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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump's Self-Made Fortune a Myth?; Trump Mocks Kavanaugh Accuser; Sources: FBI Hasn't Interviewed Kavanaugh or Ford; Suspect in Custody for Sending Letters Tested Positive for Ricin to Trump & Pentagon Officials. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 3, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Even his favorite networks said President Trump might have just blown it.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The White House today defending President Trump's decision to mock Professor Christine Blasey Ford's testimony at a campaign rally, as the make-or-break Republican votes say what the president did is just plain wrong.

With the FBI on the clock today, we find out that investigators have not spoken to Brett Kavanaugh or Professor Ford. Is the White House getting in the way?

Plus, show me the money? Democrats say a new investigation which shoots down the idea that Donald Trump was a self-made billionaire provides more justification for them to force him to show his tax returns if they win Congress in November.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

Just days after President Trump said he found Professor Christine Blasey Ford to be a -- quote -- "credible witness" with -- quote -- "compelling testimony" that Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her back in the '80s, the president at a campaign rally mocked that very same testimony, turning Professor Christine Blasey Ford into an object of ridicule.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I don't know. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I don't know! I don't know!

What neighborhood was it in? I don't know. Where's the house? I don't know. Upstairs, downstairs? Where was it? I don't know. But I had one beer. That's the only thing I remember.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Let's put aside for a second the fact that such memory lapses are not even remotely uncommon for survivors of sexual assault. And again for one minute let's ignore whether or not you believe that it was Kavanaugh who assaulted Christine Blasey Ford.

Let's just take a closer look at what President Trump was doing here, provoking laughter, evoking a specific reaction from some of those in the crowd. Take a closer look. And after watching Professor Blasey Ford's tearful testimony, ridiculed, to the delight of the president's supporters in Mississippi, let's remember what she told the Senate about her most powerful memory from the alleged assault.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, KAVANAUGH ACCUSER: Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the laugh -- the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Uproarious laughter. Having fun at her expense, whether or not you believe that pain was inflicted by Brett Kavanaugh.

Said Republican Senator John Cornyn today to "The Texas Tribune" -- quote -- "I wish the president would leave this confirmation battle up to the Senate. And obviously, given the nature of the allegations and our desire to be respectful of Dr. Ford and any other woman who might make allegations, I don't think talking about it at a political rally is useful" -- unquote.

Now, we don't know if President Trump thinks it's useful to ridicule a woman claiming she was sexually assaulted, or if he just did it because he thought it was fun.

But let's take a moment to reflect that the president of the United States believes it's appropriate. There appears to be no bottom.

Let's talk about the politics of this, though, now with CNN's Jeff Zeleny. He's at the White House.

And, Jeff, the White House says that they don't see the president's comments at last night's rallies as an attack. But whether it's an attack or ridicule, it certainly did not help his case with the three Republican senators who are on the fence about Kavanaugh.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, there is no question about that.

And being inside that rally, as I was last evening, you could hear the applause. But it grew very slowly. And it was not uniformly. I saw several people who had uncomfortable looks on their face. But like at any other rally that he does, he kept going and going. And he finally got the applause he was looking for.

But, Jake, that is not the important audience here. The White House knows that it's an audience of three, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, all of whom condemned all of that.

Now, the question is whether they are going to use this to factor into their decision or not. But, Jake, all that is happening as right here this afternoon the White House at this moment is waiting for that FBI report. They're waiting for it on Capitol Hill as well. That could change everything.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump may have drawn applause while mocking Professor Christine Blasey Ford at a campaign rally last night.

TRUMP: 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.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

[16:05:01]

TRUMP: I don't know.

ZELENY: But, today, three key Republican senators whose votes will decide the fate of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh weren't laughing.

Senator Jeff Flake called it appalling.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It was no time or place, but particularly to discuss something so sensitive at a political rally. It was just -- just wrong.

ZELENY: Senator Susan Collins equally blunt.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The president's comments were just plain wrong.

