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Soon: Kavanaugh to Testify Before Senate Judiciary Committee; Trump Keeps Eyes on Kavanaugh Hearings. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 27, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And clearly Senator Lindsey Graham is very, very steadfast in his attempt to say let's focus on the timing, not on the fact that this is an arbitrary deadline to vote even tomorrow.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Jeffrey, let me ask you a question, because Republicans do have a point when they say somebody -- sometimes they unfairly say it was Senator Feinstein -- but somebody leaked this to "The Intercept" and then to other people in the media to force this coming out, that it wasn't Republicans who outed her, it was somebody, likely a Democrat. And let's be honest, the motive was probably to stop Kavanaugh, not to have justice prevail.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Probably true. So what? I mean, it came out in a disorderly way. It came out. She's testified under oath that he sexually assaulted her. The difference between the procedural machinations about how this story came about, I predict, for what it's worth, will be forgotten very quickly. Did she tell the truth about what Brett Kavanaugh did to her?

And if I can just add one thing about this metaphor that keeps coming up about, you know, the kind of criminal-justice model, did Brett Kavanaugh -- there isn't proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he did it. He's entitled -- this is not a -- I think Dianne Feinstein said this at the beginning, this is not a criminal trial. This is a job interview. Is there proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted --


TOOBIN: -- Mrs. Ford? I don't think so. This is a job interview. If someone said to you, we're looking to hire a baby-sitter, but he was accused by three different people of sexual assault, would you hire this baby-sitter to serve as the next 30 years as the baby-sitter for your kids? That, I think, is the question here, not should he be put in prison.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: But what's going to happen -- what will really matter is what's going to come in just a matter of minutes, how well he defends himself. He can suggest, compartmentalize what you just saw. You may find her credible and you might find her to be the nice lady that so many people are saying on the Republican side. But what he wants people to do is set that aside and listen only to him. He's not going -- you had asked earlier, will he attack her. He's not going to attack her. He's probably not even going to try to minimize what he says happened to her. He's going to try to separate himself into a whole other sphere and say, pay attention to me, pay attention to my character, just what he said earlier in that prepared statement, it's not in my character to do this, it's against my religious beliefs to do this. And he's going to try to make his case independent of what we just saw because he can't undercut it.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And then the Republicans have to hope that the standard laid out by Lindsey Graham, that they can sell that, to Jeff Flake, to Ben Sasse, to Susan Collins and to Lisa Murkowski. That is their argument. They understand. Read your in box. Everyone at the table. They have up to this point lost in the court of public opinion. They know that. They don't think even if Brett Kavanaugh is telling the truth, even if he gives an affective performance, the best they can do is a draw. Look at what all the Republicans are saying. They did find Professor Ford compelling, they did find her human, they did find her speaking in a way that most likely connects with people that matter most outside of Washington, what matters most to Brett Kavanaugh right now for five or six Republicans inside of Washington.

And Ms. Mitchell is being savaged in social media right now by the president's supporters, other conservatives on social media --


TAPPER: For not being tough enough.

KING: They think she did a terrible job. However, what her supporters are saying and other involved in her strategy was her goal was to be able to go into a room and get all the Republicans in a room after and say, Senator Flake, yes she was sympathetic. She has no corroborating witnesses. Brett Kavanaugh is an appeals court judge. There have been six FBI investigations. He's an esteemed person. You're a Republican, you must support him.


KING: So there's a big jury and there's a small jury. The question is, the Republican concede they lost the big jury, at least so far today. Can they keep the small jury?

TOOBIN: I'm with the Trump supporters on this one. She did do a terrible job. I mean, you know --


KING: She had a difficult job --


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're talking about Rachel Mitchell.

