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INSIDE POLITICS

FBI Investigation into Kavanaugh; Potential Vote for Kavanaugh; Pentagon Mail Contained Ricin. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 2, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: See what impact that is then when she comes back home.

Kate, great to hear from you. Thank you so much.

And thank so much for joining me AT THIS HOUR. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John king. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump hits the road this hour. A big speech in Philadelphia to tout the booming economy. Then on to Mississippi for a rally aimed at ginning up GOP turnout for the midterm vote just five weeks from today.

One key witness in the new Brett Kavanaugh investigation says his interview is done and key GOP senators welcome President Trump's statements that the FBI should interview anyone it deems relevant.

The Senate's top Republican blames Democrats for Kavanaugh's smears and delays, he says, but three Republicans are the power players now and will determine if the majority leader can keep this bold promise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And so we begin there with that big question, can Leader Mitch McConnell keep his word and hold the vote this week on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. To make a potential Friday vote happen, McConnell would need to file cloture, a key procedural motion. He would have to file that tomorrow, Wednesday. McConnell timeline is extraordinarily tight. The majority leader says Democrats are to blame for these delays.

But listen today to the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer. We are here, he says, because Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, three Republicans, said, stop.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: 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. So the Democrats didn't cause these delays and he knows it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is true that a Republican jury of three, Collins, Flake and Murkowski, will determine whether Kavanaugh's nomination will cross the finish line by week's end or at all for that matter.

This morning, Senator Flake telling CNN, last week's agreement was simple, the FBI investigation runs its course and then Leader McConnell can file the motions to proceed. Today, an attorney says the FBI done interview Mark Judge. He, of course, Kavanaugh's high school friend and an alleged witness to Professor Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault. Ford's lawyers say their client still has not received a call from the FBI. So there's another big question, who does the FBI talk to next? A spokeswoman for Senator Susan Collins yesterday said the witness list should include Julie Swetnick. She is the woman represented by Michael Avenatti, who says she witnessed Kavanaugh grope and fondle girls without their consent back in high school. So what is the standard? Who will be interviewed?

CNN's Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill for us.

And, Manu, that seems to be the big question, how long will it take, who will be interviewed, and then what standard will Flake, Murkowski and Collins apply?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, John, and will they be satisfied with the ultimate results of this investigation? Will it go to the depths that they have been seeking? And right now what we are hearing from those key senators is that the White House has privately been giving them assurances that this will be a proper background investigation. But they also have readily acknowledged they don't know exactly what that will entail, how many witnesses will be interviewed, and whether it will look into other aspects, including whether or not Brett Kavanaugh was -- misled the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way about some of his behavior in college.

Now, early, just moments ago, we caught up with Lisa Murkowski, asked her that direct question, should the FBI look into those allegations that he potentially misled the committee. Here's how she responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Should they look into whether he lied or not, lied about his antics in college? Should they have to look into that?

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I think -- I think the FBI is doing what we've tasked the FBI to do. That's all -- all I can ask for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So not answering that directly. But, ultimately, these senators are aging to have to make a judgement about whether they're satisfied about the extent of this FBI investigation and if -- when McConnell takes procedural steps beginning tomorrow to set up a Friday vote to end a Democratic filibuster, will they be OK by having enough time to review this report, assuming it does come over the next couple of days? All huge questions looming over this nomination. And Jeff Flake's comments this morning very significant, saying that he -- this agreement was that they would move for that procedural vote after that FBI report is filed. We'll see if McConnell adheres to that. He does not want to jam his member. Undoubtedly a lot of conversation still need to happen before that crucial, crucial vote to end a filibuster in the coming days here, John.

[12:05:11] KING: Uncertain moment to say the least.

Manu, appreciate the reporting, live up on Capitol Hill.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Rachael Bade with "Politico," Michael Shear of "The New York Times," "Bloomberg's" Toluse Olorunnipa, and "The Daily Beast's" Jackie Kucinich.

So McConnell is trying to say, this train is on the tracks and I'm going to keep going. Lisa Murkowski sounds reasonably happy so far, encouraged, as the president said, the FBI should do what the FBI thinks it should do, but she won't say whether she's prepared to move forward, nor should she, until she knows what the FBI says.

To Manu's point, Jeff Flake is another one. Listen to Jeff Flake this morning. Again, the question is, what standard will these three Republican senators -- yes, there are others involved -- but what standard will these three Republicans apply. Is it just, can you corroborate whether it's Christine Blasey Ford or Deborah Ramirez, can you corroborate their allegations of sexual assault or misconduct, of do you get into the broader question of, was Brett Kavanaugh lying, or was he at least misleading, about drinking and aggressive behave.

