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NYT: Rosenstein Recorded Trump in White House, Discussed with Cabinet Invoking 25th Amendment to Oust Trump; Rosenstein Dismissing "New York Times" Report; Trump Abandons Measured Tone, Targets Accuser; Senate Republicans Send Counteroffer to Blasey Ford; Blasey to Ford to Talk with FBI over Death Threated Against Her. Aired 2:30- 3p ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 14:30   ET



[14:32:41] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, as we stay on this breaking news. The "New York Times" dropping a bombshell report which says that Rod Rosenstein had suggested he could secretly record the president and had discussed the 25th Amendment.

A lot to dig into here. Evan Perez, Caroline Polisi, Gloria Borger, all with us, Laura Jarrett as well.

Evan, I'm start with you.

Let's walk through what we know here. We don't know that there are any recordings. That is not in this piece. What we do have are these allegations. And also some push back from Rod Rosenstein.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erica. At this point, there's no indication that there actually were any recordings made, that Rod Rosenstein ever actually went through with them, or that his suggestion that other people in the room, other FBI officials who were going to meet with the president, that they actually carried out any of the recordings. But the fact that this conversation occurred, and it appears that it occurred, even the people who are pushing back on it say it happened, but in jest, is the best that we can get. It's a pretty extraordinary thing. And it appears that at least some of the people in the room, according to the "New York Times," took this extremely seriously. They thought that he was serious.

The push back from the deputy attorney general says the "New York Times" story is inaccurate, according to his statement, and factually incorrect. "I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this, based on my personal dealings with the president, there's no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment."

And that's an important part of this, as well, because, Erica, it's obviously one of the two ways you can remove is president is through impeachment or through members of the cabinet essentially deciding that the president is incapable of carrying out his duties and invoking the 25th Amendment to try to remove the president. According to Rod Rosenstein, he has seen no reason based on his interactions with the president.

Let me -- I guess let's just step back, real quick. If you look at the context of when these comments by Rod Rosenstein were made, according to the "Times," this is right at the beginning of his tenure. He had just come into office a couple weeks and the president has now fired James Comey, he's going through the whole chaos of hiring a new FBI director. And these stories are coming fast and furious at the time about the chaos surrounding the president. And so you can see his frame of mind then versus what has happened since. What I'm told, based on our own reporting, is that the president and Rod Rosenstein have kind of grown to have a decent relationship. They have a good working relationship. Certainly, a much better relationship than the relationship the president has with Jeff Sessions, the attorney general.

[14:35:26] HILL: There's also -- when we read through this, a lot of this stems from the fact -- and, Gloria, I want to bring you in on this here -- about this memo. That we know it was written obviously by Rod Rosenstein but according to the "New York Times" he was frustrated, he was caught by surprise in terms of the president's reliance on that memo. That says a lot, too.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it does. And we've interviewed some of his -- some of Rod Rosenstein's friends and they have said to me that -- that Rosenstein felt like he had bus tracks on his back after he -- after he wrote the memo, he had been asked to write it. Apparently he did not know and did not think that it would be used as the rationale for the firing of James Comey. Clearly from his memo he was no fan of the way Comey handled the Hillary Clinton e- mail investigation, particularly during the last weeks of the election. He writes this memo. The president then tells him that, you know, he's going to fire Comey, and then, in fact, this memo is -- he's going to release this memo as the reason why. So this happens, you know, as Evan was saying, just as Rosenstein gets there. So the place is just thrown into chaos because they have to look for a new FBI director. And, according to the "New York Times" piece, Rosenstein is sitting in, you know, they're looking for a new FBI director. Rosenstein is sitting in on some of these interviews and he believes the president isn't taking it seriously enough or perhaps doesn't even understand what an FBI director should do. So I think this is sort of the beginning of Rosenstein's doubts about the president of the United States.

