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Trump Does Not Think the FBI Should Investigate Kavanaugh; Senate Invites Kavanaugh And Ford to Testify Before Senate; Democrats Demand Other Witnesses Be Called to The Hearing; McConnell Says Ford Has Option for Private Hearing About Kavanaugh. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired September 18, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Thank you for being with me. The President is set to speak to reporters in a joint news conference with the leader of Poland. We are expecting to hear more from him about the turmoil now playing out of course with his supreme court nominee. Today the President responded for the very first time to the new extraordinary public reckoning that Judge Brett Kavanaugh is now facing. Kavanaugh who just days ago was on a smooth track for confirmation is now expected to undergo a make or break congressional hearing in six days. At this hour, despite opposition from Democrats, just one other witness has been invited to speak. Christine Blasey Ford, the research psychologist who says Kavanaugh physically and sexually assaulted her when they were in high school more than 30 years ago. Here is what the President said just a short time ago.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a terrible thing that took place. And it is frankly a terrible thing that this information wasn't given to us a long time ago. Months ago, when they got it. Until waiting until everything is finished and then spring it. But that is what the Democrats do. It is obstruction, it is resistance, whatever you have to do. With all of that being said, it is a process and we all feel, speaking for all of the Republicans, we feel that we want to go through this process and we want to give everybody a chance to say what they have to say. So, we have time available. We will delay the process. I guess we've invited everybody I know -- I can tell you this that Judge Kavanaugh is anxious do it. I don't know about the other party, but Judge Kavanaugh is very anxious to do it. And a delay is certainly acceptable. We want to get to the bottom of everything. We want everybody to be able to speak up and to speak out. The fact is though this should have been done a long time ago. And when Senator Feinstein had Judge Kavanaugh in her office for a long time, she never even mentioned this. And that was a long time ago, never even mentioned it. So why wouldn't you bring this up when he is in her office for a pretty extended period of time. I don't think that the FBI really should be involved because they don't want to be involved. If they wanted to be, I would certainly do that. But they say this is not really their thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: The only other person in the world who would truly know and appreciate what Blasey Ford is about to take on, Anita Hill. Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee back in 1991 when she accused now Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. And Hill just wrote an opinion piece about how the hearing Monday should go down. Pointing out this, quoting her, as Judge Kavanaugh stands to gain the lifetime privilege of serving on the country's highest court, he has the burden of persuasion. And that is only fair. While her attorney says Blasey Ford Is ready to tell her story under oath, the man in charge of the hearing says he has not gotten the official word that she will in fact be there. Listen to this radio interview from Senator Chuck Grassley today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has Dr. Ford accepted and agreed to come?
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R), IOWA: No. We have reached out to her in the last 36 hours, three or four times by e-mail, and we have for the heard from them. So, it kind of raises the question, do they want to come to the public hearing or not.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's start with Kaitlan Collins there at the White House where the President's news conference is about to begin. So, we know Judge Kavanaugh was at the White House for a total of nine hours yesterday. He has been there for hours today. Tell me what he's been doing.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is huddling with aides discussing what their plan should be going forward now that what they thought was going to be a very smooth confirmation process has been thrown into jeopardy. We know he was here for over nine hours yesterday in the west wing specifically meeting with the White House Counsel Don McGahn, deciding what to do going forward. And likely with the White House asking him everything that he knew about this alleged incident. Now, today he is back here today. He is in the executive office building next door to the White House and we do know he still has not spoken to President Trump who said today that he didn't feel the need to speak with him, that he thought Kavanaugh could handle this on his own. And as you heard from President Trump there in the Oval Office with the Polish President, he was projecting confidence about his nominee, sort of a sense of calm that we didn't expect to see from President Trump saying that he did believe there should be a delay here, a process going forward. And let everyone say what they need to say.
[14:05:00] But President Trump did sound confident that this nomination will still go through which is not what many people in Washington are saying since this sexual assault allegation became public last week and since yesterday when they announced that there is going to be that hearing over on Capitol Hill. So of course, we know that the aides have been trying to get President Trump to channel his frustration on Democrats focusing on them, and he said why didn't Senator Feinstein bring this up when she met with Kavanaugh ahead of the hearing. They want the President to focus on the Democrats because they know this is a delicate line for the President to walk, someone himself accused of sexual assault by at least 11 women. But of course, what we saw from the President earlier was really an open session where the President can ignore questions he wants to, he doesn't have to answer all the questions that reporters are throwing at him. It will not be the same situation in here with reporters where he will be one-on-one and likely they will also pose more questions about whether or not he believes that nomination is going to get through.
