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Trump Visits North Carolina to Tour Florence Devastation; Trump and GOP Reject FBI Reopening Kavanaugh Background Check; Trump Rips Jeff Sessions, Saying He Doesn't Have an Attorney General. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] GOV. ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: And you're here. And I'm asking you, sir, for your help every step of the way. All of these federal agencies are going to have to help us in cutting red tape and making sure we can be smart about this rebuilding process.

We still understand that people have a lot of immediate needs. And that's going to be critically important over the next few days and weeks. But long term rebuild, I know the resiliency of North Carolinians. We have an amazing state. I know that we can come back stronger than ever. But we're going to need your help. And thank you for coming to listen to this.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. We will be there 100 percent. And all of the folks from the federal government that are around the table, they are confirming it as well. We started early. And we'll be here late. And we want to thank you for the great job you've done. And all of you, people. Thank you very much.

I'd like to maybe ask Richard Burr to say a few words, your great senator who has done an incredible job. And then we're going to ask Tom Tillis to say a few words. These are two people that love this state and they love the country. Richard?

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, Mr. President, I'm going to say to this group exactly what I said to you on the plane. I have been doing disasters in North Carolina as an elected representative for now 25 years. I have never seen the preparation, the coordination, the collaboration between the federal, state and local government like I have seen prior to this event.

If we do half as good in the response as we did in the preparation, then North Carolinians are going to be in good hands. The challenge is quite frankly going to be this, facing things in this event that we haven't been faced with before. And the ability to have the Coast Guard and DOD assets in this state up front before the event has enabled those at local, state and federal level to adjust what plans we might have had in place and deliver water and food and essentials in a way that we can get into any community in the state. Without that level of collaboration, we'd people that were in serious, serious problems --

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina speaking there. Good morning, I'm Erica Hill, in today for Kate Bolduan.

President Trump there in North Carolina with a number of officials. He is on the ground to survey the damage as flooding continues to ravage the area. More than a dozen rivers in the state now at major flood stage this morning.

The governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, warning thousands of evacuees, they shouldn't go home yet. In fact he just said to the president we have never seen a storm like this calling it epic, disastrous and widespread.

Florence blamed for at least 36 deaths. CNN's Nick Watt is live in Wilmington, North Carolina, which for a number of days is basically cut off. It was turned into an island.

Nick, give us a sense, where will the president be going after this? What will he see today?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are not being told exactly where the president is going. Perhaps some of the plans are still fluid as you mentioned.

Listen, lots of roads are still closed here. This is still a fluid situation on the ground as some of the rivers are still cresting. But we have been told by the White House that he does want to meet people who have survived and he does want to see some of the worst hit areas.

Now the message that we just heard there, he is in a hangar right now at a Marine base up at Cherry Point which doesn't have power. That base was hit hard. And the message from the president was very clear. He said, you know, the planning for this was fantastic. The work of the first responders has been great, but there is still a lot of hard work to do. And he said, you know, this is going to cost the federal government a lot of money. But whatever you need, we will be there for you.

And he also spoke to the families of those 36 people who have lost their lives. And he said America is with you. America grieves with you. So the message very clear that the work so far has been great according to the federal government and it will continue to support local and state efforts that are needed down here.

As you mentioned, this is not over. So much water fell on the Carolinas. The rivers are still cresting and the damage is still being assessed, but the message from President Trump is we are with you all the way -- Erica.

HILL: Nick Watt, with the latest for us from Wilmington. Nick, thank you.

Before departing the White House this morning the president weighing in on Brett Kavanaugh and calls from Christine Blasey Ford who says the Supreme Court nominee assaulted her when they were in high school. Her calls for an FBI investigation. She says she won't testify before Congress until the FBI can investigate. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: But it would seem that the FBI really doesn't do that. They've investigated -- they've investigated about six times before and it seems that they don't do that.


[11:05:08] HILL: So from what we know Brett Kavanaugh has actually had six background checks. Slightly different.

Eyebrows also raised by the president this morning with renewed attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and also in defense of his former campaign chair Paul Manafort who just entered into a plea deal with the special counsel.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House. So, Abby, let's begin first with the president's comments on Brett Kavanaugh. What more did he have to say?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, the president today took a number of questions about Brett Kavanaugh but the message was pretty much the same for all of them. He is a good man and all the president also reiterated that he wants to hear from his accuser but he reiterated how much damage he believes this has all done to his nominee. Listen.


TRUMP: They're hurting somebody's life very badly And it's very unfair, I think, too. As you know, Justice Kavanaugh has been treated very, very tough. And his family, I think it's a very unfair thing what's going on.


