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Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford to Testify Today on Capitol Hill. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:16] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN's special live coverage of what President Trump has correctly called a very, very important day in the history of our country.

I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're one hour away from the congressional hearing whose closest parallel dates back more than a quarter century, to the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill showdown of 1991. This time a psychology professor, Christine Blasey Ford, will sit before the Senate Judiciary Committee and accuse President Trump's second Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, of sexually assaulting her in a high school party back in the early 1980s.

Kavanaugh will testify as well after his accuser, and we know from his opening statement he'll admit he was not perfect in high school, but, and I'm quoting now, "never did anything remotely resembling what Dr. Ford describes."

TAPPER: Not appearing today will be other accusers who have emerged in the past week or so. One in the past day. A former classmate of Kavanaugh's at Yale. Deborah Ramirez claims that he exposed himself to her again at a drunken party. Yesterday a third woman Julie Swetnick, publically accused Kavanaugh of, quote, abusive and physically aggressive behavior towards girls while drunk at high school parties. Swetnick further claims Kavanaugh was present at a party where she herself was drugged and gang raped.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What is it that caused you to decide to come forward at this very moment one day before the hearings and make yourself public?

JULIE SWETNICK, KAVANAUGH ACCUSER: Well, it wasn't that I wanted to come out one day before the hearing. It's just that circumstances brought it out that way. This is something that occurred a long time ago and it's not that I just thought about it. It's been on my mind ever since the occurrence.

As far as it goes, Brett Kavanaugh is going for a seat where he is going to have that seat on the Supreme Court for the rest of his life, and if he's going to have that seat legitimately, all of these things should be investigated because from what I experienced firsthand, I don't think he belonged on the Supreme Court.


TAPPER: Overnight it came out that Senate Judiciary Committee investigators questioned Judge Kavanaugh by phone this week about two other allegations. They were anonymous allegations reported to Senate Democrats but not made public at the time. Kavanaugh denies all of the accusations.

BLITZER: He certainly does.

Let's bring in our Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill.

Phi, is it fair to say two of the most important senators in this whole process won't be directly involved in what we're about to see this morning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's certainly accurate, Wolf. And it's also worth noting that like everybody else in the country and even those who are on the committee, those two senators, Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Susan Collins, will be watching the hearing intently. We are told that both have completely cleared their schedules. Lisa Murkowski canceled a hearing in another committee she was supposed to chair.

They plan on watching the committee hearing in its entirety and what they take from the hearing, how they feel the hearing goes, that's going to go a long way to deciding whether or not Brett Kavanaugh has a future on the Supreme Court.

Jake, you mentioned it last hour. Last night -- or yesterday afternoon we were told from sources, Manu Raju and I, that Susan Collins really for the first time raised significant concerns about the third accuser in a private meeting with chairman and senior Republican leaders, basically bringing in the written statement, the affidavit, pointing to it, talking about the seriousness of the allegations, even wondering if Mark Judge, the friend of Brett Kavanaugh, should be subpoenaed.

Lisa Murkowski has also raised a lot of concerns about the tone and tenor of Republicans when it comes to Christine Blasey Ford, the first accuser. Both senators making clear they haven't made up their mind. Republican sources tell me they have been made -- they have made no commitments, no definitive answers on where they're going to go. The stakes are so high in this hearing and it's in large part because right now Republicans don't have the votes -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Last we heard not one of the 11 Republican members of the Senate judiciary panel plan to question either Ford or Kavanaugh. Rather they have brought in a sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona to do their questioning for them. They say this is an attempt to make this less political.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty tells us more for about this prosecutor -- Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, that prosecutor whose name is Rachel Mitchell, she'll have such a major role in today's hearing, not only the questions, but the tone, the direction that this all goes.

Now she is someone who has been a prosecutor in Arizona for the last 25 years, and she has significant experience dealing with sex crimes. She is someone that has handled many high profile cases, specifically going after sexual predators, dealing with sexual assault and she is someone that is known as something of a victims advocate when she talks about what drew her to this specific area. She has said in her words it's because of how innocent and vulnerable the victims of the cases are.

[09:05:01] Now friends describe her as someone that comes to the table extremely prepared, that she's not someone who goes after gotcha moments, that she is very attentive and detail oriented and certainly very little is known what approach she will bring to that hearing today. She did huddle with Senate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee on here, up here on Capitol Hill last night. And an aide told me they expect her to be tough, tough on both sides, Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Sunlen, thank you very much.

