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Key GOP Senators Push Back on Trump's Mocking of Christine Blasey Ford; Interview with Senator Ben Cardin; Brett Kavanaugh Referred to Himself and Friends as "Obnoxious Drunks" in 1982 Letter; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 3, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Jeff Flake says it was, quote, "appalling" for the president to openly mock the California professor who says that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers in the 1980s. And just moments, live here on CNN, Susan Collins told our colleague, Manu Raju, that the president's remarks were just plain wrong.

Here's the president last night in Mississippi just days after calling Christine Blasey Ford, in his words then, very credible.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had one beer. Right? I had one beer. Well, you think -- nope, it was one beer. 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.


TRUMP: I don't know. I don't know. What neighborhood was it? And I don't know. Where is 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. And the man's life is in tatters. A man's life is shattered.


SCIUTTO: You remember it was Senator Flake's reservations on Kavanaugh that prompted a reopened FBI investigation which could be handed over we are hearing to senators as soon as today.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right. Right. McConnell has said we're going to vote on this this week.

At the same time the president has a new target. A remarkable "New York Times" expose that shows his often repeated claims of being a self-made billionaire a sham. The "Times" reports that the future president's father funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to his children in a series of schemes aimed largely at not paying taxes according to the "Times."

This morning the president calls the story very odd and boring. He does not, though, refute the facts in it.

Let's go to Manu Raju on the Hill for all of it. Good morning.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Yes. Senator Flake, Collins and Murkowski, of course the three key senators, who will essentially determine whether or not Brett Kavanaugh gets that lifetime seat and Senate majority Mitch McConnell is pushing forward to end debate and move to a final vote in the coming days.

And he has virtually no margin for error which is why Republicans were taken aback by President Trump's comments last night. They believe it was not helpful for their efforts to lockdown support at this pivotal moment.

Now when we caught up just moments ago with Susan Collins about the president's remarks she made very clear she was not happy.


RAJU: Are you comfortable with the president's attacks on Christine Blasey Ford? Are you (INAUDIBLE) with the president's attacks on Christine Blasey Ford?

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

RAJU: Is it going to affect your vote, Senator?


RAJU: Now that last key question, will it affect your vote, she did not respond to that but she did try to make an effort to try to stop and respond to the president's remarks, clearly irked by those comments. And she wasn't the only one. Jeff Flake earlier today also pushed back to the president's remarks.


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


RAJU: Now, despite the concerns that you're hearing from those key senators, ultimately the question is how will they come down? And they are more likely to be influenced by the results of this FBI investigation that has been going on. We do know that the White House counsel Don McGahn has been reaching out to these senators.


RAJU: By keeping them apprised of what's happening with this investigation. We expect that investigation could be as soon as today. And at that point, how do they respond, how does Mitch McConnell respond to move forward with a vote. If that report does not happen today.

HARLOW: Let's -- yes.

RAJU: All key questions we got to watch in the coming hours.

SCIUTTO: Manu, let's listen to Mitch McConnell, he's speaking live on the Senate floor right now.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: -- in recent memory. Since then a literal mudslide -- mudslide -- of uncorroborated accusations has literally poured out, each more outlandish than the last. And this mudslide has been actively embraced, urged on and capitalized upon by Democrats inside this chamber and organized far less special interests outside.

It hasn't been about getting to the truth or giving anyone a fair hearing. It's only been about one thing -- the far left's hunger to bring down Judge Kavanaugh's nomination by any means necessary. Any means necessary.

[10:05:05] If facts and evidence couldn't get the job done, then intimidation tactics and bullying would have to do it.

SCIUTTO: You've been listening to the Senate majority leader there, his familiar now argument that the Democrats are pushing uncorroborated charges against the Supreme Court nominee.

We are joined now by Democrat of Maryland, Senator Ben Cardin.

Senator Cardin, thanks very much for joining us. I'd like your reaction first to the president's comments last night. Because even as we mentioned, several of your Republican colleagues were appalled said Jeff Flake. Just plain wrong said Senator Susan Collins. What were your -- was reaction as you listen to the president mocking Christine Blasey Ford last night?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: I think Senator Flake said it best. For him to use a partisan environment to belittle Dr. Ford to me was outrageous. And it just shows the lack of respect from the president of the United States, for the Supreme Court and the process. It was outrageous. And we should never let the president's conduct go unchallenged when it is at this level.

