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Collins and Flake Rebuke Trump; Flake Comments on Kavanaugh Situation; Trump Mocks Kavanaugh Accuser. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 3, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:46] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump angers key Republicans with his mocking attack on Christine Blasey Ford. The big question is, does it just anger them or does it impact their votes on Brett Kavanaugh.

The new FBI investigation is the other wildcard. It could be wrapped up as early as today. And the Senate's Republican leader then wants to move quickly to a Kavanaugh confirmation vote. The mood here in because is raw, worse, but one of the president's closest Kavanaugh allies reminds us today, we have been here -- or at least pretty close to here -- before.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Everything he said was factual. He's frustrated his nominee has been treated so badly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Factual. It was a personal degrading attack on someone who's a private citizen.

GRAHAM: Yes. Well, you know -- you know, here's what's personally degrading. This is what you get when you go through a trailer park with a $100 bill. I -- see, this is not the first time this has happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's actually a reference to something somebody said.

GRAHAM: James Carville.


KING: And we begin there with what the president really thinks and whether that hurts where it matters the most, with the jury of three Republicans who will decide if Judge Brett Kavanaugh becomes Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

This morning, the Republican majority leader's mantra, the same.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, it's time to put this embarrassing spectacle behind us. The American people are sick of this. The Senate will vote on this nomination this week. The Senate will vote on this nomination this week.


KING: That from the majority leader, even as the FBI background investigation into the judge, as of this hour anyway, still ongoing. Senator Mitch McConnell wants to close the book, wants to move quickly towards a final vote. But this morning new anxiety from the majority leader, brought on in a familiar variable. The president's words and their ricochet effect on Capitol Hill.


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


KING: The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, says the president should apologize. More importantly, though, two of the three Republican senators who have the power to stop Kavanaugh's nomination saying the president should not have said that.


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 -- is just not right. It's just not right. I wish he hadn't have done it and just say it's -- it's kind of appalling.

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

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it going to affect your vote, senator?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you believe her? How can you vote for him --


KING: CNN's Manu Raju, live up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, that last question you tried to ask Senator Collins, that's the key part. She doesn't like what the president said. Jeff Flake doesn't like what the president said. The question is, will that impact their mood? Will it impact their vote?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about that. And we don't know the answer to that. But I think if you -- from my discussions with Republicans, Republican sources, people who are familiar with their thinking, more likely what's going to impact their vote is the outcome of whatever FBI report eventually comes to Capitol Hill, what they find in these interviews with these witnesses about Brett Kavanaugh's past. That will ultimately determine those three key senators' votes.

But no question about it, the president's comments at this time not received with open arms by Republicans at this very sensitive time. At a time when Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, wants to begin the procedural steps as soon as today to force a vote as soon as Friday to end a Democratic filibuster ahead of a confirmation vote potentially this weekend.

But, John, that timetable could be complicated if that FBI report is not provided to Capitol Hill today. Their -- the Judiciary Committee is telling us just moments ago they have not been told by the FBI when that report will come to Capitol Hill. So will McConnell still try to run the -- force this vote on Friday if that report is not there? He will -- probably will hold off if he gets resistance from those three key senators, John.

[12:05:08] So a lot of discussion about to happen behind closed doors at a lunch just momentarily. We'll see what McConnell decides to do.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) when the FBI (INAUDIBLE) something.

Manu, appreciate the reporting. If anything else comes up, come back and join us.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights this hour, Catherine Lucey with "The Associated Press," CNN's Phil Mattingly, Michael Warren with "The Weekly Standard," and CNN's MJ Lee.

So the jury of three, Collins, Murkowski and Flake, no fans of the president. So clearly when he does things like this, it annoys them.

But back to the question, is that something they just then put aside because I think lost in this has been all three are predisposed -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- to vote yes. They just want the FBI to do due diligence and if they don't see anything shocking, anything to corroborate Professor Ford, Deborah Ramirez, they are prepared to vote yes, correct?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly Senators Collins and Flake. I think there's no question about that. I think Senator Lisa Murkowski has some other issues that are very specific to her state that she's also been going through in terms of Judge Kavanaugh's record.

But I think the interesting element -- Manu made the key point there, which is, throughout the course of the last year and a half, those senators have been able to raise concern about the president's comments and then push them aside and make decisions on the merits that they see fit. What's most interesting is you've got kind of a -- this plays into almost like a dual prong game that's happening right now. On the ground a brutal, bare knuckle brawl between Democrats and Republicans, opposition research, people attacking one another on a daily basis on the Senate floor, through letters, through you name it. And then you have these three senators who are almost being treated as if they're in bubble wrap right now.

