Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump to Meet Rosenstein on Thursday; GOP urge President Trump not to Fire Rosenstein; Trump Changes Tone on Kim Jong-un; Dow Set to Rise Amid U.S.-China Trade Tensions; Brett Kavanaugh Denies Sexual Assault Allegations in TV Interview; Senate Republicans Determined to Salvage Kavanaugh Nomination. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 25, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CAMEROTA: Beautiful. What a community. I'm glad that we just highlighted them.

All right. Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Jim Sciutto, and we'll see you tomorrow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow is on assignment this morning.

His Supreme Court pick is not budging. His deputy attorney general still has a job, but all that could change on Thursday. President Trump preparing this morning for his second address to the U.N. General Assembly. We're going to bring that to you live in the next hour.

But drama, suspense, sheer uncertainty reigning once again in Washington. That is where Judge Brett Kavanaugh took an unheard of step last night in hopes of saving his Supreme Court nomination. And it is where the second highest official in the Justice Department is now waiting on an Oval Office meeting that could decide not just his fate but potentially the future of the Russia investigation.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the U.N. today.

Let's start, Abby, with what appeared to be the president's primary focus right now, and that is on confirming Judge Kavanaugh. We're going to hear from him on Thursday when he testifies again before the Judiciary Committee. We do not expect to hear from him and Mrs. Kavanaugh in a TV interview as we did last night, though.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. This is definitely one of those things that has been preoccupying President Trump, despite being here in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. But he has been pushing his aides over the last several days to get more aggressive in combating some of these allegations, even as a second woman is now accusing Kavanaugh of some behavior when he was younger in his college days.

Now one of those signs of how President Trump is pushing his aides to go further is that interview that Kavanaugh did with FOX News last night with his wife. He sat down for a lengthy interview going into the many details about his personal life and denying the allegations against him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, 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 any one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: And Kavanaugh also denies the allegations that were being brought by a new woman, Deborah Ramirez, who said that in college at a party he exposed himself to her. This is all part of an effort by the White House to really regain control of this narrative, especially considering that they really don't have a huge margin of error here come the end of this week when they really are pushing Republican leaders to put this thing to a vote -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Listen, information, Abby, is coming through on this virtually every day. There is another new wrinkle today, some information that not normally part of a confirmation process, but it's from Kavanaugh's high school yearbook. Explain the details.

PHILLIP: Yes. This is an interesting and somewhat odd detail here. There was a letter that was circulated last week when the first allegations against Kavanaugh came out. And one of the signatories was a woman who went to a nearby Catholic school around the same time that Kavanaugh was in high school. Now this woman was saying that she supported Kavanaugh's character, she supported his nomination, but then it turned out that there was something in Kavanaugh's yearbook, an inscription that said "Renate alumnus."

Now people wondered what exactly was that. And it turns out it was a reference to her. She later said that she didn't know that that was an inscription that was about her. People who went to school with them say that it was something that the football players at Kavanaugh's school wrote to imply that they had some kind of romantic or sexual conquest with this woman.

She has now pulled back on her support. She's called that inscription, you know, a hateful thing that he would have written about her. And so it's just one more odd detail in this whole saga as people are going back through their memories from high school with Kavanaugh and sometimes reevaluating their picture of him in public as these new allegations have come forward.

SCIUTTO: Well, this is among the mix of the uncomfortable information senators are going to face as they make this decision after this hearing on Thursday.

Abby Phillip, at the U.N., thanks very much.

CNN's Manu Raju, he's on Capitol Hill this morning where now more than ever the view among most Senate Republicans at least seems to be get through this hearing on Thursday and then get this to a vote. What are you hearing this morning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. Last night members met on the Senate Judiciary Committee discussing exactly how to move forward and emerging from those discussions Republicans were insistent on getting this nomination through committee perhaps as soon as this week after that Thursday hearing.

Of course, a big caveat being how does that Thursday hearing go if Judge Kavanaugh presents a story that they can argue is credible enough, presented as a he said-she said given that there will be no outside witnesses allowed.

[09:05:09] Perhaps they can get this through on to the Senate floor as soon as this week, maybe a vote in the Senate floor next week. But the big question is where do some of those key senators who all along have been uncertain about whether they'll support him in the aftermath of Christine Blasey Ford allegations. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, among the four we're watching very closely. How do they respond to that Thursday hearing. Murkowski telling me yesterday that she wants to watch that very closely, as did Susan Collins.

Moreover, Jim, there are Senate Judiciary Committee plans to have a discussion with that woman making a separate allegation in the "New Yorker" who alleged that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during college, something that he has denied. They plan to have a discussion with the attorney for that woman sometime today.

