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INSIDE POLITICS

Ford Could Testify Monday; Ford Wants FBI Probe before Testifying; Trump Shames Sessions; Grassley Offers Interview in California. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 19, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Pick up on INSIDE POLITICS with John King.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John King in Washington.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS.

You're watching the president of the United States, Donald Trump there, handing out lunches to people coming to a support center in New Bern, North Carolina. The president in the Carolinas. North Carolina now. He's traveling to South Carolina a bit later in the day, inspecting the damage and giving support, relief and comfort there to some of the victims of Hurricane Florence. People who have been displaced from their homes, or people who can't get supplies and the like.

Let's listen to just a second and see if we can hear some of this.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love it. Take care of that wife, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: Thank you. Good to (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You remember the day --

TRUMP: A preacher -- you're a preacher?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You got it.

TRUMP: You have a good preacher right here. This guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, I'm a pastor here at (INAUDIBLE). Have you guys signed up (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Good. Disaster team. Good. TRUMP: Go to the next car (ph) (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good. God bless. See you Sunday. We're going to be wide open. Is that all they need?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so.

TRUMP: A great operation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless you guys. Take care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang in there, OK?

(INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you need 28?

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you need 28?

KING: We're watching the president here distributing food, other aid to people stopping by this support center in New Bern, North Carolina. The president's been on the ground for a couple of hours now, receiving a briefing from FEMA officials, the Coast Guard, the governor. You see, there's the governor, Roy Cooper, Democratic governor of North Carolina, with the president right there.

Whatever your politics, whatever you think of the president, this is the right thing for the president to be doing down on the ground a few days after Florence. Many of the rivers still cresting.

You see the cars coming in. The president handing out lunch, offering words of support, as this goes through in New Bern, North Carolina. Again, the president, some more inspecting on the schedule. He's supposed to stop by a church as well in North Carolina. And then he moves on to South Carolina. He has the senators from both states, the governors from both states will be part of this as well, as the president tries to assess the damage and, a, the federal response so far, but, b, more importantly at this point, the needs going forward as these towns, again, some of the flooding is still major -- of serious concern there as we go through this.

Abby Phillip joins us from the White House.

And, Abby, the president stopped for a long time to talk to reporters before he went here, saying he wanted to get to the Carolinas to get a first-hand look.

Let's not revisit last week right now when the president was trying to relitigate Hurricane Maria as Florence approached. But it was interesting earlier to listen to North Carolina's Democratic governor saying, thank you, Mr. President, that so far he says he's going to have a long list of things that his state needs and he's going to need federal help going forward, but he seemed genuinely pleased and thankful for the federal help so far. ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I think that

President Trump is responding to that and to others who are saying that the response so far has been going pretty well. There's been adequate cooperation between the federal government and state and local officials. And President Trump was pretty eager to get down there. He's eager to be in the mix. And as you can see from those pictures, he's really in there, handing out those meals to people as they're driving by. He has a lot of people coming up to him saying thank you, you know, talking to him specifically about their experiences. And I think what you're seeing now is kind of where the White House would like President Trump to be more often on these issues.

He is -- he's focused on this response. It was interesting to hear him in the last hour offering condolences to the people who had lost their lives, people who had lost family members and others as a result of this. This is the president kind of operating where he ought to be when it comes to the empathy part of this and also the administrative part of this, the disaster response specifically.

So, you know, I think what we're seeing here is President Trump devoting an entire day, practically, John, he's expected to be there for seven or eight hours today, to being on the ground and seeing firsthand some of this response in the midst of a lot of all -- a lot of stuff going on here in Washington. But this is an important thing for him. It's not about politics, but in some ways it is about politics. These are states that are near and dear to his heart. These are constituents of the presidents who voted for him. And I think he's very much mindful of that and very much mindful of being present for them.

John.

KING: Mindful and important. And, again, whatever your politics, this is the right thing for the president to do. And you can be certain, the people there getting lunch handed to them by the president of the United States are grateful for the help and the president will benefit from the first-hand accounts he gets there.

Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks so much. More on the storm later. We'll continue to keep an eye on the president as he makes his way through the Carolinas.

But now to the other big story here in Washington. The president now publicly picking sides in the he said/she said between his Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser. This morning on his way to North Carolina, the president stopped and spoke to reporters about Kavanagh's now up in the air fate. Christine Blasey Ford says Kavanaugh assaulted her in high school and she believes he would have rapped her if he weren't so drunk. Again today, the president, known for his attack instincts, choosing his words very carefully, speaking with restraint. He said he wants to hear from Ford. Also said he was leaving the hearing process up to the Senate. And he made clear he believes his nominee.

[12:05:15] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd really want to see her -- I really would want to see what she has to say.

We want to get it over with, but at the same time we want to give tremendous amounts of time. If she shows up, that would be wonderful. If she doesn't show up, that would be unfortunate.

Look, if she shows up, and makes a credible showing, that will be very interesting. And we'll have to make a decision. But I can only say this, he is such an outstanding man, very hard for me to imagine that anything happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post," and Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast."

If she shows up as the president said, we have this impasse. Dr. Ford, Professor Ford, says she wants the FBI to investigation first. Senate Republicans have said that would be a waste of time. There's nothing to be gained. We're going to go forward on Monday. Where are we at this hour? Is there any movement in that?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm thinking -- sorry, go ahead.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, that's where we are right now, at least in terms of the Senate impact. And I think you've seen this shift in the Republicans' thinking over the last, you know, 48, 72 hours, ever since "The Washington Post" broke -- she broke her silence through our reporting. And initially Republicans were hesitant. They wanted to hear more from her. They were nervous about the prospects of Kavanaugh's nomination. But now that we had gone for some time with no response and all these questions remaining about whether she would even testify, and last night signaling that she actually may not appear Monday after all, Republicans are feeling more confidence to just kind of forge ahead and say, look, we're holding this vote.

I mean Lindsay Graham, who's been very vocal and vehement in his defending of Kavanagh over the last several days said this morning that, look, you know, asking for an FBI investigation is nothing but a delay tactic at this point and we're going to go through with the vote.

COLLINS: And Trump make pretty clear he's not going to call on the FBI to investigate this this morning, which is what she's requested before going forward to testify. So he says he wants her to come forward. He says he wants her to testify. But he's making pretty clear, he's not going to meet the request that they made last night through her attorney

KING: Right, and the key point here, was Leader McConnell able to get the three or four Republican senators who are wavering in line. This is Jeff Flake, the senator from Arizona, who said he would have voted no. He wanted her brought before the committee. He would -- he would not have -- he would have voted no if they didn't want to do that. Last night he said this, when Dr. Ford came forward, I said her voice should be heard and asked the Judiciary Committee to delay its vote on Judge Kavanaugh. It did so. I now implore Dr. Ford to accept the invitation for Monday. In a public or private setting, the committee should hear her voice.

Again, another influential and retiring Republican senator, not loyal to President Trump, Bob Corker, after learning of the allegation, Chairman Chuck Grassley took immediate action to insure both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanagh 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.

So the Republicans, at the moment, have their ducks in line, if you will, their votes in line. It's a risky strategy, but they're prepared to go forward.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": With respect to Senator Corker and Senator Flake, neither of them matter. This is about Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: I'm waiting to see what they say in light of this news because they are the two, and correct me if I'm wrong here, that leadership has been worried about. And when they said that there should be a hearing, this woman should be heard, you knew that that was going to happen.

So with those -- we'll see how they react in order to get a firmer sense of what's going to happen here, because Democrats now do have a reason to not vote for this nominee. So I wonder how much are even worry about the red state Democrats at this point more so than their own conference.

