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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Ends Relative Restraint, Repeatedly Attacks Ford; NYT: McConnell, Ryan Express Worry For Trump Midterm Impact; NYT: McConnell, Ryan Express Worry For Trump Midterm Impact; Trump Puts Aside Past Grudge To Campaign For Sen. Heller; This Is Life Premieres Sunday On CNN After Parts Unknown. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president criticizing Democrats who have called for an FBI investigation into Ford's allegation, saying they don't want to know the answers, because facts don't matter to them.

Trump's remarks coming as Ford's attorneys continue negotiating with the Senate Judiciary Committee over her possible testimony, including her request from Ford that she never be in the room as Kavanaugh.

[16:30:13] Trump, making his feelings known today, tweeting: Let her testify or not and take the vote -- as he continues to tout his nominee's credentials.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A great intellect, a great gentleman, an impeccable reputation. Went to Yale, top student. Went to Yale Law School, top student.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: So, Jake, clearly, President Trump feeling very confident. So is the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

But Senator Susan Collins, who is going to be a crucial vote for Kavanaugh, if she does vote for him to get him confirmed, today said she was appalled by President Trump's tweet about Christine Blasey Ford, noting that sexual assaults are typically one of the most underreported crimes. She said that she thought his tweet was completely inappropriate and wrong. But, Jake, of course, when the president is on this stage behind me here tonight, and an arena full of his supporters, chanting along with him, there is a chance we could hear more of what the president tweeted today from him in person -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Kaitlan Collins with the president in Missouri.

In fact, let me play some of this sound from Susan Collins, and just keep in mind, the idea that sexual assault victims don't report the assault, that's the norm, according to advocates using Justice Department figures. They say two out of three sexual assaults go unreported. So it's not unusual. That's not evidence of anything.

Here is Republican senator, Susan Collins, reacting to President Trump's tweet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I was appalled by the president's tweet. I'm not saying that's what happened in this case. But we know that allegations of sexual assault are one of the most unreported crimes that exist. So I thought that the president's tweet was completely inappropriate and wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What changed? The president had been showing relative restraint. Now he is attacking Dr. Blasey Ford and her parents for not having reported this crime. He clearly thinks -- this alleged crime. He clearly thinks it didn't happen.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He somewhere got a green light to start doing this. Whether it was, you know, talking to people on the outside, or -- because clearly, he's no longer listening to his advisers, because what happened right there with Senator Collins is exactly what they were trying to avoid, alienating two women, in particular, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are going to be critical votes, especially if they lose a lot of 9 red state Democrats, because of what's happening right now.

Also, the image of the president of the United States bullying this woman, who is deciding whether or not to come forward, reminds women who might be looking at the midterms why they don't like him.

TAPPER: I mean, obviously, politically, it's not smart. But what -- why would the president do this? Kellyanne Conway from the very beginning had been saying she shouldn't be attacked, she should be heard. She was doing what she could to undermine her credibility, but in a much more subtle way than President Trump was.

Why would he do this?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Because that's how he thinks. I don't know. And he could only restrain himself for so long. There's no rational, technical reason to do it. So --

KUCINICH: But it should be said, and forgive me, but he -- the president has a long history.

TAPPER: In fact --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Let me interrupt you. Because in the same tweet storm, the president called Brett Kavanaugh, a quote, fine man with an impeccable reputation. He has a history, the president, of defending the men accused of horrific behavior with women. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: This is a obviously tough time for him. He says he's innocent.

He says it didn't happen. And, I know, you have to listen to him also.

He's a good person. I don't think bill would do anything wrong.

It's very sad because he's a very good person. Now, all of a sudden, they're saying these horrible things about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTOL: And doesn't Trump say at the end of the tweet, they also attacked me like this or something.

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: The worst possible thing you could do to make the case for Brett Kavanaugh, is for the president to associate Kavanaugh with himself and with all these other characters.

TAPPER: With all these other guys, Rob Porter, Roy Moore, Bill O'Reilly and Roger Ailes, all of whom President Trump was there defending, and basically expressing sympathy for them.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER COLUMNIST: Yes, he's not the best character witness. We can put it that way. And I think I'm with Jackie on the point that this is the worst possible thing you could do, if your goal is to try to keep this from being a complete political circus.

So, Susan Collins, prior to today's tweets, had actually been pretty clear. Look, we need to get the show on the road. We need to hear from both sides. We need to have a vote. Let's stop having this get drawn out and made into a political circus.

