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Accuser of Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh of Sexual Assault Comes Forward Publicly and Agrees to Testify before Senate; Flooding Threatens Parts of North Carolina in Wake of Hurricane Florence. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 17, 2018 - 8:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- it would be an insult to every woman in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very surprised. I'm going to be talking with my colleagues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans want to shove it on through. But the perception is that they've been stiff arming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Judge Kavanaugh, has categorically denied the allegation. I think we'll confirm him before October.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Preceding epic flooding in North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what people are dealing with, a dire situation for people here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have not seen the worst of the flooding. People need to heed the warning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one for the record books.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota on John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, September 17th, 8:00 now in the east. The lawyer for the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault more than 30 years ago said the accuser is willing to publicly testify. Here is what attorney Debra Katz said right here on NEW DAY moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Has she been asked by any of the lawmakers to do that?

DEBRA KATZ, ATTORNEY FOR CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: That's interesting. The answer is no.

CAMEROTA: She's not been asked but she is now willing to do so. Is she in conversations with people? Have the lawmakers reached out and tried to talk to her via phone?

KATZ: We've heard from no one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK. And the White House seems to agree that the accuser should be heard. Here is Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Let me make very clear again for those who just want to slice and dice what's being said today on behalf of the president. This woman should not be ignored and should not be insulted. She should be heard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Kavanaugh in a statement categorically and unequivocally denies the allegation. He says he did not do this in high school or at any time. Some Republican senators have joined Democrats in calling for Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee vote to be delayed, postponed until we hear more from this.

Joining us right now in the studio is the number two ranking Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is on the Judiciary Committee. Senator, thanks so much for being with us this morning. We heard moments ago the attorney for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford say that Ford is willing to testify in public to the Senate. Will that happen this week?

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: I don't know that there will be a hearing with testimony. We haven't decided the parameters. The bottom line is this -- Chuck Grassley, Senate Republicans, and others have to make sure the American people believe that everyone is being treated fairly. Rushing this through is not treating someone fairly. Doing this in a conference call as opposed to her offer to come forward and say things publicly is certainly not fair. We need to postpone the scheduled vote, which was supposed to take place on Thursday, until we get to the bottom of this.

BERMAN: Again, are you in favor of a public hearing?

DURBIN: I think that's the only way to go at this point. She has agreed to do it, and it's going to be very difficult, otherwise, to satisfy all the different things that have been said, contradictory things, as you noted, between Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford.

BERMAN: Do you believe her story?

DURBIN: I can tell you, it really does have a ring of truth to it. The fact that she can refer to therapist notes so that she did bring it up before. I am skeptical of polygraphs, but for those who believe them, she has passed a polygraph test. So I'd say at this point the fact that she would come forward to defend herself adds credibility to her charge. BERMAN: There are those who will say even if a version of this

happened, he was in high school, he was drunk. We can't hold people to account for things they did, everything they did as a kid.

DURBIN: That's a very real point and one that most parent understand as well as those of us who think of our own high school years. But we have a categorical denial by Judge Kavanaugh as to whether this occurred. And the third person in the room if it occurred, as described by Dr. Ford, says he has no recollection of it and has written books and things about blackout beer drunk parties during high school. So I would have to say that this goes because of the denial by Judge Kavanaugh to a different level.

BERMAN: We have heard from a number of Republicans. I heard from one, Amy Kremer, just a few minutes ago who was saying what she's most concerned about isn't the allegation itself but the timing with which it all went public, that the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein, sat basically on this letter that she received from Dr. Ford for months without going public.

DURBIN: I know a little bit more about that, and I will tell you what happened. Senator Feinstein received the letter transmitted through another member of Congress and immediately, the next day, took it seriously and called Dr. Ford. And Dr. Ford made it clear she wanted this to remain confidential. She was not ready to go public with it.

So Senator Feinstein was in a dilemma. Here is an important allegation which may or may not be true and a complaining person who doesn't want to be publicly identified. So she is trying to respect this woman who may or may not have been victimized, and to do it in a thoughtful way.

[08:05:04] She struggled with this for weeks to try to figure out how to get to the bottom of it, talked to Dr. Ford and to her lawyer, and even contemplated the possibility of an outside investigation looking into it. The decision was finally made just a week ago when all the members sat down, let's turn everything over to the FBI. And it was redacted but turned over to them, and then it has progressed from there.

