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Public Hearings Monday with Kavanaugh & Blasey Ford; Anita Hill Speaks Out; White House Works on New Strategy to Boost Kavanaugh; Groups For & Against Kavanaugh's Nomination Launching TV Ad Campaigns. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 18, 2018 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:20] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

It promises to be one of the most remarkable showdowns in Supreme Court history. A nominee who appeared cruising to confirmation is now scheduled to face the Senate Judiciary Committee in a public hearing again on Monday to defend himself against allegations of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford when the two of them were in high school. Blasey Ford will also testify.

How big of a deal is this, you might ask. Brett Kavanaugh spent nine hours at the White House yesterday. That could tell you something. And pretty much, at this point, every member on the committee is weighing in.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R), UTAH: I talked to him on the phone today.


HATCH: Well, he didn't do that. And he wasn't at the party. So you know, there's clearly somebody is mixed up.

SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D), DELAWARE: I think it's important that Dr. Ford have a chance to be heard. And for the American people to reach their own conclusions.


BOLDUAN: This dramatic moment draws so many parallels to another dramatic showdown in 1991 when Anita Hill testified she was sexually harassed by then-Supreme Court nominee, now Justice Clarence Thomas. And Anita Hill herself is speaking out today, in a "New York Times" op-ed saying this, "There's no way to redo 1991, but there are ways to do better."

So what is likely to happen Monday and, let's be honest, in the days before then? Let's start over on Capitol Hill. CNN's Manu Raju is there.

Manu, so now even Democrats -- now even before the hearing, Democrats are saying there should be an FBI investigation into the allegations so they have more information before the committee hearing. Just where do things stand right now?

RAJU: Well, Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, wants to move forward with the Monday hearing, with the two witnesses, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, as well as Brett Kavanaugh. Now, Grassley said this morning on a radio program he has not gotten confirmation yet from Ford that she will attend the Monday hearing. But the Monday hearing, if it does, in fact, move forward, is essentially to determine if Brett Kavanaugh gets a spot on the Supreme Court. A number of key Republican Senators, some red-state Democrats as well, say they are looking to look at every word of that hearing closely to determine whether or not they will in fact vote yes to confirm him to that lifetime seat.

Now, we caught up just moments ago with Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican, someone who will hold the key to determining whether or not he does get that seat, and she also said this will be critical if this hearing takes place on Monday.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, (R), ALASKA: I think what we need to do, what we all need to do, is not speculate on how she will perform, whether she will be credible, whether he will be credible in his responses. I think that we should allow for the committee to assemble, for the individuals to be heard. And then in fairness, we should make our determination.


RAJU: So there's also been a lot of talk here about how that hearing may take place, and concerns among some Republicans about the optics of that hearing. And 11 Republican men will be doing the questioning of Dr. Ford, assuming she does agree to testify.

Now, we caught up with another Republican Senator, Bob Corker of Tennessee, who also suggested that the Republicans and Democrats on the committee should be respectful of her going forward. Here's what he said.


SEN. BOB CORKER, (R), TENNESSEE: In light of all the pressures that are building around this, that's going to be a difficult task for people on both sides. But it needs to be handled in a respectful manner. And I think all of us are anticipating and, you know, wanting to learn from the actual hearing itself. I know I'm, you know, I'm going out of the country this evening, but I plan to be in a place where I can see every word of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: And as Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican Senator, said yesterday, Kate, if you believe her allegations, then you vote no.

So that Monday hearing, so critical to determine whether he gets this position. But again, she has not confirmed whether she will attend, so we'll see what she has to say in the coming hours and days here -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Great to see you, Manu. Thanks so much.

As for the president, he's praising his Supreme Court nominee, defending him. But also, somewhat surprisingly, the president so far is not attacking Christine Blasey Ford, both on Twitter and before cameras, avoiding taking her on at all.


[11:05:06] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Judge Kavanaugh is one of the finest people that I have ever known. He's an outstanding intellect, an outstanding judge, respected by everybody.


BOLDUAN: CNN has learned that the White House is working on a new strategy, if you will, to boost Kavanaugh ahead of what is very clearly becoming the most important moment of Kavanaugh's career and now becoming possibly one of the most important moments of Donald Trump's presidency.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House with the latest.