Here's Senator Flake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: If there's evidence that comes back that corroborates Christine Ford's story, then all of us will look at it that way. Any nominee that lies to the committee, that is disqualifying.

Lying about your drinking, that's -- that's a little (INAUDIBLE) as to what -- how -- what drinking in excess means. And so -- but if somebody -- if he lied on particular things that is demonstrable, then that's disqualifying.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: What's the standard?

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": So this sort of underscores the significant risks that Republican leadership undertook when they allowed -- they -- then they called for this FBI investigation, right? So now we're not just looking at these allegations. He also potentially could have said something to the committee that was untrue and that in and of itself could tank this nomination. Like right now McConnell's got to make a tough choice. He's got these three Republicans. He needs two of the three sort of swing votes in order to get this nomination through. They want a finalized FBI report at all before the Senate moves to even a test vote.

McConnell wants to do this vote on Friday, but in order to do it Friday, he's got to set it up tomorrow. Only it looks like the FBI is still investigating, they're still calling people. And right now, from what we're hearing, and from what my colleagues in the Senate are hearing, he's going to have to wait to do -- to move to this vote until we hear from the FBI because he needs these swing votes and he can't get them if the FBI investigation is still going.

And to listen to McConnell, he's blaming the Democrats for all of this. He is saying that, you know, they're the ones moving the goal posts. They're the ones who are asking for more and more. And even with an FBI investigation, it's not going to be enough.

As you said, he's saying the train is moving. He's not the conductor, as Rachael said.

KING: Right.

BADE: Yes.

KUCINICH: Those three Republicans are. And until they are satisfied -- because as -- as this debate is happening, they're hearing from more and more constituents. So we're also assuming that people like Collins and Murkowski were yeses to begin with.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: We don't know that.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well --

KING: That's a great point.

SHEAR: And I also think that -- that it is not clear in this situation that any of those three senators knew from the beginning exactly what their bottom line would be, or if they did, that the -- that the dynamics of the situation keep changing from moment to moment. So if Senator Jeff Flake went in thinking, you know, I'll be satisfied if the FBI report looks like this, you know, over the last couple of days, more press reports, more people coming out, more reports that some of the witnesses that have already been interviewed have then referred FBI agents to a whole other list of people. And so does Senator Flake's kind of sense of what the end looks like, does that change? And that's the problem for Senator McConnell because as he's trying to satisfy these three senators, the whole thing is shifting underneath him.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": And that's why you saw the White House try to limit the scope of this at the beginning and then there was some backlash and they backed off a little bit because the scope of this is incredibly important. If they're just talking about the sexual misconduct allegations, that's one thing. But if they start talking about potential perjury before the Senate committee, if they start talking about what Kavanaugh did when he was in college, drinking, those types of things. Also the idea of the conduct of Kavanaugh before the committee and how partisan he got at times, that's also something that's weighing on the minds of specifically these three senators that could be the swing vote. When you put all of that into the bucket, it does appear that this is something that could be a last minute decision by Collins, by Flake, by Murkowski, and that's why the White House wanted to have some sort of limitations on what the FBI was going to focus on. But it seems like that's no longer the case.

KING: Right. And, I mean, the question is, what is the FBI, again, if you're interviewing Witness A that everybody agrees should be interviewed and Witness A says, hey, you should talk to Person B, does the FBI just follow that or does the FBI have to check back. The president's comments seems to be, the FBI should do what the FBI thinks is the right thing to do.

[12:10:07] To the point about how much is drinking, how much is college behavior, how much is the allegation that when Brett Kavanaugh drinks, he turns aggressive? How much is that relevant, if at all?

A story in "The New York Times" today talking about a college episode in a bar where he's alleged to have thrown a drink, thrown ice at somebody during a bar -- with him there, Chris Dudley, his friend, who the White House presented as a key character witness. I never saw Brett Kavanaugh black out. I never saw Brett Kavanaugh do anything wrong. CNN has now confirmed Chris Dudley was taken into custody, was arrested -- there's no evidence he was ever charged -- but in a bar fight, right? Mitch McConnell, on the Senate floor saying, really, really, why are we going here?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Last night "The New York Times" unleashed this major story. Get this, Judge Kavanaugh may have been accused to 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, if you view this through I support Judge Kavanaugh, this is ridiculous, you say, OK, he was 18, 19, 20 years old, in a bar in college, and he may have overreacted in a situation. However, this is what Republicans have to fear, if you want to come at it from the other perspective. Professor Ford says he and Mark Judge were blind drunk and he tried to rape her. That's he -- he sexually assaulted her.