ZELENY: And Senator Lisa Murkowski said the remarks were wholly inappropriate and unacceptable.

At a rare White House briefing today, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders insisted the president wasn't mocking Ford.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It wasn't anything other than the president stating facts. ZELENY: But she could not reconcile how the president's tone went from this last Friday...

TRUMP: I thought her testimony was very compelling, and she looks like a very fine woman to me, very fine woman.

ZELENY: ... to this last night, when he belittled that very fine woman and showed empathy for men only.

TRUMP: A man's life is in tatters. A man's life is shattered.

ZELENY: Sanders said Kavanaugh and Ford are both victims, and pointed the finger squarely at Democrats who oppose Kavanaugh's confirmation to the court.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, the testimony by Dr. Ford was compelling. But you can't make this decision based on emotion. It has to be based on fact.

ZELENY: But the debate on Capitol Hill and across the country is steeped in emotion, which is precisely what the president was also stoking 34 days before the midterm elections.

He's standing by Kavanaugh, but leaving the door open to distance himself, perhaps if the votes ultimately fall short.

TRUMP: I met him for the first time a few weeks ago. I don't even know him. So it's not like, oh, gee, I want to protect my friend.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So, there is a sense of anticipation, Jake, here at the White House and indeed on Capitol Hill and likely all across Washington, when that FBI report is going to come out. Will there be any new information in it? Will it be released publicly or not?

The White House officials I'm talking to here say they do it expect it to be a coming out this afternoon, if it hasn't already. We're not sure, they're not saying. But then it will be sent to the Senate. Now, the question is, how is that going to influence Senate Republicans' votes?

Almost certainly, it will be that will be the final determination, not something the president says, because they have heard a lot from him, Jake, and the senators say that they are going to follow what they asked for. And that's the FBI investigation.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks so much.

And we just heard from Senator Bob Corker, who says we can expect the FBI report to be released any time, as soon as today.

Let's talk about this all with our experts.

And, Kaitlan, let me play some sound from Sarah Sanders and her reasoning as to why it was acceptable, what President Trump did last night when he was ridiculing Professor Blasey Ford.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Every single word Judge Kavanaugh has said has been picked apart. Every single word, second by second of his testimony has been picked apart.

Yet if anybody says anything about the accusations that have been thrown against him, that's totally off-limits and outrageous. This entire process has been a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Just fact-check, that's not true. We have noted several times that Professor Blasey Ford's allegations are uncorroborated and there remains no contemporary evidence of them. So we have certainly noted that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

TAPPER: But is there a strategy here? Or is it that President Trump is winging it?

COLLINS: It doesn't seem to be any strategy here, because just last Friday, President Trump said that he thought that she was a really compelling witness with a credible testimony. And, yesterday, he said, maybe he could change his mind after he heard the FBI report and saw what was in there.

But then President Trump goes to a rally and he -- as Jeff was explaining -- Jeff was there last night -- Trump dabbled in this a little bit. He brought up Christine Blasey Ford, and then he could hear the crowd's reaction. And he fed off of that.

And that is what led him to go to those questions where he was saying, oh, I don't remember. I don't remember this. I only had one beer. He's feeding off the crowd there. And that's the same thing we say when we're in the Oval Office. And he's like, well, I think she was a very credible witness and she gave a very compelling testimony.

He's feeding off the people who are around him. He knows what the reporters want to hear. He knows what his aides want to hear. He knows what the people in that rally want to hear.

But I do have a problem with what Sarah Sanders said, because regardless of if you believe everything Christine Blasey Ford said is true or if you do not believe her at all, what President Trump did last night was not just state the facts. He said that the only thing she could remember about that entire alleged incident was that she had one beer.

