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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Sources: Rosenstein Discussed Taping Trump, Invoking 25th Amendment; Grassley: Committee To Vote Monday If No Deal On Ford Testimony; Sources: Rosenstein Discussed Taping Trump, Invoking 25th Amendment; First Cruz Versus O'Rourke Debate Underway in Texas. Aired 7-8pm ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- storm of controversy, it airs tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. Watch it. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Out front next, breaking news. Sources say Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed wearing a wire to record conversations with President Trump and urged Cabinet members to consider invoking the 25th Amendment. So now, will Trump fire Rosenstein? We have new details on the President's thinking.

Plus, Rosenstein says the reports aren't true. Is he telling the truth? I'll ask one of his listening-time friends.

And Ted Cruz fighting for his political life tonight. We're live at his first debate with Democrat Beto O'Rourke. Let's go out front.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett. Out front tonight, breaking news. Rosenstein's job on the line. The bombshell report tonight that Rod Rosenstein wanted to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office and suggested wearing a wire on more than one occasion to secretly record the President.

A source close to the White House tonight says that could serve as a pretext for firing the Deputy Attorney General in any administration. This has the President's allies pouncing, calling for Rosenstein to be fired, from conservatives like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who tweeted that if it's true, Jeff Sessions needs to fire Rosenstein and if he won't, Donald Trump needs to fire both of them. To other Fox News personalities and the message really doesn't get any more clear than this. Now he must be fired.

And Rosenstein's boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also is said to be upset and concerned tonight after reading the reports about his number two. According to sources, Rosenstein made these suggestions in the spring of 2017 shortly after the President had fired then FBI Director James Comey and the discussions were documented, at least in part in memos, by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Those memos are now in the hands of the Special Counsel, and Robert Mueller's investigation is being overseen by Rod Rosenstein. Now Rosenstein if forcefully denying the reports. In a rare public statement, he calls the story, quote, inaccurate and factually incorrect. Jim Acosta is out front live at the White House for us. So Jim, what is the President's reaction tonight?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, it's interesting. The President has had no reaction so far. He has not spoken to reporters, reporters were asking those questions as he landed in Missouri for a rally later on this evening, and that rally could happen any moment now. And given the fact that the President has been going down this rabbit hole of late to complaining about a conspiracy against him, complaining about a deep state, you would think that this Rod Rosenstein story would fit neatly into that narrative, but the President has not taken advantage of that, his sources or his officials, top officials here at the White House have not taken advantage of that.

But I will tell you that sources close to this White House have told me, Kate, that they feel at this point that this Rod Rosenstein story is essentially a pretext for the President, if he wanted to, to fire Rod Rosenstein. In the words of one source close to the White House, this would be the case in any administration, when you have a Deputy Attorney General going around talking about whether it's sarcastically or not, about wearing a wire and secretly recording the President or going around and recruiting people to invoke the 25th Amendment and have the President remove from office, that that would justify firing a Deputy Attorney General in any case.

But yet, at this hour, we have not heard any hyperbolic statements from the President, have not seen any hyperbolic tweets from the President. But as you said just a few moments ago, Kate, the President does often look to what is taking place in conservative media, and many of his allies in conservative media are saying at this point, Mr. President, fire Rod Rosenstein. And at this point, we're waiting to see what the White House does next.

I talked to a White House official earlier this evening, Kate, who said that this story did not come as a surprise to the White House. That they knew of this story at least as of yesterday, and they're plotting their response to all of this right now. But Kate, I find it to be very interesting at this hour that the President has not weighed in on all of this.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

ACOSTA: And I did talked to a source close to the White House earlier this evening who said -- and I thought this was very interesting, Kate, that the President -- and people here at the White House they hate, they do not like this narrative of the 25th Amendment, this thing that was talked about, obviously, in the Bob Woodward book, this notion that officials can go around and conspire behind the President, having removed office that they just hate that narrative inside the White House. So the possibility, I suppose, exists that the reason why the White House, the President have not weighed in on all this is they don't want to feed into that narrative.

And of course, Kate, at this hour, as you know, they are very much interested in trying to get Brett Kavanaugh through Supreme Court nomination process and the President is going up to the United Nations general assembly next week. So their plate is awfully full. But I think it is quite fascinating tonight that the President and his team have not weighed in on this officially in any form to these explosive allegations that first came out in The New York Times earlier today, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And that they've had time to prepare for this.

ACOSTA: They certainly have. That's right.

BOLDUAN: So that -- and there hasn't been a response yet. It's fascinating. Great to see you, Jim. Thank you so much.

ACOSTA: You bet.

