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Kavanaugh Controversy; Murkowski Comments on FBI Investigation; GOP's Quest to Confirm Kavanaugh; Cosby to be Classified as Predator. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 25, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:23] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump takes on his many global critics, trying to isolate Iran and warning the world, even U.S. allies, the United States will not apologize for its global trade war.

Plus, six weeks to the midterms and brand new CNN rankings shift the House battlefield more in favor of the Democrats. Is there time for a GOP rebound?

And a crack in the GOP's Supreme Court nomination strategy. Senate leaders say, no, but the White House says its open to a second Brett Kavanaugh accuser delivering public testimony. Judge Kavanaugh tries to quiet any talk he will bow out. The president calls the latest accusations, quote, a Democratic con game.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's never had any charges like this. I mean charges come up from 36 years ago that are totally unsubstantiated. I mean you, as watching this, as the president of a great country, don't you -- you must say, how is this possible? Thirty-six years ago? Nobody ever knew about it. Nobody ever heard about it. And now a new charge comes up and she said, well, it might not be him and there were gaps and she said she was totally inebriated and he was all messed up and she doesn't know if it was him, but it might have been him. Oh, gee, let's not make him a Supreme Court judge because of that. This is a con game being played by the Democrats.


KING: We begin there, a president on the attack, but also some new and perhaps noteworthy cracks in the Republican strategy to rush Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination across the finish line. The White House says it's OK with letting a second Kavanaugh accuser testify at the public hearing scheduled Thursday. That's at odds with the Senate majority leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: The weaponization of unsubstantiated smears. That's what we have here. So I look forward to hearing from both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh under oath this Thursday morning. I'm glad we'll be able to hear testimony from both. And then I look forward to an up or down vote on this nomination right here on the Senate floor.


KING: The White House and Leader McConnell have tried to keep a strict timeline, a Thursday hearing and a potentially Friday vote. But as new evidence raises question marks about Kavanaugh's choir boy description of his high school and college behavior, Senator Lisa Murkowski says, why rush? Why not have the FBI take a fresh look at all this?


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Should there be a full FBI investigation into these allegations from Kavanaugh's past?

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: Well, it would sure -- it would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn't it?


KING: Senator Murkowski is a critical swing vote. So her opinion matters anyway. But it is especially significant today because it suggests she was not swayed by Kavanaugh's big gamble, that one big TV interview would quite any Republican doubts about the rush to a vote strategy.


JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I've never sexually assaulted anyone. Not in high school. Not ever.

I've never sexually assaulted anyone.

I've never sexually assaulted anyone.

Because I've never sexually assaulted anyone.

I have never sexually assaulted anyone.

I have never sexually assaulted anyone.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly joins us live now from Capitol Hill.

Phil, Senator Murkowski there, is she venting or is she moving?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I would say right now it's more of the former with the latter still a possibility. I think it underscores a key point here that maybe people are looking past. At this moment, Senate Republican leaders, as hard as they've gone on

to the offensive in the last 24 hours, in the wake of those "New Yorker" allegations, which they continually refer to as a smear, does not have the votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh on the floor. Yes, he fully plans on having a floor vote. Yes, there's a possibility the judiciary committee could vote on the nomination in committee as soon as Friday, but they don't have 50 or 51 at this point.

And when you hear things, like what Lisa Murkowski said, you recognize what I heard has been expressed between rank and file members in leadership over the course of the last day or two, which is frustration. They're unsettled. They think more is probably -- more allegations are going to come out, whether they're true or not, and they don't like to be in this position. They feel like they don't have enough information and, most importantly, many Republican senators, including several who have already come out and said they support Brett Kavanaugh's nomination before these allegations came out, say Thursday's hearing is crucial.

And I think that's kind of the key issue here as you see both parties kind of really, as one aide put it to me, engage in clear trench warfare. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, going to the floor, calling on Leader McConnell to apologize to Christine Blasey Ford. Today, McConnell repeatedly going to the floor, defending Brett Kavanaugh, blaming everything on the Democratic Party. It's those votes, it's those individual senators that are going to decide what happens next.