HARLOW: We learned, Senator Cardin, that the FBI background check that has been reopened into Judge Kavanaugh may be completed as early as today. That would be handed over to the White House. Once the FBI completes and submits it, will you be satisfied and should your Democratic colleagues be satisfied?

CARDIN: Well, Poppy, first of all, this investigation should have been done well before hearings and certainly before the Judiciary Committee already has voted to send Judge Kavanaugh --

(CROSSTALK) HARLOW: OK. But -- and we'll get into the way Dianne Feinstein, the senator, handled it and why it wasn't investigated first in a moment. But once it's done, are you -- you know, do you think Democrats should be satisfied? We asked for this, it happened? It is what it is.

CARDIN: Let us see what the report is. Let's have a chance to take a look at it. Let's try to understand the factual circumstances that can be confirmed by the FBI as it relates to the allegations that have been made. It's an important part of the confirmation process. So we need a chance to look at it.

Let me just ask the Majority Leader. What is the difference if we vote this week, next week or the following week? We're here. We got time. Let's understand this. Let's not rush to judgment.

SCIUTTO: Many Republicans are telling us on the air, you heard this elsewhere, that the Kavanaugh confirmation process is energizing a Republican base that to this point was frankly not energized, not enthusiastic about voting.

And I'm curious, in your interaction with constituents, you get phone calls, you get e-mails, you meet with them face-to-face, what are you hearing from them?

CARDIN: Well, Jim, let me tell you this. My concern, I do hear from constituents and they do bring the subject up, and they do talk about Judge Kavanaugh's judicial temperament. The way that he responded to questions at the hearing. They believe that Dr. Ford was courageous to come forward, her testimony was powerful, it was believable.

But what they recognize is that we're talking about the nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States, a lifetime appointment and they want to make sure that that person is judged based upon whether that person will be an independent voice on the Supreme Court on behalf of their constitutional rights.

And I think the major concern I've heard is that they think that Judge Kavanaugh, his response, very political and whether in fact he would be an independent voice on the Supreme Court. That's what I hear about.

HARLOW: So on that, your fellow senator, Republican Orrin Hatch has an opinion piece in the "Wall Street Journal" this morning, I'm sure you read it for our viewers, if they haven't seen it yet, let me read you part of it. He says, "We're starting to see arguments like the following, even if Judge Kavanaugh is innocent, what he said at the hearing and how he said it is disqualifying. That is rich," writes Senator Orrin Hatch. "The hearing occurred in the first place only because of Democratic duplicity."

Your response?

CARDIN: Let me make it clear. Before Dr. Ford came forward, I was opposed to Judge Kavanaugh because of his opinions as a Circuit Court judge where he ruled on behalf of the powerful over consumers, over our environment, over women's health care issues, over labor rights and the list goes on and on and on.

But Dr. Ford brought forward very serious allegations. We need to make sure that we understand the factual basis behind it for the fairness to Dr. Ford, to Judge Kavanaugh, to the Supreme Court and the United States Senate. We need to get the facts out. So yes, I hope that the FBI will help shine the light on the factual issues as to whether Judge Kavanaugh was being forthright with the committee or not.

The circumstances surrounding these alleged activities, it would be very helpful to have that information because it does affect Judge Kavanaugh's credibility. The bottom line is many of us are not going to support Judge Kavanaugh because of his record as a judge on behalf of special interest rather than on behalf of average Americans.

[10:10:07] SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, though, because this of course started, this was reopened based on the allegations from Christine Blasey Ford. Now there is discussion of whether Judge Kavanaugh lied about his drinking habits many years ago. And I know that some Republicans have called that relevant. Jeff Flake said today that demonstrable lies, in his words, would be trouble.

But I wonder, how do you respond to Republican criticism that listen, this started about something about an alleged sexual assault, now it's about something entirely different that you're in effect moving the goal posts?

CARDIN: I don't think we're moving the goal posts. This is all about Judge Kavanaugh's credibility and telling the truth is an important part of any nominee's consideration for any position but certainly the Supreme Court of the United States. But I also point out his temperament is also an issue and the way that he responded to questions by the Judiciary Committee senators to me demonstrated his lack of temperament. So I think they're both issues that need to go into the evaluation of a senator's vote on confirmation.

HARLOW: Let me ask you this, I brought up earlier, and that is how this was handled, how your fellow Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and her office handled this. You sat on the Judiciary Committee from 2006 to 2010. It was during the nomination and confirmation of Justice Elena Kagan. Much has been made of the timeline here and when Senator Feinstein turned this letter over to the FBI.