TOOBIN: Rachel Mitchell. I mean, there are problems with her testimony, which Lindsey Graham did in about 30 seconds, and she spent all the time talking about who paid for the polygraph and whether she liked to fly around the country. That was irrelevant stuff. She could have talked about --


KING: They hope not, though. It's irrelevant to you and probably to most people at home. They're hoping, with that small group of Republicans, they can plant the seeds that the Democrats are paying for this. Feinstein convinced her to hire that lawyer. They're trying to keep the Republicans in the tribe. We live in a town of tribes. They're trying to keep Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski and Ben Sasse, Republicans most likely to leave the tribe, most interested in leaving the tribe, they're trying to keep them in the tribe.

TOOBIN: But isn't it better to try to keep the tribe together with good evidence? With the fact --


COATES: You're assuming she was ineffective because her goal was to uncover information. If, as indicated at the beginning, there was blaring absences of facts and we don't uncover a lot of information, you didn't get to the meat of the matter. If that was the intention of hiring her, not only for the optics politically, not to have the aggressive people talking about, are you a scorned woman or a maniac coming back 27 years later in some way, then she did not get information that would have illuminated a lot of issues. And in that respect, I bet people who coordinated with her and talked about what her role would be today, found her quite effective at not uncovering more information.

As a prosecutor, I agree. I wouldn't have approached it in this way and I would have uncovered more information and gotten to the heart of the matter easier. But that's because my goal would have been a fact- finding mission. Perhaps hers was different.

[14:35:36] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what upset Lindsey Graham, from listening to him, is he feels the Republicans were ambushed on this, that they could have been told about this earlier. And had they been told about it in August, earlier -- you know, he didn't talk about the fact that Dr. Ford wanted to keep this private and obviously it was leaked in some way. But that they were completely ambushed. And he said, if you really believe we needed an investigation, if you had told us then, we could have had it. And he doesn't want to reward people for playing a political game. And called her a victim, just as much as Brett Kavanaugh. His fury is really directed at the Democrats on this. And he believes they're playing a political game.

However, Democrats to argue --


BORGER: It is tactic. But Democrats could argue, what did Mitch McConnell do with Merrick Garland? Was that a political game, keeping his nomination on hold and then having it disappear? So raw politics here, absolutely. And I think Graham thinks it was a setup, and the setup worked as far

as we saw, until we see Judge Kavanaugh and see how he comports --


TOOBIN: It's shocking to think of politics taking place in the United States Senate.

BORGER: I know.

TOOBIN: Exactly.

BLITZER: The format clearly did not work for Rachel Mitchell and the Republicans. Every five minutes, she was interrupted by a speech from a Democratic Senator and then she'd have to pick up her questioning after that. Not necessarily conducive to the type of questioning she was trying to pursue.

We've now heard from Christine Blasey Ford. We're about to hear from Judge Kavanaugh.

Our special coverage will continue right after this.


[14:41:38] TAPPER: Moment from now, Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh will testify before the Judiciary Committee just after Professor Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexual assault, saying she remembered it was him with 100 percent certainty.

Let's go live to M.J. Lee, who was in the hearing room.

M.J., you just spoke to Senator Flake, who is a key, pivotal swing vote on the committee. It's unclear how he's going to vote on Judge Kavanaugh.

M.J. LEE, CNN REPORTER: That's right. He walked away from the room pretty quickly. We tried to get some comment from him as we did during the last break. He said he is still listening. That's all he would say. It was notable that one of the questions that myself and another reporter from a different network asked him was, did you find Christine Blasey Ford to be credible? Did you believe what she said? And he would not answer that specific question before walking into a different room.

And I just have to say, you know, having sort of taken all of that in over the last four or five hours or so, this was a woman who started her testimony by using the word "terrified." She told the world that she was terrified to be in this room. And I think a lot of the supporters and friends, especially those in the room, were in awe that she managed to say what she needed to say. She was poised, even though she was also very emotional. Just sort of thinking through what this moment is and what it represents, I think for a lot of people that are watching, both women and men, Christine Blasey Ford sort of represented a person's ability to speak about a past, and something that Christine Blasey Ford herself has said, was a dark secret in her life after so many years of not even wanting to share this with family, and certainly not with so many cameras on her and so many people watching her. So I just had that thought about just what this moment represents.

