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CNN NEWSROOM

New Kavanaugh Letter: Wants to Press on with Hearings; Protests Against Kavanaugh Focus on Sen. Susan Collins; Some Republicans Advise Trump Not to Fire Rosenstein; What Happens to Russia Probe is Rosenstein Resigns or is Fired; Trump at U.N.: New Meeting with Kim Jong-Un Soon; Haley & Giuliani Give Conflicting Statements on Iran. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 24, 2018 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This letter was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee just a short time ago. It reads, in part, quote, "There's now a frenzy to come up with something, anything that will block this process on a vote for my confirmation from occurring. These are smears, pure and simple, and they debase our public discourse. But they are also a threat to any man or woman who wishes to serve our country. Such grotesque and obvious character assassination, if allowed to succeed, will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from service."

That is the language and tone we've heard from President Trump that you played earlier today where he said it's totally political, to White House officials. We heard from Kellyanne Conway saying this morning she believes this is a vast left-wing conspiracy against him. We've heard that echoed from many Republicans up on Capitol Hill.

Leadership, Brooke, making it very clear they're pushing towards having that hearing with Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday as it's still scheduled. Even though leadership and the White House wants to push ahead, most important out of all of this is what those Republicans, swing-vote Republicans, like Senator Susan Collins, like Lisa Murkowski, what they ultimately think. Of course, we're standing by for their new reaction in the face of these new accusations.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Sunlen, thank you.

Sunlen mentioned the key votes. Speaking of Senator Susan Collins, she's not even on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the Republican from Maine is already under pressure to vote no on Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and it came right outside her D.C. door today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congress needs to make a decision now, not when everybody -- all the other Republicans back down. She needs to make a decision now when it matters.

(CHANTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Dozens of protesters, including some students from Yale

where Kavanaugh was a student, held a demonstration in the hallway by Senator Collins' office. Some were arrested. They were threatening to financially support Senator Collins' opponent in the upcoming election if she does not vote against Judge Kavanaugh, if and when, his confirmation goes before the full Senate.

Let's go to Chris Cillizza for some context. He's the author of "The Point with Chris Cillizza."

On Senator Collins, why is she under so much pressure back home in Maine?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, first of all, because it's a swing state. It's a state that Donald Trump has won. It's a state that's competitive between the two parties. She's someone who has carved herself out as a moderate, Brooke.

Let's go through -- Sunlen hit on it and so did you. If Kavanaugh is committed to staying through Thursday's hearing and a vote, which sounds like in that letter he is, these are the people who matter. Everybody else's opinion is worth hearing but doesn't matter to whether or not he gets confirmed.

I want to quickly, before we talk about Collins. Jeff Flake is worth noting. He's on the Judiciary Committee. Remember, Republicans have an 11-10 advantage. Flake, if he didn't vote for Kavanaugh means Kavanaugh might not get out of committee. That's important.

Now, Collins you mentioned. Collins and Murkowski are the two Republicans who tend to be in the middle ideologically on most issues and voiced the most concern about going -- pushing this vote, despite what we've learned. Now, neither one of them has said anything yet as it relates to the Deborah Ramirez accusation. They have both said, we need to have a hearing, we need to hear from Christine Blasey Ford, but neither have said anything. These two are the key. Remember, it's only a two-seat majority, 51-49. Two people go against it, it's effectively over.

Why does it matter? Let's go to the next one. This makes me happy. This clock that I believe we have. Countdown until election. This is up-to-date. I wish I had one of these in my office. So 42 days. That means we're within six weeks of an election. An election in which Donald Trump's approval rating among women, Brooke, is 29 percent in the CNN poll, in which Donald Trump, it is expected to be a referendum on him in which House Democrats have a 12-point advantage in the generic ballot. All signs pointing to a very good Democratic year. There's concern among both Senate Republican strategists and House Republican strategists how these next four-ish days play out could make it a lot worse for Republican candidates. Susan Collins, not up until 2020, clearly concerned about what it could mean for her. And not even 42 days, two years and 42 days' time. This is a huge issue. Eyes of the country are on it. When that's the case, the stakes are super, super high. BALDWIN: They were already so high. And throw what's happening with

Rod Rosenstein in the mix, and my goodness, it's like it's incredible --

CILLIZZA: Amazing.

