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Trump and Rosenstein To Meet on Thursday; Speculation That Rosenstein Will Quit or Be Fired; Noel Francisco, Solicitor General, Takes Over If Rosenstein Leaves; Shutting Down Muller's Investigation Will Be No Easy Matter as Many Parts Are Distributed About; Kavanaugh Denies Allegation by Second Female Accuser. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 24, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[15:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN on this Monday afternoon. We begin with critical questions surrounding the man in charge of overseeing the Russia investigation. A source tells CNN that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein expects to be fired, but when or will he instead resign? And how these conversations actually happened already?

Here's what we know fro the White House, it released a statement in part it reads: "At the request of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories. They will meet on Thursday. Thursday's a big day. While the circumstances of a possible exit are unclear, this news comes three days after that explosive report that Rosenstein considered wearing a wire to record President Trump. And not only that, apparently discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove him from office. The Deputy AG has forcefully denied those claims. We also know Rosenstein met with the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, at the White House today. Rosenstein is now back at the Department of Justice and that is where we find CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett. Laura, it's 2:01. Lots can change, has changed all day. What are your sources telling you at this very moment?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, at this very moment, Brooke, the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, is still on the job. He has not been fired. He has not resigned. It's been something of a whirlwind all day with various conflicting reports coming out of the White House and the Justice Department. Just to level set for you how this all began was Friday with that bombshell reporting from "The New York Times" about the Deputy Attorney General musing about wearing a wire and invoking the 25th amendment. He went to the White House late Friday. He was forced to issue a stronger denial statement saying he never actively thought about pursuing wearing a wire or never thought about removing the President from office. But clearly conversations all weekend long between him and White House officials, namely John Kelly.

Here is where the stories start to diverge a little bit, Brooke. Our understanding is that the Deputy Attorney General did consider resigning. Did have those discussions about what that might look like but he really wanted to control the timing. He really wanted this to be on his own terms. For whatever reason, John Kelly, at least according to our reporting, Kaitlan Collins is being told this, he told associates that the Deputy Attorney General actually did resign and actually did -- at least John Kelly believed that was the plan.

But that's not what I'm told. I'm told he wanted certain conditions. Those weren't met. The White House wasn't willing to go along with that, so he went over to the White House today, expecting to get fired. Because the White House wouldn't agree to his terms. Now, of course he has come back to the Justice Department here after that meeting. He even stayed on for another Principals' Committee meeting at the White House acting as if this was a regular Monday. Of course, it was not. Everything is still very tenuous at this moment, Brooke, as we wait to find out what will happen over the next couple of days. Of course, he now has this meeting scheduled with the President on Thursday, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You mentioned Kaitlan Collins. We've heard what you've heard. Let's go to the White House. Before we do that -- Laura, thank you. Before today's development, regarding Rod Rosenstein, President Trump in a pre-taped interview would not flat out say if he would fire Rosenstein in response to that bombshell "New York Times" piece.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to comment on it until I get all the facts. I haven't gotten all the facts. But certainly, it's being looked at in terms of what took place, if anything took place. He was hired by Jeff Sessions. I was not involved in that process because they go out and get their own deputies and the people that work in the department.


BALDWIN: So, that was the President. Here's Kaitlan in Washington, D.C., with the White House. We heard Laura tell the story of justice. You've been hearing from your people at the White House. What's the deal?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We're getting a lot of different stories. Laura laid it out perfectly but the White House's version is Rod Rosenstein during a conversation with John Kelly on Friday, when Kelly, one of those few people still at the White House, President Trump was traveling across the country, that Rod Rosenstein offered his resignation to John Kelly.

[14:05:00] John Kelly was under the impression he accepted that resignation and now we're dealing with this minute-to-minute drama in Washington right now as to whether he was pushed or jumped, essentially. With this meeting set for Thursday. As you heard from the President there during that interview with Geraldo, he's voicing skepticism about that bombshell "New York Times" piece that Rod Rosenstein wore a wire when he met with President Trump and he tried to coerce certain cabinet officials to invoke the 25th amendment to force President Trump out of office.

We knew President Trump was skeptical of that reporting because it's based on Andrew McCabe, who was fired. A lot of people predicted in the aftermath of that story that had Trump would automatically fire Rosenstein because he's long talked about his displeasure with Rod Rosenstein. There he was voicing a lot of skepticism that he we heard from his allies, not making a decision on whether or not he was going to fire Rosenstein, but also playing the other side of the card saying it was Jeff Sessions who picked Rod Rosenstein and I have no involved l involvement there.

What we do know is the White House has set up this meeting between Trump and Rosenstein. Rosenstein and the President did speak earlier today. The White House said it was at the Deputy Attorney General's request, when he was over there in the west wing meeting with John Kelly, who is one of the few officials in the west wing because most senior staff are traveling with President Trump at the united nations meeting in New York. That is another contributing factor to all of this chaos we're seeing surrounding this situation and whether or not Rosenstein still has a job. We hear that skepticism from the President about that story.

