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Rosenstein Traveling with Trump to Florida; Trump: Blasey Ford a Democrat Hoax; Trump: A Lot of Democrats Will Vote Republican After Kavanaugh Hearings; McConnell Won't Commit to GOP Rule on Election Year Court Vacancy; Hurricane Michael Headed for Florida Panhandle; 20 Dead in Limousine Accident in New York. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 8, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, I'm traveling with Rod. I didn't know Rod before. But I've gotten to know him, and I get along very well with him.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President? Mr. President?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hello, everyone. This is Kate Bolduan.

You have been listening to President Trump as he's heading out of the White House. He'll be heading down to Florida today. Speaking about two big issues, now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and also who's going to be joining him on his trip down to Florida, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Remember, the same Rod Rosenstein the "New York Times" had been reporting that had discussed secretly recording the president after his firing of then-FBI Director James Comey back in 2017. And what the status of -- his employment status has been a huge question. Now, he's heading down with the president to Florida.

Let me get to the White House now. CNN's Abby Phillip is there.

Abby, it seems like are we at a point where we can say the president, when it comes to Rod Rosenstein, is saying let bygones be bygones?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does seem like President Trump is not talking like a man who is preparing to fire someone today. In fact, inviting him onto Air Force One and saying it is going to be very nice to have him there, as he goes down to Florida for this police convention.

Now, the president, I was struck by how much he emphasized the good relationship he had with Rosenstein. He noted that he didn't really know him all that well up until recently. But he said repeatedly, we have a very good relationship. He didn't answer questions about whether or not he was still thinking about firing him or if he intended to. And again, Kate, I don't think that getting a ride on Air Force One is necessarily the way you would do that, so it does appear that President Trump is not necessarily gearing up for something dramatic in that respect today.

But we also know that this is the conversation we have been waiting for the two of them to have. The president said he put off that conversation until after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, and now they're going down to Florida together. So there was that big issue.

But then you also heard President Trump do something else, which is gearing up for this big midterm fight. He's making a case against Democrats, saying they overplayed their hand with Kavanaugh. He said they were caught up in a hoax. Now, that is a very strong way of describing this. This was after weeks ago saying Christine Blasey Ford was credible, the president now calling this whole episode a hoax. It's interesting to see him in this mood, going down to Florida. Looks like Rod Rosenstein is having a conversation with him, but he could be in pretty good shape based on the president's mood today -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: The mood that can change on a dime.

Abby, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

As Abby is talking about the midterms, the president is also holding a primetime ceremonial swearing-in for Brett Kavanaugh, though he was sworn in over the weekend as well. That is happening also later today.

Joining me now to discuss all this, Jackie Kucinich is here, a CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief of the "Daily Beast," CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and Mark Preston, CNN's senior political analyst.

Mark, what a difference a week and a half makes, I guess, because it was a week and a half ago, I think, yes, about a week and a half ago that the president was supposed to sit down with Rod Rosenstein to have this conversation about his employment status. Mark, I think we both remember when we were trying to work out what the employment status was on live TV, for quite a while for Rod Rosenstein. What is this? What are we seeing today?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm not as confused or perhaps I am as confused. Kate, we go back to those 10 days, and you saw Donald Trump, we thought he was going to rip off Rod Rosenstein's head. He very well might do that. He may fire Rod Rosenstein or ask him to step down on this plane ride. We just don't know yet. It's interesting, we are judging really the fate of people's employ, the fate of people's careers, the fate of people's legacies based upon the mood of the president on a certain day. It's just amazing that we're at this point. So to your point, Kate, I still am confused.

BOLDUAN: Mark, we have to get past our confusion at some point, buddy.

PRESTON: I know.

BOLDUAN: We'll figure it out together. Jeffrey, what do you make of what he's saying about Rod Rosenstein?

He now says he has a very, very good relationship with him and they're going to have a nice chat on the plane. I'm struck by how uncharacteristic that is for the president of the United States to approach anyone who has threatened the 25th Amendment, according to the "New York Times," and talked about recording, secretly recording him. Why it's so easily overlooked now.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Let's remember why Rod Rosenstein matters.

