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Five Senators May Decide Confirmation; White House is Confident for Confirmation; Senators Reviewing FBI Report. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 4, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Just remember those words.

That does it for me right now. An amazing hour today. I'm Kate Bolduan.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

The clock is ticking towards a monumental vote on whether Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court. And the tension here in Washington is palpable right now as key senators pore over the FBI's new report. Now that report is not being released to the public.

This just in as well from a key Republican senator, Jeff Flake, the man who forced the investigation in the first place. He said, we've seen no additional corroborating information.

And Republican Senator Bob Corker, who is often critical of the Trump White House, but now is supportive of Brett Kavanaugh, he echoed that.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: For me, again, no corroboration of any allegation that's been made. Not any corroboration. Very clear.


BASH: Now, there are many unknowns on Capitol Hill at this dramatic hour. But amid all the sterm (ph) and drang (ph), the only unknown that matters in the short-term is this, how will the new FBI background check that senators are reviewing right now affect the decisions of five key senators.

Now, there are doors that you see on the screen there. They lead to a secure room in the Capitol. Inside, the key to Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation, and an FBI supplemental background investigation.

Now, the bureau interviewed nine more witnesses trying to get at a key question, is there any corroboration, anything that would proves or disproves accusations that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault.

Now, I already mentioned that Senator Jeff Flake said he has seen no additional corroborating information. Another one of those key senators, Republican Susan Collins, said this just moments ago after a briefing on the FBI report. She said, it appears to be a very thorough investigation, but I'm going back later today to personally read the interviews.

Now, as for the leadership in both parties, reaction is predictable. The Republican majority is definitive, saying -- at least Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said there is nothing in it that we didn't already know.

Now, here is his Democratic counterpart, Dianne Feinstein, and the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The most notable part of this report is what's not in it. As we noted by the White House, the FBI did not interview Brett Kavanaugh, nor did the FBI interview Dr. Blasey Ford.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: We had many fears that this was a very limited process that would constrain the FBI from getting all the facts. Having received a thorough briefing on the documents, those fears have been realized.


BASH: But, again, to reiterate, frankly a lot of that is partisan noise because it is Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp, three Republicans, two Democrats, are the only names that really matter at this hour.

How those five senators interpret the documents and the contents will determine Brett Kavanaugh's fate.

Let's get straight to CNN's Phil Mattingly, live on Capitol Hill.

And, Phil, just want to, as I toss to you, talk again about what we've heard in the last hour from two of the five key senators. Susan Collins saying she thinks it was a thorough report. And maybe, even more importantly, Jeff Flake saying -- saying he did not see any additional corroborating information. Take me behind the scenes in what you're seeing and hearing up there on The Hill.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, those quotes are everything. And, Dana, you know as well as everybody else, we've been chasing these five senators, those two senators in particular, pretty much every day. Susan Collins has essentially kind of stopped talking to people, she'd work through this process as she's waited for the FBI to finish its investigation and send it up to Capitol Hill. And Susan Collins is not known to be loose with her words. She is known to telegraph when she wants to say something. And that's what she did today.

Now it's important to point out, both Senators Flake and Collins said that they've only received the briefing on the report. As a couple of people have noted, the reported is, we're told, more than 1,000 pages long. Both Collins and Flake said they did plan to go back and review the report personally later in the day. They'll have the option to do that. But those initial returns mean everything.

I've been going back and forth with Republican aides, most of whom felt confident going into this day about what they think now -- what they're hearing from Senators Collins and Flake and they feel very good that things are on the right track.

I think the key issues here are a couple. First and foremost, if there wasn't an explosive confirmation of one of the allegations in this report, Republicans felt like they were going to be in a good place. You've heard repeatedly from Republicans that they did not think that they saw that.

Now, you've heard from Democrats also saying the biggest issues here are the facts of what's not in the report. They're not pointing to things in the report which obviously they can't disclose publically, saying that they're troubled by them. They're saying they're troubled by the scope of the investigation, not specifics of the report.

