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Sen. Flake Calls for Delay on Kavanaugh Floor Vote; A Deal Is Being Discussed to Let the FBI Investigate Kavanaugh For Up to One Week and No Longer; Sticking Points Are Around the Possibility That New Accusers Come Forward in The Week Period; Trump Says He Would Go Along with A Deal Made by McConnell. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 28, 2018 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00] SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R), ARIZONA: I'm not expecting them to vote yes but not to complain that an FBI investigation has not occurred. This is what I'm trying to do. This country is being ripped apart here. We've got to make sure that we do due diligence. I think this committee has done a good job but I do think that we can have a short pause and make sure that the FBI can investigate. My understanding is that some of us would have to and I'm prepared to do it, make a request to the White House to ask the FBI to do that investigation. It would be short and limited in scope to the current allegations that have been made. But I would just encourage the Democrats who we talked to before to endorse that kind of thing, that we can then move on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, CHAIR OF SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Because of the two-hour rule, we're adjourned.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D), CALIFORNIA: What?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The two-hour rule.

FEINSTEIN: No vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did we come in? Did we come in at noon?

GRASSLEY: No. Yes, we did. The two-hour rule. We had to get this all done by 2:00.

FEINSTEIN: Well, is it done? Is Flake's argument going to happen or did you cut off a vote?

GRASSLEY: We didn't have a motion. This is all a gentleman and women's agreement.

FEINSTEIN: Gentleman and women's agreement.

GRASSLEY: But I'm committed to --

FEINSTEIN: Let him say what he's committed to.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: They turned off the microphones over there. Can you hear Senator Feinstein complaining that all of a sudden Chuck Grassley announces a two-hour rule so he abruptly ends it after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the nomination on party lines, Jeff Flake saying he hopes now at least before there's a final vote on the Senate floor, there's up to a one-week investigation by the FBI of these allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. He says it would be limited in time, limited in scope involving the current allegations. Dana, it's a little complicated right now but explain.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let just move past this two-hour rule thing, which is an arcane issue, but it the reason they just all abruptly very oddly got up. Let's talk about the most important issue at hand, which is this vote and this investigation. So what just happened is incredibly dramatic and incredibly important in that this Republican, Jeff Flake, after getting accosted in a really dramatic, emotional, obviously sincere way from a couple of women in the hallways, caught on camera, was live on CNN, combine that with him listening to his colleagues in the Senate this morning, including and especially Chris Coons of Delaware making an impassioned argument to delay this to do a real investigation, Flake and Coons went off and what he agreed on, this is only his personal preference, is to delay the Senate floor vote for a week while an FBI investigation goes on.

So that is his preference. He holds a lot of power because there's a razor thin majority and his vote is going to be incredibly important. But here are the two realities that have not yet been dealt with. Number one, he doesn't control the floor of the U.S. Senate. Mitch McConnell, his leader, majority leader does, and he made that clear. It's going to be a question of whether McConnell is going to be OK with this. His decision whether he'll be OK, he being McConnell, is simple math. If it's not just Flake and he has Susan Collins and/or Lisa Murkowski, he just needs one other Senator to agree. McConnell won't have a choice because he won't have the votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.

BLITZER: Unless Joe Manchin, a Democrat --

BASH: It is true but it is very hard to see given what Jeff Flake just did. And then the second important thing is, the FBI. It is the White House, the President, who has to OK an FBI investigation. They have said flat out, no, we're not going to do that for the last week plus.

BORGER: Then they won't get their nominee.

BASH: But the pressure again, just like it is on Mitch McConnell, is on the president to do this, to say we're going to do this FBI investigation, which is going to have a limited time, limited scope for one week, a general men and women's agreement. So those are the two outstanding factors right now about whether this week-long delay is actually going to happen, Mitch McConnell and the President of the United States.

[14:05:00] BORGER: You know how the President feels about the FBI, deep state, all the rest of it. The President is going to get this request and maybe he'll call Chris Wray and say do you promise me this is going to be non-biased --

BLITZER: Hold on. Senator Leahy will speak. He's walking away right now. Hold on. Senator Klobuchar.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D), MINNESOTA: They had been working together on this for quite a while and a number of us have been urging them along. This was kind of a surprise to all of us. Senator Flake has expressed including in his speech yesterday, his concern about the divide in this country that is being exacerbated by what's happening here. Of course, we have been asking over and over again for follow-ups on the evidence.

