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White House Not Controlling Scope of FBI Probe on Brett Kavanaugh; Canada Agrees to New Trade Deal with U.S. and Mexico; Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired October 1, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Please post a video to Instagram telling us what is motivating you this year. Use this hashtag, #whyIvoteCNN, for a chance to be featured on our show and on CNN's Instagram Feed.
I think it's going to be a fun project.
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All right, good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.
SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.
And right now eight members of the Supreme Court are coming together to hear the first case for a new Supreme Court term. Member number nine still in flux as a brand-new controversy rages over a reopened FBI investigation into the nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Specifically into claims that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a teenage girl when he was a teen himself in the early 1980s and later exposed himself to a classmate while a college student at Yale.
Sources tell CNN that the White House, not the FBI is deciding exactly what investigators can and cannot look into for the purposes of this investigation, and whom they can or cannot question.
HARLOW: Right. What will the scope of this be? We'll see. Not being questioned so far, as we know, is the former college girlfriend -- former college friend who put out a scathing statement overnight. A statement that accuses Judge Kavanaugh of a, quote, "blatant mischaracterization of his drinking at Yale." A mischaracterization this friend alleges was done under oath, by the way.
Back at the White House, President Trump is hailing a last-second breakthrough in trade talks with Canada and Mexico, a new deal to replace NAFTA. He will tout it one hour from now in the Rose Garden. Remember, this was a key, key promise of the president on the campaign trail, and he has followed through.
Let's begin, though, this morning with the battle over the Supreme Court. Ariane de Vogue is outside of the high court with more. So what more do we know in terms of the scope of this investigation,
who the feds will be able to talk to and who they won't be able to talk to.
ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Right. Good morning, Poppy and Jim. Well, as you said, here we are, the first day of the court, totally overshadowed by Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation process.
Here is the latest. We know that Rachel Mitchell, she's the outside prosecutor hired by the Republicans late last night, she issued a report. And she said, look, I know that this wasn't a trial. It was a hearing, but she said no reasonable prosecutor would bring charges. And she actually issued a statement, a bottom line. She said, "A he said-she said case is incredibly difficult to prove, but this case is even weaker than that. Dr. Ford identified other witnesses to the event, and those witnesses either refuted her allegations or failed to corroborate them."
But it's worth noting that the Democrats and supporters of Ford, they totally dismiss this report. They say that she didn't even interview Kavanaugh. She was hired. This is just one side of the story. They want the focus on the current FBI background investigation. And we've learned that yesterday the FBI did reach out to one woman, Deborah Ramirez, and Ramirez alleges inappropriate behavior.
And here's what's key about this. Is that Ramirez gave the FBI the name of other witnesses. And the question will be whether or not the FBI and the White House allow those witnesses to be contacted. That's where we are now.
SCIUTTO: Ariane, thanks very much.
HARLOW: One of Kavanaugh's classmates at Yale is claiming overnight that he lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his drinking habits and behavior. This is a statement to CNN, and in it, Chad Ludington says that he witnessed Kavanaugh visibly drink heavily. He also says -- led me read part of his statement.
"When I watched Brett deliver his testimony under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, I cringed. For the fact is, at Yale, and I can speak to no other times, Brett was a frequent drinker and a heavy drinker. I know because especially in our first few years of college, I often drank with him. On many occasions, I heard Brett slur his words and saw him staggering from alcohol consumption, not all of which was beer. When Brett got drunk, he was often belligerent and aggressive."
SCIUTTO: Now to be clear in his statement, Ludington says that he does not think that Kavanaugh's behavior in college should condemn him for the rest of his life but he did say the following. He said, "I do believe that Brett's actions as a 53-year-old federal judge matter. If he lied about his past actions on national television and more especially while speaking under oath in front of the United States Senate, I believe those lies should have consequences. "It is truth that is at stake. And I believe that the ability to
speak the truth, even when it does not reflect well upon one's self, is a paramount quality we seek in our nation's most powerful judges."
Now to be clear, as you often have in cases like this, there are contradictory accounts. One of Judge's -- rather, one of Kavanaugh's other classmates, Chris Dudley, also a basketball player and a close friend of Dudley since -- of Kavanaugh's since college, says he is certain that he never saw Kavanaugh black out or crucially behave inappropriately with any women.
[10:05:04] We're joined now by CNN political commentator Marc Short who until recently worked in the Trump administration.
Marc, thanks for taking the time this morning.
MARC SHORT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks, Jim. Thanks for having me on.
SCIUTTO: First, on the question of the FBI investigation this week, in your view, who controls it? Does the FBI control it or does the White House?