BOLDUAN: Please. Please.

TOOBIN: Rod Rosenstein is the deputy attorney general of the United States. And because Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation, Rod Rosenstein is Robert Mueller's superior. He's the person who can fire Robert Mueller, the person who can decide what to do with Robert Mueller's report when it comes out. That's why his status matters.

I would not take what the president said today as the final word on Rosenstein's status. I think the president has probably been persuaded to put all these issues off until the end of the midterms -- until the midterms have taken place.


[11:05:10] TOOBIN: The president has all but said, explicitly, he's going to fire Jeff Sessions after the midterms. He may clean house at the Department of Justice. That will potentially create a new superior for Robert Mueller, someone who could fire him. That's why this is all important. I don't think most people could identify who the deputy attorney general of the United States was through most of American history. It's usually a pretty obscure role. But the reason we care about it today is because of Rod Rosenstein's relationship to the Mueller investigation.

BOLDUAN: And, Jackie, it is fascinating, because this was a conversation that was supposed to happen, and they decided to put it off because of the Kavanaugh hearings. They didn't want to overshadow or distract from the Kavanaugh hearing, what the White House said. The meeting then delayed, then delayed, and now the meeting is happening now, essentially, the day before the man steps on the court.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and I don't know what that means for Rosenstein's longevity, because the president doesn't seem as newly angry about the reports about Rosenstein either jokingly or not saying he wanted to wear a wire. I just don't think we know. That said, I wouldn't read too much into the good relationship comment. The president has said that about a number of people who are no longer employed inside the White House. I don't know that's an indication of good will or not. It usually ends up being a neutral term the president tends to use.

BOLDUAN: Let's move on. The other big issue the president is talking about. He seemed very focused on the impact of all of this, Brett Kavanaugh, and the process, if you will, on the midterm elections.

Mark, when the president says that he thinks there are doing to be a lot of Democrats voting for Republicans because of what has played out in the past couple weeks, where -- I mean, he can say that, and maybe he's right. What numbers is he looking at?

PRESTON: Right. Let me use a phrase he likes to use so often, and just very basic, it's fake news. What he's saying, it really coincides with his idea there's going to be a red wave in November. All the data shows that is not the case.

Look, we certainly have seen Republican, quote/unquote, "enthusiasm" increase over the past couple weeks. Certainly, around the Supreme Court fight. But the idea that Donald Trump thinks that Democrats necessarily in large swaths are going to vote Republican is insane. And that's just Donald Trump just shooting off his mouth without talking about anything that is factual. But we shouldn't be surprised by that.

Listen, at this point right now, I think we're heading into an election that's going to be very polarized. We know that already. We saw it this weekend, Kate. We saw Donald Trump go after not only Elizabeth Warren but Cory Booker and Joe Biden. We saw Cory Booker in Iowa going after Donald Trump. We saw Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts doing the same. We're in for some really nasty fights for the next few weeks.

BOLDUAN: Weeks, years, Mark.





BOLDUAN: Since it hasn't already happened.

Jackie, let me play what Mitch McConnell said just yesterday in an interview about how he would like to thank Democrats for how this has gone because it will help, he thinks, help Republicans. Listen to this.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I want to thank the other side for their tactics that have allowed us to kind of energize and get involved our own voters.


BOLDUAN: What do you think? I heard John Kasich over the weekend say it's a pox on both houses. Who is going to be -- where is it? Is it just for everyone to wait and see, buckle up, and I'll see you at the polls? Because Republicans say they're just as energize as Democrats now?

KUCINICH: We'll have to see. It is true, at the beginning of the Kavanaugh process, particularly when Christine Blasey Ford came out with her allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, you did feel the Republican Party, some fear about how this was going and how this would affect the midterms. Further energizing particularly Democratic and Independent women. And there was a tide turn, as this continued to roll out where Republicans started to really resent and get energized based on how Brett Kavanaugh was being written about in terms of some of the allegations from high school, about his drinking, and what not. So, and you heard Democrats at the end of the debate saying, privately, let's just get this over with because they saw the GOP base was uniting behind this nominee and behind the party. Now, how long the anger lasts, whether it lasts four weeks, which is like 1,000 news cycles from now, that's an open question.