[12:05:13] And at this moment they haven't come to a conclusion yet. It really all does lie on Thursday, John.

KING: Remarkable. Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill. Appreciate the reporting, Phil.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times," Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, "Bloomberg's" Sahil Kapur, and Annie Karni of "Politico."

Correct me if you think I'm wrong. I just found it very significant. Brett Kavanaugh had one goal last night. A -- yes, try to boost -- has two goals, try to boost his public support, but he understands the divide there. The main goal was keep Republicans in line. It's OK. I didn't do this. It's safe to vote for me. Let's move this forward.

Lisa Murkowski knows the power of her position on Capitol Hill. For her to not either ignore the question today or just say, we're going to have a hearing Thursday, talk to me Friday. For her to just answer the question and say, well, sure would be nice if we had an FBI investigation. What do we read into that?

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": Well, it's both of -- I think Kavanaugh is trying to create both a permission structure and keep the troops rallied in favor of him. The pressure campaign is enormously important. It's enormously consequential to crucial votes, like Senator Murkowski and Senator Collins, who have generally voted with, you know, four very conservative judges to the Supreme Court and to lower courts. So that's what Kavanaugh is trying to do. It's highly unusual for a Supreme Court nominee to go before the media, but, you know, during -- in the midst of their confirmation hearing. But this is all in doubt right now. This all kind of hinges on the Thursday hearing, as (INAUDIBLE) was talking about, and Susan Collins, undecided right now. Lisa Murkowski, undecided right now. She sounded uneasy about this.

KING: Right.

KAPUR: And the rallying effect is very real among conservatives. They think the second allegation was kind of unfair. You know the -- it wasn't fully substantiated and that has really powered Mitch McConnell and the White House to move forward with this nomination. But, again, they need 50 votes. They don't have it.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. Right. And the rallying effect is not going to be enough to get Brett Kavanaugh where he needs to be with this confirmation vote because, as we -- as we saw with Lisa Murkowski in that clip, she clearly -- it's not enough for her to hear what he has to say and to say, OK, I believe him. That has clearly been the position of Lindsey Graham and so many of these other Republicans we've heard come forward and say, well, if this is all there is, you know, what's the big deal and we should go to a vote. That is clearly not her position. It doesn't seem to be Susan Collins' position, at least not yet anyway, at this point. So they really do want to hear from the accusers. And that makes Thursday's hearing pretty unpredictable in terms of how it -- how, you know, how it might change the game because they've already heard what Brett Kavanaugh has to say. What really matters is what the accuser has to say and whether they find her credible and how she is received by the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee.

KING: Right. And you say accuser. That would be Christine Blasey Ford.

Sarah Sanders this morning saying, it doesn't bother the White House if a second accuser is allowed to testify. Is that just PR? It's certainly contrary to what Mitch McConnell wants. And, again, having Lisa Murkowski put on the table, gee, it would be nice if we had an FBI investigation, that is a, gee, Senator McConnell, you're forcing me to do something I'd rather not do, at a pace I'd rather not do it.

ANNIE KARNI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": They're not going to have -- I mean they're saying, we need to have a vote on Thursday. We're not going to push this further. President Trump is pushing McConnell not to take more time on this. But the White House has been trying to tow the line while the president kind of takes a different road of saying we need to hear the women.

Kellyanne Conway kind of set that standard last week and President Trump stuck to it until he didn't. Until "The New Yorker" article came out, which really rallied -- brought all of Kavanaugh's allies together to fight this harder.

I think that they -- they are trying to look like they want to hear all the voices. And I think another goal of Kavanaugh doing the interview last night was to -- to be first.

KING: Right.

KARNI: He did not like that Dr. Ford was going to go first and he was going to go second, so he jumpstarted it and went first.

KING: That's a great point. And when you hear the president there, Olivier, Sarah Sanders again this morning goes on two network news broadcasts to say, if the Senate wants to have a second accuser testify, that's fine with us. The president says, no, it's a con job.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: Right. Well, that reflects (INAUDIBLE) inside the White House and on Capitol Hill Republicans think that the second accusation is much thinner. They pointed to "The New York Times" saying it was unable to substantiate some of these allegations.