BALDWIN: -- this is happening with 42 days to go.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZAA: And on the same day.

BALDWIN: On the same day. In Washington Thursday, must-see television.

Chris, thank you so much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

[14:34:52] BALDWIN: We mentioned Rod Rosenstein. Back to the other huge story of the day. The deputy attorney general here is set to meet with President Trump at the White House on Thursday. Will the president listen to some of his Republican allies advising him not to fire his deputy attorney general? We're going to discuss how likely that is to play out next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST, HANNITY: I have a message for the president tonight. Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He shouldn't fire Rosenstein unless you believe Rosenstein's lying. He said he did not do the things alleged.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST, THE INGRAHAM ANGLE: The president tonight should seriously consider whether Rod Rosenstein should remain on the job. The White House should be devoting every resource it can to determining the veracity of this report.

REP. TREY GOWDY, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Rod deserves the right to be heard. I'm sure at some point the president will bring Rod in and say, Rod, if you think I'm incompetent, if you feel the need to wear a wire when you're talking to me, then why are you serving in my administration?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[14:39:57] BALDWIN: That there was a handful of conservative voices who the president oftentimes listens to and, obviously, they're opining as to whether or not he should he should or should not fire his deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

This is happening as a source tells CNN that Rosenstein expects to be fired after that "New York Times" blockbuster report that Rosenstein considered secretly recording Trump and discussed invoking the 25th Amendment.

Let's take a deeper dive. These three phenomenal lawyers with me, former federal prosecutors, Berit Berger and Michael Koenig. And also here, Vermont Law School professor, Jennifer Taub.

We don't know who he's going to listen to, but prediction time: Thursday, what do you think happens?

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I do not think Rod Rosenstein gets fired on Thursday. I think if the president wanted to have fired him, he would have already been fired and he wouldn't have been fired by the president himself. Whether or not Rosenstein resigns before Thursday remains to be seen but I don't think he's getting fired.

MICHAEL KOENIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I agree. I think the president's M.O., he's shown us before, is to try to force people into resigning rather than firing them. It's more politically palatable to do it that way and keeps him out of the line of fire for obstruction of justice. We've seen this campaign from the president over several months to try to abuse and debase Jeff Sessions with his tweets, hoping Sessions would resign, and he could put his chosen person in there to take over the Mueller investigation. We could see the same thing happen when they sit down face-to-face Thursday at the White House. Him trying to put Rosenstein in an untenable position to force Rosenstein's hands.

BALDWIN: I want to come back to that in a second.

Jennifer, what do you think?

JENNIFER TAUB, PROFESSOR, VERMONT LAW SCHOOL: There's not an insignificant chance that he actually will fire him. He's unpredictable. It would be a terrible idea politically. That's why I think it's important for Congress to act and protect Special Counsel Mueller from being fired.

BALDWIN: They talked about that potential. Also with folks on Capitol Hill, namely the House Freedom Caucus. It could go either way on that.

To your point on the White House -- correct me, but you would think the White House would want him to resign versus them firing him, because I'm wondering if he were to be fired, that would be another brick in the wall of an obstruction claim.

KOENIG: Absolutely could be. It would go hand in hand with Comey. With the talks that have been out there. And, again, remember, Don McGahn is cooperating. And he was there when he wanted to fire Mueller. McGahn told him not to do it. He's cooperating, and Mueller knows that. This would be the third or fourth significant person that the president fired or tried to fire. You put it together, and it's a powerful obstruction case. BALDWIN: To underscore, Berit, why this deputy attorney general is

key, this is the person overseeing the special counsel investigation. This is the person who takes all the information that comes from Mueller when this whole thing wraps up and decides what to do with it.

BERGER: That's exactly right. It's important to remember, this is the person that Mueller reports to. For every decision that has to be made in connection with this investigation. Who they should subpoena, should they subpoena the president himself, what direction is this investigation going to take? This all goes through Rod Rosenstein. The importance of his position with respect to the special counsel's investigation can't be underestimated here. He's incredibly important. He'll get Mueller's report and decide whether or not this report goes to Congress or not. This is a position that needs somebody with real independence, impeccable judgment, and really a commitment to getting to the bottom of this investigation.

BALDWIN: If Rod Rosenstein goes away in some form or fashion, let's say Thursday, if that's what happens at the White House, we don't know, what happens to the Mueller investigation? What happens to Mueller himself?