That's not true. She recalled what she was wearing, who was in the room, exactly what happened. She remembered the laughter, the reaction from the boys. She remembered a lot more than what she alleged -- what President Trump alleged during that rally last night. So to say that she didn't remember any of those things is not stating

the facts. President Trump did not lay out the case, like Sarah Sanders said repeatedly today that he did.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, we have heard condemnations of what President Trump said last night from four senators whose votes are up in the air, Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, and then Murkowski, Collins and Flake.

So even if somebody doesn't care that the president did this, it politically might be stupid.

[16:10:00]

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, these votes are at risk.

Sometimes, they turn on weird quirks of personality or reactions to something like this. Collins and Murkowski don't want to be seen on the side of some -- as if on the side of someone who might be mocking her.

And this is -- I have said about him for several years now. He cannot keep a lid on his id, OK? He can go maybe a week without doing this. But then he got in front of the crowd. And this is what happened.

Just shut it on this one.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I disagree. I disagree.

Look, there's not a legislative strategy here. Obviously, it doesn't make sense trying to influence those four votes. But this is his electoral strategy. This is what he always does. He finds a cultural flash point. And he identifies with the voters who feel threatened by change, whether it's demographic change, or cultural change.

I mean, what he has been doing, I think, systematically and last night taking it to a whole new level, is making this a larger debate about the kind of changing gender roles in society and the role of women, increasing women's assertiveness.

And he was very -- he knew what he was doing. He was speaking as he always does to voters who feel threatened by these kind of changes, the same way he does on demographic change. That is how they think they are going to ride out these midterms, by activating those voters, at the price of alienating more of the suburban white-collar, maybe fiscal Republicans, who are recoiling from this polarization and this cultural polarization, the strategy.

But I think he knew exactly what he was doing. And I think that because he has done it over and over again. Every time you get a dispute like this, he finds a way to identify with the voters who feel threatened by the change represented in the argument.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree. I mean, I think we have seen him over and over again appeal to his

conservative base and use this as a moment. I mean, this is a moment where people sitting in Washington may be certainly horrified by what's happening here. But he recognizes this as an opportunity to excite the people who have been asleep and have not been excited about the election.

That's exactly what he was doing last night. I don't think he's particularly concerned or should be particularly concerned about some of these Republican senators. They follow a very similar pattern of expressing outrage and being outraged about what Trump says. And then they vote with him.

And they are covering their own tails right now and allowing themselves to vote for Kavanaugh later this week by saying they have considered the FBI investigation by expressing outrage. That's exactly what they're doing.

BROWNSTEIN: We have talked a lot over the years about how much of the Trump vote is linked to people who uneasy about racial change.

There's much less discussion, but it is also true that many of his voters are uneasy about changing gender roles. I mean, if you look at -- if you -- people talk about the gender gap on this. There is a huge class gap among white women over this whole dispute.

I mean, there's a poll just out right now, NPR/Marist, where 66 percent of college-educated white women said they believe Blasey Ford. Only 33 percent of non-college white women said they did so.

And among non-college white men, that number is even less mean. He knows who he is talking to. And this, I think, is the essence of how he believes that Republicans can prosper both in '18 and '20.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, I wanted to ask you about this.

"The New York Times" published a letter last night that Kavanaugh wrote in 1983 to organize a beach week. In it, he describes himself, friends as loud, obnoxious drunks, and this is the part that Democrats have seized on.

He signed the letter by his nickname, Bart, which is the same name that his friend Mark Judge called the character in his book, which was a fictionalized version, Bart O'Kavanaugh.

And Kavanaugh had been asked about that by Democrat Pat Leahy. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Judge Kavanaugh, I'm trying to get a straight answer from you under oath. Are you Bart O'Kavanaugh that he's referring to, yes or no? That's it.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: You'd have to ask him. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: You would have to ask him. I have heard even conservatives say, that's cute, but that's not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He knew he was Bart. Why not just answer the question?

HAM: Yes. But are you the fictionalized character that is based upon you. I mean, I don't know.