[19:05:05] BOLDUAN: Out front with me now, Frank Bruni, New York Times columnist, Harry Sandick is here, he's a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and CNN's Justice Department Correspondent Laura Jarrett. It's great to see all of you. So, Frank, I don't know, what does your gut tell you in this when you read all of the details that are coming out reported in the stories? Is this all headed to the eventual conclusion you think of Rosenstein getting fired?

FRANK BRUNI, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: I think it probably is and I think in this case, if you read the story, Rosenstein's actions sound so erratic and so undermining that I think even Trump's fiercest critics would not take issue with his being fired. But there's one wrinkle here that people aren't talking about. This is a story based on anonymous sources, right? This is the kind of story that the White House is constantly telling America is fake news. So if they act on this and say this is grounds for firing him, aren't they admitting that what we report, what CNN reports, what the New York Times report, is true?

BOLDUAN: That's a fascinating. First, I say, let us see what the President says and then we will have -- and you're already jumping ahead. Laura, let me ask you this. Rod Rosenstein is, of course, in charge of overseeing the Russia investigation because Sessions recused himself. What would happen if he was gone? What would that mean for the Mueller investigation?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: So, the important thing to recognize is even if Rod is out tonight, the Mueller investigation doesn't go away. It doesn't mean it all just suddenly just closes up shop. There is a quite lengthy line of succession over here at the Justice Department for what would happen if for whatever reason Rosenstein either is fired or resigns, then the DOJ line of succession calls for the Solicitor General, Noel Francisco, to step in his shoes and oversee as the acting attorney general. Because, of course, as you mentioned, Kate, the only reason that Rosenstein is overseeing the Mueller probe is because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from all things related to the 2016 campaign.

So, if for whatever reason Rosenstein was to step aside or is out, then Francisco becomes the next in line. Now that doesn't mean the President couldn't, you know, for whatever reason, install an acting deputy attorney general that he wants of his choosing. He's allowed to do that under the vacancies act. He can do that with anyone who's Senate confirmed if he wants. But there is someone here in place, you know, if for whatever reason the President was just to let the line of succession take place. But I should mention, we're getting way ahead of ourselves her here, you know.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

JARRETT: We have no indication that he is going anywhere but there is a plan in place and it would not require or would not, rather, I should say, mean that Mueller is going anywhere.

BOLDUAN: Harry, this -- just to put a fine point on it, this did not, according to these reports, this does not go beyond words. This was talk. This was suggestion of. This was not action on. But if true, do you think this is grounds for firing the Deputy Attorney General?

HARRY SANDICK, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I think it probably is something, as Frank was saying, that if your attorney general proposes this seriously, I think it is -- or your deputy attorney general proposes seriously wearing a wire to meet with the President to try to take him out of office, I think most presidents would feel comfortable replacing that person. I also think, though, from the context and from what we know about the Deputy Attorney General, if the words were said, it seems more likely they were said in some sort of sarcastic or exasperated way rather than as a serious plan to actually wire up and go in and do this. And what happens is if these were recorded in a memo by acting Director McCabe, he's not going to write down the tone in which they were said, he's probably just going to write down the words that were said.

BOLDUAN: Well, maybe he should, because the context here might be important.

SANDICK: I think that's right, and it's sort of like reading e-mail. You know, sometimes you don't know the tone of the person who's writing the words.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BRUNI: And I think something like that could be going on here.

BOLDUAN: Because Frank, I just don't want this to get lost in this moment. How extraordinary that would be --

BRUNI: Yes.

BOLDUAN: -- if the Deputy Attorney General of the United States was seriously having a conversation about himself wearing a wire or talking to others to wear a wire to record the President of the United States.

BRUNI: And talking about going around and seeing how much interest there was in the 25th Amendment and mentioning, we haven't said, according to the story, he's telling people, I think I can get Jeff Sessions on board, I think I can get John Kelly who was then --

BOLDUAN: Who was then --

BRUNI: Yes.

BOLDUAN: The head of the Homeland Security.

BRUNI: But, I mean, I keep wondering -- so we know that Trump has read this story, we know they're talking about it. What is this doing to his tender psyche? You know what I mean? This is coming fast on the heels of fear, it's coming fast on the heels of the anonymous op- ed in my newspaper.

Saturday morning is prime real estate for a Trump tweet storm. I feel like we should keep our eyes glued to the President's Twitter account tomorrow morning.

BOLDUAN: Or shield them depending on how you're feeling at the moment. Laura, this all happened, if we're talking about the context, this all happened right after the President had fired James Comey, which this all occurred two weeks after Rosenstein started on the job.

[19:10:09] What do you know about Rosenstein's mindset around that time because that seems to be part of this conversation now?

