Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump and GOP Reject Ford's Demand for An FBI Probe; Ford's Friends Come to Her Defense; Trump Says He Doesn't Have an Attorney General. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 19, 2018 - 14:00   ET

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


[15:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN on this Wednesday afternoon. We begin with this high- stakes ultimatum facing the woman accusing the Supreme Court nominee of physical and sexual assault. Christine Blasey Ford must now decide whether she will speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the time line Republicans are demanding of her even though her own request is not being met. An FBI investigation of her allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. A judiciary committee aide tells CNN that Chuck Grassley will offer to send staffers to northern California to interview Professor Ford if that makes her feel more comfortable and President Trump today said he hopes she testifies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I 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. They have already postponed a major hearing and really, they are hurting somebody's life very badly. And it is very unfair I think to as you know justice Kavanaugh has been treated very, very tough. And his family. I think it is a very unfair thing what is going on. So, we'll see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: That was the President before he left for the Carolinas this morning. Meantime Blasey Ford's attorney made it clear that the initial request to go before the committee in five days is too soon and not at all fair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LISA BANKS, FORD'S ATTORNEY: She will talk with the committee, she is not prepared to talk with them at a hearing on Monday. This just came out 48 hours ago. Asking her to come forward in four or five days and sit before the judiciary committee on national TV is not a fair process. And if they care about doing the right thing here and treating this seriously as they have said, then they will do the right thing and they will properly investigate this and she will work with them in that investigation and also to share her story with the committee. However, that happens.

She just came forward with these allegations 48 hours ago and since that time, she has been dealing with hate mail, harassment, death threats. So, she has been spending her time trying to figure out how to put her life back together, how to protect herself and her family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go to Capitol Hill to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. and you've heard that if she is not granted this investigation and she decides not to show up Monday, is there any chance that the hearing Monday didn't happen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there is. It certainly can be described as a big question mark. So many questions as to what will actually happen if she doesn't show up? And that is an exact question that I proposed to Chuck Grassley this morning given the fact that her through her attorneys has said that she will not show up unless there is an FBI investigation. I asked if dr. Ford does not show up Monday, does the hearing still go on. He did not confirm or deny. He said his only focus is making sure that she feels comfortable enough to come before the committee hearing. He said that he is ready for the testimony and he wants to happen. Here of more of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, CHAIRPERSON SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: BALDWIN: 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 a closed session or a public or a private interview. Four different ways that she can choose to come. And so, I'm not worried about anything other than just focusing for the next few days on encouraging her to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And in that statement is a small but important dismissal of the calls by her and her attorneys for the investigation by the FBI. And certainly, it is signature, we are seeing many Republicans whose voice carries significant weight here swing votes like Susan Collins and Senator Flake say it is important that she come and testify on Monday. Notable that senator flake saying there needs to be a vote if not. So, I think this is a line that we'll start hearing from many Republicans. She shows up or we continue on to a vote.

[14:05:00] BALDWIN: Sunlen, thank you for that. And while Blasey Ford contempt plates what to do, more of her friends and colleagues are speaking out in her defense. There is a letter in support bearing multiple signatures from people in Blasey Ford's hometown, others who have set up a GoFundMe page and started letter writing campaigns. So, let's go to MJ Lee live outside of Ford's house in Palo Alto where we know that because of the intimidation tactics and death threats, she and her family have left. Tell me what you have heard from her long- time friends. What are they saying about her.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, obviously a lot of drama in Washington right now over whether Blasey Ford will testify next week. But let me fill you in on what we've been seeing here. This is where she lives with her husband, her two sons where she is a Professor at Palo Alto University. As you said, we are seeing friends, neighbors and colleagues really rallying around her, trying to let her know that they support her and that they believe her allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. And last night we actually caught up with Jim, a friend of Blasey Ford's for eight years, and he has said that she actually came to him for advice over the summer to sort of talk through how she might tell her story. And I just want to read a part of his statement that he gave to CNN because it is pretty powerful and remarkable. He said, "I have no reason to not believe what she says about Brett Kavanaugh because she clearly has nothing to gain and much to lose by going public with her story. I know from things that she has told me including her need to have more than one exit door in her bedroom to prevent her from being trapped that this event was serious enough to have a lasting impact on her life."

So obviously very powerful and disturbing new detail coming from Blasey Ford's friend. And as you said, there is a GoFundMe page organized by neighbors and colleagues that has raised tens of thousands of dollars so far. There is a letter writing campaign organized by a neighbor. And Sunday night we expect to see a candlelight vigil also organized by local residents and as for where Blasey Ford is right now, we're outside her house and we don't know where she is, but yesterday we saw a man go to the house and take out suitcases and leave with those bags. We don't know who he was. We don't know where he was taking those bags.

BALDWIN: MJ Lee, thank you. If the hearing set for Monday actually happens, what would it look like? For some answers I want to turn to former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke. He also served on the Senate judiciary committee. Dennis, thank you so much for being on. Welcome.

