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Trump Ends Restraint, Repeatedly Attacks Kavanaugh Accuser Christine Blasey Ford; Kavanaugh Accuser Open to Testifying Under Right Terms; Trump Suggests Documents May Not Be Released Due to Key Allies' Worries; Michael Cohen Gives Information to Robert Mueller's Investigation; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:02] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. Poppy is on assignment today.

The restraint is over. President Trump on a tear this morning defending Brett Kavanaugh and now going after his accuser Christine Blasey Ford, saying last hour his Supreme Court pick is, quote, "under assault by radical Dems. If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says charges would have been immediately filed by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward." He adds, "The radical left lawyers want the FBI to get involved now. Why didn't someone call the FBI 36 years ago?"

All of these coming as lawyers for Ford who claims that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school are now negotiating her terms to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. We are learning more about the deal breakers on both sides for that testimony. More on that in just a moment.

But first I want to get right to Abby Philip. She is at the White House here.

I mean, this is quite a truly remarkable change in tone by the president, directly attacking Ford, Kavanaugh's accuser, here. What happened?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. This is a big shift from where he was at the beginning of this week. When President Trump was focusing his remarks on Brett Kavanaugh being a good person, someone that he stands by, and declining to directly attack his accuser. But that has all changed. In the last 24 hours, President Trump has now launched a new line of attack questioning why Christine Blasey Ford didn't come forward 36 years ago when she was 15 years old, according to her, and report this incident, this alleged incident, to the FBI.

Now President Trump's aides have been relieved for the last several days that he hasn't -- hadn't gone this far. And now he's doing exactly what I think many of them had hoped that he would restrain from doing. And this is in part because what we've seen over the last several days is a shift in the dynamics here. At the beginning of the week, the White House was blindsided when Christine Blasey Ford's identity was revealed in the "Washington Post." And they chose to go toward a tactic that would focus on making sure that she was heard in the form of a hearing.

But now that Blasey Ford expressed some reservations about appearing in a certain kind of context, the White House has changed their strategy. We've even had aides in the last day or so questioning whether or not this might be a case of mistaken identity, whether she might be mistaking Kavanaugh for someone else.

So, Jim, this is a different strategy that we're seeing but the president himself questioning why a victim might not have come forward when they were 15 years old. I think you're going to see a lot of Republicans questioning whether that is the right tactic for dealing with this next phase of the dynamics between Kavanaugh and his accuser -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No doubt. Abby Phillip at the White House. Thanks very much.

Ford's attorneys has sent out a nonstarter for her, that being testified by Monday. But we're learning right now that two of the GOP, that the GOP has its own nonstarters on Ford's address. A senior GOP staffer telling me that, one, subpoenaing other witnesses including Mark Judge. The Senate does not take subpoena requests from witnesses I'm told.

Two, her request that Kavanaugh testify first also a nonstarter, that Ford should testify first so that Kavanaugh would have an opportunity to respond. That's the view of a senior GOP staffer.

I want to go now to Manu Raju who is on Capitol Hill here.

Manu, so clearly you have some differences there. That said, the two sides are talking, and is it correct to say they seem to be moving closer to an agreement about testimony next week?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's very likely that they can reach an agreement. The really only red line that the Ford camp drew last night was that Monday's hearing. They did not want to do this on Monday. Also, they want to make it very clear that she would not be in the same room as Brett Kavanaugh at the same time and to ensure that her safety was taken, accounted for.

Those really about in terms of red lines that the Ford camp drew. They did raise those other issues that she referred to, Jim, including ensuring that Kavanaugh testifies first, was asking if that was a possibility, and in subpoenaing other outside witnesses like Mark Judge, the alleged witness of this incident that occurred in the early 1980s.

Those types -- those issues were more asks than they were demand. So the Republicans clearly are not going to go for that. So the question is, where do they go from here? One of the things in an e-mail that we have seen from Ford's attorney that went over the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, they reiterated their concern about outside counsels questioning the senators -- questioning Ford next week.

That was one of the issues that was raised during last evening's phone call. Katz -- Debra Katz, who's the attorney for Christine Blasey Ford, raised concerns about how this could turn into a trial-like atmosphere if that outside counsel were to be questioning. So they want the senators to do that themselves.

