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INSIDE POLITICS

CNN: Hill Sources Say Kavanaugh Hearing Uncertain Monday; Friends and Exes Step Forward to Defend Kavanaugh; Trump Shows Restraint in Renewed Support of Kavanaugh. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 18, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


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[12:00:21] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Poland's controversial president due at the White House any moment. President Trump has been silent as the Polish Government has purged its courts, take another step at the European Union seizes anti- Democrat. We could hear from the two leaders soon. We'll take you there live if that happens.

Plus, the trade war with China escalates. The White House unveils $200 billion in new tariffs. Beijing is quick to retaliate. Financial markets so far unfazed.

The Republicans worry about election year fallout especially in the Midwest and farm states.

And she said she said with a pivotal seat on the Supreme Court hanging in the balance. Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser are due to testify next Monday. Republicans are mad the sex assault allegation surfaced so late. Democrats are mad the FBI won't investigate before that dramatic public hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We should do a full investigation. This should be part of the background investigation as are any other allegations relating to someone who's being nominated for a lifetime appointment on a federal court and in this case, certainly, the Supreme Court. This is not an effort to slow it down by months, but it is an effort to make sure we take days or weeks to ensure that there is a thorough background investigation.

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KING: And we begin right there with the president's embattled Supreme Court nominee. Back at the White House this morning, Judge Brett Kavanaugh meeting again with White House legal team to prepare for a fate-determining hearing that we expects to take place next Monday. There, Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford will both recount what is now a she said he said being debated across the country with a critical seat on the Supreme Court hanging in the balance. Professor Ford says Kavanaugh attempted to force himself on her in a high school party some 35 years ago and believes he would have raped her if he weren't so drunk. Kavanaugh says the incident Professor Ford describes never happened.

The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this morning on the Senate floor saying both will have the chance to tell their story, but the Republican who runs the Judiciary Committee says as of now he has not heard from Ford and does not yet have an agreement for her to testify.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUGH HEWITT, SALEM RADIO NETWORK HOST: Had Dr. Ford accepted and she has agreed to come?

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: No. We have reached out to her in the last 36 hours, three or four times by e-mail and we have not heard from them so it kind of raises the question, do they want to come to the public hearing or not?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill. And so Phil, there's a question, do we know will this hearing actually happen?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 50-50 at best was a message I just got from the senior Republican aide who's been working on this. And this really all kind of underscores how deep the divide is between Republicans and Democrats just broadly, but also committee Republicans and Democrats.

You have to remember, John, Republican leaders going into yesterday did not necessarily want a public hearing. The reason they scheduled one is because that's what they had to do to assuage or at least attempt to assuage the concerns of their own members. However, they did not consult with Democrats about that hearing until after they've made the decision.

And as Chairman Grassley said to Hugh Hewitt this morning, they reached out only after they scheduled a hearing to Professor Ford. As of this moment, they still have not heard back from Professor Ford. And as of this moment, Democrats are saying the Monday hearing is not remotely adequate enough. They want to re-open a review of the background investigation, they want more time, they want accompanying witnesses including Mark Judge, the individual who was named as a third person involved in those allegations. They want all of those things.

The big question now becomes, Republicans and Democrats alike are questioning one another's intent. They're questioning one another's motives. And now they're questioning whether or not a hearing at all will happen.

I will tell you two interesting comments I picked up from my colleagues Manu Raju, Sunlen Serfaty in the hallways just a short while ago, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, two very key Republican senators, both expressed disappointment if there is not a hearing on Monday saying it would be a missed opportunity. Keep in mind, all Majority Leader Mitch McConnell technically cares about right now is his Republican conference, making sure they're comfortable with things. That will determine whether or not he moves forward on things, but it's very clear right now, Democrats are not happy with the process and at this moment, nobody knows if Professor Ford would be willing to show up at all if that hearing goes on as planned on Monday.

KING: Phil Mattingly on the Hill. Phil, keep in touch as the story clearly is still developing. There will be some changes probably throughout the day if not next several days. Still keep in touch. Thanks for that.

Here with me in the studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Michael Shear with the New York Times, SiriusXM's Olivier Knox, and BuzzFeed's Tarini Parti.

So, we expect this hearing to happen on Monday or at least that was the plan.

