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White House's Plan to Defend Kavanaugh Relies Heavily on Women; GOP, Democrats Grapple with Kavanaugh Political Fallout Before Midterms; Kavanaugh and Accuser Ford to Testify Before Senate on Monday; North Korean State-Run Media Slams the U.S., Blames the Trump Administration for Stalled Talks; Trump Imposes Tariffs on $200 Billion More on Chinese Goods. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 18, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto, back for day two.

What we know for certain today is that we're six days away from one of those once in a generation national moments that now seem to come along virtually every few months. What we do not know, however, is whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh can convince a majority of senators that he did not assault a fellow high school student more than 30 years ago, or whether that former student now a psychology professor, with the Me Too era as a backdrop and midterm elections, of course is 50 days away, whether she will be the more credible witness.

HARLOW: We also don't know who else may testify in next week's extraordinary follow up hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee nor whether the FBI will investigate these accusations against Judge Kavanaugh. The ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, called it a rushed process. She warns we must not, quote, "repeat mistakes of the past." She, though, continues to take heat for not alerting even her own committee members about Ford's claims months ago.

As for the president's this morning, his response remains quite measured. He says, quote, "If it takes a little delay, that's OK."

Let's go to the Hill. Manu Raju is there. And Manu, a few points to you this morning. A, you know, where do we stand or whether or not there will be a full investigation before Monday's testimony, and, B, what are you hearing about how Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, all men, all male senators, are going to handle questioning Dr. Ford and Brett Kavanaugh on this?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're in a very difficult spot and they will acknowledge it because this hearing on Monday will be the deciding factor about whether or not Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court. I can say that with certainly because Republican senators that I have talked to who are wavering like Jeff Flake and Susan Collins say very clearly they need to hear her testimony.

As Jeff Flake said, if you believe her, then you vote no. And two Republican senators will be enough to scuttle this nomination so Republicans plan to handle this gingerly, raise questions about her credibility without looking like they are overreaching, more assailing her integrity and questioning what she believes is a very painful moment that happened several decades ago.

Now Orrin Hatch, one of the top Republicans on that committee gave a window into how the Republicans plan to do this by suggesting that she was just mistaken about who actually assaulted her back in the 1980s.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

RAJU: And what did he say to you?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Well, expect Democrats to push back saying how did he know he wasn't at the party when that same party has not been fully described in more detail by Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh's accuser. So she will have to lay out in pretty stark detail exactly what she remembered and how she can identify Brett Kavanaugh is in fact the individual who allegedly tried to assault her.

Now at the same time, Democrats are, in fact, pushing for the FBI to fully investigate this matter. But there is no indication that they plan to do anything other than add it to the background check file. Last night Dianne Feinstein did issue that statement saying that she was disappointed that the FBI and the White House are failing to take the most basic steps to investigate this matter. She said we must not repeat the mistakes of the past and rush the process before we're able to get more information and the FBI is able to reopen and complete the background investigation.

But, Jim and Poppy, I can tell you Republicans believe that she has grossly mishandled it. They're in no mood to cooperate by calling on the FBI to investigate. Expect the hearing to be the ultimate deciding factor about whether or not Kavanaugh gets his seat.

HARLOW: Right. And that's what Flake said. Senator Flake. You know, it's all going to come down to do you believe her or do you believe him, and how you're going to vote. At least that's what it is for him.

Thanks, Manu. Appreciate the reporting.

Leading up to Monday's hearing, the president's team is looking to bolster Judge Kavanaugh's image. Sources are telling us here at CNN the White House is organizing a major public relations campaign that relies heavily on women vouching for the judge's character.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip with the latest.

Abby, so question here, is the White House going to focus on the positive effect bolstering Kavanaugh's credibility. I mean, you heard Senator Hatch there with Manu, taking issue with the accuser's story. Where is the White House going to be on this, focusing just on Kavanaugh? Are they going to attempt to undermine the credibility of the accuser as well?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, that is exactly the line that the White House is trying to walk. And it is one that is extremely perilous. But what we can tell from what our sources are saying is that this is going to focus on Kavanaugh's relationship with women.

[09:05:04] We've already seen some of that coming out in the last several days. There was a list put together of 65 women who attended schools in the area around the time that Kavanaugh and his accuser were in school in suburban Maryland at that time. The White House has been in touch with many of those women and they say, according to officials, that many of them are willing to be public about their defense of Kavanaugh.