BERMAN: And it was Dr. Ford who chose to come forward this week?

DURBIN: Yes.

BERMAN: And it wasn't until Dr. Ford chose to come forward that her name was not made public?

DURBIN: That is exactly right. And Senator Feinstein was respectful of the fact that if the allegations are true that she was victimized and did not want her name disclosed.

BERMAN: Sixty-five classmates of Brett Kavanaugh have come forward with this letter at the end of last week, saying they never saw anything like this, standing up for his character. It could very well, at the end of the day, even if there is testimony, come down to her version of the story and his version of the story. What then? DURBIN: Of course, then the committee has to reach a conclusion. I

will tell you that the circumstances surrounding this nomination have been unusual. The Republican set a standard for production of evidence about Supreme Court nominees, which we stood by on Obama nominees, Democrats and Republicans agreed we were going to put everything on the table. And then when it came to Brett Kavanaugh, exactly the opposite occurred. Thirty-five months of his service as staff secretary to the president have been blacked out. We can't see any documents from that period of time. So this has been an extraordinary nomination from the start.

BERMAN: In addition to being the number two in the Senate, what that means is that you can't vote. You're the whip, you're the Democratic whip. Some of the votes out there are from Democratic senators in red states who are up for reelection, Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, Claire McCaskill. Have you talked to any of them? Do they want a public hearing? Do they want a delay?

DURBIN: It's a little too soon. This just occurred over the weekend so I have had a chance. But each of them is taking this very responsibly and personally. This is an historic vote. It is the swing vote on the Supreme Court for a generation or more. They are looking at his testimony on substance, and now we have a brand new issue. I think all of us want to make sure at the end of the day that we are fair to both Judge Kavanaugh and to Dr. Ford and let the facts speak for themselves.

BERMAN: One of the things, and we've heard it here this morning, people suggesting is that you're getting these old allegations at a very late time. And what you might be doing, if you give them too much credence -- these aren't my words, these are arguments being made by others -- is you're setting a precedent for the future in nomination, that a very high bar for anyone, if you're digging back into uncorroborated allegations from 35 years ago, that's a bar that no one can pass.

DURBIN: I can tell you, it is a high bar, and the scrutiny level is getting more intense with each nominee. That is a reality, whether it's a Democrat or Republican. And in this circumstance, where we have an allegation of sexual harassment, even if it goes back to high school --

BERMAN: This is sexual assault. This isn't harassment.

DURBIN: I'll agree with you. Your characterization is more accurate. But we are now at a point in time where we're reevaluating our judgment on these issues from years gone by. So this is a critical moment in the passage of scrutiny before the Supreme Court.

BERMAN: CNN's reporting, which is just coming in and was just relayed to me, is that President Trump is said to be annoyed that Judge Kavanaugh's name is being dragged through the mud, that's what was just related to me, but there's no decision to pull the nomination.

DURBIN: That is a decision which Judge Kavanaugh, his family, and the White House will have to make. We have to do our job on the Judiciary Committee, be fair to both. Be fair to the judge, be fair to Dr. Ford, make sure the facts are before the American people so they understand we've asked the right questions.

BERMAN: At the beginning of this interview, you seemed to suggest that having this testimony public this week might be too soon, too fast.

DURBIN: No question that it is. There have been suggestions, well, let's just have a conference call with the chairman of the committee and perhaps Senator Feinstein. They can talk to the people and that will be the end of it. I don't think that's sufficient. And the statement by Miss Katz this morning, representing Dr. Ford, says that she is prepared to testify publicly.

BERMAN: And she said that to Alisyn right here. But if, for instance, Chuck Grassley would say I'm clearing the calendar for tomorrow. Let's have them both up here tomorrow.

DURBIN: I don't know that that's fair. I really don't. Think about this. We kept the Supreme Court vacancy open for 400 days because Senator McConnell would not allow Merrick Garland to even have an appointment, the Supreme Court nominee of President Obama, 400 days. And now they're telling us this is a matter of hours, we've got to get this done in hours. Let's do this the right way, a thoughtful way. It's a lifetime to the highest court in the land. It's a generation decision.

BERMAN: This week is unacceptable to you?

DURBIN: I think it's too fast?

BERMAN: Will Judge Kavanaugh be confirmed?