PHILLIP: And he was asked several times about this issue of the FBI background check being potentially reopened to include some of these allegations. But the president didn't answer why. He doesn't think that that's necessary as you saw in that clip that you just played. He says the FBI doesn't do that. But he was reminded by me and other reporters that the FBI has investigated these matters in the past.

And most notably in the case of Clarence Thomas back in 1991 and on a number of other issues including Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, President Trump, once again reiterated his disappointment in his attorney general. But after telling "The Hill" in an interview that I don't have an attorney general, the president appeared to walk that back a little bit saying that he does have an attorney general, he is just disappointed in him for a number of reasons.

And on Paul Manafort, as you mentioned, once the president decried flippers, who cooperated with investigators, the president had nothing but praise for Paul Manafort and said he doesn't believe he has anything to worry about if Manafort testifies -- Erica.

HILL: Abby Phillip with the latest for us there. Abby, thank you.

One of the attorneys for Christine Blasey Ford says her client has received death threats since revealing her identity.


LISA BANKS, CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD'S ATTORNEY: It's premature to talk about a hearing on Monday. And I think people understand that because she has been dealing with the threats, the harassment and the safety of her family. Asking her to come forward in four or five days, and sit before the Judiciary Committee on national TV is not a fair process.


HILL: You heard the president, Abby, share some of the sound that as he expressed his concerns for Brett Kavanaugh and his family a short time ago, what they're being put through, in his words, he did not mention Ford and the impact on her.

Meantime, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee also weighing in. In a written statement Chuck Grassley says, quote, "Dr. Ford's testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events. Nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee so there is no reason for any further delay."

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, where do things stand this morning? Could this committee vote happen next week even without hearing from Dr. Ford?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very well likely that vote could happen if Dr. Ford does not come on Monday. Now we just had a chance to speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley who made very clear that he's still trying to get Ford to come before his committee on Monday. He said he is offering her four different ways to come publicly or privately via staff interview, open or closed.

He said they're going to reach back out to her today and they're going to continue their own staff level investigation to talk to other people who were a part of that incident. Now when I asked them directly whether or not you would agree to delay the hearing and reopen -- call for reopening the FBI background check as Dr. Ford has demanded, he would not say that. Instead he said we're going to focus on the Judiciary Committee and getting her to testify.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Where I'm focused right now is doing everything that we can to make Dr. Ford comfortable with coming before our committee either in an open session or closed session or a public or a private interview. That is four different ways she can choose to come.


RAJU: Now the question is what happens if she does not choose to come? And that's a question our colleague Sunlen Serfaty posed the chairman himself and he said -- she was asked directly what about that Monday hearing? Will it still happen if she does not come? And he said that Judge Kavanaugh -- he said, we don't have any problem with Kavanaugh coming.

[11:10:04] The only problem we have with making it a fruitful hearing is to hear from both sides. So he is opening the possibility that it could be just Kavanaugh at the Monday hearing. But he also wants to hear both sides at that hearing. But nevertheless even if it that doesn't happen, Republicans are making it very clear they want a committee vote next week. They want it on the floor soon after. So despite these calls to reopen an investigation and delay the hearing, there is no reason to think that's going to happen at the moment because Republicans are just not willing to go there right now -- Erica.

HILL: Manu Raju, with the latest for us. Manu, thank you.

Let's continue the discussion now. Pramila Jayapal is a Democratic congresswoman from the state of Washington, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Appreciate you joining us today. We heard from the president a little bit earlier. You just heard from Chuck Grassley there. Here is a little bit more of what the president had to say specifically.


TRUMP: I'd really want to see her. I really would want to see what she has to say. But I want to give it all the time they need. If she shows up, that would be wonderful. If she doesn't show up, that would be unfortunate.


HILL: The president making it clear he doesn't see that this is the place for an FBI investigation. If there is no investigation, would you support some sort of a compromise here, perhaps an investigation in the Senate?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D), WASHINGTON: Well, I think the problem here is that she does not want to go into a situation that is inherently unfair to her and not independent in nature. If you think about what happened with Anita Hill, some would say that what is being done to Dr. Blasey Ford is actually less due process than what Anita Hill got.

You know, Anita Hill had multiple witnesses testify. There were experts who testified, sex crimes prosecutors who said this is normal or this is -- you know, this is to be expected. And you know that that Anita Hill hearing outraged the country. And I think if Dr. Ford comes forward at this hearing in four days with very little preparation, a woman who has not taken a public role before, who has now been threatened with death threats, had to move out of her house, had to protect her children, had her identity stolen, I think it sets up a very unfair situation.

