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Trump Touts Agenda at U.N.; Thursday Kavanaugh and Ford Hearings; Flooding in South Carolina. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 25, 2018 - 09:30   ET

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


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[09:30:46] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back.

Just minutes before he is set to take the world stage with a speech at the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump taking once again to Twitter. The president perhaps hinting at what he'll address later this morning, tweeting the following, our country is much stronger and much richer than it was when I took office less than two years ago. We are also much safer.

We are expecting Trump's speech to tout his America first agenda. Members of his administration say the president will also express his hope that other countries will use their own sovereignty to solve their problems.

Joining me now to discuss this and many other things, Bill Richardson. He's a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also a former governor of New Mexico.

Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, governor, let's remember where we were a year ago, that the president used that podium there at the U.N. General Assembly. He referred to Kim Jong-un as rocket man. He promised, in his words, to totally destroy North Korea if it were to threaten the U.S. Today, the two countries are talking. He is touting a second summit with North Korea.

Do you give the president credit for bringing the U.S. and North Korea back from the brink of war?

RICHARDSON: Well, things are better. There's no question about it. The summit between North and South Korea has lessened tensions in the peninsula. My hope, though, Jim, is that the president, in principle, agree to another summit, but wait until the North Koreans take some concrete steps. Yes, things are better, but they've done nothing to denuclearize their missiles, fissile materials, their nuclear weapons, nothing. They've made some noises about destroying missile sites and the Yongbyong uranium reactor, but they've done very little. And we've made a major concession, which is stopping some of the military exercises with South Korea. So I hope he listens to his advisers, to the national security adviser

and the secretary of state, make the North Koreans do something, like produce an inventory of all of their nuclear weapons and missiles before this summit takes place, because they've done absolutely nothing.

SCIUTTO: As you well know, your own experience, North Korea has played multiple U.S. administrations, talked about talking, but kept up its malign activities, certainly its nuclear program. I wonder if you're concerned that North Korea, that Kim is playing Donald Trump here, dragging out the negotiations, trying to seek what concessions it can get without making any irreversible moves on its -- on its nuclear program?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes, that's what Kim is doing. He's delaying. He's bobbing and weaving. He's making us take the first steps like the -- like the military exercises with South Korea. He does, you know, a few good things. The remains of 55 Americans, that's good. But on the denuclearization, which he promised he would do, he's done hardly anything.

Now, I think things are moving in the right direction. It's going to take some time. I think the administration is going to have to realize that this is not a short-term agreement to denuclearize. They're not going to get rid of their 60 nuclear weapons. They'll get rid of some, but freezing them, curbing their use, finding ways to stop future development that hits missiles into the United States, into Guam, into Japan.

The danger here, Jim, is China. I worry that because of this trade war with China, we need China to keep the sanctions on North Korea. And if China gets very irritated with this huge trade war that is imminent, they're going to loosen sanctions. That gives less pressure on Kim Jong-un to come to the negotiating table. That's my worry.

SCIUTTO: Right. Yes. Yes, you need that coalition.

On to Iran now. This is the president's first appearance at the U.N. since he pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear agreement. We understand he's going to make references to that in his speech as well. U.S. allies, you -- other parties to this deal, of course, have remained in it despite the U.S. withdrawal.

Does the president have the ability to change that, to draw others to the U.S. side on this agreement?

[09:35:06] RICHARDSON: Well, I would have stayed with a nuclear agreement. Although Iran, on their behavior on terrorism and many other fronts, like American prisoners held there, has done very little and, in fact, is getting worse.

But what I worry about, Jim, is that our European friends will not be able to keep Iran complying with a nuclear agreement, which they have been complying, that they're going to say there's too much hostility from the United States. Look, I don't want to see more investments in Iran, I think they're

behaving terribly. But I think it's going to need a cooperative effort with our European allies and also with a lot of U.N. members. You know, there are 133 heads of state there. They're very interested in the United States becoming more multilateral, not cutting funds for refugees, for the human rights council at the U.N., cutting --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

RICHARDSON: Getting out of the Paris climate agreement. So -- so I think there's a lot of expectation that the president will act nice towards the international community and the U.N., and I hope he does, because we need allies. We need friends to achieve our goals.

SCIUTTO: One person, someone unexpectedly that the president was acting nice to this morning, at least on his Twitter feed, was the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. The president said the following, despite requests, I have no plans to meet with the Iranian president. Maybe someday in the future. I'm sure he is an absolutely lovely man.

I mean this time last year the president was calling the North Korean leader rocket man. Said he was on a suicide mission. He met with him some months later.

