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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

President Trump Set to Hold Rare Solo News Conference; Interview With Michael Avenatti; Third Kavanaugh Accuser Comes Forward; First Kavanaugh Accuser Set to Testify in Front of Senate. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 26, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR JULIE SWETNICK: Well, I can understand why people may be skeptical. But I think, if you look at the "New Yorker" article, for instance, there's statements within that article that support these allegations.

And this declaration is submitted under penalty of perjury. Jake, my client has multiple security clearances that she's been granted over the years by the federal government. She understands the seriousness of these allegations, the fact that she could be charged with perjury if they turned out to be false.

She also understands that she is putting her livelihood in many instances at risk, because of the fact that these are made under penalty of perjury.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I hear you. I understand.

We mentioned that quote about Mark Judge's ex girlfriend talking to "The New Yorker" earlier in the show.

Just a couple more questions, Michael. I know you have a busy schedule. When did you first hear from Julie Swetnick? Was it before or after Christine Blasey Ford's article was published in "The Washington Post" two Sundays ago?

AVENATTI: It was within the last month.

TAPPER: Within the last month, but after Professor Ford's allegations came out?

AVENATTI: I don't know, frankly.

TAPPER: You say that there are two witnesses. Witnesses to what? What can they back up?

AVENATTI: Well, there's more than two witnesses. There were two witnesses to the actual assault involving my client. But there are multiple witnesses that can attest to the balance of the conduct which is set forth within this declaration.

There's many, many witnesses, Jake. There's a lot of... (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Who are these witnesses?

AVENATTI: There's a number of men and women that can attest to the facts and the circumstances in this declaration. And we're going to provide those witnesses to the FBI as soon as we're contacted.

TAPPER: Well, would you provide them to me? Would you provide them to CNN and the media, so that we can do -- I mean, it doesn't look like the FBI at this point anyway is going to investigate this. Would you provide them to us, so that we can talk to these individuals?

AVENATTI: Well, Jake, CNN and the Jake Tapper show are not the investigatory bodies that pass judgment ultimately on allegations.

So we're going to consider what to do with the names of these witnesses, to corroborate these accusations. And, again, we have offered to have my client sit for a polygraph examination. We could do that tomorrow as well. Maybe we could do that right after I get done examining Brett Kavanaugh.

TAPPER: All right, Michael Avenatti, we thank you for your time. Thank you for answering our questions. We really appreciate it.

AVENATTI: Thank you.

TAPPER: Republicans say tomorrow's hearing will not be delayed. And now they have hired some help, the female prosecutor will be questioning Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh next.

Plus, a rare solo press conference for President Trump. What might he say about these latest allegations?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:15]

TAPPER: In just minutes, a rare solo press conference for President Trump, where he will undoubtedly be asked about the shocking new allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

And he will likely launch his defense against -- ahead of tomorrow's hearing with Christine Blasey Ford.

We have just learned that Rachel Mitchell, the outside counsel Republicans have hired to question Ford and Kavanaugh during that hearing, has been preparing with the Senate Judiciary Committee attorneys. Sources tell CNN that Mitchell plans to be equally as tough on Judge Brett Kavanaugh as she is on his accuser, Professor Blasey Ford.

CNN's Tom Foreman takes a closer look now at the career and reputation of prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RACHEL MITCHELL, PROSECUTOR: The first step in the process is selecting a victim or targeting a victim. There are a lot of different things that offenders look for.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's Rachel Mitchell in a sports video promoting safe interactions between coaches and kids. Preventing sex crimes and locking up sexual predators has been the cornerstone of her career as a prosecutor in Arizona for decades now.

She has handled high-profile cases and she has long recognized the reluctance of victims, especially young ones, to come forward. In an interview, she said: "In reality, children often keep this secret for years, sometimes into their adulthood, sometimes forever. And they may or may not tell everything."

So in the Senate, where the entire Republican side of the Judiciary Committee is male, party leaders are convinced Mitchell, widely reported to be Republican, is the right person to question Christine Blasey Ford about her accusations of sexual misconduct aimed at Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when both were in high school.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We have hired a female assistant to go on staff and to ask these questions in a respectful and professional way.

FOREMAN: Critics have exploded at that term. Democrats are scoffing at GOP claims their goal is to depoliticize the process and get to the truth.

And an activist group is opposing the use of a prosecutor at all, saying: "It is impossible to imagine how difficult this process will be for Dr. Ford. But it also creates the wrong environment for gathering information from a person providing an account of her own sexual assault."

Still, some of Mitchell's colleagues are speaking up, too, telling "The Washington Post": "Rachel will do her job as a professional. She does not play politics when it comes to anything involving her work. In my experience, she is a very pointed questioner of adverse witnesses, but she is also very fair."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: In political terms, what the Democrats are getting is an opportunity to call the Republicans cowards, saying they're hiding behind Mitchell.

