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Key GOP Senators: Trump's Attacks on Ford "Appalling" & "Wrong"; NYT: Trump Siblings Set Up Sham Corporation to Disguise Millions in Gifts. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 3, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

This morning, the backlash is swift and stinging. The president, he went there openly mocking a woman who says she was sexually assaulted. It was in front of thousands of people at a campaign rally. Here is the president last night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had one beer. Well -- do you think -- no, it was one beer. Oh, good. How did you get home? I don't remember. How did you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don't know. I don't know.



BOLDUAN: And now key voices are condemning those very words. I will play for you Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Susan Collins.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R), MAINE: I think his comments were just plain wrong.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R), ARIZONA: There's no time and no place for remarks like that. To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right. It's just not right. I wish he hadn't have done it. I just say it's kind of appalling.


BOLDUAN: There's very little path, if I need to remind you, to getting Donald Trump's pick for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, on to the bench without Flake and Collins' support. In addition to one other Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. How is she reacting? So far, we do not know. But we know these Senators who really hold all of the power right now, they don't like this new line of attack from the president, but dislike it enough to impact their vote, we will have to find out.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House right now with more on this.

Kaitlan, is there any reaction from the White House about the president's attack last night and the reaction this morning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, they are essentially standing by what President Trump said last night saying that Christine Blasey Ford's memory is fair game here.

Kellyanne Conway, the president's counselor, was out here speaking to reporters a few minutes ago. She took issue with the media saying President Trump was mocking Christine Blasey Ford last night, saying that wasn't the word she would use, even though he was clearly making fun of her and her lack of memory of certain details from the alleged incident.

Kellyanne Conway says the White House has been nothing but respectful of Christine Blasey Ford, adding this as well, Kate.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE) -- and the president. He is pointing out inconsistencies. Do you have corroboration for her claims? Can you fill in her memory gaps, her factual inconsistencies? That is why the evidence gathering process and any hunt for truth -- and they're searching for truth are already --


COLLINS: So you see there she is giving a passionate defense on what President Trump said.

But what we are seeing, Kate, is President Trump, who is uncharacteristically restrained from the days after she made the allegations against the Supreme Court nominee, is realizing that some of his supporters agree with him on the fact that they believe there are holes in her memory. The president is making it clear on Twitter this morning, saying his supporters at the rallies are coming to the defense of Brett Kavanaugh. You see he says, "Voters are really angry at the vicious and despicable way Democrats are treating Brett Kavanaugh."

That's essentially how we saw that play out last night. The president made a few comments about Christine Blasey Ford, and when he realized it would rev the crowd up, that is when he went on the attack against her and the fact she couldn't remember some of those details from that night.

We also saw the president play both sides of this. He stood by Brett Kavanaugh and said, think of your husband and your sons, this could happen to them. But then, Kate, he also distanced himself from Brett Kavanaugh, saying, I met this guy a few weeks ago. He is not my friend or anything like that.

But while all of that plays out here, the politics of this, what the White House is waiting on is for the FBI investigation to come back to see if it reveals new information or confirms what they already know and what the key Senators are going to say. If the president's comments about Christine Blasey Ford are going to change their vote on Brett Kavanaugh -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: I have a really hard time following what they are waiting for or not waiting for. It is one thing for the president to attack the handling of things. But it was different what he did last night. It wasn't just attacking Democrats. That was attacking -- directly taking on the woman who says she was sexually assaulted. Kellyanne Conway says she wouldn't use those words because she thinks mocking someone would be bad, she should watch that sound byte again.

Kaitlan, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Rick Santorum, CNN senior political commentator and former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, and Ron Klain, the former chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden.

Senator, I think with Kellyanne Conway saying she wouldn't have used that word mocking last night -- I hope you guys have it. I want to play again what Donald Trump said.


TRUMP: DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had one beer. Well -- do you think -- no, it was one beer. Oh, good. How did you get home? I don't remember. How did you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don't know. I don't know.



BOLDUAN: Senator, is that mocking?