Would you have handled it the way that she chose to?

CARDIN: Well, first understand we were operating under a time schedule set by Senator McConnell. Totally different than we saw with Merrick Garland where 10 months was not long enough. So Senator Feinstein had a limited period of time. She had a letter that the person asked to be kept confidential. She respected that. And of course we now know that what happened after that. We don't know how it became public. That's information that would be interesting to know. But this is not about Dianne Feinstein, this is about Judge Kavanaugh and whether he should be confirmed --

(CROSSTALK) HARLOW: But would you have done --

CARDIN: -- the Supreme Court.

HARLOW: Would you have handled it the way she did then? It sounds like you would have.

CARDIN: I would have urged -- my disappointment is the manner in which this was handled on the time schedule. We should have had the full vetting done before the Judiciary Committee's hearings, not after the hearing and something else is revealed. So I am disappointed that Chairman Grassley and Leader McConnell did not set up a process that allowed us to get to all the facts, release all the documents and give an opportunity for real input by Democrats and Republicans before they turn to the hearings.

SCIUTTO: Senator Ben Cardin, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right. We are following breaking news and new details on the Kavanaugh investigation and the reaction that the president's attacks on Kavanaugh's accuser. That is ahead.

SCIUTTO: And there's this. Outright fraud and dubious tax schemes, a shocking new "New York Times" report finding that President Trump helped his parents avoid taxes in the 1990s to the tune of many tens of millions of dollars.


[10:17:31] SCIUTTO: This morning a letter from Brett Kavanaugh's past, perhaps a relevant one in light of his comments before the committee. The "New York Time" releasing this from 1983 where Kavanaugh in his own writing describes himself and his friends as loud, obnoxious drunks.

HARLOW: He also signed this letter, "Bart." Why does that matter? Well, because the name that his friend Mark Judge used in a book he wrote to describe his high school friends who drank heavily, one of them -- the name he used is Bart O'Kavanaugh. Last week Kavanaugh was asked about this and he refused to answer. Here is part of that exchange between Judge Kavanaugh and Senator Leahy.


BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I think he picked out names of friends of ours to throw them in as kind of close to what characters in the book. So, you know, we could sit here --

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: So are you Bart O'Kavanaugh that he's referring to? Yes or no?

KAVANAUGH: You'd have to ask him.


HARLOW: To that Leahy said, I would like to ask him, but, you know, Mark Judge wasn't brought in to testify.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The FBI is talking to him.

HARLOW: Right. That's true. Yes, they finished that interview yesterday.

All right. Phil Mudd is with us, John Avlon, Jackie Kucinich.

Nice to have you all here. So let's talk about that letter, John Avlon. And the picture that Judge Kavanaugh painted of himself in the FOX News interview and under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee was a choir boy, essentially, I mean, who likes beer. A choir boy who can drink beer. But really, I mean, it was like I went and lifted weights with my friends, et cetera. And --

SCIUTTO: Worked hard.

HARLOW: Right. And he may have done all those things. But one does not disqualify the other from also being true. What are we seeing now and what's the significance of this letter?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: All of a sudden you've got primary evidence from his, you know, 16, 17-year-old past which I think it's safe to say none of us would really like in the court of public opinion. The big problem is the FOX News interview strategy, which really was a choir boy strategy. That doesn't seem to comport with reality. That is he couldn't have said he liked beer more times in the Senate hearing. I think he probably got a record for that.

But I think it illustrates part of the complex debate we're having right now. On the one hand there's a very serious allegation of sexual assault and whether there is a pattern of that or not. On the other hand, there is sort of a trial in the court of public opinion about whether a frat boy should sit on the Supreme Court. And that is not illegal. It may be distasteful but when people start projecting their politics on to it, I think we're heading down a dangerous precedent path that other folks are not going to want to apply to --


AVLON: To future nominees.

HARLOW: Interesting.

SCIUTTO: It is. And it's absolutely a fair question. It's actually a concern that's been raised by many Republicans including the president as well.

[10:20:04] Jackie Kucinich, as you look at this this week, this information here, you did have Jeff Flake, again a Republican key swing vote on this, saying in his words that demonstrable lies would be trouble for his vote for this nomination. In other words that, yes, and I know viewers at home and this is reasonable to say lots of people in high school drank a lot, et cetera. But on this issue politically, is that resonating with the public, the idea that he might have misled the committee on a personal issue, personal behavior in high school and college?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So I think what they are going to do, you're going to see a lot of parsing of words particularly among the political set. We're already seeing it with Republicans. They're taking each of these stories as a separate incident. He threw ice at a guy. He drank in high school. Who cares? Well, it all goes back. This is -- you can't look at this as isolated incidents.

