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Trump Abandons Measured Tone, Targets Accuser; Kavanaugh Accuser Open to Testifying Under Right Terms; Biden Voices Regret About Handling Anita Hill Hearing; Trump Suggests Some Russia Documents May Not Be Released; Trump Tweets Attacking Blasey Ford Could Impact Negotiations to Have Her Testify. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Baldwin.

That definitely did not last long. President Trump abandoning his new-found restraint this morning, directly attacking the woman who accuses his Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault. If that doesn't make you sit up and listen, I'm not sure what will.

Here's the statement this morning. I'll read it to you. "I have no doubt that if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local law enforcement authorities by either her or her loving parents."

The president also coming to his nominee's defense in another tweet calling Judge Kavanaugh, "a fine man with an impeccable reputation who is under assault by radical left-wing politicians."

So, has the White House strategy here changed or has the president once again taken their strategy and thrown it out the window?

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House.

Abby, this is a big shift who -- all the conversation around this was how the president was uncharacteristically quiet and restrained. Not anymore.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not anymore, Kate. All week, White House aides have been wondering whether the president would finally do this. They had hoped and they've been surprised he had been restrained in praising Kavanaugh but avoiding or directly criticizing or trying to undermine his accuser. Now that's all changed. President Trump began signaling this last night in an interview, he questioned why the FBI wasn't called 36 years ago. Now this morning in those tweets you mentioned earlier, the president is both questioning why this wasn't reported earlier, but also likening it to sort of a left-wing attack on his nominee. He says, "The radical left lawyers want the FBI to get involved now. Why didn't someone call the FBI 36 years ago?"

Those radical left lawyers are presumptively the lawyers representing Christine Blasey Ford, the accuser who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted here in high school. Just before the president tweeted that, literally minute before he

tweeted that, this is what Kellyanne Conway said on "NEW DAY."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: There's no reason to attack her. There's no reason. Let her tell her story on her own here in Washington. The Senate Judiciary Committee has offered her to do it privately or publicly for her to do it in Washington. We are urging them in Washington - (INAUDIBLE) -- and in California, they've provided accommodations to her. There's no reason to attack her.

PHILLIP: So there, Kellyanne was implying that the White House wanted to listen to the accuser, that there was no reason to attack her. But, obviously, President Trump had a different idea about this.

But for Republicans who have been trying to be very strategic about this, trying to push Ford to testify but not necessarily directly criticizing her, they have been accusing Democrats of playing political games, but they avoided criticizing her. President Trump is throwing that strategy out the window and is opening the door to a new line of attacks on this accuser. I think perhaps creating potential perhaps for Independents and moderates who I think Republicans have been careful not to offend in all of this controversy -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And maybe potential problems for the committee who is, at this moment, trying to negotiate this hearing if it takes place.

Abby, thank you.

I have been saying a big unknown is how the president's new attack impacts negotiations under way right now over if, when and how Christine Blasey Ford will tell her story and answer questions from lawmakers. Attorneys for Ford are negotiating the terms for her ability to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee possibly next week. They are negotiating it right now. They had a conference call last night and CNN obtained an e-mail laying out their request today.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with this.

Manu, what is the latest on these negotiations now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Republicans, right now, Kate, are discussing what the Ford camp laid out in that conference call last night. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has had a conversation with the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, I'm told, and the member-level discussion will continue today before they come back with a response, probably sometime later today.

In that conference call last night, a number of conditions and concerns were laid out by the Ford ramp, one of which, they did not want Christine Blasey Ford to be in the same room as Brett Kavanaugh. They did not want to have the hearing take place on Monday. They proposed a possible Thursday hearing. And in an e-mail we obtained, it said she had concerns about being able to prepare that testimony in time for Monday if they were to move forward on that Monday hearing, because she's had to deal with death threats and threats to her family and security. She could not possibly be ready in time for Monday. But she also has raised concerns about the using of outside counsels to question her in that testimony. She is concerned this could be a trial-like atmosphere and wants Senators to question instead. Their camp also proposed the idea of allowing Kavanaugh to testify first. She would testify second. Republicans do not want to go there. And also to subpoena some outside witnesses, including that man Mark Judge that allegedly witnessed this incident from the 1980s. Republicans have no desire to do that.