JARRETT: I think that's a key point there. It was a frantic time for everyone, especially the Deputy Attorney General. He had only been on the job for a couple of weeks. He gets thrust into the middle of this, because, of course, we all remember he writes this sort of cryptic memo about how James Comey botched the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, which at least initially Trump used as the justification for why he has to get rid of him. He then later backtracks on all of that but at least Rod's memo had become the pretext, and then everything is sort of thrown into a tail spin and you know, the Deputy -- former Deputy at the FBI, Andrew McCabe, was extremely close to James Comey, so it's worth remembering.

You know, his friend, his boss, the head of this agency has just been fired. Everyone is sort of reeling from it. You can really pick up on it in a text messages between former officials at the FBI, Paige and Strzok at the time. You get a sense that everyone over there really did admire James Comey. And so everyone is sort of dealing with the fallout of this.

And then meanwhile, Rod is having meetings with somebody that he doesn't know that well, and so McCabe has documented these conversations in his contemporaneous notes. And as one source, you know, told me, like, McCabe has no reason to lie about this, but then other people push back and say, you know, he is under investigation for lying to investigators, and so is he really a reliable narrater and perhaps, you know, we'll have these divergent tales at the end of the day. But it leaves the deputy Attorney General in a really tough spot to have someone have contemporaneous notes with him talking about wearing a wire on the President of the United States.

BOLDUAN: And lands all in the middle of just -- as you describe it, just the middle of another mess, a mess of credibility, yet again. Harry, McCabe's memos, as we're talking about, they're in the hands of the Bob Mueller team right now. What do they do with all that?

SANDICK: I think that it is relevant, perhaps broadly, to the obstruction investigation that's being conducted. What was the fallout from the firing of Comey? How did people react to it? Both the President and his team and others within the administration.

And so, even if these words were not said in earnest, but were said sarcastically, the very idea that the Deputy Attorney General is talking like this, it's not normal. It's not a usual thing to happen in an administration. And so I do think it's of some interest, anyway, to the Mueller team as they look at whether the Comey firing was obstructive or something else.

BOLDUAN: And how did all these come out in the first place, other than intrepid reporting. Great to see you guys. Thank you so much.

Out front next, Rosenstein denies the report, but is he telling the truth? His long-time friend and former DOJ official is out front.

Plus, Secretary Ben Carson has a wild theory about what's behind the allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. You'll have to hear it to believe it.

And Ted Cruz in a dog fight for his Texas Senate seat, debating his Democratic challenger right now. We're going to take you live to that debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:16:48] BOLDUAN: The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, warning the President tonight against firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, sending out this statement, saying this, "This New York Times report must not be used as a pretext for the corrupt purpose of firing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in order to install an official who will allow the President to interfere with the Special Counsel's investigation."

This after The New York Times first reported that Rosenstein discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office back in 2017. Rosenstein also considered wearing a wire, according to the report, to secretly record conversations with the President in the aftermath of firing then FBI Director James Comey. Rosenstein tonight calling the report inaccurate and factually incorrect.

Out front now, Democratic Congresswoman of California, Jackie Speier. She sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Congresswoman, thanks for coming in.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you for the invitation, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Of course. So we know that the President has considered firing Rosenstein in the past, but with this news tonight, do you think Rosenstein is going to be fired? SPEIER: Well, it certainly gives the President the excuse to fire him, but I think it's really important for all of us to remember who the Attorney General is responsible to. The Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, is responsible to the American people and the Constitution of the United States. He is not the private attorney of Donald Trump. And the President can't get that through his head. A lot of people have been talking about invoking the 25th Amendment. It doesn't surprise me that Rod Rosenstein had been in conversations about whether or not it should be invoked, but again, it has to be invoked by the Cabinet.

BOLDUAN: It doesn't surprise you? That the Deputy Attorney General of the United States is floating this?

SPEIER: Well, it doesn't surprise me because their allegiance is to the American people and the Constitution. The chaos in this administration, the lack of normalcy in the President's interactions with everyone is not right. It is not how we should be operating as the United States of America. And so, it doesn't surprise me. Anonymous, whoever anonymous is, has referenced that there was a Cabinet discussion about this, so it's been going on for some time, I'm sure.

BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, but the actions that we're learning of tonight, talking about secretly recording the President, and also talking about invoking, as we're talking, the 25th Amendment to remove the President from office, are those actions grounds for firing?

SPEIER: Again, grounds for firing would be if he was violating the law. And I don't think that you can make the case that Rod Rosenstein is violating the law. In conversations with people about whether or not the President is showing a incapacity to do the job, is looking out for the American people.

BOLDUAN: But doesn't he serve at the pleasure of the President? The President has the power to hire and fire in that position.

SPEIER: Well, certainly the President does, but under the circumstances, where the President of the United States is under investigation by the Special Counsel, who has been appointed by Rod Rosenstein, I think it changes the dynamic.

