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White House Says FBI Not Limited in Kavanaugh Background Probe; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 2, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Use the #whyivoteCNN for a chance to be featured on our show as well as CNN's Instagram.

Very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We're so glad you're with us. It is the top of the hour and we are on the top stories.

So many witnesses, so little time. Already the finish line is in sight for the newly reopened background probe of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The top Senate Republican who's also the Senate's top Kavanaugh's booster says the floor votes on Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination will get under way this week, regardless of, you know, where this probe goes. It's going to happen this week.

SCIUTTO: In the meantime, agents from the FBI Security Division have virtual carte blanche from the White House to do interviews, any interviews that they deem necessary. And a group of Senate Democrats has offered up a list now of almost two dozen people who may shed light on allegations of Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct and drinking habits from the 1980s.

To the latter point, a New Haven, Connecticut, police report from 1985 documents a bar fight that a witness says was started by an allegedly drunk Brett Kavanaugh. All this brings us to CNN's Abby Phillip. She's at the White House where you expect her to be.

So you have a lengthening list of requested witnesses here. Is it your understanding that the FBI is going to get to all these witnesses and that the White House is giving them free reign to do so?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's not exactly clear that that's the case, Jim. The president yesterday said that he would allow the FBI to do whatever Senate Republicans thought they ought to do. And we already know some of the witnesses that the FBI has interviewed, four of them, two of them include one of the accusers of Kavanaugh, who says he was engaged in some sexual misconduct while in college, as well as Mark Judge, who is a friend from high school, who was a part of the Ford incident.

But there's a big question about how much this drinking issue, about what Kavanaugh's drinking habits were when he was younger, is part of the ongoing investigation that we are in right now. Now, Deborah Ramirez, one of the accusers, gave the FBI a longer list

of about a dozen people they could speak to. Senate Democrats have their own list of about almost two dozen other additional names. But we're also hearing from friends of Kavanaugh's from high school and from college who are disputing Kavanaugh's characterization of his drinking habits. The White House is responding to that by producing their own character witnesses for Kavanaugh. They released two statements from his college friends disputing that he was a heavy drinker.

So we are still having this fight in public and we're not sure exactly how much of this the FBI is looking into. Meantime, later today, President Trump is going to have a campaign rally, so I'm sure we will hear more from him on this and other issues as well later tonight -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, Abby, thanks for the reporting from the White House.

Let's go to our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, who got up bright and early for us.

Good morning, Dana.


HARLOW: So what are you hearing? When you're so tapped in to all of these senators. What are you hearing from Republican senators who are calling the White House? What do they really, really want and what do you think they're going to get in terms of how wide, how broad this probe goes?

BASH: Well, listen, I heard something this morning that you don't normally hear from this group of Republicans who are holding the key here, because Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Jeff Flake, Jeff Flake in particular, have been among the most vocal in their opposition to things that the president does and their party. And yet what I'm hearing this morning is that they liked what they heard from the president yesterday.

That he more than anyone else who has kind of been leading the charge on this question about Kavanaugh and how far the FBI investigation should go, said the right things about allowing the investigation, the background check, to go where it goes. To follow the leads. And that is the concern that I, again, am hearing this morning, that, you know, I reported yesterday that the initial hope among Republican senators who very much support Kavanaugh, was that this background check could be done by today.

And among these three key Republicans, the hope is it is not done by today. Because this is not a court of law. We've said this so many times. This is not a -- you know, this is not a typical investigation that leads to a potential prosecution. This is about public perception, and the concern, at least among one of the top aides to one of these Republicans, is that if we follow the public perception, if this investigation is done in -- you know, in two days, then that doesn't look like it was done in a very thorough way.

SCIUTTO: Right. Listen, at the end of the day, at the end of the week, I should say, senators -- swing vote senators here, Republicans, red state Democrats, are going to be faced effectively with the same decision they were faced with last week, with more information probably, but not conclusive information. And it gets to this key question of whether they believe that liberal drinking habits, whatever you want to call it, from those high school and college years, and whether they have heard enough to believe Dr. Ford's allegation, whether those things are disqualifying.