[10:05:12] Now I'm told that Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, and the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have had discussions about those requests, and member-level discussions are going to continue today until they probably will respond at some point later today. So we'll see if they reach some sort of resolution especially on the hearing day. She suggested possibly next Thursday we'll see the Republicans go for that and if they agreed to the other things that she suggested and if the Ford camp agrees. But clearly some movement after days of not talking, a sign that a hearing probably will take place -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks very much.

Joining me now to discuss all this, and there is a lot to discuss, developments this morning. Shan Wu, CNN legal analyst, Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst, and Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN senior political reporter.

Let's start for a moment. Set aside the negotiations for the testimony. But let's start with the president's clear change in tack here. Our Kaitlan -- our Kaitlan Collins was reporting just in the last few hours that the president had been bragging in recent days about the positive coverage of his restrained response. The policy of restraint is over.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's over. And we see on these -- the tweets that he sent out this morning that the gloves are off at this point. I think the hope for this White House was in some ways to rush this, right? So that the president could have a sort of contained and small window where he had to contain himself and not go off on the victim as -- or the alleged victim as he is doing now.

You saw Kellyanne Conway a couple of days ago basically say we should hear her out. She doesn't deserve to be criticized. She doesn't deserve to be condemned. Let's hear her out. And you see even she is sort of changing her strategy a bit here, maybe saying she was confused or mixed up, mistaken identity, you know, alluding to the fact that maybe she's part of some sort of Democratic cabal or Democratic conspiracy to take Judge Kavanaugh down. So we'll see what happens. I mean, the thing about the president is once he goes here with these tweets, he usually keep going, right?


HENDERSON: I mean, there is no pullback once he gets out there.

SCIUTTO: And there already have been a couple this morning now.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And the political risks here. Initially there were some concern about him alienating two female Republican senators, who are the key, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, who are two of the key votes on this nominee. They're not in the Judiciary Committee but they are very important to getting him off the floor of the U.S. Senate, and going -- you know, looking more broadly, this, what the president is doing is reminding suburban women who might be on the fence why they don't like the president.


KUCINICH: It's this sort of language.

SCIUTTO: Shan, the president's essential accusation here is that Ford's accusation is less credible because she didn't go to the FBI 36 years ago when she was a 15-year-old or her parents didn't. The president mentions her loving parents there.

In your past, you have investigated sex crimes. Explain why that accusation is not a fair one.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: His accusation is exactly why they need expert testimony on the Hill, talking about the real-life experiences of survivors, how the trauma affects the reporting. It is very, very common for survivors to report late and for disclosures to come out gradually, particularly in young victims, and she was only 15 at the time. So it makes perfect sense that she would have been embarrassed, frightened, not have gone forward as she's already said.

And this is precisely why they need some information to educate the senators and to educate the American public. If the senators want to not ask embarrassingly ignorant questions, they need to have some expert testimony first.

SCIUTTO: Let's not talk about the other issues, the testimony, and the -- I suppose the two key folks are going to be Kavanaugh and Ford. As of yesterday, it looked like it just may not happen.


SCIUTTO: The two sides were so far apart, the Senate GOP was saying they haven't even heard from her but they had these conversations last night. Based on what you're seeing here, even though there are still key differences, does it look to you like they're going to be sitting down at a table next week?

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, this thing has moved so fast in some ways and in so many different directions it's always hard to predict. But it looks likely that this is going to happen tomorrow. The fact that there is communication. Because for days there hadn't been communication. The Judiciary Committee essentially set a date before they even were in communication with the woman and her lawyer.

So jumping the gun a bit there. And now they're trying to figure out what the terms are, there are some disagreement there. But it seems like for her the main, sort of nonstarter is it being on Monday.


HENDERSON: And of course Judge Kavanaugh has said he plans to be there on Monday. Is he there alone? And she comes later on Thursday, which again would be different from what they want because they want her to go first, the Judiciary Committee, to go -- they want her to go first and then him to go second.

[10:10:03] But I think we're going to see this next week. And my goodness, what a momentous thing it will be when it happens.