[19:20:08] BOLDUAN: If Rosenstein goes, do you think that that means the end of the Mueller investigation?

SPEIER: I think that the end of the Mueller investigation will come when Mr. Mueller has finally made a report to the Congress to the United States. If the President does anything, anything at all, to tamper with that investigation, I believe that will be grounds for impeachment.

BOLDUAN: Do you think firing Rosenstein is, in your view, tampering with the investigation?

SPEIER: That, in and of itself, is not.

BOLDUAN: OK.

SPEIER: But if he tries to shut down the investigation, it clearly would be.

BOLDUAN: Between this and, as you mentioned, the anonymous op-ed from the senior administration official that they were laying out how there were people working on the inside of the administration, working against the President's agenda, are Trump supporters right to be concerned that there's a deep state working against them?

SPEIER: I think his base is very impressed by whatever Donald Trump says, and he has been very effective at holding on to that base. Now, when he starts calling the Attorney General dumb, a dumb southerner, I think that's going to start eroding his base. Again, the President does not act normally in engaging with his Cabinet and with others, both in the Congress and in the media and he is trying to divide our country. And I think what's happening is the independents that vote for him have absolutely walked away from him. And his support is declining. There's no question about it.

BOLDUAN: And that is one thing to be tested in the midterms coming up very, very soon. Many other topics to discuss with you tonight, but thank you for coming on, Congresswoman, to discuss this breaking news. I really appreciate it.

SPEIER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Out front next, breaking news, the Republicans giving Brett Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, an ultimatum, agree tonight to testify or the committee votes on Kavanaugh's nomination on Monday.

And some Rosenstein associates say that he was just kidding about the potential of wearing a wire to tape the President. Is he the joking type? I'll speak with Rosenstein's long-time friend.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:26:22] BOLDUAN: Looking at live pictures right now out of Missouri, President Trump about to speak at a campaign rally there, but which Trump will be showing up? The President, who surprised his own aides for being restrained in his comments about Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh's accuser or the President who tweeted this today. "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."

And then there was this breaking news right now in Capitol Hill. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley warning there will be a vote Monday on Kavanaugh if there is no deal by tonight for Ford to testify.

Sunlen Serfaty is out front on Capitol Hill. So, Sunlen, it looks like the ball is now back in Ford's court. What's happening? SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the ball is certainly right now in Dr. Ford's court, but it certainly will not be for much longer. She has just under three hours to make her decisions and let the committee know of her decisions, what she intends to do. You'll recall that about midday today, the Chairman of the Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, submitted the plan to Dr. Ford's legal team outlining the terms of a potential testimony up here on Capitol Hill. When it would happen, potentially what it would look like, who would testify, who would be the questioners there, all of those details, all of those logistics, of course, so important and where so many sticking points truly remain.

But tonight, really, Chairman Grassley making it known that this is a hard deadline. He first had a 5:00 p.m. deadline. That was not reached. He then set a 10:00 p.m. deadline. That is the offer on the table and sources tell me here tonight, Kate, that that is the final offer. Make this deadline or he is saying that he will push towards a vote on Kavanaugh on Monday of next week. So this is essentially the Chairman of the Committee escalating the pressure, ramping up the pressure, essentially this is going to happen or not, Grassley intends to find out tonight. So a lot potentially could unfold over the next few hours and we'll see if her legal team accepts the terms. So many sticking points potentially still remain.

BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely. All right, Sunlen, thanks so much.

Out front with me now, Steve Cortes, a member of President Trump's 2020 reelect Advisory Council. And Symone Sanders, former National Press Secretary for Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign. It's great to see you both.

So, Steve, I want to get back to the President's comments today as we watch and wait for him to speak tonight, to hear what he has to say. I mean, everyone was patting the President on the back for his restraint as this story was coming out. That's no longer the case. I mean, he took on Christine Blasey Ford directly. What changed for the President?

STEVE CORTES, MEMBER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP'S 2020 RE-ELECT ADVISORY COUNCIL: Right. You know, I don't know, frankly, what changed. I think that the tweet -- I would not have sent that tweet out. I don't think it's helpful to the process at this point. But I do also, having said that, I also understand his frustration and my guess, I have not talked to him or the White House today, but my guess is what changed is his frustration level grew, which I understand, because I think far too many people, far too many Democratic senators, people like Senator Gillibrand, far too many people in mainstream media have thrown out the principle of the presumption of innocence for the accused and that is a bedrock principle of American justice. And there's a reason for that, by the way, it's not just to be nice to the accused. It's because it's difficult if not possible for the accused to prove that they did not do something.

So the onus is always on the accuser, the prosecutor in our system. But we seem to have forgotten that when it comes to Kennedy -- or excuse me, to Kavanaugh. And so I think, look, we have to come to terms with the fact that it's very likely, we will never know what happened or didn't happen almost 40 years ago.