KING: And one of the questions is, if Republicans go forward with this, they will be making the political risk that they can go forward without a full accounting, without calling in everybody they could call in. Number one, if they can't reach an agreement with Professor Ford, number one. She's obviously the most important player here. And they would be saying that we are prepared to ask Judge Kavanaugh some questions. He would deny it. Then they would have their committee vote and go forward.

Number one, it -- the question is, does it then leave a cloud over the judge's head if you vote to confirm him? Number two, we have an election coming up.

But listen here, this is Lisa Banks, one of her attorneys, saying that that process, doing it that way, is in Professor Ford's view unfair to her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LISA BANKS, ATTORNEY FOR CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, KAVANAUGH ACCUSER: She will talk with the committee. She's 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:10:15] KING: And this is -- this is the risk, the politics before us. The Republicans have every right to say this came up after the confirmation hearing, the timing is late, we're trying to move on, the Democrats are trying to delay, the Democrats have political reasons to try to delay. But you also have -- there's the attorney speaking for a woman who says she's going through an incredibly traumatic experience, finally decided to not be anonymous about this and come forward. And now she's having a back and forth with her lawyers about what it would be like to have to testify in public. Are Republicans, again, willing to take that risk?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I think the attorney here may have to describe a little bit more what she means by properly investigate because what we're seeing from the Corkers and the Flakes and the Grassleys, and even from the White House is a rare on message alignment here that they're kind of keeping the pressure on her and putting the onus on her for the timeline. And, you know, we see the president saying that she should be heard. But, you know, and that will go on for a couple of days now. But, you know, they don't -- obviously don't want that to go on for too long. And the White ,House as of right now, and as of what we saw this morning from the president, is more than willing to leave this as a Grassley- McConnell issue and for them to sort out for at least the time being.

KING: Right. And to the Grassley-McConnell issue, you had Mark Judge, who Professor Ford says was the other man in the room. He sent a letter up to The Hill yesterday saying he has no recollection of such incidents. He doesn't believe it occurred. But he does not plan or want to answer questions from the senates. Now, you could take that, as Republicans have done, saying, see, he says it didn't happen. He says Brett Kavanaugh is a great character. Or you could take it as, he does not want to testify under oath. And that's significant if you want to put him up there.

Patrick Smith, someone else who released a statement. This is -- from your reporting, I have no knowledge of the party in question, nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct she has leveled against Brett Kavanagh.

That's fine. It's a statement there. But a statement issued to the media is different than a statement given under oath. Why wouldn't the committee want to call in all relevant parties, take an extra day or two, and just get them on the record, under oath, which would help clear Judge Kavanaugh if he's telling the truth and they're telling the truth?

COLLINS: Well, that's the question. But also the question that clearly we heard from her attorneys last night, the accusers attorneys, is they don't really think that they would do a fair investigation if it was the Senate committee who was investigating this.

And we kind of actually saw a little bit of that from Orrin Hatch yesterday, who said he probably wouldn't even ask Christine Blasey Ford a question on Monday if she did show up. So how would they know that they are going to do due diligence.

The other argument is against her attorney and her attorney saying there, you know, this has only been 48 hours. Well, actually, she's been trying to tell this story since July when she first reached out and wrote that letter to Senator Feinstein detailing this allegation.

So it raises a lot of questions there about, you know, she asked for an opportunity to come forward and tell her story. We're giving her this opportunity. They don't think this is the right way.

But we do know that Brett Kavanaugh, for his part, is still continuing with his prep sessions at the White House with his aides preparing like this hearing is actually going to happen on Monday in case she does change her mind and does decide to show up. He's getting ready for that, to tell his side of the story.

KIM: And to Kaitlan's first point, I mean, there are some Republicans who are making it pretty clear that their minds are already made up. Lindsey Graham told me yesterday that, look, this has been a drive by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh and he says, I'll listen to the lady, but we're going to bring this to a close.

KING: Again, that's the risky language of the white male Republican senators who also have a -- already have a huge gender gap facing their party. A drive by shooting. I'll listen to the lady. Senator Graham might want to get some advice on how he communicates on said issues. We'll come back to this a bit later.

