Return to Transcripts main page


Collins Proposed Ford and Kavanaugh's Lawyers Be Granted Courtroom-style Questioning; Trump Administration Slaps New Tariffs on China; Trump: Totally Supportive of Kavanaugh. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 18, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: -- 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.

So, it's an interesting proposal, we've been -- one of -- the reason we don't have a firmly scheduled hearing, this is debate over how to do it. How many witnesses to have? How to proceed? Who does the questioning? Will that carry sway?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It could. And absolutely could. As you said, Susan Collins is not on the committee but she is incredibly powerful.

And on a host of issues, she has been -- because of the nature for politics, kind of a bridge. And she embraces that and tries to be the compromiser on a lot of issues, particularly on an issue like this that she understands the power she has, but also the pressure on her. So she's going to have to make a decision at some point if they have a vote. She is a senator, she has to vote.

And I was thinking about this as we've been talking, not just for her but for all of them. It is going to be a judgment call for all of these senators, once they hear if they ever hear, but assuming that they hear each side of the story. And the more facts that can be elicited, and the more it can be -- more meat on the bone besides my recollection versus their recollection is really, really critical. She does something that's clearly trying to bring out more independence and less of a partisan --

KING: It's a provocative proposal in the sense that it also allows the attorney -- if you went this way and you had the attorney for Professor Ford and the attorney for Judge Kavanaugh, you could have a more confrontational, more trial-like atmosphere. The senators would be reluctant and fearful of doing that. The attorneys representing these two -- it could be a lot more combative and a lot more pushy than it's likely to be if the senators were asking the question, am I wrong?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The other thing is, keep in mind, if you're a good lawyer, if you're either one of the lawyers in this case, you want preparation time before that happens, right. You want to be able to figure out what the facts to the best of your ability to be able to prepare questions.

I'm not sure if this was to be settled on in the next, say, 48 hours, and now you're at -- you know, you're at Thursday before a Monday hearing. And do the lawyers then come back to the committee and say there's just not enough time for us to prepare this kind of questioning.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: But it might not be a terrible idea for Republicans to have a woman asking the questions of Judge Ford instead of having, you know, a number of older white gentlemen quizzing her about her story of sexual assault. That may not be a terrible idea for them.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: The other interesting thing about the proposal based on the tweets is that, she get -- she says that the cross-examination essentially would be followed by questions from senators. This was a concern that Senator Grassley brought up in a radio interview this morning when he was asked if this was a proposal, you know, essentially having a third party do the question if he would be OK with that. And he said, you know, how am I going to tell senators that they can't ask questions if they have follow-ups.

So I think she sort of got around that concern which is -- which seems to be smart. And maybe Senator Grassley would be more willing to accept this proposal now.

KING: And it's interesting proposal from one of the key female Republican senators whose vote is potentially the decisive vote here. Again, Senator Flake on the committee, Senator Corker not on the committee, Senator Murkowski, and Senator Collins, four Republicans so far who have said I do not want to touch this, I do not want vote until Professor Ford gets to tell her story. Which adds to the drama Collins was already a big at stake here.

She had raised questions about I want to hear his views on Roe v. Wade. I want to hear his views on other issues. Brett Kavanaugh in his confirmation testimony hearing knew this. Knew this. In his confirmation testimony, well before this allegation became public, it was clear that Judge Kavanaugh knew that Senator Collins and Murkowski were key and that in the area of public opinion, he need to make -- he needed to make clear his compassion for women.


JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: My mom was a trailblazer. The president introduced me tonight as Judge Kavanaugh but to me, that title will always belong to my mom. I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women. I have tried to create bonds with my daughters like my dad created with me. For the past seven years, I have coached my daughter's basketball teams.


KING: This has been an issue from the get go. KNOX: Yes, it is central to the argument. It is central. They -- I think they anticipated more of the Roe v. Wade than anything else. But, this has been central. And -- I mean, (INAUDIBLE) go back and read his speech on that night when he was nominated because it's remarkable how many women from his life he brings into this. It's remarkable how many women surrogates they've had ready could go to talk about this, for example on cable television.

It was clearly central from the start. I don't know what they're doing in these nine-hour sessions at the White House, but I have to imagine they're prepping him to talk more like this.

KING: And this is -- to that point, we talk about the chaos in the White House all the time.

[12:35:01] The one thing where they have been disciplined and focused and had a clear strategy is on the judicial nomination. Kavanaugh presently, Gorsuch's performance in the Supreme Court, but also stories that doesn't get covered enough, all the lower federal court judges that they have put through with McConnell. So they have had a disciplined process on this one. They need it more than ever right now.

