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Senators Are Now Viewing FBI Report on Brett Kavanaugh; Democrats Are Saying the Report Was Not Thorough Enough; Heitkamp Says She Will Vote No on Kavanaugh; Collins And Flake Indicate They Will Vote Yes for Now. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired October 4, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera in for Brooke Baldwin. Moments from now we're about to hear from Republican leadership, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holding a news conference about Judge Kavanaugh's nomination. And will bring that to you live just as soon as it begins.
It all comes as Senators are viewing that report that has consumed the nation. The seventh FBI background investigation of Brett Kavanaugh. But after one week of waiting, as the FBI worked, the nation is no closer to calming the controversy on this Supreme Court nominee. Protesters gathering in the nation's capital right now. With the FBI report done, the vote for Kavanaugh's confirmation appears to be on track to happen this weekend. However, as to whether we are closer to knowing if the man who may be the next Supreme Court justice committed sexual assault as a teen-ager, the answer remains as mired in partisanship as ever.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, MAJORITY LEADER: The fact is, these allegations have not been corroborated. None of these allegations have been corroborated in the seven investigations. Not in the new FBI investigation, not anywhere.
SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN, (D), CALIFORNIA: The most notable part of this report is what's not in it. It looks to be the product of an incomplete investigation that was limited, perhaps by the White House, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Now all eyes are on these five possible swing votes and what they view the FBI found. Both Republicans Susan Collins and Jeff Flake say the report looks, quote, thorough. And Flake says he found no additional cooperating evidence of the accusations made by Christine Blasey Ford.
There's just a single copy of this FBI report lying behind these closed doors. In what's called the SCIF, the Sensitive Compartment Information Facility, no cell phones allowed in, no personal notes allowed out. All 100 Senators will be allowed to see this report but it's possible that it will never be seen by you or me, the public. Let's go now to CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly
tracking all the latest developments. The Republican Senators, everyone's watching, Murkowski, Flake, Collins, they just finished viewing this document together?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. There's basically two ways this has been viewed up to this point. This morning there was a briefing led by the small number of Republican staffers and also Democratic staffers who have access to the report, four on each side. Then you have Senators going back and reading the document themselves. This is important to point out. The key thing that everybody's been focused on have been those initial comments from Senators Collins and Flake. Both saying they thought the report was thorough, Flake saying there was no additional corroboration in the report. That made Republicans very happy. That made them think the threshold to get to that yes vote, maybe they'll reach.
But it's worth noting, now that the Senators have gone back and are reviewing again, this is going to be a process that will continue throughout the day. Of note, not only do the Senators want to read it themselves, they want to read specific interviews themselves. Take a look at Mark Judge, the friend of Brett Kavanaugh, alleged to be in the room by Christine Blasey Ford during the alleged sexual assault, that's something the Senators have been very interested in.
We're told he sat down with the FBI more than three hours. Transcript of those interviews as part of the information they are going to receive. I think it's important to note. You played the sound from Senator Feinstein, from Senator McConnell. You're going to hear in 10, 15 minutes from Republicans who make very clear they believe the report clears Brett Kavanaugh, there's no corroboration.
And Democrats say the report didn't go nearly far enough. That's where they stand. For 95 Senators, that's where they stand. It's all about zeroing on those five Senators who are undecided. While there have been some positive signs from two Senators, the reality is the votes and commitments are not there and likely wouldn't be until the Senators finish doing their work throughout the course of this day.
CABRERA: You are staying on top of it. Meantime, the President opted not to stop to speak with reporters as he headed out to a campaign rally in Minneapolis. Sarah Westwood joins us at the White House. The White House may be sensitive to not rock the boat as Senators are looking at this report.