And then just in terms of the optics in the room, which you've talked about a lot today, I think there was sort of a missed opportunity for the Republican male Senators, who chose not to question Blasey Ford themselves, but passed on their five minutes to this female counsel, it wasn't only that they were skipping on the opportunity to question Blasey Ford, it was also that they were missing out on an opportunity to say anything about this movement, about this moment in our country, say something to sexual assault survivors, say something about the "Me Too" moment. Because some of the most actually powerful moments in my opinion during this hearing was when Democratic male Senators said what they wanted to say to Blasey Ford, telling her that they believed her, or at least telling her that they know when women and when victims speak out in the way that she is and she did today, that that is really important. Also just thinking about this in a more broader way, I think beyond just the politics, is really important.

BLITZER: That's an excellent point, M.J., a very good point, indeed.

I want to go to Manu Raju. He's also up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One of the big questions, Wolf, is whether they will move forward with the Friday vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. I tried to ask the chairman of that committee, Chuck Grassley, whether or not there would be a Friday vote. He would not answer that question or any other question as they try to figure out the next step here.

[14:45:10] There was discussion earlier on the Senate floor with Senator Bob Corker, who is not on the committee, but a potential swing vote about whether or not there would be this Friday vote. He came out after a private discussion with Senators and he said he still wasn't clear whether or not they were going to move forward. M.J. mentioned Jeff Flake. I had a chance to catch up with him. He would not comment on whether or not they should move forward on Friday. He also didn't say whether they should bring forth Mark Judge, a friend of Brett Kavanaugh. He's been mentioned time and time again. Yesterday, Flake told me, if her testimony relied on Mark Judge, then Mark Judge should, in fact, testify before this committee. That is another key question.

But what you're hearing from Republican Senator after Republican Senator, most are not commenting. They're waiting for afterwards. But the major supporters of Brett Kavanaugh are circling behind him, saying there's nothing to corroborate her story and trying to hope that's enough to solidify Republican votes. But as we know, this will come down to the handful of key Senators, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, in particular. And those three Senators, for now, keeping their powder dry, waiting for Kavanaugh's testimony in a couple of minutes here -- Wolf and Jake?

TAPPER: Manu Raju, thank you so much.

We're just moments away from Judge Brett Kavanaugh's testimony. Will Rachel Mitchell question him? How will Democrats confront him? Stay with us.


[14:51:02] BLITZER: We're moments away from the restart of this historic committee hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. We've already heard from Christine Blasey Ford. She spent almost four hours answering questions. Now we're about to hear from Judge Brett Kavanaugh. He'll be sworn in and state answering questions.

They're watching very closely at the White House.

I want to go to our correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

You're getting some reaction on how the president all of this and his top aides?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are, indeed. There's perhaps no one who is watching this more acutely than the president himself. For the last more than two hours or so, that two and a half hours, he was here in the residence of the White House, watching all of the testimony unfold in front of him. And he is a student of television. He knows how things play out in the country.

The White House is not operating in a vacuum here. I'm told, by talking to a variety of people, they acknowledge this hearing this morning was not a good development for Brett Kavanaugh. A few words were that Christine Blasey Ford was very credible. One official said she was very compelling. But I am being told by an official that the president has not expressed any outward signs of anger at this point. He wants to hear from Judge Kavanaugh. One official told me this, he said, "Yes, he still supports Brett and he feels terrible about what he's been through, but he wants to hear from him this afternoon."

The blame game, Wolf, you can already feel starting here at the White House and all around Washington. Was it a good idea to have an outside prosecutor to be asking questions? Was it a good idea for Chairman Grassley and Mitch McConnell and the White House to sign on to this strategy? But it's important, as the blame game begins and intensifies, as it often does in Washington, the president is the person who signed off on all of this. He supported all of these strategies here. So we will see how that develops.