There is even talk of this week organizing some kind of press conference with some of these women to attest to his character. Now the key here is a positive image of Judge Kavanaugh not necessarily focusing on his accuser.

Now Kavanaugh yesterday spent about nine hours here at the White House going through preparations for what they expect to be potentially his additional testimony on the issue of these accusations. And the key focus of those preparations was making sure that in defending himself he didn't inadvertently criticize Christine Blasey Ford, and criticizing his accuser. I think the White House is very cognizant that they want to keep this positive, they don't want to seen as attacking this woman, and they don't want to create any more problems for themselves in this matter.

Now the biggest issue also is what happens with President Trump? Yesterday we heard from him for the first time. And as you noted, he was very careful not to denigrate this accuser. He spoke about Kavanaugh's character. And I think the White House is hoping that the president continues in that vein. He's going to be speaking later at a press conference and undoubtedly this will be the source of some questions from the press corps here. But we'll see how long this can hold up.

I think a lot of people close to the White House are a little worried that President Trump isn't going to be able to resist weighing in on this matter that we know privately from our sources he sees as an attack on a good man, an attack on his nominee -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's been a number of days now so far already, and that is notable.

Abby Phillip, at the White House.

HARLOW: Thanks, Abby.

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much.

Joining us now to discuss this more is CNN Supreme Court analyst Joan Biscupic, knows the court very well.

Joan, if I could start with you, I mean, this can't be emphasized enough what we are going to see next Monday in a public hearing, which will be televised live so the American people can watch it as well, presumably many will, is a woman accusing a Supreme Court nominee of a physical assault. Grant it some more than 30 years ago. Put that in context for us. I imagine the Anita Hill hearings are the only thing comparable, but frankly this is a different age.

JOAN BISCUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: It is, Jim. And I'm glad we still have the footage of what happened when Anita Hill came before every one. You know, I remember it was -- I think it was the end of the week, a Friday, and we'd all known her name. We had known what she was alleging. But then to have her lay it out and talk about the pornographic details, to talk about her relationship with then Judge Thomas, and she was very steady, very convincing for her part, just as Clarence Thomas then was for his.

But something that I was thinking about when, Jim, you and Poppy were talking earlier about the possible reputational damage to a witness here, what those hearings devolved into were character attacks. I'll never forget, you know, many of the Republican senators said, if you really felt that Clarence Thomas had harassed you in this way, why did you stay in touch with him? Why did you then -- I believe --

HARLOW: Drive him to the airport. Right? That was one.

BISCUPIC: Exactly right, Poppy. And also, you know, maybe seek out some references from him. She had worked with him at the Department of Education and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And then there were all these episodes where she was so explicit about the kinds of pornographic references, you know, to Long Dong Silver and other instances, that senators then came back and said, well, didn't you get that, for example, from the exorcist book?

So it was quite dramatic even, you know, a different era, so senators weren't as sensitive to how they might be perceived as tearing apart an accuser's credibility and also attacking her as a woman. But I do want to mention that when Clarence Thomas then came to testify, he categorically denied everything and he was very indignant and suggested it wasn't that they were robbing him just of, you know, this position on the Supreme Court but his dignity and there was a line that he said, something along the lines of, when I found out this was going to happen, the man that I was died.

The man that you once voted for and the committee had voted for -- had its initial vote just about a week earlier, the man you once voted for you no longer see.

HARLOW: He -- however, he got Democrats, I believe it was 10 Democrats to vote for him.

BISCUPIC: Eleven. 11, yes, right.

HARLOW: His approval rating went up.

[09:10:02] Actually after Anita Hill testified -- Shan Wu, let me bring you into the conversation, our legal analyst and a former federal prosecutor, because you have prosecuted sex crimes before and ones that have, you know, gotten certainly a lot of headlines as well. Is it unusual for a victim to wait as Miss Ford did to recount their stories? She started last recounting it to her friends, to her husband and her therapist back in 2012. Or even, you know, to never share it? I mean, what does your experience tell you?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: My experience that's not at all unusual. It's very common for a variety of reasons for survivors of sexual assaults to delay their reporting. And some of those reasons certainly can be trauma and some of it is the stigma that's attached. And particularly what we've seen in younger victims, and let's remember that Dr. Ford was only 15 at the time of this alleged assault.

HARLOW: Right.

WU: And with the younger victims sometimes the disclosure is very gradual. At first they're able to admit that something happened, a little more detail. In this case she said first a physical assault and then eventually she disclosed there was a sexual assault.

HARLOW: Yes.

WU: So that's not at all uncommon.

