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Trump Defends Kavanaugh Amid Sexual Assault Allegation; At Least 20 Dead after Florence, Carolina Rivers Till Rising. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 17, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now with this.

[17:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, confirmation in jeopardy. Sudden questions about the future of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after a woman accuses him of assaulting her while they were -- when they were in high school. Will it derail his confirmation?

A little delay. President Trump defends Kavanaugh as one of the finest people he knows but says he supports hearing everyone out, even if it delays confirmation. Will Kavanaugh and his accuser both testify under oath?

Deep trouble. Flooding from Florence claims more lives as the storm leaves what one official calls a monumental disaster in the Carolinas, where rivers are still on the rise. Is the worst still ahead?

And Putin's poison plan? Members of a Russian activist punk band say one of their members has been poisoned. Did the Russian president order an attack on one of his leading critics?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There are new doubts this hour about President Trump's Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, now that a California professor has come forward, saying that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high-school party more than three decades ago. Kavanaugh denies any such incident ever happened, and both he and his accuser say they're willing to testify under oath to Congress. We'll talk about that and more this hour with Senator Patrick Leahy. He's a senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

And our correspondents, specialists, and analysts are also standing by.

But first, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, the president is said to be privately very angry about all of this, but his remarks just a little while ago were relatively subdued.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Pretty tempered. The White House is showing no signs of abandoning Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. President Trump dismissed the notion Kavanaugh would step aside. And I'm told aides are stressing Kavanaugh's denials to its surrogates, but the allegations against Kavanaugh are so explosive, aides to the president and Mr. Trump himself, they are choosing their words very carefully tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA (voice-over: President Trump is sticking with his Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, brushing off the notion the embattled judge would withdraw from consideration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has he offered to withdraw?

TRUMP: Next question. What a ridiculous question.

ACOSTA: Asked about the accusation of assault facing Kavanaugh, the president didn't hesitate to defend the judge.

TRUMP: 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.

ACOSTA: Still, the president did not push back on the possibility of a delay in the confirmation battle.

TRUMP: If it takes a little delay, it will take a little delay.

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

ACOSTA: Kavanaugh made an appearance at the White House earlier in the day, as sources tell CNN the president is fuming over the allegation rocking his selection for the high court. But top aides, including the normally combative White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, were keeping their powder dry.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: On behalf of the president with whom I've spoken at length about this. So put aside all the nonsense that's on TV and people who couldn't possibly be a source familiar with his thinking. She should not be ignored or insulted. She should be heard.

ACOSTA: The accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, says Kavanaugh and a friend were drunk when they assaulted her while in high school more than 35 years ago. In a letter detailing her ordeal, she writes, "They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe he in their highly inebriated state. With Kavanaugh's hand over my mouth, I feared he may inadvertently kill me." Her attorney insists this was an assault. DEBRA KATZ, ATTORNEY FOR CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: That 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.

ACOSTA: Both Ford and Kavanaugh are willing to testify. Kavanaugh maintains he's innocent, saying in a statement, "This is a completely false allegation. I've never done anything like what the accuser describes to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday."

The friend alleged to have played a part in the assault, Mark Judge, said in a statement, "I never saw Brett act that way."

A sign of just how poisonous the debate over Kavanaugh has now become, just look at this Instagram post from the president's son, Donald Trump Jr. It mocks the allegations against Kavanaugh in crayon with the words "Will you be my girlfriend? Yes, no, love Brett."

TRUMP: Grab them by the pussy.

ACOSTA: The Kavanaugh saga presents the president with a familiar challenge.

TRUMP: Hello. How are you? Hi.

Reporter: Mr. Trump, who once bragged to "Access Hollywood" that he could grope women and get away with it, has sided with men accused of misconduct in the past. Whether it was his ex-aide, Rob Porter --

[17:05:11] TRUMP: He says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that.

ROY MOORE (R), FORMER ALABAMA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.

ACOSTA: -- or Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.

TRUMP: He says it didn't happen, and you know, you have to listen to him also.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The president may have learned to show some restraint, at least this time. He has so far not tweeted about the allegations facing Kavanaugh. And with the midterms just 50 days away and women voters critical to whether the GOP maintains control over Congress, the president has, at least temporarily, Wolf, found his mute button -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Key words, "at least temporarily."