SCIUTTO: And Jackie, so you get to that point, let's say, and the two sit down. I mean, the real challenge begins then you might even say because then senators presented, it seems, with two contradictory accounts from two people who have credibility here. Right? I mean, that some credibility. They've had many people attesting to their credibility. Kavanaugh and Ford. That still leaves senators in quite a difficult position on this vote.

KUCINICH: It's going to really matter how they approach this. How they ask the questions. How they treat both Kavanaugh and Professor Blasey because there is a political risk and -- about how they do approach this. And will this devolve into a he said-she said perhaps? Perhaps. Perhaps it will. But there is some fear on the Republican side that Professor Blasey does come off as a very credible individual.

We have not heard her speak yet. We've read obviously her interview with the "Washington Post" but she hasn't appeared in public yet.

SCIUTTO: So, Shan, a lot -- there is a political timeline here, let's be frank. And the Republicans have set this timeline with their own interests at heart. That they want to see this judge before midterm elections and before -- ideally before the October 1st date when the Supreme Court sits down.

Now my understanding, though, is he would not have to be seated by them, let's presume he gets through. He could be seated after that date. They could confirm him afterwards, and he can get in and then consider these other issues, whatever the issues coming before the court?

WU: Yes, that's right. There is no hard deadline he has to start the term. I mean, he could come in later.

SCIUTTO: OK. Fair enough. So looking as a prosecutor, as a lawyer, when you look at the requests that Ford has made here, do they strike you as reasonable requests? Beyond the timing.

WU: Right.

SCIUTTO: The conditions, witnesses, for instance.

WU: Those are very reasonable requests. And again, you know, if the senators are concerned about having to question the vacuum, they should encourage some investigation. That way they have some contacts, they have some facts that they can question about.

I think the insistence that the judge go first, that's probably a little bit of strategy. They're willing to negotiate that away. It would make sense for him to be responding to what he hears, but the witnesses certainly, and this notion that witnesses can't call for the Senate to subpoena, that's just nonsense. That's pro forma. I mean, they're suggesting people, and the senators should yes, this would be very helpful to hear from the other person in the room. It would be good for them.

SCIUTTO: Right. There is some new polling out on public support for Brett Kavanaugh. Let's put that up on the screen because it was never particularly hot, now it's declined. Look at those opposed, from 29 percent opposing to 38 percent. Almost 10 points there. Support about the same, but don't know, the undecideds in fact have switched against it.


SCIUTTO: Now you might say the only poll that really matters is the Senate because they have the power to confirm. But do these public support figures matter to senators when they face this decision?

HENDERSON: You know, maybe a few of them.

KUCINICH: State by state maybe.

HENDERSON: Yes, state by state.


HENDERSON: The ones who we've been looking at, obviously, Murkowski and Collins and those red state Democrats, the three or four of them, whom we don't know who decided yet. But it's clear that the numbers, you said people hadn't really formed an opinion yet, 30 percent or so, 40 percent or so, and now because of this new information, there is a change and this was very different.

I mean, he is a darling of conservative elites in D.C. The general public even sort of Trump voters, Trump base voters don't really know who he is. But they do want a conservative Supreme Court and Trump has talked about this idea, that that's why he won the presidency.

KUCINICH: And when both sides have tried -- have politicized this in a lot of ways. I think just, you know, seeing and talking to people over the last couple of days, a lot of women, Republican, Democrat women, see themselves in Doctor Blasey's -- excuse me, Professor Blasey's story because -- and you've seen women come forward in a way, even on Twitter, telling their stories and sharing their stories because in a way she has made it OK and is a way to either support her and support each other. So we can't ignore the fact that this is bigger. And that -- because of that, it does create a more complicated field for Republicans going into this.

SCIUTTO: And Republicans certainly very -- already vulnerable prior to this among women voters, particularly.

Jackie, Nia, Shan, thanks very much.

Coming up next on CNN, the president suggests key U.S. allies might have a problem with him declassifying a slew of documents related to the ongoing Russia probe. Is the president reversing course? Maybe making a concession here?