But as of now, the president is eager to hear from Judge Kavanaugh. And, you know, not necessarily sure that his performance this afternoon will overshadow the testimony from this morning because he's not a new figure. But they do believe he can answer some of these questions.

And they do also point out there are still political concerns here. Why is she coming forward right now? She didn't offer any more corroboration. So as of now, the White House believes they are holding firm among a

lot of Republicans. But, boy, there's a sense of unease here and it is all riding, so much is riding on Judge Kavanaugh's testimony coming up shortly -- Wolf and Jake?


TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

A few hours ago, Laura Coates, when we started the coverage, we were talking about how we didn't know how credible Professor Christine Blasey Ford was going to be. Now we're at a point where everybody -- I think there was consensus in Washington -- she was pretty credible, pretty likable, pretty believable. Now the impetus is on Judge Kavanaugh. They did not have the votes in the Senate when we started this process. How can Judge Kavanaugh, if possible, save his Supreme Court nomination or is it gone?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think he has to have a high-wire act. It's very, very delicate for him right now because he cannot be combative. He cannot be perhaps as aggressive as then-Judge Clarence Thomas was talking about the high-tech lynching and trying to go at the credibility of his professional colleague at one point in time.

He is not only fighting the battle of whether this woman at this age right now is credible, sympathetic -- she was all of those things -- but whether he's attacking essentially the credibility of a 15-year- old as well. That plays into the dynamic of all this. He has to be very, very delicate about this.

But he can still demonstrate the same indignation through his words, the aggression. He should do that and will do that. Not because I'm trying to salvage his career. I don't have an interest either way about whether he's able to salvage his own integrity. I'm interested in whether he can salvage the perception that he is truthful and whether he has the character and stamina and wherewithal and judgment to sit on the highest court in the land. He has an opportunity right now to do that.

[14:55:14] I jokingly said to Jeff at the break, I wonder, if I'm his attorney, do I want him to go right after this or go in the morning, when there's a little bit of time --

TAPPER: Tomorrow morning?

COATES: Tomorrow morning. I know there's a vote. But tomorrow morning to have an evening for people to digest, process. Do I want him to go back to back to allow him to have that level of ferocity he will need to have to save his hide? But will it be a matter of having a whole heading all night long where the only thought is, I really like this woman. I really think she's an important person. She has been lauded by most Senators. She has not been criticized directly by any Republican Senators because they didn't ask any question.

Now the dynamic as well, should this person go right now? We're about to find out how good he is as a judge, of his own character, and of the American people.

BLITZER: Looks like that hearing room is getting ready for the second part of this hearing today. Judge Kavanaugh is about to enter the hearing. He'll be sworn in and start answering questions.

Our special coverage will continue in a moment.



CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, KAVANAUGH ACCUSER: I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I'm here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.

RACHEL MITCHELL, COUNSEL FOR SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE REPUBLICANS: I just wanted to tell you that the first thing that struck me from your statement this morning was that you were terrified. I just wanted to let you know, I am very sorry. That's not right.


TAPPER: Professor Christine Blasey Ford, excerpts from her testimony, which many people across the country, many people in Washington, Republican Senators as well, found moving, found credible. That puts Brett Kavanaugh, the judge who is up for a Supreme Court position, in jeopardy. He's going to speak any moment.

Let's talk to our panel until we begin to hear his testimony.

Nia, let me start with you.

How can Judge Kavanaugh save his reputation and get this job? I realize that getting that job is not important to a lot of people who are watching. But is there anything he can say? She was so credible, she was so believable, it was gut wrenching to listen to her. And I know millions of Americans emotionally responded to what she had to say. Can he say anything?

[14:59:42] NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, I think he's going to have to make people feel emotionally, too, for him. I mean, he's essentially saying that he is a victim of a smear, right? A Democratic plot, Lindsey Graham would say. I think he's going to have to get at how gut wrenching it's been for him, for his family, how unfair he feels like it is. You saw some of that with his FOX interview. He was slightly wooden but there were times when he was almost seeming like he was breaking down and crying. And his wife was sitting there next --