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Trump Set to Meet With Rosenstein Thursday; Republican Majority Leader Defends Brett Kavanaugh on Senate Floor. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired September 24, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I'll be back on Thursday. And when I get back, we are going to 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.
I want to say, the -- the country, the United States, as President Moon pointed out when we first met, the United States is doing better economically than we have ever done before. The numbers are outstanding.
New numbers will be released that I think will just continue this forward march. And I think we have tremendous potential on the upside. I'm very excited about our new trade agreement. This is a brand-new agreement. This is not an old one rewritten. This is a brand-new agreement. And I'm very excited about that for the United States.
And I really believe it's good for both countries. But the numbers that we're doing in the United States, whether it be unemployment numbers or whether it be employment numbers, we have right now more people working in the United States than ever before in our history. That's some number. (INAUDIBLE)
And, you know, it's a number that people did not expect to see. It's a number that nobody thought would happen, certainly within two years. We're not even up to two years of the administration. So, we have more people working in the United States today than we have ever had.
Our unemployment numbers are among the best they have ever had. For African-American, it's the lowest number we have ever had. For Asian- Americans, for Hispanics, the lowest we have ever had. And we're very proud of that.
And on top of that, we have many companies moving back into the United States. In most cases, it's back. They left and now they're coming back. They all want to be where the action is.
So, I appreciate your kind words, but our economy is the envy right now of the world. We're the fastest growing economy in the world. Think of it. As large as it is, we're the fastest growing economy in the world, up $10 trillion. So, we're very proud of that.
Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much, everybody. (CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Robin Wright, just putting a button on this, two notes, hearing him say talk about saying no rush with regard to the second summit, which he says should be happening soon, but no rush, and also your note about this Rod Rosenstein meeting at the White House on Thursday happening after UNGA.
You wanted to make a thought, note about that.
ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Well, I think it's really -- that the timing of this is really important.
The president's most important international engagement is at the U.N. once a year, and he doesn't want to blow his opportunity with a distraction that takes everyone's away from his message at the U.N. He is going to chair for the first time a session on Wednesday at the Security Council.
He has a very important message as part of his foreign agenda, and he doesn't want the whole world to be talking about firing or dealing with Rod Rosenstein.
WRIGHT: When it comes to the no rush, remember, he talked about North Korea and getting a denuclearization program going or concluded within a year. And now he's saying no rush. So this is already changing the parameters of engagement with North Korea.
BALDWIN: Got it. Robin, thank you very much, Robin Wright.
Let's continue on, top of the hour.
As we just mentioned, Thursday will be a huge news day in Washington, D.C., where two extremely important meetings are set to happen. The president is now scheduled to meet with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after initial reports that he expects to be fired or could resign.
And on that very same day, senators are still expected to hear from Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. He's just written a letter to the Senate.
So, we will read part of that for you in a moment.
But, first, the White House just released a statement about the man running the Russia investigation, running this entire special counsel investigation, the deputy attorney general.
So, in part, it reads as follows: "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."
All of this coming three days after that bombshell "New York Times" report that Rosenstein considered wearing a wire to record President Trump and reportedly discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.
The deputy attorney general has forcefully denied those claims.
So, let's start this hour with our justice correspondent, our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
And, Evan, we have been hearing a lot of back and forth, what we're hearing at Justice, what we're hearing at the White House. Tell me what your sources are telling you.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, it's been a day full of drama certainly for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who as of this moment is still the deputy attorney general.
He came back to the Justice Department a little while ago, after going to the White House. You heard the president saying there that apparently they spoke, at least by phone, that he went there to meet with John Kelly, chief of staff of the president.
And then right after that meeting, it appears he went and sat in on a previously scheduled principals meeting. Imagine what that meeting was like.
But, look, the day began with word that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, as you said, the man who is the senior-most person at the Justice Department overseeing the Mueller investigation, he went to the White House thinking that he was going to be fired or he was going to be having his resignation be forced.
So, that was the -- where things stood at the beginning of the morning. It appears that at the end of that conversation with the president, Rod Rosenstein is now waiting to see the president in person here on Thursday.