The majority leader making clear, what you need, we will get you. If you want changes to things, we will try and get them for you. I don't like this FBI investigation, but you need it to get to yes, we will make sure that happens.

And I think the problem, when the president does what he did last night, and that's upsetting them as they go through this process, is that veneer is kind of poked a little bit or stripped down a little bit. I think if the majority leader had his way, and he's had conversations with the president about this over the course of the last couple weeks, leave those three alone, let them do their thing.

And to your point, if the FBI supplemental background investigation comes back with nothing damning or things that are exonerating, it's very likely that Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.

KING: And one of the big debates has been, how many people should be interviewed. And one of the big complaints, Deborah Ramirez's lawyer saying they haven't interviewed some of the people we gave them as potential witnesses. Deborah Ramirez was interviewed. Professor Ford's team says, why isn't the FBI, why aren't the professionals coming to interview us. So far it seems, based on everything we know, the FBI is prepared to just let her Senate testimony speak for itself.

One of the questions is, would that be enough for this Republican jury of three? Listen to Jeff Flake. He seems to indicate he's fine.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We have the statement of Dr. Ford and then we have hours of testimony. So, frankly, when we talked about an FBI investigation, it was to follow up leads that might corroborate her account. So I don't -- I'm not troubled by that as much as if we came back and found out that the FBI only followed a couple of leads or interviewed just a couple of people.


KING: To me that's a very important point because you're going to have a big debate in the next 24, 48, 72 hours and then onward that this wasn't fair, it wasn't comprehensive, they didn't go everywhere. And I'm not saying that Democrats' opinions don't matter. They have every right to have their opinion. But what matters most is those three votes -- and Senator Flake seems to be, I'm OK with this.


KING: Sorry, we've got to go straight up now. Senator Flake talking some more about this point. Let's listen.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Sensitive and appalling, frankly. This is no time or place, but particularly to discuss something so sensitive at a political rally, it's just -- it's wrong.

RAJU: You said that there are demonstrable falsehoods, you know, lies that you would -- that would be disqualifying for him. He -- there have been instances where it appears that he did not -- was not fully forthcoming with the Senate Judiciary Committee about his past, his antics with -- during college. Does that bother you?

FLAKE: You know, I don't know, you know, specifically what you're talking about. But if you're --

RAJU: His drinking and --

FLAKE: If everybody, you know, accurately portrayed their high school years, you know, I'd say now I gained more yards than I really did in football, you know, as a running back.

RAJU: But he was under oath before the committee.

FLAKE: Yes, yes, maybe so, but I -- you know, on the drinking thing, I don't know how to gauge that. I really don't. How many would admit to being -- to drinking in excess when they really haven't. That's a -- that's a different world from what I grew up in. So I just don't know.

I've said all along, you know, if somebody lies under oath, that that's not something we can deal with. But exaggerating or diminishing, you know, your success or your failures, that's something that a lot of people are used to and you take that into account.

RAJU: Do you think the FBI should investigate that?

FLAKE: You know, I think that what the FBI ought to do is -- and I think is doing is looking at credible allegations to corroborate what Dr. Ford or Debbie Ramirez brought forward. And that, I think, was mostly what was hanging over that we hadn't -- hadn't done well enough. And so that's -- that's where they were headed. And I hope that they're doing that. I'm confident that they are.

[12:10:15] RAJU: Has McGahn been filling you in about this regularly?

FLAKE: Yes. Yes, I've been -- I've been talking to them and encouraging them. And we've been getting, you know, things to our office. I think a lot of offices have. We've been passing them on.

But the FBI is doing what they do. They're professional. I think people have confidence in what they do. That's why this is important. It was important to wait a week. We needed this.

FLAKE: Would you be comfortable for a Friday vote if McConnell were to move for a vote on Friday before this report comes?

FLAKE: Well, we won't have a vote before the report comes. I mean that was the deal. We would not have a cloture vote until we had the report. So I would be uncomfortable with that. But I -- I'm fully confident we will have the report by then.

RAJU: Today or tomorrow? FLAKE: I would assume so. I mean it was -- one week was what we had

agreed on, that Chris and I had put forward, and that his colleagues had expressed confidence in. That would be Friday. So I'm confident that we can get that.

The Anita Hill investigation was four days. They turned up, I think -- they talked to 22 people or 22 witnesses. And so this -- the FBI is professional. They move quickly. They informed us that they could do this and it looks like they are.