Deborah Ramirez says she was at a party, he was blind drunk, he took his clothes off and sexually approached her. You could call it assault. I would call it assault. Other people say it's just misconduct. I don't know.

And so if you get into the record, five or six or seven or eight people in this new FBI review that say, we didn't find any evidence to corroborate direct assaults. We did find a lot of people who say, when Brett Kavanaugh drinks, he gets aggressive. Does that become part of the standard?

OLORUNNIPA: I think it does. And I think the response from a number of senators to Brett Kavanaugh's behavior during the committee when he was asked about, did you ever excessively drink? Did you ever black out? You saw the exchange that he had with Senator Klobuchar. The response was somewhat bizarre and it did leave some people with raised eyebrows about what is being hid in his record. And now we're hearing from more friends and roommates and people who knew Brett Kavanaugh back then and it does potentially add to a pattern of behavior. And that's what these various senators are trying to establish.

KUCINICH: Yes, the ice throwing incident, this isn't in a vacuum. You can't take these stories individually. Which I think are what a lot of Republicans are inclined to do to make them look silly. Why are we talking about -- why are we talking about his drinking habits in college now? It's because it goes to this idea that -- it goes to the allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault that he was very drunk when it happened.

KING: At a certain -- at a certain point of drinking, a switch was flipped.

KUCINICH: Yes.

KING: That's the question. And so we'll see where this goes and we'll see, A, what the FBI finds, which is the most important thing, B, how does Mitch McConnell deal with the timetable of that? We'll keep track of this and back to it later in the hour.

But some breaking news just into CNN we need to get to. Defense officials telling CNN, a piece of mail delivered to the Pentagon's mail facility has tested positive for ricin.

CNN's Barbara Starr joins us now live from the Pentagon with the detail.

Barbara, what do we know?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, we are just getting those initial details that a package, a piece of mail delivered, did test initially positive for ricin, a deadly agent. Now, additional tests, it's our understanding, will be conducted under

standard protocols. The FBI would be called in to conduct another round of testing and try to confirm exactly what, if anything, they have. But the initial testing at the Pentagon indicates that this was a piece of mail that did contain ricin pending the additional confirming tests.

It was delivered to what's called the remote delivery facility. This is outside the Pentagon building. So the suspicious piece of mail never entered this building. Nobody has been evacuated from the Pentagon.

This is a screening facility out in the parking lot that would be familiar to many people now in this modern day. Mail and packages are routinely screened for any dangerous items in them, any deadly items in them, before they are delivered to people in large population areas. But if the FBI finds that it does test positive for ricin, they're going to have to trace it back, figure out where this came from, how many people handled it, how it was delivered here, where it was before it was delivered to the remote facility.

We are expecting a formal statement in the coming minutes from Pentagon law enforcement about what they believe they are dealing with and that the FBI has been called in under standard protocols to examine this piece of mail further and try and determine exactly what they have.

We are -- it is emphasized to us there is no evacuations for immediate alarm here. No evacuations planned. Again, the suspicious package never entered the Pentagon but it did test positive initially for ricin, a deadly agent that is manufactured. We are told it is almost impossible to come into accidental contact with ricin. This is something, if it's positive, that someone would have had to have made.

[12:15:17] John.

KING: Disturbing indeed if it comes back a second test positive.

Barbara Starr, appreciate the reporting on the breaking news. Keep us posted.

STARR: Sure.

KING: When we come back, Brett Kavanaugh, a huge issue here in Washington, and, five weeks to election day out on the campaign trail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Three Republican senators hold the key to the Kavanaugh confirmation battle. But that doesn't mean red state Democrats get a pass.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOTER: Are you going to vote for the judge?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Well, wait till Friday, you'll (INAUDIBLE) for sure.

VOTER: If you don't for him, I won't vote for you.

MANCHIN: I got you. I heard that a lot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia there saying he gets a lot of that, if you don't vote for him, I won't vote for you.

[12:20:03] He's waiting for the new FBI report, wrestling with whether he dare vote no while seeing re-election, five weeks, in a state the president won by 42 points.

Phil Bredesen is the Democrat running for an open Senate seat in Tennessee. He doesn't get a vote on Kavanaugh, but voters do want to know his position before the pick a new senator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHIL BREDESEN (D), TENNESSEE SENATE CANDIDATE: I am still holding, I guess, holding in reserve my opinion on Mr. Kavanaugh. We have that FBI background check going on and we will see how that --

I thought that was a problem with the sound system (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I did, too. I thought there was feedback going.