I think Phil raised a really interesting point, which is, is the universe in support of Brett Kavanaugh in the Senate the same as it was before these allegations came out? Lisa Murkowski's under a lot of pressure at home. The governor of Alaska and the lieutenant governor have come out against Kavanaugh. NATO Alaskan Organization that helped her get elected came out against Kavanaugh. We forget sometimes that it's not just the last couple of days. That there's a whole universe of pressure building on these senators on a range of issues. If you're Jeff Flake, are you unsettled by his views on executive power, for example. And so this is just -- this is a very important part of this confirmation process, but it's not the only universe. You've got to look at what's happening at home for some of these senators.

And there's also --

DAVIS: Well, and that's -- that's also true for Democrats who are in red states up for re-election for whom this was going to be a really risky vote to vote against him. Now, as Sahil said earlier, you know, there is that permission structure that's being built up on the other side that you could easily point to this and say, I'm a little uneasy, I can't (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Right. And so I want to come back to that in a minute because it's important as we do the -- the vote math.

[12:10:01] But right now this is from Deborah Ramirez, the second woman who's in "The New Yorker" piece. Her attorney says, we're in contact with the Senate Judiciary Committee to determine the best process to provide senators with additional information. We remain adamant that an FBI investigation where all witnesses are questioned under the threat of perjury is the only way to get the truth. Our client remains willing to cooperate with such an inquiry. But as of now, the president has to pick up the phone to get an FBI inquiry, or the majority leader would have to say, we want the FBI to do this on behalf of the United States Senate. Those things are not happening.

So in terms of the process going forward, are Republicans comfortable with essentially saying, we believe Kavanaugh. We're not going to listen. We're not going to listen. Even if this is unsubstantiated, even if it is, as the president says, a con job, even if there are conflicting accounts, that they're not going to listen.

KAPUR: That's a real dilemma for them right now. The Senate Judiciary Committee, Republicans have to decide whether to consider the allegations of the second accuser and how seriously to consider them.

I asked Senator Hatch yesterday about whether the Judiciary Committee is going to do that. He kind of demurred on this and said, we would like to look at it. You know, of course we're going to give it a look but we'd like to vote on it by the end of this week. That's just a few days away. It's going to be very difficult to vet all of this stuff quickly. The politics of this are very difficult at this point for a confirmation (ph).

KING: Let's listen to a little bit more of Brett Kavanaugh last night. This is to the point of, he was asked by Martha MacCallum of Fox News, listen, did you ever get so drunk that maybe you didn't remember?


MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS: Were there times when perhaps you drank so much -- was there ever a time that you drank so much that you couldn't remember what happened the night before?


MACCALLUM: You never said to anyone, I don't remember anything about last night?

KAVANAUGH: No, that did not happen.


KING: This statement from his freshman roommate at Yale. Again, Democrats say it calls the credibility into question. And they say if that's a question, then everything's a question. That's according to the Democrats. This is James Roche, his former roommate at Yale.

I concluded that although Brett was normally reserved, he was a notably heavy drinker, even by the standards of the time, and that he became aggressive and belligerent when he was very drunk. I did not observe the specific incident in question, but I do remember Brett frequently drinking excessively and becoming incoherently drunk. Based on my time with Brett, I believe that he and his social circle were capable of the actions Debbie Ramirez described.

Again, this is why Ms. Ramirez's team, this is why Democrats, this is why Lisa Murkowski, a key Republican, say, it sure would be nice if the people who do this for a living, the FBI, would do a fact finding investigation, but we are not going to get that. And I assume reason number one is that we're 42 days away from a midterm election. And if you're the president and Mitch McConnell, the guarantee of getting Brett Kavanaugh on the court is now.

KARNI: This is their last shot. I mean if -- if he doesn't go through, they don't have time to get another nominee through and then all of the pressure will go to holding the Senate. If they lose the Senate, Democrats could do the Merrick Garland playbook and hold this up potentially for years. It's not in Democrats' blood to play that game, but they could. So this is very high stakes for them.