[14:05:00] SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Ana. Right now, the White House is trying to avoid scrutiny of the narrow scope of this FBI investigation by pointing the finger at the senate. White House officials are saying they only communicated to the FBI what Senators said they wanted to learn from this background investigation. Here's what White House spokesman Raj Shah had to say about the White House role in the process earlier this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: Any background investigation has to have some form of limiting scope, and this time it's always in these matters set by the White House but woo defer to the senate's request. The FBI has trained professionals. We have not micromanaged their process. They did follow-up interviews with people who could have seen firsthand accounts or be able to provide additional information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WESTWOOD: Right now, the only consensus on Capitol Hill is there was little new uncovered in this report. Republicans would argue that was because these allegations were unfounded in the first place and Democrats were saying it was because there were some constraints on the FBI, it was impossible for investigators to conduct a real investigation. The challenge for the White House at this point is those remaining undecided Senators, the moderate Republicans and Democrats, they're not necessarily lawmakers who would want to hear from Trump, who would benefit politically from the perception of having worked with Trump on this nomination, so Trump's utility is at this point pretty limited. But they're saying they've gotten their nominee that much closer to the position with the completion of this FBI report.
CABRERA: Thanks to you. As Senators review this FBI back ground report on Kavanaugh, here's the list of people interviewed by investigators. There are nine in total with CNN learning the identities of six. Including the second woman to come out with an accusation, Deborah Ramirez, Mark Judge, Leland Keyser, Patrick Smyth, Tim Gaudette and Chris Garrett. Joining us is Gloria Borger, Michael Zeldin and Maureen O'Connell, a former FBI special agent. Gloria, a week ago vulnerable Republicans were in a tough spot. Does that change after today's report?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it gives them a talking point. The talking point is that Jeff Flake requested this investigation, there was an investigation. There was no corroborating evidence here and, therefore, they're going to vote for judge Kavanaugh. So, I think it does give them a little bit of leeway here if they are inclined to vote for Kavanaugh because they come from red states. It does give them that extra bit of push to say, you know what, you can do it, and there won't be hell to pay because from Democrats as much because had at least this extra week.
CABRERA: Flake came out initially before this investigation, this additional probe, to say he was a yes on Kavanaugh. We know where he was trying to get to. Senator Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, however, the two Republican women who we have seen at time break with this President, are they in the same boat in terms of the factors they may be weighing into their decision?
BORGER: No, I think they may be really very much in a different boat. First of all, neither one of them intends to retire this year. And, secondly, I think even Murkowski and Collins are in different boats. Murkowski in Alaska has got a sizable population of natives who don't like the way Kavanaugh has ruled in a bunch of cases, and she's also got a huge issue with sexual assault in the state of Alaska. So, she may be weighing other issues in addition to roe v. Wade, for example. Collins very concerned about roe v. Wade. She said she doesn't believe he will overturn roe. She's getting a lot of pressure from her more moderate states and moderate Republicans in her state saying, you know, this investigation should have been broader than it was. And so, both of these women are under a great deal of scrutiny back home but for different reasons.
CABRERA: Maureen, what are the Senators actually looking at? Describe this 302 report for us.
[14:10:00] MAUREEN O'CONNELL, A FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: So, they're looking at what is essentially a narrative of the interviews that they've conducted and potentially narratives of other -- or a summary of some of the other background investigations that have been done previous to this one. The investigators will most probably write down the questions that were asked and the responses and whether or not things were corroborated or not have been done previous to this one. The investigators will most probably write down the questions that were asked and the responses and whether or not things were corroborated or not corroborated or just the overall totality of the person's statement. I think a lot is going to be -- they're going to rely heavily on Judge's, Mark Judge's testimony.
CABRERA: This was a supplemental background check, not a criminal investigation. How does that change things?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: May I say one thing first? The FBI 302 is a summary of interview. It is not a transcript. These things have not been recorded. You're going to get filtered through the FBI agent the summary of what the witness said to Maureen's point. And these supplementals are just that. They are intended to embellish on that that was investigated before. The key is the scope that they are allowed to inquire into. If they are narrowly circumscribed, they will not find corroborative evidence because you can't find something you're not allowed to look for. What we don't know is what did White House Counsel McGahn agree to with Grassley with respect to the scope. Until we know that, it allows each side they found no corroboration and the or side to say of course because you weren't given breadth to look for it. So, we're back in the armed camps that we were before this investigation.