Now, their relationship may have changed and it seems in many ways at least publicly that it has. But Rosenstein remains a hugely important person right now to the president of the United States because he is Robert Mueller's boss. He can fire the special counsel. He is the person who decides if Mueller says, look, I need to subpoena the president to testify, the person he goes to if he wants to do that to essentially get permission to do that is Rod Rosenstein. So if the president is mad at Rod Rosenstein, and he has been in the past, and he's tweeted about him, you know, the question we all have right now is, what happens next in this drama?

HILL: That is -- and if only we all had the answer to that.

Laura Jarrett, what happens next, is the question. We're still waiting to hear from the White House, we're waiting to hear from the president directly here as to what the next step is. There are plenty of camps, you can find at this point, the how long does Rod Rosenstein last camp, the who would replace him. We are still very early on, though, at this point because there's no official response yet.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, and the interesting thing, you know, obviously the "New York Times" is citing officials at the FBI and the Justice Department, they said that Andrew McCabe actually told people about these conversations. He documented them in contemporaneous notes. But if the president is looking at this, does he then have to say, OK, all of that stuff that I said about McCabe for months and months and months about him being a liar and a leaker is suddenly now not true because of this report about rod that could somehow benefit me politically if I wanted to get rid of him and I wanted to have an easy excuse? That means that the president and McCabe are suddenly aligned. Those make for strange bedfellows, especially in the face of an on the record denial from Rod Rosenstein. Now, the president may discount both of their statements one way or another and decide I'm done with all of this. But it does set up an interesting sort of credibility assessment for two officials in this situation who both have a significant amount to lose, obviously the deputy attorney general far more than McCabe at this point who was fired months ago for misleading internal investigators.

Now, a source familiar with all of this, all of these sort of dealings, makes the point that McCabe doesn't really have an incentive to lie at this point. He has already been fired, the president has already said everything under the sun about him, so why would he make this up. But of course, then other people push back on that, namely the Justice Department officials who say, but he did lie to investigators, so who are we supposed to trust here?

[14:39:56] HILL: That is a lot of what we've been talking about these days.

One of the things that sticks out -- and, Caroline, I want to bring you in at this point -- is I'm just pulling up the statement that we have here from Rod Rosenstein. If we could put it back up on the screen, it says a lot and then it doesn't a lot at the same time. He talks very specifically about the allegations in the article are about the chaos in the White House in in statement in which he calls the "New York Times" story inaccurate and factually incorrect. He says he's not going to comment further, so I guess this is all we're getting until we get something else. He said: "Let me be clear about this, based on my personal dealings with the president, there's no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment."

That's a little bit different than what the reporting in this article points to.

CAROLINE POLISI, WHITE COLLAR CRIME ATTORNEY: Notice it's present tense there. As all the reporting indicates, it seems like their relationship really progressed after those initial days. I think this information really highlights the precarious nature that Rod Rosenstein has been in since the beginning of the Russia investigation. He is tasked with overseeing all of Robert Mueller and everything that he does. One of the areas of the investigation is obstruction of justice. It's basic legal principle that you cannot both be a witness in an investigation while overseeing that investigation. So obviously, Rosenstein has pieces of the puzzle to what went into President Trump's thinking when he fired James Comey. He is a witness in this investigation. He has been since the beginning. I don't know why he wasn't recused sooner.

HILL: Which is fascinating. You put it that in a context, and we look at all of this. Also when we're talking about this investigation -- and, Evan, if you are still with us, I will bring you in on this part of it.

The fact that -- I mean, look, he's overseeing this right now and the fact that there's so much power that lies with him and he has been attacked so many times as we know publicly by the president, perhaps their relationship is great behind closed doors and they've made these wonderful advancements, which would be fantastic, but as we're looking at all these different pieces of the puzzle, too, it makes you wonder what would happen next if for some reason the president said, look, here it is, this gives me a good reason to get rid of him.