SHORT: It's my understanding actually that it's more controlled by the Senate. The Senate is setting the terms for it. The White House actually has to make the requests to the FBI, but in some ways the White House is the middle man for those senators who are asking I think a pretty narrow scope.
Jim, I think it's important to remember for those who are clamoring for a wider investigation, I have not yet heard one Democrat say that based upon the investigation, they'll reopen their opposition or consider again their evaluation of Brett Kavanaugh. They all remain opposed. So this investigation is really focused on the request of Manchin, Murkowski, Collins, Flake, is what they want answered in the scope.
SCIUTTO: But let me ask you this. Just in terms of fairness, to take off the administration had just for a moment, it's an FBI investigation. They're experienced in doing background checks. Why would it be the White House or Senate Republicans who set the outlines? Shouldn't they hand it over to the FBI, to the bureau, and say, listen, we trust you with this. You're experienced in this. You guys decide how far this should go?
SHORT: I think, Jim, we're forgetting that actually Brett Kavanaugh has gone through six different FBI background checks that are quite expansive. They go back and ask neighbors of all the places you've lived about character, about what you've done, what you haven't done. So I think that we're overlooking that. The reality is that this is a he said-she said. There's plenty of questions about witnesses that Dr. Ford has alleged were there who basically deny ever being there.
And so I think, though the Senate Republicans who are still wrestling over this have asked for a narrow scope, and I think that's appropriate. SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because it's partly the alleged
behavior, right? And you and I imagine, have some experience with background checks. You, of course, went through one. I have been called about friends who have been up for various positions. And they do ask about, you know, how much you drank, what was your behavior like, going back to your youth.
If the nominee lied about that before the Senate, which we know lying before the Senate, it's against the law. In your view, let's set aside for a moment whether you think that's disqualifying, but do you think that's consequential if he lied about his behavior?
SHORT: Absolutely, Jim. Any witness who lies and perjures himself would be disqualified, not just Brett Kavanaugh, but any potential nominee. But I also think it would be great if we as a society and as a Senate were actually spending as much time on the 300 opinions that Kavanaugh has written and the federal court of appeals as much as we do to discussing drinking games 36 years ago in college.
SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you about that, because of course, that is the key when you're talking about a Supreme Court justice. Particularly this Supreme Court justice is going to have enormous influence over key legal decisions facing the country. Recalling Kavanaugh's testimony last week, he said something that caught the attention of a lot of folks about the politics in Washington. And he made what sounded like something of a threat. Have a listen. I want to ask you about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country. And as we all know in the United States political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: What did the nominee mean by that? Was he, as some Democrats have interpreted, threatening that he will in effect get back at Democrats from a seat, potentially, on the Supreme Court?
SHORT: I don't -- I don't know the answer to that, Jim. I don't think that that's what he's intending. My interpretation of that is that if and when Democrats have the presidency and are putting forward a nominee, I think he's saying the Republicans would use similar tactics potentially. But you know, I do think there is a serious concern about the quality of people who are willing to stand for these sorts of positions because no longer is it really an evaluation of your merits or again the role of advice and content.
It's become one that is search and destroy. And I think that that does concern a lot of people who are not willing to stand for Senate confirmation any longer.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this as a final question. One thing that struck me just as a father of a daughter and the husband of a wife was that Kavanaugh didn't really barely reference at all Blasey Ford's testimony when he -- and it would have been -- it struck me as a fairly easy thing to do, say, I listened to this woman, and my goodness, what a heart wrenching thing she went through. Moved on as if the morning hadn't taken place.
Yourself, were you disappointed that he didn't express any acknowledgment, really, of what the Senate had heard just moments before he took the chair?
SHORT: Jim, I think all you have to do is see the support that he has from his wife and from the girls on the basketball team and his daughters to know that I think Brett is a pretty strong husband and father.
[10:10:11] I think that -- you know, I think that he said that during that morning he was actually preparing his testimony, so he hadn't listened to Dr. Ford's testimony at that point. So no, I didn't question him as a father or as a husband.
SCIUTTO: Well, on that point, I should say that there were some question that he then later said under some circumstances that he did listen to some of her testimony. Just as a point of fact, and I know that there are many points of fact under dispute here.
Marc Short, I do want to thank you for taking the time and taking the hard questions.
SHORT: Thanks, Jim. Thanks for having me on.
HARLOW: All right, so still ahead, the president will speak in less than an hour's time in the Rose Garden. Touting a deal he promised we would reach, and we have. A new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico to replace NAFTA. This morning what it means for you.
Also, search and rescue teams under way, scrambling to find any remaining survivors in Indonesia after that tsunami and earthquake has claimed the lives of nearly 850 people.