[16:35:02] And it seemed to me that that was the right position to take. Let's move on, let's hear from both sides. Let's take a vote instead of drawing this out. This takes it up to a level of political circus that is -- before unseen. That now you are adding the Trump factor to what was previously already a very difficult and sort of divided situation.

TAPPER: And lest we forget, President Trump has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual harassment or assault. And at one time, I think during the campaign, he actually suggested that one of his accusers was not attractive enough for him to have sexually assaulted.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: She would not be my first choice, that I can tell you. Man, you don't know. That would not be my first choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know how to respond to that, honestly. I also have to say, what I think is most depressing about all of this, is I don't think the truth is relevant, honestly. I think that the Republicans are running a process. The president is certainly running a process to get this guy through.

The Senate is not looking into the facts and trying to figure out what's true and what's false, whether he's ready for a lifetime appointment. They're just trying to railroad this through.

TAPPER: It could be said, the Democrats are not interested in the truth, either. They are just doing everything they can to defeat Brett Kavanaugh.

MOOK: I think there are politics on both sides of this.

KUCINICH: Right.

ANDERSON: Yes, I was going to say. The good senator from California had a lot of information about the story that was sat on until the most politically expedient moment, completely kind of under -- if this had been something that had come out early on, you already had Brett Kavanaugh under oath. You could have asked him questions about. This is for sure the sort of search for truth.

I actually have been pleasantly surprised by seeing the way Senate Republicans in the Judiciary Committee have said, OK, here's our offer. What are you not comfortable with pieces of this offer for how you can testify? OK. Well, let's talk about it. Instead of Monday, let's talk Wednesday. They've been doing a pretty good job so far.

MOOK: I think in terms of focusing on a victim and her rights, there are two things here. First of all, she has said that she was -- that Senator Feinstein handled this the way she wanted. And I think she -- what she wants and her views on this matter. And the second piece of this is, the Republicans at every point have done a worse job than was done for Anita Hill, right?

TAPPER: How do you figure?

MOOK: Well, because, first of all, there were other witnesses allowed to testify.

TAPPER: Right. The Democrats controlled the Judiciary Committee.

MOOK: The opposite party, right? And second of all, the FBI was allowed to investigate. And I just --

TAPPER: The White House called for the FBI to investigate.

MOOK: The Republicans --

TAPPER: The Bush White House.

MOOK: Right, the Republicans who -- who nominated him. So I just think -- we shouldn't pretend like there's a search for the truth here. There's a search to get this guy confirmed.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We've got more to talk about.

Red wave or rose-colored glasses, why Republican leaders are seeing a much different picture of the midterm elections than President Trump is.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:27] TAPPER: Politics now. "The New York Times" reporting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan privately told aides that President Trump needs to sound the alarm about a potential huge blue Democratic wave hitting Capitol Hill.

As CNN's Joe Johns reports, Republicans are hoping the president will get the message, because the mid terms, they say, could get messy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The message from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Keep the faith. Don't get rattled by all of this.

JOHNS: His bottom line, forget the Supreme Court controversy and vote Republican.

MCCONNELL: We can hold on to the Senate majority for two more years. We're going to transform the federal judiciary.

JOHNS: The president, who has predicted a red wave in November, modifying his message on the stump Thursday night in Las Vegas, where he was joined by endangered GOP senator, Dean Heller.

TRUMP: Promise me, you've got to get out for the mid -- don't be complacent. You've got to get out for the midterms.

JOHNS: Though Democrats hold a narrow path to the Senate majority, the president is not holding back, calling out Heller's opponent, Jackie Rosen, by name. Sort of.

TRUMP: A vote for Wacky Jackie, is a vote for the extreme agenda of those people.

JOHNS: Next, President Trump heads to Missouri, as part of his ramped up campaign schedule, ahead of the election.

TRUMP: It's like this -- it's like this. If somebody has a cold, we don't have a majority that day. It's like we have to have more Republicans in office.

JOHNS: Also tonight, the first Lone Star State debate between Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger, Congressman Beto O'Rourke. Cruz got a boost from Ivanka Trump, with the pair touring Houston's Space Center.

The president is expected to hold a rally for Cruz next month, all of this as Senate Democrats need a gain of just two seats to claim the majority.

With such a slim margin, top conservatives are sounding the alarm.

MCCONNELL: We have a very tiny majority.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: The political map for the mid terms this year still tends to favor Republicans retaining control of the Senate, but they are looking over their shoulders, because Democrats have been able to create more competitive races in states that President Trump won. And the party in power tends to lose seats on Capitol Hill in the midterms anyway.

