Return to Transcripts main page


Brett Kavanaugh's Accuser Won't Testify Unless FBI Investigates Her Claims; Interview with Senator John Kennedy; Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:01] MARGARET HOOVER, HOST, PBS "FIRING LINE": Because we all know every day this goes by, this is a Democrat -- the Democrats have every interest and a new day going by to wake up and have a new excuse for delay. So that has to be balanced. The fairness for her, the fairness for Brett Kavanaugh and the fairness for Professor Ford has to be balanced with the political wins here. And -- let's not lose that.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I think it would help for the FBI to do some of its duty.

Kirsten Powers, Margaret Hoover, Alice Stewart, thank you all very much for the conversation.

All right. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. So glad you're with us this morning. The nomination process for the Supreme Court nominee Judge Kavanaugh is upended again. The California professor who accuses him of sexually assaulting her when both we're in high school in the '80s is now swelling the Senate Judiciary Committee she is not prepared to testify on Monday after all.

Lawyers who represent Christine Blasey Ford say they want an independent investigation before, before any Senate hearing. But last night, one of those lawyers seemed to acknowledge on CNN that Ford herself needs some time. Listen to this.


LISA BANKS, ATTORNEY FOR CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: Since coming forward, her life has been turned upside down. And rushing forward into a hearing when she's under this much pressure isn't the way to do it.


SCIUTTO: Senate Democrats are backing Ford's request, but overnight a critical GOP swing vote implored -- he used that word -- implored Kavanaugh's accuser to take the opportunity that she's been given. Jeff Flake writing, "That in either a public or private setting the community should hear her voice." We may hear from President Trump on this and other issues in just

minutes. He's heading to North Carolina to survey flood damage there a day after lamenting the toll of the Ford allegations on Kavanaugh and complaining that Democrats just like to obstruct and resist.

We'll be listening if he stops to speak with reporters, as he often does. In the meantime, let's bring in our Manu Raju. He's on Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, just lightning fast developments last night, this morning, all Republicans that you've spoken to insisting on going forward with this Monday date and a vote next week despite Ford now saying she won't appear then.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Republicans are pushing forward for a vote next week no matter what happens with Dr. Ford, whether or not she shows up to Monday's hearing. And it's still an open question what exactly happens with that Monday hearing if she does not show up. But nevertheless Republicans came out yesterday on the Senate Judiciary Committee making it very clear that she and her attorney would not dictate the terms of exactly what would happen.

So they are very clear that they're moving forward and they're getting some support from some key members. You mentioned Jeff Flake but also Bob Corker, the Senate Republican senator who had raised some serious concerns about these allegations and had been eager to hear this testimony. He said in a tweet yesterday after that letter had emerged from Ford's lawyer, he said, "After learning of the allegation, Chairman Chuck Grassley took immediate action to ensure both Dr. Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh have the opportunity to be heard in public or private. Republicans extended a hand in good faith. If we don't hear from both sides on Monday, let's vote."

Now, similarly, I talked to Senator Lisa Murkowski who's one of the key Republican senators who could determine whether or not Kavanaugh gets this lifetime seat. Before this letter came out, I asked her about whether or not the FBI investigation should be reopened before this hearing takes place as Democrats and as now Ford is demanding. This is what Murkowski said.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I think that an allegation has been made by Dr. Ford. I think her story deserves to be heard, and the -- the committee process has been made available to her.


RAJU: So it's a sign that she wants the hearing to take place, not necessarily agree with this effort to reopen the FBI background check. So the question now emerges back to whether or not Dr. Ford will agree to this process, talk to the Judiciary Committee in private, then a public meeting. We still don't know. Of course a lot can change as we've seen over the last several days here -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: No question. Manu Raju, on the Hill, thanks very much. Joining us now is Senator John Kennedy, he's a Republican of the state

of Louisiana. Crucially he's a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, of course is considering Kavanaugh's nomination.

Senator Kennedy, thanks so much for taking the time with us this morning.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You bet. Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So on this issue, and granting, it is a difficult one. It's a difficult one for all involved. You said just yesterday in an interview, quote, "I want to hear her side of the story."

[09:05:05] You also said that if the allegations are credible, it would affect your vote.

KENNEDY: Mm-hmm.