BASH: Yes which it plays into what we are talking about earlier about the president that it might not be typically characteristic of him to have the restraint that he does in general, but he has had it in a remarkable way on his two Supreme Court nominations.

KING: And the reason I think Kellyanne Conway, Mitch McConnell and others who have success getting the president calm down, say, Mr. President, it worked in the past.

BASH: Absolutely.

KING: We need to just stand back on this one.

We'll see how it plays out. When we come back, a story we're going to get you just for the breaking news. Fresh anxiety over a trade war with China.


[12:40:14] KING: Welcome back. I want to let you know reporters are in the room and the president of the United States is meeting with the president of Poland. He's taking some questions. Among the things we know he has talked about, the nomination -- the embattled nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be the next justice at the Supreme Court. We'll bring you that tape as soon as it's available to us.

Moving on now to another big story involving the White House today. The president has a message for China. Watch it.

After slapping the country with new tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese exports, the president hopped on Twitter this morning with a message. CNN's Christine Romans joins us to break down the numbers and the tough trade talks. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John, punch and counter punch. This is what a trade war looks like. First, the U.S. slapped tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese goods. A 10 percent tariffs starting September 24th rising to 25 percent by the end of the year. Think taxes on internet technology products, printed circuit boards, a wide range of consumer goods, even food.

Now the Chinese don't technically pay those tariffs, companies that import those goods will pay the tax to the U.S. Government. And they either pass that higher cost on to American consumers or they eat it.

Now smart watches and some baby gear was exempted here. Maybe that's an exempt to cushion the effects on the American consumer. But you add it all up, add that to $50 billion already taxed earlier this year, you got about half of the Chinese imports into the U.S. are now subject to tariffs.

The president accusing the Chinese of taking advantage of the U.S. for many years. He says, he is the one who knows how to stop it. Essentially, this administration is using tariffs as a punishment for years of intellectual property theft and what multiple, multiple administrations have called unfair trade practices.

The Chinese are outraged, they say the U.S. doesn't show integrity and respect for trade negotiations. They're vowing $60 billion on their own of measures in return.

Now the American commerce secretary this morning said the Chinese are out of bullets. They have more to lose than the United States. He argues that American consumers, they're not going to feel the effects of this trade war. Ten percent tariffs on thousands of items spread out in a $19 trillion economy, that can be absorbed without too much consumer pain.

But history shows trade wars are damaging. President Trump vows to tax every single import from China if China tries to hurt American farmers, ranchers, workers. China is dug in. High level trade talks are now in question and American business looking for an off-ramp.


KING: Christine Romans, looking for an off-ramp. They are American businesses. The president says ignored the pressure from them not to do this. He's ignored pressure from Republican senators, Republican members of the House who say, Mr. President, we get your long-term goal, this is hurting us in the short-term especially in the midterm election climate. You hear that a lot in the Midwest and the farm states.

But the president is sticking by his guns here, he thinks he's right. He thinks that you have to have this fight, the Chinese have been abusing the rules for years and that you have to have it even if there's some short-term turbulence as the president would put it.

KNOX: Yes, this very consensus that China has had some predatory policies whether it's forcing American companies that want to do business in China to enter into these joint ventures with local companies which basically means they have to turnover (INAUDIBLE) intellectual property to these Chinese companies and therefore find themselves competing with the very company that they were working with a moment ago.

They've been talking about the fact that China (INAUDIBLE) called national champions which is they say they steer business to certain companies and certain sectors. So there's not really a lot of doubt about that. The question is whether this is the best mechanism to force the Chinese to come to the table, to stop some of these practices.

You know, the Chinese have been working very hard to reduce their dependence on exports. One of the things that I think is really interesting about the latest round is that, the Trump folks appeared to have figured out that there is political pain here. And so they move to exempt things like car seats for kids, right? So they're taking steps to shelter some sector of American consumers, but ask soybean farmers how they feel about being shut out of the Chinese market.

KING: All right. To the exemptions point, some bluetooth devices and fitness trackers, some smart watches, some air pods exempted from this. The baby products as you mentioned, the administration clearly where the politics here. The president also aware of it in his tweet this morning. Christine read part of it, I'm going to read another part of it.

Whether China has said, OK, we're going to retaliate, and as we retaliate, we're going to pay attention to the map. Now we're going to target people where it hurts, Trump voters, Trump states if you will. And the president says, China has openly stated they're actively trying to impact and change our election by attacking our farmers, ranchers, industrial workers, because of their loyalty to me.

