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Republicans Push Forward on Kavanaugh Vote; Republicans Cast FBI Report on Kavanaugh as "Thorough", Democrats Call It "Incomplete"; Key GOP Senator Collins Returns to Review FBI Report. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 4, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats accuse the Trump White House of tying the FBI's hands.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The senators who will decide Brett Kavanaugh's fate dropping signals and weighing in on the FBI report now completed, but breaking minutes ago, one key undecided senator announce announced she's a no.

As protesters flood the halls of the Senate office buildings in a major show of force against Kavanaugh, President Trump suddenly taking the side of due process as he issues a new defense of his Supreme Court nominee, and the Senate leader today following the president's lead, saying Brett Kavanaugh is the victim here.

Plus, hey, look over here. Vice President Pence taking a strong stance against election interference, but it's not against Russia.

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with our politics lead.

One FBI report, two interpretations. Republican leaders say there is no additional corroboration of the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and no hint of misconduct. Democrats disagree and are taking issue with the investigation, saying it was not thorough enough and Democrats are calling for the report to be made public.

But what really matters here are the key senators who have yet to say publicly how they're going to vote and what they think. Red state Democrat Heidi Heitkamp breaking the news this afternoon that she is a no on Kavanaugh.

So, then there were four. Republicans need just two of these four senators to vote yes on Kavanaugh. That will make it 50-50, allowing vice president to break the tie. And of potentially huge consequence, we heard two of these senators have expressing confidence in the FBI report, Senator Susan Collins of Maine saying the investigation appears very thorough. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona agreeing and adding, "We have seen no

additional corroborating information." The final vote on Kavanaugh's nomination could happen as soon as Saturday.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill for us, where there are major protests ongoing.

Sunlen, what's going on there?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this as a major, loud, very vocal group of protesters here in the Hart Senate Office Building.

This is a Senate office building that many key senators have their offices. We can see -- and you see in the shot behind me many office workers looking out of their windows down to the protests below.

They are protesting against Brett Kavanaugh. A lot of them chanting, "Brett Kavanaugh has got to go." They have dying thing "Believe the Survivors."

So, certainly, a dramatic moment here with a protest that really in large part colored his whole consideration up here on Capitol Hill. That aside, this story end in the math. And that is where Republicans up here on Capitol Hill feel very confident tonight.

Their mood is very upbeat, especially after those comments by Senator Collins, Senator Flake, Republicans very happy with the tone, saying it gives us a key window into their mind-set likely one day before this vote.


SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: The whole thing is a sham.

SERFATY (voice-over): With tensions on Capitol Hill boiling over as Brett Kavanaugh's fate hangs in the balance.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Why don't we dump him in the water and see if he floats?

SERFATY: Significant new reactions coming from two key senators after viewing that FBI report today. Senator Susan Collins telling CNN, "It appears to be a very thorough investigation, adding, "I have not yet finished going through all the material."

Senator Jeff Flake saying the report showed no additional corroborating information. Neither senator revealing yet how they will vote, but their words boosting the confidence among Republicans today.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: There's absolutely zero corroboration, zero corroboration to any of these allegations. I think obviously that makes people feel really good coming out of there. SERFATY: Collins and Flake are two of the four senators who now hold Kavanaugh's future in their hands, after Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a key red state Democrat, told CNN affiliate WDAY:

SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP (D), NORTH DAKOTA: I will be voting no on Judge Kavanaugh.

SERFATY: Adding to the drama of the moment, a highly choreographed viewing of the tightly guarded FBI report, with senators shuffling in and out of this secure location to view the sole copy of the FBI findings privately, emerging afterwards and taking partisan sides, Republicans saying the report shows no corroboration of the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: When the noise fades, when the uncorroborated mud washes away, what's left is the distinguished nominee who stands before us.

SERFATY: And Democrats taking issue with the investigation itself.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: This is wholly unacceptable. It is a truncated, curtailed, a not even halfway effort to interview the relevant people.

SERFATY: Saying it was not extensive enough, especially without interviewing Kavanaugh and the first accuser, Professor Christine Blasey Ford.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: The most notable part of this report is what's not in it. It looks to be a product of an incomplete investigation that was limited perhaps by the White House. I don't know.

SERFATY: Senators have the day on Capitol Hill to finish reading the report, but then it's decision time.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: It's time for women to woman up and men to man up. And let's be senators. And let's start voting.


SERFATY: And I want to take me back to live pictures here outside the Senate Hart Office Building, where we see actress Amy Schumer being arrested in the midst of these protests, among many other protesters, certainly speaking to the passion of the moment up here on Capitol Hill.

Tomorrow, though, Jake, will be the crucial moment for Brett Kavanaugh. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled a cloture vote. That means that every senator here will have to say yes or no on Brett Kavanaugh. And if he continues, that means a final confirmation vote on Saturday -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty at the Hart Senate Office Building. Let's talk about this with our experts.

