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Dems Demand Halt to Kavanaugh Hearing Amid New Accusation; Lindsey Graham: "Not Going to Ruin Kavanaugh Over Ford's Accusation; Trump to Hold Second Summit with Kim; GOP Allies Urge Trump not to Fire Rosenstein Ahead of Midterms; Bill Cosby Sentencing Begins as He Faces Up to 30 Years for Assault. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 24, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:03] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.


Just moments ago President Trump addressed the latest upheaval in the already turbulent Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a second allegation now of sexual misconduct. The president spoke on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session underway this way in New York.

Have a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is a fine man with an unblemished past and these are highly unsubstantiated statements from people represented by lawyers. We should look into the lawyers doing the representation. Judge Kavanaugh is an outstanding person and I am with him all the way. We'll see how it goes with the Senate. We'll see how it goes with the vote.

I think it could be -- there's a chance that this could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything but I am with Judge Kavanaugh and I look forward to a vote. And for people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and 30 years ago and never mention it, all of a sudden it happens, in my opinion, it's totally political. It was political.


SCIUTTO: The president there calling those allegations totally political.

Let's get right to CNN's Abby Philip at U.N. headquarters.

Abby, for days the president had held his tongue. We saw that change the end of last week. And with developments over the weekend now, the president here clearly doubling down on his Supreme Court nominee.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jim and Poppy. It seems that the president is now fully going at this issue in the way that he would like to. Over the weekend, he was briefed on some of these new allegations regarding Brett Kavanaugh, according to his aides, but they also say that the president is still standing by his nominee, that he has no plans to withdraw Kavanaugh's allegation.

And, as you pointed out, on Friday the president sent out a series of tweets, criticizing Kavanaugh's first accuser Christine Blasey-Ford, suggesting that she should have gone to the FBI earlier to deal with some of these allegations 36 years ago. Those tweets prompted Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to call the president and warn him, they are not helpful in this effort to confirm Kavanaugh.

But clearly the president is leaning in on his nominee. He has long been a skeptic of these Me Too allegations that have, frankly, embroiled him and many people around him. And what you're hearing there in that clip is the president expressing some of that skepticism.

Now earlier this morning, the second allegation that emerged last night in that "New Yorker" piece, Ronan Farrow, one of the two authors in that piece, explained some of key details, some questions about whether or not this woman's new allegations were corroborated by anyone that she knew at that time or who might have been present at the party. And here is what he had to say about that.


RONAN FARROW, THE NEW YORKER: There is a strong evidentiary basis. Her claim is corroborated, as you said, to an extent that is not always possible by people who did not know her, have not interacted with her and yet independently recounted the same fact pattern. Some of those people are on the record in this story so I point you to the piece.

The other reason is I think the same reason that she decided to speak, John, which is this is a story that is out there on the Hill. It is being investigated. It is a matter of news, whether she tells her own version of this story or not.


PHILLIP: And, Jim and Poppy, we are already starting to hear from White House aides, questioning whether there are people corroborating this story. So I think what Ronan had to say there is pretty important. You're going to hear from the White House this week that there are not enough people who corroborate that this event happened. They're calling into question this entire series of accusations against Kavanaugh.

Yesterday, we saw Kavanaugh put out a statement, calling this a smear campaign against him. So clearly here the White House is trying to change the thrust of the story, making it less about the accusations and more about what they consider to be a coordinated campaign to bring down their nominee. By Thursday, we will have a hearing, including Ford where she testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. So clearly this issue not going away at all -- Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: That is the plan for now, although the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein, has said delay, delay, you know, after this second accusation came forward.

Abby, thanks for the reporting at the U.N. A huge day there as the U.N. General Assembly gets under way.

Let's go to Capitol Hill now, our Manu Raju is on the Hill. And there are so many more questions this morning of who knew what and when and also what the Judiciary Committee plans to do about all of this. But the plan now remains, right? Have this public hearing with only these two witnesses, Ford and Kavanaugh, 10:00 a.m. Thursday. Is that right?

[09:05:03] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's what we're expecting at the moment. Last night I reached out to the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley's office in the wake of that "New Yorker" article. And an aide to Grassley told me that they would look into these allegations and they also denied having any knowledge of what the "New Yorker" published before it actually did. And then they attacked Democrats for what they said was, quote, "actively withholding information" from the committee about these allegations.