DURBIN: At this point I think it's in doubt. Questions have been raised, and let's see how this ends before I make any kind of prediction.

[08:10:03] BERMAN: Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, thanks so much for being with us. I do appreciate it. Obviously, let us know what you hear. We're fascinated by whether or not a hearing is scheduled in the next few days.

DURBIN: I think it's unlikely but we'll see what Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell want to do with this.

BERMAN: Thanks, Senator. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: OK, now to another big story, the catastrophic flooding in the Carolinas. It is expected to worsen in the coming days. Hurricane Florence is blamed for 18 deaths and hundreds of people having to be rescued in these rising floodwaters that you see on your screen. CNN's Erica Hill is live in Fayetteville, North Carolina, with more. What's the situation there today, Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, what we're seeing at this moment, this water just behind me is not supposed to be this high. This is one of a number of creeks in the area. And I think our drone is -- we're going to try to get a drone shot here. We've been going out in the neighborhoods to see, this water is very close to coming over. We actually saw it bubbling up between the asphalt and the concrete on the side of the road here.

That's a major concern. We have blue sky, we have a break in the rain. That's fantastic. The issue is the waters are continuing to rise. There's water coming from downstream, from other saturated areas. The two main rivers we're looking at here in Fayetteville and the Cape Fear and the Little River. There are mandatory evacuations are in place for a mile around those rivers. In fact, police officers, firefighters going door to door over the weekend, explaining to people why they need to get out. The resistance for some folks is I made it through Matthew OK. We're going to be fine. The mayor says that is absolutely the wrong attitude to have. Both he and fire officials tell me they've learned a lot from Matthew, and they also know that this is going to be significantly higher if all of this bears out.

Matthew, when we talk about the Cape Fear river, crested at 53 feet. Tomorrow the Cape Fear river is expected to crest at 62 feet, Alisyn. So that just expands the flooding area exponentially, and that's why they want people to get out, they don't what them to be complacent today because the real concern is still to come.

CAMEROTA: Erica, such a great point. Sixth-two feet, that's the number they're expecting?

HILL: Yes, 62.

CAMEROTA: It's stunning. You made a point time and again, that the really scary part of that storm wasn't what we watched you in necessarily. It was what's to come.

BERMAN: It's the duration. It's going on and on and on and it is going to take enormous amount of patience and strength for all the people there. Thanks to Erica.

Brett Kavanaugh's accuser has a name, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, has come public with on the record allegations that she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh when they were in high school. The breaking news this morning. She is willing to testify in public in front of the Senate. So what happens now? What will Republicans do with this? We'll discuss next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:15:00]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, NEW DAY HOST: OK, so we just spoke to the lawyer for the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual assault more than 30 years ago. She says the accuser is willing to testify publically, but no one from the committee has contacted her yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) Has she been asked by any of the lawmakers to do that?

DEBRA KATZ, ATTORNEY: That's interesting. The answer's no.

CAMEROTA: She's not been asked, but she is now willing to do so. Is she in conversations with people? Have people - have the lawmakers reached out and tried to talk to her via phone?

KATZ: We've heard from no one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAMEROTA: Yes.

JOHN BERMAN, NEW DAY HOST: Yet. So there's supposed to be a vote on Thursday in the Judiciary Committee. Will that happen? Joining us now is CNN Chief Legal Analyst and former Federal Prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin, and CNN Senior Political Reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.

Friends, thanks for being here. So much has changed -

NIA-MALKIA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLTIICAL REPORTER: Yes.

BERMAN: - in the last hour -

HENDERSON: Yes.

BERMAN: - since we last saw you, since we last talked.

CAMEROTA: It's a good thing you guys didn't leave.

HENDERSON: Yes.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That's right.

BERMAN: This is a major development. You have Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who, on the record, has accused a Supreme Court nominee of sexual harassment saying she's -

CAMEROTA: Sexual assault.

BERMAN: Sexual assault, thank you. And that is an important distinction. Your (ph) sexual assault saying she's willing to testify under oath before the U.S. Senate that this happened.

TOOBIN: So how do you not let her testify? How do you just say, "OK, thanks but no thanks"? I think it's very difficult for the Republicans in charge. If they want to hold this vote on Thursday, it seems almost impossible to be able to schedule that when you consider that Wednesday is Yom Kippur and the Senate generally doesn't hold hearings on Yom Kippur.