All right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is joining us. Sunlen, you've found out that Judge Kavanaugh will be talking to Republican staffers on the Judiciary Committee this hour. Give us the latest.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. In a little bit over half an hour, Judge Kavanaugh will hop on the phone with Republicans members of the Republican -- Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, excuse me, staff members on the Judiciary Committee. Members will not be on this call.

Instead, a source tells me that it will be lawyers on the committee's staff. They will press Judge Kavanaugh, according to this source, on detailed specific questions, of course, about these allegations which has rocked his nomination.

This, of course, comes as the chairman of this committee, Chairman Grassley, faces significant questions and calls for him to postpone this vote that, as of now, is still scheduled for Thursday in the committee level.

Now Grassley, for his part, has said that he wants to get to the bottom of these claims. That Dr. Ford deserves to be heard, in his words. But of course, there are also calls for open, under-oath testimony from both Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford about these allegations. So far chairman Grassley has not said what he will do, given no indication either whether he will, indeed, delay this vote that is as of now, Wolf, scheduled for Thursday.

BLITZER: We'll see if that actually takes place on Thursday.

Sunlen, how are Republicans reacting to the allegations?

SERFATY: Well, most notably, earlier this afternoon, we heard for the first time from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And certainly trying to inject a little partisan politics into this when he spoke on the Senate floor. Really attempting to point a finger at the Democrats over what he called an 11th hour revelation. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: That accusation of 36- year-old misconduct dating back to high school has been brought forward at the last minute in an irregular manner. It is an accusation which Judge Kavanaugh has completely and unequivocally denied. It is an accusation which the ranking member of the committee of jurisdiction has known about for at least six weeks. Known about for six weeks, yet chose to keep secret until the 11th hour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: Meantime, we also heard from many key Republican senators, of course, whose votes Kavanaugh will need if and when he reaches the full Senate including just a short time ago, Senator Susan Collins, who spoke outside her office. Here's what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: There are an awful lot of questions, inconsistencies, gaps, and that's why, to be fair to vote, we need to know what happened. If Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Reporter: And also key, not only to those Republicans' votes, potentially, if he reaches the full Senate but also red-state Democrats today who are still a big question mark. Many of those Democrats, Wolf, really emphasizing that they want to know more, that they can't yet vote yes on him unless they know more about these allegations, of course. So certainly, underscoring how much certainly hangs in the balance for Judge Kavanaugh up here on Capitol Hill tonight.

BLITZER: Lots at stake, indeed. All right, Sunlen. Thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont is joining us. He's the senior most Democrat, by the way, on the Judiciary Committee. He's been there a long time. Lots of experience.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Happy to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So do you believe the Judiciary Committee will call on Professor Ford, Judge Kavanaugh and Judge Kavanaugh's supposed friend going back to high school, Mark Judge, to actually come before your committee and testify under oath?

LEAHY: I think we have to. This will probably shock the White House, but I agree with President Trump when he said a delay is not going to hurt anything. We should have a delay, get all the facts.

And you know, the fact is they've been rushing this from the start. We don't have all -- in fact, we only have 7 or 8 percent of his records from the time -- from his time at the White House, Judge Kavanaugh's time at the White House.

[17:10:06] And now when you have to think, it takes a lot of courage for Dr. Ford to come forward. She should be heard. And certainly, she makes a claim against Judge Kavanaugh, he should be heard. But don't rush this. It's a lifetime appointment. Let's get the facts right before we vote.

BLITZER: You're a senior member, clearly, of the Judiciary Committee. What advice, Senator, would you give your Republican colleagues on how to judge the veracity of this very, very serious allegation?

LEAHY: I would remind them there's only 100 senators. We should be the conscience of the nation. We're not expressing the conscience if we rush through. Let's have a very serious, try to keep it out of partisanship, investigation, what's happening.

Let the experts come in, talk with Dr. Ford. Let us talk to Dr. Ford and talk to Judge Kavanaugh and the other witnesses we need under oath. You know, I was a prosecutor for eight years. I believe in getting the facts, not jumping to conclusions.