Senator Santorum, an interesting argument this morning from Andrew Napolitano, the judge on FOX News, talking about the investigation. And I want to get your reaction.


ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS: I was disappointed that they didn't interview Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford and a few more people, because now the people that don't want Judge Kavanaugh, whether they don't want him confirmed because of a perception that he is ideologically against them or because they really believe the allegations against him, now have more ammunition and more doubt to say, why was the FBI held back?

Was the FBI used as a political instrument yet again? Why weren't they just allowed to interview whoever they wanted, including the two principals, Judge Kavanaugh on Dr. Ford? Those allegations are going to stick.


TAPPER: Your response?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think the optics would have been better had they interviewed them.

I don't know for a fact -- maybe you do -- whether they were told they could not. But I think what the FBI did was say that Christine Blasey Ford came forward and said, this is all the information. She was asked, is there anything else that you want to tell us? And she said, no, I have told you everything. So what else could they find out?

If she said that she told him everything, there really isn't much more to find, and certainly Judge Kavanaugh, the same thing. I mean, he's been questioned repeatedly. So I think it's very likely the FBI just said there really isn't a reason for us. Let's look to see what kind of corroboration each has for their own story.

And that's what you got in this report.

TAPPER: Kirsten Powers, you have been very critical of the FBI report. You don't think it's legit.


You don't have a report where people aren't -- where you have somebody like Debbie Ramirez saying that there are 20 people that she has identified who can corroborate her story, and they don't talk to any of them.

When you have people who are reaching out to the FBI and they can't even get through. They're like sending through like the Web site who say that they have information and they're not being responded to. So I think that the whole setup of this situation has been, if you

want an FBI investigation, you're smearing a good man. I mean, that literally is what it is. And it's just -- that's not what's happening. Basically, what Republicans are saying is, either you just accept what he's saying and don't question it, or you're smearing him and trying to ruin his life, vs. saying, there's a credible allegation.

I think there's two very credible allegations against this person. Let's do a real FBI investigation. And let's find out what happened both for the women who made the accusations and, frankly, for Judge Kavanaugh, I mean, where you can have a real investigation where people can -- could clear his name. That would be very important.

And now what we're left with is really a sham investigation that makes people feel like this was a setup, that have basically you were told to not investigate people who could corroborate.

MONA CHAREN, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: You say there are two credible allegations. I think that's very debatable.

First of all, Blasey Ford's allegation itself had problems, in that there's no corroboration.


TAPPER: There's no firsthand corroboration.


POWERS: Sexual assaults don't have witnesses.


CHAREN: Let me finish.

To contrast it with the case of Judge Moore, when his accusers said he did he did this, here's my yearbook that he signed, here's the person I told at the time who will corroborate that, yes, at the time I told them.

It doesn't mean that Blasey Ford is lying.



HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Dr. Ford's sent a letter, which they released publicly today, that they offered six people that corroborated this incident well prior to his nomination.


ROSEN: It does not matter in sexual assault cases.

(CROSSTALK) SANTORUM: They said they don't recall it happening.


TAPPER: The people that she named at the party said -- with the exception of Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, that they have no memory or recollection of it happening.


SANTORUM: And her best friend said she never recalled ever meeting Kavanaugh.

TAPPER: Right. Right.


ROSEN: One is whether she's telling the truth and the people in her life who she told this story to well before there was ever a nomination.


ROSEN: ... any public assault allegations, that is very, very important in sexual assault and sexual harassment cases.

Whether you have corroboration, whether you have told someone about this prior to it becoming public. And she's given the name of six people who she told prior to it becoming public. And the FBI chose not to use it.

And the reason this matters is because senators are using this talking point, there is no corroborating evidence. But, in fact, there are corroborating witnesses who should be talked to by what the FBI


TAPPER: I think what they mean is there no -- I agree that they should be precise. No contemporaneous corroborating evidence. Nothing at the time.


ROSEN: That's not happening that way.

CHAREN: And -- well, sometimes it does.


POWERS: People being told about it at the time is corroborating evidence.

I mean, Debbie -- there are multiple people who have come out and said they remember being told about this.

(CROSSTALK) POWERS: I actually would love to finish a sentence without being



POWERS: No, really, this is what's been going on the whole time, which is, if you guys have such a great case, let other people make their case and stop yelling at them and stop talking over them.



TAPPER: Can we talk about the politics of this for one second?

Because right now we have four undecided senators, and Kavanaugh's fate is with them, lies with them.

Joe Manchin, the one Democrat on this list from West Virginia, he's up for reelection this year. Susan Collins from Maine. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is retiring, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

What -- we're getting signals from Collins and Flake. They're saying this investigation, whatever other people think of it, it seems comprehensive, it seems sufficient.

