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Senators Reviewing FBI Report on Brett Kavanaugh; One of Kavanaugh's Accusers Claim FBI Investigation was Limited; Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired October 4, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:28] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We're glad you're with us this hour. It is a big one and a big day. A critical hour in an absolutely critical day in the confirmation fight for Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

As we speak, Republican senators are gathering in a secure room of the capitol to look at the findings of the FBI's reopened investigation into the president's pick for the high court. Most of the senators of both parties made up their minds on Kavanaugh a long time ago, but look at these. These are the five critical ones. Three Republicans, two Dems, and what will their decision be and how will what they see affect that? Presumably their vote will hinge on what they learn from the report.

SCIUTTO: The probe wrapped up yesterday five days it was ordered, after agents interviewed some nine witnesses. That, to be clear, is far fewer than Democrats as well as Kavanaugh's -- accusers, rather, had wanted. It was hand-delivered overnight to the Senate Judiciary Committee where absolute secrecy is the rule. Senators granted access in alternate hours by party to read it in private.

Even before it arrived, the Senate majority leader set a procedural vote on Kavanaugh's nomination for tomorrow.

Our Manu Raju is getting as close to this process as he possibly can.

Manu, Democrats have been looking I believe for the last hour, have you had a chance to chance to any of them as they come out?


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we actually did get to approach Dianne Feinstein, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She declined to comment coming out of this briefing. We believe in this briefing, in the Democratic briefing, that it was mostly staff members who were reading it. We expect those staff members have a private briefing with other Democratic leaders, including Chuck Schumer, who is expected to address the press in the next hour and will certainly raise concerns about what they view as an investigation that was much too narrow. They also have raised concerns about other accusations that have come

out. We'll see what they have to say about their latest understanding of this FBI investigation. But we are entering the critical stretch here over the next two hours, as Republicans go behind closed doors. The full Republican conference, 51 members, are going to be briefed on these contents, and that means the three Republican senators who will determine whether or not Brett Kavanaugh gets that lifetime seat, Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, all expected to attend this briefing momentarily.

We will see what they have to say afterwards. We're not necessarily expecting an announcement from Collins or Murkowski on their vote today, but it will influence their decision ahead of that crucial procedural vote tomorrow where a simple majority of senators need to overcome a Democrat-led filibuster to advance this nomination for a final confirmation on Saturday. But right now, the critical time as these Republican senators are learning about the contents.

And guys, just moments ago, the Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley setting the tone, saying he's been briefed about this.


RAJU: He said he has not seen anything to corroborate those allegations. We'll see what those key Republican senators have to say in a matter of moments -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: So now both the White House has said nothing to corroborate and --

HARLOW: And Grassley.

SCIUTTO: And his words here pretty definitive, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. There is nothing in that that we didn't already know.

HARLOW: Yes. You and I circled the same part. I mean, you can't get more definitive than that. Nothing new from this FBI probe.

Manu, thanks.

The Trump administration also saying exactly that. So let's go to the White House. Abby Phillip joins us this morning. And the White House this morning is feeling good about this nomination.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly seems that way, Poppy. The White House is expressing so much confidence going into this, saying that there's no corroboration in the FBI report that would endanger Brett Kavanaugh's nomination, but they are facing a lot of questions about the scope of this investigation.

Now, remember, a few days ago, President Trump seemed to say that there were no reigns on the FBI investigation. They had free reign to interview whoever they wanted. It turns out that was not true. And the White House acknowledges as much this morning. They suggested that the scope of the investigation was limited by what Senate Republicans wanted, and here's Raj Shah explaining why that was.


RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Senate has set a scope on what they are interested in. They have already investigated this matter through their own Senate process. They wanted interviews of additional individuals.

Any background investigation has to have some form of limiting scope. And this time it is always in these matters set by the White House, but we deferred to the Senate's requests.


PHILLIP: Now we know that scope now is nine interviews of people who were witnesses to either Ford or Deborah Ramirez's allegations.

[10:05:08] And President Trump and Raj Shah, as you heard there, are pushing toward this final vote. They're saying this matter is, as far as they're concerned, pretty much closed and they're urging senators to confirm him.

President Trump was briefed this morning by his aides about the content of the FBI probe, and he weighed in this morning on Twitter saying that this was all so unfair to Brett Kavanaugh. He said, "The harsh and unfair treatment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh is having an incredible upward impact on voters. The people get it far better than the politicians."

That will all matter when it comes to these undecided senators. Some of whom are red state Democrats who are in states that President Trump won by large margins, and the president there is making it clear that he believes his voters want them to vote for Judge Brett Kavanaugh. We'll find out soon if he's right about that -- Jim and Poppy.


SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip, at the White House.

Let's discuss this now with a bunch of smart people. Sabrina Saddiqui, politics reporter for the "Guardian," and CNN political commentators Scott Jennings and Margaret Hoover.