John King, tell our viewers what you will be looking for this morning.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Number one, I think two men on the Republican side of the Judiciary Committee, Jeff Flake, number one, who went to the floor of the Senate yesterday and said we should all be ashamed of ourselves and apologize to both, Professor Ford and to Judge Kavanaugh, saying the way this gas played out is an abomination.

But Ben Sasse is another Republican on that committee who has been very silent, who also is very independent at times, and often at the end of long periods of silence by Senator Sasse you get a news-making statement. So Murkowski and Collins are the key female Republican senators here, but these two Republican men on the committee I think are very important.

Number two, there are some Republicans who are worried the strategy is going to backfire. They understand Mitch McConnell wants to put this on a fast track. They understand his goal to reshape the American courts. Now in concert with President Trump. But they are worried that if Dr. Ford is credible and you have decided not to have an FBI investigation, not to bring in other witnesses, that that credibility will extend to the other allegations and therefore tip the scales against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, so there is a lot to that.

To the point that was made earlier, Anita Hill testimony is our only point of reference, but think of the difference of the world we live in. Cable television, political polarization, social media. It is Anita Hill times 100 when it comes to the stakes of this. But the country has changed. The mood in the country has changed. The question, I think is going to be, has the standard changed? Has the standard changed?

Anita Hill gave compelling testimony. We all remember that day, those of us who worked in town at that time. Clarence Thomas gave indignant, defiant, credible testimony. The standard then was he said-she said. Clarence Thomas goes to the court. Will the standard change?

We know society has changed. We also know that Anita Hill was October 1991. A year and a month later, Bill Clinton won the presidency and what became known as the year of the women. And you can go back and trace the beginning of the shift of suburban women from the Republican Party -- Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush's victory, suburban women where you're from just outside of Pennsylvania, in the suburbs just around Cleveland.

That's when we saw the Democratic Party start to assert itself in presidential politics. This election is in 40 days. 40 days. Republicans already know they are in a ditch when it comes to women and suburban women. They don't think the president helped that cause yesterday with that news conference. And so you have the 40-day scenario. How is this going to impact a huge consequential election that could reshape the Trump presidency in 40 days?

Many of the 40-year question that Wolf and John were discussing earlier. Mitch McConnell has a plan starting with blocking Merrick Garland that in 20 years they're going to say Mitch McConnell in this five-year period reshaped the American courtroom system with Neil Gorsuch and Judge Kavanaugh. Can he pull it off? He knows he has a razor thin strategy to pull it off and it depends simply on her testimony today.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: That's it. We can't lose sight of what's at stake. This lifetime seat for a man who is only 53 years old. And Republicans have pulled out all the stops at every single point for the Supreme Court. And one thing I want to say is, as much as I don't think we should lose sight of this -- the significance to all Americans, when Brett Kavanaugh testifies today, it's not going to be about the law anymore. It is about this one man's life and he's going to sound very indignant, I believe.

I think he's going to take a bit of a page out of Clarence Thomas' playbook to say, not that this is a high tech lynching, of course, because he can't talk about race, but he can talk about this is a partisan smear, plain and simple. They will do anything possible to take me off the court, keep me from it. I think you'll see a lot of that.

The other thing I just want to caution is that back in 1991, at least to the public, it seemed like a draw. You know, it was --


BISKUPIC; You know, the question when we all were watching -- those of us who were watching it either in the room as I was or on national TV, it was who do you believe? And under those circumstances it goes back to the individual senators, what's going on in their districts and what are the political stakes irrespective of this man and woman.

TAPPER: And Laura, I'd love to get you to weigh in because one of the things that I think is fair to say just in terms of the analysis of this is the more that this testimony today is about the cultural moment we're in, the more difficult it becomes for people like Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, pivotal Senate Republican votes, to vote for Kavanaugh. The more that it is about these specific allegations the more the pressure is off them. In other words, when President Trump comes out and he defends Kavanaugh the way he did yesterday by talking about allegations against himself, by talking about -- by painting a picture of America where if Kavanaugh's nomination is withdrawn, who is to stop the next nominee from being accused of all sorts of things?

[09:10:13] The idea that America is now just this hotbed of women waiting to make false accusations of sexual harassment and assault. The more the cultural moment is what's on stage, the worse it is for Trump and Kavanaugh.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's true. And of course the idea of painting so many people with a broad stroke of dismissiveness, to say that oh, this must be lumped in and conflated with all wrongfully accused persons is something that will actually not be beneficial to many people and also it reinforces this perception that is false that people are just seeking notoriety under perverse circumstances.