[11:05:00] RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It sounded like mocking to me. I think what the president did was completely unhelpful. Going after the Democrats and the horrible way they have dealt with Dr. Ford and the procedures that they brought -- I mean, they have been a partisan circus on the Democratic side. I think, as he said in his tweet, that is what people are upset about. I think he has Independents and Republicans hopping mad at the way the Democrats have politicized and actually done damage to this woman in the way they have treated her testimony. I think that fair game. But I just don't see how it is helpful at all for the president to say, whether you call it mocking or sarcastic, whatever the case maybe, and go after Dr. Ford. As I've said before, I think she has been played as a pawn by the Democrats in this, not that she is one, but she is being playing as one by the Democrats, and she is, to me, a sympathetic figure and not someone to be mocked.

BOLDUAN: I do not see sympathy one bit, Senator, in what the president said last night. I don't see one iota of sympathy, empathy, understanding or caring. It sounded like someone testing out a punch line in front of thousands of adoring fans.

SANTORUM: Like I said, I'm not going to defend the president's comments last night. I think the president has had pretty good tone with respect to Dr. Ford until last night. I was very disappointed to see what he said. And he shouldn't say it again.

BOLDUAN: Ron, Ari Fleisher, Bush's former press secretary, he is taking the position of Kellyanne Conway, in the opposite view of most. He's saying he doesn't this can Trump was mocking her and was just pointing out inconsistencies in her story. You say?

RON KLAIN, FORMER CHIEF COUNSEL TO THE SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE & FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I say when the president of the United States mimics the words of a sexual assault survivor in front of thousands of people who are hooting and hollering and applauding and cheering, that is not, as Kellyanne Conway said today, a search for the truth. It's not an effort to raise questions about her memory. It is an effort to turn her into a political punch line. It's an effort to turn her into political-rally fodder. It's an effort to rile up Trump's core supporters by making fun of this woman in front of an adoring crowd. That has nothing to do with what is supposed to be going on right now, which is a neutral FBI investigation the White House is steering, the White House is controlling, the White House is rigging. And meanwhile, the president standing in front of a crowd yucking it up for laughs at the expense of this woman.


SANTORUM: First off, let me say, Ron, the White House is not rigging anything.


KLAIN: The White House is rigging this investigation.


KLAIN: Rick, let me finish --


BOLDUAN: Hang on, hang on, hand on. OK. OK.

KLAIN: The White House has narrowed the list of witnesses being interviewed. The White House has ruled out pursuing many key leads. There are people every day announcing -- Ms. Ramirez gave 20 names to the FBI. None have been contacted.

BOLDUAN: But, Ron --

KLAIN: Dr. Ford herself, Dr. Ford herself hasn't been interviewed by the FBI. That is a fake investigation.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead. SANTORUM: Look, I guarantee you the FBI has the ability to talk to whoever they want that they think are legitimate leads that need to be followed. If the FBI determines, which I believe they have in many cases, that these are not credible leads, they are not going to go chasing wild geese all over the country.


KLAIN: When someone says


KLAIN: -- Ms. Ramirez's story is not incredible. They way you decide it's credible is you interview the people --

BOLDUAN: But we know she has been --

KLAIN: -- who she says to interview.

BOLDUAN: We do know she has been interviewed. She is one --


BOLDUAN: -- conducting interviews. We don't know the --


BOLDUAN: I totally hear you, Ron.

We don't know the extent of how many interviews are being done. When it comes to the FBI, they are not talking as much as you would think everybody else is about this.

But on this moment, Senator, the evolution of the president's approach to Christine Blasey Ford and the other accusers, but especially on Ford, it has to show something. Does it show that the president is more confident or that he is more concerned right now about Kavanaugh's nomination?

SANTORUM: I'm not going to play psychoanalyst to the president. All I can tell you is that what he did last night was --


BOLDUAN: But you are -- but you are --


SANTORUM: All I'm saying is it wasn't helpful. Whatever the president was trying to accomplish last night it did not help. I was up in the Senate earlier today and ran into a group of Senators. Even his strongest supporters were like, I can't believe he said that. This is not helpful. You have an audience of ultimately three people --

(CROSSTALK) SANTORUM: -- and those three people --


SANTORUM: -- are not going to be impressed. Now, having said all that, I think those three people will look at this situation and not say this is about Donald Trump. I know everybody thinks they will vote because it is Trump. No. They are going to vote based on Brett Kavanaugh and whether they think that he has what it takes to be a Supreme Court justice. This is a --


SANTORUM: But I don't think it is determinative of what the vote will be.