BORGER: I think we can say while we don't know the exact scope because we haven't seen a document, but I think it's fair to say that they were not looking into his high school drinking, which would have then or could have then raised questions about the issue of whether he was telling the truth before the committee or not. It seeps to me that what they were really focused on were professor Ford's charges and that was largely what they were investigating and Ms. Ramirez's charges. But this notion of drinking, et cetera, I don't think was part of their purview.
CABRERA: Everybody, stay with us. We're coming to you next. I've got to get in a quick break. We continue to await this news conference with Republican leaders talking about Judge Kavanaugh's nomination. We will bring that to you live as well. We are also monitoring anti-Kavanaugh protests right now. This is outside the Supreme Court in D.C. we have a live report straight ahead. [14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: Welcome back. We are monitoring two developing stories right now, both related to Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh. On your left you see protesters gathering outside the Supreme Court. They do not want to see Kavanaugh confirmed. On the right, we're waiting to hear from Senate majority leaders. Chuck Grassley, the chairman there, will be bringing us their take on this new FBI report. I want to bring back our panel to continue our discussion. Maureen, we do know this report is over a thousand pages long, we know the FBI interviewed nine people and interviewed people from the tip line. What's your assessment of how complete this investigation ended up being?
O'CONNELL: I'm sure they checked off every box they needed to check off and that thousand pages have to do with testimony given to them and the corroborating or refuting the information that was given to them. So, for example, if Mark Judge gave them 400 different statements, they went out and corroborated whether or not those were truthful or lies. Some of them are very easy to corroborate, some more difficult but they were given the amount of time they were given. That being said, the scope of the investigation was determined by the Senate and they gave that to the FBI. The time constraints I think could have been much, much greater had this information been provided, you know, quietly and discretely to the FBI when it was received initially a couple months ago.
CABRERA: We have this information just in. I want to get to you, Gloria, to get your reaction. We're learning Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota is telling a local station there she's going to vote no. How significant is that?
BORGER: I think it's largely significant. We were talking about before the red state Democrats, Heidi Heitkamp's most recent poll numbers have been terrible. She's around a dozen points behind her competitor. It was a much closer race before this whole Kavanaugh controversy erupted.
[14:20:00] And I think Heidi Heitkamp came out today because she saw the poll numbers and saw the writing on the wall and did not want to fall on her sword on this nomination. So, to me it's not much of a surprise that she did this today.
CABRERA: We know the Democrats had been pointing to who wasn't interviewed, what isn't in this report; namely, Ford and Kavanaugh. The Republicans have said they didn't need to interview them because they already had several hours of in that open hearing before the public. Does that reasoning make sense to you?
ZELDIN: No. It doesn't make sense to me because if you listen to the words of the special prosecutor that the Republicans brought in to interview Blasey Ford during that structure, she said at the very end there's nothing that indicates that five-minute increments interrupted by other questioners is a coherent way to obtain a statement. I think she's right about that. To say that her process of acquiring information is a substitute for an interview as opposed to the written statement that Blasey Ford gave to open her testimony is correct. It is not comprehensive and I think the FBI would have been advised to speak to her and to Judge Kavanaugh in order to complete their review properly.
CABRERA: We know professor Ford's lawyers are upset about this process. They sent the FBI a letter to the director, Christopher Wray, providing a list of people they believe should have been interviewed, not just for herself but they write in part, quote, several people could have offered more light, saying none were contacted, nor to our knowledge were a dozen other names we provided to the FBI whose interviews would have challenged the credibility of Judge Kavanaugh's testimony before the Senate committee including the Ford's husband, others Ford reportedly told about the alleged assault previously. Maureen does Wray have the ability to act on something like this or are his hands tied?