RAJU: Did they talk to Christine Blasey Ford?

FLAKE: You know, I -- (INAUDIBLE) with that. She gave testimony before the committee. She gave a statement before the committee. For me, I was more concerned about corroboration. And people -- leads that she had mentioned, people that she had talked to, particularly Mark Judge and others that she places in the room, that's where they needed to start and then follow those leads wherever they go. So I think that that's far more important in than going back to people who have already testified for hours before the committee and have written extensive statements.


All right, thank you, senator. Appreciate it.

FLAKE: You bet.

KING: You've been listening there to Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, doggedly pursued by CNN's Manu Raju. We appreciate that.

Some key points from that.

Number one, Democrats will like what he said about the timing. That we're not going to have a vote, it was part of the deal, no vote to move forward on this nomination of Brett Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court until we get the report. The majority leader has suggested at times that maybe he'll start the process and wait from the report. Senator Flake saying, no, that's not going happen. So Democrats will like that.

What they won't like, and maybe some of you at home, many people viewing this through their partisan reflex won't like, he was pretty clear there that, yes, he's not -- doesn't think maybe Judge Kavanaugh wasn't completely honest with the committee about his drinking, but he views it more as exaggerations and hyperbole about his high school days. He wants to know, can you corroborate Professor Ford, can you corroborate Deborah Ramirez. Jeff Flake essentially -- that's where he draws the line on the box. And the other stuff to him, unless the FBI comes up with something stunning, doesn't seem -- to him it doesn't seem relevant. Fair characterization?

WARREN: Yes, I think that's where this is all going. And this is what Jeff Flake was asking for essentially, to have somebody independent, the FBI, to come in and try to figure out where the gaps in the story are. You have these two stories from Dr. Ford and from Judge Kavanaugh that

are so different from each other. He categorically denies it. She claims that there's missing pieces to it. The FBI ought to either be able to find those missing pieces, or they can't. That seems to be what he's asking for, what he's getting.

I wouldn't be surprised -- and you mentioned the objection from Democrats about who's not being interviewed by the FBI. Sort of a process question, a process argument about the FBI investigation. I think Republicans, Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, are also very frustrated with the process question on the Democratic side going back to when Senator Feinstein got the letter, heard about this from Dr. Ford, holding it back from Chuck Grassley and the rest of the committee. So there's a lot of process frustration going on, on both sides of this issue and I think there is the sense that, can we just finish, know what we know, and get through this and make a decision.

KING: And there's been a big debate in town -- both sides trying to do this, move the goal post, if you will. What is the FBI supposed to be looking at? What are the big questions before we move forward with this vote. To the people who matter most, those three Republican senators, it seems to be, can you corroborate either Professor Ford or Deborah Ramirez. They are less interested in, did Brett Kavanaugh drink and was he aggressive after he drank. Unless you can connect it to sexual -- aggressive sexual behavior, they're less interested in that and a lot of Democrats are saying, well, that's a question of temperament, that's a question of judgement or it's a question of honesty.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: And, remember, it was Senator Flake who said earlier this week that he didn't want an FBI investigation that just provided cover for some of the Republicans who are sitting on the fence. But the reality is that it is going to provide cover for some of these Republicans who are currently undecided because they get to use the report to say there has now been an investigation and from that investigation I've drawn x, y and z conclusions and now I feel comfortable voting this way or the other.

[12:15:02] And the other thing I just quickly want to say about Flake too is that, when you're watching the president last night and you're watching him openly mocking Christine Blasey Ford, that creates a really problematic optics issue for someone like Flake. I think he has to have been having sort of flashbacks of the elevator moment because he was confronted by sexual assault victims who specifically said to him, I feel like I'm not being heard. You will be sending a message that victims are never heard if you support Kavanaugh.

If Flake does decide to support Kavanaugh in the end, I think that support gets very closely associated now with this very jarring and callus image of the president openly mocking this woman who says that she was sexually assaulted.

KING: Right. And we'll pick up the conversation there. There is -- it is no surprise and it is perfectly within bounds for supporters of Judge Kavanaugh to say, she was credible, but where's the corroboration. She was credible, we don't have any corroboration. That's one thing. That's one thing. To do what the president said is something else.

A tweet just now from the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, I have a long history of respecting people with courage to step forward. The Judiciary Committee gave Dr. Ford the serious consideration she deserved as soon as I learned about her. People can decide who to believe, but I plead with all, stop personal attacks and destruction of Dr. Ford and her family or Judge Kavanaugh and his family.

So the chairman of the committee weighing in there on a debate that has divided the country.