So there's a couple sticking point. But nevertheless, Republicans are taking these very seriously. There's a good likelihood perhaps this hearing will take place. We'll see when that will happen.

But in light of all this, Republicans are feeling very confident, at least publicly. This is what Senator McConnell just said moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:05:49] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: You watched the fight. You've watched the tactics. But here's what I want to tell you. In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: But I can tell you, Kate, privately, that is not the feeling on Capitol Hill. There's so much uncertainty about what will happen with this hearing, how several key Senators will vote after a hearing, assuming it does take place. And we've seen so many twists and turns with this nomination, no one can predict what will happen here -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Just in the last hour or so, now with the intervention, if you will, with the president in this conversation.

Manu, thank you so much.

Joining me right now is Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. She was among the group of women lawmakers back I 1991 who literally marched over to the Senate to demand that their Senate colleagues allow Anita Hill to testify in the confirmation of now- Justice Clarence Thomas.

Congresswoman, thank you for coming in.

REP. ELANOR HOLMES NORTON, (D), DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Of course.

BOLDUAN: So to what happened just this morning, President Trump is now directly attacking Christine Blasey Ford. On its face, Congressman, the president is asking essentially, where is the police report if, in his words, it was as bad as she says. Your reaction? HOLMES NORTON: I want to congratulate the White House staff for

keeping the president under wraps for as long as they have. Now that he's come out, he's about to destroy things for the Republican majority in the Senate. Because they have been trying their best not to make this essentially a campaign issue because have you the women of America, the Independents listening closely. And the last thing you want to do is to attack a woman who, at 15-years-old, didn't go and report she had been raped. So he is spoiling everything for what the Republicans are carefully trying to do now in the Senate to make this a hearing that will not reverberate against them in the upcoming elections.

BOLDUAN: What impact do you think this has on the negotiations? If you were advising Christine Blasey Ford and in her decision of what to do, now with what the president has said this morning, what would you suggest she do?

HOLMES NORTON: Well, I think she is doing -- she is getting good advice. I must say that I have thought that an independent counsel was good thing to have. I think he's probably right that, that that's not the thing to do. That independent counsel will be chosen by the Republicans. I think she'd rather have both sides respond to her rather than an independent counsel who she cannot know will be truly independent.

BOLDUAN: Do you have confidence that Ford can get a fair hearing if the president of the United States clearly doesn't believe her with this tweet, and by tweeting this out to millions of people today, is trying to undermine her?

HOLMES NORTON: There's no question she can get a fair hearing. But the president is undermining all that Republicans and the Democrats are doing to give her a fair hearing. Because what -- the president is the focal point of whatever he wants to do. They're trying to engage in careful negotiations. They understand that, on memory, she seems to have a good memory from what happened, even some of the details. They know they're up against the notion she would have no motives, no motive to come forward and subject herself to this.

And then she's taken actions to reinforce her own memory. She's had a lot of counseling. She's even taken a lie detector test. So she's set, it seems to me, for whatever hearing comes forward. I regret, very much, if there's going to be no preparation. Such as the usual, the standard FBI investigation. So it looks like she's going to be on her own, a woman that no one knows, a person like every member of the public, against one of the most powerful men in the United States, a court of appeals judge.

[11:10:35] BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, if Christine Blasey Ford, she hopes to have a full investigation beforehand, but if she says she is OK moving forward without an investigation beforehand, without additional witnesses being called -- I'm saying if, of course -- would you be OK with that?