So, Senator Flake is basically saying to his leadership I want to see this additional investigation before I vote for this nominee. And if he is joined by one or two other Republicans in this request, then they wouldn't have the votes unless the investigation occurred.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has anybody else committed --

KLOBUCHAR: I don't know, you'll have to ask them. It is one week -- one week is what Senator Flake was interested in and you can do a lot if you have the whole FBI looking at things in one week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Senator Flake bring this idea to the Democrats or --

KLOBUCHAR: You should talk to Senator Flake about that. I think you've seen him to be quite an independent in terms of the lot of decisions he makes and he just felt he had a very important role to play here as a member of the committee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reporter: Is he still in there?

KLOBUCHAR: I believe he's still in there. Again, a number of us had suggested the week. I suggested it today, as did Senator Coons. Did we actually think this was going to happen today? No. We are in a better place than we were at 8 a.m. this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you think Flake switched?

KLOBUCHAR: I think you should talk to him.

BLITZER: So that's Senator Amy Klobuchar. Manu Raju is up there on Capitol Hill. So, what happens now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question is ultimately how this will unfold, what Jeff Flake said --

BLITZER: Hold on, hold on, let's listen to Lindsey Graham.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I hope some congratulations will say if we do what Jeff said, that will end the process dispute, a few of them. I don't expect any of them to vote for the guy but if we ask the FBI to look at what's in front of us, no later than a week, no longer than a week, they would say that would be a better process, that would be progress. Just trying his best to bring the country together and vote the best way he knows how. I don't know if that's the agreement. I'll get back with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you expect Senator McConnell to honor this?

GRAHAM: I don't know that is why I'm going to go talk to him, right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it would be a good idea if he did honor this?

GRAHAM: Last time I looked, you need 50 votes. All I can say is right now what Jeff is saying is -- makes sense to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that Murkowski and Collins --

GRAHAM: I don't know. I'm not speaking for Mitch. I'm going to talk with Jeff. Somebody's going to explain this to Trump. So, I guess that will be my job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to back this move?

GRAHAM: Huh? If I'm nothing, I'm practical, OK.

BLITZER: All right. So, there's Lindsey Graham. Manu, I interrupted you. You were telling our viewers what happens now.

RAJU: Well, it's unclear. I mean, that's the bottom line. Talking to Republicans who are leaving this meeting, they were surprised by this 11th hour request and they themselves are uncertain. John Cornyn just talked to reporters as he was leaving and he said it's unclear because in one week's time how much clarity can the FBI actually give on this incident from more than three decades ago? Also, the White House presumably would have to call on the FBI to reopen that investigation or initiate this investigation. So, there are some steps in the process that have to happen. Now, if Mitch McConnell were to ignore Jeff Flake's request and still push ahead to begin the process this weekend and push for a confirmation vote next week, he probably would not have the votes to do that if Jeff Flake were to withhold his support and if Lisa Murkowski or Susan Collins also were to withhold their support.

[14:10:00] Here's Lindsey Graham right now talking to reporters.

RAJU: Do you support the one week here?

GRAHAM: I'm trying to find out what is, is. So, I just talked to Jeff, I'm going to meet with him and Senator McConnell. Jeff believes on the process side the committee's been very fair and that we bent over backwards. I think he's been upset about the committee -- information being withheld and some of the game being played. He believes if the FBI had a few more days, some Democrats have told him that would alleviate their process concerns, even though they're not going to vote for him. I think what Jeff is going to do is end this the best he possibly can to accommodate some people on the other side and to bring the committee together if possible. So, this is democracy. Am I mad at Jeff? No. Am I in a different place? Yes.

RAJU: What was if the FBI is not done with this investigation in a week?

GRAHAM: You can have the FBI, the CIA and foreign legion and they're not going to tell you anything else than they know now. That's my view but will see what happens.

MANU: They are not done. So, what's going to happen?

GRAHAM: He said a week or maybe less. We're not playing this game of opening up and it goes on forever. What he said is I would feel better if they have a week to look at what's in front of us, no more. Some Democrats have said OK with that. I'd like them to come forward. I'm going to talk to Mitch and Jeff and eventually engage with the White House. Again, I don't think we need this. I am long since ready to vote. I think he's been very poorly treated, Judge Kavanaugh --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think this is going to sink Judge Kavanaugh's nomination?