[10:05:07] Are you hearing from those swing voters any indication of where they're going to end up?

BASH: No, because they are really keeping their powder dry on that issue until they see, you know, whatever information the FBI turned up. But quite honestly, my sense is that they don't know how they're going to weigh those questions about drinking. They don't know how they're going to weigh those questions about drinking and how they may or may not contradict what Kavanaugh himself said in the hearing because that is obviously the big question. That's why we care.

HARLOW: Dana, stay with us. We're going to jump to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. He's speaking about this on the Senate floor.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, the context for every action the Democrats have taken during this entire process. These statements remind us Democrats may be trying to move the goalpost every five minutes, but their goal has not moved an inch. They will not be satisfied unless they have brought down Judge Kavanaugh's nomination.

It started with straightforward political maneuvering, none of it worked, of course. But whatever excuses they could find to delay, delay, delay. First back in June, the Democrats tried to argue the Supreme Court shouldn't confirm -- Democrats tried to argue the Senate shouldn't confirm a Supreme Court justice in any even numbered year. Any even numbered year. Then they were reminded that Justice Kagan, Breyer, and Souter were all confirmed during midterm election years. And that argument evaporated.

Next, Democrats said the process should be delayed because too few documents were available from Judge Kavanaugh's past public service. Well, then they received the most pages of documents ever produced for a Supreme Court nomination, so guess what came next? The goalpost moved down the field and the Democrats called for delay because there were too many documents for them to read.

I wish this fight could have remained in the realm of normalcy, but when none of these tactics worked, once Judge Kavanaugh demonstrated his widely acknowledged brilliance, open mindedness and collegiality at his confirmation hearings, some chose a darker road.

The politics of personal destruction were willfully unleashed. I have spoken at length about the underhanded way Senate Democrats have treated Dr. Ford and her allegation. In brief, for six weeks, Dr. Ford's confidential account passed from one Democratic member of Congress to the Democratic side of the Judiciary Committee to the Washington, D.C. lawyers that Senate Democrats hand-picked for her.

Then well after Judge Kavanaugh's hearings wrapped up, the supposedly confidential letter found its way into the press. Shoving aside proper procedure, shoving aside the accuser's plea for privacy, this, Madam President, is not politics as usual. Because let us not forget, Dr. Ford's allegation is not the only uncorroborated allegation that has been breathlessly, breathlessly paraded around. Oh, no. Shortly after Dr. Ford's confidential letter made its way into the press, the floodgates of mud and muck opened entirely on Judge Kavanaugh and his family.

Out of the woodwork came one uncorroborated allegation after another, each seemingly more outlandish than the last. A tabloid lawyer organized a red carpet rollout for someone who wanted to accuse Judge Kavanaugh of masterminding some kind of high school drug and serial sexual assault ring. Hosting one wild party after another, filled with sexual violence, for which there conveniently happened to be zero witnesses. Zero witnesses.

But plenty of people to refute the claims. It didn't say in the tabloids, by the way, this fantastic story was effectively read into the record of the Judiciary Committee by the ranking member, who decided it deserved a mention in her remarks during last Thursday's hearing. And every Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee seized on this outlandish tale in a formal letter in which they called on Judge Kavanaugh to withdraw his name from consideration.

[10:10:04] This is how desperate some became for any way to stop this stunningly qualified nominee. I guess upholding any standards of any kind was just too much to ask. We have heard another anonymous, unattributed and now thoroughly debunked account. This time, an anonymous accusation from Colorado, alleging physical abuse 20 years ago. A sitting federal district judge quickly stepped up to bat down that anonymous smear.

We heard that Judge Kavanaugh was supposedly responsible for a sexual assault on a boat in Newport, Rhode Island. Until the accuser recanted the story completely but not before many in the media had begun eating it up. In short, Democrats' mishandling of Dr. Ford's letter opened the floodgates for this deluge of uncorroborated, unbelievable mud. And the mudslide was cheered on and capitalized on at every turn by the far left that has been so eager to stop this nomination.