[12:05:03] Clearly, now there's another fight over the process. Let me bring into this Chuck Schumer, Phil just mentioned him. He mentioned on the Senate floor, first McConnell went to the floor, said he expected the hearing on Monday even though they don't have an agreement with Professor Ford yet. Then Chuck Schumer comes to the floor and he says, wait a minute.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Chairman Grassley said there'd be only two witnesses. That's simply inadequate, unfair, wrong, and a desire not to get the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It certainly 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 to get the truth and not have Mr. Judge come to the hearing and be asked questions?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So I would cast a giant question mark there, right because the Republicans would have to agree to that or the Democrats boycott. Where are we heading?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know. I mean, they are really making this up as they go along, minute by minute. And that's the honest truth.

KING: With two people's reputations now, Judge Kavanaugh and Professor Ford --

BASH: Yes.

KING: -- and a critical Supreme Court seat hanging in the balance.

BASH: Exactly. And so many other implications for the midterm elections, not to mention as you say the swing seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last night, the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee met in Mitch McConnell -- the majority leader's office and had a discussion. This was after Brett Kavanaugh himself was on the phone for about an hour wit aides on the Judiciary Committee Republican side. And they just decided this is the best way to do it. The mantra was then is, her story should be told. So what other way for them to address that problem that they have than to say that there's going to be a public hearing?

But how you get from that announcement to the practical? They have not figured it out. In normal times which we all don't really remember at this point, these things were worked out in a grown up way between the chairman and the ranking member of the committee along with the majority leader and the minority leader in the U.S. Senate.

That is not happening now for lots of reasons, but primarily things are so broken and so partisan. And the fact that we are careening from guardrail to guardrail every five minutes about, is this is going to happen, it's not going to happen, we want this, now we want that, is an indicator of how messed up and chaotic things are just on a human and personal level with the relationships that used to guide these basic and very important decisions about process.

KING: Right. In the old days which I do somewhat remember back in the cobwebs, the adults are going through the room and say I blame you for this mess, the other person said I blame you for this mess, (INAUDIBLE), how do we get out of this mess or how do we figure it out.

To the point that Senator Schumer is making, Mr. Judge, Professor Ford says it was Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, who were in the room. This is her allegation that they were in the room. And so the Democrats say he's a vital witness.

He also wrote a book about his time. It's a fictional book about his time in a prep school where he first (INAUDIBLE) Brett O. Kavanaugh as passed out drunk in his book. So if you are the Kavanaugh side of this, I assumed you don't want Judge at this hearing because then you get into the whole culture of these, you know, kids in a high school environment.

But, we're going to have this argument now play out again with Professor Ford's reputation. She has had the courage to come forward at stake. Judge Kavanaugh's reputation. He insisted this never happened. There's a critical Supreme Court seat in the balance and polarized Washington is going to fix this out.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Well, you're assuming that polarized Washington is going to fix anything ever at all. I mean, this is -- Dana's point, it is incredibly broken. You can see why the Democrats want Judge clearly because it opens up a whole other avenue of questions. You know, you're already hearing people pointing back to some of Kavanaugh's comments, some in e-mails in the Bush administration about having trouble recollecting a certain party, things like that. The Democrats clearly want to reopen this can of worms.

I think the important thing though is, this is obviously a really dramatic development in this confirmation fight but it's not the whole basket. And so you have questions about like, Senator Flake for example who does not agree with Brett Kavanaugh on executive power versus legislative power. I think (INAUDIBLE) concerns there too.

Roe versus Wade is important fight. Lisa Murkowski's bigger problem is probably the -- lies between his rulings and Native Alaskans. So the Kavanaugh thing -- the Kavanaugh -- these latest accusations are really important but you to keep track of the whole context because at the end of the day, these senators, that's what they're going to weigh, they're going to look at the whole content of pros and cons for confirming him or not to the Supreme Court.

KING: Right. And you mentioned this and (INAUDIBLE) this as well smartly. Every senator gets a vote in the end. The committee would go but there are really four people who are front and center at the moment. And they are Jeff Flake, the Republican who's on the committee, he's retiring and he said as of today he would vote no because he wants to hear her story. He wants to hear Professor Ford and her story.

Bob corker, also retiring on Senate floor, no loyalty to Trump who has said let's be careful, let's go through this in a good process.

[12:10:04] And the two female Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. Here's Collins -- I mean, Senator Corker, excuse me, and Murkowski earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: 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.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I don't think that we should air drop in a Republican woman who doesn't sit on the Judiciary Committee specifically for the purposes of questioning. My hope is that all will be respectful. Respectful of Dr. Ford and respectful of Judge Kavanaugh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And those concerns come at number one, the Republican side of the committee is all white men. Republicans have memories of the Anita Hill episode back during the Clarence Thomas hearing. It's frankly boorish questions to her at the time.