[12:05:06] The other thing here, and this is just to drill down a little bit more. One of the key issues for both Senators Flake and Collins has been an interview with Mark Judge, the friend of Brett Kavanaugh. That is one of the primary reasons this FBI investigation was launched in the first place. We are told that that interview occurred and it was three hours long. Except the senators to go back and read the transcripts of that.

But, Dana, right now, if you just had to gauge everything with that vote coming on Friday, Republicans feel very good about what they're hearing right now.

BASH: They sure do. And three hours is a significant amount of time Cleary for people like, you alluded to this, Phil, Susan Collins, who what -- one of the main reasons she wanted this additional investigation was to speak to that man who Christine Blasey Ford alleges was at the party -- not just at the party, in the room when she says she was attacked.

Phil, please keep us posted. We know things are fast moving up there. Anything you got, just raise your hand and we're going to get right back to you, OK?

Now, here with me to share their reporting and insights, Julie Pace with the "Associated Press," "Bloomberg's" Sahil Kapur, Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times," and CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

OK, so, let's just -- let's do the simple math here, right? You have Jeff Flake, who again forced this investigation in that dramatic way last week because he wanted to get a better sense of whether or not these allegations were true. He said, no corroborating information. Again, he was a yes in the committee. He was a yes publicly for the nomination. Doesn't sound like anything has changed for him.

So, what does that mean in terms of simple math? Then the Republicans need one more, just one more vote, in order to put Brett Kavanaugh over the top and make him justice. And listening to Susan Collins, she certainly hasn't said where she's going to go. But the fact that she thinks it was a thorough investigation seems to be a -- a little bit of a tell-tale sign that this could be the ballgame.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": And you've gotten the sense from Collins throughout this process that she's looking for a reason to get to yes.

BASH: Absolutely.

PACE: We've gotten a different sign, I think, from Lisa Murkowski, who's this other swing Republican. But Susan Collins, throughout this, has been -- has been speaking favorably about Kavanaugh on the issues. And then when the Blasey Ford allegations came forward, was using her words very carefully, as Phil mentioned, but always seemed to be pushing toward a yes vote.

Obviously she -- it appears she still needs to actually read what's in the FBI investigation, but I think what she said was incredibly significant because this while Democratic argument is going to be that this was not a complete investigation, that there were -- there was information that was withheld. And if she's already come out and said that she disagrees with that argument, it's hard to see then where her wiggle room is to oppose him.

BASH: Yes, and --

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Which is going to be a tough vote for her in Maine, though, because I would say no other senator has heard more opposition. And she's one of the rare Republican senators who's swimming a bit upstream. I mean it's -- it's more of a blue state there. So, you know, we'll see what she decides to do ultimately.

But for anyone who thinks this is -- we're at the same position as a week ago, we're actually not. This is incredibly a different moment. And the White House has never felt more confident.

You know, people I'm talking to this morning are asking questions now. Why didn't they order this FBI investigation almost three weeks ago? Could they have saved a lot for Judge Kavanaugh? Could they have saved a lot of personal anguish for him? We don't know the answer to who was --

BASH: But that was a White House call.

ZELENY: It was a White House call, but it was a Don McGahn call --

BASH: Exactly.

ZELENY: Chief counsel, who was talking to Judge Kavanaugh. So -- so he was --

BASH: Well, privately, there's actually grumbling on Capitol Hill about that, about (INAUDIBLE) McGahn -- ZELENY: Without question. That would have changed everything.

But, again, we should, you know, just wait 24 hours because we thought we were at -- at this point a week ago. But it is a different moment. You can feel the difference. And people want to get on with this.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": And it took a major like weapon from the Democratic arsenal, right, because Democrats are now in this position where they're arguing really over how this was conducted. Was it a thoroughly conducted FBI investigation? Who sent out the orders for what -- the parameters of this investigation would be? And, you know, the rule of thumb here is when you're fighting about process issues, it tends to be not so great for you.