SCIUTTO: And under pressure, Senator Susan Collins of Maine is one of two pivotal GOP votes in the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. CNN spoke with constituents of Senator Collins to get their take on that crucial vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is where I needed to be. This is the work that I needed to be doing today and encouraging Susan Collins to please vote no and protect our Supreme Court and our daughters and our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:16:00] HARLOW: All right, minutes from now, the president will speak about this new trade deal with Mexico and Canada to replace NAFTA in the Rose Garden. This is significant. I mean, he promised this on the campaign trail over and over again, and it happened. Sort of down to the wire last night.
SCIUTTO: No question. Sources say that a call from top staff members in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office to Trump's adviser and son- in-law Jared Kushner helped get the talks moving toward an agreement late Sunday night, just up to that deadline.
Joining us now to discuss the details, CNN correspondent Paula Newton as well as CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik.
So, Paula, I know you've been covering this closely, you've been speaking to Canadian officials here. What was the linchpin that put this over the top at the end?
PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, basically, it was this personal relationship between those staffers of Justin Trudeau and Jared Kushner. Jared Kushner really was the one who took this deal, made sure that the president was really kept up to date, even hourly. But the other thing that I want to point out which is key is the business leaders in the United States. Basically getting in touch any way they could with the president and just saying can we just get this deal done? We're taking on a lot with China right now.
In terms of the details, yes, those American farmers are getting more access --
HARLOW: Right. Don't fight with our allies.
HARLOW: Deal with China.
NEWTON: But also it is key that Donald Trump now at 11:00 a.m., you'll hear him say our U.S. farmers do have more access to that Canadian market, something that no other president has been able to do for almost 25 years. And second of course is that big auto deal. We lost sight of that a bit because that was really a U.S.-Mexico concession, but it is a big deal and Donald Trump is convinced and auto executives are convinced as well that in the long term, it may actually do what Donald Trump said it would do, which was bring more jobs back home to America.
HARLOW: Alison, just, you know, a few days ago, I interviewed Beth Ford, she's the new CEO of Land O'Lakes (INAUDIBLE) statement.
ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Which is a -- I mean, the board is 28 farmers. This is a farmer company. And they just -- she was saying to me, we are -- farmers just want answers on trade.
KOSIK: Right. HARLOW: This morning, they wake up with many answers.
KOSIK: So getting these answers. One thing --
HARLOW: Is it good for American farmers and American businesses?
KOSIK: So if you look at the jobs picture at least, you're going to see that at least according to the Canadians, according to the U.S., this is going to help middle-class jobs, this is going to help job growth in North America. One thing it is going to keep, though. It is going to keep those steel and aluminum tariffs in place. So then we've got that industry to keep an eye on, but this really does remove a lot of uncertainty in the market. And you can see that excitement on Wall Street.
We've got the Dow up over 200 points because that uncertainty has really been weighing over the market. This has been a market that's been trading on these headlines, sort of drip, drip, drip effect of, you know, what's happening with NAFTA, what's happening with these tariffs. This kind of opens the door to that hope that with -- you know, with Donald Trump sort of building a bridge with the EU, making trade more accessible after taking it away, and now opening that door to Canada, that maybe, just maybe, China will come back to the table and be more amenable to coming to some sort of solution about these tariffs that are continuing to weigh on the market even today.
HARLOW: I mean, you -- yes. And on China, you lived and worked in China.
SCIUTTO: Well, there's a lot of political animus here right now with China. And China has its own domestic audience it's dealing with and does not like to be pushed around by the U.S. so there's always that hurdle to get over.
I think what is interesting about this is that the final deal is very similar to the TPP, Transpacific Partnership, which was a trade deal encompassing Asia, ex-China that the president pulled out of.
HARLOW: He did.
SCIUTTO: Does this possibly offer a path back in to TPP for the Trump administration?
NEWTON: Yes, and in fact, Donald Trump had left the door open to that a few months ago. What you want to look at here is the architecture of this deal going forward and how it relates to having a stronger position with China going forward. And that architecture does include things like intellectual property, which the president talks about all the time, and yes, the issue, though, going back to the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs still in place, perhaps just for another few weeks past the midterms, but it is a sign to China that, look, even if it hurts our economy in the short term, this administration is willing to go to bat for these trade deals, really get renegotiation on the table.
SCIUTTO: Yes. NEWTON: And it is a message to China that even with allies, Donald
Trump is willing to take some hits if he's going to get a better long- term deal.
HARLOW: Thanks, ladies.
SCIUTTO: Fascinating to watch. Thanks, guys.
Coming up, the FBI was given one week to investigate sexual assault claims against Brett Kavanaugh, but is that really enough time?
[10:20:04] James Comey, former FBI director, might know something about it. He says yes.
SCIUTTO: This morning, a new voice in the contentious Supreme Court confirmation battle. Former FBI director James Comey.
