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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Did Kavanaugh Lie to Senate?; Trump Claims He Has "Compromising" Info on Unnamed Democratic Senator; White House: FBI Not Limited In Background Investigation. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 1, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says Judge Kavanaugh is the one who has been through trauma.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump today defending his Supreme Court pick by saying what Kavanaugh has never said, that he did have difficulty as a young man when it came to drinking, as the Republican-hired prosecutor says professor Blasey Ford's case is weak.

The investigation is not limited. That's the message from the White House to the FBI following phone calls from some Republican senators. So who might they talk to?

Plus, new today, Democrats have a list of everyone they want to hear from in the Kavanaugh probe. What is the red line that could sink his nomination? One of the veterans of the Senate Judiciary Committee will join us live.

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead today.

President Trump's Rose Garden press conference was intended to be a victory lap on the issue of trade, but instead it was pulled into the vortex of his controversial Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, the new FBI investigation, and questions about Kavanaugh's drinking in the past, with the White House pressured by Congress now expanding the ability of the FBI to investigate the sexual assault allegations and anything else they might deem relevant.

Just moments ago, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, spoke about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: If you listen carefully, Mr. President, you can practically hear the sounds of the Democrats moving the goalposts. Let me make a small prediction. Soon enough, the goalposts will be on the move once again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, whether you think the goalposts about Kavanaugh's behavior have unfairly shifted from sexual assault to drinking too much, as Republicans are saying, or if you think there is additional cause for concern over whether Kavanaugh has been honest about his drinking as a young man, this is now topic A in Washington, D.C., with at least one key Republican senator saying that if the FBI probe proves Kavanaugh was not honest about this, it would be the end of his nomination.

Now, CNN's Kaitlan Collins earlier today asked President Trump if he was concerned about Kavanaugh's honesty before Congress on these issues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really believe that he was very strong on the fact that he drank a lot. And so I don't know whether there would be a big discrepancy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Here's the discrepancy.

Kavanaugh has acknowledged sometimes drinking too much as a young man, but denied ever blacking out or passing out or ever having had a drinking problem.

Tellingly, that is not how President Trump today described his pick. He said instead that Kavanaugh had difficulty with drinking as a young man. Now, that discrepancy might seem significant, given that former classmates of Kavanaugh's are saying that he's being misleading about how much he drank back then and his belligerence when he did.

Take Lynne Brookes, who says that she knew him and got drunk with him at Yale.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNNE BROOKES, YALE CLASSMATE OF BRETT KAVANAUGH: There had to be a number of nights where he does not remember.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, some of Kavanaugh's friends from that time side against that, and with his version. And perhaps it's true that Kavanaugh drank to excess on occasion, but never passed out, never blacked out, and never had any memory loss. It's likely unprovable.

Or maybe Kavanaugh feels he cannot acknowledge ever having had memory loss, because, the moment he does, Democrats will seize upon it and accuse him of having committed horrific crimes during those periods, crimes that he says he never committed.

The problem is, to many people, anyone who has really ever had too much to drink, the claim he's never had any gaps in his memory might be hard to believe. That's certainly the position of Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, such as Amy Klobuchar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: It doesn't quite make sense to me, because, first of all, you have these other people from parts of his life who have said that he was belligerent when he was drunk and other things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, tellingly, when I asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway whether she believed his claim that he never had any memory loss, this was her answer:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you have any concerns that that's not true?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Jake, I didn't go to college with him. I have never been out drinking with him.

This is what he has said under oath.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "This is what he has said under oath."

Does that refusal to say she believes his claim reflect any internal skepticism about Kavanaugh's testimony? Is that why President Trump's description of Kavanaugh's drinking difficulties in college is closer to what all those classmates at Yale are now saying about him than it is to how Kavanaugh describes it?

For more on all of this, let's go right to CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, President Trump said he was surprised at how vocal Kavanaugh was about his difficulty with drinking. I can imagine Kavanaugh was surprised with how President Trump talked about his drinking today.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, two different versions of what it was that happened when Brett Kavanaugh testified on Capitol Hill.

Today, President Trump implying that Brett Kavanaugh admitted to a drinking problem during his younger years, but Brett Kavanaugh actually sought to do the opposite when he appeared in front of Congress and that was to tamp down the notion he drank too much, and possibly drank so much that he doesn't remember sexually assaulting someone.