SCIUTTO: Should Monday in your view be Ford's only chance to testify as to her account in public?

KENNEDY: Well, I don't have enough information to make that decision. I don't have any information at all. Everything I know about this I've read in the media or seen in the media, and I'm not saying the media is wrong. I'm just saying that I'm a United States senator. My people elected me to make a decision, and I need -- I need facts and evidence to make that decision.

I'm a little more sanguine than some. I think there is a reasonable possibility that Dr. Ford will attend the hearing on Monday. I mean, if you put this in context, originally she wanted to remain anonymous. Then Dr. Ford changed her mind. I understand she actually called and reached out to the "Washington Post" and either she or somebody on her behalf leaked her letter to the "New Yorker."

Next she asked for a public hearing. Last night I understand she changed her mind. But I think there is a reasonable possibility she'll change her mind yet again. We're scheduled to meet 10:00. I have marked that on my calendar from 10:00 to 5:00 p.m. and I'll stay as late as everybody wants to. It's room 216, Philip Hart Building. And I'm looking forward to hearing from her.

Now if she doesn't want to come, that's her call. If she's uncomfortable doing it in a public hearing, I think it would be a mistake. I think the American people need to hear from both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh and be able to judge for themselves. But if she wants to do it privately --

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you --

KENNEDY: -- we can do it privately.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this because her lawyer laid out the possibility -- I don't know if it's correct to call it a condition, but she said that Ford would like an investigation, an independent investigation possibility by the FBI before coming before the Senate panel.

Do you think that this is a reasonable request? And would you, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, be willing to allow her that request?

KENNEDY: Well, let me make a couple of points. Number one, I don't have the information to make that request. I've never even seen her letter. As you know, Senator Feinstein did not forward a copy to the rest of us. Number two, I note that Dr. Ford, as is her right, she has changed lawyers. And so I don't know if the current position is a result of her new lawyer or it's a change in an approach.

HARLOW: She has a --

KENNEDY: A number --

HARLOW: Excuse me, Senator. Just to jump in, she has a team of attorneys. Katz is one that we've heard first from.


HARLOW: Then we heard from one of her colleagues. I believe it's the same law firm. But I'm wondering, you know, that doesn't seem to --


KENNEDY: Can I make my third point, Poppy? Can I make my third point?

HARLOW: Jim's question is, should the FBI investigate?

KENNEDY: Yes. Yes.


KENNEDY: Yes, I heard it. Let me make my third point. My third point is that as a United States senator, and I think we're all in this -- in this situation, all 100 of us, you've got to have some evidence, some facts.


HARLOW: So here's what we do --

KENNEDY: I can --

HARLOW: Here's what we do know because --

KENNEDY: Poppy, let me finish.

HARLOW: I heard your three points. And --

KENNEDY: Poppy, you're better than this. Let me finish my answer. Let me finish my answer. You're better than this.

HARLOW: Your third one is salient and you said there has to be some facts. And I just want to know for our viewers the facts that the "Washington Post" reported, which include therapist's notes.

KENNEDY: OK. Let me --

HARLOW: From 2012.


HARLOW: Which include a polygraph test. Yes?

KENNEDY: Can I talk now?


KENNEDY: Oh, OK. I need to see the facts. And while I respect and trust the media, all we have are -- all I have are media reports. That's why we called the hearing. We met as a group day before yesterday. When I say we, I mean the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. There was unanimity that we should reach out to Dr. Ford and her lawyer or lawyers, and make that offer and start taking written statements.

The minority staff under Senator Feinstein refused to cooperate, so our majority staff went forward. We didn't hear back from Dr. Ford's lawyers.

[09:10:02] So yesterday we met and said, OK, maybe she is concerned, she meaning Dr. Ford, about a public hearing. So we agreed to make the offer that, well, if you'd rather do it privately, that's your call.

I would prefer to do it publicly because I think the American people have a right to hear both from Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh.


SCIUTTO: Let me ask you --

KENNEDY: But if she wants to do it privately -- but you've got to start somewhere.

HARLOW: But --

KENNEDY: And to me it's -- can I make one other point?


HARLOW: I really want to get to Jim's important question.