BLITZER: Do you believe, Senator, that the committee should reopen the entire confirmation process, the confirmation hearing, or just simply focus on this one issue?

LEAHY: Go on this one issue -- I mean, there's so many things that go to Judge Kavanaugh's veracity already. You know, not -- claimed he didn't know about what Manny Miranda did in stealing files from Democrats. His involvement with the judge prior -- there's a lot of inconsistencies in his testimony already. We don't have to reopen those.

But this fact the American public deserves, especially for a lifetime appointment, deserves the Senate doing their job. Take two or three more weeks. We have to give up a few weekends, we have to give up a few evenings, so what? It's a lifetime job. Let's do our job.

BLITZER: Republicans still hope, as we speak right now, to have a committee vote on Thursday. Do you think that will actually happen? At this point, could Kavanaugh make it out of your committee? There are 11 Republicans, ten Democrats.

LEAHY: If they have the vote on Thursday it goes from sham to shameful. That would be a rush to judgment. This is, I said, one time where President Trump and I actually agree. Take the time to do it right.

BLITZER: What would it mean for Kavanaugh's confirmation if the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, chooses to bypass your committee and just simply bring up a final vote on the Senate floor, let all 100 U.S. senators vote? What would you do if that were to happen?

LEAHY: Well, let's hope that doesn't happen, because that -- that would mean the Senate's not being the conscience of the nation. That would mean we turned our back on any tradition.

It's bad enough they did something like that in stopping Merrick Garland for a year, not allowing him neve to vote. That was totally unprecedented, especially with a lot of Republicans that said of course they'd vote for Merrick Garland if he came to a vote. Let's not do one shameful thing on top of another.

BLITZER: The president is seriously questioning how Democrats have handled this entire matter. Senator Feinstein got the letter on July 30. In that letter, she described the alleged sexual assault in great detail.

Do you think there was a way for Senator Feinstein to have alerted you, other members of the committee, without revealing her identity? LEAHY: I'm going to leave that to her. I know Senator Feinstein has

always acted with integrity on things she has done. The fact is, however, we have the letter now. Let's act on it.

This rushing this through to a vote -- we don't even have all of Judge Kavanaugh's records from when he was at the White House. Now we're saying here's a major item, we want to go to vote without even having that -- it doesn't even pass the laugh test. It goes from sham to shameful.

BLITZER: Did you miss an opportunity to ask about all of this during Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing? Either in the open session or in the closed session or in the written Q&A? No questions were even asked of him, even though Democrats like Senator Feinstein knew about the allegation.

LEAHY: I don't think any of us knew about the allegations as they've come forward now from Dr. Ford or the fact that they've been corroborated by her therapist and others. I think had we had that, you would have seen a much different hearing.

I know I was frustrated when Judge Kavanaugh, I felt, was misleading in his answers about what he had done at the White House. His answers about what emails he'd had. His answers about his involvement including with a man who had actually stolen things from the Senate.

BLITZER: I want you to watch this in moment from Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas' second confirmation hearing in the early '90s. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEAHY: Why would she come here and perjure herself, throw away all of that, for what? And what would she possibly get out of throwing all that away?

CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Senator, I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you remember that moment during that confirmation hearing? What message, Senator --

LEAHY: I -- I -- go ahead.

BLITZER: What message do you think, Senator, would send to victims of sexual harassment and assault if Brett Kavanaugh joins Clarence Thomas to sit on the bench of the highest court without a full -- a full adjudication of the allegations?

LEAHY: Well, as you know, from the time of Anita Hill, I was one of those who publicly said I believed Anita Hill, that she told the truth. I believed that Clarence Thomas had not -- did not tell the truth. Certainly, he didn't in answer to a couple of my questions.

But it sends a terrible message, especially as they're rushing this through before all the information can come out. What does it say to everybody if more information comes out in the next week or so, and he's on lifetime appointment? It demeans the United States Supreme Court. It certainly says the United States Senate didn't do its job. We're not being the conscience of the nation. It's a lose-lose-lose situation, all of which can be avoided by taking another two or three weeks to actually do it right, to do the job that we're elected to do and we're all paid to do.