[11:10:03] BOLDUAN: That's the key question right now because you have Collins saying it is plain wrong and Flake calling it appalling.


BOLDUAN: If I had a dollar for every time that Jeff Flake has condemned something the president said, I would be as rich as Fred Trump or an 8-year-old Donald Trump at this moment.

But, Ron, do you think that this today, last night, and the reaction today, do you think that impacts Flake, Collins and Murkowski? The Senator says no.

KLAIN: I actually agree with Rick on this. I think Senator Flake, Senator Collins and Senator Murkowski will make a judgment based on their evaluation of Judge Kavanaugh's suitability to serve on the Supreme Court. That should be the question. I think if they support him in the context, it does somewhat endorse Trump's tactics and endorse what Trump said. I think they should make a decision based on the overall record here, the information Dr. Ford has brought forth, and Judge Kavanaugh's rather appalling approach at the Judiciary Committee last week where he went on a partisan screed to show the lack of independence and nonpartisan judgment we expect a judge to have. So they should judge based on that. I hope they don't embrace what Trump did. If they criticize it, that's fair. But I think they should judge on the merits on the end.

BOLDUAN: I know, Senator, I will ask you to get into the mind and psychology of Donald Trump, but when it comes to what he did last night, does he need to go this far to energize the base? Does he need to risk further alienating of women voters that I keep hearing are who he needs to --


SANTORUM: No. What he did was politically tone deaf. To think that somehow or another mocking someone, Dr. Ford. Look, I know a lot of people who have serious questions about the veracity of Dr. Ford's testimony.


BOLDUAN: You don't have to mock her to get to that.


SANTORUM: You don't have to mock her to get there. He didn't just hurt himself with Democrats. I think he hurt himself with most of his own base. Because they don't want -- this is the kind of stuff that the folks who strongly support Donald Trump, when they see him do that, they cringe and say, please don't do this. You don't have to go there to be able to stand for what we all believe in.

BOLDUAN: When we are looking at the raw politics and votes right now, Ron, there's also not only pressure on the three Republicans, but there's also pressure on Democratic Senators from Trump states, Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp. Does this make their calculation even harder?

KLAIN: I do think -- no, definitely, President Trump is doing himself no favors here by really antagonizing not just Democrats, but Independents and a lot of Republican women who look at this and say this is another piece in the puzzle of Donald Trump showing that he really doesn't care much about women. He has a misogynistic attitude towards women and making fun of them all the time, and all that. It goes back to the 2016 campaign and forward. I don't think he is creating a helpful framework for himself or his ideas or what he stands for. I think that gives Senator Manchin, Senator Heitkamp, the others more flexibility to vote their conscience here and vote how they really believe and not really fear much backlash from their votes.

BOLDUAN: Full transparency, I think our graphic that we put up was wrong. Claire McCaskill, even before the heard, did come out as a no against Kavanaugh. If that's changed, I could be wrong, but I believe our graphic was inaccurate.

Thanks, guys. I really appreciate it. I appreciate your time and your candor on this one.

KLAIN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, President Trump hitting back at the bombshell report that takes a sledgehammer to Trump's crafted image of being a self- made man. Is his pushback a denial? The details coming up.

Donald Trump insulted his wife, accused his dad of taking part in the Kennedy assassination, and also nicknamed him Lyin' Ted. Why is Ted Cruz calling in Donald Trump's son for help at this moment?


[11:18:13] BOLDUAN: A bombshell report from the "New York Times" threatened to shatter the carefully crafted image that Donald Trump has built up for years of being a self-made billionaire. Remember this that he said over and over again?


TRUMP: My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars. I came into Manhattan. And I had to pay him back. And I had to pay him back with interest.

I started with a million-dollar loan. I built a $10 billion company.

My father gave me a very small loan in 1975 and I built it into a company that is worth many, many billions of dollars.