SCIUTTO: Shan, and you've written about this extensively because of your experience prosecuting crimes like this before, you also note how often the details, the victim might not remember the details of the attack, date, location, more their experience of it. And I'm going to ask you this because this gets to a central question of what appears to be a strategy here, was because she doesn't remember some of those details these years later that that then undermines her credibility. But you say that is not uncommon in cases like this.

WU: Well, that's right, Jim. It's not at all uncommon. In one of the cases we did, which was the first rapist put away for life without parole, the victim gave very compelling testimony. What she remembered was the smell of him as he attacked her.

SCIUTTO: Wow.

WU: Other details were not so good. The exact address, the location. So this strategy of trying to attack the credibility of the survivor by saying, oh, you don't remember the exact time or the date or the address of the party, that just isn't the way people remember things. They remember the most traumatic details of it and those tend to be crystal clear.

HARLOW: And also just, Shan, quickly, and I want to get back to you, Joan, in a moment, but you took note of the comments that Manu just played from his conversation with Senator Orrin Hatch and what Orrin hatch says that he was told by Kavanaugh over the phone. Why are they so notable to you? What strikes you about what Hatch said?

WU: Well, what strikes me about what Hatch said in the first word lacking the context of exactly how the conversation took place, but in that context it is a little bit worrisome because Kavanaugh seems to be saying that he was not at the particular party. Now this is 35 years ago. There is no reason for him to remember any party if nothing happened at it. So were I cross examining someone like that, I would make a little bit of traction with that which is you're saying you didn't know this person, you've never done anything like it, and yet you're able to say definitively you weren't at this particular occasion. That seems troubling.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, and we should note that yes, there will be a public hearing of the accuser's account here. There will also be a public hearing of Brett Kavanaugh's account and that's part of the function of this, right?

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Is that both sides need to be heard here.

Thanks very much, Shan Wu, Joan Biscupic.

HARLOW: Thanks for the reporting, guys.

All right. So ahead for us, are you willing to pay more for pretty much everything, almost everything you get from China? The Trump administration is banking on it. Will the president's newest tariff gamble pay off?

SCIUTTO: Plus, North Korea's state-run media is calling it gangster logic saying that the U.S. is, quote, "totally to blame" for stalled talks after that famous Singapore summit. Is the denuclearization looking less and less likely?

And Florence's fury, 32 now dead as the Carolinas brace for more flooding. We will be live on the ground there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. This morning, the White House is mounting a campaign to bolster Brett Kavanaugh's image. At the same time, Republicans and Democrats are grappling with a strategy of their own, how to handle the nomination fight with the midterms less than two months away now.

HARLOW: Right, 40(ph) days, I mean, Republicans have an enthusiasm gap to say the least when it comes to suburban women, a segment they can ill-afford to alienate by just dismissing Kavanaugh's accuser, which is why we heard Kellyanne Conway in part say what she said yesterday.

This woman cannot be insulted and ignored. And Democrats running in areas where President Trump is popular, they can't risk appearing to be unduly unfair to Kavanaugh and riling the Republican base. Let's get our political analysis from Julie Pace and Eliana Johnson, good morning to both of you.

Julie, let me just begin with you. The White House strategy to defend Kavanaugh is a strategy that is focused on women. It's about getting letters out there signed by as many women that knew Kavanaugh, they can using the hashtag, I stand with Brett. You heard Sara Fagen; a former White House political director speak out in his defense yesterday. How effective could it be?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, I think that's still an open question, but it's very clear why they're leaning on this strategy. As you mentioned, Republicans looking at this midterm election see a lot of weakness in suburban districts with women.

Moderate Republican women, independent women who are frankly, really turned off by President Trump. And they're turned off by some of the things that President Trump has said about women. They're turned off by some of the accusations that have been made against him during the campaign in terms of sexual misconduct.

And so they fear that this is all going to get tied up together for these really key voters. So they have to lean really heavily on the accounts of other women who have known Brett Kavanaugh. Again, I think it's an unknown how it's going to work because if we do end up in this hearing on Monday, you're going to have one very important woman who is going to be out there, this woman who has come forward and accused Brett Kavanaugh.

[09:20:00] And her testimony and how credible she is, I think will certainly dwarf any letters or other testimonials that come forward.

SCIUTTO: Eliana, the time line that the Republicans set out, that's already blown up. But even yesterday, there were Republicans who were saying, listen, yes, let's hear from them, maybe by telephone, but let's still hold this vote on Thursday and then continue --

ELIANA JOHNSON, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Right --

SCIUTTO: Forward. That's not going to happen because we're going to have this --

HARLOW: Monday.