Abby, what is the White House planning here?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Kate. The White House is threading a really fine line here. They want to defend Kavanaugh and have him defend himself, but they don't want to be seen as attacking this alleged victim, Christine Blasey Ford. Now, the White House is trying to do this by putting out there some women who have been in Kavanaugh's life, who have worked for him, worked with him, went to school with him, to attest to his character. There was a letter that was circulated late last week of 65 women who went to private schools around the same area in the same time as Kavanaugh and his accuser. Attesting to his character. And a White House official tells us they believe many of those women are willing to stand by their words in that letter. And they have even considered, this hasn't been finalized, but they have considered perhaps a press conference with some of these women talking about the Kavanaugh that they know.

Now, all of this is happening as the White House and Brett Kavanaugh have been holed up for two days now. We saw him this morning coming back to the White House, preparing for what might be some testimony early next week. We're told a key part of the preparation is reminding him that when he defends himself, try not to attack the alleged victim here. I think the White House wants to be very careful not to create more problems for themselves, especially with the optics of this issue -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, Abby, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Josh Dawsey, CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" White House reporter, Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief at the "Daily Beast," and Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large.

Josh, what are you hearing around all this? A week -- I have been kind of thinking a week is a very long time in this day and age. Do you think there's any concern at this moment that Kavanaugh might not make it to Monday?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to say, but Kavanaugh has certainly told White House officials he wants to testify, wants to clear his name, and that reputationally he feels he frankly has to. My calls yesterday indicated that White House, pretty much everyone around the president wants this nomination to go forward. As we have seen, time and time again, though, the president can be fickle, can cut folks loose and decide, you know, in a moment's notice, necessarily, to change course. So I think where we are right now, tentatively, we're planning to go forward. That said, there could be more information that could come out. You certainly have people digging into the past of everyone involved here. You have a lot of people who are pushing on the White House to go forward. But there are thin numbers in the Senate, and you have midterms coming up in seven weeks or so. You have a lot of calculations going on. Right now, the strategy seems to be, hold the line. See if the woman is going to testify. Prepare for the hearing. And stick by their guns. It's only 11-10 on Tuesday, Kate, so I don't think we really know what they're going to do.

BOLDUAN: Wait until 11:15. That's the witching hour on this show.

Jackie, Anita Hill -- I mentioned it at the top of the show -- she wrote in the "New York Times." I want to read you the final paragraph. She's talking about lessons learned. She writes, "In 1991, the phrase, 'they just don't get it,' became a popular way of describing Senators' reactions to sexual violence. With years of hindsight, mounds of evidence of the prevalence and harm that sexual violence causes individuals, and our institutions as well as the Senate with more women than ever, not getting it isn't an option for our elected representatives. In 2018, our Senators must get it right."

She's laying out an interesting point, which is, yes, the stakes, of course, are so high for Brett Kavanaugh, and, yes, the stakes are so high for Blasey Ford, but also very high for each member of the committee, too.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Let's not forget, as much as Dianne Feinstein has gotten criticism for how this whole situation was handled, Anita Hill is one of the reasons she ran for the Senate and won in the year of the woman. So that is rooted. Now, many things are different. There are women on that committee, including two former prosecutors, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, who have handled sexual assault cases in their careers before they got to the Senate. So you have to imagine they're a little more prepared to really ask questions on both sides of the equation here. And perhaps maybe some of their male colleagues will ask them for advice, but certainly, they can't be seen to be attacking her or this could definitely backfire. I guess they're going to have to leave that to the "Wall Street Journal." I don't know if you read that op-ed today, but they lay into Blasey Ford in a way that I don't think you'll see from the dais that day.

[11:10:14] BOLDUAN: Yes. Note to self.

Chris, so the hearing happens. They offer two completely conflicting testimonies, let's say. And then what?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I'm in the "I don't know if the hearing will happen at all" group, might not happen on Monday. As Josh noted, we still don't -- Blasey Ford still has not been in contact with the Judiciary Committee. Yes, her lawyer said she wants to testify, so you assume that will happen. But you have Democrats saying we need to have the FBI look into this. So maybe it happens next Monday. I think it will happen at some point. But time is a killer here for Brett Kavanaugh, I think. Remember, this nomination was put into place, Kate, to get it done before the election. Under the theory that you don't really want to try to confirm someone in a lame-duck session, which may be their best option, Republicans' option, if they can't get him through. And you don't want to worry about losing the Senate and then not being able to confirm him. But the more time that passes, I think the more dangerous, politically speaking, it is for Republicans and for Kavanaugh's chances.