[19:30:01] Given that, all we can rely on, really, in terms of Brett Kavanaugh is what has his adult life been like and nothing in his adult life indicates he's the kind of person to perpetrate these kinds of crimes.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: OK, Kate, just a few things. First, just a few, if I may. First and foremost, the president was absolutely despicable for the tweet that he sent today, because Brett Kavanaugh has the whole brunt force of the White House behind him. He has this entire time. Everyone has known it.

It's given Dr. Ford an un -- she has been treated, in my opinion, unfairly but what he did today was just inexcusable. He exhibited no compassion, no understanding, if you will, of what someone goes through who has been sexually assaulted, who has been abused. He's just despicable. So that's first and foremost.

Secondly, there is a way for us to know what happened, that what happened that fateful night that Dr. Ford is talking about. How about an FBI investigation? But the White House has declined to ask for one.

There is a way for us to get some folks -- some additional testimony. How about holding a hearing with additional folks such as the therapist or Mark Judge, whom Dr. Ford named in the room, a third person, that Dr. Ford named in the room, putting those folks under oath? But the Republicans are declining to do that so this has been an unfair process but what the president did today was just the cherry on top of a very despicable and dare I say deplorable cake today, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: One thing about kind of -- we all look for patterns and trends, right, Steve, so this is far from the first time that we've seen President Trump or Donald Trump before he was president take the side of the accused and attack the accuser, not just waiting for it to play out. I mean, he's done it for years from Roger Ailes to Roy Moore to Mike Tyson to accusations against himself. Of course, he's going to defend himself but going after and attacking the accuser.

CORTES: Right.

BOLDUAN: Just listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's very sad, because he's a very good person. I've always found him to be just a very, very good person.

He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen, and you know, you have to listen to him also.

These people are horrible people. They are horrible, horrible liars. Mike Tyson, in my opinion, should really be given another break. I

mean, they put him in jail before he was even guilty as far as I was concerned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: He was guilty of rape. Steve, this looks like a pattern, and not a very good one. Not a good one at all.

CORTES: Well, the tape you showed, Kate, would indicate a pattern. However, you left out something very, very significant and much more relevant to politics, which is the case of Bill Clinton where he absolutely believed those accusers and why did he believe those accusers?

Because unlike Brett Kavanaugh, who has led an impeccable life of public service, of devotion to his family, Bill Clinton has led a life as a sexual predator who exploits and abuses women. So, those accusations are far more believable.

Now, we still don't know that they're true, just as we don't know these accusations from Ms. Ford are true, but they're much more believable, given the pattern of Bill Clinton's life than the Brett Kavanaugh pattern of, again, scholarship, service, church, volunteering, family.

SANDERS: I'd really like to say something. First, I believe Dr. Ford. Secondly, Brett Kavanaugh could have been a Boy Scout for all we know. He could lead an Eagle Scout troop. He could visit elderly people every damn day of his life, bringing them cookies and everything else they need and he could still have done this.

The fact that he's led a, quote, unquote, impeccable life, the fact that he's promoted women has nothing to do with the conduct that Dr. Ford says he exhibited 35 years ago. And I think that's important to note. People can be good people and still do bad things.

CORTES: Sure, I agree.

SANDERS: People can be -- so, that is the -- but no, you're making the case that because Brett Kavanaugh is a good guy, quote/unquote, that he couldn't possibly have done that and that's what's dangerous.

CORTES: No, no, it's much more important than that.

SANDERS: Dr. Ford has no reason to come forward to lie.

CORTES: No.

SANDERS: She has been lambasted as a liar throughout the media. There have been members of Congress on and off the record on social media, in the newspapers that have called her everything under the sun, that have asserted she's mixed up.

CORTES: Yes.

SANDERS: She has no incentive to come forward except to tell the truth.

BOLDUAN: Just a small point of fact. We will remember in the distant past that Trump did defend Bill Clinton in '98 before he believed the accusers in 2016. But continue.

SANDERS: That's all I'm saying here. My only point is that we cannot continue to try to make Brett Kavanaugh out as though he's some martyr when we -- it's just not okay to say things such as he has great character.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: What I'm saying is, in the absence of evidence, and there is no evidence here, there is neither exculpatory evidence --

SANDERS: Because the FBI has not investigated. That's why there's no evidence.

CORTES: No, nor is there incriminating evidence.

SANDERS: There is. We have notes from her therapist.

[19:35:00] CORTES: The only witness -- the only witness says it didn't happen.

SANDERS: And he didn't say it under oath and is refusing to do so.

CORTES: Yes, under the penalty of perjury, he did, to the committee. So because of the fact --

SANDERS: He's lied before.