So, Democrats, it does feel, at least right now in this moment, and again things are moving quickly, that they are definitely on the defense.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": And this looks now, as it always did, likely to come down to Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Jeff Flake was a yes before this investigation, as you pointed out, Dana. Nothing has changed. He still appears to be a yes. Two undecided Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp. I would be surprised if they -- either of them comes out as a 50th vote on this nomination.

LERER: Right.

KAPUR: It seems like they're a little bit in wait and see mode.

But Collins and Murkowski, the calculus is not simply about this investigation. The question before them is not, you know, whether there's beyond reasonable doubt that Brett Kavanaugh is guilty. The issue is not his freedom, it's whether he gets promotion to the highest court.

Now, Joe Donnelly, another Democratic senator who voted for Neil Gorsuch, came out and said the allegations are credible and disturbing and that's enough for him, in his view, to deny a promotion.

Murkowski also has an issue with Alaska natives.

LERER: Right.

PACE: Yes.

KAPUR: This is not -- nothing people are talking about. This is --

BASH: Right.

KAPUR: This is the single most important thing for her. Her governor, her lieutenant governor are against this nomination. They're advocates on behalf of Alaska natives, which are about 15 percent of the state, who question whether Kavanaugh is supportive of constitutional programs and protections for them. It's a huge issue that she's facing.

BASH: It's a huge issue and, you know, not to go too deep in the history of this, but history does drive, you know, the future and where -- where people stand, Lisa Murkowski lost a Republican primary way back when -- I guess maybe not that long ago -- and she was -- she had the historic write-in conversation and a write-in vote that allowed her to be a senator. And a big part of that was the native population in her state. They helped drive it in a big way and she hasn't forgotten that. And they don't like --

[12:10:27] KAPUR: And moderates.

BASH: And moderates. And moderates.

PACE: It also means that she owes very little to GOP leadership.

BASH: Exactly. That's the flip side of that.

PACE: Because of that write-in.

ZELENY: Except for a chairmanship, which she very much enjoys.

And that's one thing that whenever we have a close vote on Capitol Hill, yes, the phone calls matter, yes, the protests matter, but people genuinely usually vote with their friends and other things. And Senator McConnell, you know, is a driving force in this. But I would say, if there's a wildcard at this moment, I would say the wildcard is much more Lisa Murkowski than anyone else.

BASH: I think you're right.

Let's -- you talked about Mitch McConnell. He had -- you know, he's been increasing in his sort of -- the vinegar in his statements over the past week or so. And it certainly was the same this morning. He was incredibly tough on the notion that he said the Senate is the one that's on trial here, not anything else. Let's listen and talk about it.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: For goodness sake, this is the United States of America. Nobody is supposed to be guilty until proven innocent. Is that what the Senate's going to be known for? Your nomination comes up here and we destroy your reputation? Trying to intimidate the Senate into defeating a good man? Are we going to allow this to happen in this country?


BASH: It's so interesting because obviously he is echoing what he is hearing and what Republicans across the country are saying is, give me a break, Judge Kavanaugh is being railroaded. But the last part where he talked about the fact that -- what he was alluding to were that there are protesters who are trying to talk to senators at the airport and at their houses and -- and it has gotten -- it's escalated in a way that I don't remember ever seeing. So, yes, they could be intimidating senators. But the flipside is,

aren't they doing what they're supposed to be doing and telling senators how they want it a vote to go?

PACE: Right. I mean --

LERER: Right.

PACE: Certainly I think the tension on The Hill is quite high right now and the physical proximity has gotten scary I think for some of these lawmakers who are really right in the middle of this fray. But people are there to represent their constituents. So they've got a very basic level, like, this is how the democracy is supposed to be working. So it's a little ironic to have such pushback to that idea.