Next, the president changes his tone, as we just discussed, and a Fiery ally says he went too far. But, in Lindsey Graham's view, listen here, so have the Democrats.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't like what the president said last night. I'm the first person to say, I want to hear from Dr. Ford. I thought she was handled respectfully. I thought Kavanaugh was treated like crap.


GRAHAM: Yes. Well, boo yourself.



[12:20:51] KING: Welcome back.

A big question in Washington today, why the change of heart and tone by the president? This last night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had one beer, right? I had one beer. Well, you think it was -- no, it was one beer. Oh, good.

How did you get home? I don't remember. How'd you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How much years ago was it? I don't know.

Think of your son. Think of your husband. Think -- I've had many false accusations. I've had it all -- I've had so many. And when I say it didn't happen, nobody believes me. But it's me. It's my job description. Mr. Trump, it's OK, you can say whatever you want.


KING: Yes, we'll get back to some of the details of that in a moment.

But it's a big shift from the more measured Trump we had been hearing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought her testimony was very compelling and she looks like a very fine woman to me. A very fine woman.

She was a very credible witness. She was very good in many respects.


KING: So the question is why. We're five weeks from a midterm election. The president's own staff, you wrote about this, they've been thrilled, actually. They've said to him, Mr. President, Trump, stay measured. Don't stir this up. Stay out of it. In part because there's an election coming. In part because you're a man and she's a woman. And in part because of his history -- I'm sorry the president, in talking about his history there, well, he's the one on the "Access Hollywood" tape who, if that all happened, would be -- that would be felony sexual assault, mind you, what he said on that tape. But he distorts his own history a bit.

But why? Why now?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Yes, you're right, there's been a big sort of hold off until midterms push on a lot of issues with the president, with his advisers, trying to get him to, you know, sort of halt any sudden moves on Jeff Sessions say or, you know, the budget and the border wall.

In this case, what I'm hearing from folks in the White House is that, you know, it's -- there's been a lot of time that's gone by since the credible comments. He's getting more frustrated. They're getting frustrated. There's a feeling growing that the -- you know, Kavanaugh's testimony and his past and his, you know, college and high school years are getting pored over in a way that her testimony is not. And so some of this reflects that frustration.

I would also say, though, this came yesterday after a pretty explosive report in "The New York Times" about his family finances. And when the president is at a rally, as we know, he tends to -- he tends to say what he likes. And he's comfortable. And you saw him really play to the crowd with this. And the crowd responded. And he knows that. He knows -- he knows that this -- taking this stance and taking this kind of posture is popular with his voters.

KING: And some of his more confrontational advisers, we know, are telling him, look, Mr. President, yes, suburban women are breaking heavily for the Democrats and if you talk like this you may offend them, but they're already offended. A lot of his people think you've already lost them, let's gin up your base. The question is, you know, you need to gin up your base or else.

LUCEY: He's making a plea to men.

LEE: Clearly.

KING: And you see that in the president's tweet. I see it each time I go out to rallies in order to help some of our great Republican candidates. Voters are really angry at the vicious and despicable way Democrats are treating Brett Kavanaugh. He and his wonderful family deserve much better.

There are people around the president, and he seems to have accepted it in the last 24 hours, who say, you know what, you've got to go after -- yes, get the male dominated Trump base to show up and get a -- start a fight. Pick a fight.


LEE: And I think absolutely not a coincidence that we heard him change his tone exactly, as you said, at a rally. We know that he tends to unleash and tends to be much more animated. And really I think we hear most of the time the truest version of what he's actually thinking when he is in a room full of his supporters, when he knows that he is getting the support from people in the room. It's almost -- you can almost imagine him saying this kind of thing in a room at a dinner party when he knows that the people in the room are his friends and he's sort of trying to impress them.

And I also just want to say that, you know, obviously we're doing a lot of sort of minute to minute coverage on the Kavanaugh nomination. I do think it's worth just pausing for a second and remarking upon the fact that this is the president of the United States, with the entire country watching, with the entire world watching, mocking someone who says she was sexually assaulted. I just think that's a really sort of powerful and important sort of anecdote -- narrative that's coming from the president that we should not let get lost.

[12:25:07] KING: It is a horrible -- when you lift your head out of the fight we're in about Kavanaugh, the fight we're in about an election a little under five weeks from now, it is a horrible big picture message. The tone of it.

Again, he has every right to defend his nominee and to say, Professor Ford was credible but she has not produced corroboration. That's one thing. To -- you're right, to the mocking tone and, talk to the experts, a lot of people who are victims of sexual assault don't remember all the details. A lot of them do wait to come forward. So what the president said does not match up with real life experience of people. That's a very important point.