We heard in the past hour Jay Sekulow, the president's -- one of the president's attorneys, go on his radio program saying that this requires a pause on all of the Russia investigation matters at least until Thursday, until they can get their heads around exactly what is happening.
But it is clear, Brooke, that the revelation of those comments that were made last year that came in that "New York Times" story and have now been confirmed by CNN and others, or news organizations, that is still rocking everything at the Justice Department and could determine the fate of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
BALDWIN: Indeed, it could. It's all going down Thursday.
Evan, thank you. Before today's development regarding Rod Rosenstein, President Trump
recorded a pretaped radio interview where he would not definitively say whether or not he would fire his deputy attorney general. Here he was.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: 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, you know, they go out and they get their own deputies and the people that work in the department.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.
And, Kaitlan, just listening to the president sitting there in New York next to President Moon of South Korea, he was asked about this. He said, yes, he's meeting with Rod Rosenstein Thursday to determine, as he said, what's going on. He highlighted the need for transparency.
How did you interpret that?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that comes, Brooke, as we know, President Trump was skeptical of that "New York Times" reporting, it was based off those memos from Andrew McCabe, that Rosenstein had floated the idea of secretly recording the president or forcibly pushing him out of the office.
President Trump didn't react to that with the anger, that volcanic anger aides thought they were going to see.
BALDWIN: Hang on a second, Kaitlan.
I'm hearing we have Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, speaking about the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Before they reviewed a lick of evidence, before they had heard a minute of testimony, Democrats already made up their mind and chosen their tactics, delay, obstruct and resist.
Whatever it took, whatever the truth really was, they were going to do whatever they could to stop this qualified, experienced and mainstream nominee.
Democrats have signaled for months they would put on whatever performance the far-left special interest demanded and throw all the mud, all the mud they could manufacture. Well, it's not like they didn't warn us, but even by the far left's standards, this shameful, shameful smear campaign has hit a new low.
I will get into the specifics in just a moment. But I want to be perfectly clear about what has taken place. Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man's personal and professional life on the basis of decades-old allegations that are unsubstantiated and uncorroborated.
That, Mr. President, is where we are. This is what the so-called resistance has become, a smear campaign, pure and simple, aided and abetted by members of the United States Senate.
Eight weeks ago, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee received a letter from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford with an uncorroborated allegation of misconduct. She had requested the matter be handled discreetly and confidentially. The responsible next step would have been alerting the full committee, so a confidential bipartisan investigation could begin.
Committee staff would have followed their standard practice for investigating background information. Senators could have questioned Judge Kavanaugh in their meetings or in closed session, while respecting Dr. Ford's request for confidentiality.
Oh, but Democrats didn't do any of that. They sat on Dr. Ford's letter for seven weeks, seven weeks, kept it secret. They did nothing, bid their time, and then they threw Professor Ford's wishes overboard and leaked it, leaked it to the press.
Our colleague from Delaware has himself indicated that either the ranking member's office or the Democratic committee staff likely leaked the document.
As I have noted, we know the chain of custody of the letter went through the Democratic side of the Judiciary Committee.
So, Mr. President, does this sound like Democratic senators take their responsibilities seriously and want to get to the truth, or does it sound like a choreographed smear campaign that ignored Dr. Ford's request for confidentiality, in order to inflict maximum damage, maximum damage, at the least minute, on Judge Kavanaugh and his family?
This is an allegation of misconduct which all four supposed witnesses either flatly contradict or are unable to back up. In addition to Judge Kavanaugh, the other three supposed witnesses have said they have -- quote -- "no knowledge," no knowledge, no recollection, no recollection, and no memory of the alleged incident.
It's not just one alleged witness disagreeing with the allegations. It's literally every person who was supposedly there. One of those supposed witnesses says she does not even know Judge Kavanaugh.
So, all the witnesses that Dr. Ford says were present at the party have told the committee on the record and under penalty of felony, under penalty of felony, all confirm they do not remember any such party, do not know Judge Kavanaugh, or have never seen him do anything remotely, remotely like has been alleged.
And this unsubstantiated allegation stands entirely at odds with everything we have heard about Judge Kavanaugh's character from those who have worked with him, socialized with him, dating all the way back to high school.