That's the president making the case and he's right to the sense that this is playing out. This is Heidi Heitkamp, Democratic senator of North Dakota, vulnerable. A state the president won by 20 plus points but she is in a dead heat race, she's trying to use tariffs to her advantage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: China is cancelling their contracts to buy soy beans. North Dakota is losing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business. But when you ask Kevin Cramer why he supports the trade war, he criticizes farmers. Mr. Cramer, that trade war is costing my family a lot of money and you don't seem to care.


[12:45:01] BASH: Heidi Heitkamp is a classic case of somebody who ironically can be politically helped by the fact that the president is hurting his own voters, his own constituents. The soy bean farmers you were talking about the kind in the ad that we just heard. And in that ad, she's smartly not putting it on the president, she's putting it on her opponent who is actually on the ballot not -- metaphorically on the ballot like the president. And they are pushing this issue so hard.

The question is, whether or not the argument that we heard and saw from the president in that tweet this morning pulling back the veil and saying to voters, don't punish me for something that China is doing to retaliate on for what I promised I would do in the election which is fix this whole thing.

It's very dicey when you're talking about your own pocket books and the fact that a lot of these soy bean farmers in North Dakota and elsewhere are not able to sell their goods. Meaning, they're not making -- not just a profit but anything.

SHEAR: Right. The remarkable thing here is not that President Trump is pursuing this agenda. He promised he would. It is one of probably the handfuls of few things that I think we really believe that he has long believed to his core, right?

The remarkable thing is that he's doing it without the cover that every other president has always sought in this kind of trade battles which is allies, right? I mean, people who, you know, as Olivier said had long recognized that China was taking advantage of the United States have always thought that the best way to confront China is by allying with Canada, the European Union, other Asian nations. And the president has essentially decided instead to anger all of those allies and to essentially go it alone.

And so part of the reason the politics are so stark right now is because there is no hiding. This is President Trump and President Trump alone waging a trade war with China.

KING: We are a minute away from hearing from the president. I want to say that. Please, I'm sorry to interrupt you. We're minute away from hearing the president. But to your point, the transpacific partnership was designed to do this very thing, to stand up to China to create an -- to create a counter balance if you will the Chinese might in the neighborhood. And it was an Obama negotiation so President Trump pulled out of it saying it somehow -- that it helped China. That's why he pulled out with the logic of that.

Whosever with me, we're about to hear from the president and I think it's key. Let's just stop the conversation about trade for a minute.

Yesterday, very measured when it came to Judge Kavanaugh. Reporters I'm told -- I don't know what the president is going to say yet, but we know the issue came up in the hearing here. He's also meeting with the president of Poland who the European Union is considering sanctions against for anti-Democratic steps in which the United States of America, usually a country that speaks out on this issues has been silent about because the president has a good personal bond with the president of Poland.

What are we looking for here?

KNOX: All right, if you let it out -- I mean, we're looking -- KING: Oops, sorry, here he is, the president.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- your question. Any way, shape, or form. It's our honor.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, how long of a delay is acceptable, sir, on the hearings for Judge Kavanaugh? There's some discussion that the counsel may not be coming in on Monday. How long is the delay?

TRUMP: I mean, I think it's a great question, frankly. We are looking to get this done as quickly as possible. He is a truly outstanding person as you know. He's got an unblemished record.

It's a terrible thing that took place and it's frankly a terrible thing that this information wasn't given to us a long time ago, months ago when they got it. They could have done that instead of waiting until everything was finish and then all of a sudden spring it. But that's what the Democrats do. That's what they do. It's obstruction, it's resist, it's whatever you have to do.

With all of that being said, it's 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 until it's finished out. I guess we invited everybody I know.

I can tell you this that Judge Kavanaugh is anxious to 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 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 mentioned this and that was a long time ago. Never even mentioned it. So why would you bring this up when he is sitting in her office for a pretty extended period of time?

So it's unfortunate. He is an incredible man, he's an incredible intellect. He will make an incredible Supreme Court justice but we feel that we want to go through a process and we want to hear both sides.

ZELENY: Did you ask the FBI to open the file, sir?

TRUMP: I don't think 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 as you know, they say this is not really their thing.

But I think politically speaking the senators will do a very good job.

[12:50:03] They really will. They're going to open it up and they will do a very good job.

ZELENY: Do you feel this is all politics, sir? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How important is this to you (INAUDIBLE) with Poland?

TRUMP: Very important. Security of Poland to me almost as important as it is that has been. I can't say as but almost.

ANDRZEJ DUDA, POLISH PRESIDENT: It is the most important and I hope that we will build (INAUDIBLE) in Poland together.