Now when I reached out to Dianne Feinstein's office about this, they said that they had no prior knowledge about the details of this story before it went -- before it was published last night. Now in that article, it does -- what we have since learned is that the woman who is making that allegation in that article did reach out to some staff member from -- a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic staff member, who then put her in touch with the Colorado senator, Michael Bennett, a Democrat, who connected the woman making the allegation with a Colorado attorney. And that's where it kind of went from there.

Now these all -- the question remains for Grassley's staff whether or not they will bring forward Debbie Ramirez, the woman making that allegation, or how they'll pursue this further. But at the moment, no plans to change that Thursday hearing between Christine Blasey Ford making those allegation and Judge Kavanaugh, and no word, no expectation of any outside witnesses, Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: OK. Manu, thanks for all the reporting on the Hill. Let us know what you learn as this all gets updated.

With us now, Jennifer Rogers, who's our legal analyst, Errol Louis is here and Molly Ball on the politics side of all of it.

Let me, Jennifer, just go to you first on -- we just heard from the president there, questioning the motives of the accuser. Questioning the attorney. If you heard the president there speaking just moments ago. He said you should look into the attorneys here. I mean, he's clearly pointing to politics. What do you make of the strategy shift? JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think it's helpful

to them. But, you know, really what you're looking for when you're trying to figure out if the witness is telling the truth is corroboration. Right? So again I think we need to have an FBI investigation here. That's really the key. It's very hard for the president or anyone else to say someone is or isn't telling the truth before you've had a hearing or before you've had any investigation.

So I hope that that's kind of where this is headed. We'll see. He is obviously not thinking that way right now but that's the only way we're really going to get to the bottom of this.

SCIUTTO: That raises the point we've raised with the prior allegation is that that then gives Brett Kavanaugh the opportunity of, well, answering to this and having a fair hearing as to whether there are facts behind this.

Molly Ball, I wonder if I could ask you, the politics, of course, central to this. The president doubling down, tripling down, I suppose you could say, on Brett Kavanaugh. Does he believe that he has GOP senators with him in that? Because of course if this hearing goes ahead on Thursday, I mean, he needs several key swing Republican votes.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that is the key to the politics of this. I think there's two keys to the politics of this. Number one, does Kavanaugh have the votes? And at this moment, I don't think he does or they wouldn't be holding this hearing. They're holding this hearing because those on the fence Republican swing vote senators feel like they cannot go through with this vote until they hear from her and of course the second part of the politics of this is the backlash from female voters when we are just a few weeks out from an election, when women motivated to vote have already been the central dynamic of this election season.

And that is what's making a lot of those Republican senators nervous. In addition to, you know, a sincere desire to get to the bottom of this and to find out to the extent that it's possible whether or not these allegations are true.

SCIUTTO: Errol Lewis, I wonder, though, are there not risks for Democrats here as well that -- because there are Republicans who believe the president's line and other Republican senators' line that this is driven by politics, right? Is there a risk for Democrats if this becomes a motivating factor for Republicans in the midterms, which had been a concern for Republicans, right?


SCIUTTO: Weak enthusiasm.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, the question is, whose politics are going to prevail on the Republican side? And that will determine where the Democrats end up. Meaning the president is suggesting that the Republican senators do what he would do, what he has, in fact, done. Remember in the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign, dozens of -- over a dozen women came forward and made all kinds of accusations against the president. What did he do? He insulted them. He threatened to sue them.


LOUIS: He never acknowledged any kind of a process. And of course, he never did after the fact. He talked it out and it worked out for him, and he's the president of the United States. He's trying to put that kind of steel into the spine of the Republican senators. They have an entirely different set of concerns. But to answer your question, it is possible that the Democrats could fumble this if what comes out, if the witnesses are not all that credible, if their testimony kind of falls apart. If they're not as impressive as, say, Anita Hill was 27 years ago.

[09:10:01] That the case starts to maybe flounder a little bit. Also if the Republicans just force it through, which appears to be the strategy the president wants them to follow, and just holds the vote regardless of what's heard in the testimony, it starts to fade as an issue that the Democrats can run on in these final five weeks.