I built that into a massive empire and paid my father back that loan.


BOLDUAN: Maybe millions and millions of dollars more than that actually.

Now New York State tax authorities are looking into this year and a half-long investigation by the "New York Times." The "Times" is reporting, claims that businessman Donald Trump, long before he became president, helped his parents avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes, enriching himself in the process. In the story, it uses words like "outright fraud" and "dubious tax schemes" to describe the alleged actions. And it claims that he got a fortune from his father.

CNN's Cristine Alesci is here with me now with a look -- more of the details of this report.

And it is exhaustive.

[11:19:27] CRISTINE ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: It is. It completely destroys this notion that Donald Trump's a self-made billionaire. The "New York Times" reports that Fred Trump, Donald Trump's father, transferred about $413 million in today's dollars to his son and he did it by avoiding hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.

Here are some of the numbers the "Times" reports. These are in today's dollars. At 3 years old, Trump was earning $200,000 a year. At age 8, he was already a millionaire. At 17, Trump was already part owner of a 52-unit apartment building his father had given him after graduating from college. Trump received a million dollars a year from his father, which increased over time to over $5 million annually in his 40s and 50s. Fred Trump gave each of his children a part of his fortune. Donald Trump, according to the "New York Times," perhaps disproportionately benefitted because his father bailed him out of so many risky investments that were going south or sideways.

To your point, Kate, remember that million-dollar loan that Trump always mentions as the only assistance he received from his father? The "New York Times" reports that the small loan was at least $60 million, or in today's numbers, that is $140 million.

So now let's get into the details. How did Fred Trump avoid or evade taxes? Let me take you through some examples. The "Times" reports that Fred Trump's 1995 gift tax return, on that return the Trumps claim that about 7,000 apartments were worth about $41 million. But in 2004, a bank valued those same assets at $900 million. The paper says this under-valuation strategy helped the family save hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Another scheme the paper highlights -- and this one borders on fraud -- the "Times" reports that Fred Trump allegedly transferred millions to his children to a company he created called All County Building Supply and Maintenance started in the 1990s. He used this company to pad receipts for goods and services by 20 of 50 percent. Why? So the company could drive up rent for thousands of tenants, according to records and documents acquired by the "New York Times." And nearly all of that markup allegedly flowed to the Trump children.

An attorney responded to these allegations very strong with the following statement: "There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone. The facts upon which the "Times" based its false allegations are extremely inaccurate. President Trump had virtually no involvement whatsoever with these matters. The affairs were handled by other Trump family members who were not experts and, therefore, relied entirely upon the mentioned licensed professionals to ensure full compliance with the law."

The most interesting development from all of this is whether or not Trump decides to sue the "New York Times." The story says that he participated outright in fraud and that he helped his father dodge taxes. Donald Trump likes to call himself a counter puncher. If he sues the paper for defamation, the "Times" will request tax returns to defend it, which he refused to release going back to the 2016 campaign.

Here is what Kellyanne Conway said about this, this morning.


CONWAY: This has been denied by his attorney, by his press secretary and by him. I think the play here is, two things. Number one, I guess -- we don't have Russia collusion because it obsessed them for two years and I haven't heard it in a while. And number two, and most importantly, they are trying to goad the president into suing them so they can get his tax returns. Haven't they learned yet that President Trump always gets the last laugh?


ALESCI: Kate, we'll have to see whether or not Trump does take that counter punch and files a suit.

BOLDUAN: That would be one outcome. The other is the deafening thud of all of the documentation that the "New York Times" has.

Cristine Alesci, thank you for laying it out for us. It is complex and important.

The president called the story boring and a hit piece today on Twitter.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti, and CNN politics reporter and editor-at- large, Chris Cillizza.