BLITZER: Senator Leahy, thanks for joining us.

LEAHY: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's much more ahead on this sudden twist in the Kavanaugh nomination. Will the judge and his accuser testify under oath?

Plus, Florence's deadly flooding inundates parts of the Carolinas. And officials are now warning it's only going to get worse.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures over Lumberton, North Carolina, right now. The disaster unleashed on the Carolinas by Hurricane Florence is getting worse tonight as rivers across the region rise.

CNN's Scott McLean is in South Carolina for us.

Scott, the National Weather Service says historic and catastrophic flooding will continue for days. What are you seeing?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, I'm standing in the middle of what would normally be Main Street here in Conway, South Carolina, though it's become an extension of the Waccamaw River, which is just about a block away.

The good news for this area is that Florence has moved on. The bad news is that before she left, she dumped an extra six inches of rain on this area yesterday alone. That has made a bad situation even worse. And it is a similar picture across the Carolinas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCLEAN (voice-over): Widespread flooding, impassable roads and bridges, and entire communities under water. Florence has weakened and moved northward, but the next threat is still rising.

GOV. ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Some areas have not seen the worst flooding yet.

MCLEAN: The worst may still be ahead as rivers rise; some won't crest for days. The Coast Guard and rescue teams from across the country are scrambling to help those stranded in homes and cars.

In North Carolina, a 1-year-old drowned after he was swept away by rushing water. His mother drove through a flooded area and tried to escape her car while holding the child but lost her grip.

SHERIFF EDDIE CATHEY, UNION COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA: Driving through water where the roads are closed is a dangerous for anybody. We've had some success, and then we had some tragedy.

MCLEAN: Meanwhile, volunteers are braving flooded roads in high-water vehicles to bring food, water, and supplies to cut-off communities.

Lumberton, North Carolina, is bracing for the worst as the Lumber River levee teeters on failure, prompting flashbacks to 2016, when Hurricane Matthew made its unwelcome visit.

COREY WALTERS, LUMBERTON PUBLIC WORKS DEPUTY DIRECTOR: We're throwing everything we've got at it. Where we're standing at right now, it scoured 20 feet deep when Matthew came through.

MCLEAN: The time to return home is still unknown for thousands who evacuated.

COOPER: We do not want evacuees to go back. We do not want that to happen right now. There's too much going on.

PASTOR TIM OSMENT, SOUTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: This is worse than Matthew. Matthew only got up to right there.

MCLEAN: In lower South Carolina, Pastor Tim Osment woke up to the smell of smoke from his electrical circuit shorting out and the sound of rushing water as the storm sent more than two feet of water into his basement. Moments later, he was walking through a knee-deep, fast-moving current to get out.

OSMENT: It was scary as we were going out. It was up to my knees, and I'm six-feet tall. So that much water moving swiftly, it can take you off your feet.

MCLEAN: Osment has flood insurance.

Carl Lee McCall does not.

CARL LEE MCCALL, SOUTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: Need help. Need it bad.

MCLEAN: McCall had to walk out of his apartment in waist-deep water. It's the second time he's been flooded in the past two years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCLEAN: Now, they are still working inside of this printing company here on Main Street as we speak, trying to get any last bit of revenue that they can. As the owner tells me, the livelihoods of ten people depend on this business staying open. Though at this moment, they're having to use a boat to ferry their products across.

Now, the water is just a couple of inches from the door, but the forecast calls for this river to rise another four feet by the weekend, Wolf.

BLITZER: Awful situation. All right, Scott. Thank you. Scott McLean reporting for us.

[17:25:04] Want to bring in our CNN meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, with the latest. Jennifer, Florence's rain's inundating the region.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It did. And you know, the part that's hard to wrap your mind around now is that the storm is gone. Most of the rain is gone. You see the sunshine out. But yet, these rivers are still rising. And some of them will rise throughout the rest of the week, even more. So even though the rain has stopped, the flooding danger is still very real.

Look at these rainfall totals. We saw two to three feet of rain across South Carolina, North Carolina, and so now all this water is trying to make its way back into the ocean. It's trying to get back into those rivers and go back into the ocean.