Murkowski was asked that because Chuck Grassley told Hugh Hewitt that he was thinking about it. They hadn't settled on how this is going to work yet and was open to the idea of maybe bringing in a Republican woman to lead some of the questioning, to do some of the questioning. Senator Murkowski seems to be thinking, please don't do that.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. Look, I understand that Phil said that he thinks this is just a 50-50 chance that this hearing happens and I do think to Dana's point that there's a lot of confusion and sort of chaos about sort of the specifics. I can't imagine that this won't eventually happen. It may not happen on --

BASH: Eventually.

SHEAR: Right. It may not happen on Monday if for some reason they can't work out the details. It's impossible to think though --

KING: Well, Kavanaugh won't be confirmed if it doesn't happen now because Senator Flake, Senator Collins, Senator Corker --

SHEAR: There are enough Republicans and obviously all of the Democrats who are going to demand that this story be aired publicly one way or the other. And so it's going to happen. And so, you know, we're in for this period of kind of crazy negotiations behind the scenes and leaks and discussions. And all of the rest of the circus for the next six days, 10 days and however long it takes. But we're going to get there and we'll all be watching.

KING: And if we do, here's a question. What's the standard in the sense that we could spend a month on how much this town, how much the Senate, how much this country has changed in its conversation about women, sexual assault, sexual harassment, we're going to try to tell her story since the Anita Hill hearings. We live in a different world but it's the standard and different.

In the sense that Anita Hill gave compelling testimony, Clarence Thomas then said this never happened and gave compelling testimony. He was indignant it never happened. Two witnesses who came across is credible, he was confirmed.

The question is, if that's what happens again, what happens to Judge Kavanaugh? Is the standard different even though the times are different?

Richard Lowry writes about this in National Review. He says, "If someone is capable of such a thing even as a teenager, it is a black mark against his character. And character is usually destiny. No accident that men taken down by Me Too are invariably repeat offenders. Not only is there no other allegation against Kavanaugh, the assault charge runs against everything we know about his personal and professional life as attested by everyone who has known him."

(INAUDIBLE) you know, Lowry is making the case that if it is only Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh passionately and credibly denies it that there's no other black mark, he should go forward. Is that the standard?

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: I think that you will see, you know, the four Republican senators we've mentioned essentially decide the standard based on what they say after this hearing if it happens on Monday. And even if -- I think what we talked about whether this hearing happens or not, even if Blasey Ford decides she doesn't want to come out for this, I think Republicans still want to question Kavanaugh and get him under oath and talk to him about what exactly he remembers.

Because some of the things that he said just in the last day has been, you know, I wasn't at that party. Well, how does he know if he was at that party or not? We don't have that many details yet on when that party happened, where it was. And so I think these are some of the things that they're going to question him about it. And if they feel comfortable, then that sort of standard will potentially get decided.

KING: All right. We will continue the conversation in just a moment including the White House calculation here -- what the White House is doing to salvage the nomination.

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[12:18:09] KING: So far, a clear strategy emerging from the Trump White House for confronting the sexual assault allegations against the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The administration has a delicate goal. Defend Kavanaugh's integrity, fortify his public image without impugning his accuser, Professor Christine Ford.

The White House game plan, keep the president in the background and let women who know Judge Kavanaugh well do the talking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN MCCALEB, PERSONAL FRIEND OF KAVANAUGH: She alleges that she had this traumatic event and I feel like it is not the Brett Kavanaugh that we know. It is so wildly inaccurate to his character that I'm not certain where it's coming from.

MAURA FITZGERALD, DATED KAVANAUGH IN HIGH SCHOOL: Just so polar opposite of the Brett Kavanaugh I've known for over 35 years.

MAURA KANE, DATED KAVANAUGH IN COLLEGE: He was someone who did have a beer but he was never out of control. He never became someone different after drinking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's a smart strategy by the White House so far. And the president has been very measured. A lot of this is to fill the time between now and the hearing, this will come down to the hearing assuming the hearing happens and Professor Ford's testimony, Judge Kavanaugh's testimony. But, Judge Kavanaugh, if you look at public opinion polling, it was already in a sort of the country evenly divided on him.

So, does this matter from the White House perspective? I mean, does it change anything or does just it fill the debate between now and the hearing.

PARTI: I think the fact that we haven't seen the president tweet or aggressively attack Ford, this is kind of the only thing that they could do to sort of fill the time. But I think in this sort of Me Too era, there's this realization that, yes, 65 women could say they think this man is great, that, you know, he's never done anything wrong and could attest to his character, but that doesn't disqualify an accuser, you know, coming forward with some allegations. We've seen this happened with Harvey Weinstein, we've seen this happened with Bill Cosby. We've seen this happened over and over again.