GRAHAM: Absolutely not. I think Jeff feels good about Judge Kavanaugh. He just wanted to make sure the process is fair. But you need to ask him. I've never felt better about him being on the bench than I do right now.

RAJU: Has Senator McConnell agreed to this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said he was going to vote yes. What changed?

GRAHAM: This is called democracy. He talked to his colleagues and they're going, Jeff, please, please just give us a few more days. Jeff's a really good guy. I wouldn't have done it but, please, let's be fair. Jeff is trying to be fair. I just don't see we're going to benefit from anything. I've been doing this most of my adult life. It's 35 years ago. You know what you know, you've heard what you're going to hear. Having said that, this is called democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think this might help other people in the country feel better about this person on the Supreme Court if a week from now the FBI comes back and says we're good?

GRAHAM: I think the people in the country are going to feel differently a week from now you can probably put in a phone booth. However, if Jeff feels better about it, I feel better about it. I'm a practical guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he confronted by protesters on his way to vote this morning?

GRAHAM: I mean listen, this is Jeff Flake. This is what I like about the guy. Susan and others take it really seriously. Jeff is not a lawyer. This is really hard. I've been in the legal system, you have a lot of emotional decisions to make but the fact pattern leads itself to there's just not enough, we got to move on. But having said that, this is Jeff Flake being very sincere. And what he's trying to do, and I respect the hell out of this, trying to get some Democrats to buy in. Will a week matter? And some of them said it would. Some of them just want to go on and on and on. If you can get a few of them to say a week longer would make it a better process than he's probably --

RAJU: Do you think the Republican leadership have agreed to a one- week delay?

GRAHAM: If I quit talking to y'all, I can go find out.

BLITZER: Manu, go ahead. Good try. But go ahead. He's making it clear, he's very sympathetic to Jeff Flake, he's ready to see what happens. But it all boils down now to Mitch McConnell and the President of the United States if they're willing to give it a week, let the FBI go ahead and do this limited investigation. And the only reason I suspect they would agree to a week extension before there's a final floor vote is if they don't have the votes right now to pass this confirmation.

RAJU: Yes, no question about it. They may be forced into accepting Jeff Flake's demands. We'll have to hear what some of those other Republicans say, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. But the fact that Graham said there at the end I have to go talk to him to figure out whether he's OK with it just shows you how surprised these members were.

[14:15:00] BLITZER: Hold on one second. This is taped, Manu, tape from moments ago, the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm going to let the Senate handle that. They'll make their decisions and they do a good job. Very professional. I'm just hearing a little bit about it because I've been with the President of Chile and we're talking about some very important subjects but I'm sure it will all be very good. I guess the vote was a positive vote but there seems to be a delay. I'll learn more about it as the day goes on. I just heard about it because we were together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you think of Dr. Ford's testimony when you heard that?

TRUMP: I thought her testimony was very compelling and she looks like a very fine woman to me, very fine woman. And I thought that Kavanaugh's testimony likewise was really something that I hadn't seen before. It was an incredible moment I think in the history of our country. But certainly, she was a very credible witness. She was very good in many respects and I think that -- I don't know if this is going to continue onward or are we going to get a vote? Again, I'm here so I'm not out there watching because I can't be, out of great respect. Maybe we'll watch together. We'll watch together. But I think it will work out very well for the country. I just want it to work out well for the country. If it happens, I'm happy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you thought about a replacement for Kavanaugh?

TRUMP: Not even a little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your message for Murkowski and Collins?

TRUMP: There's no message. They have to do what they think is right and be comfortable with themselves and I think that's what they are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you be willing to reopen the background investigation into Kavanaugh?

TRUMP: I'm going to rely on all of the people, including Senator Grassley, who is doing a very good job. That lab will be a decision they're going to make and I suspect they'll be taking some vote soon on what they want to do. I'll be totally reliant on what they decide to do. We will be discussing Venezuela among other things. A lot of interesting thing going on in that part of the world. But Chile is something special. If you look at how far they've come, how well run the country is. It's an honor to be with you, a great honor. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Whatever they think is necessary is OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

TRUMP: We'll see what happens. I know he wants to meet with us. We'll see what happens. Venezuela's a mess and it's got to be cleaned up and people have to be taken care of. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: There he is, the President in the Oval Office, saying whatever the Senate Republican leadership wants to do is fine with him. He's deferring to them right now. He said that he was very, very pleased with what Judge Kavanaugh had to say. Also, Professor Ford was very, very credible. Jim Acosta, you were there in the Oval Office during that Q & A with the President. Walk us through. He clearly is not completely up to speed yet.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. When I asked him initially what Senator Flake had just done, he acknowledged he had just welcomed the Chilean President to the White House, they were just getting started with their meetings this afternoon. And that he really wasn't up to speed.