CORTES: There's literally a complete void of evidence. All we have to go on is what we can make of the pattern of a person's life, and I'm just providing the contrast of Bill Clinton's life leads you to easily believe that he abused and exploited and assaulted women.

SANDERS: There's craziness.

CORTES: Brett Kavanaugh's life --

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: The last thing I want to say about that on this point is that folks are -- the last thing I want to say on that point is that you know what? The Catholic Church is currently going through a reckoning because many folks, now some 20, 30, maybe even 40 years later have come forward saying, someone touched them, something happened to them when they were altar boy or altar girl and no one -- not -- I don't want to say no one, but the overwhelming majority of folks are taking those accusations as credible accusations, and the Catholic Church is being investigated and they are going through a reckoning and these now adults in this situation, once young boys and young girls are receiving justice. Where is that same compassion for Dr. Ford?

BOLDUAN: Well? Depending on what side you stand on right now, because there are a lot of -- unfortunately --

CORTES: They're completely apples and --

BOLDUAN: -- what we're looking at, one of the answers is, is because this is thrown into a horrible political tornado. That's the only way I can think of it and that's what this comes from.

Great to see you guys. Thanks so much.

Much more to come, especially to find out will there be a vote or will she be testifying? That, we will still find out later tonight.

OUTFRONT for us next, Rod Rosenstein forcefully denying the reports tonight. Is he telling the truth? I'll ask one of his long-time friends.

And we're live at one of the most highly anticipated debates this year, Ted Cruz versus Beto O'Rourke.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:40:16] BOLDUAN: We're continuing to follow the breaking news and the extraordinary new claims that the man overseeing the Russia investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, discussed secretly recording the president and recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.

Former DOJ officials are coming to Rosenstein's defense tonight, one telling CNN: When we were in a tense meeting, he's able to dial down the tension with a well-timed joke.

But is the straight-laced deputy attorney general even the joking type?

OUTFRONT now, James Trusty. He's a former chief of the organized crime section for the Department of Justice. He's also a long-time friend of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Mr. Trusty, thanks for coming in.

JAMES TRUSTY, LONGTIME FRIEND OF ROD ROSENSTEIN: Sure.

BOLDUAN: So, do you believe this reporting, that Rosenstein wanted to get others to invoke the 25th Amendment and also wanted to record conversations with the president?

TRUSTY: No. I'm trying to think of the suitable phrase or word for television, but I guess we'll go with garbage, although I'm kind of worried that's an insult to garbage. It's ridiculous. I don't think any of this stuff happened.

BOLDUAN: Tell me why -- based on what you -- based on the Rod Rosenstein you know, why you think it's garbage.

TRUSTY: Right. Well, let me just say, the first part, in terms of talking about wearing a wiretap to talk to the president, you know, I don't buy it. Maybe as kind of a sarcastic putdown to somebody who was suggesting it.

But the second part is just absurd. This is a constitutional scholar, a long-time prosecutor, a smart guy. He is not thinking the 25th Amendment applies when you just don't like the president. He knows very well that the 25th Amendment is designed to have a situation where you can relieve the presidency when the president is truly incapacitated. I'm talking, like, comatose.

And so, there's just not even a moment's chance that Rod Rosenstein would sit there and contemplate this, you know, bloodless coup of using the 25th Amendment to get rid of a sitting president. It's just not even conceivable.

BOLDUAN: It's interesting, though, because "The New York Times" offered some real detail on the 25th Amendment talk. At one point, putting it this way, he, Rosenstein, did tell Mr. McCabe, Andrew McCabe, that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security, and now the White House chief of staff, to mount an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment.

And also, some of the conversations were detailed in McCabe's memos that have been turned over to the special counsel. I mean, do you think McCabe and others made this up?

TRUSTY: Well, McCabe has had the inspector general find that he lied on four occasions, including lying about what he said during the last lie. This is not a guy who has instant credibility, in my book. And so honestly, I think there's some room for confusion, misunderstanding who said what, where the sarcasm lies.

But, you know, we've got a guy who's got a track record of lying as the inspector general found, who's in the market for selling a book, and you've got "The New York Times" taking his story as gospel. I just -- I just don't buy it. I just don't think, you know, that book should be in the fiction section, not the nonfiction.

BOLDUAN: Do you have any, I don't know, awareness of any, I don't know a better way to say this, beef between Rod Rosenstein and Andrew McCabe?

TRUSTY: No. Although you do have a high-placed official within the FBI who was fired from his job and is facing the potential for a federal prosecution with the D.C. grand jury proceedings. I'm not privy to the inner circle of how they all communicated during that transition from McCabe's position as a number two in the FBI to somebody who's selling books and in a bad spot.