Just politics? I don't think so. And on the other extreme, some of the other lines of attack have been completely trivial. Last night, "The New York Times" unleashed this major story. Get this. Judge Kavanaugh may have been accused of throwing some ice across a college bar in the mid-1980s. Talk about a bombshell. One can only imagine what new bombshell might be published today or tomorrow.

But here's what we know, Madam President. One thing for sure. The Senate will vote on Judge Kavanaugh here on this floor this week. Here on this floor this week. Our Democratic friends will try to move the goalpost yet again. Just yesterday, they submitted a list of 24 people whom they wanted the FBI to interview. So I'm confident we'll hear that even the very same supplemental FBI investigation Democrats had so loudly demanded is now magically no longer sufficient.

Well, after the FBI shares what they found, senators will have the opportunity to vote. We'll have the opportunity to vote no on the politics of personal destruction. We'll have the opportunity to vote yes on this fine nominee.

Now, Madam President, on an entirely different matter, the U.S. economy continues to deliver very good news. My home state of Kentucky is certainly no exception. Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to take part in the announcement of a major new investment in my hometown, Louisville. GE appliance, appliances --


SCIUTTO: The Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell there, piping in on the Kavanaugh investigation, saying, accusing Democrats that they will not be satisfied until they have brought down Kavanaugh's nomination.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: He also accuses them of perpetuating the politics of personal destruction, a familiar phrase from the Clinton days.

Dana Bash is still with us.

Dana, as you listen to the majority leader there, what did it tell you about the Republican strategy this week?

BASH: Well, a couple things. Number one, he's talking about the Democrats and blaming them for moving the goalpost, but also more importantly, going through, as he has pretty much every day since this has been an issue, mishandled the Ford allegations. That is seems to me aimed at trying to anger the constituents, the Republican constituents of those three key Republican senators, and make them call their offices and cry foul.

It doesn't appear to me that that could work, given where those three Republican senators are right now. But he's also got a Republican base that he has to manage. That he has to keep energized, as you said, five weeks before the midterms.

The other thing about moving the goalposts that Democrats are going to say at the end of the week, we didn't have a long enough FBI investigation, that's true. We know that's going to happen.


BASH: But again, the Democrats aren't the issue here. It is It's those three Republican senators who I am told are going to, until the very last minute that they can, work together as a block.

[10:15:08] Because as a block, they have unlimited leverage because if they stick together on the process of the FBI investigation and what they expect, then Mitch McConnell does not have the votes. Period. End of story. And so that is why we're keeping an eye on them. He did say we're going to have the vote by the end of the week, but if the FBI report doesn't come back until Friday, let's say, it's hard to imagine someone like Susan Collins, for example, saying OK, I'm going to read this report in 20 minutes and I'll be ready to vote.

HARLOW: Right.

BASH: So he's doing what he has to do as a leader, as the manager of the expectations and the desires of the Republican base. But there's also a reality going on separately that he understands that he has to deal with. And that is he doesn't have the votes and he's got to deal with these Republicans who understand their leverage and are using it to the nth degree.

HARLOW: Dana, just very quickly before you go, you know, we heard Lindsey Graham, we've heard a few other Republican senators calling on Dianne Feinstein and her office to be investigated for the leak of this -- you know, Dr. Ford's letter, et cetera. She came out with an ardent defense yesterday of the dates and the timeline of how this all happened.

How are Republican senators suggesting and what entity investigate Feinstein's office for this and for what alleged, you know, wrongdoing or crime, if you will?

BASH: Yes. Well, it's interesting because on the one hand, Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham, who have been the most critical of this process, are defending Dianne Feinstein publicly and privately saying that they genuinely don't think it was her that leaked this, that she did what she thought was right and she reiterated it in a statement yesterday. She was asked by Professor Ford to keep this private, and she did that until it was no longer private.

But on the flip side, they are saying that there should be an investigation by the FBI into who did leak the information because --


BASH: -- the argument that they're making is that it could happen -- you know, to their party as well some time down the road.

HARLOW: Understood. Dana, thank you for all the reporting.