Scott, if I can lead with you. We're hearing this now as sort of a unanimous view of, well, the president, Republicans on the Hill, but also Republican commentators, that this is playing well for Republicans. This is energizing a base that was not previously energized.

Do you believe that's true?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. I have seen polling and I have seen some national public polling showing that the enthusiasm gap between the two parties has been totally erased. I think there's evidence in the red states with Senate Democrat incumbents that this has completely galvanized, unified, and excited the Republican Party. I particularly think Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota is feeling the pressure. I think Joe Manchin in West Virginia is feeling it.

And the reality is the way people see this in Washington or in New York or on some college campus is not the way middle America sees it. It's not the way these constituents in these big red rural states see it. They want Kavanaugh. They believe he's been railroaded, they believe it's a smear job, and they are angry about what they see as this coordinated effort by liberal Democrats to tank the president's nomination.

I think this has been a game changer for these Senate races and has really set the Democrats back.

HARLOW: All right. So, Margaret Hoover, you worked in the Bush White House. We know that less than a week ago former President Bush was making the calls after Kavanaugh's testimony, pushing for -- to vote for him. OK. When you look at Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee's comments, it just came out, quote, "There's nothing in it that we didn't already know."

I think Deborah Ramirez would take issue with that. She just told the "New Yorker," quote, "I feel like I'm being silenced," because she says look, the FBI didn't talk to me for five days. And when they did, it was rushed and by the way they didn't talk to the 20 people that I say could corroborate my account.

What do those five swing senators do with this?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, we have yet to see the full sense of what the FBI has come up with, but the last time I checked, Democrats really liked the FBI and wanted to give credence to the FBI, not undermine the judicial department, the Justice Department.

HARLOW: Right.

HOOVER: And so I think let's wait. Let's not preemptively decide that the FBI screwed up here and -- in order to serve our own political purposes. What everybody wanted was a fact-finding mission. We wanted facts. Not everybody wanted it, by the way. The Democrats wanted it, Jeff Flake wanted it.

HARLOW: Everyone should want it. Everyone should want it.

HOOVER: And frankly independent minded people who were frankly -- Brett Kavanaugh, frankly, privately, most likely wanted some kind of independent corroborating investigation to exonerate himself. I mean, there was a real -- even though he wouldn't say that in the hearing, there's a real sense that he was absolutely in favor of people finding out what the truth was because frankly we live in a system of laws.

We have -- we cannot pick our Supreme Court nominees based on who believes whom. We have to have independent inquiries in order to determine that. And the FBI has done that. We all agreed that they would take a week to do that. So let's look at what they found instead of preemptively deciding that this institution is worthless and further eroding the faith we have in our institutions.


Sabrina Saddiqui, Republicans have accused Democrats of pre-deciding on Kavanaugh, the fact is, you had statements from many Republicans, White House, Chuck Grassley as well, you know, they were already confident in him. That was predictable. What really matters is what those swing votes, the Flakes of the world, Heitkamps, et cetera.

Based on your reporting, are you hearing this report, what we've learned from this new supplementing investigation, moving them either way?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, it's tough to say. I think it really comes down to two fundamental questions. And first and foremost, it's whether those swing state senators believe that the FBI was able to do a fair and comprehensive investigation into the allegations at hand.

Did the bureau in fact interview all of the relevant witnesses? There's certainly some indication from some of the accusers that they did not, and were they able to follow every lead that may have provided more corroborating information. If there were in fact constraints that were placed on the investigation, it will be interesting to see if the FBI lays out its process and parameters in the report and how that might affect the senators' thinking.

[10:10:08] I also think that there's a question of potential inconsistencies in either Brett Kavanaugh or Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's testimony. Certainly there have been reports suggesting that Judge Kavanaugh was not necessarily forthcoming about some of his behavior in the past as it relates to drinking. Senator Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski in particular think that's relevant, and so Jeff Flake has said that if he found out there were demonstrable lies that were told to the committee, then it would be game over for Kavanaugh.

So what does Senator Flake believe constitutes a lie before the committee?

HARLOW: Right.

SIDDIQUI: That will be a question worth watching.

HARLOW: So, Scott Jennings, to you. One thing that we saw displayed from Judge Kavanaugh in this second hearing, right, the hearing that was just him and Professor Ford, that we didn't see displayed in his first hearing was his temperament. Right? We saw his temperament on display. And I'm sure you've seen it in the "Times" this morning, there is a letter signed by 1,000 law professors saying that temperament is disqualifying for someone to sit on the Supreme Court.

We wouldn't have seen that otherwise. Should his temperament as we saw displayed in the second hearing be considered by senators when they vote procedurally tomorrow and officially, if you will, on Saturday?