This is the change that I react to, is not the MeToo moment, which I have embraced in various ways along the way, but is this shift to the standard for Supreme Court justice is to prove that he was not at a party of unknown location, unknown date and questionable guest list 35 years ago, is a standard to which none of us should be held, none of us could meet.

And I think it will endanger many good...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: What is the standard that you're talking about? Just the party.

HAM: Proving a negative from 35 years ago, and then having your high school shenanigans piled on as evidence of the negative that you are unable to prove, I think is an unfair standard for Democrat, Republican man or woman.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: It is not one that I am comfortable holding anyone to in public.

And you can give me a lot of evidence of adolescent drinking. I could give you a lot of evidence of my own adolescent drinking. But it does not make that a fair standard to me, despite the fact that, as a woman, I am more familiar than I would like to be with sexually threatening situations and want to be as sensitive as possible to the people who are involved.

COLLINS: I don't think people have a problem with him pushing back.

If you were wrongfully accused, which Brett Kavanaugh thinks he is, no one in their reasonable mind has a problem with him pushing back on those allegations.

HAM: I think some people do, actually.

[16:15:04]

COLLINS: Well, they shouldn't, because if he believes he's wrongly accused and did not do this, he should push back. But here is the problem with that exchange with Pat Leahy. He said you'd have to ask him. He was getting aggressive with him. Of course, most people concluded they believed that was based on someone like Brett O'Kavanaugh, named Bart O'Kavanaugh. But when he says small things like that, he's not honest, he can't

just say, hey, maybe that is based on me. My nickname is Bart, but that doesn't mean I did everything that that fictionalize character did.

TAPPER: That's the truth, the whole truth --

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: When you don't tell the truth about small things that gives Democrats so much more realm to say you're lying about the bigger things.

TAPPER: Can I just say it's not just Democrats? Because I talked to conservative lawyers who say the oath is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

COLLINS: And he knew what Pat Leahy was getting. He could have said, I think that's probably based on someone like, I drank big deal --

TAPPER: But there's no caveat that you're allowed to side step the oath if you think the questions are annoying or intrusive or partisan.

HAM: I think the idea that he's not characterizing his high school misbehavior exactly the way that people want him to characterize is an open and shut perjury case is very silly. And that's the argument.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: First of all, it's a big difference between pushing back and claiming that the entire thing is driven by people who would not accept Trump's victory, the Clinton revenge or Democratic conspiracy. That took this to an unprecedented level, making those partisan accusations that will trail him to the court if he is confirmed and kind of make him John Roberts' worst nightmare in that sense.

PSAKI: And I think it's important to remember where this all started. Obviously, this all started with an accusation about sexual assault. If it was just about drinking, then it would be Democrats overstepping for sure.

HAM: But in that case, though, the evidence for the incident is the thing that we should be examining, not the evidence that he was misbehaving.

TAPPER: All right. Hold that thought. We're going to take a very quick break and come back. One Republican senator says the FBI report on the Kavanaugh allegations could come literally any moment. But why has the FBI not spoken to Kavanaugh or Ford?

Then, could "The New York Times" report about President Trump and his family using tax schemes to hide millions actually be the catalyst that forces the president to release one document everyone wants to see?

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:20:52] TAPPER: The FBI investigation into Judge Brett Kavanaugh and allegations against him could be completed as soon as today, but CNN has learned that as of right now, it does not apparently include interviews with either Kavanaugh or the first accuser, Professor Christine Blasey Ford. However, it does include looking into a party that Kavanaugh himself brought up.

CNN senior investigative reporter Drew Griffin joins me now.

And, Drew, sources telling you that the White House counsel doesn't think that the FBI needs to interview either Kavanaugh or Ford. Why not?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, because the White House counsel believes their testimony and sworn statements are enough. No need, I guess, to waste more time.

