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Kavanaugh Proclaims Innocent in FOX News Interview; Former Female Supporter Removes Name from Letter After Viewing Kavanaugh's Yearbook Posts; McConnell Promises Senate Vote on Kavanaugh Soon; Trump & Rosenstein to Meet Thursday; What Happens to Russia Probe if Rosenstein is Fired; Trump: Kavanaugh Accusations A "Con Game by Democrats". Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired September 25, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: This is a U.N.-enshrined legal treaty -- not a treaty of the U.S., but a U.N.-enshrined Security Council resolution binding deal.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president handled the laughter well, I would say, in that moment in the hall. I do wonder what it means maybe when it sets in a little later. Watch your Twitter feeds.

Thank you, guys. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Coming up for us, take the fight to primetime. Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh defending himself against accusations of sexual assault and inappropriate sexual conduct in an unprecedented interview on FOX News. Details ahead.

Plus, can the deputy attorney general survive? Rod Rosenstein's future is still in limbo. Yes, it started to be in limbo yesterday and we're still there today ahead of a high-stakes meeting with the president on Thursday. If he is out, what happens to the Russia investigation?


[11:35:05] BOLDUAN: Now that President Trump has addressed the United Nations, he can turn his attention back to the double dose of drama waiting for him in Washington. The total confusion of Rod Rosenstein's employment status, let's just say. Fired, resigning, not yet, neither? Your guess is as good as mine.

And also the allegations against his Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, who took to FOX News last night in an extraordinary interview for a Supreme Court nominee to do. He went there to say he's not going anywhere. Denying the allegations from two female accusers of sexual assault and inappropriate sexual behavior. Listen.


BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: The truth is I have never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise. I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford, at some point, in her life was sexually assaulted by someone in some place, but what I know is I have never sexually assaulted anyone.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Abby Phillip is live at the United Nations here in New York with the latest on this.

So, Abby, what's going to happen here?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, your guess is as good as mine. I think the White House right now is trying to do the best they can to really push back against these allegations. That's because President Trump himself has really directed his staff to take a more offensive role in this role in this whole thing. That's one of the reasons why you saw Brett Kavanaugh talking in that interview last night. The president views this as something that is incredibly unfair to his nominee, a character assassination. But even these new allegations, there were Dr. Ford's allegations and now a new one from Deborah Ramirez. The White House is saying they're still willing to hear from her, too.

Listen to Sarah Sanders talk about this this morning.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: So does the president want Ms. Ramirez to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee as well?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly, we would be open to that, and that process could take place on Thursday. Again, the president's been clear, let them speak, but let's also let Brett Kavanaugh speak, and let's let him tell his side of the story before we allow allegations to determine his entire future.


PHILLIP: Our sources say that a lot of people in the White House view these second allegations as being thinner than the first. So they think they're in a better position to handle it. But of course, they don't have much room for error here. There are three moderate Republican Senators who are on the line, and they're trying to make sure that they don't have any defections going into a final vote on Kavanaugh's nomination.

BOLDUAN: Abby, also about Kavanaugh, the "New York Times" is also reporting that a former classmate of Kavanaugh's had been one of the 65 women who put together -- signed on to a letter in support of Kavanaugh. She's now taking her name off the list because of Kavanaugh's yearbook posts. What are you hearing about that?

PHILLIP: That's right. Well, she signed that letter last week, and then it turned out Kavanaugh's yearbook became scrutinized. And in the yearbook, there was an inscription on his page that said "Renat Aluminous." A lot of people wondered what that meant. It appeared multiple times on various boys' pages. Turns out, it was a reference to her. She was Renat Schroder. She was a girl who went to school at a Catholic girls school nearby. And people who went to school with them say that that inscription was a reference to unsubstantiated claims of romantic or sexual conquest with her. Now, she later learned about that, and she called it hurtful. She was offended by it. She told the "New York Times" she had no idea that was the case. And has since kind of pulled back on her endorsement of Kavanaugh's character.

But this is just one of those examples of how much information is coming out about this phase of Kavanaugh's life that has caused some people who even went to school with him and knew him then to question the person that they knew. Of course, Kavanaugh through his lawyers, has said that the inscription meant nothing harmful, that he claimed that he had had one kiss, but she denied that. So this is all very tangled. You know, 17-year-olds in high school, but it's just all being brought to the forefront right now as a result of this nomination.

BOLDUAN: Can't even agree on a kiss.

Abby, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

How is all this playing out or impacting the people who have the final say here, which is to have the vote, yea or nay on Kavanaugh? Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is signaling that in no uncertain terms he will move forward with an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. But all eyes are on these three possible Republican holdouts, these three Republican Senators that are really in question, have been from beginning but especially today.

Sunlen Serfaty has that on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, what's the latest there?

[11:40:00] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, certainly as Mitch McConnell pushes ahead and says he is pushing ahead with an up-or-down vote some time soon. He said some time in the near future on the Senate floor.

