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Trump Attacks Kavanaugh's Sexual Assault Accuser; Invoking the 25th Amendment?; Rod Rosenstein Under Fire. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Erica.

This is 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 the president, that is, candidates who were potentially up for the FBI job maybe wearing some kind of a secret recording device or using their phones to perhaps secretly record him.

At one point, he suggested himself he may do that. Another point, it was suggested perhaps that even now fired former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe somehow record the president. Really, you know, what this article sort of points out is that the chaos that was unfolding in the days and the weeks after the former FBI Director James Comey was fired.

The Department of Justice, Rod Rosenstein, in a statement denies -- denies this, says that the story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. He said that he would not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department, are advancing their own personal agenda.

And, of course, you know, Erica, this all brings up, what will happen? What will the president now do about this, about the idea that Rod Rosenstein had suggested that someone, perhaps an FBI official, someone interviewing for the FBI director, interview, that is, secretly record the president?

We will see what happens. So far, obviously, no word yet from the president.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: No word yet from the president.

Jeremy Diamond, as we noted, is at the White House.

Are we hearing anything from the White House? The president, of course, just at this event in Nevada.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He just did this event in North Las Vegas, and he declined to say anything about this matter. He simply focused on the matter at hand, which was signing some spending bills, but the White House also not offering any comment at this time.

We have asked the White House, the White House press secretary, for some comment on this. They have not offered anything. But as Shimon noted this is sure to rile the president up. He has vented in the past about the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who, of course, oversees the special counsel's investigation.

And so this latest reporting about the 25th Amendment, about the suggestion that he would record the president without his knowledge is sure to lead the president to feel vindicated, perhaps, about some of his initial feelings about Rod Rosenstein. And we know certainly that many of the president's key conservative allies on Capitol Hill have tried in the past to move towards impeachment proceedings against the deputy attorney general.

They have privately vented their own frustrations with the president about the Department of Justice withholding certain documents that they have been seeking. And so it's sure to rile up those conservatives on Capitol Hill as well who frequently speak with the president.

And so that's the space that we are going to have to watch over the coming hours and over the coming days is how those individuals on Capitol Hill, firebrands like Mark Meadows, for example, and other members of the House Freedom Caucus, how they influence the president in this direction.

But the president certainly will not be happy to hear this 25th Amendment talk coming back again. Of course, most recently, that was raised with that "New York Times" op-ed, and now it seems that at least one senior administration official is being tied to some of those efforts to bring up the 25th Amendment and the possibility of trying to remove the president from the office in that manner.

HILL: Yes, it's interesting that you bring up that op-ed, that in this "New York Times" report that dropped today, the reporters on this were very specific in writing, yes, there was this op-ed in our paper. We still don't know who that person is.

Interesting that that note is in there as we look at all this.

Shimon, Jeremy, thank you both.

Also with us now, CNN legal analysts Laura Coates and Michael Zeldin.

Michael, of course, was a special assistant to special counsel Robert Mueller at the Justice Department.

Michael, I want to start with you. Just what do you make of these allegations? Again, Rosenstein has pushed back on them. It is a fascinating read. I will give them that.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a fascinating read indeed. My first impression in reading this is, I don't credit it. Rod Rosenstein has been in the department for 30 years. He's a very cautious lawyer. This doesn't sound like words that would

come out of Rosenstein's mouth, especially so early in his tenure in the Department of Justice. I don't know what the true sourcing of this is, but as with the reporting last week about Dowd not interviewing witnesses after they testified with Mueller, which I do not believe is the case, I think he did, in fact, debrief them, I do not credit this at this moment.

I could be wrong. I often am, but it just doesn't strike me as consistent with who Rod Rosenstein is and why at this point in his tenure discussions of the 25th Amendment and wearing a wire would even be part of his contemplation.

HILL: There's also -- I just want to pick up on what you said there, because your knowledge of him both as a -- both personally and professionally, there are also these accounts in here.

[15:05:05]

There's -- and allow me to find the page here, but there is in the reporting a spokesperson, I believe it's from the Justice Department -- here we go -- "A Justice Department spokeswoman provided a statement from a person who was present when Mr. Rosenstein proposed wearing a wire. That person who would not be named acknowledged the remark, but said that it had been made sarcastically. Others said that it was not sarcastic."

Is he the kind of individual who would make that kind of comment sarcastically, hey, how about I wear a wire to go talk to the president?

ZELDIN: You know, those were difficult times, and one doesn't know what one's sense of humor, how morbid one's sense of humor could be in those times.

But as a matter of a serious proposal that somebody wear a wire to record the statements of the president of the United States and/or as a non-Cabinet official, which Rosenstein was not a Cabinet official, to start the process of the invocation of the 25th Amendment, which is something that the Cabinet and the vice president undertake, it just doesn't ring true to me.

As I said, I could be wrong. I often am, I think, but this doesn't -- there's something missing here that I just can't get my hands on yet.

HILL: Laura, look, there are other questions out there. Is this -- could this be something that the president could use to say he's got to go, he's out?

LAURA COATES, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, of course.