But Democrats wouldn't let a few inconvenient things like a complete lack of evidence or an accuser's request for confidentiality to get between them and a good smear.
It's despicable. And the contrast with the completely professional conduct of Chairman Grassley could not be starker. As soon as Chairman Grassley learned about this allegation, he handled it through properly channels. He immediately began gathering the facts. His office promptly conducted a transcribed interview of Judge Kavanaugh, in which, under penalty of felony, he unequivocally denied the last- minute allegation.
And the office received statements from all the other supposed witnesses that they either directly contradicted the story or denied knowing anything about it.
Once more, Chairman Grassley ensured that Dr. Ford could be heard in a form of her own choosing, either here or in California, either in public or in private, either with the staff or with members.
He's gone above and beyond to accommodate her requests. Thanks to him, we have a fair and open hearing scheduled for Thursday. Dr. Ford will be able to state her allegation under oath, and Judge Kavanaugh will be able to respond.
But the smear campaign didn't stop there. That was just act one, just act one.
According to the reporter of this second allegation, the accuser -- quote -- "came forward" because Senate Democrats began looking and now they're calling for even further delays and further obstruction over a second decades-old allegation that is so thin and so unsupported that "The New York Times" refused to even run a story about it.
This claim is so dubious that "The New York Times" passed on the story entirely after looking into it.
Here's why "The New York Times" declined to publish -- quote -- "Interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story and could find no one, no one with firsthand knowledge, not one person with firsthand knowledge, to support the allegation, but, rather, multiple on-the-record denials again."
"The Times" also reported that the claimant said she herself is uncertain of her claim. That's "The New York Times," whose credo is all the news that's fit to print. And they found this latest last-minute allegation not even fit to
Oh, but that hasn't stopped Judiciary Committee Democrats from shoveling it into their smear campaign and demanding for further delays.
They kept this one secret from Republicans, too, by the way. Evidently, several Democratic offices knew of this allegation for at least a week. But, like with Dr. Ford's claim, they sat on this one, too, so the committee could not take any proper action. They just wanted it to wind up in the press, another orchestrated last-minute hit on the nominee.
And now they're acting like it's a legitimate reason to delay things, to delay things even further, as though they hadn't already announced themselves as completely opposed to his nomination anyway, as if they hadn't already promised the far left they would lead the fight to bring this nomination down, whatever it took, whatever the cost, whatever it took, whatever the cost.
Let's put aside this last-minute, unsubstantiated smear. Let's return to the facts. Let's have a fair hearing on Thursday. Here are the facts that we do have.
Hundreds of men and women who have known Brett Kavanaugh across his life have written or spoken out that he is a man of strong character and tremendous integrity. Numerous witnesses testified before the Judiciary Committee that he's a trusted mentor, a loyal friend and a lifelong champion of women.
More than 75 women gathered last week to share their decades-old knowledge of Judge Kavanaugh as a -- quote -- "responsible guy who treats us with kindness and respect and a true gentlemen in all aspects of his life."
And, separately, of course, it remains beyond reasonable dispute that Judge Kavanaugh's legal brilliance and excellence on the bench make him one of the very most qualified Supreme Court nominees in the history of our country.
All of these facts are quite clearly on one side. Maybe that's why the Democrats are so panicked. Maybe that's why they're so willing to try to bring down this nominee.
In the meantime, a good and honorable man and his family are receiving death threats. They're the subject of smears and they're facing Senate Democrats who say he has no presumption of innocence because they don't agree with his judicial philosophy.
Well, before the week is out, both Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford will testify under oath before the Judiciary Committee. Chairman Grassley has made sure the facts will be heard. Judge Kavanaugh and the American people deserve nothing else.
And I want to make it perfectly clear, Mr. President, Judge Kavanaugh will be voted on here on the Senate floor, up or down. On the Senate floor, this fine nominee to the Supreme Court will receive a vote in this Senate in the near future.
Now, an entirely different matter, last week, our efforts to restore regular appropriations hit another milestone. The president signed into law...