But there is a long game in here for Republicans, too, because they will now not likely have to see ads going into the midterms where these Republican men are going after this woman on the witness stand, something which could possibly further alienate female voters from the Republican side -- Jake.

[16:40:10]

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks.

As we wait for his live news conference in just minutes, President Trump is in a full-throttle defense of his Supreme Court nominee. But the reason why might surprise you.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're just moments away from a truly rare event for President Trump. He will hold a solo news conference with reporters.

This will be just his fourth one since taking office, his second in this country. Aides tell CNN that, despite the new allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump will continue to unequivocally defend his Supreme Court nominee. In fact, we're told that he will question the motivations of the now three accusers.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now from outside Trump Tower in New York.

And Jeff, earlier today to pull spray the President ignored a question from a Reporter about whether he thought the three accusers are lying but doubtful he'll be able to dodge that question in a few minutes.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Jake, it is an open question if he'll be able to dodge that or not but he did have that look of annoyance and exasperation if you will, on his face when he was asked that and that is one thing that actually concerns some Republicans on Capitol Hill. Will the President be helpful in this news conference or will he actually hurt the cause?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: President Trump is not only still standing by Judge Brett Kavanaugh but tonight he's taking the reins of defending the embattled Supreme Court nominee.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a disgrace what's going on. The good news is the public is very smart and they get it.

ZELENY: The President is taking the confirmation battle to the court of public opinion. He's grown increasingly dissatisfied with how Kavanaugh has defended himself CNN has learned, telling one official the judge seemed wooden.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: I know I'm telling the truth.

ZELENY: And not sufficiently aggressive in his Fox News interview this week.

KAVANAUGH: I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process. ZELENY: The President blasted Democrats again today seizing on

Michael Avenatti who's representing the third woman to come forward with the accusations.

TRUMP: He's a lowlife. He represented Democrats. Nobody ever talks about that. He's a Democrat lawyer, not a very good one.

ZELENY: But clearly not wanting to talk about the women who were stepping forward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are all three women lying?

TRUMP: What's your next question?

ZELENY: Instead he's trying to harden partisan lines personally coining this phrase.

TRUMP: It's a con game they're playing. They're playing a con game. This is a con game.

ZELENY: In hopes of diminishing the allegations.

TRUMP: They know it's a con game. They know it's a con game. C-O-N, a con game.

ZELENY: Today, the latest accusation unfolded just as the President was chairing a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

TRUMP: Called to order.

ZELENY: Six weeks before the midterm elections, the President made a rare reference to election meddling, not against Russia but China, offering a warning cry for the final push of the fall campaign.

TRUMP: Regrettably we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election coming up in November against my administration. They do not want me or us to win.

ZELENY: So Jake, we are now just a few minutes away from that news conference and the President believes on the eve of this hearing in the Senate that he and he alone can put the best spin on this, that he can defend his nominee. The question is what effect will it have on those key senators. You'll remember over the weekend when Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she was appalled by one of the President's tweets and his comments. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny with President Trump at the U.N. in New York. Let's talk about this with our experts. So if the premise is that the Senate is a jury and that the tough jurors right now are Murkowski, Collins, Flake, those individuals, that the red meat -- red state Republicans are with him, Democrats are gone, what do you think President Trump should take on as his tone at this press conference today when it comes to these accusers of Kavanaugh?

MONA CHAREN, SENIOR FELLOW, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: I don't think he should discuss it at all because I think his hand -- handling of these kinds of things is to put his foot directly into his mouth all the way down and he'll just make trouble for those Republicans so he should just be as calm and as serene and zen-like as he can possibly imagine.

TAPPER: This is President Trump. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear about my question. I was talking about President Trump.

CHAREN: Right.

TAPPER: I just want to make sure you knew it. But that's your advice, OK.

CHAREN: Yes, that's my advice.

TAPPER: So Mitch McConnell called President Trump after he made a Twitter suggestion that Jeff Flake earlier today attacked which is the idea that just because a woman doesn't report something to the police then it shouldn't be trusted when she makes the allegation years later. Mitch McConnell said that's not helpful to President Trump because of the votes of Murkowski, Collins, etcetera.

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I think that developments today have given the President a target he can shoot at.

TAPPER: Michael Avenatti.

JENNINGS: Which is the frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic Party Michael Avenatti. His entrance into this fray gives Donald Trump somebody he can go after aggressively. He's not has to go -- he doesn't have to talk about the accusers. He can leave that alone as Mona pointed out but he's now got a foil that unites Republicans. And I think he will do it. I think he will do it.