And also discussions still about who on the Republican side will actually be doing the questioning on Thursday. An outside counsel perhaps and there's some discussion about someone who is a, quote, "sex crimes prosecutor," bringing that person in to do the questioning. That has not been resolved yet. The Ford's camp does not want to go that route -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's going to be a remarkable moment on Thursday.

Manu Raju, on the Hill, thanks very much.

Joining me now is CNN contributors Salena Zito and Elie Honig, he's a former federal prosecutor.

Thanks to both of you. Salena, if I could begin with you, let's look at the big picture first because ultimately after this Thursday hearing it appears, assuming the hearing goes forward, that you're going to have a vote. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, appears to say that he has the votes to get Kavanaugh through. Does he have the votes?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, McConnell tends to be a pretty good vote getter. Whether you like him or not he tends to know exactly where the moving parts are. And so I would expect if that's what he says then that's what's going to happen. I think it's really important to -- for the Republicans, to get this

vote through and have it behind them. I think if the Republicans go into the midterms with a 4-4 court, I think that it's all over for them. I think -- and I think that he understands that.

SCIUTTO: But there is a risk on the other side, is there not? Because, yes, bring it to a vote.

ZITO: Yes.

SCIUTTO: But you're going to have Miss Ford come before there as well as Mr. Kavanaugh who's going to seek to defend his character and you got Miss Ford make --

ZITO: Right.

SCIUTTO: For the first time Americans are going to see this woman, a mother, a professor -- see her face as she makes this claim.

ZITO: Yes.

SCIUTTO: There are risks as well for Republicans, are there not, as they make this vote, particularly for women who are involved here?

ZITO: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Senator Collins, et cetera. It's quite a fine path for Republicans to walk, is it not?

ZITO: Absolutely. I mean, Thursday is going to be all to end all, right? We will know after the questioning, after seeing both of them come forward in front of the committee, who is the most credible, who is the most forthright. And you're right about women. You know, women voters are incredibly important in this election. A lot of them are moving towards the Democrats.

But remember, you know, not only is there a Me Too Movement, but there -- a lot of woman are also mothers who have sons or, you know, obviously daughters or brothers. So they also project on Kavanaugh and look at him and wonder, what if this was my dad? What if this was my son?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ZITO: So I think there's part -- I think we're not always adding that to the decision process with women. And I think that will --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ZITO: That will be really important.

SCIUTTO: Listen, it's a supremely personal issue for all involved.

ZITO: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Elie, if I could speak to you, your experience is, as a prosecutor, you've dealt with cases like this before. I mean, information, if you want to call it evidence, is coming across the trans virtually every day, uncomfortable information. The latest being a yearbook posting from Brett Kavanaugh's high school yearbook where, and I don't want to get too much into details here because it's a little bit uncomfortable.

But this idea that he and his friends were alums of this woman, in effect implying that they all had some sort of sexual contact with her. If this were a legal case -- because this is partially a legal case, but it is also -- it's public, it's public relations case, a court of public opinion case. If this were a legal case, would evidence like that be relevant and credible?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes.

SCIUTTO: To an investigation.

HONIG: That's a typical piece of circumstantial evidence. It doesn't go right to the heart of the allegation but a prosecutor would argue it tends to support it, it tends to show conduct, a pattern of behavior.

SCIUTTO: Right.

[09:10:03] HONIG: And the defense would argue it's irrelevant. It's (INAUDIBLE). There is all manner of circumstantial evidence, important circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence can be incredibly compelling that I think the Republicans are trying to strip out of this and I think Manu hit the nail on the head.

I think it seems the Republican strategy is no investigation, no FBI investigation when they easily could have done it. Let's keep Mark Judge out of here for reasons that I think you can surmise why. Let's not get into the therapist's notes of what Dr. Ford told her six years ago in 2012 and let's just strip it down to Dr. Ford's testimony, Judge Brett Kavanaugh's testimony, and if that happens I think the hope is, well, maybe people will disagree. Maybe people will credit her or him, who knows, and then we'll just go to our vote and be done with it.

But I think -- I think it tells you something that Dr. Ford's camp has been the one that really is pushing for the investigation and more facts, and Kavanaugh's camp is the one that's desperate to avoid that.

SCIUTTO: So, Salena Zito, what do you think of that? Because we heard from Brett Kavanaugh in extremely unusual circumstances. This is a Supreme Court nominee currently going through the nomination process, currently under consideration to give a television interview, a live television interview.

One thing he did not ask for there, he asked for process. He asked for a chance to defend his name. He did not ask for an FBI investigation to clear his name or at least potentially clear his name. Was that a mistake on his part?

ZITO: I guess we'll know after Thursday, right? It's hard to tell. I mean, if you're Kavanaugh you're -- and, or you're the Senate Republicans but even if you're just Kavanaugh in his mind if he is innocent, then that's where he's coming from, he's thinking, look, I have already gone through FBI investigations with my past job experiences and hiring and appointments. I really don't want to put my family through this again. I don't want to elongate this.