I think that's what she's trying to prevent. She's not saying that she won't come and testify before the committee. She's saying she is happy to do that but she thinks there should be an independent investigation, whether an FBI investigator or an independent investigator that collects the facts and that we should allow for these other witnesses to testify as well.

You know, Mark Judge has said that he does not want to testify. He was the third person that Dr. Blasey put in the room at the time of the incident. If she was lying, she would not put a third person in the room. She clearly put a third person in the room because -- I believe because he was actually there. I think he should at least be made to testify as well and the Senate Judiciary Committee should hear from him also.

I think that this is a situation where, you know, it's all these men who are saying, well, she should come forward and testify. But they -- many of them have already said that they have made their determination and in fact they keep saying and we want to move quickly to a vote. Sort of implying that the conclusion here is going to be we'll listen to her but then we're going to vote for him.

That is exactly what she fears. She wants this to be real. She's thrown her life upside down. And, you know, and I think Judge Kavanaugh should have the chance as well to put forward his case. I think that's appropriate. But I think that she is the one who is taking tremendous, tremendous risk in coming forward and I think she's saying let me just have a fair shot at this. Don't put me in front of a bunch of men on the Judiciary Committee who have already predetermined what the outcome should be.

HILL: As we just heard, and I'm sure you heard as well in our reporting from our Manu Raju, to your point, most Republicans he has spoken with are very clear, they want to move this forward, they want to get to that committee vote. I just want to share with you, too, something we heard from Senator Lindsey Graham this morning putting out a statement saying, quote., "Requiring an FBI investigation before Professor Ford will appear before the Judiciary Committee is not about finding the truth but delaying the process until after the midterm elections," going on to say he wants that committee vote to be taken as soon as possible.

This has become for better or for worse a very political situation where we stand right now. What's your response to that statement?

JAYAPAL: Well, I think the reason it's political is because they keep insisting that it's political. But if you really take a step back and you look at the issue of sexual assault and you look at what women go through.

[11:15:04] And there's lots of evidence around this from sex crime prosecutors and from others, particularly when something happens to a young woman, she was 15 years old at the time of the alleged incident. She did not speak out about it. In fact she did everything she could to try to forget about it, honestly, I think. And to try to move on with her life despite a lot of, you know, reported challenges that she had.

She went on to get two masters degree and a doctorate degree and finally in 2012 she felt like she needed to talk to a therapist. And there are notes around that. She's taken a polygraph test. She is now asking, submitting herself to an FBI investigation. I don't think that that's about a delay tactic. That is about preserving her reputation and bringing some closure to a very, very difficult situation in her life. One that she intended to keep private, except that she felt she had a duty to the country to come forward and report this.

So I think it's disingenuous of Senator Graham and many of these other males who find it very easy to say of course he's a good man. But what we know, Erica, is that good men do bad things. And I think that, you know, having a forum where she has to come at the same time as a judge who's been on the bench, who has been prepared for this nomination for, you know, months and months and months, in fact, years probably he's been preparing for this, is just unfair, unrealistic.

And, you know, of course the only thing Republicans have to say is about the delay. They're not talking about the content. Let's talk about the content. We have a Supreme Court nominee, highest court in the land who will administer justice to men and women for the rest of his life if he's confirmed. And we don't have the time to do an investigation into a credible accusation that has been made against him?

I think that is just outrageous. The FBI has investigated in the past. They can investigate here. We can get an independent investigator. What are they afraid of? Why don't we just --


HILL: We will see where this ends up.

JAYAPAL: I mean, let's just remember Merrick Garland --

HILL: Congressman, I am going to have to cut you off. We are way over on time. Always appreciate you taking the time to join us. And we'll continue the discussion. Thank you.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: Just ahead, President Trump on the ground in North Carolina. Set to tour the damage from Hurricane Florence. Just moments from now we're going to bring that to you live.

Plus, President Trump unleashing a fresh attack on his attorney general before making his way to North Carolina, saying he has no attorney general. So how or will Jeff Sessions respond to this? We're on that ahead.


[11:22:15] HILL: This morning President Trump lashing out once again at his attorney general Jeff Sessions before heading to North Carolina to survey the damage from Hurricane Florence. Earlier he told "The Hill," quote, "I don't have an attorney general."


TRUMP: I'm disappointed in the attorney general for numerous reasons. But we have an attorney general. I'm disappointed in the attorney general for many reasons. And you understand that.


HILL: Joining me now, Chris Cillizza, CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large, Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN senior political reporter and Asha Rangappa, CNN legal and national security analyst.

So, Chris, it's a new day. But sort of the same old story for the president. I guess the question this morning is why now? Why is he back on Jeff Sessions? Is this yet another push to try to get him to quit?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I don't know any other reason why he would do this now, Erica. I'm not a subscriber to the Donald Trump is always playing eight dimensional chess theory of his sort of outbursts and statements. I think he just says stuff whether in an interview or tweet. He sort of says what comes to mind.