TRUMP: That's right.

DUDA: Mr. President.

TRUMP: You know what, it's very important to me. Extremely important to me. They're very special people, it's a very special country, it's very brave country.

I think one of my best moments was making that speech in Poland. People liked me and I liked them. They are very, very exceptional people. The security of Poland is very important to me and it's very important to our country.


TRUMP: We're going to see. We want transparency. What I want is I want total transparency. This is a witch hunt. Republicans are seeing it. The Democrats know it's a witch hunt, too, but they don't want to admit it because it's not good politics for them.

But, it's a terrible witch hunt and it hurt our country. And the things that have been found over the last couple of weeks about text messages back and forth are a disgrace to our nation. And I want transparency and so does everybody else. As you know, congressional committees came to me and they wanted this and I did it based on their request, but I think it's a good thing because we should open it up for people to see.

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, let's go! Make your way out! Press, let's go! Make your way out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. We're done. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, let's go! Keep moving! Let's go! Let's go!

Press, let's go! Make your way out.

ZELENY: Why not?

TRUMP: Specifically I have one or two. I think it's something that he will do very well. I think specifically, I haven't wanted to speak to Judge Kavanaugh because I knew somebody would ask me the same question that you asked me. Have you spoken to Judge Kavanaugh?

So specifically, I thought it would be a good thing not to. He can handle himself better than anybody. He's a very outstanding man.

Thank you. Thank you.


TRUMP: Oh, I'm totally supportive. Yes. I'm very supportive. He's a -- I would say few people that I have ever seen, that I have ever known and I know people of great success have been so outstanding as Judge Kavanaugh.

ZELENY: Is this all politics?

TRUMP: I don't want to say that. Maybe I'll say that in a couple of days, but not now. Thank you very much, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, guys, let's go!

Keep moving! Let's go! Come on, make your way out! We're finished.

Let's go! Make your way out! We're finished. Keep moving! Let's go!

KING: The president of the United States in the Oval Office there. Trademark Trump with one glaring exception. Trademark in the sense the witch hunt, using the term about the Mueller investigation. Trademark in the sense of they love me. The president talking about his big speech in Poland to a big crowd in public and how much he loved the applause and the big crowd there.

Completely out of character again for the second day in a row, very measured president of the United States when asked about Judge Kavanaugh. Criticizing the Democrats, saying this should have all been brought forward a long time ago. A few partisan (INAUDIBLE) to the Democrats but respectful when it comes to let's have a process, let's let everyone tell their story, then we will move on from there.

Our Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is outside the White House for us. Jeff, it is remarkable that this president known for saying, if we're under attack, fight back, has decided to take a much more measured and cautious approach here.

ZELENY: John, no question about it. And I was the reporter in there -- the (INAUDIBLE) reporter asking those questions. And frankly, I wasn't sure what the president -- how he was going to answer it today.

You're right, he didn't ratchet up his criticism of the Democrats, just a little bit, calling them obstructionists, you know, specifically singling out Senator Feinstein. Wondering why this didn't happened but he did not go there.

At the end, I don't know if you could hear it when some of the aides were hollering there but I asked him if he believes this is all politics and he paused a moment and he said I'm not going to go there, ask me in a couple of days.

So we know by talking to our reporters -- or our sources inside this building that the president is frustrated by this. But he also believes that the way to handle this, hearing a lot of feedback from Senate Republicans frankly is to keep his powder dry and not to inflame any of this.

But interestingly at all, I also asked him if he'd spoken to Judge Kavanaugh. Judge Kavanaugh was in the West Wing just one floor above the Oval Office for nine hours yesterday. The president said he has not spoken to him and he said one of the reasons he has not because he knew he'd be asked that question. But he said, you know, he knows that he has a support there.

So John, we'll see how long this measured approach will last. But there is a sense here that this is a moment. If the hearing doesn't happen on Monday, that it's not Judge Kavanaugh's fault. He said Judge Kavanaugh wants to go ahead right now.

We know the president's history on accusers and things like this but John, he was certainly not saying any of that today. And I should say as well, the first lady Melania Trump was looking at him a couple times as he was answering these questions. He's very measured and very disciplined today, John.

KING: Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Good questions. And again, fascinating, the president's response. Hasn't spoken to Judge Kavanaugh and ask me later when it comes to the politics.

[12:55:02] But this is a president whose own standing with American women is in the tank.

If you look at his approval numbers and things like that plus, again, the four key Republican senators, Flake, Corker, Murkowski, Collins, no fans of how this president in how he conducts his business. So it is a smart approach for the president and perhaps a surprise just because in so many other past fights, maybe quiet for a day or two, but then not.