I do think we get a hearing. I do think, to your point, you're going to have two very different versions of the story. And then I don't really know. It is -- remember, this is a very razor thin majority. 51 seats. They need 50 plus Mike Pence. So you can't really -- it's not about convincing the bulk of Republicans to be for her (sic). It's really about convincing every Republican to be for him. And that's a tough challenge given the nature of the allegations. Obviously, what they both say, how it's received, how they answer questions, will impact that.

BOLDUAN: Josh, I spoke with one of the few people who has talked to Blasey Ford, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. She said this last night about the upcoming hearing. Listen to this.


REP. ANNA ESHOO, (D), CALIFORNIA: What I sincerely hope for is that all of the Senators, all of the members of the Judiciary Committee will receive my constituent with a level of respect that is due her. This is a very, very tough thing to do, to exhibit this kind of courage. But I can tell you that from the time that I spent with her and what she shared with me, it was self-evident that she had been scarred by this experience and will be for a lifetime. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The congresswoman says Blasey Ford should be respected by all, I mean, all of the Republicans involved, everyone involved. Do you know how the White House is trying to convince the president to stay out of this fight, stay away from attacking her directly? We all have seen how he's dealt with allegations and accusers in the past.

DAWSEY: Right. The president has been unusually silent on this. He has not tweeted about this. He defended Kavanaugh yesterday in a fairly muted way. But he also did not take any shots at the accuser. You saw Kellyanne Conway go on TV yesterday and say the accuser should be heard. Our reporting is she talked to the president before she did that. I think they have convinced him that it's not helpful for him to talk here.

The president has shown a good amount of restraint from him on the Supreme Court. He's stuck to the list that was on the campaign. He picked Neil Gorsuch, who was on his list, Brett Kavanaugh, who was on his list. He's been deferential to his advisers, like the top lawyer, Don McGahn. And this is a supreme reason that Republican voters picked him over Hillary Clinton and support him. You see, you know, a number of dozens of judges he's put on appellate courts, on federal courts, something that conservatives really relish. And I think the president understands to some degree how important this process is, how much his voters and his supporters care about it and what's at stake here. And I think you're seeing some unusual calm now. Whether that holds or not, there are lots of hours between now and Monday where he may decide to take a different tact, but he's been currently convinced by Kellyanne, by Don McGahn, by others, that him weighing into this fraught process is not the best course.

BOLDUAN: Josh, Jackie, Chris, great to see you guys. Thank you.

DAWSEY: Thank you.

[11:14:31] BOLDUAN: The fight for Brett Kavanaugh's nomination won't just play out on Capitol Hill. It will play out on TV screens across the country. One group buying $1.5 million worth of ads. What do they say and who are they targeting? That's next.

President Trump ordering documents to be declassified. Is it transparency or is it abuse of power? And of course, it has to do with the Russia investigation. Details on that ahead.


BOLDUAN: The battle over Brett Kavanaugh not only will it be playing out before a Senate committee next week, but it's also already playing out on screens across the country. Groups for and against his nomination to the Supreme Court are launching new ad campaigns. One conservative group hoping to make a big splash, the Judicial Crisis Network, has announced it's launching a $1.5 million advertising blitz in support of Kavanaugh. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have been friends with Brett Kavanaugh for 35 years.. He's dedicated to his work. He's dedicated to his family. He's of the highest integrity as a person and I believe he would be a great Supreme Court justice.


BOLDUAN: Joining me is the group's chief counsel, Carrie Severino.

Carrie, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: The point of the ad campaign is clear, these women who know Kavanaugh are speaking to his character. But, Carrie, can any of these women speak to the specific allegation that has brought this all about, that has brought about this hearing, that is supposed to happen on Monday, what Christine Blasey Ford says happened at the party 30 years ago?