BALDWIN: We will listen for that. You are standing by for that news conference to begin. Thank you for now. We are also waiting to hear from senate majority leader Mitch McConnell up on Capitol Hill where there is growing doubt about whether this hearing will actually go ahead as planned. So, let's go to our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju. What are you hearing?
MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Senator McConnell did have a meeting with the committee Republicans about an hour or so ago and Republicans who emerged from that meeting said that they are going to continue with the Monday hearing for now and they will offer Dr. Ford an opportunity to testify either in public or in private. And they will see what happens. At the moment Republicans are not considering delaying that Monday hearing. Now, they still have not heard from her attorney, but behind the scenes they are still moving forward on another front, Chuck Grassley's staff is calling people like Judge Kavanaugh about this incident as well as other witnesses, alleged witnesses, of this incident. They say that they made contact with those folks via phone. But they will not testify at this hearing. Now, Democrats are demanding to reopen an FBI background check before any hearing goes forward. And we had a chance to catch up with some key Republicans who ultimately about decide whether or not Kavanaugh gets this seat. And they are actually concerned that a hearing may not take place and the question is, will they eventually vote yes if it doesn't. Here's what they said.
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SEN. LISA ANN MURKOWSKI, (R), ALASKA: If she is not going to be part of the hearing, I think that that would be a very interesting and unfortunate turn of events.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R), MAINE: That is very puzzling to me. I have said from the beginning that these are very serious allegations and she deserves to be heard. She is now being given an opportunity to come before the senate judiciary committee and answer questions. And I really hope that she doesn't pass up that opportunity.
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RAJU: And another Senator Jeff Flake could vote against the nomination if that hearing did not take place. But now if Ford decides not to show, we tried to ask Jeff Flake would he still vote no on Kavanaugh. He did not go that far, said that we really hope she shows up for the hearing. So, this is the latest, just really fluid right now. We don't have a real sense of what will happen. But right now, it does not appear that there will be an FBI background check that Democrats have been demanding. BALDWIN: Manu, thank you so much. With me now, my panel. Gloria
Borger, David Chalian, Nia-Malika Henderson and Asha Rangappa. Gloria and David, just starting with you. To this whole point, this is not a sure thing. They have yet to hear from Blasey Ford saying yes, I will be there, yes, I will show up and testify Monday. Gloria, do you think she has reservations?
GLORIA BORGER, CN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I do. I mean, it seems to me that what we're looking at is a confused picture in which perhaps professor Ford would like an investigation to go Ford before appearing before the committee. I mean, you were talking about what happened with Anita Hill. Anita Hill was suggesting a different scenario from the one that happened with her which turned into a circus. I think the professor probably understands that this is a circus one way or another, but one way to avoid it as Ron Klain who worked on judiciary committee on the staff during the Anita Hill hearings, one way to avoid that would be to have professional investigators talk to her and to Judge Kavanaugh or to have the FBI do an independent investigation.
[14:10:00] I know that the President has said that he doesn't want that. But I think that before you have sort of the show, I think it would seem to me what we're seeing develop here is some investigation. I know that the President has said that he doesn't want that. But I think that before you have sort of the show, I think it would seem to me what we're seeing develop here is some sense of before that happens, let's investigate the facts.
BALDWIN: David, what do you make of what is happening or not happening?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, I don't think that the Senate Judiciary Committee seems all that equipped especially in a public setting as Gloria saying the show to be able to actually set forward a fact pattern that the American people can Judge, that they themselves who will vote on this nomination can Judge. And I think that seems to be what is tripping this up here. Because it is very difficult to see how this gets beyond the end/she said, his denial, her allegation, just both being out there if there isn't some form of investigation to say here are the facts that have been unearthed in this 30 plus year story that are able to be attained right now so the committee can probe properly and says n some way. It seems that is the concern on the part of Dr. Ford.
BALDWIN: Talk about a bombshell less than two months before midterms. So much I want to unpack here. Asha, Nia, stand by. We'll take a quick break and I'll ask you what Democrats are specifically demanding for this hearing as we wait for President Trump and this news conference he is about to hold at the White House with the President of Poland. You are watching CNN special live coverage, I'm Brooke Baldwin, we are back after this.
[14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: Live pictures, two podiums there at the White House waiting to see the President of the United States standing next to the President of Poland. A news conference to begin momentarily. Also waiting for the Q&A session.
Could the President make more news on this battle, this partisan battle, the lines that have been drawn in the wake of the accusations involving the man who would like to be his next justice of the Supreme Court. Let me bring everyone back. Nia, Democrats are demanding other witnesses be allowed to testify. Here is what the Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said earlier.