WARREN: It's also unnecessary. I mean the fact of the matter is, unless the FBI investigation finds something new, I mean, as I mentioned earlier, there were holes in Dr. Ford's testimony. Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor who the Republicans brought in, her memo essentially said, this doesn't rise to the level of preponderance of evidence in a sexual assault case.

I think the raw politics of it suggested Brett Kavanaugh's on his way to getting confirmed unless we learn something new and explosive that that either contradicts what Kavanaugh said or supports more of Ford's testimony. So there's no reason for Donald Trump to jump into this because there is that raw political calculation, but there's also sort of a broader optics -- I think MJ you used that word. Whatever happens at the end of this, and if Kavanaugh is confirmed, he's tainted on that bench. The Republicans don't need to be furthering that -- the idea that they are and that they nominate to the bench, that they nominated these judicial appointments, people who are antagonistic to women who suffer assaults, and sexual assaults like this.

KING: But we have seen before. This president trusts his instincts and he listens to the quote/unquote establishment types periodically and up to a point about, stay back, stay out of this, you keep out of it. But then you mentioned the rally setting. At that point he trusts his instincts and he thinks -- he thinks, you've heard him, we'll get more -- into this more as we go through the show. But, you know, he stopped talking about the big red wave. He's been convinced that this is a big fight. He's trying to get his people out and some would argue, listen to the president here, some would argue he's trying to create -- you hear some of the people around and say, they need to create sort of a white male race. Listen to the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. Somebody could accuse you of something and you're automatically guilty. But in this realm, you are truly guilty until proven innocent.



LUCEY: He's making an appeal to white men.

MATTINGLY: Look, yes. Yes. I don't think there's any question about that. And that is his base. And you can go through any polling from 2016 on and that -- those are the people that will push him or anybody who's affiliated with him to a victory if they want any shot whatsoever.

I do think, the political side of things, you mentioned that there's people inside the White House that have been making this case to him. And I can tell you, up on The Hill, I know Mike's heard it too, from pollster after pollster after pollster, they feel like this is resonating with their base. They feel like the enthusiasm on their side of things, now it's anecdotal, I'm not totally sure if it plays out over the course of the next four weeks, but they feel like this is doing something. And as everybody knows, the base is crucial in a midterm election, particularly when there's been a significant enthusiasm gap for much of the last 12 to 15 months.

WARREN: Can I just quickly object and say, or at least say there's an additional group of people he's trying to appeal to, which is Republican women. I do think that there is a segment, not as large as the entire female population, that does hear that appeal. They don't want to hear that their sons or husbands are falsely accused.

I think there is -- there is something a little more that he's doing. I don't know if it's -- I don't believe that it's advisable for the president to make that appeal. But I think that's at least a political -- if there's a political calculation to appeal to women, it's Republican women who might see Brett Kavanaugh and think of their own male relatives falsely accused.

MATTINGLY: I would just note real quick, there was a way to do this without attacking Christine Blasey Ford.


KING: Right.

MATTINGLY: And it was strategic and it was done kind of to a "t" by Senate Republicans over the course of the last week, which is, take the allegations that have the least amount of merit, seize on them, that's what you call the smear, that's what you call the attack. Leave her be because she was credible, because she was a witness that people believed and because she had the courage to show up. Keep -- and that's what you saw from Senator Grassley in the tweet.

President Trump diverged and went completely the opposite direction of that last night and I think that's (INAUDIBLE).


KING: And his instinct is direct conflict.

I just want to bring -- we talked to you at the top of the program, Senator Jeff Flake didn't like what the president said. He's one of the key three Republicans. Susan Collins didn't like what the president said. She's number two.

This just in now from number three, Lisa Murkowski, Republican senator of Alaska, quote, I thought the president's comments yesterday mocking Dr. Ford were wholly inappropriate and, in my view, unacceptable. That's from Senator Lisa Murkowski.

She was asked whether it would affect her vote. She said, quote, I am taking everything into account.

What do we make of that? Careful, cautious, that's what she has been.

Again, the president, they get annoyed by the president. They think he is unhelpful because they have to go home and explain their decisions. We believe at least two of the three want to vote yes, want to get to yes, but they're waiting, as we all are, to see what the FBI hands them presumably in the next 24 hours or so.

LEE: Well, and --

[12:30:05] LUCEY: And it's worth noting, the president is not actively engaged in trying to whip these votes, bring them along, talk to them.