so far, you saw President Trump be pretty restrained there, obviously, Kellyanne Conway as well.

But you just played that interview with Senator Hatch a few minutes ago, who is suggesting that she was mixed up in her recollection, and maybe has the wrong guy and is -- and he is making that statement before hearing her testimony under oath.

BALDWIN: Let me play that.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: We were going to play that in a second, but since you brought it up, guys -- actually, everyone, stick around.

We're going to take a quick break. I want to get to that Senator Orrin Hatch point that Maeve was about to get to on his recent conversation Judge Kavanaugh on where he says he was that night.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)