DENNIS BURKE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: So, we mentioned off the top one of the news pieces today is that Chairman Grassley has offered to send some Senate staffers out to northern California to get Professor Ford's testimony if that makes her feel more comfortable than coming all the way in front of all the tv cameras to capitol hill. And I'm just curious based upon your experience, what do you think is happening behind the scenes right now to try to get her to testify?

BURKE: Utter chaos and turmoil. The Senate Judiciary Committee is not set up to be an impartial body. We look at it as analogous to a court of law, but at the end of the day, Republicans are working very vigorously to get Kavanaugh confirmed and Democrats are making every effort to delay and block the vote on this. So, Chairman Grassley is not a judge. Each committee member has the ability to say what they want a being part of the process. And there are no procedures that were set up before hand. That was a problem with the Thomas hearing and I guarantee you that will be a problem playing out next week is there are no --

BALDWIN: Let me follow up on that point. Because Anita Hill, if you read her opinion piece in the "New York Times" yesterday, she makes the point even after her highly publicized testimony, the Senate Judiciary Committee still does not have a protocol how to handle these assault claims. It has been 27 years. Why hasn't that happened?

BURKE: They didn't anticipate it would be my first --

BALDWIN: That is not a good enough answer. That is not a good enough answer.

[14:10:00] BURKE: Well, I'm definitely not defending the process by any stretch. In fact, just the opposite. I don't think -- I do not think that you will get a fair process out of a judiciary committee hearing for these kind of issues and individual's claim. By no means. I think it is fraught with all kinds of issues and I think that it will play out in spades next week.

BALDWIN: How realistic is it that the Republicans -- they end up wanting to vote on this without her testimony, without her story being vetted?

BURKE: That will be a political calculation they are making. So once again, they have an issue of evidence gathering, they have an evidence with a witness with credible claims and they are trying to figure out how to deal with that when at the end of the day, their goal is to get Judge Kavanaugh confirmed through the Senate. So even know when -- as your reporter indicated that Chairman Grassley has indicated that staff is willing to go out and interview her, what are the questions that they are asking her? And there will be Republican and Democratic staffers in those interviews. Those are not the type of questions that will be asked that an FBI agent would ask. At the end of the day, this is a political process that the Senate is designed around compromising on legislation. And this is not a process that leads to any kind of compromise.

BALDWIN: So, you, yourself, has said the process is fraught, right. We know she wants this outside investigation, and from everything we've seen from Chairman Grassley on up to President Trump, it appears that that request would not be granted. So, do you see the Senate at all despite everything we have heard today granting that request. BURKE: Great question. There is such an unknown and the unknown is despite the fact that we went through this with Justice Thomas and Professor Hill, we are still dealing with everyone in this situation even in this situation unprecedented scenario of the process. As you indicated, they are not prepared to do this. They didn't bother to figure out a procedure to deal with individuals coming forward with claims like this for Judges. And so now with all the chaos going on, with all the coverage going on and the story developing and being so dynamic, they have no procedure in place and they are trying to figure out how to put a procedure in place while the story develops.

BALDWIN: You mentioned off the top Chairman Grassley, not a judge, this isn't a court of law. And I don't know if you saw a tweet from Senator Susan Collins, one of the four women on this committee who floated the idea of having Judge Kavanaugh and Professor Ford, this is if she were to show up, have them be questioned and cross examined by actual lawyers. What are the chances that that would ever happen?

BURKE: Well, that is not uncommon because they have done that before in investigations. If you go back and look at the Watergate hearings and Iran Contra hearing, the counsels for the committees did a large share of the questioning. So, it was not the actual senators or members of Congress. They had very accomplished attorneys come in and serve as counsels to the committee and do the actual substantive questioning. So that is not unprecedented. I think Senator Collins has a very valid point to have a procedure and process set up like that.

BALDWIN: It is dynamic indeed, the story continues to change and morph again. The question, does she accept this offer to come to Washington to testify or even allow the staffers to come out to Palo Alto. Dennis Burke, thank you.

Coming up next, President Trump claims, quote, "I don't have an Attorney General." That is his latest public slam against Jeff Sessions suggesting the Attorney General was, quote, mixed up and confused when he was undergoing the nomination process for his current job. What exactly did the President mean by that and whether the Attorney General responds?

And does the President have reason to be concerned about Paul Manafort's new plea deal? The President responding to this latest move by miss former campaign chairman. And right this very moment, President Trump is in the Carolinas touring neighborhoods, some of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Florence. We'll take you there live. You're watching CNN.

[14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Right now, as we wait to see what happens next with Brett Kavanaugh, there are a number of ways this whole scenario could play out. Republicans want to push Judge Kavanaugh through of course before the midterm elections November 6. Democrats on he other hand do not see a need to rush through the process. Let's go to Zach Wolf, he is our digital director of CNN politics: And you have six possible scenarios. Run through them.