[11:20:16] SEVERINO: No. That's the problem with the nature of these allegations. We have she says, she makes this allegation, two people she names in it both say it didn't happen. I think it is still important to have a sense of other women who knew him at the time and can say was that characteristic of how Kavanaugh comported himself in high school. We have 65 women saying, no, that's not the Brett Kavanaugh we knew. Some of them even dated him. You would think if this was typical aggressive behavior on this part, they would have seen it. They say, no, that is not what we see, that's inconsistent with the Brett Kavanaugh we knew and have known for decades.

It's important now to have this hearing. I hope Ms. Ford is willing to come to the hearing on Monday. It's not clear whether she will yet. But we have had Senate Democrats calling for a hearing. I think it's Senator Grassley is trying to be as accommodating as possible. A week notice as required by the committee, and now I hope that we'll have an opportunity for both sides to tell their story. And Judge Kavanaugh says he's looking forward to being able to in person and not just in his statements unequivocally refute these allegations.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned the letter of 65 women who knew him in high school signing on to it, that was released. I want to play something that Pat Schroeder said today. She's one of the members of Congress who supported Anita Hill as she testified about being sexually harassed, when she said she was sexually harassed by then nominee to the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. Here is what Schroeder said about the defense of Kavanaugh. Listen to this.


PAT SCHROEDER, (D), FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: When I heard that he had gone and gotten all these women from his high school class to sign a letter, I thought, hmm, what is he anticipating? What else is there? This is really strange. When I think about how long it would take to get that many people from my high school class to sign a letter, you couldn't do it overnight.


BOLDUAN: She's suggesting that something is up with this. How do you respond to that?

SEVERINO: Look, in today's world, a very connected social media, it's a lot easier than one might thing to do that. When we talked to the women who were on the letter, they said, no, we heard about it right when everyone else was hearing about it, we wanted to do something because we know Brett Kavanaugh and we're concerned about his name being smeared in this way. So you know, I think insinuations only go so far, but the fact of the matter is these women do know him and they say -- I don't think -- Kavanaugh says he didn't know about this until the allegation came out because he couldn't imagine and speculate what it could have -- who could have been claiming this, what they could have been claiming. And so I think that's the same thing.

So it's simply that the timing of this is really problematic. You had Senator Feinstein who had these allegations for months, since July. Did nothing to bring them up to the committee, even --


BOLDUAN: She said out of respect --


SEVERINO: I know she -- there are lots of confidential ways to do that. An entire closed session of the hearing for top, you know, confidents like that so they don't turn into a circus with the sensitive information. That's why that procedure is in place, for this kind of information. She chose not to bring it up over and over again. Either she didn't think they were credible or serious or relevant to this question of his confirmation or she was holding them back for an intentional last-minute character smear. That's not fair to him or to her.

BOLDUAN: And Dianne Feinstein, every time she's asked, she says this was specifically because she was honoring the wishes of this victim who brought this story to her, wanted to tell someone, and then said she did not want it to be revealed. Dianne Feinstein can answer more questions on it.

I want to ask you, if Christine Blasey Ford's story is true, if it is credible, would that be disqualifying for Brett Kavanaugh to sit on the high court or disqualifying for any nominee?

SEVERINO: Look, her allegations cover a whole range of conduct from boorishness and too-rough horse play to attempted rape. If you go to rape, yes, that is a really serious allegation. But this is why it will be useful to have this hearing, so we can even figure out what, some of the specifics on those allegations are. I want to make sure, though, that that hearing --

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: I don't think anywhere in there she's saying this is boorish horse play at all in her letter.


BOLDUAN: I don't think that's at all what she's suggesting.

SEVERINO: She's certainly implying that it's attempted rape. You have to look at -- there's 35 years of memory that we're trying to play with here. And I'm saying that the behavior she described could describe a whole range of things. I know her perception of it was one way. I'm just saying, I think we have to get all of the facts.

That said, Judge Kavanaugh said it didn't happen at all. Under any interpretation, he said, no, I wasn't at a party like that, this didn't happen, period.

I'm just hoping we have a hearing on Monday where both sides can speak and be treated respectfully. That's not what we saw in his confirmation hearings with protesters standing up and shouting, 200 people arrested, with the Senators themselves making a spectacle, making it about their own campaign --

[11:25:34] BOLDUAN: Carrie, can I ask you about --


SEVERINO: -- than about the actual question.