Do you think ultimately this all means Kavanaugh will be confirmed?


I think actually that the FBI investigation was undertaken exactly for those four senators, to satisfy them. And the idea that it actually should have been something that was for the whole country -- and, by the way, I don't have a side. I'm just evaluating the evidence as I see it, unlike like 99 percent of the country, which seems to have taken sides.

But the fact is, those senators now need their fig leaf to be able to say, yes, I saw it, and it wasn't persuasive. And I think that's probably all they're going to need.

TAPPER: And do you think ultimately he's going to pass? I mean, really, this could come down to -- I mean, I think it's likely that Flake is going to vote for him. He signaled that.

It's going to come down to Murkowski and Collins. What do you think they're going to do?

POWERS: In my gut is probably that Collins will vote for him. But I don't -- that's just my gut. I don't really know.

I think Lisa Murkowski is going to be in a lot of trouble if she votes for him, just because there's already so much opposition to him separate from this issue.


ROSEN: A Republican lobbyist told me last night that if Susan Collins votes against Kavanaugh, her career is finished.

We're putting a lot of pressure on these two women, but in fact it's the entire GOP Senate who is responsible for this. And it's that leadership bullying them that's really the problem.

TAPPER: And we're going to talk about this in the next -- coming up.

Republicans see it one way, Democrats see it another, but will we ever really know what was in the FBI report?

Plus, the fight over Kavanaugh may be energizing Democrats right now, but a big argument being made, it might also help Republicans in the midterms.

Stay with us.


[16:17:36] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Republicans are claiming no misconduct, lies in the FBI reports on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But Democrats are saying not so fast. But this new report only viewable by senators beyond closed doors, will the American public ever be able to judge it for itself?

I want to bring in CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell. He has experience with these of FBI investigations from his days as an FBI supervisory agent.

Josh, the FBI did not interview Kavanaugh or Professor Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who made the initial sexual assault allegations. The White House says there was no need for it, since they both testified for hours. Do you agree?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So, I think that comes down to the FBI's view. And it's either one of two things. Either the FBI determined that there was enough in the public record, both individuals had testified at length in front of the Senate. Obviously a lot there that they could then use to corroborate or ask other witnesses about.

It's either that or the second aspect -- and this is a little more troubling. We've been talking to some of our sources over the last couple of days who are more familiar with the investigation. And they made clear to us that just because the FBI hadn't interviewed Dr. Ford, for example, as of today, as of yesterday, doesn't mean that they wouldn't want to interview her at some time in the future. Indeed, in these investigations, it's not unusual to wait until the end of an investigation, after you gathered a lot of information, to sit down with the high-profile witness.

The problem is, as we all know, there's been this one-week arbitrary deadline that's been imposed on top of this and not for nothing, the report has already gone over to the Senate. Even if the FBI wanted to sit down and talk to her today, I don't think you would have any impact on this nomination, because they're already set to vote.

TAPPER: Yes, but I mean, it's not due until tomorrow. So, theoretically, they could have interviewed her today and handed it tomorrow but that's moot because they didn't do that. The FBI reached out to 10 people we're told, interviewed nine of them.

But the attorney for Deborah Ramirez, who is the accuser from Yale, said that they, the Ramirez team, gave the FBI a list of 20 names to also interview. Her legal team says, quote, there may be additional witnesses who could offer still further corroboration, if any additional corroboration were needed, which is it is not, but we likely will never know given that your agents were barred from investigating. It's a letter to the FBI.

These were potential witnesses never interviewed although there weren't eyewitnesses. They were corroborating witnesses, people that heard about it, not people that saw it. Does that matter? Does the fact that these were not people who are saying, yes, I saw this incident, they were rather hearsay witnesses or people that either Deborah Ramirez or others had told, hey, this might have happened or this happened?

[16:20:01] Does that matter when the FBI decides who they're going to spend their time interviewing?

CAMPBELL: I think it does matter because you either conduct a thorough investigation or you don't. Now, we mentioned that, you know, the FBI was obviously under a deadline here. One thing that we don't yet know is, you know, what was the parameter? What parameters were set on the FBI from the White House in order to conduct this background investigation?

We reported it was limited in scope. The White House was saying, no, the FBI had free rein. So, that's still a major lingering question, what was that scope? What were the parameters?

I'll say to you, Jake, you know, we've been watching obviously today, some of the statements from the Senate GOP, from the White House, there's already a contradictory statement that was made today regarding the scope of the investigation. The Senate GOP in their press conference, they indicated they did not recommend a list of people that the FBI should interview and just this morning on "NEW DAY" here on CNN, Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah said they received four names from the Senate.

So, both of those two things cannot both be true. It shows you that there's a lot that we still don't know. But I'll tell you what, I suspect that we're not going to get to the bottom of what was in the scope of that White House mandate over to the FBI because I don't think that they necessarily want the public to know how limited it was, again, if and when he's confirmed it's a moot point after that.