HARLOW: And we know you don't have all day. And that is the FBI. I mean --

SCIUTTO: Should the FBI have a role? Because, as you know, Senator Kennedy, the FBI can investigate this if the president asks them to. And there is precedent. During the Anita Hill investigation, President George Bush, a Republican, ordered the FBI to investigate her allegations at the time. They did so in three days and then reported back to the White House.

Would that be -- why isn't that a reasonable step for this president to take in light of how important this nomination is and then of course it is a lifetime appointment to the court.

KENNEDY: That's a fair question. I don't have the information to make that decision. I do have media reports. I think they all stem from the -- I don't know a single senator, by the way, or a single reporter who has talked to Dr. Ford. I would like to talk to her. I have talked to Judge Brett Kavanaugh yesterday. But I don't have enough information to say we ought to go forward. All I have are media reports and I don't mean to disrespect the media. I do respect the media.

HARLOW: Right.

KENNEDY: But with all due respect, I've got to make an important decision here, and I'd like to hear from Dr. Ford and see some evidence.

HARLOW: And you do. You have to make a decision so important to the American people and future generations of American citizens.


HARLOW: That we are very interested in whether or not you believe there should be an FBI or an independent body investigation, a nonpartisan investigation. Are you comfortable voting on the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh without that, yes or no?

KENNEDY: No. I want to have a hearing Monday.

HARLOW: Well, that's -- so that's not my question.

KENNEDY: And in fact --

HARLOW: That's not -- so, I mean, you want to have a hearing Monday. I think it begs the question of what is the priority of the Senate Judiciary Committee? Is it to have a hearing and a vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh before the Supreme Court term starts in October or is it to find out what the truth is? And to do that, to have an investigation as Jim noted we saw in '91 with Anita Hill. What's the priority of the committee and you, Senator?

KENNEDY: Well, I could tell you -- I'm sorry. Can I --

SCIUTTO: Please, go ahead.

KENNEDY: Can I go ahead? I can tell you what my priority is. My priority is fairness and the truth. I want to be fair to Dr. Ford and I want to be fair to Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The point I was going to make is that I think he have to put this in context. The confirmation hearing is over. Judge Kavanaugh testified for 32 hours. We had a private confidential meeting, just the senators and Judge Kavanaugh afterwards to talk about anything nobody wanted to bring up in the hearing.

Senator Feinstein chose not to attend. That's her right. Then we had, I think, 48 hours to summit written questions. There were 1200 written questions submitted, and I think those have all been answered. And then Senator Feinstein announced the letter. So we're at the end of the process.

HARLOW: But why?

KENNEDY: Again --

HARLOW: I mean, that's a self-selected end, Senator. Respectfully.

KENNEDY: No, no, actually it's not.

HARLOW: It is a self-selected end for a position --

KENNEDY: No, no., I disagree with this.

HARLOW: -- for a lifetime position on the highest court in the land. It is. The deadlines are set by Chairman Grassley.

KENNEDY: Under normal procedure what we would do when evidence or allegations come in after the hearing is completed, minority staff and majority staff would sit down with the person bringing forward the information and take statements. Now, they're not sworn, but if they don't tell the truth, it's a felony. And then those statements would be distributed to all members of the committee, the Judiciary Committee.

We have been trying to do that in addition to offering a hearing. The minority staff, which Senator Feinstein controls, refuses to cooperate with us. So a majority --

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you --

KENNEDY: If I can just finish. Our majority staff has been proceeding, and we called the hearing. And to answer your question again, it's the best answer I can give, Poppy, because it's the truth. I don't have enough information to answer your question about whether we should go further.

[09:15:00] KENNEDY: I think we ought to have a hearing, and I think there's a reasonable possibility, given her past behavior, that Dr. Ford will change her mind again.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: I just have to -- if you're -- and again, I don't want to take too much of your time. But if your fundamental --

KENNEDY: No, I've got all day, I've got all day --

SCIUTTO: Because if your fundamental --


SCIUTTO: Complaint or shortcoming is that you don't have enough information --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: As a senator on the -- on the Judiciary Committee, can you vote on this nomination without hearing from Ford under oath and frankly from Kavanaugh as well under oath for his side of the story? Can you make that decision? A lifetime decision for this court without getting that information under oath testimony from Ford before your committee?