BOLDUAN: Can I quickly ask you, Democrats are saying they would like to have more information before the hearing happens. They want an investigative body to investigate, a group that would know how to do that, to handle something like this. That would be the FBI. Why are you against the idea of the FBI investigating this, taking time to get, as you said, as everyone said, get this right before they have this hearing?

SEVERINO: I'm not against it, but the FBI itself has said, we closed our investigation, we don't see a federal offense here. They're not a private investigation firm. They're not an opposition research firm for the Democratic Senators. They're an investigative body that looks at federal crimes.


BOLDUAN: The president could ask them to look into it.

SEVERINO: The FBI has said they don't have more investigation to do. My concern is the Democrats, their ultimate goal is to delay these hearings. They say they want a hearing and now they're saying, no, no, no, we can't just have a hearing, we have to keep adding other layers --


BOLDUAN: I get you -- SEVERINO: Yes.

BOLDUAN: I get you saying an indefinite delay for political reasons is completely wrong. But if it is a couple weeks, if the president would say, ask the FBI to go back in and take a look again, to do a further background check of this, why not? Because couldn't that actually help Brett Kavanaugh? If he hasn't done what he said he didn't do?

SEVERINO: Right. Here's the challenge with these allegations. First, he's already done six background checks over a quarter century. They have done this several times.


BOLDUAN: She never brought this up to any authorities.

SEVERINO: That's right --


SEVERINO: -- because she didn't tell anyone about this for 30 years.

BOLDUAN: That's right.

SEVERINO: So what are they going to look for? We don't have a specific date, time. It's not like they can go and dust for fingerprints.


BOLDUAN: You and I don't. You and I don't, but the FBI, they're pretty good at this stuff.

SEVERINO: She says she doesn't know. She doesn't know where or when it happened. The problem with the nature of the allegations is they are very difficult to prove or disprove. That is the challenge that we're faced with.

BOLDUAN: But why close the door to having the FBI do it? If it --


SEVERINO: I'm not closing the door to it. I'm saying the FBI itself has said, we have looked into it, you know, we have done our job here.

BOLDUAN: If the FBI could offer clarity, you would be for it?

SEVERINO: Sure. But what I am concerned about is there's not much more that can be found here, I think. I think sending the FBI on a fishing expedition doesn't make sense. I don't want this process to be abused. Justice Ginsburg, last week and before this broke, was already criticizing how politicized this process is becoming. This is an uglier step in what was already a very ugly process. It's not fair to the nominee, not even fair to Ms. Ford. It's not the way the system should work. And I think launching last-minute -- (CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Do you think Christine Blasey Ford is playing politics?

SEVERINO: I think --

BOLDUAN: Do you think it's political for her?


SEVERINO: I think, at a minimum, she's used as a political pawn. That's very clear that's how the Democrats are treating this. Senator Schumer said, from the beginning of this nomination, I will do whatever it takes to stop the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. And I'm afraid we're seeing him making good on his word.

BOLDUAN: Well, let's just say, I mean, talking about an insinuation, Carrie, we have no idea that Schumer was part of any of what we're seeing play out, that is bringing about this hearing. Would you agree with that?

SEVERINO: Well, we have certainly seen that he was part of the plans that the Senate -- the orchestrated and choreographed plans for --


BOLDUAN: Do you have any indication -- when we're talking about --


SEVERINO: Right. I think this is something that, at a minimum, the Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee seem to be working with. But it's certainly is continuing to make good on Schumer's promise for this whole process. This is something that, as a united group, they're saying we have to do this and, in many cases, for pure political reasons of, I want to drive out the base, kind of questions. This isn't what the way that we should be evaluating judicial nominees with uncorroborated decades-old allegations coming out at the last minute. It's dirty, dirty politics. This is not fair to our public servants and it's not good for our public discourse either.

BOLDUAN: Again, but you said if her story is true, that would be disqualifying, if it was true?

SEVERINO: If they thought her story was --


SEVERINO: If they though her story was credible and relevant to this, they should have been investigating it back in July. And so from the Democrats themselves, they're not treating this as a serious investigation. They're treating it as a political pawn.