ZACH WOLF, CNN POLITICS, DIGITAL DIRECTOR: Here are six ways this could work out. First of all, I think this one is probably the most likely at this point. GOP rallies confirms Kavanaugh.

[14:20:00] You hear people like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, those key senators say it is OK, enough for them to offer Professor Ford a hearing even if she didn't show up. It sounds like they could find a way to vote for him. They all come together, they don't need any Democrats. Scenario number two, maybe they lose Collins, Murkowski, some Republican doesn't vote for him. They could only to get 50 votes and still confirm Kavanaugh if Mike Pence casts a tie breaking vote if they lose a couple of their expected or maybe one of the red state Democrats votes with them too. So that could happen. It is maybe a little bit less likely.

Third, maybe Kavanaugh fails, maybe there is a hearing, the Professor is extremely compelling. Republicans won't vote for him. This is -- we're starting to get into worst case scenarios for Republicans because they would have to maybe try to find a new nominee before election day. That would be really hard, traditionally it takes months to get through this process. Remember Kavanaugh was from July 9. So maybe after election day if Republicans win it is not that big a deal, they would just confirm somebody new in the lame duck session. If Democrats won and they tried to push somebody through after election day, it would be a huge uproar and that takes us to after election day and January 3, if Democrats take control of the Senate which is still a huge if, many ifs going on here, maybe they would try to find a consensus nominee. Donald Trump has not put any consensus nominees on his list so far. So, then we get to this wild scenario where if Democrats take control of the Senate and Brett Kavanaugh fails, you could easily see at that point, and again we're way out into maybe land here, you could see Democrats blocking a Supreme Court nominee all the way until the next Presidential election.

BALDWIN: Maybe land is always worth exploring. That was excellent. Thank you so much.

Coming up next, President Trump is launching a new attack on his own Attorney General. This is what he says, quote, "Jeff Sessions saying that he doesn't have an Attorney General." Why he describes Sessions as mixed up and confused during the nomination process. We'll ask a reporter who interviewed him. And also, she made headlines after this photo. Remember this? Capturing her giving the President's motorcade the bird. That woman is now running for office. She joins me live coming up.

[14:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: As if one might have thought this wasn't even possible, President Trump has now even further escalated his war with Attorney General Jeff Sessions with what is certainly his harshest criticism yet. The President in an interview with "The Hill" saying I don't have an Attorney General, it is very sad. President Trump was asked to elaborate. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, let me bring in "The Hill's" Executive Vice President John Solomon. John, we read the quotes, you were there. I want you to tell me exactly what he said about Jeff Sessions.

JOHN SOLOMON, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT. "THE HILL": Well, I look back at it and if you've ever been at a summer pool party and you see someone at the edge of the pool that doesn't quite want to go in and someone pushes them in, it felt like that is what President Trump was doing. He sent a loud message of vote of no confidence in his Attorney General. And for most of the last six months, it's been about the recusal. But he said he's done a bad job on a lot of things. And I don't know how the Attorney General walks into the next cabinet meeting with that vote of no confidence. It was really shocking to us.

BALDWIN: Sounds like a shove into the pool.

SOLOMON: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: When the President said Sessions was, quote, mixed up and confused during the nomination process, mixed up and confused, John, what does that even mean?

SOLOMON: Well, he had a theory which is that Jeff was on my team early on, I'm really proud he was the first senator are to come in, and somewhere along the way he went through his con fir make process, he had a bad experience with his old buddies in the Senate and he became not a leader anymore. That was sort of his theory. And he has a real sincere frustration. You could feel how frustrated he is and how let down he felt. And he and the Attorney General have to work it out. This is the most important law enforcement officer in the land. Important to national security apparatus. You can't have a President and AG having this dysfunctional relationship.

[14:30:00] BALDWIN: By the way, stay with me. Just as we were talking live pictures on the right side of your screen trying to get this steady shot, this is Conway, South Carolina. You know that the president has been in North Carolina. He has just landed in South Carolina this is right around the Myrtle Beach area where a lot of folks were hit really badly by Hurricane Florence. So, we'll keep our eyes peeled on the screen for that.

And back over to you, John. The other piece of news that came out of this is that the President admits he hasn't read the various documents that he has in this extraordinary and unprecedented way ordered declassified in this Russia investigation. What did he tell you about the declassification of these documents?

SOLOMON: He is very confident that they are going to fulfill the story line that he has laid out which is that -- he used to call it a witch hunt and he called it a hoax in the interview. The FBI made up an investigation about me to justify the Democrats losing. That is his theory. And he is confident that the validate that. But our reporting indicates that his lawyers can't want help to look at the documents, they didn't want him to be accused of obstruction. He just took a request and granted it. But his degree of confidence and his knowledge of level of detail of what he sees as the flaws of the FBI are extraordinary. He was quoting direct quotes from the Strzok text messages that I didn't even remember. He really knows his stuff on Russia and he feels very --

BALDWIN: Off the top of his head?

SOLOMON: Off the top of his head and he was right on all the quotes. Really, pretty extraordinary.