BALDWIN: All right, let me -- listening to all of that, let me just start with the politics of all of this.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, just decided to lecture Democrats for their actions involving a Supreme Court nominee, the same Mitch McConnell who would not give Obama's -- the person Obama wanted to be on his Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, a hearing, right?
That's pretty rich.
I have got Gloria Borger and Kaitlan Collins with me.
And it's like, Gloria, seriously?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if I recall, Merrick Garland was waiting around for 400 days, and then never did get either a hearing or a vote.
And so it is pretty rich to hear McConnell say, you know, this is the schedule, and we are going to stick to it.
BORGER: The other point he is making that is absolutely accurate is that this is politics. And this is payback for Merrick Garland, as you point out, and this is also Democrats believing that they believe Dr. Ford, and they want her to be heard, and now she is willing to be heard.
And they want it to be done in a different way, with an FBI investigation, et cetera, et cetera. But, you know, both sides here are playing hardball, Brooke. You know, they're...
BALDWIN: All the times he said smear, smear, smear.
BORGER: Right. Well, he was talking about the piece in "The New Yorker," which he considered uncorroborated. He then quoted "The New York Times," which I also thought was rich, because, of course, when do Republicans quote "The New York Times"?
BALDWIN: The failing "New York Times." Right. Right.
Saying "The New York Times" had the same information but, you know, didn't go with it. So, you know, I mean, we understand what is going on here. We understood it back when Anita Hill testified. And, you know, little has changed, to be honest. Little has changed.
BALDWIN: Republicans seem to -- Kaitlan, this is for you. Republicans seem to be lumping in, though, this new allegation coming out of this "New Yorker" piece with Christine Blasey Ford's accusations as an offensive political tactic, lumping it all together.
COLLINS: Yes. We are seeing the strategy change very quickly in the matter of that allegation with Christine Blasey Ford to this allegation with the latest woman in "The New Yorker," Deborah Ramirez, quite a bit a bit of a big strategy change here, Brooke, because, beforehand, the White House, they were not saying this was a smear.
Neither was the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. They were saying maybe this woman doesn't remember, she has no evidence to back this up, et cetera, et cetera. And now they're saying these are smears, this is a political strategy to get Kavanaugh away from his chances of ever being confirmed to the Supreme Court.
And that's just not what would we were seeing just a few days ago before this allegation came out in "The New Yorker" last night. We saw that not only was Senate Majority Leader McConnell there saying smear on repeat, but also with Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor, during her interview this morning saying that she believed this is some left-wing conspiracy out to get Brett Kavanaugh.
And President Trump saying himself this is all political. You're right, they are pushing these two allegations together. One, they're saying doesn't have simply enough sourcing. They're pointing to the fact that "The New York Times" said they interviewed dozens of people and couldn't find anyone who could corroborate this information.
But they're only focusing on this allegation. They're not focusing on the woman who's coming to Washington on Thursday to testify and say that she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh. That's an allegation which of course he denies. And we're even seeing Brett Kavanaugh himself come out swinging here with that lengthy letter that he wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying that he's being smeared.
What we're witnessing right now is a very big change in strategy, going from, let's hear this woman out, we are going to defend our nominee to now, this is a political strategy to smear Brett Kavanaugh.
BALDWIN: Yes, I have got two letters in my hand, just to underscore Kaitlan's point.
This is Brett Kavanaugh writing to Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein, "These are smears, pure and simple" and talking about a "federal judge must be independent, not swayed by public or political pressure, and that's the kind of judge I will always be."
Let's hone in on Christine Blasey Ford, because I now have new words from her.
And so let me just read. Gloria, I want your reaction to this. I'm just going to read a chunk of her letter.
Dr Ford's says that: "Mr. Kavanaugh's actions, while many years ago, were serious and have had a lasting impact on my life. I thought that knowledge of his actions could be useful for you and those in charge of choosing among the various candidates. My original intent was first and foremost to be a helpful citizen in a confidential way that would minimize collateral damage to all friends and family involved.
"I then took the step of sending a confidential letter to one of my senators, Ranking Member Feinstein, and I understand you have a copy of that letter. I'm certainly prepared to repeat the facts in the letter and to provide further facts under oath at a hearing. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and other senators directly, person-to-person, to tell you what occurred.