So, I think the sort of juxtaposition of women going on T.V. versus these accusations, these allegations that we've heard in the past week, one is not -- doesn't supersede the other and I think they're going to sort of get into that narrative more if this is their only strategy.

[12:20:14] SHEAR: Well -- and I would just say, I just -- the big question is how long President Trump can stay restrained, right? He doesn't have a good history of being restrained like that. So I think that's not --

KING: And you're watching the president and the first lady of Poland arriving at the White House right now. They have a news conference then later today, the subject of Judge Kavanaugh most certain to come up at that. They also have some other meetings so it's possible reporters will be in the room. So we'll keep track of this other issues to discuss as well.

It'd be interesting to see changing the subject about whether the president speaks publicly about the anti-Democratic steps taken by President Duda. We'll see as this one plays out. You see them greeting each other now, about to go into the White House.

Let's listen to the president yesterday because that has been one of the big questions. What would he say about Judge Kavanaugh? Would he attack or say anything at all about Professor Ford? The president yesterday in a word, measured.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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. Never had even a little blemish on his record.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Pitch perfect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BASH: Yes.

SHEAR: And so the question is, as the rhetoric heats up around the president in Washington as you say that something is going to fill the time for the next six days. That's going to be potentially advertising. There's going to be a lot of back and forth. Can he watch that and not revert to what he has already admitted in books and in appearances is his reaction to this. Which is that he sees all of these accusations through the lens of his own experience.

I mean, accusations that have been made against him which he contends are completely false and that he -- and that the best way to react to those kinds of accusations is to attack, attack, attack.

BASH: And in this case he's being less aggressive than the Republican leader in the Senate which is interesting. Who obviously it's the president's nominee, but he's maybe got more politically on the line with this than the president does.

I was told that when the president heard Debra Katz, the attorney for Professor Ford yesterday morning on CNN and other places use the word potential attempted rape, used other very clear language and also saying that she thought that her client should come and testify publicly, that is when he was convinced, you know what, be uncharacteristically restrained, set back, see how this plays out. Because the other thing I'm told that he has come to realize is that in the case with Weinstein or Les Moonves or name your person who's been accused and had issues over the past year and a half, if there is a real problem, it had been the pattern of not just one, but more than one.

So they're also -- nobody is suggesting to me that they know anything, but they're just waiting to see how things play out.

KING: All right, lastly on this point, we talked about the White House strategy, the Democrats clearly trying to get more witnesses if there is a hearing and also trying to get the pause button hit so the FBI would go and re-investigate essentially, reopen the background investigation.

A letter from the Judiciary Committee, Democrats here, several of them been on television saying you have to do this, you have to do this, the only fair way to do this (INAUDIBLE) the committee. Let the experts do it. But my understanding is that either the White House or the Senate would have to specifically request that the FBI do that. They won't do it on their own. At the moment, the White House and the Republican leaders are not going to do that. So is that a moot point?

KNOX: Yes, pretty much. And the White House doesn't throw requests at the FBI. Not just add this into the folder but also then go back and reopen it.

BASH: Unless there is enough political pressure just like there was political pressure to do it --

KING: Which is why we are where we are. The hearing is not scheduled yet Democrats are trying to build the political pressure to expand the witness. Let's expand an investigation which would delay it further. The subject to negotiations. We'll keep track of all of this.

Up next for us here, the outrage and anxiety over the latest tit for tat in the trade war with China. But the Trump administration says, most consumers won't even notice.

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[12:25:02] KING: Some more breaking news about just how to proceed now that a professor has made sexual assault allegations against Trump Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the key swing votes here is not on the Judiciary Committee, but in the debate now about how to hold a hearing to allow Professor Ford to tell her story, to allow Judge Kavanaugh to respond to the allegations which he denies, Senator Susan Collins of Maine just moments ago tweeting this.

"I'm writing to the chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, respectfully recommending that at Monday's hearing, counsel for Professor Ford be allocated time to question Judge Kavanaugh. And counsel for the judge be granted time to question Professor Ford followed by questions from senators." Such an approach, Senator Collins writes, would provide more continuity, elicit the most information and allow an in-depth examination of the allegations.

It is an interesting proposal, she's not on the committee so in one way, she's not directly involved. But in other ways, if you're Chairman Grassley or Leader McConnell, you need to listen to her because she is one of what I call the front fort essentially. Murkowski and Collins, the two female Republican senators. Corker and Flake, the two retiring Republican senators.