JENNINGS: Well, I think his temperament is best judged by his 12 years on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This guy has been getting up and going to work every day as a federal judge. That's where you should judge his temperament.

Now to these law professors who signed this letter, I wonder how they would react if somebody showed up on their campus and ran a three-week or four-week campaign to call them a rapist, a gang rapist, a drunken, you know, no account whatever. I don't think they would react very well. I wonder what their temperament would have been. To be honest with you, I think Judge Kavanaugh reacted exactly the way most Americans would react to being smeared --


SCIUTTO: Wait, Scott. I've got to challenge that, Scott.

JENNINGS: No, no, no. If somebody said those things about me --

SCIUTTO: Because this has become a talking point --

JENNINGS: I think I would ask somebody to step outside. This is outrageous.

HARLOW: All right.

SCIUTTO: Here's the difference, Scott. This is a person running for a lifetime -- not running but being considered for a lifetime position.


SCIUTTO: The fact is, this is Washington. This is politics. But political candidates have been accused of horrible things for years and it becomes --


JENNINGS: Gang rape? Gang rape?

SCIUTTO: How do you respond to that? And trust me, I'm not taking issue with responding --

JENNINGS: He's got a 12-year record. It's a fair question. It's a fair question.

HARLOW: OK. All right.

JENNINGS: He's got a 12-year record on the bench. He's got a 12-year record on the bench.

HARLOW: Margaret. HOOVER: That's exactly right. I mean, here's the thing.

Politicians, you're right, have been accused of doing far worse, but they're politicians. Lifetime politicians. They're used to taking the slaying, taking the stuff, throwing it back. Judge Kavanaugh --

SCIUTTO: Well, he's got a history in politics. I mean, he worked for Ken Starr.


SCIUTTO: He worked in the Bush White House.

HOOVER: That's not to be opened to -- it's true, he has certainly had a little background, but he has never been on the line before like this the way political candidates are, all these people who are accused of things who maybe have done some of the things.


HOOVER: Here's the thing. I think it's almost a non sequitur to say judicial temperament and your temper in a moment like that when you're sort of in the cauldron, OK, 100 of his fellow colleagues on the bench were interviewed about his judicial temperament and the ABA came back and reported that he has outstanding or excellent judicial temperament.

How you garner yourself in third-party suits where you are an independent judge of the facts, not dealing with your own case in front of you, is an entirely different thing.

SCIUTTO: He's got a long record.

HOOVER: And so I just -- I think this notion that one's temper in a very hot, heated political cauldron somehow says something about their judicial temperament is a total non sequitur. And it's -- I do think it's not fair.

SCIUTTO: Do you think his political attacks in that environment where he shot back at Democrats, Hillary Clinton --

HARLOW: Clinton.

HOOVER: I think you saw a bit of temper there, but that's not judicial temperament.

HARLOW: But it doesn't show partisanship when he's going to be --


HOOVER: Well, that's a different question, though --

HARLOW: If he gets to the court he's going to have to consider --

HOOVER: That's a different question. Judicial temperament versus --

HARLOW: Gerrymandering cases, right? HOOVER: Right. But that's a totally different question. OK. So now

you're saying, well, is he too political? It's an entirely different debate. It feels like the goalposts keep moving.

HARLOW: And we do have to pay for this show and get commercials in. Otherwise I would love to have that debate. Thank you all very, very much.

SCIUTTO: Thanks to all of you.

HARLOW: So the Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley as we just said says nothing to see here. More on what we're hearing as people are poring through this FBI report on Judge Kavanaugh.

Also, Vice President Mike Pence about to deliver a scathing speech on China. It will no doubt increase tension. His words, we will not be intimidated. We will not stand down.

SCIUTTO: President Trump heading to Minnesota today to campaign for Republican candidates in crucial swing districts. Can he turn that state from blue to red, as he once promised?



HARLOW: All right, as we speak right now on Capitol Hill, senators are poring through their first look at the reopened FBI background check of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Lawyers representing one of Kavanaugh's accusers are calling foul. Deborah Ramirez who accuses Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her at a drunken party in Yale submitted a lengthy list of about 20 witnesses for FBI agents to interview, few were even contacted.

SCIUTTO: Let's get some insight from CNN legal analyst and former Clinton White House counsel Jack Quinn and former FBI assistant director Chris Swecker.

Jack, let me ask you this. Why would the FBI not cross-examine the people who are in effect the two main witnesses or alleged witnesses to this, Kavanaugh and Ford? And is that normal for a background investigation?

[10:20:01] JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: First of all, this supplemental investigation in itself is not entirely normal. This is out of the regular process. Any limitation that was put on the FBI was not self-imposed. Any limitation that was put on it, any restriction in terms of people to whom they might speak or subjects they might bring up was imposed, I believe, by the White House?

HARLOW: Senate Republicans.