HARLOW: You bring up Anita Hill, but, you know, not only did Clarence Thomas get -- you know, does he still sit on the Supreme Court but also his approval rating went up after Americans heard her testimony.

Let's listen, Molly, this one to you, to Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, just this morning.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I personally am very aggrieved for all of them. But are we going to put decades of pent-up demand for women to feel whole on one man's shoulders? What exactly is the standard for ruining one man's life based on decades old allegations that have nothing to do with him, visiting upon other man including in the media? I just don't think one man's shoulders should bear decades of the Me Too Movement.


HARLOW: She says, Molly, one man's shoulder should not bear decades of the Me Too Movement. Kellyanne's words. You wrote the "TIME" piece, the "TIME" cover story comparing today to 27 years ago, Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, and in it you write, quote, "How the Kavanaugh drama plays out could be the ultimate test of today's struggle for political and cultural power."

Where are we this morning hearing from Kellyanne and hearing what we just heard from the president?

BALL: Well, I think that what she's saying is kind of another way of saying what I was saying, which is that you can't ignore the context in which this is happening. You can't ignore the fact that this is happening in a moment when so many of the men in charge of political and cultural power in the society have been revealed to have had, you know, perhaps decades old misconduct. And we don't know if that's the case for Judge Kavanaugh. And it is

true that if he is innocent, he shouldn't have to suffer for other men's misdeeds, but it is also true that I think the way this is being handled speaks to our cultural moment. The way that Dr. Ford is being treated and potentially the other accuser, the difference between that and the way that Anita Hill was treated is going to tell us, in a sense, how far we've come when it comes to giving women authority, giving them a voice that acknowledges them as equal to men.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer Rodgers, if I could ask you, of course, there's a legal standard and then there's a standard in the court of public opinion, as it were. Ronan Farrow was pressed on this this morning about the differences between this latest allegation and the one by Dr. Ford. Have a listen to his answer.


FARROW: We held this to the same careful standard but I would say that this exceeds the evidentiary basis that we've used in the past in several cases that were found to be very credible.


SCIUTTO: As a lawyer, how do you look at the evidence here? What strengths do you see? What weaknesses, as you're trying to assess these?

RODGERS: Well, this raises a great point because we're not in court. This not a criminal matter, it's not even a civil matter. It is not a right to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. It is a privilege. The Senate is trying to figure out whether this is the person they want out of the thousands of qualified lawyers, right? So there's no beyond a reasonable doubt or any other standard here.

So really anything that comes into play that calls into question whether this is the one person that you want to choose from this slot is fair game. And so to me --

SCIUTTO: Anything, right? Because yes, it's not a legal standard. But doesn't a person retain some right to due process, right, outside of a courtroom? Or some right to defend themselves or respond to --

RODGERS: Technically no. No. There's no due process rights attached to this proceeding. But the point is, yes, if you had someone come forward and say an alien came down and told me that he's a bad guy, then yes, you're not going to proceed on that. But if there are credible allegations by women, from people coming forward and saying these are reasonable people, these are not deranged people, they are truthful people and honest people, then I think that those claims ought to be heard, if what they're saying is serious enough.

HARLOW: So, Errol, how does this end? Jim speaking about, you know, Ronan and Jane Mayer's reporting in the "New Yorker" that broke last night about Deborah Ramirez and as Abby reported what she alleges happened to her in college at Yale from Brett Kavanaugh. How does this play into Thursday? Right? If the only two witnesses remain Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, you can't imagine even without a scenario where senators don't also question him about Deborah Ramirez's allegations.

LOUIS: Of course. Of course.

HARLOW: And at this point, she's not going to be there.

LOUIS: And you can expect very intense levels of pressure from the Democrats on that committee to say we've got to delay it a little bit further. We should (INAUDIBLE) Ramirez.


HARLOW: Feinstein already calling for that.

LOUIS: We've got to get this done.

I mean, look, the reality is, even though the -- the president is right to say this is a very political process. It's political in the following sense. I think Justice Kennedy announced his retirement 90 days ago and they have been rushing like crazy to try and get him on the court, in advance of the midterms, that's a political time table, to get him to sit -- for the next sitting of the court which starts in early October. That, too, is a political sort of a timetable.


So they have now sort of, I think sort of reaped the whirlwind. They pushed so hard, so fast, without a proper vetting. I think now we're going to see one or more cases and I think we're going to hear the Democrats say you cannot properly do all of this in the next 100 hours, without the FBI I might add.