KENNEDY: Well, let me quibble with one thing you said, and it may be my fault and not yours --


KENNEDY: But I don't have enough first-hand information. I just have media reports, and while I trust our media, I'd prefer to go to the original source on something this important.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's why I'm asking you --

KENNEDY: That's number one --

SCIUTTO: Go to her to find --

KENNEDY: Number two, to answer --

HARLOW: And you -- and you spoke to Kavanaugh on the phone.

KENNEDY: Yes, let me answer -- can I go?

HARLOW: Yes --


KENNEDY: Let me answer the original question. I'm going to cross that bridge when we come to it. I'm a lot more sanguine than -- I can't read people's minds, but I'm a lot more sanguine than some. I think there is still -- there's a reasonable possibility given that Dr. Ford has changed her mind a couple of times, I'm not criticizing her -- that she will appear on Monday, and I hope she does.

And -- if she does appear, I will get together with my colleagues, we can choose not to believe it, but we really are trying to be fair and we'll talk about what to do next. That's the best answer I can give you right now because things seem to be changing by the moment.

HARLOW: I think one of the --

SCIUTTO: They are no questions.

HARLOW: One of the reasons we're asking is because, you know, hindsight is often 2020. And there are lessons that many think should be learned from 1991, and should be learned from, for example, a number of witnesses that were going to testify for Anita Hill not being called to testify, right? So we're just trying to get -- KENNEDY: Valid point --

HARLOW: Get at, you know whether expediency and whether time --

SCIUTTO: What's more important --

HARLOW: And what's more important?

SCIUTTO: What's more important? Is it the schedule? Or is it -- because you can argue, could you not, that an FBI investigation is not just in Ford's interest, but it's also in Kavanaugh's interest, right? Because he has an allegation hanging over his head which he has denied repeatedly. Wouldn't be in his interest as well to have a fulsome investigation for the possibility of clearing his name once and for all?

KENNEDY: Well, the deadline -- that's a good question. The deadline I'm interested in is October 1. I know some people have talked about the midterms, and, look, I'm a politician, but I'm really not interested at this juncture in any more political or cultural combat.

The deadline I've always been looking toward is October 1. And I'm only going to go back to my original point. I sure hope Dr. Ford comes Monday, if she doesn't, that is her call. If she's nervous about doing it in a public hearing, we will do it private. Though, I've got --

SCIUTTO: Right --

KENNEDY: To tell you in my opinion is that would be a mistake. I think --

HARLOW: Well, listen --

KENNEDY: The American people -- I think the American people need to hear from both.

HARLOW: I have both Kavanaugh --

SCIUTTO: Let's stay in touch -- let's keep up the conversation -- sorry, go ahead.

KENNEDY: OK, I was just going to say, I did call Judge Kavanaugh yesterday because --

HARLOW: Yes --

KENNEDY: I wanted to hear it directly from him, from him and --

HARLOW: And what did he say to you, just a point of fact as we wrap up here because --

KENNEDY: Oh, he was --

HARLOW: Orrin Hatch told Cnn, Senator Orrin Hatch that he said to -- that Kavanaugh said to Orrin Hatch, he wasn't at the party and that, quote, "somebody is mixed up". Did he say the same thing to you, senator?

KENNEDY: He didn't use the words "mixed up", he was -- I would describe Judge Kavanaugh as resolute, determined, unequivocal. I mean, he didn't hatch, he said it's just not true. He wasn't angry, and he didn't say anything bad about Dr. Ford, he wasn't critical, I mean, just look, man, it's just -- it's just not true.

And I'm -- I think that's what he's going to say when we have the hearing Monday. And --

SCIUTTO: Well, listen --

KENNEDY: Don't give up on the hearing, don't give up on the hearing. I think there's -- well, I'm not going to repeat myself.

SCIUTTO: No, I hear, let's keep up the conversation because events are changing --

KENNEDY: That's good --

SCIUTTO: We'll bring you back on if we have a new development because we'd love to get your views as it develops --

HARLOW: Thank you for all the time --

SCIUTTO: It's a difficult topic, thank you for taking the hard --


SCIUTTO: Hard questions, Senator Kennedy --

HARLOW: Thank you --

KENNEDY: Thank you for having me.