O'CONNELL: I believe that Director Wray would have the ability to do that. However, we're talking about this scope that was given to us and with regard to Dr. Ford's legal team, they're not the investigators in charge of this inquiry, and they're not trained investigators. So, you know, the bureau did what they do very, very well and they're exceptional at. Now, they've got hours and hours and hours of testimony of both Dr. Ford and judge Kavanaugh. And there's enough information there to either prove or disprove the allegations that Dr. Ford specifically made against judge Kavanaugh. And that's -- the main construction of that -- of all of her testimony are the four other people that she says were in that room. So, she took everybody single statement. They interviewed each of those people at length. People think if you only interview four people, you can't get that much information. If they interview each person for four hours and prove that what they're saying is true on almost every single level, that really means a lot, specifically when it was hard for Dr. Ford to answer a lot of these questions. You know, there were a lot of gaps in her stories and there were several inconsistencies. So, when you're weighing that against four other people, that's pretty compelling evidence.
CABRERA: However, Brett Kavanaugh also didn't answer every question thoroughly that was asked of him before the Senate Judiciary Committee when he was testifying. Would you have had any follow-up questions for him?
O'CONNELL: Well, I have enough information -- I would have had enough information and I trust the judgment of these seasoned investigators with the FBI. I know my colleagues, I know how they work. I would say that they were looking at everything he said and they were probably back stopping some of that as well.
ZELDIN: You see, but the problem is here that this was not a criminal investigation so the process that Maureen is speaking to is more normative for a criminal investigation. This was a background investigation where the parameters were set by the Senate and White House. And Christopher Wray had his narrow mandate. They didn't go to Timmy's house to see if it conformed, they didn't go to Safeway to see
if her testimony was corroborated. Without knowing what the scope of their authority is, we cannot go as far as Maureen is wanting us to go, I think.
[14:25:00] CABRERA: Stay with us. I have to take another quick break as we await the Republican leaders and their news conference set to begin any moment. Stay with CNN.
CABRERA: Welcome back. As we await this public news conference, Heidi Heitkamp has just said she will vote no on confirming Brett Kavanaugh. She is one of two key red state Democrats. I want to bring in CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza. Now we know where she stands. The other person is Joe Manchin. He has got to go look at this report himself at 4:00. Do you think it becomes more likely he votes with Heitkamp?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: I still think no, though honestly, Ana, if I had been up here at 1:35 than 2:35, I would have probably said Heitkamp would have said no. And the reason is the same Donald Trump carried her state by 36 points. He carried West Virginia Joe Manchin's state by 43. They are both up for reelection in 33 days. There's polling in North Dakota that suggests twice as many people would be dissuaded from voting for Heitkamp if she voted against this as it would be if she voted for it.
There's a lot of reasons to think she would vote for it, political reasons. My guess is she would say it was a principle vote. I think it likely she would lose reelection before this and likely she'll lose after this. Manchin is his own creature, remember he was the governor of the state, he is popular. He is ahead in his race, whereas Heitkamp has been behind. The biggest thing we focus on Democrats so now we focus on a Democrat, biggest thing to remember, Collins, Flake, Murkowski. Those three, if they are for Kavanaugh, what they said, especially Flake and Collins --
CABRERA: You feel like it is leaning their direction?
[14:30:00] CILLIZZA: Then it doesn't matter. Because that's 51 Republicans and it doesn't matter what Joe Manchin does and it doesn't matter that Heidi Heitkamp is against it.
CABRERA: Is it surprising that she put herself out there not knowing where the others stood or do you think she knows something we don't?
CILLIZZA: Always possible she knows something I don't. Let's leave it at that. I'm a little bit surprised in that I thought the Democrats might wait to see where the three Republicans went first. I never thought Heidi Heitkamp was going to be the 50th vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. Same reason I don't think Joe Manchin will be the 50th vote. If they are the decider and two Republicans say no and they need that Democratic vote to confirm them, Heidi Heitkamp is not going to be that person, Joe Manchin is not going to be that person. The pressure from the Democratic side to not be that person would be immense. Could I see Joe Manchin being the 52nd vote? Sure.
CABRERA: When you look at the polling that's come out in the last couple of days, you do see the gap closing with Republicans and Democrats.
CILLIZZA: No question.
CABRERA: It seems to imply that Republicans have a little bit of momentum right now.
CILLIZZA: Yes. Remember, and this has been true since judges existed until today the Republican base cares deeply about the federal judiciary, appeals court.