HARLOW: At some point, Molly, it just doesn't matter if it's just the Democrats saying that, right? I mean, you have Lindsey Graham, before this Ronan story came out, but Lindsey Graham -- let's have everyone listen to what Lindsey Graham said just yesterday morning.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't know when it happened, I don't know where it happened, and everybody named in regard to being there said it didn't happen. I'm just being honest. Unless there's something more, no, I'm not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh's life over this.


HARLOW: Hear a Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee. This is about Dr. Ford's allegations, but unless you have Republicans agreeing with Democrats that we need to put pause and wait, nothing changes, right?

BALL: Yes, the Democrats don't have the power to delay this hearing, and the Democrats do not have the power by themselves to defeat this nominee, even if they all ban together. However, the Republicans majority is so thin that even with the filibuster standard being removed, they can only afford a single defection --


BALL: If two Republicans decide that they are not satisfied with this process, or even that they're politically vulnerable because of it, then the votes aren't there. And that is certainly what Mitch McConnell is conscience of, that's certainly what Chairman Grassley is conscious of.

I think the fact that this hearing was scheduled, despite the initial resistance to doing it, the fact that it was scheduled for Thursday, despite the senators' initial desire to do it on Monday, I think that tells you everything you need to know. It tells you that, Dr. Ford has all the leverage here because there are some Senate -- there are some votes that are not there until she gets heard from.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and a lot of deadlines have already fallen. Jennifer Rodgers, Errol Louis, Molly Ball, thanks very much --

RODGERS: Thank you guys --

SCIUTTO: For being with us. And still to come, big news from the United Nations, the president says another summit with Kim Jong-un of North Korea will happen. Plus, how much longer can Rod Rosenstein survive as deputy Attorney General as some GOP allies urge the president to wait.

HARLOW: Also Bill Cosby is back in court this morning, could his day today end in prison? A judge about to decide on his sentence.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. The other news this morning, President Trump had barely set foot in the UN this morning when he announced a second face-to-face meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong-un that it is in the works.

HARLOW: It's a very significant development, given what is at stake. Let's get back to UN headquarters, Abby Phillip joins us again there. Abby, look, this may get a little bit lost, and it shouldn't in the headlines you just made on Judge Kavanaugh. He said we're working on some number two with Kim Jong-un, this is a very big deal.

PHILLIP: That's right, Poppy, a lot happening here at the UN this morning. But one of the first headlines that the president made was talking about North Korea. Remember, just a year ago, he was here at the United Nations calling Kim Jong-un the "rocket man". Now, today, President Trump is striking a much more optimistic tone.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Moving very well. The relationship is very good with North Korea. We have many things in store, looks like we're having a second summit quite soon. As you know, Kim Jong-un wrote a letter, a beautiful letter and asking for a second meeting and we will be doing that. Secretary Pompeo will work that out in the immediate future.


PHILLIP: Now, we know President Trump has been eager to set up this second meeting between him and Kim, but there are also some real questions about whether real progress is being made on the key issue, which is denuclearization.

It will be a key opportunity this week when we'll probably see it hear much more from President Trump about this issue he is meeting with South Korea's president today. So there's North Korea on the agenda, and he's already said he's tasked his Secretary of State with setting up this meeting.

Of course, again, the issue here, denuclearization. Are we getting much closer to that? It's not at all clear that we've made that kind of progress. Poppy and Jim?

SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip, thanks very much. Joining us now, Cnn International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson and Cnn global affairs analyst David Rohde. Nic Robertson, the standard this administration set for these negotiations to be successful were verifiable, irreversible -- I forget the whole -- the whole succession.

What steps has North Korea taken to date that are verifiable, irreversible as far as denuclearization is concerned that would justify a second summit?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Nothing. I mean, if we go back to that first summit in Singapore where President Trump said Kim has agreed to get rid of scrap, take apart this missile engine test facility.

In fact, he implied in his language, it was happening right then and there, but he just couldn't get it on the paper, this very short agreement they got. Well, President Moon of South Korea has just come back from a three-day summit with Kim where Kim, again, has said yes, I will dismantle that same test facility, but you can have international observers from relevant countries. We still don't know who those relevant countries are --

HARLOW: Which would be very significant were it to happen.