The idea here will be to figure out, in many way to silence off the Me Too Movement about these allegations. One of the reasons they don't have the people in the room to testify or to bolster the credibility of Kavanaugh or of course more importantly Dr. Ford is because they would like this to be in isolation, not to have the contextual clues and form a discussion. And as people watching this thing will think about the notion that this really has become less about the justice for one person and perhaps more about a cost benefit analysis.

The cost is that there could be there a presumed or sexual predator on the bench. The benefit however could be that somebody would be on the bench who could support the campaign promises requested by Donald Trump for women's issues, for abortion related matters, et cetera. So what you'll see here is really one of the real -- the unsatisfying things about the justice system.

That it's very often not simply a he said-she said or credibility or one person fighting for their life or for their integrity. It's often about whether or not you see yourself in that other person. Whether or not a concept resonates, which is why, interesting enough, Jake, Donald Trump's statements about him seeing himself in this moment is really going to inform a lot of people, good or bad.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can I just add to that and also to pivot on what you said, John. That is exactly why there is -- there are a lot of similarities between now and Anita Hill, but there is a big difference. And that is the allegations then were about two people in a workplace, two adults. The allegations now are about something that allegedly happened 35 years ago between two teenagers. And when you look at the politics of this and the whole question of whether women will be galvanized, particularly suburban women, what I'm hearing from Republicans that they are seeing in their focus groups and in their -- as much polling as they can do is that it is not that cut and dry because suburban women are parents and they have sons who are teenagers.

And one of the things that they are grappling with is, is my son going to be held to a standard of whatever he did, you know, as a teenager. Now, nobody is saying --

TAPPER: Well, I certainly believe --

BASH: Nobody is saying that any kind of sexual assault that any parent should or would condone that or say that that's OK. But that is a very important dynamic that is playing into the politics of this. And the fact that Republicans are hoping, hoping that this, what they call, Gloria and I just got a text from a Republican strategist, weaponizing of the Me Too Movement by Democrats could backfire with those women.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And so this strategist said to us that --


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The poor dear boys. If they sexually assault someone, they might not be on the Supreme Court.

BASH: Well, that--

TOOBIN: Too bad. Good. They shouldn't be on the Supreme Court if they sexually assault someone. I mean, you know, this idea that, you know, the movement has -- women are so out of control and all these people and all these men are losing their jobs and kids are getting thrown out of school, it's a bunch of nonsense. I mean, you know, yes, I know the politics, you know, maybe more complicated than that. But the idea that women in America are on a rampage and poor men, my god, they only control like 90 seats in the United States Senate and, you know, 490 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are men. And you know --

BISKUPIC; And the majority of the Supreme Court.



KING: Dana's point, though, is the American people are a lot more fair out in America than most people are in Washington. One of the shames of today is that most people have already made up their mind. Most Republicans are going to listen to Professor Ford but they've already decided they're going to vote yes. Most Democrats are going to listen to Judge Kavanaugh, they've already decided even before this surfaced they're going to vote no.

To Dana's point is the people out of America, yes, suburban women who are turning to Democrats way. But I want to be fair. Because of their own experience, because of their own sons? Just because there are general commonsense and fairness, that is why back to the point I made earlier, that if you're Mitch McConnell, the last thing you wanted was the president talking about this because he causes repulsion among those women, and so Mitch McConnell's strategy is, Mr. President, you say less, I might be able to pull this off, because they understand the delicate nature. But the country is more fairer than this town is. I think that's the point she's trying to make.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But this Republican who was texting with us, you know, made the point that Republicans don't believe Democrats anymore. They believe they're completely corrupt, the Republican base believes they're corrupt and therefore they believe this is a set up of Kavanaugh, no matter what happens.


TAPPER: We're awaiting the arrivals of Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh as they get ready to testify. Stand by, this is Cnn's special live coverage, stay with us.


BLITZER: Just minutes from now, historic hearing gets underway on Capitol Hill, Christine Blasey Ford will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee and under oath accuse a United States Supreme Court nominee of sexually assaulting her decades ago.

[09:20:00] Brett Kavanaugh will also testify to deny her claims. Here are the accusations made by Professor Ford, who is Professor of a Palo Alto University in Northern California. She says Kavanaugh physically and sexually assaulted her back in 1982 when they were both in high school.