HARLOW: And as you mentioned earlier, we have the president who is going to possibly be speaking to reporters in just minutes as he heads out of the White House, departing in minutes for flood-ravaged North Carolina.

[09:20:00] Will he speak to reporters and will he talk about this, about Kavanaugh's nomination and for delegation? We're on top of it.

Also the president is slamming his own Attorney General Jeff Session saying, and I quote the president here, "I have no Attorney General". So, I mean, what does this mean? What will Sessions say in response?

SCIUTTO: And Kim Jong-un is now vowing to close a key missile test facility if the U.S. agrees to corresponding actions. A big promise. The question is, can we trust North Korea to keep it?


SCIUTTO: President Trump just leveled perhaps his most withering attack to-date, on his Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

HARLOW: In an interview with "The Hill", the president said, and I quote, these are his words, "I don't have an Attorney General, it's very sad." Let's go to our colleague Boris Sanchez, he's at the White House with more. Attacking the Attorney General is not new, but saying you don't have one, that he is in essence not functioning in his position, that's a whole new level.

[09:25:00] BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim and Poppy, President Trump taking aim at his favorite appointed punching bag Jeff Sessions yet again. And this time going a step further. Previously we heard President Trump attack Jeff Sessions for not going after the president's political opponents, for not shielding certain Republicans that are under investigation and of course for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

This time, the president is deriding his Attorney General for his performance during his confirmation hearings, and then tying that to his recusal from the Russia investigation. I want you to listen to this portion of this interview, the president saying, quote, "I'm so sad over Jeff Sessions because he came to me. He was the first senator that endorsed me and he wanted to be Attorney General, and I didn't see it. And then he went through the nominating process and he did very poorly.

I mean, he was mixed up and confused. And people that work for him, you know, a long time in the Senate were not nice to him, but he was giving very confusing answers, answers that should have been easily answered, and that was a rough time for him."

Again, the president then saying that perhaps that difficult confirmation process was part of the reason that Sessions ultimately recused himself from the Russia probe. We should point out the president also says that one of his closest allies on hard -- on his hard line immigration stance is making him unhappy at the border.

That's a new criticism from President Trump towards Jeff Sessions. He was also asked about Session's future. As you know, Poppy and Jim, he's been attacking Jeff Sessions for more than a year now, he has yet to fire him. When he was asked, the president said we'll see what happens.

Though, it's clear it would be an uphill battle for this White House to confirm a new Attorney General because Jeff Sessions is still well respected and often defended by those on Capitol Hill -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Yes, next question is does he want to fire him or does he want Jeff Sessions to leave on his own? Boris Sanchez at the White House, thanks --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Very much. Also this morning, intelligence officials are working to redact the sensitive material about the ongoing Russia investigation that President Trump has demanded be declassified. Sara Murray is in Washington. So another conflict here, I suppose you could say, between the intelligence agencies and the White House on this.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly some tension. Remember, the president, you know, issued a statement saying he wanted to see a number of these documents declassified, documents related to the FISA application for Carter Page, text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and text messages from James Comey related to the Russia investigation as well as documents related to Bruce Ohr who is Justice Department official, communicated with Christopher Steele, you know, who assembled this dossier.

So what's happening now is just because the president has put out a statement and said, this is what I want does not mean all of these documents automatically come out, publicly declassified. What we're going through now is this process where the Justice Department and the FBI are working with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

And for some of these documents that have already been made public in part, they're going back and giving -- and going over, you know, versions of it that would have slightly fewer redactions for these documents we haven't seen publicly, and they're going to provide redacted versions to the Office of the White House Counsel.

And from there, there could be more back and forth. The president could say, OK, this is sufficient for me, release these or he could say I want more redactions, and then they could go back and sort of haggle back and forth a little bit.

But I think the important thing to note is this a sort of normal process that you would go through when a president orders something to be declassified like this and it doesn't just happen automatically, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray, thanks very much. We do know the president is speaking on the White House lawn, and we're going bring those comments as soon as we have them in just a few moments.

HARLOW: And before that, a quick check of the markets this morning as they get set to open in just a few minutes. Futures pointing higher for the most and part of the S&P down just slightly. Of course, all the focus on trade tension between the U.S. and China, we'll keep a close eye on the opening bell.