You know, when you're in the middle of a character attack, every day is death by a thousand cuts because, you know, the pain it inflicts on yourself and your family and the people that support you is -- you know, is breathtaking. So maybe he's thinking I don't want to elongate this. Let's just do this, let's the committee take a look, let's take a vote and let the chips fall where they may.

And whether that's a right or wrong decision, I guess we'll find out after the vote is taken.

SCIUTTO: Fair point. Of course, we have two families that are struggling with this now. Ford's family.

ZITO: Right. Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: And Kavanaugh's family.

Salena Zito, thanks very much. Elie Honig, please stay -- Elie Honig, please stay with me because we have more questions.

Still to come, uncertain fate. Will Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein still have a job after his Thursday sit-down with Donald Trump? And if he is out, what does that mean for the future of Bob Mueller's Russia probe?

Trump on the world stage. President Trump set to tout his America first agenda at the United Nations General Assembly here in New York. And Bill Cosby has one last chance now to make his case before he is sentenced on three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

We'll be right back with all these stories.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: It was a confusing day yesterday, to say the least. Rod Rosenstein remains the deputy Attorney General, at least for the time being. And he is set to meet with President Trump face- to-face now at the White House on Thursday. White House officials are telling Cnn this hour that it would be a mistake to assume that Rosenstein will be ousted at that meeting.

All of this comes one day after Rosenstein survived a whirlwind of morning full of speculation and mixed messages. Joining me now from Washington, Cnn Justice reporter Laura Jarrett. Laura Jarrett, help us understand what happened yesterday, what didn't happen. I mean, was the reality here at the White House was preparing for him to resign and he backed off resigning, or do we know?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, I think we're still trying to figure that out in all honesty, Jim. With all the twists and turns of yesterday, our colleague Jeff Zeleny reporting this morning that Rosenstein's fate is not sealed just yet, at least in the president's eyes.

The president apparently still very skeptical of that "New York Times" bombshell report that started off this whole chain of events, of course, the one where Rosenstein apparently discussed wearing a wire on the president and also mused by what it would take to invoke the 25th Amendment.

But just only reporting that the president used that skeptically, of course, it comes from the memos documented by the person he hates the most, Andrew McCabe; former deputy director at the FBI. But listen to how Trump just sort of depicted the scene yesterday and how he talked about his call with Rosenstein yesterday, Jim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm meeting with Rod Rosenstein on Thursday when I get back from all of these meetings, and 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 and I look forward to meeting with Rod at that time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Obviously, very measured statement from the president there in comparison to some of his statements in the past about Rod Rosenstein. So all eyes of course focused on Thursday. But it's interesting yesterday just how prepared Rosenstein was to be fired. He went over to the White House yesterday for a meeting with John Kelly, expecting that, that would be his last day.

Justice Department officials were prepared that that was the end, drafting statements, saying that the Solicitor General Noel Francisco would take over overseeing the Mueller probe, and that Matt Whitaker; the Attorney General's chief of staff would take Rosenstein's place.

But of course none of that came to fruition, and now we just wait to see what Thursday holds. Jim?

SCIUTTO: We do, indeed. Laura Jarrett, thanks very much. Joining us now to talk about this, Cnn political analyst David Drucker, senior political correspondent at the "Washington Examiner" and former Federal Prosecutor Elie Honig back with us now. David Drucker, can you add any wisdom to the truth of what happened in the last 24 hours?

[09:20:00] Because now the White House guidance to Jeff Zeleny, my colleague at the White House is -- don't assume that Rosenstein will be fired. So --

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Yes --

SCIUTTO: What happened yesterday?

DRUCKER: Well, look, I think that the best answer here is that Rosenstein is likely to keep his job, at least through the midterm elections. If we step back and recall, the president had said about a month and a half ago that he doesn't know if he wants to keep Rosenstein around.

But he had agreed, primarily, at the plea of Senate Republicans that he wasn't going to fire him before the midterm elections to create the specter that he's trying to influence the Mueller investigation or move to end it, which would create political chaos for Republicans.

SCIUTTO: Oh, but he's comfortable sending that signal after the midterm elections?

DRUCKER: I think that after the midterm elections, even though there are still political peril, and I think it actually would be a problem for the president in terms of his 2020 re-election. He is looking at a Senate theoretically that could be with more Republicans. And if you have Republican gains in states like Indiana, Montana, Missouri, West Virginia, even though some of those might not pan out.

But if it does, you have not just more Republicans to confirm a Rosenstein replacement, but these are senators that would be indebted to Trump because these are pro-Trump states. So it's better confirmation territory for the president if he waits -- I think he knows that. I also think that McConnell has made it clear, if you do this, you could really cause us a problem, and that causes you a problem.