Up next, though, President Trump, once again, goes after his attorney general, if he can find him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:18:04] KING: President Trump escalating his feud with his attorney general. The president apparently so angry with Jeff Sessions, get this, he insisted, in an interview, he doesn't even have an attorney general, telling "The Hill," quote, I don't have an attorney general. It's very sad. I'm not happy at the border. I'm not happy with numerous things. Not just this, 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. That's the president to "The Hill."

But this morning, the president did concede, yes, Jeff Sessions does, in fact, exist, but the president repeating he's not happy about anything Sessions has done at Justice. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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)

KING: I don't have an attorney general to we have an attorney general. He was lost but now he's found.

We know the president has these grievances with Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions, just last night, restricting the powers of immigration judges. He's doing just about everything the president wanted him to do as attorney general, except Robert Mueller is still investigating the president, Rod Rosenstein is still in charge of that investigation and every time he's asked Jeff Sessions says it's the right thing and he will not meddle with it and he will not let the president meddle with it.

BENDER: It's clear that's the original sin for Trump and whatever Sessions has done is never going to be overcome of that moment for Trump.

You know, the comments here are, it's not shocking that they happen. It's just sort of how, at this point, Trump is going to, you know, fire (INAUDIBLE) at his attorney general, what form it's going to take.

The one thing that is shocking to me is that -- I mean we know the clock is running on Sessions, that it's, you know, basically until the midterms or until the Mueller report comes out and he is probably gone. What's shocking, though, is that there -- no one seems to have a good idea on who is going to replace him. Trump has been hammering at Sessions for the better part of two years now and the folks around Trump, in the White House, outside the White House, no one seems to have a good idea. You know, Trump is so focused on his anger at Sessions, that he hasn't really started talking about or thinking about who could possibly replace him.

[12:20:19] KING: And part of his anger at Sessions, his grievances with the Justice Department, the president's now acting on in this declassification move, the Carter Page FISA warrants, some other documents about the Russia investigation. We'll see what actually gets released. There's a process that they go through and the bureaucracy will fight back in some cases.

But the president taking an extraordinary step to try to make public a whole lot of documents that the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence community do not want made public. This is what he told "The Hill" in that same interview where he complained about Jeff Sessions. I hope to be able to put this up as one of my crowning achievements that I was able to expose something that is truly a cancer in our country. I hope to be able to call this, along with tax cuts and regulation, and all the things that I've done. In its own way, this might be the most important thing because this was corrupt.

There is no factual evidence that this was corrupt. There is no factual evidence that the dossier was the start of the Russia investigation. In fact, there's a lot of evidence to the contrary of that. But this is what drives the president.

KUCINICH: Right. That's what this is all about, Sessions, the fight, making that public. He also said, over the course of that interview, he went back to saying that, you know, he fired Comey, not only because of the Hillary Clinton, which is what the letter proposed, but also because of what he said about Russia. He doubled down on that again, even though he said he didn't say that and Lester Holt somehow corrupted the tape. I don't know.

But -- but it really it's not -- it's not hard to analyze this because it all comes back to Russia and to his perception of the Russia probe.

COLLINS: Well, and by I don't have an attorney general, he means, I don't have an attorney general who is at my beck and call for whatever I want.

KUCINICH: Right.

KING: Right.

COLLINS: And we've really seen that change. Of course the president has been complaining about him for over a year and a half, two years, whatever that timeline is now. But lately we've seen that shift from just tweets and him complaining, to now directing him not to prosecute people, Republican congressmen ahead of the midterms, to release these documents, things like that. So that's what's changing.

KUCINICH: Sure.

COLLINS: And that's what the question is, what will be the last straw for Jeff Sessions? Would he quit before then because the president takes it a step too far and asks him to do something that's a little too much.

But it is interesting that Jeff Sessions, you know, you could say one thing about the attorney general and that's what the president's remarks are, even though he was -- started those remarks on North Carolina and what he's doing there today. But it's pretty easy for him to get off message and to go on a tangent about Jeff.