He did not dismiss this idea there should be some kind of delay to allow for an investigation before there was a full Senate floor vote on the fate of Kavanaugh. I thought that was extraordinary. All of the reporting out of the White House yesterday was they were almost doing cart wheels and back flips after Judge Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It sounds as though the President is being ever so cautious about this. He hardly ever basis in this way but he is certainly doing it in this case, acting ever so cautious about the fate of Judge Kavanaugh. You heard me say what did you think of Dr. Ford's testimony? He said he thought she was a fine woman, a very fine woman and also a very credible witness.

So, it does seem inside the White House, while they thought Judge Kavanaugh may have pulled his nomination out of the fire yesterday afternoon, they also believe that Christine Blasey Ford is a very credible witness. At the very end there we were looking for clarity, Wolf, because he wasn't saying whether or not definitively whether or not this delay was going to be OK. He said whatever the Senators want to do, whatever Senator Grassley wants to do and the GOP wants to do and the Senate Judiciary Committee wants to do is fine with him. It sounds like the President is on board with this, of course, we have to have that caveat you never know what

happens when you're covering President Trump he could tweet something at 6:00 in the morning saying he wants that vote.

But at this stage and at that very critical moment, moments after Jeff Flake did what he did, the President of the United States who put Brett Kavanaugh forward is saying he's open to a delay.

BLITZER: That was very dramatic indeed. Chris Coons has been speaking, the Senator from Delaware. I want to listen in briefly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any questions?

RAJU: What happens if the FBI investigation is not completed in one week's time? What will happen, based on your conversation with Senator Flake, what will happen at that point?

SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D), DELAWARE: Here's what I can commit to. I don't control the FBI or whether or not other allegations come forward. I will say and am saying now I am deeply grateful to Senator Flake and others who I believe will join him in saying they are not comfortable in proceeding to a final vote on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination without a short additional professional period of investigation. There is understandable concern on the part of many Senators in the other caucus that they expressed in our judiciary committee meeting that there will simply be additional allegations coming forward. If they are, I think they should be investigated. But what I support is the idea that it should be no more than a one- week delay before a final vote and that, frankly, the current allegations should be sufficient for the FBI to give some further input to the members of the committee about whether there are or are not reasons for there to be some cloud hanging over Judge Kavanaugh's nomination.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: [inaudible]

COONS: I'm optimistic. I'm optimistic about that. I would encourage you to ask other Senators how they'll present themselves but I think Senator Flake and I, having had conversations with some colleagues, had reason to be optimistic that that could be successful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [inaudible].

COONS: At some point virtually, every member of the committee was in the back hall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any Senators who are not in the committee, such as Senator Collins and Murkowski?

COONS: They are not on the committee. They were not physically present. There were a number of conversations back and forth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were Republicans trying to dissuade him from doing this?

COONS: Of course. Vigorously.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you talk to Murkowski on the phone, were they appalled at any point? Are these --

COONS: I've had conversations with a number of other Senators, Republicans and Democrats, I've had a number of conversations in recent days with colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, of how can we possibly get to a further FBI investigation to address some of the credible allegations Dr. Ford brought forward without extending the timeline. Republicans colleagues have accused Democrats of trying to hold this open past the election. That was not my goal. My goal was in pressing the FBI to consider seriously the allegations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flip side to that, are there other Democrats who will be willing to drop their or process complaints about this if the FBI investigation is indeed done in the next week? Is that the flip side of this deal?

COONS: I would encourage you to talk to other Democrats on the judiciary committee. I'm certainly coming forward to say I am grateful to Senator Flake. I am hopeful that the President will direct the FBI to further investigate the allegations that are currently before us and that I think this was a significant step and that I am hopeful that the Republican majority will embrace this one- week pause for a limited-in-scope additional investigation. It's my hope a report will be delivered to the judiciary committee, majority and minority and have an opportunity to question FBI agents who conduct this further background.