Let's jump back to the Senate floor. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: To get an honest report out of the FBI? What a double standard. How galling. Accusing Democrats of needlessly delaying a Supreme Court nomination is galling, is hypocritical. Coming from a leader who delayed the nomination of a Supreme Court justice for over 300 days until his party had a chance to win the White House. So no one, no American should accept his admonishments about delay. He's the master of delay.

And second, he blames Democrats for these delays. Well, as the leader well knows, Democrats are not in charge. We can't set the calendar. These things have been delayed because people on his side of the aisle, who had sincere concerns about having a fair process, said they won't go forward unless the process is made fairer.

Even the initial hearing where Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testified was because a member of the Judiciary Committee on the Republican side said he didn't want to go forward until he heard from them. Nothing to do with Democrats. Did we agree that that should happen? Of course. So did most people who are fair-minded. But it wasn't caused by us.

And then, this FBI -- the reopening of the FBI investigation into these new allegations. Background check investigation. Who caused that? Who caused this delay? I'd ask Leader McConnell. Not the Democrats. We don't have the ability to do it. It was three members on his side who sincerely were seeking better truth because they heard two arguments and they weren't sure which was right, and they saw that without some kind of independent investigation it would tear the American people apart in ways for which we will pay a price years down the road, no matter what the outcome of the vote on Judge Kavanaugh.

So Democrats didn't cause these delays and he knows it. It was the inability of all the Republicans to be unified with justification because the truth should be sought after in a more sincere way for a nomination to the highest court of the land.

Leader McConnell has said we're going to plow right through the recent allegations. Fortunately, some members on his side of the aisle didn't want to plow right through. They didn't want to delay unnecessarily one week.

[10:20:01] Give me a break. Compared to 10 months. Leaving the Scalia seat open. Who are we kidding? Who are we kidding? Who is making this a political argument? Let's ask.

And one final point. The leader kept accusing the people who came forward of political smear campaigns, of being in the mud. I want to ask the leader to answer a direct question. Does he believe or not believe Dr. Ford? Yes or no. I happen to believe her. He refuses to answer that. One way or the other, because he knows that Dr. Ford had tremendous credibility. Instead, he calls her names.

He uses it as Democrats, but she came forward on her own, and by the way, one of the first things she did was call "The Washington Post" and spoke to the reporter who later wrote the story. That was long before any Democrat knew what was going on. She felt a sincere need to come forward. To call her political, which is what by ricochet the leader is doing, is so unfair. Is so wrong.

To call all three of these women who came forward, whether you believe them or not, as political actors, is treating women in the same way that unfortunately too many women, as we have learned over it last few years, have been treated in the past. That doesn't mean allegations shouldn't be proven.

That doesn't mean there should be a discreet, fair process to try and get to the bottom of it, which is what the FBI investigation is. That doesn't mean all men are guilty before proven innocent. It means there deserves to be a fair hearing. Even if it takes one week. One week compared to the 10 months of delay.

And finally, Madam President, the investigation itself, it should only take a week. That's for sure. No Democrat has called for it taking more than a week. We are not moving the goalposts back. But it should be thorough. It should not be limited by the Senate Judiciary staff, who was initially calling the shots. And they have been biased to begin with. When the Democratic staff asked to be on the phone with the counsel to the president, Mr. McGahn, they -- the Republican staff refused.

That's not bipartisan. That's not fair. That's not even-handed. But fortunately yesterday, the president said the FBI should go forward. They can interview many people in a week. When there's a crime situation that calls for it, a terrorism situation that calls for it, from what I understand, they've interviewed hundreds in a week. So a list of 20 people to be interviewed in a week when the FBI has thousands of agents, many of them well trained in the art of figuring out how to interview somebody, is not unreasonable. It's only fair.

And we hope that there are still no limitations on the FBI investigation. We hope that there are no limitations, because that will jaundice the whole process, and that is not what those who called for it on either side of the aisle that asked for it, that asked for it to be full and fair and open, and then everyone will make his or her judgment. That's all people are asking for.