BASH: It's strategic, it's by the book which is uncharacteristic. And, you know, in his defense, historically speaking, more times than not, he feels that he has been successful by being the opposite of by the book. By doing things his own way. But it's not the case now.

However, he was self-aware enough to say this might not last very long. I mean, even the between the lines, ask me in a couple of days, I might go back to

being my true self.

KING: And to the idea that he -- to Jeff's point, Brett Kavanaugh was there today. He was there for more than nine hours yesterday, the president says he has not asked him about this. This is an incredible consequential pick for the president in the short-term for the politics of the short-term. He's already under water in the polls, he's heading into a tough midterm climate. Ten, 20, 30 years from now, we will be talking about the Trump appointees to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch being one, Judge Kavanaugh is for the Anthony Kennedy seat. This could be the most consequential piece of the Trump presidency, 20 or 30 years from now. He says he hasn't. Wouldn't you want to look this -- what's the calculation of I don't want to get involved in this because I'll get asked about it. Or, this is the most important thing in my life right now, I want to look this guy in the eye and ask him, are we good.

PARTI: I think, you know, it's not only interesting that the president hasn't attacked the accuser like he's had in the past but the fact that he's completely sort of removed himself from the process. You know, not talking to Kavanaugh obviously is one of the ways that he's removed himself, but also just kind of repeating the same talking points and really leaving it up to the process, as you said, today and yesterday.

The president doesn't usually -- you know, even use the word process. And he seems to be just kind of removing himself from things and saying, I'll let the process go on as it should and let the Hill do what they need -- you know, what everyone there needs to do. Which is very different from how he's operated obviously in the past.

SHEAR: And think about what the next question would be. If he had said that he had talked to Kavanaugh, right, the next question would be, what did he say, tell us what -- did he deny it? Do you believe him or do you believe her? This way, you know, he's able to fall back on the process questions and not -- and sort of deflect the obvious follow-ups.

And, you know, as long as he -- I mean, he's going to have a press conference later today, he'll be asked these questions again and he'll be able to fall back on the same thing.

BASH: Which again his textbook but not Trumpian.

SHEAR: Right.

KING: And to the question of the process as we've been on the air and as we were listening to the president weighed on Senator Dianne Feinstein who's the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. The president was just harshly critical of her saying, you got this information in July, why are we learning about it in September. Senator Feinstein would say, because she promised confidentiality to Professor Ford and it's difficult.

But this is something that happened to Professor Ford, she alleges when she's 15 years old, her privacy right should be considered, but Republicans do raise questions about the timing. You heard the president do it there. She says the Senate Judiciary Committee should allow the FBI to conduct a full investigation before we hold any hearings on the allegations Dr. Ford has made against Brett Kavanaugh. Holding a hearing without any investigation signals no interest in getting to the bottom of this.

The president could make that happen. He would just ask and he said he did not think so. He said this isn't the FBI's thing. This is the FBI's thing. This is exactly what the FBI does. It conducts the background investigation for sensitive picks, but it is not the FBI's job to reopen them.


KING: The question is, the president would have to say do it.

KNOX: This does not automatically trigger FBI actions is the point here. I think that's what he meant when he said this is not the FBI's thing.

That's right. They would typically add this to the background file and submit the updated background files to the White House and then it's up to the president or I guess the White House counsel to direct them to reopen it.

KING: And with that answer from the president as we speak 12:58, 48 on this day in Washington, this is a developing story. I don't say that to be (INAUDIBLE) things have changed so much throughout this. At this moment, the president says no, what happens --

SHEAR: And let's be clear. This is only at the last minute which is what the president said because the timeline that the Republicans have put in place to consider this nomination is incredibly compressed. And there's nowhere that says it had to be. It could have -- they could have established a much longer process. And so that's the argument the Democrats are going to make is that, this can go -- there's no reason this has to happen, you know, Monday or next -- the following Monday and there should be time to do this investigation. That's the Democrats' argument.

KING: Is there any reason to believe it will happen Monday since we do know the Democrats and the Republicans and the senators as we speak (INAUDIBLE) heads over, how many witnesses, how to conduct the hearing, who would conduct the questioning, whether the attorneys for Judge Kavanaugh and Professor Ford gets to be involved at all except for just sitting next to their clients.

BASH: It's just easy to imagine it's not happening as happening. How's that for a non-answer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't have anything for you right now.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) throughout the day. Thanks for joining us today here on the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow.

Jim Acosta is in for Wolf Blitzer, he starts right now.