We could likely see that on Thursday when they sit down one-on-one. We know about this President, one thing he has a problem is confronting people in person and firing people in person. When he sits down with Rosenstein face-to-face, and Rosenstein who has denied twice the reporting in "The New York Times," will the President believe his denials enough to keep him on in this job? That's the question we'll be waiting to see. It will be a very big showdown on Thursday here in Washington with that happening on one side of the city and the other side of the city, Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser testifying on Capitol Hill.

BALDWIN: My goodness. We got all that, extraordinary job, thank you so much. Let's break it all down here in the ramifications, the consequences of all of this. Two great voices. CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and legal analyst Michael Zeldin. Wrapping your heads around what we've heard, Dana, let's cut through all of this to you. The arc of the story, you have "The New York Times" bombshell story on Friday. Monday morning Rod Rosenstein rolls up to the White House, has this conversation with the chief of staff. We now know at Rosenstein's request he'll be at the White House on Thursday with the President. Play this out for me. What are the different directions this could go?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, number one, probably the most likely, if you're kind of looking at all the facts that both Laura and Kaitlan just laid out about the reality of how not just the White House feels but more importantly how Rod Rosenstein feels in his approach to this, saying kind of, I think I'm done here, that that will be the case on Thursday. Kaitlan made another important point. That is that we do not often see the President himself the one to fire somebody. Having a face-to-face meeting, unless Rod Rosenstein is still in the sort of head space of I'm done and I can't work under these conditions nor do you want me to, maybe that will be the game-changer, the face-to-face meeting with the President who tends to have other people do the firing, despite the fact that that is the catch-phrase he was most known for before he was President of the United States. A few other data points I was told from Republican sources. First

that it's not just the White House that Rod Rosenstein has to deal with. It's also Capitol Hill. He has a lot of enemies, particularly in the conservative house freedom caucus, who have wanted him to be gone for some time, who are going to likely start demanding that he, Rosenstein, come to the hill and testify under oath about whether he said the things in "The New York Times" about the fact that he was going to wear a wire and the 25th amendment. Not that he didn't say them -- at least we know he did, but he said them in aid serious manner not a sarcastic one.

[14:10:00] The other dynamic is the pressure the President is getting from the other side within his same party, which is just don't do anything now. Just everybody take a breath. We have midterms in six weeks. The other dynamic is the pressure the President is getting from the other side within his same party, which is just don't do anything now. Just everybody take a breath. We have midterms in six weeks. Independent voters are apoplectic about the chaos in Washington. This will feed into that. These are the dynamics we have to keep in mind that are very much involved in the answer to your question.

BALDWIN: And when we say the name Rod Rosenstein, Michael Zeldin, I don't know if that's a household name. I think it's important underscoring that this is the guy in charge of the special counsel investigation, right? So, when Mueller ultimately writes his report, it will be this person's decision on whether to direct this, right, if it goes to congress or what to do with the conclusion from Mueller. How could Rosenstein's dismissal, resignation, affect the overarching investigation?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The overarching investigation will go forward. We know Jay Sekulow, counsel to the President said this morning, I believe, if Rosenstein is fired or otherwise resigns, then they're going to argue with Mueller that they take a time-out as the next person to succeed Rosenstein will have to get up to speed about what has happened over the last 14 months, which isn't in the President's interest, I don't think legally, to delay this thing.

BALDWIN: But what if this person's -- can I just on that same thought, what if this person's interests are more of a ten on this is a witch hunt scale versus a one and more in the President's interest in that regard?

ZELDIN: Well, that's a very interesting question. Under the special counsel regulations, when Mueller completes his report, it's a confidential report to the Deputy Attorney General, Rosenstein. If the justice department refuses to allow Mueller to do something, say, subpoena the President for testimony, then that disagreement has to be documented and sent to the ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and the chairman of those committees. So, if you put someone in that place who is sort of, you know, more inclined to protect the President or intending to protect the President by decapitating Mueller's investigation in some way, it could trigger an unintended consequence of a whole report going public much more, you know, sort of quickly and in a much more contentious way. So, I think the President, if he listens to his outside counsel, should say this is not good for me legally, as a matter of timing and a matter of substance.

BALDWIN: I just want to underscore why this move is so, so big in the picture. I'm out of time. Thank you for the analysis. With Rod Rosenstein's future essentially in limbo, one question that's emerging, as we were discussing, if he goes away, who would replace him as Deputy Attorney General? And what this means for the future of Mueller's investigation. Also, unclear, the future of President Trump's supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, as new allegations surface from a second accuser. Protesters today putting more pressure on key senators who will likely determine the judge's fate. And amidst all of this, we are expecting to see the President live in New York. It is a busy, busy Monday. You're watching CNN.