And that's why I think regardless of what happened yesterday, we ended up with a very unusually measured response from the president, which is we're just going to have a meeting on Thursday, we're going to figure this out and there is no imminent action.

SCIUTTO: So Elie Honig, that is all political calculation there, has nothing to do with respect for the Mueller investigation. So let's talk about what this would mean for the Mueller investigation if Rosenstein were to be removed, resigned, forced out, fired, whether before or after the midterms.

ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The stakes are enormous, Jim. There's only one person who Robert Mueller reports to on the entire face of the earth, and that's Rod Rosenstein, not Jeff Sessions, not President Trump. If you change out Rod Rosenstein, whoever comes in, whether it's Noel Francisco or somebody else, all of the big decisions in this investigation have to run through that person.

Who are we going to subpoena? Most importantly the president. We could be teeing up an issue for the Supreme Court if there's a presidential subpoena, we see things going down that path. Now that's going to have to go through if Rosenstein is replaced through whoever his replacement is, indictments.

There is some huge indictments that could be in the offering. Donald Trump Jr. has been rumored, Jared Kushner, they both were part of the Trump Tower meeting, Roger Stone has been widely rumored, now you have to go through whoever replaces Rosenstein every important step of the way. And one thing I would say is, Rod Rosenstein is sort of the ultimate

pro in the world of prosecutors, Department of Justice officials. He's been at this for over two decades, he served under President Bush, under President Obama, now under President Trump. Noel Francisco, I don't know personally, I've heard he is a brilliant person, but he has never prosecuted a case in his life.

And to take someone with zero prosecutorial experience and put them on top of the Mueller investigation, I think is pretty fraud.

SCIUTTO: David Drucker, is the president hoping to appoint someone, and does he believe he has the political backing to appoint someone to oversee the Mueller investigation who is less friendly to the Mueller investigation?

DRUCKER: Yes, I think so, and I think that's what the president's allies would like. Look, I think that --

SCIUTTO: That's what they would like, but is it true?

DRUCKER: Well, I think the president believes that as the president, as the chief law enforcement officer in the country who oversees the DOJ, that's -- he's the one accountable to the voters, not Rosenstein. That he --

SCIUTTO: But he is a party to this investigation.

DRUCKER: I understand that, but this is the way the president looks at it. This is -- I am not saying that the president exactly understands the way this works, but the way he thinks is this is my DOJ, I can end this investigation if I want and I will do what I want. Let's understand though how politically perilous this is.

When news of Rosenstein's possible firing after the "New York Times" story broke, there was a split among Trump allies. So, you had one group, all of a sudden deciding McCabe and his memos were trustworthy, the guy that you couldn't trust, therefore fire Rosenstein.

And then you had a whole another group of Trump allies who do not think the Mueller investigation is credible and should continue saying hold on a minute, don't believe this, don't move on Rosenstein because they understood that it would put the president in a place where he was trying to influence an investigation against him and it would not look --

SCIUTTO: Right --

DRUCKER: Good and it would not go well.

SCIUTTO: Elie Honig, if the interpretation of this was that Rosenstein was feeling compromised here and was willing to resign, and that, that was the truth behind this. Can we read into that -- I know this is difficult with the Mueller investigation because that is truly a black box here.

Can we read into that, that Rosenstein feels that his job is done to some degree, that the Mueller investigation is closer to a conclusion, and therefore he can go. He doesn't need to protect it as much.

HONIG: I don't think I would read that into it. I think the Mueller investigation has ways to go, especially just with the news a week or two ago, Paul Manafort --

[09:25:00] SCIUTTO: Right --

HONIG: Has now flipped. That's going to open up all kinds of doors about the campaign, about connections with --

SCIUTTO: Cohen you're speaking to --

HONIG: Michael Cohen --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HONIG: Reported to be speaking to. And having been in this situation, when you -- when you bring in a new cooperator who is really on the inner circle like both of these guys are, you spend days, weeks, debriefing them. And every fact they give you leads you down another path and you have to go back that up, their financial records or their e-mails. And so, I think there's all manner of doors that have been opened.

I don't take it as a signal that Rosenstein thinks we're near the end.

SCIUTTO: Elie, David, thanks very much. Coming up, he once belittled North Korea's leader, you remember this, just a year ago, as "rocket man". Now President Trump says that Kim Jong-un is a terrific guy. So what will Trump have to say at the United Nations a year after those fiery comments aimed at Pyongyang.

And we are just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. The Dow is set to rise at the start of trading, but investors will be watching the trade battle between the U.S. and China. A senior Chinese official now says that the United States is putting a knife to China's neck. Those are his words, making it hard to negotiate in good faith.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)