"I will answer any questions you have. I hope that we can find such a setting that you will understand that I have one motivation in coming forward, to tell the truth about what Mr. Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge did to me. My sincere desire is to be helpful in persons making the decision."
And then she goes to close it: "While I'm frightened, please know my fear will not hold me back from testifying. And you will be provided with answers to all of your questions. I ask for fair and respectful treatment."
BORGER: Yes, this is a perfectly reasonable letter from a woman who clearly states that she initially intended for this to be private.
Then it suddenly became public, and she found herself in a spotlight she did not want to be in at all. She offered to meet with Grassley one-on-one and with Republican senators one-on-one, and before the committee to tell her story.
And I think, you know, to Kaitlan's point, what we're seeing today is kind of Republicans trying to put in the same pot the story that was in "The New Yorker," and...
BALDWIN: It's not the same. It's not the same.
BORGER: ... and Dr. Ford. And they are not the same.
We cannot -- you know, we cannot verify "The New Yorker" story, and -- but they're trying to mesh it in and say, look at this pattern. It's a pattern of people with political motives trying to destroy Judge Kavanaugh.
And I think that after the story came out yesterday, it gave Republicans a lot more wind at their back, if you will, because there were journalists saying, you know, we can't confirm this. And there were people saying, you know, I don't remember this, I don't recall this, et cetera, et cetera. So they're just trying to conflate the two into one big thing. And
they're not. They're not the same at all. I think Judge Kavanaugh needs to answer questions about both of them, but Mitch McConnell made it very clear that that's not going to occur.
BALDWIN: And just lastly, the timing of all this. Right? I forget off the top of my head the exact day count until the midterms, but essentially six weeks...
BALDWIN: Thank you very much, 42 days until the midterm elections.
And so why the stakes, Kaitlan, are so high, right, that there is no way, in that time, depending on what does or doesn't happen with Judge Kavanaugh, to try to get someone else through. There's an outside chance, outside chance that Democrats could take the Senate. This is a big deal.
COLLINS: And that's everything that is on the White House's mind as they are fighting against these allegations made against Judge Kavanaugh.
It's not just because they like him as a person. They also realize what is at stake here. And we have heard President Trump essentially voicing that.
But White House officials, Brooke, feared that some second accuser would come forward in the days before Christine Blasey Ford did come forward to testify against Kavanaugh. And that was their fear, that even if they couldn't disprove or prove allegations, further allegations that they thought could come out, that if there were multiple accusations made against Brett Kavanaugh, that that could derail his nomination altogether.
That is their concern here. President Trump has made pretty clear he's standing by Brett Kavanaugh right now. He wants to defend him. He thinks these are political targets on Kavanaugh's back, and that that's the only reason these allegations are coming out.
But the White Houses fear was that so much, to the fact where senior officials in the White House were discussing who else they could nominate to the Supreme Court. They think they could essentially cut bait with Brett Kavanaugh and have someone else nominated, maybe Amy Coney Barrett, Kethledge, those others that were the leading contenders leading up to Brett Kavanaugh's nomination and potentially have someone like that confirmed by January.
Those are ideas that are floating around in the West Wing right now because they think it could become too perilous of a situation with Brett Kavanaugh.
Whether or not that is true, we will find out this week.
BALDWIN: All right, ladies, let me thank the two of you .
I have got Joan Biskupic, who has got a microphone on here as well, who's been covering the Supreme Court for years and years.
And, Joan, it sounds like, reading both of these letters, it sounds like this hearing is going to happen. Neither side is shying away.
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's so true, Brooke.
We start the morning wondering if the latest set of allegations is going to derail this nominee, who was so close to getting a committee vote, moving closer to the floor, when everything first blew up about 10 days ago.
But what's happened in just the last two hours, Brooke, shows that all parties are digging in, in one way or another. We got, most importantly, from the nominee himself a letter saying he owes it to himself, he owes it to his family -- you know, he's a father of two daughters.
He owes it to all these women who have supported him to stick with it.