BALDWIN: We're back now with the future of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, if he's fired, if he resigns, one key question would be who oversees the Russia investigation? The Justice Department is Noel Francisco, Solicitor General, appointed in 2017 and instrumental in relaunching President Trump's travel ban. He's a former partner at Jones Day and previously worked in the George W. Bush White House. Let's go to Garrett Graff, CNN contributor, who knows a lot about these folks running in these circles. Washington, D.C., is a big city, but it's also a small town. You tell me more about Francisco and who he knows if he steps into this role?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Noel Francisco, the Solicitor General, which is the person that argues on behalf of the U.S. government in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. It's one of the most storied roles in Washington. It's right down to the traditional long- tailed garb, the formal morning jackets that the solicitors general wear at the supreme court. But this is someone who is well known in Washington.

[14:20:00] Someone who is one of the government's and sort of the most renowned conservative legal appellate jurists in the city. And someone who worked for George W. Bush, both in the White House and in the Office of Legal Counsel, which is one of those little-known entities outside of Washington that is effectively the in-house law firm for the Justice Department from 2003 to 2005, where he worked right under then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey.

BALDWIN: There you go. There you go. So, the Comey connection, but then there was also the Trump Presidential campaign connection because didn't he also work at the law firm that rented -- represented Trump's campaign, isn't that a conflict of interest?

GRAFF: There is some reason to believe he's been recusing himself from some activities where there could be a conflict of interest with his former firm. It's unclear whether that would carry forward if he ends up supervising the Mueller probe, but there is plenty of reasons to believe that he would not necessarily come into this role with the goal of kneecapping Bob Mueller right off the top. He has spoken in the past about the challenges of special counsels, of outside investigators in his role of executive authority. But, again, as you said at the top, these are small circles of people who have known each other, worked with each other for years. He was at OLC for that famous Stellar Wind showdown, the hospital incident with Jim Comey and Bob Mueller and Ashcroft against the Bush White House. So, he's been in the midst of these circles serving alongside at the time then- Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray, now the FBI director himself.

BALDWIN: Maybe -- you're saying, maybe he wouldn't kneecap Mueller, to use your turn of phrase, if he were to take on this role. What about if Rosenstein does get fired or resigned, how would that impact morale at DOJ, people who know him in those circles?

GRAFF: It's really hard to say because part of the challenge right now is it's not entirely clear that the Mueller probe really can be entirely shutdown. There are parts of the Mueller probe sort of scattered across the government right now. Remember, some of the most active investigation taking place in the southern district of New York, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan. That's where Michael Cohen ended up pleading guilty to those eight charges related to campaign finance violations, bank fraud, tax fraud. That investigation still ongoing. Mueller's investigation, you know, different parts of it have been handed off to different other offices, including the southern district and the national security division here at the Department of Justice in Washington. So, Mueller's investigation is no longer just, you know, Bob Mueller sitting by himself at an office. Not that it ever really was. But it's a complicated probe with a lot of moving parts.

BALDWIN: Thank you for jumping in on that. All eyes on Washington on Thursday. Not just because of the story we're discussing, Rosenstein meeting with Trump at the White House, but also at the supreme court. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh Has responded with a forceful denial to new allegations of sexual misconduct, referring to it as a character assassination. Is his nomination just becoming too complicated? We'll have a live report on that next.


BALDWIN: Just in, President Trump's troubled Supreme Court nominee says he will fight the new allegation against him for sexual misconduct Judge Kavanaugh Just issued a letter to senators in his defense, writing that he is the victim of character assassination. I'll read part of this letter for you. He says: "The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. The last-minute character assassination will not succeed."

President Trump is doubling down on his support of Judge Kavanaugh.


TRUMP: I think this could be the single most unfair, unjust thing to happen to a candidate, but I am with Judge Kavanaugh and I look forward to a vote. 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.


BALDWIN: Now the President and Republican leaders are rejecting Democrats' calls to delay Thursday's hearing. Kavanaugh's first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh are expected to testify. Those wheels were turning before this second Kavanaugh accuser stepped forward.

[14:30:00] "The New Yorker" is reporting a woman by the name of Debora Ramirez says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when the two were undergraduates at Yale University at a dorm party. She reportedly pushed him away, causing her to touch him without his consent. Ramirez admits she had been drinking during the incident, however an unnamed classmate also told "The New Yorker" that he was certain he was told either immediately or a day after the incident that it was 100 percent Kavanaugh who exposed himself.

CNN so far has not spoken to anyone who is willing to corroborate Debora Ramirez's story as reported by "The New Yorker" so let's go to our correspondent, Sunlen Surfaty, up on Capitol Hill. Thursday turning out to be a massive day in Washington.

SUNLEN SURFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke. This is really Brett Kavanaugh digging in even more saying he wants to testify, he expects to testify on Thursday. Notable he essentially says he will not be intimidated into withdrawing his name. This letter is significant not only in its tone and how forceful it is, but the fact that it comes on this day after there was a weekend of new allegations, which you referenced before, this letter was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee just a short time ago. It reads in part, there is now a frenzy to come up with something, anything that will block the process on a vote for my confirmation from occurring.