[16:05:07]

That is what he denied. But President Trump used that line today to go after those Democratic senators who have raised questions about Brett Kavanaugh's drinking.

President Trump saying today that he believes they're just being hypocritical.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump growing frustrated in the Rose Garden today over mounting questions about the FBI investigation into his Supreme Court nominee.

TRUMP: Do you have a question on trade?

COLLINS (on camera): You answered several questions on trade.

TRUMP: OK, don't do that. Excuse me. Don't do that. Do you have a question on trade?

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS (voice-over): During what was supposed to be a victory lap for the president's new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, Trump initially refused to take questions on the drama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh.

(on camera): My question is on Judge Kavanaugh.

TRUMP: OK. Please, yes.

COLLINS: You said the FBI should interview whoever they believe is appropriate. Does that include Julie Swetnick, the third accuser? And can you promise to release the full findings?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Give me your question, please. Give her the mic, please.

COLLINS (voice-over): But Trump finally took questions on Kavanaugh, saying he won't limit the FBI's investigation into the sexual assault allegations against him, while making clear it shouldn't take long.

TRUMP: I want them to do a very comprehensive investigation. I want it to be done quickly.

COLLINS: After Democrats complained about the limited scope of the investigation, Trump said he would defer to Senate Republicans on who should be interviewed.

TRUMP: I think the FBI should interview anybody that they want, within reason.

COLLINS: Amid the FBI investigation, Kavanaugh is now being accused of lying about his drinking habits by a former Yale classmate who says Kavanaugh wasn't honest when he testified in front of Congress.

Asked today if he will pull Kavanaugh's nomination if it's proven he lied, Trump said: TRUMP: This is not a man that said that alcohol was -- that he was perfect with respect to alcohol.

COLLINS: Trump adding he was impressed by Kavanaugh's candor, but not answering the question.

TRUMP: I watched that hearing. And I watched a man saying that he did have difficulty as a young man with drink.

COLLINS: Though Kavanaugh never described a difficulty with drinking, and instead attempted to downplay his consumption, characterizing it as normal.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: I liked beer. I still like beer. But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out.

COLLINS: Trump instead turning to his own sobriety.

TRUMP: I can honestly say, I never had a beer in my life. OK?

It's one of my only good traits. Can you imagine if I had, what a mess I would be?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, we are told by sources, Jake -- and it's a little loud as President Trump is leaving right now, the White House on Marine One.

But we are told by sources that the White House has told the FBI it is not limited in its probe into Brett Kavanaugh and these allegations made against him. And President Trump made clear today he's OK if the FBI wants to talk to Judge Kavanaugh -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us.

Let's talk about this with our experts.

So take a listen to President Trump characterizing Brett Kavanaugh's experience as a young man with alcohol.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I was surprised at how vocal he was about the fact that he likes beer and he's had a little bit of difficulty.

I mean, he talked about things that happened when he drank. I watched that hearing, and I watched a man saying that he did have difficulty as a young man with drink.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, that's not what I recall from the hearing.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: That's explicitly not what he said.

TAPPER: That he had difficulty and that he has had things happen when he had a little too much. That's not how Kavanaugh described it.

HOOVER: That is explicitly not what Kavanaugh said.

But also, keep in mind, what you see is a position, what you said, Donald Trump doesn't drink. He really, truly is -- it's probably the only thing he can tell truthfully without even glimpsing or blanching at all. He hasn't ever had any alcohol.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Because his brother Fred was an alcoholic.

HOOVER: Was an alcoholic and died tragically. And he decided from that point moving forward he would never have any drugs or alcohol and he told his children that religiously throughout the course of his life.

And if you have never had any alcohol, the difference between one beer or a couple of beers or blacking out may not be that nuanced. It might just be black and white. And so you can imagine from President Trump, I mean -- Trump's mixing the message, partly probably based on his own lack of understanding about how alcohol affects the body.

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Margaret, are you accusing our president of lacking nuance?

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: But what do you think?

Rich, I know you feel strongly you agree with Mitch McConnell, the Democrats are moving the goalposts. What do you make of this? Because that is not how Kavanaugh characterized his drinking.

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Right. He's carelessly stating, as he carelessly states many things.