Whether - obviously initially the Grassley plan was to simply have senators or staff talk to the two people on the telephone and leave it at that. That seems like it's a nonstarter at this point, but how does the schedule work? And do the Republicans actually allow her to testify publically? You would think they would have to, but it's their candy store and maybe they'll just say no, we're going to try to bull this hearing through.

CAMEROTA: So what's the harm in delaying it a few days? I mean, really. What's the rush?

HENDERSON: Yes, and Republicans haven't really explained that, and obviously the backdrop is the court hadn't been at full strength because of the Merrick Garland, a holdup for I believe Durbin said (ph) something like 400 days or so. So it's not a real credible argument.

I mean, if they want a full hearing and the public to get a full airing of these two sides, you would imagine, sure, why don't they postpone this vote? Why don't they bring her up there so she can testify? You bring up Mark Jones. You bring up anybody else who would.

CAMEROTA: In fact, CBS is reporting the Brett Kavanaugh welcomes the opportunity to address -

HENDERSON: Yes.

CAMEROTA: - the committee on this.

HENDERSON: Right, and we'll see. I mean, what is his defense? I mean, if you flash back to Clarence Thomas, I mean what is sort of Kavanaugh's this is a high-tech link chain, you know, for an uppity black man? That was Thomas's, you know, kind of defense in 1991. How do they frame it? You say Amy Cramer. You guys talked to her earlier. She says it was a political hack job. She said the same thing on defending Roy Moore. So Republicans will have to figure out how they play this.

TOOBIN: I think - in fairness to Kavanaugh, I think his defense is clear. It didn't happen. It just simply didn't happen. I don't mean to put words in his mouth, but he can say, "look, I don't what she's thinking of. I don't know what - you know, I'm not going to attack her, but this simply didn't happen." Senators and everybody else will then have to make up their minds about whom to believe.

[08:20:00]

BERMAN: If there is this public testimony, though, you will have Dr. Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate with her right hand raised saying that the Supreme Court nominee who you were going to vote on tried to sexually assault me or did sexually assault me and perhaps even tried to rape me. And then 100 senators are going to have to base their vote on that. And when they raise their hand, they're going to have to know that I am raising my hand yay (ph) knowing that a woman stood before the Senate accusing this nominee of rape.

TOOBIN: And these stories, once you dig into the, start to get more complicated, not less. Let's think about Mark Judge, the third person in the room -

CAMEROTA: Friend of Brett Kavanaugh.

TOOBIN: - friend of Brett Kavanaugh's who Dr. Ford accused - says was involved in this assault. He's a colorful character. He's written a lot about drinking, about drinking to excess. Is he a supportive witness or does his background come out against him? I mean, again, once you start to get involved with details -

CAMEROTA: So (inaudible) that he - that this didn't happen?

TOOBIN: He doesn't recall.

HENDERSON: There's nothing to go off (ph).

CAMEROTA: Right.

TOOBIN: Which is also peculiar in and of itself given the magnitude of an event like this, I don't recall.

CAMEROTA: Well if they were staggering drunk, I mean, that's -

TOOBIN: I guess, well -

CAMEROTA: She says they were staggering drunk.

TOOBIN: Again, maybe he doesn't recall. Maybe it didn't happen at all.

CAMEROTA: Possible.

TOOBIN: These are the things that you have to explore in an investigative proceeding that actually attempts to figure out what happened.

BERMAN: But it's a political proceeding. I mean, yes, they're trying to find out the facts, but ultimately those senators will have to make a political decision.

HENDERSON: Yes -

TOOBIN: To be sure, but the ultimate - but the underlying facts have to play some role in the political judgment.

HENDERSON: And it's tough. I mean, if you're Ted Cruz, who's in some ways in a tough reelection battle in Texas, how do you play this? Are you playing this for the base who likely believe that this is some sort of political off what (ph) or are you more mindful of suburban women who we can see already are very skeptical of Republicans and in some ways slaying the party in (inaudible).

BERMAN: We're watching how the White House is playing -

HENDERSON: Oh that's very interesting, yes.

BERMAN: - this morning, which is really interesting because on the one hand, you have Kellyanne Conway out in public saying both need to be heard, Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh need to be heard on this, saying that she supports the idea of hearings. On the other hand -

CAMEROTA: Have we heard anything on Twitter yet?