KING: And let's watch the president a little bit. This -- these are more live pictures. The president's moving on. You saw him earlier at a distribution center in New Bern. He's now touring a neighborhood that was impacted by the flooding. Obviously you can see the president walking through the neighborhood here. There's no waters left here, but he's asking people how they're doing.

Let's listen for a second.

(INAUDIBLE) KING: The president in a conversation there. You see the Democratic governor, Roy Cooper. You also see the embattled FEMA director, Brock Long, with the president there, staying close by the president. It's interesting, we talk about the controversy surrounding Jeff Sessions and the president's displeasure with his attorney general. He's on the road now with his FEMA director, who is subject to both an IG and a criminal investigation into possible misuse of government resources and the like.

The president making the rounds here in -- just try to watch these pictures as they play out and see if we can hear the president at all talking to residents about their experience with Hurricane Florence. Again, this is New Bern, North Carolina.

To Abby Phillip's point -- to Abby Phillip's point earlier, it is -- and this is to the president's credit, we talk about his non-factual comments about Jeff Sessions, his obsessions about the Mueller probe and other things that are controversial or more. This is what the president should be doing after a tragedy like Hurricane Florence and he's dedicating six, seven, eight hours on the ground there, is that right?

COLLINS: Yes.

KING: All right, we'll continue to watch the president in -- we'll continue to keep an eye on the president in New Bern. If he makes any news -- again, good to see him on the ground. We're sure those residents are comforted to see the president, the other federal officials and their state officials on the ground.

We'll take a quick break on INSIDE POLITICS.

When we come back, back to the big story here in Washington, Judge Kavanaugh, will the impasse over getting testimony from his accuser be brokered? And how is it playing out in this already contentious midterm election year?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:27:57] KING: We continue to watch the president here. He's in New Bern, North Carolina, along with his FEMA director, his director -- secretary of Homeland Security, excuse me. Just touring the neighborhood of New Bern, checking in on people. He was having a conversation just a moment ago where a woman told him she's lived there for 30 years and that Hurricane Florence was the worst to ever hit that area.

We'll continue to track the president as he makes the rounds in North Carolina. Then he moves on to South Carolina.

Back here in Washington, Republicans make no secret of the fact they want to confirm Brett Kavanaugh before the new Supreme Court term begins in October. But the November election is now just as central as Senate Republicans and the president wave off calls for an FBI investigation before any Senate testimony by Christine Blasey Ford. There's a chance Republicans lose control of the Senate, so they are adamant they will fill the court vacancy before the election. There's no time to confirm a new nominee by then, so Kavanaugh is the only pre-election option.

The president touched on the politics in a tweet last night. He says, the Supreme Court is one of the main reasons I got elected president. I hope Republican voters and others are watching and studying the Democrats' playbook.

And this morning, we touched a bit on this earlier, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, who's on the Judiciary Committee, saying it's all about midterm politics. He says requiring an FBI investigation of a 36-year-old allegation, without specific references to time or location, before Professor Ford will appear before the committee is not about finding the truth but delaying the process until after the midterms. Graham says it's imperative that the Judiciary Committee move forward on the nomination and a vote be taken ASAP.

And to that end, news in just from Capitol Hill -- I'm sorry, from our White House correspondent Sarah Westwood. She says a Senate Judiciary Committee aide says Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the committee, is sending a letter to Professor Ford's attorneys offering to send staffers out to California to interview her there. So the Republicans are trying to make an effort that they are going to great lengths to be accommodating. We'll come to you in California. We'll do this in private if you come to Washington. We'll do it in public if you come to Washington. It is up to you.

But it does not deal with the threshold question of her legal team says no testimony until you have some sort of investigation.

[12:30:07] KIM: Also, they're not willing to budge on the timing either, because if you notice from Chairman Grassley's statement last night, he says, the invitation for Monday still stands. So