TAUB: One would hope Mueller would continue on. I want to add, it's not just -- we've been talking about Rosenstein overseeing the Mueller investigation because of the recusal. He's also the point person on the case against Michael Cohen in the southern district of New York. We have that possibility that that case could also go away. I think the likelihood isn't that Mueller gets fired but that obstacles are put in his way whenever he wants to pursue a particular path or question a certain witness or even indict someone. It could be -- instead of -- you know, it could be a slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre of Mueller as opposed to just firing him immediately.

BALDWIN: You're the second person made that reference today.

Did you want to jump in?

KOENIG: Yes. It's important to note, the only person on the face of this planet that Robert Mueller reports to is Rod Rosenstein. If you replace that person, and the two people who could replace Rosenstein, according to the order of succession here, neither of them has ever touched a criminal case from a prosecutor's standpoint. Now all these moves that Berit talked about, subpoenaing the president, these --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Coming in cold, because, obviously, Rosenstein has been in this whole thing, twists and turn of all things --

(CROSSTALK)

KOENIG: Yes. And has to run through a person who's never touched a prosecution. We could have indictments. There's potential indictments of Donald Trump Jr, of Jared Kushner. Is this person going to have the backbone to say, yes, I approve an indictment of the president's son, son-in-law, Roger Stone? There are real questions whether the person will have the experience and fortitude.

[14:45:15] BALDWIN: Good point.

Rod Rosenstein goes to the White House Thursday. We'll see if your prediction comes through or not. We'll all be watching.

Thank you for that analysis.

Happening right now, President Trump heading to the United Nations here in New York City for a bilateral meeting as he says another summit with North Korea and Kim Jong-Un is likely to happen soon. Is it? More on that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:50:07] BALDWIN: President Trump is returning to the United Nations one year after he rattled the General Assembly with his shockingly undiplomatic stance. He referred to Kim Jong-Un as Rocket Man and slammed the Iran nuclear deal. And now as the president is back, world leaders are wondering what to expect this time.

I can tell you, two things have significant significantly changed since the last appearance. President Trump -- actually, let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- North Korea, we're having a very important set of discussions today, tomorrow, and the next day. We've been having them for quite some time.

Since you first gained office. And you're doing a terrific job. And I think we're doing a terrific job together.

We've had terrific talks on trade. And we'll be signing in a little while a very important trade agreement with South Korea and the United States. I think it's a very exciting event. It was a long time in coming and it's a basic redoing of the agreement that was done before, which was a very unfair agreement for the United States. And I think that President Moon and myself are very happy. It's great for South Korea. It's great for the United States. It's great for both.

We also obviously talk about North Korea where we're making tremendous progress. Chairman Kim has been really very open and terrific, frankly. And I think he wants to see something happen. So, we have done, I think -- mutually, we've done very well with respect to North Korea. We'll be discussing that during the next couple of days. We'll be certainly discussing it now.

But I just want to say it's a great honor to have President Moon with us.

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for coming. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

BALDWIN: As they're speaking in Korean, I have Robin Wright with me, a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and also contributing writer for the "New Yorker." Dipping in, you have the president of the United States sitting next

to President Moon of South Korea talking about this important trade agreement signed by the two nations. All the while, I couldn't jot it down, but the president saying, making progress with North Korea, done very well. I wonder what report card he's looking at.

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER & CONTRIBUTING WRITER, NEW YORKER MAGAZINE: North Korea is his most ambitious and endearing foreign policy initiative. He in many ways played his trump card -- bad pun -- by meeting with Kim Jong-Un, which really gave away the one piece of leverage he had with the North Koreans. They're at an impasse now in some ways because the North Koreans want a peace treaty to end the war where the fighting stopped in 1953. They want to lift sanctions to develop economically. The United States wants first to denuclearize.

BALDWIN: To denuclearize.

WRIGHT: It's a chicken-and-egg argument, who comes first, who does what? I don't think the North Koreans will want to give up on all of their weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, missiles, chemical, biological weapons, without a sense of getting something first. And so you get into a -- that they agree in principle, but when it comes to the process, there's a breakdown.

BALDWIN: That's North Korea. Just on -- can you talk to me about this trade agreement that the U.S. is signing with South Korea.