HARLOW: Comey writes in a "New York Times" opinion piece this morning, quote, "It is idiotic to put a shot clock on the FBI, but it's better to give professionals seven days to find facts than have no professional investigation at all."
[10:25:09] Let's talk about what this all means for Judge Kavanaugh's nomination to the high court. Susan Page is with us from Washington, Jennifer Rodgers here with the legal side, and Warren Flagg, who worked with the FBI, retired FBI agent.
Nice to have you all here.
Warren, let me begin with you.
WARREN FLAGG, RETIRED FBI AGENT: Sure.
HARLOW: What can the FBI get done in seven days? Because I should note, I do think it's worth noting, the Anita Hill investigation took three days.
FLAGG: Well, let me say this first, OK. I think this is the most important interview I have ever conducted. And the reason is, is because my opinion is that I represent the current and former FBI agents in this. And I believe in my heart that the Senate Judiciary Committee has caused the greatest crime fighting and fact-finding investigative firm to be their moral police. Not going to happen.
SCIUTTO: Now let me ask you a question. I get that point because in effect, the FBI, there's been a little bit of a football punted, right, to them on this question. That said, the FBI does this every day. With every -- you know, with appointees up and down the line from low level to high level. Do they not? They explore, they do background checks. And if they get new information, they might decide to reopen them. FLAGG: No doubt about that. But when this issue came to pass, OK,
it's very important to understand that the Judicial Committee, it's their responsibility to make the judgment.
SCIUTTO: To make a judgment. OK.
HARLOW: So I hear your point. Susan, to you, the FBI will present the White House in a week's time with 302s, right, and they will document what they found. Now it's, as I understand it, going to be up to the White House what they do with that. To whom they release the 302s, does the full Senate Judiciary Committee, the Republicans and Democrats, does the American public get to see what the FBI found?
They don't have to publicly release those. So where should this go after day seven of the investigation?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY; So, Poppy, you know, that's exactly right. The White House is the client in this case. The FBI is working for the White House, and we have a lot of unanswered questions about who will be able to read whatever material the FBI generates. We're pretty sure the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee will be able to do so. There will certainly be a firestorm from Democrats on that committee if they can't do so.
But it is not at all guaranteed that the public will find out what it is that the FBI discovers. I think the more critical question than the limits on time for this investigation are the limits on scope. And that's also an unanswered question on who exactly the FBI intends to interview.
SCIUTTO: You hear, Jennifer Rodgers, the criticism you'll hear from Republicans in the wake of this is that, listen, the FBI never reaches conclusions. It only makes -- it only does what are called 302s, they issue these reports and then in effect leaves it up to the appointing body to make the decision on that.
Is that actually a justification to dismiss the reports? Or is that just not the way it is and always has been? Right? That's the way these background checks work.
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's exactly right. The point is to give the senators enough information that they can make a proper judgment. And they just didn't have enough information because the senators on the committee were not able to get together and do a proper investigation as they should have if there was bipartisan communication.
SCIUTTO: Meaning to talk to some people involved.
SCIUTTO: To cross-examine witnesses.
RODGERS: If they had done the investigation the way they should have, and they would have spoken to all the witnesses, brought the ones in for testimony who needed to testify, followed up on leads and so on, I don't think we'd be here. The problem is they couldn't do that in this climate so the FBI had to be brought in because they're independent.
HARLOW: Susan, to you. Just as far as our reporting goes, at this point it is not believed that Julie Swetnick, who's made an allegation against Judge Kavanaugh during his time at Yale, will be interviewed by the FBI, at least not at this point. Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is attacking her credibility as you know and you saw the reporting over the weekend. He brought up a lawsuit that was brought up against Swetnick 18 years ago that claimed that she engaged in, quote, "unwelcomed sexually offensive conduct at a place of work." That was dismissed after it was filed in 2000, according to the court documents we looked at.
A, should the feds be talking to her? And B, what do you make of McConnell's line of attack?
PAGE: Well, you know, it seems to me that they have two audiences in mind here. One is the three or four senators whose votes are in doubt. Can they do enough, can the FBI, can the White House allow the FBI to do enough to convince those couple senators, Collins and Murkowski and Flake to vote for Judge Kavanaugh?
You know, there's a larger audience here, though, and that's the American public. And do you end up lifting this cloud that is now over Judge Kavanaugh so that if he is confirmed there is faith that he's going to be a good justice, that he deserves to be there? And that is where I think Julie Swetnick comes in. Does she -- does failing to interview her make some Americans feel like they didn't do a full job and the cloud has not been lifted?
SCIUTTO: Right. Warren, I want to ask you, and I trust you understand the political --
FLAGG: Yes, I know. You bet.