As he says that, though, it certainly is significant that these key swing-vote Senators -- of course, we talked about them a lot in recent days. Like Lisa Murkowski. She made a significant statement this morning to my colleague, Manu Raju, which is not in line with the rest of her party says, indicating she belies an FBI investigation over all of these allegations would do a lot to clear the air.

Here's what she said earlier this morning.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator, do you think there should be a full FBI investigation into these allegations from Kavanaugh's past?



MURKOWSKI: -- it would sure -- it would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn't it?


SERFATY: Meantime, just moments ago, I spoke with Senator Bob Corker, who is a key Republican voice. He is not on the Judiciary Committee. But he asked about these latest rounds of allegations, he called the "New Yorker" allegations from Debbie Ramirez thin, was the word he used, and he said it's starting to feel like a circus. I asked him if he agreed with Republicans' calls, like Lisa Murkowski this morning, that fresh call for potentially for an FBI investigation. Here's how he responded.


SERFATY: Do you think Debbie Ramirez should be testifying?

SEN. BOB CORKER, (R), TENNESSEE: I don't know. Whatever the committee decides. I think -- whatever the committee decides. I think that's up to them. I read the "New Yorker" article. It was pretty thin. No one else remembered any of it. This is really kind of getting carried away. It's feeling more like a circus. But, again, I did feel like this first accuser should be heard, and you all already know that.


SERFATY: Senator Corker went on to say that the longer this all plays out, the worse this potentially gets. Kate, I know that's a feeling many Republicans up here on Capitol Hill privately will tell you, the longer this takes, the more potential for other accusations and the more, to use Senator Corker's words, this turns into a circus. That's in large part why we have seen Mitch McConnell take to the floor and say, look, we want this to go on -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Sunlen, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

Coming up for us still, 24 hours later and it's still an open question. Will Rod Rosenstein keep his job? The meeting between the deputy attorney general and the president of the United States now set for Thursday. But is this whole dramatic showdown now something of a distraction, on purpose, from the White House's other troubles? Details ahead.


[11:47:24] BOLDUAN: As far as we know, Rod Rosenstein is still the deputy attorney general of the United States today. But now, he's facing new demands from critics on Capitol Hill. They want him to testify about that bombshell report in the "New York Times" that came out late last week. The "New York Times" citing sources saying Rosenstein suggested secretly recording President Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to oust him from office in the days after Trump fired James Comey last year.

One of the president's top allies on Capitol Hill, Republican Congressman Mark Meadows, tweeting this: "You can have the note -- you can't have the number-two official at the Department of Justice making comments about wiring the president and not address it. Rod Rosenstein must come before Congress this week under oath and tell the truth about his alleged statements."

No word on if that's going to happen yet. But before then, probably, Rosenstein has a date with the president, meeting Thursday about his future. And, so far, President Trump isn't giving any hints.


GERALDO RIVERA, RADO SHOW HOST (voice-over): Will you fire Rod Rosenstein based on this treachery?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I don't want to comment on it. 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. And I'll make a determination some time later. But I don't have the facts.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now, CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, and CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Guys, we're back together. Do we have any more clarity today?

Kaitlan, first to you.

We're hearing White House officials are cautioning against presuming that Rosenstein will be fired. What do you have?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's not because the dynamic between President Trump and the deputy attorney general have changed at all, but because we know when they sit down on Thursday, President Trump does not like one-on-one conflict. He's not good at confronting people he's got problems with. He's not good at firing people. Instead, usually, giving that task to somebody else. That's exactly what we could see on Thursday and what White House officials are cautioning against. They're saying this is the president's major weakness, we know how he is, we know he doesn't like to fire people when he's one-on-one. So that is why they're issuing that word of caution.

But of course, they aren't ruling out that he could be fired either. As you heard from Sarah Sanders this morning, she was asked, does the president want to keep Rod Rosenstein? Does she want to fire him? And she couldn't say either way, Kate. Instead, she said they're going to sit down on Thursday. We'll see what happens then.

But she did say one thing that could give an indication of what exactly that conservation on Thursday is going to look that, and that is she said they had a good, long conversation yesterday. Of course, that conversation came amid awkward circumstances where Rod Rosenstein thought he was about to be fired. John Kelly, the chief of staff, was under the impression that he has already resigned. Then he spoke with President Trump on the speaker-phone call in the West Wing that didn't clear any of this up. It only postponed it for another few days until President Trump gets back from the United Nations meeting in New York, something he is trying to tamp down the speculation on, saying, I'll focus on that on Thursday. Today, I'm worried about the meetings that I have going on in New York.

[11:50:23] BOLDUAN: So stay tuned as Donald Trump would love everyone to do.

Laura, Rod Rosenstein is the deputy attorney general of the United States. He is tasked with overseeing the Russia investigation. Is there any more clarity -- there's sure a lot more chatter -- about what happens to the Russia investigation if Rosenstein is out?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: If he is shown the door, Kate, there's a contingency plan over here at the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation doesn't just go away. The man who is the solicitor general of the United States, Noel Francisco, would assume the position as the acting attorney general but just for purposes of overseeing the Mueller investigation. He would still remain the solicitor general, arguing cases before the Supreme Court. And that was the plan as we understood it yesterday. Justice officials were all ready to go with Francisco to lead the Mueller investigation, drafting statements to that effect. But none of that came to fruition. So we will have to wait and see whether that plan comes to pass on Thursday -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Great to see you, guys. Thanks so much.