So, it's the tug of war between what the map says and the political environment that's got Republicans worried -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Joe Johns, thanks so much.

Guys, take a look at CNN's key races map for the Senate. Tennessee, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri and Nevada, CNN rating them all tossups right now. Trump is making two campaign stops in just 24 hours, Nevada last night and Missouri tonight.

[16:45:08] Do Republicans actually have a reason to fear losing the Senate? I understand the House is seriously in play, but the Senate the map is so friendly. It's so many -- so many strong Republican states where Senate senators are for a lifetime.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: As a Republican, I feel better about the Senate than I do the House but what's odd about the Senate is that while you have so many potential pickup opportunities in places like a North Dakota where you have a Democratic Senator representing a quite red state. You have a situation like Tennessee which is a pretty red state that might actually elect a Democratic senator because that particular candidate just has a positive brand image in the state.

TAPPER: The former governor --

ANDERSON: So it's less about the political environment or distaste about Trump in that, it's just about the candidates involved. And I think you've got a couple of other races as well. Like, take the Florida race for instance. You've got a Senator in Bill Nelson, fellow Gator -- I'm not supposed to speak ill of a fellow Gator -- but who I think has sort of been asleep at the wheel and hasn't really been campaigning in that state which even in a tough environment for Republicans in a state that's a pretty big swing state where Democrats would may well pick up the governor's mansion. At the same time, you could have a Republican in Rick Scott winning that Senate seat. So sometimes it comes down to candidate quality and just how much are they willing to work.

TAPPER: And how much do you think President Trump is a drag on Republicans. Obviously, in some places like Nevada, Dean Heller who used to be a sometime Trump critic is relying on President Trump to help get out the vote.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Republicans are squeezed here because if they try to run away from President Trump their base is going to be deflated and I frankly think it is really hard to make the case to any of these voters that at this point in the cycle that Republicans are standing up to him credibly and I think it's too late for Dean Heller to do that and for Republicans as a brand. But Trump also matters for Democrats. And what you're seeing here is Republicans are worried that we're going to have this massive turnout imbalance.

I remember I was working at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2010 and you -- this just happens. Your base is deflated when you're in power. You know, you're governing. Your people get disappointed about this or that thing and the other side is charged up. This feels a lot like you know the opposite of 2010 or like 2006 you can just feel the momentum going and more races coming on mind. And we're starting -- I'm starting to see polling you know, race is tied in districts. We wouldn't have even you know, dream --

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: And I think the Senate is coming into play partly just because that's what happens when you get one of these big waves and naturally red states. Well, guess what the Democratic incumbents hang on and then they lose one or two they don't like to lose and suddenly it could be 51-49 the other way but also I think this recent -- the last week, the Kavanaugh stuff has really reminded voters that fine, if you want to flip the House that's a check on President Trump, but actually if you want to check President Trump and other things you might care about, maybe you want to flip the Senate too.

And so I think it's funny. All about checking President Trump rhetoric, that was entirely House focused up until about a week ago. And I do wonder whether some -- this is of course not a huge number but one, two percent of swing voters are now thinking, gee maybe my Senate vote I also need to be worried about checking President Trump. Maybe I voted for him, maybe I voted for Republicans in the past, but do I really want a rubber stamp for President Trump's appointments in the Senate. So I actually think that the Senate is in play.

TAPPER: And Jackie, it's really interesting Nevada, the race there, you have an incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller but that's a state that Hillary Clinton won and a President Trump was just there singing the praises of Dean Heller but acknowledging that there was some bad blood. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We started out. We weren't friends. I didn't like him, he didn't like me. And as we fought, and fought, and fought, believe it or not, we started to respect each other, then we started to like each other, then we started to love each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well isn't that nice? No, I think -- I think Dean Heller realized that he needed President Trump and President Trump likes to remind people that he that they need him. One of the things though that Dean Heller did -- we were talking about Kavanaugh -- he made an offhanded remark calling what's going on right now with Kavanaugh and the accusations as a hiccup. He happens to be running against a woman who is a -- who is a sitting member of Congress and you can't make mistakes like that in this election environment. So he made it -- he also made it harder for himself both by saying by that gaffe and by cozying up to President Trump.

TAPPER: We're just hours away from the debate between Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic opponent Congressman Beto O'Rourke. The Cook Political Report just labeled this race a toss-up. It used to be -- leans Republican to toss-up. I'm old enough. I've been hearing since Republicans took Texas that it's going to go back to blue any day now. I'm very skeptical of it. Do you think Ted Cruz is actually in trouble here?