But there's certainly room for that, and again, I don't -- I don't pretend to know the full story of who would be trying to put a knife in Rod's back but I think there's plenty of people who would have a motive to do that.

BOLDUAN: Well, and that actually was something I wanted to ask you. If you're right and this is not true, then someone is really out to get him. Do you think he's being set up? TRUSTY: Well, look, there's only a couple of scenarios that make

sense. One is just kind of mistake and it doesn't come off as a mistaken report. The other is just media bias, and I know it's a shock, but sometimes "The New York Times" doesn't get it right.

But the other version is that somebody reported it in kind of a credible fashion or intended to report it in a credible fashion to get at Rod. And frankly, he's been under the crosshairs of a lot of folks. You know, and you can kind of fill in which political party you want, but the bottom line is, he's been in a very high-profile, controversial position. He's drawn criticism from all quarters, some because they think he's not moving fast enough, others because they think he's too secretive.

I chalk it up to a guy who's a professional prosecutor that doesn't leak his business all over Washington.

BOLDUAN: You've known him a long time. He issued a rare public statement, denying these claims. What do you think his reaction is to this tonight?

[19:45:02] TRUSTY: Oh, you know, I don't know. I know what I would do. I'd be a menace and my family would say, please don't come home tonight, you're way too angry.

But I've known Rod for 18 years. He's a very measured guy. He's very calm guy. Even that aspect of the report rings false, that he was in some sort of a panicky, jittery state after Comey was fired. That's not the way this guy operates.

And so, I suspect, to his credit, he probably goes home and values his family time and doesn't spend a whole lot of time letting it distract him.

BOLDUAN: Do you think, though, your friend's going to lose his job over this?

TRUSTY: I don't know. I sure, you know, look, let me just also tell you, I've been friends with rod for about 18 years, I do respect him and like him. But as he'll be the first to tell you, I don't just automatically say what he wants people to say. I've been criticized by him for being too harsh on the department that I worked at for 17 years.

So I don't say any of this lightly and I don't think it's a matter of me being biased by friendship. I hope he doesn't get fired because I think it's a very disruptive and a bad moment, politically, for this country to go through. But you know, he's very fatalistic about it. He's going to take it in stride no matter what happens and I hope he continues to do what he's done for so many years as a very professional, objective, talented prosecutor.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Trusty, thanks for coming in. Interesting conversation.

TRUSTY: Sure. Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I appreciate it.

OUTFRONT for us next, Ted Cruz, Beto O'Rourke, their first debate happening right now. The race now considered a toss-up, yes, in Texas. How did that happen in the red state of Texas?

And President Trump has hailed the government's response to Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico as an unsung success. Others call it a failure. What really happened there?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Breaking news. We're going to show you live pictures out of Texas in just a moment.

The Republican Senator Ted Cruz debating Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke in the first face-to-face matchup and one of the most closely watched races this year. The fireworks already on display tonight during this exchange about police and race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: The police are risking their lives to protect all of us, to protect African-Americans, to protect Hispanics.

[19:50:02] And turning people against the police I think is profoundly irresponsible.

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS: This is why people don't like Washington, D.C. You just said something I did not say and attributed it to me.

CRUZ: What did you not say? What did you not say?

O'ROURKE: I'm not going to repeat -- I'm not going to repeat the slander and mischaracterization.

CRUZ: You're not going to repeat what you did say?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Jeez. Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT for us now.

Ed, Cruz is truly fighting what could be the toughest battle of his political career. I mean, "Cook Political Report" moved the race to, again, reliably red Texas, to tossup. What's going on down there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's the question everyone here in Texas political circles is wondering, too, just whether or not the candidacy and the campaign of El Paso Congressman Democrat O'Rourke is the real deal here in Texas. You know, many people here in this state well versed on almost 25 years of Democratic talk that they would win back some sort of statewide race. A Democrat hasn't been elected here statewide in roughly 25 years, but there is an intense amount of buzz around Senator O'Rourke. He's turning out massive crowds in the most unlikely of places. A number of polls have had him within striking distance. Although,

Kate, the latest poll this week showed Ted Cruz up nine points. But many people, you know, really interesting to see about whether or not on election day, this campaign is the real deal.

BOLDUAN: I just want to note, I think that's rain. I thought that was a fountain going on behind you, Ed. That's rain happening around you. That is amazing.

But really quickly, of course, as you mentioned, Texas hasn't elected a Democratic senator since '88. Everyone wonders, is it still a pipe dream for Democrats? I mean, is Beto landing any punches? Ted Cruz is known for his debating abilities.

LAVANDERA: Look, both men -- I've interviewed both men in the last few weeks. I was kind of joking they're both extremely long-winded, very good at public speaking. So, I thought in an hour-long debate, you know, they may be able to get off two questions, but they're both very strong on the debate. They've been going back and forth over a number of issues, and what is really interesting to see here in this O'Rourke campaign is how much money he has raised.