But, look, if you could prove that Brett Kavanaugh never took a drink, that would be another fact sort of running against what Ford is alleging. But the fact that he drank doesn't prove anything. You can be a drinker, you can drink to excess, as he acknowledged in his testimony, and still not black out and still not sexually assault people.

[16:10:05]

TAPPER: That's true. But take a listen to -- actually, I will read the quote.

One of Kavanaugh's classmates from Yale, we're all discussing him. He's a professor at North Carolina state. Chad Ludington, he said in a statement to CNN -- quote -- "I can unequivocally say that in denying the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth."

HILL: And that is the point. It is entirely possible that you could not drink until the point of blacking out or that you could drink to the point of blacking out and still not be guilty.

But the problem is, he's taken an implausible position by saying, I drank all of the time, I was at parties, but I never blacked out, despite what all these witnesses are saying. That goes to credibility.

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: No witness says he blacked out. I don't know how you would prove that. And I have little -- Jake earlier said we were experts. I don't know. Experts in what, Jake?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Drinking is what I meant.

(LAUGHTER)

LOWRY: I drank a fair amount as an adolescent. I didn't black out in college. Some people don't black out.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Can you say that -- I don't mean to probe. I'm sorry. I will do myself first. Absolutely, I had memory loss.

HILL: Of course.

LOWRY: Yes, you're foggy. But blank hours where you turn into this a zombie who is sexually assaulting someone.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But that's not the question. The question is, did he ever have memory loss?

LOWRY: But the core allegation, though, is sexual assault. And so far there is no corroboration of a 36-year-old memory that hasn't been properly interrogated, in my view.

TAPPER: Let me ask you. Go ahead, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, but there is intentionally a blurring of the terms right now.

And it's because Kavanaugh chose a tack in the FOX News interview to present himself as a choirboy and a football player primarily. And that probably doesn't comport with the way he acted in college or high school all of the time, or indeed most folks.

And I think the problem is there is a sense that maybe frat culture is on trial here. And we have gone a long way. Cultural standards change. But the fraternity he was a member of at Yale, DKE, was the one that George W. Bush was a member of.

The difference is, W. could say, when I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible. And he was running for a president on a popular vote, not going for a Supreme Court seat.

TAPPER: But he also said, and I stopped drinking at 40 after an encounter with Franklin Graham. And we don't hear that.

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: There's no allegation he's an alcoholic.

There's no indication he's an alcoholic. And I would underline the word primarily, choirboy primarily. He could have been a choirboy primarily and he actually was a pretty upstanding student to get as far as he did and still drink a lot.

These things are not inconsistent. And he said he in his testimony that he drank to excess. He never denied that. He didn't lie about it.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: ... between drinking to excess and not having memory loss? That's a bit...

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: Blacking out.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: Memory loss and drinking to excess night after night.

LOWRY: But the suggestion in blacking out is that he did this and does not know it.

HOOVER: The plausibility of, you know, what one person thinks is implausible and another thinks is plausible simply can't be the basis for how we determine our Supreme Court justices. Right?

This is why we have to have a basis in facts. This is why we have to have investigations of the truth and we have to discern what the truth is. Otherwise, if it's just what you believe vs. what I believe or anybody else believes, this is just a power grab and this is not the rule of law.

TAPPER: I want to bring up the fact that Rachel Mitchell, the Arizona prosecutor who the Republicans brought in to question, she issued a report.

Now, obviously, it's not a full FBI investigation. She did what she could in the time she was given. But her conclusion was that a responsible prosecutor would never bring a case based on the evidence presented last week.

And she noted -- quote -- "Dr. Ford, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, identified other witnesses to the event and those witnesses either refuted her allegations or failed to corroborate them."

She went on to cite inconsistencies in her statements to the committee, "The Washington Post," her therapist.

I mean, this doesn't look very strong when it comes to the effort to convict Kavanaugh on this case. This doesn't help her case.

HILL: The report doesn't. And if we're using the logic of a criminal justice proceeding to prosecute someone, to incarcerate someone, of course not. It wouldn't be a sufficiently strong case.

But when you have someone who passes a lie-detector test and you have someone who has a strong case, when you have Kavanaugh who keeps saying things that seem somewhat implausible, I think it does raise questions about credibility and character and temperament, as we saw in the hearing last week.