Do you think the president was telegraphing there that he's willing to sit down with the Iranian president?

RICHARDSON: Well, I -- I think he is because the president likes these one-on-ones, these summits, and that's what worries me. I want his adviser there with him.

North Korea, we had a willing partner in Kim Jong-un. With Rouhani, I don't think his politics and his attitude towards us at this time will allow his Muslim clerics, his bosses, to have a summit with the president. But if they meet and talk on the sidelines, pull aside, that's good. But I just want the president to have Secretary Pompeo with him and to raise issues like American prisoners that are detained there. And this Princeton kid that is there, Robert Levinson, there's so many issues where Iran could take positive steps.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

Well, of course, there was a phone call between Obama and Rouhani at a UNGA a couple of years ago that helped spawn the Iran negotiations.

Governor Bill Richardson, thanks very much.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, President Trump in the crosshairs of not one but two potentially historic and certainly consequential political crises. I've got CNN legal guru Jeffrey Toobin. He's going to be with me next to break the headlines down. Stay with us.

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[09:41:55] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

In moments, Trump will leave Trump Tower here in New York and then arrive at the United Nations, just across town, delivering a speech on the world stage. Also playing out on the world stage, two major U.S. political crises.

Joining me now, chief legal analyst for CNN, Jeffrey Toobin, and senior political writer and analyst Harry Enten.

Jeffrey, if I could begin with you.

If the current timeline plays out on Thursday, you're going to have two witnesses, two adults, with some credibility, right. Lay out their case. Kavanaugh to defend himself and Dr. Ford to give her account face to face for the first time of what she says was a sexual assault. After that, can swing Republicans vote yes for Kavanaugh and red state Democrats as well?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Sure they can. I mean they -- it will depend on how they respond to the testimony. You know, the House Republicans -- the Senate Republicans have constructed a process that is not really a fact finding investigation. This is really basically giving the accuser, Ms. Ford, the minimum that they could respectably allow her. This is not an investigation. If it were an investigation, you would have other witnesses. You would have expert testimony. Here you're just going to have the bare minimum, the two principals, and then people will respond to how they feel -- you know, they feel who was telling the truth.

An interesting question will be does -- if it's essentially a tie, does the tie go to the accused, no proof, or does the tie say, look, we can't put someone on the Supreme Court when the evidence is so ambiguous. I don't know how people are going to respond to that. And this is an election with 100 voters. The members of the Senate, they'll respond to the public, of course, but, you know, this is going -- this -- to use a legal phrase, this beats the hell out of me. I don't know how this is going to turn out.

SCIUTTO: Harry Enten, let's talk about the politics here for a moment because, imagine that, the politics are relevant to these decisions.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Who -- yes.

SCIUTTO: The president seems to believe that sticking with Kavanaugh will motivate his base and actually, on the flip side, that not sticking with Kavanaugh would supremely disappoint his base and there would be an enormous political loss there, despite having an accuser accusing Kavanaugh of this kind of behavior. Is the president right?

ENTEN: Well, I would point out a few things. Number one, Kavanaugh is the least liked Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork back in 1987.

SCIUTTO: Right.

ENTEN: So in the middle of the political spectrum already dislikes Kavanaugh. But in terms of his own base, I will point out, that at the end of 2017, we were having a similar argument over the tax cut and whether or not Republicans should pass it despite it being quite unpopular. And you might remember that after, in fact, they did pass this unpopular tax cut, look at what happened, the president's approval ratings went up and the Republicans favorabilities also went up.

So I'm not necessarily sure that the president is wrong about this. He may, in fact, be correct.

SCIUTTO: Right. There's a new -- and I know that you like to see a number of polls before you make any conclusions --

ENTEN: Sure.

SCIUTTO: Because you're a smart guy and you've been in this business for a while.

[09:45:00] There is a poll that shows that GOP approval rating -- and we'll see it right there -- is up some nine points since last year and now, I mean, statistically about equivalent with Democrats. I mean the generic ballot is still quite far apart. Democrats still have quite an advantage. Is this -- did this poll tell us something?

ENTEN: I am hesitant to believe that it does. I've seen this story play out before, both in 2010 and 2014 and saw where the Democratic Party actually had a higher favorability than the Republican Party did and Republicans romped in both midterm elections. So, yes, this isn't bad news for Republicans, but the fact that the generic congressional ballot still favors Democrats by high single digits to low double digit margin is far more telling (INAUDIBLE).

SCIUTTO: That's the number to watch.