BERMAN: On the - I have not. No, he's tweeting about steel this morning. On the other hand we have what our Kaitlan Collins is reporting the president feels about this.

CAMEROTA: Oh yes, that President Trump has privately voiced suspicion about the #metoo movement complaining the allegations made decades later can ruin mens' lives. Right?

HENDERSON: We've heard this before. I mean, this is essentially what he said about Roy Moore when he was a big defender of Roy Moore. I think one of the things we've seen from Republican voters is they don't really have a penalty that they exact on people who are accused -

TOOBIN: For example -

HENDERSON: For example -

TOOBIN: - Donald Trump.

HENDESON: - Donald Trump for example, in some ways Roy Moore, too, who got a lot of Republican voters lost ultimately. So I think if you're a Republican senator, you're looking at that history of how Republican voters have viewed these allegations.

CAMEROTA: I guess. I don't know if you can use the election of Donald Trump as evidence that Republicans don't care about this. I mean, I think that times have changed even since then, even in these 20 months -

HENDERSON: Right.

CAMEROTA: - or whatever it's been, times have changed in the #metoo event, and it might just be that he is such an anomalous candidate that we can't apply those same rules.

HENDERSON: I mean, we saw this in - I mean, I keep bringing up Roy Moore. I mean, he lost. The majority of Republican voters voted for Roy Moore even given that -

BERMAN: Barely.

HENDERSON: Yes, he barely lost.

BERMAN: I just want to make one thing clear and we say why did she wait until now to come -

CAMEROTA: Right.

BERMAN: - forward. Victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse often don't come forward for years.

CAMEROTA: And really don't want to come forward. But by the way, she did speak about this six years ago. If you believe her story and her therapists contemporaneous notes, she did six years talk about this. She then talked about it the year after that. She told her husband about it. So it's as if just last week she decided to do this.

TOOBIN: But, you know, you are going to hear as you heard earlier in the interview with the Trump supporter, well, why didn't she come forward when she was nominated for a federal judgeship 12 years ago? I mean, these are going to be the arguments and - 14 years ago he was nominated, so it's going to be - you know, the details are going to matter.

BERMAN: They absolutely will.

TOOBIN: The facts matter and that's a good thing.

BERMAN: And they're playing our before our eyes right now. What will the Senate decide to do? What will Chuck Grassley decided to do? Will there be a public hearing and when? Much more on this breaking story when we come back.

(COMMERICAL BREAK)

[08:25:00]

BERMAN: New attacks from President Trump on the Russia investigation and new cases of him just getting it wrong. John Avlon has a rail eraser (ph), John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. OK, so President Trumps Twitter feed was working overtime this weekend, including this whopper. The illegal Mueller witch hunt continues in search of crime. There was never collusion with Russia except by the Clinton campaign. So 17 angry democrats are looking at anything they can find. Well there's a lot there. So let's take it point by point.

First the illegal Mueller witch hunt. OK, Mueller investigation is not of course illegal. It is the creation of the Trump justice department. Robert Muellers mandate was spelled out by Deputy Attorney General Rodd Rosenstein. And if that's not enough for you, three Federal Judges have now ruled the Mueller probe perfectly legal, two of them in the Paul Manafort case.

Now speaking of Manafort the former Trump Campaign Chairman copped a plea deal on Friday. Now just weeks ago Trump was praising Manafort for refusing to break when confronted by federal prosecutors. That praise is now inoperative. As Manafort joins the presidents hated flippers club, along with Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, and George Papadopoulos. That's a lot of cooperation for being in search of a crime as the president says.

Trumps next point is classic deflection. Quote "there was never collusion with Russia, except by the Clinton campaign." It is true that after the GOP primaries a democratic law firm hired Fusion GPS which in turn hired former British spy Christopher Steele to look deeper into Trumps Russia ties. And that work became known as the dossier. Now Steele may have spoken to Russian sources for investigation, but we know the Kremlin interfered with our elections. And even Putin himself says he wanted Trump to win.

Next, the idea that the Mueller team is composed of 17 angry democrats, for what it's worth according to the "Washington Post", 13 of the attorneys working for Mueller are now or were registered democrats with nine having donated money

[08:30:00]