PEREZ: Right. Exactly. And I think that's the great fear, frankly, a lot of people around the president are having right at this exact moment. Right now there are people around the president who are trying to figure out how to make sure he doesn't do something that makes all of this even worse. Because firing Rosenstein at this time when all indications are that Mueller is perhaps closer to the end of his investigation than certainly, you know, than people have thought earlier, I think it would be the worst thing for the president to do. So I think to protect him I think people around him are probably telling him right now as we speak they're probably telling him don't believe Andy McCabe. Don't believe Andrew McCabe, he has an ax to grind because Rod Rosenstein -- and Rod Rosenstein's statement is calculated in a way. I think you pointed it exactly the right, it's written in the present tense and that's Rod Rosenstein's way of speaking directly to the president. Saying, Mr. President, I don't think that you're incapable of handling this job. So that's his way of sort of making sure that he stays in this job. We cannot, you know, overstate how important he is to the completion of this investigation because, you know, when Mueller is finished with his work it's going to go to Rod Rosenstein. Before Congress gets a chance to see anything, it's going to go through Rod Rosenstein. So I think that's why it's so crucial for Rod Rosenstein to not get fired in the next few weeks and I think people around the president are going to be trying to make sure that he hears that and he understands that, that you can't do it certainly not yet. Wait until Mueller is finished and then everyone expects that both Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions, everybody will be gone. But at least wait it out, is, I think, the message that people around the president are making at this hour.

HILL: We will see if that message is received.

We have much more on this coming up. Stay with us.

The other big headline we are following today, President Trump dropping his measured tone, directly attacking the woman who has accused Brett Kavanaugh.

[14:44:03] Senate Republicans and the Senate Judiciary Committee sending a counteroffer, meantime, to Christine Blasey Ford before she appears before the committee. We will take a look at what's in that counteroffer. Digging into that next.


HILL: The latest move in the Supreme Court showdown that is supposed to happen next week. Let's get you up to speed at this hour. Republicans just issuing their counteroffer to Christine Blasey Ford. The GOP is asking for her to testify now on Wednesday about her allegations that Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh physically and sexual assaulted her while the two were in high school. The timing is one facet at the GOP's counterproposal, some of which is already meeting with Democratic opposition. We will get into the full details in a moment.

But first, we do need to point this out. Five days -- five days. That is how long President Trump's restraint against Ford lasted. Today, his calm, collected stance is history, as he unleashed these tweets against Ford directly, saying this, quote, "I have no doubt that if the attack op 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. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time and place."

Those doubts from the president followed today by this certainty from the Republican Senate leader regarding Brett Kavanaugh.


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


MCCONNELL: So, my friends, keep the faith. Don't get rattled by all of this. We're going to plow right through it and do our job.


[14:49:58] HILL: Let's turn now to Capitol Hill. CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is with us.

Phil, before you get into the exact details of what the Democrats are opposing, give us the full information on what Republicans have now come back with for Christine Blasey Ford.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this counteroffer was discussed by Republicans on the Judiciary Committee earlier today in a phone call, conference call. Most are home. What they coalesced around were a couple proposals. First and foremost, moving the hearing, which had initially been scheduled for Monday to Wednesday. The lawyer for Christine Blasey Ford had suggested, according to sources last night, they move the hearing to Thursday. They're willing to move it to Wednesday. The second issue that Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers asked that Brett Kavanaugh answer questions first before Professor Ford. Republicans have rejected that idea. They've made clear that, as a committee precedent, Brett Kavanaugh would go second in order to answer whatever the testimony from Professor Ford was. A third issues that has been, I'm told, of some dispute between Republican members of the committee is bringing in an independent outside lawyer to ask questions during that hearing. That has been something Republican members of the committee have been discussing now for a couple of days. It's the preference of several senior Republicans on the committee, I'm told. They are still working through that. Those are three things that they've been working through.