[16:50:00] ANDERSON: I'm -- call me more skeptical of the toss-up rating. I think this is a race that Ted Cruz is likely to win but it does go back against a candidate's favorability. Ted Cruz has had problems with his favorables, even for folks that are Republicans. They pulled the lever for Republicans all the time. He fought, and fought, and fought with President Trump as you may remember during the Republican convention in 2016, made a few enemies then. So it's one of those things where you have a candidate who's got a lot of energy on the Democratic side. Progressives really like Beto O'Rourke. I think he's their chance to finally you know, get that -- get Texas to flip blue but I think call me skeptical that he will be enough to sort of tip that stage.

TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. I appreciate it. We're minutes away from the deadline Republicans have set for Christine Blasey Ford to respond to their latest offer for a hearing. Will she agree? Will she testify? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD" President Trump has been sounding the alarm, warning that Democratic victories in November will mean the spread of violent gangs. He often invokes one of the deadliest and most violent street gangs in America, MS-13. In CNN's original series, "THIS IS LIFE," Lisa Ling goes inside the fight into how MS-13 is tearing apart immigrant communities across the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LISA LING, CNN HOST: Armed with tactics of seduction, coercion, and threats, MS-13 has had no shortage of potential recruits. Over 100,000 unaccompanied minors have arrived in the United States since 2014, and most are vulnerable to recruitment. Under the cover of night, I met one such target. A young teen, recently reunited with his mother after a decade apart.

How old were you the first time you saw someone gets killed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nine.

LING: You were nine years old? Did a lot of your friends join MS-13 in El Salvador?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Ten of my friends joined MS-13.

LING: What happened to their lives?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two of them are dead already.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And the host of "THIS IS LIFE," Lisa Ling, joins me now. Lisa, congratulations on this series. Thanks for joining us.

LING: Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: So President Trump talks quite a bit about MS-13. He's obviously trying to scare audiences and they are very dangerous gang. Put it in context for us though. How serious of a threat to the United States is MS-13 right now?

LING: Well, context is really important and MS-13 is a very complicated issue as a whole. And so I really hope people will watch this episode and read the piece that I wrote on cnn.com. But is our national security at threat by MS-13? No. The FBI estimates that there are over one million gangs in the United States and MS-13 accounts for less than one percent. They are, however, a very serious threat to Central American communities, throughout the East Coast and even Los Angeles, and the level of savagery that they perpetrate, mostly on fellow teenagers, is really disturbing.

Most of those teenagers in the last couple of years are unaccompanied minors, they have come to this country traumatized. They don't really have relationships with their family members who have been in the United States. They are desperate to find places to belong. And MS- 13, they're experts at these seduction tactics or they're also experts at using force.

TAPPER: How much of the MS-13 problem could be taken care of if the border was secured, if the flood of -- or the flow, rather, of undocumented immigrants into this country was at least slowed, if not stopped?

LING: Well, the President suggests that by closing the border gangs will not be able to come across anymore. And since 2014, over 100,000 undocumented children arrived on the border, unaccompanied minors, and they estimate that 0.02 percent of them had any gang ties. So the gang is already here. This MS-13 gang has been here since the 1980s. It's a gang that evolved in part because of the U.S. government, and what the community really needs right now is they need community outreach, certainly increased law enforcement to combat the gang. But social services, helping these kids deal with trauma.

And we interviewed one person in the episode, who actually was able to leave the gang alive because he had a religious conversion. They say when you join MS-13, you will eventually end up in a hospital, a prison or in a coffin. The only way to leave the gang alive is to become a Christian. And they will test you. They will watch you. If it's not an authentic conversion, they will kill you.

TAPPER: And so when you talk to the people in the community, law enforcement, social workers, church leaders, what else can be done to try to stop the damage MS-13 is inflicting? We only have a little time so --

LING: Well, I think maintaining community relations is the most important thing. Being sensitive to the needs of this undocumented, unaccompanied minor population and trying to ensure people that they're not going to be deported if they report information about MS- 13 to authorities.

TAPPER: All right, Lisa Ling, thank you so much. The new season of "THIS IS LIFE" with Lisa Ling premiers this Sunday right after Anthony Bourdain's "PARTS UNKNOWN" only on CNN. Be sure to tune in Sunday morning to CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest will be U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley. We'll also have also an exclusive with Senate Judiciary Committee Member Democratic Senator, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern on Sunday. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. I'll see you Sunday morning.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, down to --