You think about the fact that Rod Rosenstein has always been in a very vulnerable position. Remember, he is taking the role and taking the helm because Jeff Sessions recused himself following his own involvement with the campaign, which has been a line of fire from the president of the United States toward Jeff Sessions ever since. And Rod Rosenstein has the ultimate power essentially over the special counsel's probe, because he is the main gatekeeper. He is the one where the buck stops. He is the one to allow for indictments to go through, for grand juries to be impaneled, to have subpoena power issued, et cetera.

And so the fact that he is in this position has already made him vulnerable, and the president said that it is a witch-hunt. There have also been people under Roger Stone who have implied that this particular person -- this particular witch-hunt, as they call it, is such that because there's very little oversight by Rod Rosenstein.

Well, they can't have it both ways, but certainly he remains vulnerable if the president credits the statement. And one final thing, Erica. The very last line of Rod Rosenstein's statement is really kind of a CYA statement: I have no reason to believe that he is not somebody vulnerable to the 25th Amendment. I don't believe he is somebody subject to it.

Essentially, he is holding on with both hands the fact that he knows he is vulnerable and has an important position with a looming and continuous investigation.

HILL: Well, and you bring that up. And I'm glad that you did, because the other part of that -- I'm sorry -- I have got so many papers on my desk now. I'm trying to find each one.

When we look at that statement, it's not only that he talks about there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment. He says that that is based on his personal dealings with the president. It's in the present tense. This article is making the case based on, as we were just talking about, events that happened in the wake of the Comey firing, events from over a year ago, and that it was the chaos in those moments as they were trying to hire a replacement.

So could both things be true? Could it be that there was so much chaos that perhaps there was a moment in time where Rod Rosenstein said, we have to figure this out, we should be recording this, no one is going to believe it, maybe we need to talk about something, and that the situation today could be different?

ZELDIN: Well, you know, those were chaotic times. And I am sure that there was a lot of confusion with the firing of Comey and the memos and then the statement to Lester Holt that brought everything into great turmoil.

But if you look at the events of that moment, I don't think there's anything that speaks to the president's incapacity to remain as president of the United States. Remember, the 25th Amendment is in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, where the president was truly physically incapacitated.

It just doesn't seem to me that there would be anything factually that would be a predicate for even discussing the 25th Amendment, no less getting probable cause from a judge for there to be a wire on the president of the United States. It just doesn't seem right to me that this would arise in that context.

As to the present, it is clear to me that Rosenstein and the president have created some professional relationship. He doesn't seem to be going after Rosenstein in the present day, in the present seems content at the moment with Rosenstein's oversight of Mueller. And that will remain the way it is, unless somebody does something really stupid, and that could be the firing of Rosenstein.

(CROSSTALK)

COATES: If I may, I must just say that one of the things that "The New York Times" reports is that a contemporaneous memo was drafted from Andrew McCabe about this very issue.

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps the way in which the statement if it was made is received is also in the ears of the beholder, because you think about Andrew McCabe having somebody like James Comey, who essentially was his person, the person who was ahead of him, the director of the FBI, to have been fired so -- in such a frivolous and such a disrespectful manner, you can also presume it's likely that if that statement was heard that it would have been received as if there was an ally and not in sarcasm.

[15:10:23]

So I think it's important to think about the context of who heard it and why it was written down.

HILL: Laura Coates, Michael Zeldin, thank you both.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

HILL: More on this breaking news.

Michael just touched on this, but what would it take to invoke the 25th Amendment against a sitting president, as this report suggests? Well, we're going to ask our presidential historian next.

Also:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As an altar boy, a Scout, you know, because one woman made an allegation, sorry, I don't buy it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But in the grand scheme of things, my goodness, you -- there was no intercourse. There was maybe a touch. Can we really -- 36 years later, she's still stuck on that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Why a group of Republican women CNN spoke with are standing by Brett Kavanaugh.

And, this Sunday, CNN's W. Kamau Bell takes the trip of a lifetime with Anthony Bourdain in Kenya. The final episodes of "PARTS UNKNOWN begin this Sunday at 9:00 p.m.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:16:59]

HILL: The stunning breaking news from "The New York Times," the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, discussed enlisting Cabinet members to consider invoking the 25th Amendment in order to oust President Donald Trump from office.

All of that has people asking once again, what is the 25th Amendment? How does it work? Could it even be applied here?

To help us answer some of those questions, let's turn to CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

Always good to have you with us.

So, what exactly would it take for the 25th Amendment to apply?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, we adopted the 25th Amendment in February of 1967. And the question of the 25th is related to presidential succession.

What happens if a president dies, you know, has reasons to resign instantaneously? And how do we remove somebody incompetent, unfit for command from office? There are a lot of health scares. I mean, Woodrow Wilson had a stroke. Nobody told anybody. His wife, Edith Wilson, had covered it up.

John F. Kennedy's assassination, there was concerns about it. So we got the 25th Amendment in 1967. And in this case, this is stunning. It tells you how upset Rod Rosenstein was and worried in May of 2017 that Donald Trump was unfit for command, that the firing of Comey was tied to the Russians, that the president was perhaps divulging classified information to Russia.