BREDESEN: The -- we have that going on and I think we'll know more at the end of -- at the end of the -- at the end of the week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A reminder, in this national debate where most polls show at least a plurality of Americans don't want Judge Kavanaugh confirmed. If you're in Tennessee and you're in West Virginia, it's a very different dynamic there. A majority of voters do want him confirmed. If you're a Democrat running, you've got a problem, right?

BADE: Yes, that's why conservative groups are targeting these Democrats, hoping to pick off a few. Joe Manchin, also Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, have not said how they're going to vote. And so they're -- the Judicial Crisis Network, this outside group, just put another $400,000 into their states to try to pressure them on this.

But what you're seeing with a lot of these folks is that with you -- what you saw with Bredesen right here is that they're not taking a position until they have to. They're waiting until the very last minute. And there's a hope among Democrats that perhaps Kavanaugh will drop out, something will come of this FBI investigation, and then there Democrats in these red states will not actually have to take a position. But that's probably wishful thinking at this point.

SHEAR: Well, and, also, I think that the extent to which this has all been so incredibly polarized and so incredibly high -- the tensioned heightened in Washington, but also around the country, means that, you know, a red state Democrat, even though the state is red, they also have to get out their own voters, their own base. And in a situation like this, could a Joe Manchin lose more by voting, you know, to put -- to put him on the court because -- because the women, the sort of liberals all abandon him? So could he lose more doing that than he would by losing conservatives by voting to put him on the court? It's hard to imagine the dynamics that play out, but it's really difficult.

KING: And on the --

KUCINICH: I promise you, Joe Manchin's people know those dynamics, though, and know those numbers exactly.

KING: Right.

SHEAR: They do.

KING: And you know constantly in these campaigns, you say, A, Joe Manchin has survived his state before, as his state has gone from blue to deep red, survived it before. But, B, you're right, although when you talk to pollsters now, they say there's so many developments in this that they're -- they polled last night --

SHEAR: And (INAUDIBLE).

KUCINICH: Right.

KING: And then more things happened this morning. And so that, you know, in the end they're going to have to make a guess based on some of this data.

But there's a Republican argument that says, you know, there are some Republicans who say, if Kavanaugh went down, if he was defeated or if he was forced to withdraw, that that would just gin up Republican turnout because the court is their Holy Grail and they would come rushing out.

Here's Rush Limbaugh saying, don't bet on it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: It's very easy to sit here and say, in the midst of all this Democrat trickery, that it's going to file people up on the Republican side and they're going to be so ticked off and so mad they're going to show up and vote like they've never voted before. But is that going to be the attitude if he's not sworn in? Because, if that happens, take that moment where Kavanaugh is not sworn in, meaning he is not confirmed in the Senate, you think it's going to be easy for the Republicans to say, you see what happened to Kavanaugh? We're in the majority and we couldn't get him confirmed. You need to come out and vote for us. How does that work?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: How does that work? OLORUNNIPA: That's actually a pretty good point. I don't think that

any of these red state Democrats are going to be the 50th vote to put this over the line. I think they may feel free to vote for Kavanaugh if Flake and Collins and Murkowski go ahead and push him over, and then all of a sudden it's not a vote that determines who ends up on the Supreme Court and they don't have to worry so much about losing their -- their base. So I do think that that's an important point, that if Kavanaugh goes down, it will be because Republicans, moderate Republicans, decided not to vote for him and that could depress turnout in some ways. That could lead to a number of people saying, what's the point of having a Republican majority in the Senate if we can't even get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed.

KING: It is -- it is hard to have something so big and so important out there as an uncertainty as you are now, five weeks from today to the election. This may not be decided until the end of this week or into next week. It's a tough call for politicians. And, God forbid, I guess it's good business for the pollsters.

We'll keep an eye on that one as it plays out.

[12:24:52] When we come back, more about the campaign. Five weeks from today, America votes, control of Congress is at stake. Some new numbers show the Democrats with a lead, but it's shrinking a bit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're just five weeks from one of the most important congressional elections of our lifetime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president is correct. It is incredibly consequential and it is five weeks from today.

Some brand new polling numbers out just now show the Republicans actually narrowing the gap in the fight for control of Congress.

[12:30:00] A brand new Quinnipiac poll, out just moments ago, shows 49 percent of voters say they'll back the Democratic candidate in their local congressional race, 42 percent say they'll back the Republican. That's a drop from last month, a 7 point Democratic advantage now.