[14:25:00] Let me also say, my predecessor, Joe Biden, longtime senator from Delaware, former chairman of the committee, has been quoted repeatedly yesterday on this point. I recognize the FBI does not present conclusions. They simply present evidence. But I think there's a number of Senators who after Dr. Ford's testimony yesterday believe that there was significant evidence that had not been thoroughly examined and that that should be done. We as Senators reach the ultimate conclusions about whether we vote for or against Judge Kavanaugh, but I do think there was enough doubt raised yesterday by Dr. Ford's testimony that a number of Senators felt that a further investigation was justified.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Senator Flake mention the protesters this morning? Did he say anything about his state of mind and why this came about?

COONS: I'd encourage you to talk to Senator Flake. Let me say this, Senator Flake is a genuine conservative, he's written a book about the conscience of a conservative. He and I do not share a lot of political views but we share a deep concern. Senator Flake and I share a deep concern for the health of this institution and what it means to the rest of the world and to our country if we are unable to conduct ourselves respectfully and in a way that hears each other. In the back-hallway conversation, a number of our colleagues also had very sharp conversations with each other about some of the partisanship and some of the posturing.

I frankly think that what Senator Flake is trying to do is to both achieve a brief, credible investigation of allegations in front of us and serve as a role model as he has for me today of someone who is willing to take a real political risk and upset many in his party by asking for a pause so that the American people can hear that we are able to work together on some things, that even though he and I are from different parties with different values and different backgrounds, we respect each other and we can work together.

I have traveled to countries and other places in the world with Senator Flake and know how passionately he feels that our division right now teaches the wrong thing to the world about our democracy and suggests that we are not able to respect each other or work together. If you look at his voting record in the last Congress and mine, they are almost as far apart as they can be, yet we respect each other and can work together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you say the impact on the institution in the country would be --

BLITZER: We've been listening to Senator Chris Coons. He's very pleased with Senator Flake's recommendations that the entire process be delayed up to a week so the FBI can come in and do an additional investigation of these latest allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. Dana, let's, walk us through. Originally there was supposed to be a vote on the Senate floor tomorrow. Now that it passed, the Senate Judiciary Committee, 11 to 10, along party lines, a vote tomorrow, that vote might not take place if Senator Flake and his colleagues have their way.

BASH: That's right. Let me just reiterate what exactly this means and the import and impact. In order for Judge Kavanaugh to be confirmed at the Supreme Court, he needs 50 Senators to say yes because the Republican Vice President could give the deciding vote. He does not have that right now. Jeff Flake could be that 50th vote along with a few other Republicans who are still undecided. Right now, I think there are 49 Republican Senators who have said that they are a yes. Without Jeff Flake, it could be 48. So, it's simple math. The votes aren't there right now without Jeff Flake and likely the two other Republicans who have been sort of comrades in arms with him on this issue.

BLITZER: Lisa Murkowski --

BASH: And Susan Collins. So that is the simple math. Having said that, that has to be something that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, agrees with. He controls the Senate floor, not Jeff Flake. He will control when the vote is, not Jeff Flake and certainly not the Democrats.

[14:30:00] The other unknown here is the President of the United States. He just said in that bit in the oval office that he's going to listen to the Senate, the Senators are going to handle it but it is up to the administration. They have made it very clear to decide whether there will be an FBI investigation, which is part of what Jeff Flake is demanding. We heard Lindsey Graham say he's going to have to talk to both Mitch McConnell and the President of the United States. It's hard to imagine given the reality of where they are right now they do not have the votes for what they want so desperately, which is to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.

That Mitch McConnell will not concede to what Flake is asking for a one-week delay and, frankly, that the President if he is not going to get his key Supreme Court Justice confirmed will not acquiesce and say, fine, the FBI can investigate. But we don't know the answers to that yet. What we know is that as of now, just like before, the votes are there for Brett Kavanaugh but there is one fewer Republican.

BORGER: I think there is one other tidbit to add, which is that Jeff Flake made it very clear in the committee that he voted yes for Kavanaugh on the grounds that he would get support for this proposal that he's got. It's perfectly plausible that Jeff Flake could come back and if he doesn't get support in a couple of hours or whatever it is, that he could come back and change his vote. We just don't know. Right now, it seems to me like it's kind of the morning after over there on the Senate Judiciary Committee.