QUINN: Well, yes, but the drivers in all of this is the White House. And the Senate Republicans. They're working hand in glove together, but it's the president's nominee, it's the president's team that wants desperately to get Brett Kavanaugh through as fast as possible. Because look, in the last week, during the time when the FBI was doing this investigation, there were all manner of secondary sources divulging really concerning information about the nominee. And none of that is included in this investigation.

HARLOW: Chris, to you, to Jack's point, I mean, Jim and I have been told by our FBI guests all week, it doesn't matter what the White House says. It doesn't matter what, you know, limits on scope the Senate Republicans put on this. FBI agents will do their job. They will follow all the leads until they get answers. So which is it?

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE DIVISION: You know, Jack's right. The primary client in these FBI special inquiries are the White House. These are White House nominations and the FBI has done thousands of them and have done follow-ups to some of them. So they are going to go to the core allegations. There's a difference of opinion out there as to other things, other extraneous things about how much he drank and whether he was drunker than he said he was when he said I drank too much sometimes. And they're cutting through all that. They're keeping their eye on the ball.

Now, I think they should have interviewed Dr. Ford. I think that would have been a good thing to do at the end of all of the interviews when they have facts or more information at hand, but, you know, again, I think that probably was driven by the White House.

QUINN: Comment. Look, I think these things are not separated. None of this is extraneous from the central point. The issue here is really, does Brett Kavanaugh tell the truth? He's been nominated to be on the highest court in the land. He sat in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and took an oath to tell the truth.

There is a litany of instances during that testimony in which one can legitimately wonder, did he tell the truth?

HARLOW: So -- and James Roche, who was his freshman college roommate at Yale, Chris Swecker, alleges that he didn't. But does that matter when all is said and done? You know, does that matter to the senators who will decide, because James Roche was not interviewed by the FBI?

SWECKER: Well --

QUINN: Yes --

SWECKER: Look -- is that for me or is that for Jack?

HARLOW: Yes. Yes, Chris.

SWECKER: Yes, I mean, I saw that interview. And I see that as one drunk rendering his opinion about the level of inebriation of another drunk. Totally irrelevant. A year after the sexual assault, alleged sexual assault incident. I really think we got a lot of people coming out of the woodwork just looking for their 15 minutes of fame.

How much he drank based on someone else's perception and his behavior during, you know, the times that he drank just doesn't seem to fit into the core allegations here.

SCIUTTO: Chris, 15 minutes of fame? I mean, you've seen the way some of these witnesses have been treated by some, whether it's Christine Blasey Ford alleging a sexual assault or others. Do you really believe that they're sticking their necks out on this purely for the attention? Because James Roche made the point that many other witnesses that he knows from the time have been reluctant to come out because they're worried about the treatment in the public sphere.

SWECKER: Yes, I can -- you can say that about the victims. I don't think you can say that about these roommates and other people who are coming forward and saying he drank more than he says he did when he -- and I heard him on during his testimony saying I drank too much sometimes.

You're talking about a matter of degree and a qualitative opinion from other people who were partying just as hard as he was. And not core to the allegation of sexual assault. I understand what you're saying, Jack, about the victim. I believe -- and I have three daughters and five granddaughters, and I get that completely. I have just seen over my career too many people come out of the woodwork with information just to get attention.

HARLOW: Final thought?

QUINN: More daughters who have a personal stake, but look, yes, final thought. For senators, for Senate Republicans in particular, to vote for Brett Kavanaugh, you have to, number one, either disbelieve or not care about what Dr. Ford said.

[10:25:03] And that needs to be brought home very clearly. Either you don't believe her, you think she's not telling the truth, and there are very few people in the country who believe that, or you just don't care. And secondly, you have to not care about the fact that a nominee for the highest judicial office in the land sat in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and broke the oath he took to tell the truth during those hearings. These are not unrelated things. It's not simply about the assault.

HARLOW: That is -- you believe he perjured himself and others don't, and it will be up to them to decide.

QUINN: Well, you know, if it were one thing or two things, but the number of instances during that testimony.


QUINN: In which he said things that are demonstrably untrue. I could go through the litany with you. That has to be very concerning. And the Senate is supposed to be in our constitutional system a check on the presidency. They have to give consent. They are absolutely abdicating that responsibility in moving this along.

SCIUTTO: You know, the way you framed that it in effect a senator faced with the same decision they would have been faced with on Friday. Do you believe her and do you believe the --

HARLOW: That's right.

SCIUTTO: The evidence of lying is disqualifying? We're going to find out because in the next 24, 48 hours.


SCIUTTO: They're going to vote.


SCIUTTO: Chris Swecker, Jack Quinn, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thanks, guys

SCIUTTO: A stern warning for China just days after a close encounter between U.S. and Chinese destroyers. The message that the U.S. is delivering to Beijing, it's a tough one, and that's next.