And those are questions we do have a right to ask in terms of determining our Supreme Court justice. That's different than determining whether or not someone would pass -- or successfully be prosecuted.

TAPPER: Kellyanne Conway seemed to suggest to me yesterday that she believes something happened to Professor Ford, she just doesn't think Brett Kavanaugh was the person who did it.

Obviously, memory is a tricky thing. That's not what Ford says. She says she's 100 percent certain. What do you think?

LOWRY: Memory is not reliable, especially given decades. There would be no such thing as The Innocence Project, which gets people out of jail, based on DNA, because they're in jail based on dead 100 percent certain witness identifications.

So what matters is not the memory. It's some corroboration. And there is none at the moment. And, in fact, the people that -- the two witnesses she said were at the party say they have no memory of such an event.

HILL: That's somewhat of a misrepresentation of how we understand witnesses.

Typically, when it comes to intimate partner violence, when it comes to sexual assault from people we know, misidentification of the assailant is almost never the case.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick -- everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.

[16:15:04] President Trump is claiming he's seen a Democratic senator in some

compromising situations. Wait, what? The latest on the uncorroborated Trump claim.

Plus, with Kavanaugh's former Yale classmates publicly countering the claim, CNN is speaking to several of Kavanaugh's peers. What do they have to say?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: President Trump making some uncorroborated claims today that he has dirt on a Democratic senator, and then, of course, refusing to provide any of evidence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I happen to know some United States senators. One who is on the other side who is pretty aggressive. I've seen that person in very bad situations. OK? I've seen that person in very, very bad situations, somewhat compromising. And you know, I think it's very unfair to bring up things like this.

REPORTER: Mr. President, you just said some senators are not angels, and you've seen some of them in very --

TRUMP: I would say some of them, yes.

REPORTER: -- compromising situations.

TRUMP: Yes.

REPORTER: Could you tell us who and exactly what situation?

TRUMP: No, no, I think I'll save is for a book like everybody else and I'll write it, OK? I'm not giving it to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Back to our team here. Are we supposed to think this is a real -- or is this just like thousands of Muslims celebrating 9/11 in New Jersey, just like the nonsense? Or is this a real thing?

HOOVER: I mean, what's the point of calling it the bully pulpit? You're not actually going to just knock them down and scare them to death.

[16:20:01] It's absurd.

AVLON: It's also, I have here in my hand a list --

TAPPER: Oh, McCarthy.

AVLON: Yes. And, look, you know, Trump playing -- always plays it for a laugh. It's still -- he's calling a Democratic member of the Senate an alcoholic, but I'm not going to say who. The reality is, though, that it is odd to see the Senate passing judgment on people's morality, not about sexual violence or allegations, but drinking in particular, because the history of that body outside the tower, you know, hearings is a lot of folks who have drunk a lot throughout history, as your novel -- itself is a witness of.

HILL: But this becomes, again, talking about moving the goalpost. It seems like that's happening on the other side, as well, because now we're having a conversation about who drank too much, who is the moral authority to speak about drinking. And we're moving our eyes away from the question of sexual violence and sexual assault. And so, suddenly, we can laugh about this and not think about the fact that, hey, someone was assaulted here.

HOOVER: Maybe -- allegedly assaulted.

HILL: Well, yes. Yes.

TAPPER: What do you make of this? Do you think he's actually thinking of somebody in particular? Or is this just --

LOWRY: Who knows? He might be. But obviously, people on my side of the aisle now want to push back -- against reckless accusations. So it's not great to make any of those at the moment.

TAPPER: Margaret, listen. CNN's Kaitlan Collins asked the president if Kavanaugh lied in his testimony and if so, would he be fit to be the nominee. He responded by attacking individual senators, this time by name. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Look at Blumenthal, he lied about Vietnam. Cory Booker, he ran Newark, New Jersey, into the ground. Dianne Feinstein knew about this two months earlier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Pushback, as Rich is saying.

HOOVER: Pushback -- with anything Donald Trump says, I have a terrible time humoring it. You have the president of the United States sitting here, naming out individual senators who is clearly just on the opposite side of a partisan fight for his second Supreme Court nominee. So, it's hard to even substantiate these allegations.