Finally, Madam President, so on that issue, I call on President Trump and the White House once again to release in writing what White House counsel Don McGahn has instructed the FBI to pursue. Until then, we have to take President Trump's off the cuff comments with perhaps grains of salt. We have to be shown that what he said is actually being implemented.

Now let me read you a few quotes. The Supreme Court must never, never be viewed as a partisan institution. That's Judge Kavanaugh, his 2006 confirmation hearings. Here's one more from a speech Judge Kavanaugh gave in 2015. First and most obviously, a judge cannot be a political partisan. I think most Americans would agree with that. I certainly do. A lodestar in our consideration of judicial confirmations should be whether a nominee is independent and within the ideological mainstream.

The Judge Kavanaugh we saw last Thursday did not meet the standard laid out in his past statements. His prepared statement to the committee, prepared, if you will, malice aforethought, accused sitting U.S. senators of a phony smear campaign lambasted, quote, "left-wing opposition groups" and portrayed the recent allegations, the allegations of Dr. Ford, Miss Ramirez, the third person who came forward, Miss -- the third person who came forward, Miss Swetnick. [10:25:24] He portrayed those as revenge on behalf of the Clintons.

Frankly, Judge Kavanaugh's testimony was better suited for FOX News than a confirmation hearing for the august United States Supreme Court. But that's in character with Judge Kavanaugh's long history of working for the most partisan legal causes. Ken Starr, Bush v. Gore, all the myriad controversies of the Bush era.

It would be one thing if Judge Kavanaugh discarded his partisan feelings once he donned the black robes of the jurist. Unfortunately, he's been on the bench for many years, and to Thursday's hearing revealed his bitter partisan resentments still lurk right below the surface. It should give us all pause to consider what it means to elevate such a partisan world view to the Supreme Court, whether it be a Democrat or a Republican partisan view. Where rulings must be made on the legal merits, not, not on the side of the aisle which most benefits.

And then the greatest issue against Judge Kavanaugh. The one that really bothers most people, his credibility. Is he telling the truth? That issue supersedes all the others. There may be some who say, well, what happened in high school shouldn't count. It's many years later. People grow, people change.

Now I think what happened to Dr. Ford, and she seems credible to me, is something you can't forget. It's not what men do. But some may say that. But we are looking at what Judge Kavanaugh says at age 53, not what he did at age 18. We are looking at his credibility now as a grown adult. And if you believe Dr. Ford, then Judge Kavanaugh is not telling the truth. And if this were the only instance, it would be one thing. Bad enough, but there are many more.

Over and over again, it's hard to believe what Judge Kavanaugh swore under oath at the committee hearing to say. Just yesterday, NBC News reported that either Judge Kavanaugh or people close to the judge were in communication with his Yale classmates to get them to rebut allegations by Deborah Ramirez later published in "The New Yorker."

Beyond the unseemliness of a federal judge pressuring former classmates to support his nomination, it seems that Judge Kavanaugh was at least very misleading to the Judiciary Committee about Miss Ramirez's story. When asked by Senator Hatch when he first heard of Ramirez's allegations, he answered, quote, in "The New Yorker" story, first heard based on the NBC reports, if they're correct, that was not truthful.

And it would be one thing if that were one isolated incident. But again, there are far too many misstatements, far too many inaccuracies, far too many mischaracterizations. He pled ignorance to many Bush era controversies only for e-mails to be released showing he was aware of them all. And played a role in many. He offered explanation for high school yearbook quotes, and it's not the quotes themselves or what they indicated. It's his explanations sort of defy belief.

And, of course, based on the accounts by his high school and college classmates, he has grossly mischaracterized his relationship with alcohol. A common thread, Judge Kavanaugh repeatedly tip-toes around the truth, doesn't tell the truth in many instances, it seems, to paint his nomination in a favorable light.

We want a Supreme Court nominee, whatever their politics, whatever their party origins, to be a shining example of someone who tells the truth, without doubt, without equivocation. If you say, well, maybe he's telling the truth, and maybe he's not, he doesn't belong on the Supreme Court. And I think most Americans are saying that. Again, even if you want to discount, as some people do, what happened when he was 15 in high school and 18 in college, you cannot discount what he is saying.