He has actually outraised Ted Cruz in fund-raising by I think all cash on hand, roughly $4 million more left to spend here in the final weeks of this campaign. So, that makes all of this extremely interesting. And it's a race that many people are paying attention to because no one really expected to have the pay attention to this race, and that's what's raising so many eyebrows here in Texas.

BOLDUAN: Yes, money means a whole lot in politic. Let's see what it means in the Senate race.

Great to see you, Ed. Thank you.

OUTFRONT for us next, hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico one year after Maria devastated the island, thousands remain in homes without roof and without reliable power. How is that possible?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:55:15] BOLDUAN: One year ago this week, Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, becoming one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. The monster devastated the island, plunging its more than 3 million residents into a now year-long nightmare. The estimated deaths from the storm, 2,975 people.

Tonight, CNN's Leyla Santiago and Bill Weir take us there for an in- depth look of the tragic aftermath of Maria and the federal government's response.

"Storm of Controversy: What Really Happened in Puerto Rico" premieres tonight. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success. Texas, we have been given A-pluses for. Florida, we've been given A-pluses for. I think certainly the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody understands that. I mean, it's harder to understand.

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What is even harder to understand is how the president could say such a thing on the very same day we discovered this staggering example of failure and waste.

(on camera): How do you explain the millions of bottles of water we found sitting on a runway down in Ceiba?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Bill and Leyla are joining me right now.

Bill, let's just start with what -- what I've seen of this is a really important special you guys have. But with those millions of bottles, what is the response you're getting from FEMA? Is this a tip of the iceberg of response?

WEIR: Yes, it's all about -- you know, it's all about timing. It's one thing to say you have a kitchen full of food when you have ten guests coming over. It's another thing to get it all on the table at the same time.

And what they learned, what the general inspector found, they flooded the town too late. They heard about the cry, they heard 3 million people running out of food and water, and so, they jammed it in there. But, and then now, they can say it's the biggest response in history, but it came too late and match the result right there.

So, less important to the probably $20 million worth of water that's wasted is how many lives they could have saved because due to Leyla's dogged reporting, suing the government of Puerto Rico, they found -- we discovered an outbreak of this water-borne illness as a result of people not having fresh water. And so, just an example of how human nature takes mother nature and makes it tragic.

BOLDUAN: And, Leyla, you were there before, during and after for like 100 days last year.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A hundred seventy-seven days.

BOLDUAN: I'd like to make sure we're right.

In Puerto Rico, tracking the recovery has been slow and progress that has been made. Where is it in terms of its recovery?

SANTIAGO: It depends on where you go. It really depends on where you go.

When we were in San Juan, I actually had a conversation with one of the hotel managers, actually where I was standing right there. He said, please tell them to come. Tell them to come.

They want the tourists.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

SANTIAGO: They're ready for the tourism. They need tourists. Power is going, food is going. It's great.

But you just step outside of San Juan and it's a different reality. I actually just got off the phone with the widow of the gentleman that's actually featured in the documentary as well. And she said, you know, as I've been looking over photos, I'm seeing things for the first time, because that's how bad it was. They didn't have communication. They didn't have power.

They're reliving this asking the same questions we are, what the heck happened? How do we keep this from happening again? But there are two different realities on that island. You've got to think of that island like two different islands.

BOLDUAN: It's called "Storm of Controversy." Why was there so much controversy? Why was it so hard for everyone to get on the same page?

WEIR: You know, I think there's a couple of things. Those water bottles you showed, when I put it on twitter, it was a real Rorschach test. People either immediately blamed the lazy Puerto Ricans, entitled, waiting for somebody to come and deliver that water, or they blamed the inept government. And ultimately, FEMA owned it, but it's telling we're so divided in this.

And also, the unfortunate truth is that a lot of people don't think of these people as full Americans, even though they've been dying in our wars for a hundred years and they make our medicines for generations. If you have ever taken Viagra, hug a Puerto Rican because they made the most of it right there for a long time.

So, but do they need to get a star on their own start on the flag, they get treated the same as folks in Texas and Florida who got much help much faster?

BOLDUAN: Real quick, before we go, do people of Puerto Rico feel forgotten?

SANTIAGO: Yes, they feel forgotten. But to Bill's point, I asked every single person, I said, do you feel like a U.S. citizen? I thought that was an important thing. They said, yes, they do, but they feel in this natural disaster and the aftermath of it, they were U.S. citizens who were forgotten.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it's an important conversation and really, really important reporting. Thanks you guys. It's great to see you here. It's great to see your reporting from there.

You can watch that special tonight. Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts right now.