Compare that, Erica, to what was discussed last night or what was requested, the conditions requested by Debra Katz. Obviously, wanted to move the hearing. That was the key red line, I'm told. They also wanted to ensure Professor Ford's safety. We've been talking about the death threats she said she has received, that the FBI is looking into. That, I'm told, the committee is committed to doing. There are several other elements, too.

But it's worth noting, one final point, this is just a counteroffer. This doesn't mean anything is final, but the negotiations are certainly taking place and there's a real effort on both sides to reach some agreement right now -- Erica?

HILL: Phil Mattingly, with the latest for us there. Phil, thank you.

Also happening today, a source telling CNN Christine Blasey Ford is expected to speak with the FBI in San Francisco. This is not about what she says happened when she was in high school. This is about the death threats she has been receiving since coming forward with her story.

CNN's M.J. Lee is live in San Francisco where that meeting is set to take place.

M.J., what else are you learning.

M.J. LEE, CNN REPORTER: Erica, this has obviously been a very, very tough week for Christine Blasey Ford. We know that she has had to move out of her house. We know she has received death threats. That's according to her lawyers. When she decided to speak out in that "Washington post" story on Sunday. You are right, we are learning that she is supposed to be speaking with the FBI in San Francisco sometime this afternoon. But to be very clear about this, and you mentioned this, too, this is only to discuss the death threats that she has received and it is not about the allegations that she has made against Brett Kavanaugh. Just on the location, too, we are standing outside of the FBI San

Francisco bureau here, but it is not clear whether she is actually physically going to come here or whether they are going to make other arrangements, given that she feels like her life is potentially in danger right now.

I also just want to point out, obviously, we have not heard from or seen Christine Blasey Ford since the story coming out on Sunday, with one exception, Erica. Obviously, there's a theory going around that perhaps it's true that Blasey Ford did experience a sexual assault back in high school, but perhaps she was confusing Kavanaugh with somebody else, perhaps another Georgetown Prep student. We heard Kellyanne Conway from the White House saying this to Chris Cuomo last night. Christine Blasey Ford released a statement saying, "There's zero chance that I would confuse them."

Again, as we find out more about her conversation with San Francisco FBI today, we will keep you posted -- Erica?

HILL: Sounds good.

M.J., just to follow up a little bit, too, what we heard from Phil as well, we know that one point that seems to be not negotiable for everyone here is that her safety must be ensured if she is going to speak with anyone moving forward. Again, not about these threats, as you're pointing out, which is why she would be speaking with the FBI today, but if she's going to speak with the committee at all her safety is of a major concern for this reason.

LEE: That's right. I mean, just keep in mind that, you know, since telling her story, there has been so much attention on this woman, who, you know, previous to Sunday was not a known person. And also keep in mind that she is not alone. She has a husband, she has two young children, sons, who are in middle school. So I think she's thinking about her family and thinking about how to do this properly so that she never feels like her life is potentially in danger. Obviously, the death threats that her lawyers say she has received, that is very disturbing.

[14:54:27] HILL: M.J. Lee, with the latest from San Francisco. M.J., thank you.

We also have much more on the breaking news this hour. That bombshell report in the "New York Times," the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, discussed the 25th Amendment and suggested secretly recording President Trump in the spring of 2017. His response to that report and more of the fallout next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

HILL: Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in for Brooke Baldwin.

We begin with breaking news this hour. The man overseeing the Russia probe dismissing a bombshell report just posted by the "New York Times" about him. This all involves deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. Reportedly suggesting he secretly recorded the president and that he discussed trying to recruit other cabinet members to try to remove the president from office.

Let's bring in CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, and CNN White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond.

Shimon, first, take us through the details here in this "New York Times" report about Rosenstein, a lot of which began unfolding, of course, just after James Comey was fired in the spring of 2017.

[15:00:00] SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: That's exactly right, Erica. This was spring 2017, two weeks, Rod Rosenstein was on the job just two weeks, and in several meetings, according to the "New York Times," Rod Rosenstein brought up the idea of secretly recording --