Joining me right now is CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti.

Chris, after all that was confusion yesterday, he still has his job. And now officials say, as Kaitlan is reporting, don't assume he will be out after there's a meeting. Why?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Everything we know -- let me start here. There are two contradictory Donald Trump things we know that will run into one another. One is he doesn't like it when people who work for him do things that undermine him in any way, much less, invoking the 25th Amendment or wearing a wire. That's on this side. On the other side, he likes to subvert expectations. He likes to be the guy who grants the clemency, whether it's reality TV, you can stay around even though you were fired, or whether it's in real life. You have those two things running into one another, Kate. He is being urged by lots of Republicans not to fire Rosenstein because of how it looks and how it would unsettle things even further amid Kavanaugh and with the election 42 days from today. So I don't know how it turns out. Kaitlan is right. What we know about Donald Trump is the possibility exists that he does the unexpected, at least, in part, because it's unexpected.

BOLDUAN: Renato, on general premises, how does Rosenstein operate under this level of uncertainty? All he has to do is ask Jeff Sessions. I know. But what do you think the real impact is over at Justice?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Clearly, this shook Rosenstein and there were plenty of press reports that he, at one point, sought a meeting with the president because he was concerned about his job. He has been trying to improve his relationship with President Trump over the last several months. I can't imagine it's easy. He doesn't know whether he will be coming to work again at the end of the week or next week. That said, I think he is probably putting his head down and getting the job done. Frankly, this is very consequential. While I have my doubts as to whether or not Rosenstein will be fired on Thursday, if it did happen, it would be significant.

BOLDUAN: Chris, a lot of folks think that when it comes to -- let's say Rosenstein and Sessions, quite frankly -- that it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when they get pushed out, and everyone said it's the midterms. After the midterms, what does that change?

CILLIZZA: OK, first of all, I would say I agree with the idea that Sessions is gone after the midterms and probably Rosenstein as well unless he is gone sooner. But I will return to my previous point, Kate, which is predicting what Donald Trump is going to be to do is a fool's errand. If you've learned nothing else from the last three- plus years of Donald Trump, the politician, I would say that.

What does it change? To the extent you buy into this, I think you ask a Republican like Mitch McConnell what it changes, it takes the immediate impact and the sting of creating more chaos as it related to that investigation. Voters have rendered their judgment. I don't think it will be a good judgment on Republicans. But he can do it and there's 22 months before the next election. So there's plenty of time for other things to happen for Republicans to shape that message. You don't have that if he does it now because, again, voters are voting in six weeks.

[11:55:12] BOLDUAN: Guys, stand by. The control room is telling me in my ear that in the president's bilateral meeting with the Columbian president, he was talking about Brett Kavanaugh. Let's listen to this together. Please listen.


TRUMP: I mean, charges come up from 36 years ago that are totally unsubstantiated?

I mean, you, watching this as the president of a great country. You must say, how is this possible?

Thirty-six years ago and nobody ever knew about it, nobody ever heard about it? And now a new charge comes up. And she said, well, it may not be him and there were gaps. And she said she was totally inebriated and she was all messed up. And she doesn't know it was him, but it might have been him. Oh, gee, let's not make him a Supreme Court justice over that. This is a con game being played by the Democrats. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: A con game being played by the Democrats. That was the president at his most dismissive of what we have been seeing playing out, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Yes. I will add, we covered this, but I think it remains remarkable. Last week, Donald Trump saying that Christine Blasey Ford, if it's as bad as she alleged, she would have reported it 36 years ago to the FBI. That overlooked so much of what we know about how sexual assault and assault generally is processed. That, plus this. Remember, a week ago, we were talking about how Donald Trump has been restrained and his aides have been restrained he has been as it relates to the charges by Christine Blasey Ford. This is the whole thing. If you don't like what Donald Trump is doing one minute, just wait, because he will do something different. And --


BOLDUAN: It's not just the president, Chris, because --

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BOLDUAN: -- I noticed it yesterday. The real evolution of how the White House and Republicans have talked about and addressed the allegations and accusations from "she should be heard," when it comes to Dr. Ford, to "vast left-wing conspiracy" to "smear campaign" to now "con game." There's a real evolution here. And obviously, this is coordinated. There's a decision they want to go harder.

CILLIZZA: Correct. Look at yesterday alone. You have what you said about Kellyanne Conway saying it feels like a left-wing experience. And then you Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor angry, calling it a smear, saying this is lower than they have ever gone. You have Orrin Hatch, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who sits on it, essentially dismissing -- I won't use the word -- but dismissing these latest charges as sort of garbage. Then you have Brett Kavanaugh going on FOX News and giving an interview to sell all of that.


Much more to come on this as we always say.

I really appreciate it, Chris. Great to see you.

Renato, thank you so much.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

And thank you so much for joining us. We will have much more on "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King after a quick break.