But that is a piece of information I think the public deserves to know right now and something that the FBI will be facing a lot of heat over, should the judge be confirmed. Senate Democrats will no doubt be holding them up in front of Congress to testify to figure out, what was your mandate? What did you do? Why didn't you do more?

TAPPER: But, Josh, I guess my point is, if I'm an FBI agent and I'm investigating this case and I'm getting a list from attorneys for Deborah Ramirez and others and I'm getting information from field offices and tip lines, I'm looking through it and I'm like, well, this guys says he heard something in 1983 and this guy says that he heard something from Professor Blasey Ford in this year and this person heard something from Deborah Ramirez and this year, but I'm looking for an eyewitness and we only have a week. So, I am not going to waste time chasing down somebody who heard something, that -- which is corroboration but not contemporaneous eyewitness corroboration.

Is that likely what's going on?

CAMPBELL: It could be. I mean, that's certainly a fair point. But I have to tell you, as a former FBI agent, I would always prefer to sit down and talk to someone rather than just read through some initial statement and try to decipher. With the volume of information, they have to rely on some volume of investigative acumen of what's in the realm of what we would want to look at?

You have a number of allegations and people recommending other witnesses. We know with Ms. Ramirez, they mentioned 20-odd people that she recommended and we think that they interviewed a few of those, but not all of them. But again, it comes down to what was the FBI mandated to do?

TAPPER: Right.

CAMPBELL: This is much different than a criminal investigation, you know, where the FBI have free rein, indeed. They can go out and talk to people. This is very limited in a background situation because they can only do what the White House tells them.

TAPPER: Right. And they had that one-week deadline.

Josh Campbell, thanks so much.

We have some breaking news. We're just learning that Senator Susan Collins, one of the pivotal, undecided votes, is returning to look at the FBI report again in that secure Senate room. What might that mean for her decision on Brett Kavanaugh?

Stay with us.


[16:27:10] TAPPER: We have some breaking news just in. Key undecided Senator Susan Collins of Maine has returned to the secure room where the sole copy of that FBI report is being held. She told CNN, quote: I'm not going to draw conclusions before I'm finished reading. This vote may all come down to Senator Collins as she weighs a yay or nay vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Earlier today, she said the FBI probe appeared to be a very thorough investigation. But voting with her Republican Party could spell trouble back home in the increasingly purple state of Maine.

Let's talk about this all.

What do you make of it? What do you -- she's --

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think we can read anything into it, I mean, other than she's taking it seriously and she's taking the time to look at it. But I don't think there's any -- I don't think we can read into the fact that she went back to look at it to tell us anything about what she's going to do.

TAPPER: You've known her. You worked with her in the Senate. What do you think? What's your gut tell you?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, she's extremely diligent. She's one of those folks that reads the bills. And I had no doubt --


SANTORUM: She's the one.

Seriously, she's a diligent person and knows this is an important issue and she's in the middle of it. She has taken this with -- in seriousness. And, look, she said this morning, she wasn't going to make her decision until she read everything. So, I'm not surprised she's back and doing it.

As far as the politics, it cuts both ways for her in her state. You know, certainly, it's a if you look in primary, she'd have a hard time going back home and having voted against Kavanaugh, and it's going to hurt with some votes she's gotten from Democrats in the past.

And Susan - I know Susan well. She's going to do what she thinks is the right thing. All the bullying and protesters outside her office -- I was supposed to have a meet with her today and she called me and said, Rick, I don't want you to go through this.


SANTORUM: You know, let's meet next week. So, that's where she is. I mean, she's feeling -- I'm sure, she's feeling she's been --

TAPPER: Besieged.

SANTORUM: Besieged. And I'm not sure that's a good strategy for the --

TAPPER: I know you said we're being unfair because we're putting all the pressure on Collins and Murkowski and Flake to a lesser extent. But I just want to say, they're undecided. I mean, that's the reason, they are undecided. And also, they both support abortion rights and both of them have cast themselves as not just partisan Republicans.

I want you to take a listen to some people in her office in Portland, Maine. CNN was there today. Staffers say they've been flooded with calls and visitors who want to pressure her one way or another. Take a listen.


JOANNA BRINKER, VISITED SENATOR COLLINS' OFFICE: I always thought of her as a moderate. But I don't really believe that anymore, based on some of the things that she's been, you know, doing lately. I was appreciating her vote for the ACA, but this time, I'm really worried.

HEATHER SQUIRES, VISITED SENATOR COLLINS' OFFICE: Susan Collins actually ran on being a pro-choice Republican. And if she votes for Kavanaugh, I think she's going to have a major problem in Maine.


TAPPER: So those are liberal or moderate Democrats, it sounds like, I'm guessing, who want her to vote against Kavanaugh.