ROBERTSON: Well, it happened, there's no date on it either. So again, the -- none of what you have said has been laid out, set in stone that would give you confidence that if you had another summit, you would get something. And of course, the concern is, what concessions might be made?

SCIUTTO: Well, the thing about missile testing -- is not right, is that you could test missiles on a whole host of places, right? And North Korea has a whole host of mobile missile launchers, right?

[09:25:00] So you could destroy this one facility and not significantly, David Rohde, impede your ability to test launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, that's -- it's the fear

here that the president sort of being played by North Korea and by Kim. You need unhindered inspector access across North Korea. And to be blunt, President Trump needs a better deal than the Iran deal.

He has criticized the inspections in Iran as being too weak, and so far he has nothing even approaching what Barack Obama achieved in Iran nuclear deal in terms of open inspections. It's all talk, it means nothing unless you can look around on the ground.

HARLOW: Nic, today, President Trump will meet with his South Korean counterpart President Moon Jae-in, and this is after that -- at least, according to the south's account of meeting with Kim Jong-un last week was very successful, right?

But again, it was nothing that you can really sink your teeth into. What they're going to talk about today is not just, of course, you know, peace on the peninsula, but also a new trade agreement which is very important economically, but arguably more important when it comes to security in the region.

ROBERTSON: And this is something that Kim Jong-un has said in his statements coming out of this summit, that he wants to get beyond this denuclearization issue so we can get to building in the economy. Which again, going back to Singapore, remembering that video that was played for him, saying all this can be yours if you know, if you play the game right.

He is playing the game his own way. I think from a South Korea's perspective, there was a huge, long list of agreements, military agreements to kind of -- to deescalate and work at zones where there would be less troops, less border posts, more or easier access for fishermen from both sides, all these sorts of things.

But when it comes down to the very specifics that are key to the United States, it was very skinny on details. So the aspiration can be for this better economic package for North Korea and greater economic benefit for all Koreans. But we're not at that stage yet.

SCIUTTO: Essentially, you look at that agreement -- well, listen, punitive agreement, right, between North and South Korea. It looks more like a peace agreement between those two countries than a denuclearization deal --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Involving the U.S.

ROBERTSON: And that's a success for Kim and for North Korea. They don't want to talk about the nuclear weapons, they want to, you know, play this out and keep them. So that's the danger. I think those White House aides that fear the president will be too open to this kind of summit if the summit happens, he'll be seen again as being sort of too weak with Kim and being played in essence.

Because I think the Singapore Summit raised a lot of hopes. There hasn't been a delivery on that summit.


HARLOW: Go ahead.

ROBERTSON: Boy, I was going to say, pursuant to that point that David makes, go back to the Singapore summit, President Trump surprised even the Pentagon, certainly surprised his ally, Japan, certainly seemed to catch the South Koreans unawares by saying that he would suspend these key very important joint military exercises. What might -- and this is a concern for allies now. What might he then concede again?

HARLOW: If there is a second summit, David Rohde, it looks like there very well may be -- the president said, because he got this very -- you know, in his words, beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un, they would have a second summit.

What are the lessons to be learned from summit number one in Singapore that you think that Trump administration should look back at and say, OK, here is X, Y and Z that needs to be done differently, or here is what we want to walk away from summit number two with?

ROHDE: To be honest on a very pragmatic level, better notes. It's not really clear, even to Trump's own aides what was agreed to in the summit. There's concerns that he agreed to, you know, declaring a formal end to the Korean war, but that's not clear from the notes. There should be more people in the room, I think that would help.

And I think it's a concrete announcement from North Korea of some kind of concession, allowing inspections, dismantling more facilities. It's concrete results, because this could backfire on the president. I think this is another big show and lots of cameras and there's nothing, you know, really substantive that comes out of it. I think it could hurt him politically.

HARLOW: Thank you both, David Rohde, nice to have you and Nic, nice to have you here in person. You're always overseas, and now you're here for the big week at the UN, thank you very much.

Ahead, deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's future at the Justice Department seriously in question this morning. Also, the Secretary of State saying, well, you'll hear from him and how he weighed in on Rod Rosenstein after that damning report.

Why Republican allies to the president, though, are urging him not to move so quickly.