WRIGHT: Well, President Trump is trying to renegotiate trade agreements across the board with countries. Of course, there are a lot of issues in terms of what South Korea sells and what it sells to other parties as well. And I think this -- it gets kind of caught up in the deal with North Korea. I think the South Koreans want a trade deal, but they also want even more a deal with North Korea to end the tensions.

BALDWIN: That's the -- that's the headline out of this White House.

Let me ask you, as we're on these pictures here, about Iran. We know tensions are high. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Rudy Giuliani do not appear to be on the same page. According to Reuters, the president's personal attorney said, quote, "I don't know when we're going to overthrow them, but it's going to happen."

Juxtapose that with what we heard from the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[14:55:02] NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The United States is not looking to do a regime change in Iran. We're not looking to do regime change anywhere. What we are looking to do is protect Americans, protect our allies, and make sure we do everything we can to stop it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: How do you see it? Where's the truth?

WRIGHT: Well, Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton, before he took the job as national security adviser are, both talked about wanting regime changes. So did Secretary of State Pompeo when he was in Congress. It's clear that ideologically that's what various people very close to the president want. The administration's position is they want a change in the regime's behavior but they're not looking to oust the theocratic regime. So, there's -- it's kind of a very fine line. And there are a lot of people in Washington, the foreign policy community, who suspect that what the Trump administration really would like to see is so much pressure that people rise up in Iran and themselves oust the regime rather than the Iraq model where the United States went in militarily. But I think the pressure is going to be increased steadily through the fall and into next year. Is Iran ready for a counterrevolution? I don't think so. I think this is where you could find a very ambitious foreign policy goal that's very hard to achieve for this administration. So, that's its second big foreign policy initiative that may go nowhere.

BALDWIN: Just listening to hear if Trump is speaking.

What are you looking for this week? Again, the president is back. We mentioned some of his headlines from this time last year, all of these heads of state all convening in the United Nations each and every year for the United Nations General Assembly. Tensions, you know, things that have been reported out about President Trump and handling with other countries, according to this book that's recently come out by Bob Woodward. What will you be looking for from this president?

WRIGHT: The White House indicates President Trump will talk about his foreign policy successes when he gets on the stage. I think a lot in the audience will be scratching their heads, saying, you talk a great game but what have you actually achieved? That's where the president, in his first two years, doesn't have much to show for his foreign policy agenda. He's going to talk about sovereignty, which is really framing America First to a global audience, and talking about each country will be following its sovereign names, its first agenda in terms of its own goals. Again, whether it comes to actually producing something, whether in the form of a resolution or a breakthrough, talk whether the president of Iran or someone else unexpected, I don't think we'll see that this week. I think this is a little about trying to take command and appear presidential and global in a city that he feels like he owns.

BALDWIN: What about Syria? We heard today from John Bolton, national security adviser -- actually, he's speaking. Let's listen to President Trump.

TRUMP: -- dealing with that subject. But Mike Pompeo has been in touch with them and we've been in touch with them. I think within a fairly short period of time, location to be determined, but we're both very much looking forward to having it. It will be between North Korea, the United States, the format we had before, different location. Again, will be announced soon. I think a lot of progress is being made. I see tremendous enthusiasm on behalf of Chairman Kim toward making a deal. And I think that's something that's very good. We're in no rush. There's no hurry. We got back three months ago or

so. I think we've made more progress than anybody's made in -- ever, frankly, with regard to North Korea. I really believe North Korea has tremendous economic potential. And I believe that Chairman Kim and the people of North Korea want to see that potential arrived at. We'll help them to that end. And the relationship is very good. In some ways, it's extraordinary. We'll see what happens. But we will be having a second summit in the not too distant future.

Thank you all very much.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: On Thursday, when I get back from all of these meetings, we'll be meeting at the White House and we'll be determining what's going on. We want to have transparency. We want to have openness. I look forward to meeting with Rod at that time.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What do you -- (IANUDIBLE) -- with Mr. Rosenstein?

TRUMP: We'll have a meeting on Thursday when I get back. Today, we're meeting with a lot of great people, including President Moon. And we're, over the next couple of days, as you know, we're meeting with many countries. Tomorrow, I'm giving a big speech. But I'll be back on Thursday. When I get back, we'll have a meeting. I spoke with Rod today and we're going to have a meeting on Thursday when I get back to the White House.