Plus the president's long-time fixer Michael Cohen has now spent hours speaking to the special counsel. What does that mean for the investigation and crucially for the president?



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Just four days after instructing the Department of Justice to immediately declassify information related to the ongoing Russia investigation, President Trump now says that he's been hearing from concerned U.S. allies and suggests that he may reevaluate.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're moving along, we're working along, we're also dealing with foreign countries that do have a problem. I must tell you, I got calls today from two very good allies, saying, please, can we talk?

[10:20:02] So it's not as simple as all that. And we do have to respect their wishes. But it will all come out.


SCIUTTO: Let's discuss with Kimberly Dozier, she's a CNN global affairs analyst.

So it appears that U.S. allies are concerned, which is something that's been raised by others involved for some time that by releasing these documents you release -- you have the potential of releasing classified information.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: What will be in these documents are the methods, the sources, the ways that they got this information. Things that may track back to, say, a source in Russia who is risking their lives to reveal possible interference, possible attempts by the Russian government to influence members of the Trump campaign.

So you can see what's going on here is the allies are trying to teach Trump what his national security team has already been trying to tell him, at least certain circles of it that this isn't just for politics, that there are wider implications. Because if a source gets burned by this release, allies are going to think twice about what they share with their intelligence counterparts.

SCIUTTO: And other sources might think twice before they come up and share information with Western intelligence agencies.

The fact is the point you make there and that it appears that allies have made to the U.S. is a point that we believe U.S. intelligence agencies have made to this president. Have they not? Intelligence agency directors appointed by this president have issued similar warnings.

DOZIER: And it speaks to this lingering distrust the president seems to have for the U.S. intelligence community. He frequently tosses out conclusions that they've made, that he disagrees with, along political or partisan lines, and you get into this cycle where intelligence officers I've spoken to fear that their counterparts who are briefing him are going to hold back some of the information until they have sort of an open and shut case. If it's something that they think the president will be reluctant to hear. That means they might be pulling their punches on information that could help drive policy.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's a problem, if the president is not willing to receive U.S. intelligence because he doesn't want to hear it.

DOZIER: And yet, from the Trump supporters' side, they believe that certain members of the intelligence committee under the Obama administration were pulling their punches or being selective with the information that was included.


SCIUTTO: But the directors, they're now appointed by this president. They can't make that argument about Dan Coats or Gina Haskell at the CIA.

DOZIER: And yet Trump supporters who are working on this case think that the information in that FISA application that they want to get declassified.


DOZIER: Is so explosive that it will undermine the entire Mueller investigation.

SCIUTTO: And which is --

DOZIER: And if the strategy is to muddy the waters, this would help.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And which has been, frankly, the president's strategy in many of his public statements as well.

Kim Dozier, thanks very much.

There is new reporting that President Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen provided, quote, "critical information" to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, what he might have shared and how it might affect the investigation and the president. That's coming up.



[10:28:05] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: You watched the fight. You 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.



SCIUTTO: Well, there you have it. That's the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell showing no wavering in his support for Brett Kavanaugh to join the Supreme Court, this even as negotiations continue on testimony, sworn testimony next week by Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

Turning now to another story we're following, a new report saying that the president's former attorney Michael Cohen has spoken with Special Counsel Bob Mueller's team several times over the past month.

ABC News says that Cohen has discussed everything from possible Russian collusion to the possibility of a presidential pardon.

CNN reporter Erica Orden, she is here with more details.

This is truly a newsworthy report here, and not a particularly positive development for the president.

ERICA ORDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. So we know that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty last month in a New York federal case and that plea deal did not include an element of cooperation. But it has always been the case that Cohen could choose to, post-plea deal, speak to either Southern District of New York prosecutors or with Mueller's team to try to ultimately earn himself a reduced sentence.

It now appears to be the case that Cohen has spoken to Mueller's team multiple times, according to reporting. And it's not clear exactly what they have discussed or what the topics have been, but there's a wide variety of topics that Mueller's team could ask Cohen about given Cohen's years ago of experience working for Donald Trump. It's also the case that they could have discussed topics of interest in particular to the Southern District prosecutors who are continuing to investigate possible campaign finance violations at Trump Org.