But what's happening is it's filling these rivers even more, and it's causing them to overfill their banks. And so that's why we've seen so much flooding even days after the storm has passed.

So 20 rivers are at major flood stage, 22 at moderate. And you can see the rain. Here's the forecast radar. Much of it is leaving South Carolina, North Carolina. Just a couple of spotty showers. But the remnants of Florence are well into northeast and will be in New England later this evening.

The additional rainfall accumulation expected, an inch or less across North Carolina. Much of the rain is going to be two to four inches across the northeast.

The flood threat, though, remains. We have flood warnings in place across South Carolina, North Carolina, and now because that storm is lifting out to the north, we still have flood watches in effect for the northeast.

The tornado threat is also real today, and we have seen several reported tornadoes around the Richmond area, across Virginia. So that tornado watch box is in effect for much of Virginia, and that tornado warning is active right now just to the west of the city. We have reports of some damage there.

A lot of rotations, Wolf, with these tropical systems. Even once they're on land, you'll still get a lot of rotation, and that will cause tornadoes, these brief spin-ups. And that's what we're seeing this evening, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch it together with you. Thank you, Jennifer.

Coming up, will a bombshell sexual assault allegation delay or even derail a vote this week on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We just got some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. [17:32:00] The White House has just released a statement saying that

President Trump has ordered the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice. including the FBI, to release some highly-sensitive, until now, classified information involving several current and former Justice Department and FBI officials, including Carter Page, Bruce Ohr, Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe, James Comey, the former FBI director.

You know, Dana, you've been looking at this. This is precisely what a lot of his conservative supporters have demanding -- they want to basically reopen the entire Hillary Clinton investigation and the start of the Russia probe.

DANA PERINO, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's what this is all about primarily. It's the start of the Russia probe. It's the -- it's to get information public about seeking the FISA warrant, which the lawyer here on the panel can explain in more detail. But generally, in layman's terms, it's to be able to listen in in order to get information, because they got a tip, we now know, way back in 2016, that there's -- that there's some monkey business going on.

Look, at the end of the day, what we need to remember is that these Republicans in Congress have been screaming and yelling about this, that they need this information, and you know what? The president of the United States has a lot of levers. And one of them is he can declassify information. And that's what he's doing.

And it is -- if you have -- you have the list there now. But it is information about some pretty key players --

BLITZER: Right.

BASH: -- including James Comey, who was the FBI director back then.

BLITZER: All text messages from James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr related to the Russia investigation.

BASH: Yes. Because what -- what they are trying to argue and have been trying to argue for, what, almost two years now, is that this was a political investigation from the start. And presumably, whatever they have here, they're not releasing something that negates that. Presumably they have some information beyond what we know about in public record that can back that assumption up.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, what do you make of the timing of this decision? First of all, to release sensitive FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act information, that's almost unprecedented.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is. But so much of this is almost unprecedented.

I make of the timing of this, that this investigation is -- is reaching its peak. We know that Paul Manafort now has pled guilty and is cooperating with the special counsel. There was a report that Michael Flynn will be sentenced at the end of November, which suggests that -- that also suggests that we're nearing the end of the investigation. There's an enormous amount of anxiety.

And the president's project from the beginning has been to impeach the entire thing as a political exercise. So it may be, as Dana suggests, that this is -- this information that's being released will do that, or just may be more fodder for the kind of propaganda war that has been waged from the beginning.

[17:35:09] BASH: Can I just add one more thing about the timing that David talked about? He talked about it in the context of the Russia investigation. Let's also remember what we've been talking about all day, for the last two days. Brett Kavanaugh.

AXELROD: Correct. Yes, yes, yes.

BASH: And now -- you started the segment, understandably, because it is a big deal, and the president has that power, on something else.

BLITZER: And what jumped out at me, you know, Chris Cillizza, is that as far as the text messages of all these current and former senior officials involving the Russia investigation, the president said all of them must be released without redaction.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes.

BLITZER: Without redaction. So even if there's sensitive information in there -- Social Security numbers, or whatever -- the president, he can declassify whatever he wants.