LERER: But I think it underscores how big this fight is, which is that, yes, of course it's a huge political battle and it's the whole court, you know, the position of the court for a generation, and all these things, but it's also become this very cultural fight.

BASH: Yes.

LERER: It's dovetailed -- the politics have dovetailed with this very like high pressure cultural moment that we're living in, which is, of course, Me Too and the role of women in our society and all these things.

So you had these really strong forces clashing. And that's why I think you see these very emotional confrontations of sexual assault survivors targeting not just Flake, but there's been a campaign to target a lot of these members.

BASH: And we have to take a quick break. As we do, I want to -- I want to show you and our viewers something that just happened on that note. A quick look at how high stakes the Senate -- the issues are for the senators on the fence. Look at what happened inside the office of Senator Susan Collins.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I will stand here in Collins's office for as long as I need to and every other senator who is planning to vote yes on this confirmation.




[12:17:53] BASH: The White House message today to senators is simple and direct, you got the report you wanted, now let's wrap this thing up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: We feel very confident, without getting into the details, we feel very confident that when the senators have an opportunity to review this material, as they're already -- they're just beginning to right now, that they're going to be comfortable voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.

The president, the White House, are firmly behind Brett Kavanaugh.


BASH: So to everybody here, but particularly those of you who are at the White House every day, what is your sense in -- you mentioned this a little bit in the last segment. But what is your sense in kind of the after action report. Not that they're there yet, but in the after action report about whether or not they could have handled this a bit differently?

ZELENY: I'm hearing a couple things consistently from a lot of people, which always is the best sign that it might be some version of the truth.

BASH: Especially in this White House.

ZELENY: Exactly.

One is that the president was not reluctant to do the FBI investigation, to reopen that. He did not object to that. There was objection in the White House counsel's office because of that, because they thought if we give them anything, you know, we'll sort of open the door to things. So that's one area, why didn't they do that?

And also that Fox News interview. A lot of people are questioning why Judge Kavanaugh sat for that Fox interview, which allowed other, you know, who went to high school and college with him, it gave them four extra days to sort of flood the zone with, you know, their own versions of stories that he wasn't a choir boy. So those are two points here.

But, interestingly, the president has been a bit all over the map on this. He has been supportive of him. But, privately, in some respects, he wants this fight to continue. I even talked to people who said that he would be fine if Kavanaugh goes down because in the short term that would help Republicans in the midterm elections. Others are like, no, no, no, Mr. President, we don't know what's happening with the senate and want to get him confirmed.

And the president, of course has remained supportive. But that is one thing he's talked about.

But the emotion thing we talked about earlier, just really fast, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said yesterday, keep emotion out of it, it should be facts only. The president is stoking emotions.

PACE: Yes, good luck with that.

ZELENY: I was at that Mississippi rally -- BASH: Yes.

ZELENY: And he is at the center of stoking emotions. My guess is he'll do it again tonight in Minnesota.

[12:20:04] BASH: And on that -- I'm glad you brought that up because there is -- there are different points of view, as there usually are, with regards to how the president is leading on this.

I want to put up something that Brett Stevens (ph), a conservative, said in "The New York Times" in an opinion piece on this very issue. I'm grateful because Trump has not backed down in the face of the slipperiness, hypocrisy and dangerous standard setting deployed by opponents of Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. I am grateful because ferocious and even crass obstinacy has its uses in life and never more so than in the face of sly, moral bullying. I'm grateful because he's a big, fat hammer fending off a razor sharp dagger.

Pretty interesting language there. But it's obvious that this is kind of giving voice to a lot of the Republicans that we're seeing out there, rank and file voters, who are waking up. Maybe not enough, but waking up to the idea that, you know, there are a lot of issues at stake and the Democrats, so far, they have been the one with all the energy.