OK, Jeffrey Toobin, on the topic of the deputy attorney general, Rosenstein, and the somewhat crazy yesterday as to whether he was going, was he being fired, resigned, et cetera, you wrote a very sharp piece in "The New Yorker," as you've been known to do, but making the argument that if Rosenstein is out, in effect, that the Russia probe is compromised, perhaps over. Explain your thinking.

TOOBIN: Well, as I suspect many people know, Rod Rosenstein, because Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, is recused, is in charge of the Mueller investigation. He was the one who selected Robert Mueller. He is the one who supervises Robert Mueller. And he is the one who can fire Robert Mueller. And he has made quite clear that he does not think there is any basis to fire Mueller, and he's not going to fire Mueller. Notwithstanding the president's deep disdain for what he calls this witch hunt.

If Rosenstein is out, the -- someone else will take over, at least initially it will be the solicitor general. But he is not -- Noel Francisco. But we -- you know, we don't know how he stands on these issues. But the president will also get to replace the deputy attorney general and potentially very likely the attorney general. That new officer, who will support -- who will be the new supervisor will almost certainly reflect the president's views more than Rosenstein's views. And it doesn't just mean he's more likely to fire Mueller, it means he's likely to restrict his jurisdiction, restrict the areas he's allowed to investigate. And that could have enormous significance. And we won't even know how that is really going on because that's mostly behind the scenes.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, listen, that's quite -- that's quite an eventuality there, quite a prospect.

Jeffrey Toobin, Harry Enten, thanks very much.

A South Carolina town facing devastating floods from two rivers, bloated waters rushing towards the Atlantic Ocean. That storm, you think that storm is over? Growing danger, coming up.

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[09:52:17] SCIUTTO: Another story we're following today, disgraced comedian Bill Cosby could be heading to prison. The 81-year-old now faces up to ten years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004. Prosecutors are asking that Cosby serve between five and ten years. The defense wants him to receive only house arrest. Before Cosby is sentenced, the judge will decide whether Cosby has to register as well as a sexually violent predator. We're going to keep you up to date on that story throughout the day.

Meanwhile, people in Georgetown County, South Carolina, are being told to leave their homes, this ahead of what will be historic, devastating flooding. Eleven days after Hurricane Florence dropped trillions of gallons of water across the Carolinas, all that rain water now has to find its way to the ocean, headed to the ocean along swollen rivers there.

CNN's Nick Valencia joins me now from Georgetown, South Carolina, where two of these rivers, I believe, meet.

Tell us the conditions there and what's the real danger to people living in the area.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jim.

These waters are the final remnants of Hurricane Florence, made landfall nearly two weeks ago and yet we're still dealing with these devastating factors. This has been such a slow-motion disaster here. But this, as the mayor put it, is the end of the road. And the reason that they're so worried about it is because it sits, as you mention, at the confluence of multiple rivers. Projections say that this community could get up to eight, perhaps even ten feet of water.

And they're taking unprecedented precautions here. We are -- we were at a press conference yesterday with the South Carolina DOT, and you may see behind me these aqua dams, which are essentially water filled dams. And, interestingly enough, they're using the water from that overflowed Waccamaw River and pumping it into these dams to try to protect the integrity of U.S. Highway 17, which is the only -- essentially the only way into this community from coastal Carolina. At worst, they are expecting perhaps not only being cut off by river access from the Waccamaw, but also by land.

At least 8,000 homes are currently in jeopardy, though there's no mandatory evacuation just yet. Residents, from what we saw yesterday, already taking those precautions, boarding up their businesses, sandbagging. And these are people that are just so fatigued at this point, Jim. They've been dealing with flooding for so long now. Four out of the last five years this community has gotten major flooding. And now they seem to be the last community that's going to see the effects of Hurricane Florence.

Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, just amazing, 11 days later, still danger there.

Nick Valencia, thanks very much.

We are just minutes away from President Trump's address to the United Nations General Assembly. We're going to bring it to you live. Stay with us.

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[09:59:24] SCIUTTO: Good morning. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow is on assignment today.

We are just moments away from President Trump's address to the year's biggest gathering of world leaders, the U.N. General Assembly. His theme, we are told, is sovereignty, which could be construed as America first, which, of course, is a theme the president says he has delivered on. Just in the last hour, he tweeted, quote, our currently is much stronger and much richer than it was when I took office less than two years ago. We are also much safer, exclamation point.

The president has not weighed in so far today on the seismic controversies back in Washington. Those involving his embattled Supreme Court nominee and his deputy attorney general. But it's still early today.

[10:00:04] Right now I want to bring in Alex Marquardt. He is over at the U.N. with a preview of the speech that most world leaders see as a -- as an opportunity.

So, Alex, as you watch this, we understand that he's looking to take aim at