AVLON: Certainly not going to have the guy on the bully pulpit talk about the politics of personal destruction, you know, because he's a master. I mean, he's got a black belt.

That said, it is -- that is the problem that Republicans are having right now. They are railing at the politics and personal destruction and the added irony, of course, is that some people date that to the Starr report, and the Starr commission that Kavanaugh was a part of against the Clintons. That's where you get to how are we going to heal this breach? It's not going to happen easily. It's not going to happen in --

LOWRY: But what he said about Dianne Feinstein is completely sound. The one chance and it may not have happened even then, but the one chance to handle this in a responsible manner, would have been fair to everyone, would have been to do an investigation in private, behind closed doors first. And she put that off the table by holding it, doing nothing with it, I think because she didn't believe in it.

TAPPER: Because Ford said --

LOWRY: Even --

TAPPER: Ford said she wanted to stay anonymous.

LOWRY: Right, but even if you want to stay anonymous, you can investigate it. Doesn't mean you have to do nothing with it.

Ford really wanted nothing to happen with this? Why does she call the "Washington Post"? Why does she contact her congressman? Why does she contact the senator?

So there was some chance to do it the way it should have been done, and Feinstein made that impossible.

TAPPER: What did you make of the president going after Booker and Blumenthal and Feinstein?

HILL: Again, it's classic Trump tactics, but also beside the point. Let's assume Cory Booker did run Newark into the ground, the bustling metropolis it was before he became senator, what does that have to do with the fact that he's making procedural issues, he's raising questions, and he's saying this is wrong? I think both things could be true.

So, the fact that Trump is doing that and playing what-aboutism to me is not the point.

TAPPER: Let's take a listen to President Trump joking about drinking, a drunk Trump? Because such a thing does not exist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm not a drinker. I can honestly say, I've never had a beer in my life. OK?

REPORTER: Right.

TRUMP: It's one of my only good traits. I don't drink. Whenever they're looking for something good, I say, I never had a glass of alcohol. I've never had alcohol. You know, for whatever reason.

Can you imagine if I had? What a mess I'd be? Would I -- I would be the world's worst. But I never drank. I never drank, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: It's good standup, but this is a serious issue. Allegations being made about his Supreme Court nominee drinking in excess, whether or not he committed sexual assault.

HOOVER: In a weird way, maybe he's crazy like a fox. We're waiting for a week and nothing is going to happen for a week. We have to wait for this FBI investigation, deflect, distract, make them laugh. Keep their attention, because what's going to happen in the meantime, right?

And so, he's making it about himself. Frankly, it was the only resounding line, everybody laughed. You get closer to humor --

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: This is Trump -- he should be in the self deprecating mode more often. Almost never is. But it's very entertaining and charming.

AVLON: Humor is very effective from all presidents, especially this one. But as usual, he also steps on his message. He had a big win today for redoing the NAFTA deal. And because he's making comments about -- well, you know, Kavanaugh had a problem with drinking in the past, and you know, thank god I don't drink, because that would be really crazy. He steps on his own message and an administration accomplishment, which is legitimate.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.

Inside the investigation, a look at who the FBI is and who they are not talking to. That's next. Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said sometimes you had too many drinks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:52] TAPPER: With the White House this afternoon telling the FBI that agents are not limited in their investigation, the question then becomes, who are they talking to? And who is not on their interview list?

I want to bring in CNN senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin.

And, Drew, who has the FBI spoken to so far?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, CNN has learned the FBI has interviewed, Debby Ramirez, the second accuser from Yale, along with Christine Blasey Ford's friend, Leland Keyser, and Kavanaugh's high school friend PJ Smyth.

But the question is, if the FBI is investigating or even interested in interviewing several people who dispute Kavanaugh's claims about his drinking habits.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: My White House will do whatever the senators want.

GRIFFIN: What Republican senators want, according to sources familiar with the discussions, is for the FBI agents to not be limited in their investigation. CNN has learned on their list, PJ Smyth, Leland Keyser and Mark Judge, who, according to Christine Blasey Ford, were all at the party where she says she was attacked. They also want the second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, questioned.

One of the most important of those is Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh's high school friend, who put his own hard partying exploits in a book called "Wasted," and later posted a video tour of Georgetown Prep.