CILLIZZA: Right.

BLITZER: He says they have to be released as is.

CILLIZZA: Yes. We shouldn't be surprised at this. He believes deeply and has for quite some time that there is a real deep state at work here, embedded within the Justice Department, the broader government, that includes people like Peter Strzok, Bruce Ohr, James Comey, Andrew McCabe; and that these people are hiding information that suggests they wanted him to lose and went about trying to make that happen.

If you watch conservative cable television, you would think that this -- the proof is already out there, that this has already been proven and accepted.

This is Donald Trump, I think, putting his own political desires and also his own personal desires -- I think this is not just a political sense. I think he believes this, despite evidence to the contrary, ahead of what any national security expert would tell you, is -- to say no redactions, and to say we're going to release all this information, it feels like he's putting his political agenda ahead of national security. I don't want to say concerns, but certainly things that would have been --

BLITZER: Usually, Laura Coates, this kind of information is kept classified.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

BLITZER: Secret because they're concerned -- especially the intelligence community -- about releasing what's called sources and methods that could give adversaries of the United States useful information.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course, especially where FISA warrants are concerned. You have a very sensitive operation when you're trying to spy on an American citizen. We're very, very diligent about not having information out there.

So to have it, that aspect for Carter Page be released -- also the president is very stuck in time. Because he believes somehow that -- unredacting, and the messages of Peter Strzok, Lisa Page --

BLITZER: Bruce Ohr.

COATES: -- James Comey, and Andy McCabe, four people who are no longer with the FBI, whose time all predated when Mueller came into it -- you think about this, Mueller's investigation started after the firing of James Comey. That's when the true Russian collusion probe began. So any axe you'd like to grind has to begin with there, not going backwards, trying to fixate on a period that has no relevance today.

BLITZER: We'll go through all these documents once they're released. We'll see how quickly that happens and see if any sensitive information is, in fact -- useful information, also, is included.

Guys, stick around. We're getting more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, this time on the Russia investigation. Attorneys for Michael Flynn and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, they are asking a federal judge now to set a date to sentence the former national security adviser to the president (ph).

And later, a member of a band that's been a thorn in Vladimir Putin's side now turns up ill. Is he the latest Putin critic to be mysteriously poisoned?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:43:01] BLITZER: There's breaking news in the Russia investigation. The White House just announced that President Trump is asking the director of national intelligence and the Department of Justice, including the FBI, to release unredacted, classified documents and text messages related to the start of the Russia investigation.

Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is here.

Evan, pretty sensitive material that the president is now declassifying, which is his right. He can declassify whatever he wants.

But it's interesting. He says on the FISA court application to go after Carter Page, he only wants pages 10 through 12 to be released, pages 17 through 34 to be released. This is the June 2017 application to the FISA court.

And I'm sure critics will start saying, what about pages one through nine or pages 13 through 16?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

BLITZER: Is he selectively only releasing information that seems to be useful to him?

PEREZ: Well, I think the president and some of his allies in Congress have a purpose here. Look, I think the -- their argument is that this entire investigation, the Mueller investigation, the Russia investigation, is the fruit of a poisonous tree. This is something that they believe began under nefarious circumstances, that the FBI committed wrongdoing in beginning this investigation.

And they believe that these pages, I think a lot of this relates to what's known as the Wood File in the FISA -- FISA application. So when the FBI prepares this application for the court, they prepare a file of material to support why they believe this should be -- should be approved by the FISA court judges.

And so a lot of this has to do with the underlying explanation from the FBI as to why they believe that Carter Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case, Russia.

So that's what the president is going after here. That's what his allies have been selectively leaking this stuff. Keep in mind, members of Congress have already seen a lot of this. They already have some of this. So they've been selectively leaking some of this to conservative media, trying to get the president, you know, ginned up to make sure he did exactly this; and now they've gotten what they want.

BLITZER: They certainly have. They've been pressing him to do exactly what he has just done.

On top of all of this, we now learned that the President's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, he and Paul Manafort -- Robert Mueller, I should say, they have worked out a deal when he is going to be sentenced.

PEREZ: Right. For the first time now, we have an official date. Late November is when Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, is going to be sentenced.