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I -- but that's absolutely the problem here. We're talking about Dr. Ford and other women who have come forward who are voicing what happened to them and you got two people, the President and Avenatti playing politics with this. That is the problem that he has a target instead of focusing in on which he won't be able to do. He won't be able to stay focused.

Just focus in on the accusers and let them have their say and evaluate this through a lens of justice and fairness but he can't do it. But that is part of the problem. The politics between him and Avenatti, that is part of the reason why the American people are so turned off by this.

[16:50:27] CHAREN: Not just them, it's --

TURNER: I mean -- but I'm saying they're two symbols here. They're going jousting, meanwhile, these women are left in the wake of this foolishness.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not about to give Michael Avenatti that much credit. Look, he -- the allegations -- look, the allegations are serious today. I think we need to hear more about that. But this isn't about Michael Avenatti, this is about Dr. Ford and the women and the fact that Republicans are advocating their duty on the Senate Judiciary Committee there is not doing that question.

TAPPER: We're going to keep talking about this. We're going to hit -- squeeze in a quick break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: And you're looking at live pictures from New York City where any moment President Trump is going to walk out and hold a solo news conference, only his second solo news conference in the United States since his presidency began. We're going to continue the conversation when the President starts speaking. Obviously, we'll bring that to you live.

You said that you would like President Trump to treat these women more respectfully but what if he actually -- he honestly thinks that this is a con job as you said. He thinks that the Democrats are playing politics with this. What would you advise and how could he at least please you in what he says today obviously that's a tall order.

TURNER: Well, it's a tall order.

TAPPER: You don't like him, I get that but like what do you want to hear from him?

TURNER: His politics. I mean, he should -- he should say -- I mean he can support Kavanaugh and say he believes him but he also should not try to indict the women who have come out, come forward to say that they had a different set of experiences with Kavanaugh. He should accept that and listen to what they have to say and try to cast aspersion against them.

I mean, he has -- I mean he has his own set of problems in this area too so it's not surprising that he's going to believe Judge Kavanaugh but to try to defame the women and belittle them and tear them down is not the way to go.

SANDERS: Yes, people in glass -- who live a glass house can't throw stones. Donald Trump has been accused by multiple women, well over a dozen of sexual assaults, ranging from sexual assault to sexual harassment. He's on tape talking about grabbing women by the you know what. The bar is low for him so I think he needs to be quiet.

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question about Kavanaugh. At what point do you think this becomes so problematic that they have to just cut bait. I mean, already this -- if -- let's say Marco Rubio votes for Kavanaugh, let's say Marco -- and he gets on the Supreme Court, that will be used against Marco Rubio fairly or not?

CHAREN: But then you've established that an unsubstantiated accusation lobbed at the last minute will be successful in torpedoing a great career.

TAPPER: Three of them. CHAREN: That cannot be -- yes, OK. But each one so weak --

SANDERS: (INAUDIBLE) Senate Judiciary Committee, I will remind people.

CHAREN: -- that it just -- it is -- it is a kind of grotesque unfairness that I don't think we want to enshrine as the way we do business in this country.

JENNINGS: Walking away from Kavanaugh would be demoralizing to the Republican Party ahead of this midterm. I think there's absolute determination to take it to the floor and let everybody get on the record on this because if they don't there is going to be widespread dissatisfaction with the entirety of the Republican process here. And the question will be asked by the grassroots Republicans, we control all these legs of the stool and we can't stand up to the liberal mob?

SANDERS: The women of America are demoralized.

TAPPER: Here's President Trump. We have to listen in. Thank you so much.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. We've had a great three days at the United Nations in New York and this is quite a gathering. Wow. It's a lot of people, a lot of media. We've covered a great deal of territory, just left as you know Prime Minister Abe of Japan. We're starting trade talks with Japan. They were not willing for years to talk trade and now they're willing to talk trade and I'm sure we'll make a very good deal.

Just concluded as you know, two days ago, signed a deal with South Korea trade deal, tremendous deal with South Korea. It means a lot of business for our farmers. We're opening up for our farmers. We're opening up for a lot of different groups. We're going to be able to sell much more than double the number of automobiles that we were allowed under a deal that was totally defective that was there before. And so we're very happy with that. That deal is actually concluded.

We're very well along the way with Mexico. The relationship is very good. And with Canada, we'll see what happens. They're charging us 300 percent tariffs on dairy products. We can't have that. We can't have that. With China, as you know, we put out an announcement today. They would like to see me lose an election because they've never been challenged like this. But I want to open up China to our farmers and to our industrialists and our companies and China is not open but we're open to them. They charge us 25, 35, 55 percent for things and we charge them nothing in terms of coming into the country. Cars there are 25 percent and we're a two percent and two and a half percent and don't even collect it but we collect it now.

So we're doing very well in our situation with China on trade. I have a great relationship with the President of China President Xi but it's got to be a two-way street.