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SE. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D). NEW YORK: This morning Chairman Grassley said there would be only two witnesses. That is simply inadequate, unfair, wrong and a desire not to get at the whole truth and 2340 nothing but the truth. A minority has already been able to bring witnesses to the committee. It makes sense for one witness to be Mr. Mark Judge who was named in the "Washington Post" as present during the event in question. How could we want the truth and not have Mr. Judge come to the hearing?
BALDWIN: And I just got news in my ear. So, we know that Mitch McConnell has had a number of people in his office trying to figure out what to do with regard to this potential hearing on Monday. Apparently, Senators Flake and Graham emerged and they are saying that they will have the hearing Monday, but they want to offer to Professor Ford the option to testify either publicly or privately. What do you make of that?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I guess they are trying to make this happen, but it is curious that they set the hearing date before actually getting the OK from Professor Ford. That is a kind of odd way to set up a hearing if you don't know that one of the star witnesses will be there. I'm sure this isn't going to be good enough for the Democrats. You heard from the Democrats Chuck Schumer there saying that they want a number of witnesses, they keep comparing it to the Anita Hill hearing.
BALDWIN: Can they just call someone up, do you know?
HENDERSON: I think they have to get permission and David Chalian, you might know more than me, but it has to come from the majority. And they kind of are running things. And that is what you see them doing essentially saying they only want two witnesses and now you have Democrats pleading with the FBI to investigate this. Again, they are comparing to the Anita Hill hearing saying there was an FBI that went on before that. And again, they had many witnesses to testify during that hearing.
So, this -- you know, I think a legitimate question is how badly Republicans actually want this hearing to happen. It seems like they are giving a lot of reasons for Democrats to not want to be there for Professor Ford to not want to be there.
[14:20:00] She is obviously trepidatious about doing this. This is a story that she had to go over many, many months address sort of forced to talk about it public bely. So, I think that they are trying in some ways to make this difficult for professor Ford even as they are saying that they want to be transparent. You heard for instance Donald Trump there say that he wanted everybody to speak up and speak out.
BALDWIN: And I'm listening to you, hang tight. Here is Senator McConnell.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R), KENTUCKY: As you now know, the judiciary committee majority decided to call a hearing for Monday to give Dr. Ford an opportunity to be heard. And anticipate obviously that they will handle this in a fair manner. It is still disturbing however to think about the way in which this has developed right at the end. The ranking member of the judiciary committee had notice of this for quite some time and decided to spring it right at the end. And it is pretty obvious this is all about delaying the process. But the accuser certainly does deserve a right to be heard and we're looking forward to hearing what she has to say on Monday. Judge Kavanaugh has been anxious to testify. And I'm sure that he will be here as well.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R), ASSISTANT MAJORITY LEADER: So far Dr. Ford's lawyers refuse to respond to invitations to participate in the bipartisan process which is traditional in judicial nominations, either responding to the staff for an interview or even the invitation to come testify on Monday. But we certainly hope that she takes advantage of this opportunity if she still would like to, if she would prefer to do this in a closed setting, that is her choice. But we've offered her basically either an open or closed setting. But again, to reiterate what leader McConnell -- the point he made, we wouldn't find ourselves nor would Dr. Ford find herself in this situation if Senator Feinstein hadn't sat on this letter she's had since July, said nothing about it during the course of the hearing for Judge Kavanaugh. And now raising it at this late date. But we believe that the process of confirming Judges should continue to be bipartisan. We're hopeful that our Democratic colleagues will join us in making sure that we can restore some dignity and civility and decorum to the process rather than just have another repetition of what we saw during Judge Kavanaugh's earlier hearing which is basically having a judiciary hearing by mob rule.
SEN. JOHN THUNE, REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE CHAIRMAN: As the leaders pointed out, the situation in the Supreme Court is entirely of the Democrats' own making. Remember, we've had 32 hours of open testimony on the supreme court nomination where members had an opportunity to ask questions in an open setting. There were closed meetings. There have been 1300 written questions that have been responded to by Judge Kavanaugh. And he met with 65 United States Senators over the course of the last two months. And never a whiff of this letter until just this last week. And so, this is a process that the Democrats have created and it is entirely now up to us to try to make sure that Dr. Ford has her side of the story heard as well as Judge Kavanaugh. And we hope that she will take advantage of that opportunity and we can move forward with this process. In the meantime, we continue to get record economic news. In addition to having 4.2 percent economic growth in the second quarter of this year, very robust number, we also saw middle income levels reach their highest level ever in 2017. Number of job openings, highest level ever. And at 6.94 million job opening. And then also we've seen the small business -- BALDWIN: So, listening to some of the leaders in the Republican
conference there reiterating just the bit we had gotten a second ago. It sounds like David Chalian I'll put this to you, it sounds like again Mitch McConnell again going back to -- listen, this was on the Democrats.