But another reason to hear Ramirez -- Ms. Ramirez's story is that Brett Kavanaugh used television to his advantage last night. A big question mark is, what could she do after -- if they don't have all the facts on the ground when they take the vote, she could do a television interview later and harm him later. They -- there is some benefit to the Republicans of knowing what all the stories are and not having unknowns come out later and harm him down the line.

KING: The -- the -- a lot of Republicans would tell you that, but the leaders have decided, we're going to set that aside and try to have the vote as soon as possible. We'll continue the conversation in just a moment.

Up next, a vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh could come down to just one or two key senators.


[12:17:34] KING: More now on the remarkable, political controversy over whether to confirm and how quickly to vote to confirm Supreme Court Nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The majority leader, Mitch McConnell, sounds very much like a man confident in his vote count. Confident he can ignore calls to delay or to allow more witnesses.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: So I look forward to hearing from both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh under oath this Thursday morning. I'm glad we'll be able to hear testimony from both. And then I look forward to an up or down vote on this nomination right here on the Senate floor.


KING: Now, one reason McConnell is pressing ahead is he still believes there are a few red state Democratic senators who still face enough pressure to perhaps support Kavanaugh.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: All this is extremely serious, you know, and we take it very serious. But, again, these are allegations that are made and they have to come forth and prove their statements and he has a right to clear himself.


KING: But the more immediate McConnell priority, holding Republicans in line. Jeff Flake of Arizona is on the Judiciary Committee. His vote is key. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, also are not ready to commit to voting yes on Kavanaugh. The fourth senator we're watching most closely, Bob Corker of Tennessee, though, today questioned the more recent allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I read "The New Yorker" article. It's pretty thin. No one else remembered any of it. This is really kind of getting carried away, in my, you know, it's feeling more like a circus.

I'm going to look at this open mindedly on Thursday. But, again, I go into it with a positive feeling (ph).


KING: So if priority one is hold the four Republicans, make sure no other Republicans waiver or crack, but those four, Corker sounds like he's with Leader McConnell. Where are the other three?

KAPUR: That's -- it's central to the plan to hold Republicans because if you lose two Republicans, then the red state Democrats have all the, you know, the political dynamics and kind of the permission structure they need to vote no right now. They're waiting to see where these Republicans come down. It's going to be Collins and Murkowski, as we discussed. Flake is a key vote on the Judiciary Committee. Corker, you know, he and Flake are retiring, so they can go whichever way they want.

It's absolutely critical to hold these members. And McConnell has subtly shifted his messaging since last Friday when he was talking to the Values Voters Summit, guaranteed that Kavanaugh will be on the Supreme Court in the near future yesterday. He didn't quite say that. He said he promises there will be a vote in the full Senate.

KING: And so let's listen to Collins. This is in a Showtime interview. Murkowski today said, sure would be nice if we had an FBI investigation. Collins sounds a little closer to the Leader McConnell than to Lisa Murkowski at the moment.

[12:20:10] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I do not believe he's going repeal Roe v. Wade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McConnell seems to be suggesting he has the votes. So if he has the votes, he must have your vote. Are you still --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you still undecided?

COLLINS: I am. How could I decide before hearing the testimony of Professor Ford?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So is Christine Ford the only thing that leaves you undecided on him?

COLLINS: I'm close. I'm very close. But I'm not all the way there yet. And Professor Ford deserves to be heard.


KING: Translate that.

DAVIS: She's close.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: I mean I think she -- it sounds like from what -- from her remarks, I mean you -- obviously the substantive issue that she had been grappling with was, you know, this -- the -- whether -- what he would do on Roe v. Wade, what he would do on some of these other precedents that she cares very much about. And it sounds like she doesn't believe that that's as much of an issue any more. And so she feels like she is most of the way to deciding that she should vote to confirm him.

But by leaving open the possibility that she could hear Dr. Ford, potentially hear this other woman now that this is -- I think that came up since that interview, Ms. Ramirez, and change her mind, that's a real -- that's a very real possibility.