Chris, take this in conjunction with other important information, there's a lot about the president in the last 72 hours that folks learn. Two big reports, the president lied about his rags-to-riches story, lied about his role in trying to keep Stormy Daniels from speaking about her alleged affair. That came out in the "Wall Street Journal" earlier this week. He is attacking yet another woman. She says she is a survivor of sexual assault. If you step back and add it all up, what do you get?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: The most salacious sort of most offensive story I think is the Christine Blasey Ford stuff. This is the president of the United States yet again showing that he lacks any sense of the offices one in which moral leadership is required and need. I think the bigger story to your question, the bigger story with longer implications is the "New York Times" tax story. The reason is this under cuts the entire Donald Trump aspirational rags to riches story. That is at the basis of who he has pitched himself to voters as. It's not the case. A million- dollar loan is one thing, it's not small, but $60 million is an entirely different thing. Do I think that changes the minds of people who were laughing when he was impersonating Christine Blasey Ford in Mississippi? No, I don't. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. He won by winning 80,000 votes in free midwestern states. It's not as though he has a lot of room for error. I think things like this erode out people's confidence and trust in him to do what he did for his business for the country. That's why I think that one matters the most.

[11:25:41] BOLDUAN: Renato, to this "New York Times" report, I want to talk about the potential penalties in a second. But first, you have prosecuted many a financial crime. If this landed on your desk, what would you think today?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, my first question would be what, if anything, had Donald Trump or others in the Trump family done within the past five years or so? The real question is, is there anything within the statute of limitations? Which limit how far back you can go to prosecute a crime. The question would be, did they do anything to further this scheme recently? I wonder if that is why -- there was a false statement made by Kellyanne Conway that we heard that Donald Trump, the president, had denied this. He has not personally denied it. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the "Times" story was misleading but didn't say it was false. I wonder if there's concern that perhaps that would be an act to conceal potentially this scheme that happened many years ago and would be beyond the statute of limitations.


RENATO: That would be my first question. The other question would be, what was his involvement.

BOLDUAN: What was his involvement? The sheer numbers we are looking at here, Renato, they seem to be bigger than most, if it would be a tax fraud case, bigger than most financial crimes that I'm sure a lot of prosecutors see.

RENATO: No question. If this was a case that was prosecuted and, ultimately, resulted in a sentence, you would expect a prison term, a substantial prison term, and would expect a very large fine, maybe seven or eight figures, given the amount of tax laws that would be involved here. The hard part is, and people should realize, it is challenging to prove tax cases. You have to show that the person themselves wanted to violate, willfully violate the tax laws. That's why the attorney was saying they relied on CPAs and tax professionals and so on.

BOLDUAN: And in Sarah Huckabee Sanders statements saying the IRS reviewed the transactions back in the day.

Chris, why is it, though, that the president -- I know this is a question asked a lot. I wonder it right now. Why is the president's most ardent supporters saying none of this matters? When there are reports of wrong doing from affairs to accusations of assault to cheating on his taxes, they don't care. Isn't it every politician's dream that they can do no wrong? What is it about this time and place to make it possible?

CILLIZZA: I think he -- this is probably longer an answer than I can give on cable TV, Kate, so I will try to shorten this answer down. I think what he did is take advantage of the anger and resentment that many people in the country had. Whether it is media, wealthy people, Wall Street. The fact that he was among those elites is perhaps the richest irony. This "New York Times" report makes plain he is not close to that. He takes advantage of those things and he has said this since he has been president, don't believe what you see and hear. Only believe what I tell you. He has a group of people for whom they do that. They basically -- he is viewed as the one person who will tell it like it is. You have been talked down to, ignored, shamed for your beliefs. I'm the one who stood up for you. You should ignore everything that came before him, only listen to me. I would say to people, forget his politics. Any person who says, you don't need to listen to anyone else's opinion, forget neutral reporting, free and independent analysis, you just need to do exactly what I tell you. That should set off alarm bells. It does I think with the majority of the country. Donald Trump's approval rating is in the low 40s. With the 35 percent to 40 percent, it doesn't. That is one of the things that I think -- long past Donald Trump being president, we will have to deal with and understand.

[11:59:53] BOLDUAN: We will deal with it now here, and at this moment, sifting through this multi-page, thousands of word investigation from the "New York Times." It's just part of the truth right now.

Great to see you. Thank you very much, guys.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, how worried is Ted Cruz about his reelection bid? Worried enough to call in Donald Trump Jr for help.