HOLMES NORTON: I wouldn't. But I'll give her "A" for courage. I think it then will be up to her to make the case, for example, that she would have no motive, to make the case, that she has taken a lie detector test and the rest of it. But I really don't think that should be on her. I think there should be some objective investigation and I thought that's what the FBI was for.

BOLDUAN: Also speaking out this morning is the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joe Biden, who, of course, presided over the committee when Anita Hill testified, that you were instrumental in making happen. I want to play for you what he said to NBC. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES & FORMER CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I wish I could have done more to prevent those questions in a way to ask them. I hope my colleagues learned from that, learn from that. My biggest regret is I didn't know how to shut you off, if you were a Senator attacking Anita Hill's character. Under the Senate rules, I can't gavel you down and say you can't ask that question, although I tried. What happened was she got victimized again during the process.

UNIDENTIFIED NBC CORRESPONDENT: It seems like got it now versus 1991.

BIDEN: I think I got it in '91. I don't think -- well, people have their own opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Right there, Congresswoman, criticized how he handled it back in '91. He says he got it even back then. Is that how you remember it?

HOLMES NORTON: I think he's contradicting himself then. He issued an apology, which is another way of saying he didn't get it in 1991. It's not that he was faulty on the questioning. But that hearing was a disaster for Anita Hill. If she had not been the most poised and courageous woman I had ever seen, she could have easily have fallen apart under the questioning she had to endure. Which is why it is so thankful for my Republican colleagues not to have learned from that experience. It's like a dry run for what is going to happen with this very courageous woman, Dr. Ford.

BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, May I ask you -- again, this is another, of course -- few are considering Joe Biden running for president again. If he runs again --

HOLMES NORTON: I'm not hearing you.

BOLDUAN: Do you hear me?

HOLMES NORTON: Now I hear you.

BOLDUAN: Good.

Just a final question. If Joe Biden runs again, what he said there, he thinks he got it back if '91, and he issued an apology since, as you mentioned --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: -- do you think this becomes a problem for him?

HOLMES NORTON: I don't. But I do think he will have to take this issue on if he runs again and that the mea culpa has to be extraordinary and he's got to indicate that he made mistakes. If he does that, he's going to be OK. Because after all, that was an unprecedented event. This is not precedented. But I am not convinced that the Senate has learned from that event.

BOLDUAN: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, thank you so much for coming in, Congresswoman.

HOLMES NORTON: It's a pleasure.

[11:14:11] BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, is the president thinking twice about releasing documents related to the Russia probe, declassifying documents that he said he was going to do? Donald Trump says the Justice Department officials and American allies have concerns. He may actually be listening to them. The walk back, that's ahead.

Plus, from taking a bullet for the president to talking a lot to Robert Mueller, the new report detailing Michael Cohen's talks with the special counsel. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Remember President Trump's big announcement that he was releasing classified documents related to the Russia investigation? Supporters said it was much-needed transparency, opponents say it was a politically motivated abuse of power. This morning, it may be none of the above. The president seems to be maybe, kind of walking it back. He tweeted a short time ago, saying, "I met with the DOJ concerning declassification of varies redacted documents. They agreed to release them, but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key allies called to ask not to release. Therefore, the inspector general has been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis."

You get all that?

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins me now.

Shimon, I feel this is not how it is supposed to go. The review is supposed to happen before the declaration occurs. Regardless, he's gone from declaring them declassified, to, wait, I should check with the Justice Department first? Is this how this is going?

[11:20:00] SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: No. You are right. This is what the Justice Department does, is what the FBI does. It seems that someone talked sense into the president that doing this could create more problems, more harm than anything good. I think it's interesting, in his tweet you read, he talked about the

impact on the Russia probe. Since when does the president have concern --

BOLDUAN: That's a good point.

PROKUPECZ: -- about impacting the Russia probe.