And so he was starting a grassroots movement, according to "The Times," in the Justice Department to remove him from office. And his first people he was trying to get on board to do this were Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then Homeland Security Chief John Kelly, and then move to Rex Tillerson and others. Eventually, Vice President Pence would have to agree that Donald Trump wasn't suitable for the White House.

HILL: And we should point out here that Rod Rosenstein in a statement has called this report inaccurate and factually incorrect. He says he does not see any basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, based on his personal dealings with the president.

Here is the other thing, though. There can be chaos in the White House. There can be chaos in the Oval Office. Is chaos enough of a reason to invoke the 25th Amendment?

BRINKLEY: No. And it's why the 25th Amendment doesn't get used. We talk about it a

lot. It is a kind of brake on brakes. It's a backup plan that we haven't executed yet in U.S. history. So, the thought was that Rod Rosenstein was that concerned about Donald Trump's erratic behavior in May of 2017.

And the really stunning revelation, which seems to me to be sourced, that he was considering wearing a wire to essentially go in and secretly tape the president of the United States -- usually, the Justice Department or FBI will do that with mafia kingpins or drug dealers. And, here, he was on the verge of doing it with Donald Trump.

The net effect of all this is to kind of play into Trump's narrative that there's a deep state, people are out to get me, you know, the witch-hunt of the Mueller investigation.

[15:20:08]

I think Rod Rosenstein needs to come public with something more than a kind of mealymouthed statement he just said. And did he ever talk about bringing a wire in? Did he really, you know, start threatening, let's get a grassroots 25th Amendment movement going or not?

HILL: Yes, the report mentioning that supposedly others are saying, he said my phone doesn't get checked when I go in. Maybe we can record it on the phone.

It would be great to hear more from him.

Always great to hear from you, Douglas Brinkley. Appreciate it. He did say in that statement, "I will not further comment on the story."

We will see if that, in fact, holds.

Still to come: the other big headline we're following at this hour. President Trump dropping his measured tone and unleashing an attack on Brett Kavanaugh's accuser. Moments ago, Republican Senator Susan Collins reacting to the president's tweets today, saying she is appalled.

So what did he say to make her say that? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:25:43]

HILL: She is considered, of course, one of the key swing votes for Brett Kavanaugh in his battle to become the next Supreme Court justice.

Now we are hearing from Republican Senator Susan Collins in reaction to President Trump's tweet earlier today.

This is where he said the following about Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford. The president tweeting: "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. I ask that she bring those filings forward so we can learn date, time and place."

Well, here is how the Republican senator from Maine just responded:

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I was appalled by the president's tweet.

First of all, we know that allegations of sexual assault -- 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 AUDIO CLIP)

HILL: CNN's Sunlen Serfaty joins us now with more.

She was not mincing words there. We know exactly how Susan Collins feels at this point.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, we know how Susan Collins feels about this tweet. She made no bones about that. And that's an important distinction here when we're listening to the words, her picking up about President Trump's tweet there, saying -- you know, the fact that she said she was appalled.

That's a very strong word, but appalled by the language and the way in which she referred to the accuser Dr. Ford over Twitter today. But certainly still outstanding is what Susan Collins' decision will potentially be when she is faced with the decision potentially to vote on Brett Kavanaugh when and if he reaches the full Senate for a vote.

And certainly we have been watching every little thing that she says very carefully. She has in the last few days said that she is in support of Dr. Ford coming before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She says it's important that they hear from her.

And, notably, at the end of last week, when it was a question whether or not -- or -- excuse me -- at the beginning of this week -- the question of whether or not she would appear -- and, of course, it still is an open question -- Susan Collins saying she does need to come up here, and if not essentially that is her chance.

So, again, just underscoring how each and every word of these potential swing vote senators are so important here -- Erica.

HILL: So true. Sunlen Serfaty with the latest for us, Sunlen, thank you.

Well, as negotiations continue this hour over a possible hearing next week involving Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, we know that all week people have noted some of the similarities here to her situation and Anita Hill hearings in 1991.

Twenty-seven years ago, Hill testified against Clarence Thomas, accusing him of sexual harassment during his nomination process. Earlier this week, Hill said her advice to Ford is to continue to listen to her attorneys.

And that brings us to our next guest, Georgetown Law Professor Emma Coleman Jordan, who was one of Anita Hill's attorneys in 1991 and helped Hill prepare for the hearing.

Professor Jordan, appreciate you joining us today.

What do you make at this point of the back and forth, based on everything that we know has been going on, as they try to nail down terms and a day for this for this -- to possibly hear from both Ford and Kavanaugh?

EMMA COLEMAN JORDAN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR ANITA HILL: Well, I think there are some things that are different, some things that are the same.

Here is what's the same. We are being inundated with frameworks that put Dr. Ford in the position of being mixed up, confused, not a reliable reporter about her own experience.

And, today, the president added to that by saying, why didn't she report it, and even bringing his parents into this.

I'm heartened by what Senator Collins said. Sexual assaults are vastly underreported. And, more importantly, 15-year-old girls have a lot of shame associated with having been the victim of such an attack.

So, the effort to manipulate --