What I'm more fascinated by is why he won't fire Jeff Sessions. This is a guy who made his name and his fame by saying you're fired to people. He's had a lot of turnover in his Cabinet. It's not those things. I think it's probably resistance among senators, Sessions' ex-colleagues, concerns about confirming the next attorney general which will be a total nightmare, potentially making it look like he's done something wrong in the Russia investigation when he believes he hasn't.

But he's obviously continuing to try to get Jeff Sessions to quit. This is not new. Jeff Sessions to date has refused to take that bait. He's willing to sort of take what Trump throws at him. Just continue to go to work. My guess is it will be more of the same.

HILL: So we should buckle up and get ready.

In other news, I do want to -- we've got a lot to get to on this Wednesday. When it comes to Brett Kavanaugh, so, Asha, we've been hearing -- we heard the president even weighing in this morning. He doesn't think that there needs to be an FBI investigation in this case. Talking about there had been six investigations. I think the president may have been referring to the six background checks that we know of that have been done on Brett Kavanaugh.

First, just do us a favor. The difference between an FBI investigation and a background check by the FBI, Asha.

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. So an FBI investigation on a violation of criminal law, if they get evidence in their possession that someone might have violated federal law or there's a threat to national security, they can initiate an investigation into that.

When they're doing background checks, that's not what they're doing. Background checks are there to look at a person's suitability for a position of public trust, to uncover information on a variety of different criteria including character and reputation and loyalty and, you know, drug abuse.

[11:25:14] They interview many people. They compile that into a dossier if you will and they give it to either the agency that is making the clearance or in this case with appointees to the White House to determine what to do with it. So, you know, there's -- this allegation at its core is not a violation of federal law so it wouldn't launch a federal investigation. It would require reopening the background check and given that it's complete and also because it alleges something when Judge Kavanaugh was 17 which is beyond the scope of what they normally ask people about. They go back to 18 or beyond. The president would need to request the FBI to look further into the leads and investigate it further to get more information.

HILL: And real quickly, just to pick up on what you said, this because from what we know did not violate a federal crime, in your estimation there isn't anything that the FBI would traditionally investigate here, despite the fact that Christine Blasey Ford is calling for an FBI investigation?

RANGAPPA: That's right.

HILL: Did I understand that correctly? OK.

RANGAPPA: They wouldn't initiate a criminal investigation. They may have passed this on to the Maryland attorney general or to the appropriate state law enforcement, for example. You know, they may disseminate relevant information. But they are not going to launch a criminal investigation on their own.

HILL: Nia, when we look at this, it should not be political in terms of a discussion. It is. There is no getting around this. And we're seeing some politics from both sides. It's also a gamble in some ways on both sides. How do you see this playing out, especially with the midterm elections looming?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, you're right. Political on both sides for Republicans. This would be the culmination of a real dream to get Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and if Democrats were able to block it, slow walk it and prevent it from happening, that would also be a dream as well.

I think when you look at the kind of specter of this woman, Professor Ford, and the way Republicans have approached her so far, I think they probably have a bigger gamble at this point. There is little political upside to what they're doing so far. There is little political upside probably to a hearing. If you think about the sort of tableau of those all men questioning this woman before the country, Professor Ford, about these allegations just to optics of that I think would be very damaging to them and in some ways you can sort of tell that they don't really want. I mean the sort of idea that it has to be Monday or never and this is

something they decided without even really talking to her and they're expecting that she's going to agree to this forum, the guidelines of which aren't even set in stone. One idea, for instance, that there will be outside counsel. Their attorneys all questioning her. So all of this, I think, you know, they are actually betting most likely that she doesn't show up and if she doesn't show up, they're saying at this point that they would just go ahead with the votes which, again, I think would be very -- a big political risk, a big political gamble for them given where they are with suburban white women.

If you look at all of these polls, this is where they are bleeding support. You look at the polls in Arizona. You look at the polls in Tennessee. Where two Republican women are running. They are 20 points behind with women in terms of how they're doing versus the Democratic candidates. So this is a big risk for Republicans. But obviously, the big kind of holy grail that they could get at the end would be Kavanaugh on the court and at this point they're willing to risk that basically because they know they would at least please their base.

HILL: Nia-Malika, Asha, Chris, I appreciate it. Thank you all.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Erica.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

HILL: Coming up, the battle over the Russia probe documents. President Trump ordering the declassification of sensitive files during the investigation. Now Republicans say this is all about transparency. Democrats call it an abuse of power. That's next.