It's been delayed in multiple times, Wolf, because under our understanding, according to what the lawyers have told the court, Michael Flynn was still cooperating with the government.

Keep in mind, he signed his deal back in December so it's going to be almost a full year of cooperation. What this tells us, Wolf, is that the cooperation that he's been giving the Special Counsel and his investigation is nearing an end. That it's almost at a completion.

This is, of course, going to come right after the midterms. And again, this gives us a little bit of a window into what's been going on behind the scenes inside the Mueller investigation.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. Evan, thank you very much.

We've got some more breaking news coming in from Capitol Hill right now. Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

What are you hearing, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a potentially major development here in this Brett Kavanaugh nomination emerging from this closed-door meeting just moments ago.

A Republican senator told reporters that there would be a public opportunity to question both Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Ford, who, of course, accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both in high school, something that Brett Kavanaugh has denied.

Now, John Kennedy, who is the senator from Louisiana who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sat for about an hour with the rest of the Republican senators on that very same committee with Senator Mitch McConnell in his office.

And afterwards, he made that very clear. He said, quote, there will be a full opportunity for the accuser and the accused to be heard in public.

Now, we pushed him to ask him exactly what that means, when that hearing would take place, would that delay the Thursday committee vote. He did not want to get much further than that.

He said that he would leave it up to the chairman of the committee, Chuck Grassley, to make that ultimate announcement exactly when all of this would happen. But according to John Kennedy, we may hear him come -- go public, both Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, potentially under oath if there actually is a public hearing.

Based on what John Kennedy is saying, there will be a public opportunity to question, to hear from both the accuser and the accused. So we'll see more details as they emerge.

Now, of course, the big question, can he get enough votes to get out of the Senate? We don't know that just yet.

BLITZER: Well, it's very interesting because Christine Blasey Ford, the accuser, and Brett Kavanaugh, the accused, they both have agreed to testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I assume, in open session. But there's no way you can organize that kind of a hearing between now and Thursday, right?

RAJU: It would be very, very difficult. This is a high-stakes, high- profile hearing, so much riding on this. And whether they'd be able to sit down, answer these questions, have enough to push back against these allegations -- from the Brett Kavanaugh side -- and whether Christine Ford would want to come with any other further corroborating information and have all the senators prepared to ask these questions. Doing that typically takes weeks to get something to this magnitude to

get ready for a meeting. So if they were to turn this around immediately, that would be very, very difficult. Nevertheless, there are some Republican senators on the committee who are pushing Chuck Grassley to do just that, have a hearing very quickly.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah told me earlier today that there should be a public hearing, and he suggested, Wolf, there should be one on Thursday on the same day as that committee vote.

So possibly, if that happened, there would be a vote -- a hearing followed by a vote on the committee, and they could still get him confirmed by Senator McConnell's the deadline of the end of this month.

However, I should caution, Grassley has not stated that's what he plans to do. Senator McConnell has not stated that's what they plan to do. And those are ultimately the two people who will decide the schedule here.

But nevertheless, it just shows how much this accusation is up-ending this confirmation process, and a lot of questions still remain about whether or not Kavanaugh himself can satisfy the concerns that we're hearing from a number of members.

BLITZER: Yes, lots up in the air. Very much up in the air. And the President -- President Trump did say earlier he's open to a slight delay in the entire process in order to give both sides a chance to speak out.

[17:50:01] All right, Manu, we'll have a lot more on this coming up. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

There's other important news that's coming in, as well, including new details about the suspected poisoning of another opponent of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. This time, the alleged victim is an activist tied to a Russian punk rock band with a history of run-ins with the Russian leader.

CNN's Brian Todd is working his sources.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we are told that the suspicions of Vladimir Putin's possible involvement in this alleged poisoning are getting very strong. People who've investigated these cases say Putin had the motive and the opportunity to go after this man. This activist took a very dangerous risk, embarrassing Putin and his security services with the whole world watching.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Airlifted from Moscow to Berlin, Russian activist, Pyotr Verzilov, a member of the punk band, Pussy Riot.