SCIUTTO: You know, remarkable testimony next Monday. What -- setting aside for a question whether any Supreme Court nominee can survive that, and the accusation there, the accuser coming before the American public, what happens after that.

You know, on a Monday you have this, senators listen, decide who they believe more I suppose. Can the Republicans in the Senate continue and get this confirmed before the midterms?

JOHNSON: I think it depends what happens in those hearings on Monday if they indeed do happen. The Judiciary Committee is still negotiating with Miss Ford and her attorney about what exactly the parameters of the hearing will be. But certainly if the hearings happen, Republicans are saying right now there will be a vote.

But I think you see the tactics emerging on both sides. Republicans now sticking to their new time line, and you're increasingly hearing from Democrats, including Senator Chris Coons who told Cnn last night he wants the FBI to investigate this.

So Republicans clearly want a vote before the midterm election. Democrats are embracing the new tactic delay in the form of an FBI investigation.

HARLOW: You, Julie, I mean, committee members on the Senate Judiciary committee, especially the Republicans all men on the Republican side in the Judiciary Committee are thinking clearly about what happened in 1991 with Anita Hill and how she was questioned.

Let's listen and remind people to some of what was seen as the most insulting lines of questioning towards her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL HEFLIN, LATE FORMER SENATOR: Are you a scorned woman?

ANITA HILL, ATTORNEY: No.

HEFLIN: Are you interested in writing a book?

ARLEN SPECTER, LATE FORMER SENATOR: Why make the calls which you agreed to, how are you doing? Or I'm in town or tell his secretary you're in town. Why drive the man to the airport?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Once again, it will be all white men on the Republican side of the Judiciary Committee questioning both Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, not to mention how important the female vote is, for Republicans especially in the midterms in 2020. How does this play out?

PACE: The optics for Republicans are going to be really tricky if this goes forward on Monday for exactly the reason you said. You've got all white men on the Republican side here, and a lot of them are talking and then thinking back to those Anita Hill hearings.

And when you watch those clips in today's context, and you think about, you know, a similar panel, a similar looking panel asking those types of questions, I think there is no doubt that, that would not go over well in this current era.

So Republicans have to be really careful. They obviously want Brett Kavanaugh to get through, but they have to be extremely delicate in how they question Ford, how they try to -- try to get at her credibility, but show respect as well.

I think if we saw some of those same questions in this area -- in this era, I think that you would have a lot of people who would certainly side with Ford. So that's the challenge for Republicans trying to get Kavanaugh through while also appearing to respect Ford.

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Eliana, that's clearly the challenge for Republicans there. That's quite a mountain to climb. On the Democratic side, do they risk energizing the Republican base here? Some of whom might -- and you see some of this in the conservative press view this as a Democratic plot, right?

You know, whatever term you want to use to steal this nomination from the president?

JOHNSON: It's a great question, Jim. Certainly, this is energizing the Democratic base, but it could also energize the Republican base. There were a lot of Republican voters who were skeptical of Donald Trump, but voted for him anyway because of his potential to nominate a Supreme Court Justices.

And he did it with Neil Gorsuch, he did it with Brett Kavanaugh. And many of them see this as a last minute drive-by attack on his nominee. This is exactly the sort of thing that could drive out his voters, even though he's saying there's going to be a red waive, this is the sort of thing that motivates people because they think it brings out the worst in the Democratic Party, the sort of thing that drives them crazy much as they may dislike Donald Trump.

SCIUTTO: Good to see, Alison(ph) --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Had a panel of Trump voters this morning, one of them --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: A couple of them actually made that same point. Eliana, Julie Pace --

HARLOW: Thank you --

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much for joining us. Gangster logic, North Korean state-run media this morning slamming the U.S., blaming the Trump administration for stalled talks since that high profile Trump- Kim Singapore Summit, we're going to have a live report.

HARLOW: Also ahead, the president this morning landing another trade punch on China, China punching right back. Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans is here with more. This matters so much for every American --

[09:25:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes -- HARLOW: Consumer --

ROMANS: Yes, because tariffs are taxes and taxes --

HARLOW: Yes --

ROMANS: Get paid either out of a company's profits or by consumers. And we see now what looks like a trade war. The U.S. saying another 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods, the Chinese coming back with 60 billion more. Will the stock market be able to shake it off? It's going to try, we're going to be opening bell right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)