That's not exactly the same message Sarah Sanders was giving today when she said the president indicated that the FBI can interview whomever they want. As for the FBI, more questions about that high school party, not so much about Yale.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Professor Christine Blasey Ford may have not yet been interviewed by the FBI concerning what allegedly took place at a high school party but FBI agents are expanding their interviews concerning details of a high school gathering Kavanaugh provided himself.

Kavanaugh's own calendar for July 1st, 1982, includes this reference. Go to Timmy's for skis with Judge, Tom, P.J., Bernie, Squi.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: You drink on weekdays, yes or no, sir?

JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: In the summer when we went over to Timmy's house, that would indicate yes.

BOOKER: Yes, in other words, that July 1st reference to skis, went over for skis, that's brewskis, correct?

KAVANAUGH: And after --

BOOKER: Sir, I just need yes or no, that's brewskis, right?

GRIFFIN: It was a Thursday night and the FBI is or is attempting to chase down each individual name in Kavanaugh's own hand. Meanwhile, even more evidence is being revealed disputing Kavanaugh's description of himself as a mild or occasional drinker. And the evidence is in his own hand.

"The New York Times" obtained this letter written by Kavanaugh in 1983, discussing plans for a beach weekend with friends in which Kavanaugh writes, warn the neighbors that we're loud, obnoxious drunks with prolific pukers among us. He signs off fffff, Bart.

That nickname Bart is another potentially important lead. It's the name Kavanaugh's best friend Mark Judge used in his book "Wasted" describing a Bart O'Kavanaugh, who puked in someone's car during beach week.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Judge Kavanaugh, I'm trying to get a straight answer from you under oath. Are you, Bart Kavanaugh that he's referring to? Yes or no? That's it.

KAVANAUGH: You'd have to ask him.

GRIFFIN: What is less clear about the FBI's investigation is just how seriously agents are investigating claims made by Deborah Ramirez, the Yale classmate who claims Kavanaugh exposed himself and was sexually inappropriate at a drunken party in this Yale dormitory. Ramirez spent two hours with the FBI on Sunday, gave agents a list of 20 names of people who could possibly corroborate or provide further leads.

CNN has contacted a series of people from that list who say either they never were contacted or actually reached out to the FBI themselves only to not hear back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Jake, the FBI isn't talking to us about any of this. A U.S. government official, though, familiar with this is telling us the FBI remains in information collection mode, sorting through a number of leads from the public, presumably some of these calls from Ramirez's friends and acquaintances yet to be returned -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yet to be returned. Drew Griffin, thank you so much.

We have a breaking news. A man suspected of sending a potentially deadly substance to the Pentagon and the White House has been taken into custody. What we know about the suspect and his motives, next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:42] TAPPER: Breaking news in the national lead, according to a federal law enforcement official, a person is now in custody in connection with those suspicious letters sent to the White House and Pentagon that initially tested positive for the poison ricin.

I want to bring in CNN's Josh Campbell, who used to be an FBI supervisory agent.

Josh, what are you learning about the person in custody and these letters?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Jake, a federal law enforcement official tells us that indeed, one person, a male, has been taken into custody in Logan, Utah. This is just north of Salt Lake City. CNN has a team in place right now. Our Nick Watt is there, gathering additional information.

As we speak, you know, the subject has been taken into custody but tactical and hazmat teams are actually on scene, clearing the residence where the subject was located, looking for additional material, obviously, taking, you know, extreme caution when you're dealing with these types of substances, going through that house. Now, you'll recall this stem from Monday where there were two letters that were sent to the Pentagon, one was addressed to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the second to the chief of naval operations, John Richardson, and then a separate letter was actually sent over addressed to President Trump.

Now none of the letters actually made it into the facilities that they were addressed. Both of these facilities have these mail screening centers located offsite that are set to interdict these types of letters as they come in. But nevertheless, this will be part of a long-scale investigation, large-scale, in order to determine what was behind the person that sent it, what was his motive.

TAPPER: All right. So, against Mattis and another official at the Pentagon, against President Trump, do we know anything about motive?