[14:25:00] They had some this information months ago, they are playing partisan politics, this bombshell comes out at the 11th hour. You know, he keeps referring to the accuser. I think we should name her, you know, Christine Blasey Ford. He's saying we want to have this hearing. We're offering her a private closed hearing or public hearing. I want your thoughts on what you just heard, a, and b, what happens if she is trepidatious and she doesn't show up on Monday? They hold a hearing anyway?
CHALIAN: So, I think what you saw Mitch McConnell doing there, he is trying to walk a really fine line here. He is trying not in any way to be seen as offensive in any way to the allegations, to professor Ford. Trying to show a complete openness and desire to hear from her. And instead, put all of his sort of elbow throwing toward Dianne Feinstein and slam the Democrats for the way that they handled this. The Democrats say that she wanted to remain confidential. That's what Dianne Feinstein has said in trying to explain why she handled it the way that she did.
BALDWIN: Respecting her wishes.
CHALIAN: That is what Senator Feinstein says is the reason why she handled this way.
BALDWIN: Hang on, Senator McConnell is still talking.
MCCONNELL: Dr. Ford has talked to the "Washington Post," indicates she wants to talk to the committee and we'll give her that information on Monday. There have been multiple investigations. Judge Kavanaugh has been through six FBI investigations in the course of his lengthy public career. We want to give the accuser an opportunity to be heard and an opportunity will occur next Monday.
MCCONNELL: She will have an opportunity to be heard Monday. The committee will make decisions about the makeup of the hearing, but sheets been asking for the opportunity to be heard and she'll be given the opportunity to be heard on Monday. She can do it privately if she prefers or publicly. Monday is her opportunity to have a meeting with the members on this topic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have several meetings with members of the judiciary committee on this topic and how to forge ahead here. That said, that would indicate in your mind the fact that you are having these meetings that this nomination is in trouble. We know you only have 51-49 majority here. Are you concerned that this could tank this nomination regardless of what is true or not in this case because it is only 51-49? MCCONNELL: No, I'm not concerned about tanking the nomination. We've been meeting with the committee to agree to a process that is fair to the woman who is accusing here. Everybody can agree that it is a fair process. And the committee has agreed to do to the way I just outlined. I think that gives her ample opportunity to express her point of you view and Judge Kavanaugh of course has been anxious for days to discuss the matter as well.
BALDWIN: Asha, let me come back to you just on the FBI point, as former FBI and we know we played the sound earlier from Trump talking how he feels like the FBI shouldn't be involved further and that they don't want to interview this Kavanaugh matter further. So, what is the FBI perspective?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It is important to remember that the FBI's role in this whole process is to conduct the background check as it does for other Presidential appointees, even applicants to other agencies. They are acting as almost a subcontractor uncovering information and then providing to the decision maker in this case the White House to look at and then determine what to do with it. The FBI is not the adjudicator here. Also, the underlying allegation here is not a violation of federal law. So, there is no independent authority to investigate it as a criminal matter. That is not something that they would do.
BALDWIN: But let me stop you right there. Because if you read the Anita Hill opinion piece in the "Times," she says selecting a neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases that will investigate the incident in question and present the findings to the committee and she refers to the senators as fact finders. Take the conclusion from said neutral investigative body to determine the outcome. Is that plausible?
[14:30:00] RANGAPPA: I think definitely that could be constituted by the members of congress here, they could create a body of people, it could include former FBI agents for example or other kinds of investigators or experts that would engage in a fact finding query and come back and present those findings, that could either be the basis of asking questions to the two parties here or for, you know, coming to some decision and only questioning the Judge. But in terms of the FBI's role as the FBI, that would really at this stage be at the discretion of the White House if they wanted to say, OK, we need more information on this as part of the background check, could you interview some of these people. But they are not going to do otherwise.
BALDWIN: OK. The room is filling in the White House which tells me we are moments away from seeing the President and the leader of Poland. Gloria, to you. What if to your point to use your great word trepidatious, what if professor Ford is hesitant even though her attorney said that she wants to testify? Yes, she is trepidatious, so what if she doesn't show.
BORGER: What we know about the process so far, I mean her taking a lie detector test, talking about it in therapy, dealing with it over years. I can't imagine that she wouldn't be nervous or scared. The stakes are very high. What I was hearing from McConnell was concern about timing more than anything else.