He was 17, she says, she was 15. Specifically, she says that a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, groped her, and held his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. Professor Ford's lawyers a polygraph test result to the committee. Kavanaugh adamantly denies her allegations and says the incident with Ford never happened.

President Trump is standing by his nominee, the president labeling the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh as, quote, "a big, fat con job". But at the same time, the president is speaking out in a very different way.

TAPPER: He's saying he could change his mind about Kavanaugh. Let's go live now to Cnn's Kaitlan Collins at the White House. And Kaitlan, you're getting new details now on how President Trump plans to monitor the historic hearing. Fill us in.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake, we know that President Trump is going to be watching it, we know that he and Vice President Mike Pence have been on the phone with their Supreme Court nominee. And President Trump has had a message for him. To go out there today, to be more aggressive, to be forceful and to push back against his allegations in a way that President Trump would.

We know that he hasn't been pleased with the way Brett Kavanaugh has defended himself so far, telling him that he's been too careful and too measured in his responses to these allegations that could derail his nomination. Of course, the question is, will what has worked for President Trump to a degree work for Brett Kavanaugh today, or will it seem like he's attacking the accuser and then infuriate women voters across the United States.

Now, you did mention, of course, President Trump left open the possibility that he could withdraw this nomination yesterday, saying that he too can be convinced by Christine Blasey Ford and her testimony today, depending on how persuasive it is. But what we do know is that President Trump will be watching, he's got one more meeting at the United Nations in New York this morning, and then he'll be traveling back to Washington.

He is expected to be watching the hearing in between those meetings, and then when he gets back here at the White House, and what we do know is that the TiVo here has been set to monitor what is going on with Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you. We're told by Professor Ford's legal team that Professor Christine Blasey Ford has arrived on Capitol Hill. We are minutes away from her historic testimony as we await Kavanaugh's arrival and the testimony from both of them, we're going to talk about the format, who will be in the room, the strategies from both sides, stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage of the testimony of Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Professor Christine Blasey Ford. Here's how this hearing will be formatted. It opens right at the top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, the Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and the Ranking Member of their top Democrat Dianne Feinstein will then read -- each read opening statements.

Professor Ford will then be sworn in and read -- and she will read her opening statement. Each senator will then be given five minutes to question her. At this point at least, Republicans are expected to yield their time to the outside counsel if they would like.

That's what they're expecting -- expected to do. After questioning, Professor Ford will leave the hearing room and after a break, Judge Kavanaugh will be sworn in. He will then read his opening statement and he will be questioned. Let's discuss, Jake, you know, the -- as we have been saying, the stakes are clearly enormous for both of these individuals.

But for the United States Supreme Court, if he does not do well this morning, and he loses two Republican senators and no Democrats support him, it's over.

TAPPER: That's -- and that's it. That's why this is so nerve- wracking and the stakes are so high, is because if she comes across credibly and he comes across not credibly or at least at the same level that he was in his "Fox News" interview which President Trump and others didn't think was that strong, all you need is two senators, two Republican senators to say I just can't do it.

I just can't do it. This isn't -- we're not convicting him of a crime, but this is about a Supreme Court appointment. That's why so much rides on today. We don't know how credible Blasey Ford will be. We don't know how credible Brett Kavanaugh will be. I expect the Democrats will have a lot of questions about topics that Kavanaugh does not want to address, ones that "Fox News" somehow forgot to ask him about.

Ones about year-book entries, ones about his behavior towards women in school, ones about his alcohol consumption in high school and college. Now, you might think it's unfair to hold somebody responsible for whether or not they drank in the '80s in high school and college, and that's certainly anybody's prerogative to think about that, but it gets to his credibility.

It gets to whether or not there might be nights that he can't account for. It gets to whether or not he is as he portrayed himself in that "Fox News" interview as somebody who is devoted to his studies and church, and that's about it.

BLITZER: You see the Chairman Chuck Grassley just walking into the hearing room.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just going to say, Jake is rightly referencing the "Fox News" interview, but also Brett Kavanaugh picks up where he left off during his early September hearings where credibility became an issue. Democrats really pounded away, comparing his testimony this time around to earlier testimony on the Hill, things that he had said that he was pulling back from.

So I think that he has a really steep hill to climb that frankly Clarence Thomas didn't have the same one back in 1991, because he had spoken so much, sort of in terms of his own personal identity, whereas the personal identity that we had seen of Brett Kavanaugh was quite evasive to this point.