And the risk here is not only that, you know, they need more red state Democrats to get him across the finish line. If you have Republicans like Susan Collins, like Lisa Murkowski, saying they are not there, that red state Democrats are not going to be the ones who are going to want to step forward and be the deciding votes. That would be the worst of all worlds for them.

KING: You'll lost the -- yes, yes. If they crack, you'll lose the Democrats as well. If they stay, Democrats have a tougher political choice because it's more then back into the broader election climate, not just in the Kavanaugh context.

KNOX: What I don't know if whether they're really not there yet or whether this is having said they want to hear from this person in this hearing on Thursday, they can't commit ahead of time to saying how they're going to vote. I think that may be part of the dynamic.

I did not hear confidence in that Mitch McConnell comment on the floor. I heard -- I heard the voice of a majority leader who thinks that every day is syphoning off support of this nominee, thus the -- thus the need for speed, thus the need to move ahead, thus the need not to call these other witnesses -- these other potential witnesses to these alleged assault. I -- that's not -- I don't think that was confidence right there (ph).

KING: And to that -- to that point, listen here, the majority leader is starting to look around, double count, triple count his -- triple check his vote and you're getting from the voices of Rush Limbaugh telling Republicans, don't be cowards, don't blink.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: If the Republicans do not get this vote taken and have Kavanaugh confirmed, you can kiss the midterms goodbye. You can kiss goodbye holding the House and you can kiss goodbye holding the Senate because whatever the Democrats think of their base, the one thing I know is that if you guys fold on this and cave and keep bending over backwards, you have done that enough.

If you guys don't conduct this vote in defiance of all this and if Avenatti gets one foot in the door to a Senate committee to start telling his story, then you can kind of kiss goodbye Republican chances in the midterms in November.


KING: A, pretty honest, this is about power, description from Rush Limbaugh, that this is not, in the case of Professor Ford, at the minimum, an accomplished person who has a credible allegation. Brett Kavanaugh denies it. They both deserve to be heard and treated fairly. But Rush Limbaugh's not talking about that. He's talking about, you know, you do this, our voters -- or else our voters won't come out and you will lose power.

KAPUR: This is precisely what the dilemma is right now. It's not a simple matter of, yes, they need moderate swing voters, yes, they need suburban women who, by the way, are, you know, bleeding support for Kavanaugh. We've seen this in a poll, including a Fox News poll, down significantly overall, underwater by 10 points, but especially among women. Republicans worry that their own voters are not going to turn out in the election if they don't get this nominee through, if they don't have -- if they're not able to get a conservative judge with a Republican president and Republican Senate, why would they show up is the question they're asking? And especially when the promise has been, yes, we want a judge who will overturn Roe vs. Wade. Trump campaigned on that.

KARNI: I think the big difference between McConnell's statements last week, we're going to ram this through, and this is week, is that that was before we knew that Dr. Ford was going to testify. And I think a big part of that was almost trying to have some chilling effect that she wouldn't, because their best chance of getting Kavanaugh through was that she wouldn't come forward, and now she is. It really does come down to what she says on Thursday, how that -- how she appears. I think a lot of these senators are really waiting for this to somehow potentially bail them out. Somehow to be so decisive that the decision does become clear.

And McConnell now -- now she's going to come on Thursday and McConnell's tone changed, because that was the biggest question mark. The biggest chip they had on their side, that she wouldn't come.

KING: That's a great point. A remarkable 48 hours ahead. He has very little room to maneuver within the Republicans. We'll come back to this story as necessary.

When we come back, though, an update on the Bill Cosby case after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:29:39] KING: Some breaking news now in the Bill Cosby sentencing hearing.

The judge has ruled, just moments ago, that the 81-year-old comedian will be classified now as a sexually violent predator.

CNN's Jean Casarez following the trial and joins us now from Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Jean, what does this mean for Cosby and when do we get the additional details about the sentencing?

[12:29:58] JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what his means for Cosby is a lot. First of all, that he will have to be a lifetime registrar of the offender list.