You have to look at it as part of the full picture. It goes back to the allegation by Christine Blasey Ford that when she was -- when this alleged sexual assault happened both Kavanaugh and Mark Judge were very drunk. And that is why we're talking about this and that is why in addition to Brett Kavanaugh's sworn statements and things he said in front of the committee, that is why this is important and that's why we keep talking about it.

Not because it's not OK to drink when you're in college and high school and those sort of moral judgments which really don't have anything to do with the Supreme Court.

HARLOW: Phil Mudd, to you, a few things we've learned about this FBI background check that's reopened, it's now expanded according to Ariane de Vogue's reporting beyond the four initial folks that they wanted to talk to. Some of the people that the FBI is talking to are now -- including those who attended a party that was on Kavanaugh's calendar on July 1st of 1982. Others are people who -- Deborah Ramirez who alleges that he exposed himself to her while at Yale. That she says were in the room or that she told about it contemporaneously. The significance of that?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, that word expanded I think is a little misleading. Anytime you go into an interview, one of the questions is going to be, who else knows about this, who else can give us either specifics in terms of corroboration or the environment at a party like that, or a judgment about whether Judge Kavanaugh did things like that.

So the suggestion that this might be somehow abnormal, that the investigation is going beyond the bounds that the White House established, anybody who believes that I'd say if you walk into a room and somebody who is a first order witness says you've got to talk to John Doe or Jane Doe.


MUDD: That's a perfectly normal way that a -- an investigation moves forward. It seems to be perfectly legitimate for the FBI.

SCIUTTO: So the president last night before a campaign rally mocked, openly mocked a woman to cheers at times and laughter from the crowd of Blasey Ford who claims a sexual assault here. You are seeing really a universal reaction to this of disgust even from Republicans. Have a listen to Susan Collins when she spoke to our Manu Raju just moments ago.

Sorry. I will repeat that sound. She said simply that those comments by the president were simply wrong.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: John Avlon, does that -- if you have a Collins and a Flake calling it appalling, does that matter to their vote later in the week on confirmation?

AVLON: It should. It should impact it because I think -- look, this is the president of the United States. And very often we can get caught in the boiling water problem covering President Trump where these comments are normalized. So take a big step back.

The president of the United States at a campaign rally attacked in personal terms --


AVLON: An alleged victim of sexual assault whose own testimony he said was compelling earlier in the week.


AVLON: To cheers from the audience.


AVLON: Those are ugly impulses. This is a stark departure from anything like our best traditions. And so given that Flake and Murkowski and Collins votes are critical, should that sin be passed on to Kavanaugh in their ultimate judgment? Who knows?


AVLON: But it's an indication for them of how bad is this politically.

SCIUTTO: It is reminiscent of President Trump during the campaign, mocking a disabled reporter.


SCIUTTO: Right? In front of a rally as well.

HARLOW: Right. Which to this day he said he wasn't doing.


HARLOW: I don't know, Jackie. I wonder if you think that Collins and Murkowski and Flake will be able to separate the two, will be able to condemn what the president did last night but say it wasn't Judge Kavanaugh doing that.

KUCINICH: You know, I think a lot of us were wondering how long the president could keep up his comments about Christine Blasey Ford. We were surprised that he kept it up as long as he did. I don't think anyone thought that this wasn't coming. I think when it comes to the decision that Susan Collins, Lisa

Murkowski and Jeff Flake --

[10:25:02] Although Jeff Flake did say that he wanted to support Judge Kavanaugh and he plans to as long as the -- as long as this FBI investigation happened.

HARLOW: Right.

KUCINICH: So I think really what we're looking at is Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, they have called out the president before on his comments toward women. I don't know that that is going to -- I mean, he has every reason not to upset them at this point. But I don't think they would vote for Judge Kavanaugh in the first place to do the president a solid.

SCIUTTO: Well, guys, Phil, John, Jackie, thanks very much as always.

HARLOW: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, really a remarkable "New York Times" investigation claiming that a Trump family tax scheme existed, dodging taxes to the build their fortunes to the tunes of many, many millions of dollars. We're going to talk to the reporter -- one of the reporters who broke the story.