Members of the band now say they believe Verzilov has been poisoned. Author Alex Goldfarb, a friend of the group, says they've been a thorn in Vladimir Putin's side for years.

ALEX GOLDFARB, AUTHOR, "DEATH OF A DISSIDENT: THE POISONING OF ALEXANDER LITVINENKO AND THE RETURN OF THE KGB": Putin has no love lost, you know, between him and Pussy Riot.

TODD (voice-over): CNN has not independently verified the claims that Verzilov was poisoned, and the Berlin hospital where he is being treated hasn't put out any information.

While hundreds of millions around the world were watching, Verzilov was among the band's activists dressed as police who stormed the field in the final game of the World Cup in July. They say it was a human rights protest.

MICHAEL CARPENTER, NONRESIDENT SENIOR FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: It would have infuriated both Putin and the other members of the security apparatus, the so-called Siloviki in Russia, from the power ministries who don't like any expression of dissent and especially during a major, publicly visible event like the World Cup.

TODD (voice-over): Pyotr Verzilov is a joint citizen of Russia and Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA: It is of concern, obviously, particularly given the actions of recent months by the Russians in the U.K.

TODD (voice-over): Earlier this year, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned and nearly killed in Britain with the powerful nerve agent, novichok, an attack which British authorities tied to Putin's government.

The former KGB colonel is accused of being involved in and even ordering a string of poison attacks on his critics.

GOLDFARB: Poisoning is much easier to conceal, you know. It's very difficult to deny if he was, you know, stabbed, for example, or shot.

Secondly, it's very painful and unpleasant. And third, this has been a traditional weapon of choice of Russian secret services for years.

TODD (voice-over): Vladimir Kara-Murza, an anti-Putin activist whose campaign for more open elections in Russia, says he has been poisoned and sent into a coma twice.

In 2016, former Russian intelligent agent Alexander Litvinenko, who had been digging up information tying Putin to organized crime, was killed in London when someone slipped the radioactive substance polonium into his tea. The British conducted a thorough investigation.

GOLDFARB: The British investigators found, beyond reasonable doubt, an evidence that two agents of the Russian security services poisoned Mr. Litvinenko. They found that Putin is very likely was the person who gave orders.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say poison works as an effective weapon for Putin and his spies in another way.

CARPENTER: Specifically to send that message, we did this, we are not going to be held accountable, there is impunity here. Come get us, come try, we're going to keep doing this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: The Kremlin has not commented on the claim from Pussy Riot and its supporters that Pyotr Verzilov was poisoned. Moscow has consistently denied involvement in all of the other poisoning attacks.

Analysts say, in any event, even if it's found that the Kremlin was involved in this case, it's unlikely that Putin and his government would face any retribution beyond possible sanctions.

And there's no reason to believe tonight that Vladimir Putin is not going to continue his pattern of alleged poisoning attacks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Brian, as you pointed out, this punk rock band has been antagonizing Putin for years. Are you being told whether they could face any danger in the future?

TODD: Right, Wolf. Alex Goldfarb, a journalist who knows the group and has investigated a lot of these cases, he believes they are definitely in danger. A few years ago, three members of this group were thrown in jail for performing an anti-Putin protest song at a well-known cathedral in Moscow.

Now, at the World Cup, they embarrassed him and his security services in front of the entire world. If this man was poisoned, it could be just the beginning of several attacks on that band.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, good reporting. Thank you very much.

Coming up, President Trump says Supreme Court pick huddles with GOP staffers on the Judiciary Committee as a decades-old sexual assault allegation threatens to upend his nomination. We'll be right back.

[17:54:50] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, supreme split. New partisan division as Brett Kavanaugh's accuser goes public and his nomination to the high court is thrown into turmoil. Will a Senate vote be delayed or derailed. We're getting new information about what happens next.

Rising waters. After residents of the Carolinas have been battered and drenched for days, flooding from the storm of a lifetime keeps getting worse. This hour, new rescues, new deaths, and new warnings in the Florence disaster.

[17:59:55] Flynn's fate. Robert Mueller says the President's fired national security adviser is now ready to be sentenced after Michael Flynn spent months cooperating. What does that tell us about the status of the Russia investigation?

And Paul's conversion.