But nonetheless, it's important to know, Kate, the Intelligence Community and our partners around the world that participate in this intelligence gathering have had concerns for well over a year that any of this information getting out would hurt their methods, their sources. We don't know 100 percent who the sources have been on some of this information. It would seem, at least for now, whoever talks some sense into the president -- we know Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, has been the point person on this, was at the White House yesterday. He did not meet with the president. He met perhaps with other people. This is where this issue may have come up. But it seems at least, I think for now, folks at the Department of Justice and probably the FBI and the Intelligence Community, briefly, at least, feel some relief this is not going to happen without some kind of review. There's a lot of continued concern about this getting out. So perhaps maybe a little win here for the folks on the Intelligence Community side.

BOLDUAN: Maybe momentary. Earlier this week, in an interview with "The Hill," President Trump actually admitted very clearly he had not reviewed the documents, himself, and said he was releasing them because his favorite cable news host wanted him to. It was a sound byte, a quote I don't think I will ever forget. Can you remind everyone what exactly we're talking about? We don't know exactly what's in it. We know the general contours of what he wants to release.

PROKUPECZ: We know it has to do with the Carter Page FISA. Carter Page briefly worked on the campaign. There was a FISA warrant on him. This is all the information that the FBI and other intelligence folks gathered on that FISA warrant. What's concerning for a lot of people is that sources and methods is going to get out. The other thing, a lot of folks feel this is being done to undermine the Russia probe, to undercut what the FBI has been doing here, what the special counsel has been doing here. It is true. We have no idea if the president has reviewed this material. We know a lot of what he is learning from and hearing about this material is coming from FOX News, which you know is not always accurate. So he may have one perception of this what these documents contain, but, in fact, it may not be the case -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's an excellent point.

Shimon, great to see you. Thank you so much.

PROKUPECZ: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Is President Trump abandoning the script when it comes to defending his Supreme Court pick today? Up next, how Trump's tweet, attacking Christine Blasey Ford, could impact the investigations going on right now to get her to testify been Congress. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:27:41] BOLDUAN: President Trump shrugs off the restraints and unleashes a blistering tweet. With that, this morning, making no secret here that he's trying to clamp down on Christine Blasey Ford, the college professor who says Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her decades ago when both were teenagers. What has changed this morning and why is the president doing this now?

Joining me is now, Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times," and David Chalian, CNN political director, and Nia Malika Henderson, CNN senior political reporter.

David, this is not the script that the White House has written for the president to stick to. I really am wondering right now what finally cracked this wall of restraint?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's a good question, Kate. You are right to note the difference in strategy. As soon as Professor Ford made her claims public and put her name out in the "Washington Post" on Sunday, I think all of us were looking at the president's Twitter feed to see how quickly he was going to go on the attack against her. That did not happen at all. Monday morning, Kellyanne Conway came out on the North Lawn and gave an interview and said she had a right to be heard. You saw the president publicly this week, a few times, sort of say, hey, if we have to delay a bit, that's OK, she should be heard, Kavanaugh is a wonderful guy, this doesn't reflect anything that's happened. Today is something different. Today, we see that discipline, that restraint, as you called it, eroding on the president here. He's choosing, instead, to start going towards Professor Ford and questioning how she handled the telling of this event to her parents or law enforcement, or not telling, as the case may be, according to her story, and questioning her decision- making on that. This is a new realm and strategy. I think it is clear the reason to do this is to rally conservatives around the Kavanaugh confirmation and don't allow this moment in this likely hearing next week to completely upend their number-one stated political goal about moving the court ideologically for a generation.

BOLDUAN: Nia, they seem -- if you listen to Mitch McConnell this morning, he seems confident they will have Kavanaugh on the bench. I wonder that this is a sign that they're quite nervous, actually.

[11:29:58] NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think they must be. If you think about the move yesterday, people reporting from the White House, basically saying they felt good. Part of the reason they felt good, I imagine, it looked like yesterday, this testimony from Professor Blasey might not happen.