LERER: Yes, so we are seeing -- you know, I spent a couple hour this morning talking to a number of Republican pollsters and they are seeing a real tightening. There was a lot of concern about this enthusiasm gap. The Democrats, who are very, very eager to vote in November were polling 12, 15 points higher than Republicans. And that's significant. So they have seen a tightening of that, which they attribute to the Kavanaugh confirmation.

And there's no question that President Trump definitely always has this instinctual feel for his base. And we know that his base feels like white men are under attack, that this is the wronging of a white man. There's been data on that, that shows that people who vote for the president are more likely to see that kind of bias in society. So he's playing right into those arguments. He's motivating his base of supports. But, you know, it's not Election Day.

BASH: It's not.

LERER: We have a long way to go.



BASH: And, this is, if I may, this is also the president of the United States, who, no matter what your party, a president is supposed to show leadership.

Ben Sasse, again, another Republican who is no fan of the president but is going to vote to support Brett Kavanaugh, said this on the floor.


SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: We all know that the president cannot lead us through this time. We know that he's dispositionally unable to restrain his impulse to divide us. His mockery of Dr. Ford last night in Mississippi was wrong, but it doesn't really surprise anyone. It's who he is.


BASH: And that's the big question, you know, OK, we're going to have this vote, but the cultural moment is probably just beginning, not ending.

KAPUR: Exactly. It's very clear that the strategy here from the president, and from Mitch McConnell, is to rally the base and create a counter narrative. They said treat her, his accuser, fairly. We say treat him fairly. You know, so, what we're seeing in the polls right now is that that has impacted the enthusiasm aspect that you talked about. Republicans are more juiced by this. But it's only going to worsen the gender gap, I think, for them, which is most poignant in the House where these suburban districts, with lots of women, college educated women, who are already turned off by Trump are going to (INAUDIBLE).

PACE: And that comment, though, is what drives Democrats and moderate Republicans crazy because they say if you feel that way about the president, he is unable to lead us, why do you continue to vote with him. Ben Sasse will be a yes vote for Kavanaugh, as he has been on pretty much every other issue.

LERER: Right, and likely so will Flake, which is the same.

PACE: Exactly.

LERER: But, you know, it's important to note, the enthusiasm gap is moving. They -- pollsters told me that they haven't seen the same movement in the ballot. And, at the end of the day, that's what matters.

BASH: That's all that matters.

OK, everybody stand by. We're going to talk a lot more about that later in the show.

Up next, senators are getting a look, finally, of that super-secret FBI report. What does this kind of investigation actually entail? We're going to talk to some experts on that, next.


[12:28:25] BASH: CNN has learned that the FBI interviewed nine people for its probe into the Kavanaugh allegations. Sources tell CNN, the FBI talked to Deborah Ramirez, she's the woman who accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her at Yale, Mark Judge, Kavanaugh's Georgetown Prep classmate who Ford says was in the room when she was allegedly assaulted, Leland Keyser, who Ford also says was at that same party 36 years ago, Patrick Smyth, another Prep classmate also allegedly at that part, Chris Garrett, also went to Prep and Kavanaugh -- with Kavanaugh, also allegedly attended that July 1982 party that appeared on Kavanaugh's calendar. And also Tim Gaudette, he is connected to that same July party.

Now, the names of the other three on the FBI's list are unknown.

The White House insists it did not interfere with the FBI probe.


RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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 we deferred to the Senate's requests.

The FBI has trained professionals. We have not micromanaged their process. They did follow-up interviews with people who could have seen -- who could have seen firsthand accounts or be able to provide additional information.


BASH: Joining me now, former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes, CNN legal analyst Shan Wu, and CNN's Evan Perez.

Evan, you've got some new reporting on what went into this FBI investigation.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the senators are now in this secure room reading these documents. There are over 1,000 pages that are included in these documents. And the FBI ended up including information that was unilaterally brought into the FBI through the tip lines. As you know, there were people calling. There were people who were sending stuff online.

[12:30:11] The question is, what is in that information?