BOLDUAN: Then the most amazing moment of the weekend, Jeffrey, is when Mitch McConnell decided to change the rules that Republicans have set themselves when it comes to Supreme Court nominations. The rule being you don't fill a vacancy in an election year. Now, you don't fill a vacancy in an election year when the opposing party is in control of the Senate. That seems to be the new rule. Watch this.


[11:10:18] MCCONNELL: You have to get back to 1880 to find the last time a Senate controlled by a different party from the president confirmed a Supreme Court justice to a vacancy created in the middle of a presidential election.

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: Mr. Leader, I don't think that's right. In 1956, Eisenhower nominated Brennan, the 84th Congress was a Democrat- controlled.

MCCONNELL: That's not exact -- that's not at all what happened, John.


BOLDUAN: The 1956 history is a bit more complicated, as we dove into it earlier this morning. Regardless, I don't think people should care that much about the date we're talking about. The fact of the matter is, Mitch McConnell is setting up to go back on a rule that Republicans set.

TOOBIN: That stopped Merrick Garland from getting a hearing or a vote.


TOOBIN: Look, Mitch McConnell has made it his mission as Republican leader to stop Democratic judicial appointees from being confirmed and to make sure Republican judicial officials get confirmed. He doesn't care if people like us call him a hypocrite for changing rules in the middle. If there's a Supreme Court vacancy the day before Donald Trump leaves office he'll try to fill it because this is what Mitch McConnell cares about. If he has a majority in the Republican Senate, that's what he's going to do.

BOLDUAN: What he's -- would it make it better if they were more candid about it, just say there are no rules?


BOLDUAN: Isn't that where we are?

TOOBIN: It depends who's the audience. One of the fascinating things about American politics, which I have never really understood, is that Democratic voters care less about the Supreme Court than Republican voters do. If you go back to the Republican -- Democratic convention in 2016, neither President Obama nor Hillary Clinton mentioned the fact that Merrick Garland was being held hostage at that very moment. The Republican base, which disdains President Trump's personal life, loves him because he has delivered on judges. That's a difference between the parties. Maybe Kavanaugh will help change that. But it's just worth noting, there's not an equal approach to the courts when it comes to Democrats and Republicans.

BOLDUAN: Guys, thanks so much.

I want to offer this up because it was hard to hear as the helicopters are always in the background. The president was asked directly about firing Rod Rosenstein, and his answer was, "No, I don't know," he said after he was asked if he had plans to fire Rod Rosenstein. "No, I don't know." That's what he said.


BOLDUAN: Oh, good question. What I'm reading in my e-mail is N-O.



BOLDUAN: Stand by to stand by.

Anyway, thanks, guys.

We have breaking news coming in. The National Hurricane Center just upgraded Tropical Storm Michael to a hurricane. It's expected to be strengthening -- to be gaining strength as it approaches the gulf coast. We'll give you details on that. That's coming up next.


[11:17:33] BOLDUAN: Breaking news. The National Hurricane Center has upgraded Tropical Storm Michael to a category 1 hurricane. This, as it appears to be on track to slam into the Florida panhandle on Wednesday.

Let's get the very latest on this. CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers, is in the Weather Center.

Chad, what are you watching right now? CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm watching this go from a 1 to a 2

to a 3 before landfall, Kate. This will be a major hurricane making landfall, plus or minus 100 miles from Panama City. It could be over to the right, at Apalachicola, or to the left, probably Pensacola. But we're only 48 or 54 hours from landfall. You go, wow, that really happened fast? The Gulf of Mexico is not very big and it's very warm. So the hurricane hunter aircraft have been in it, seeing the rainfall on their radar. They have also seen some wind speeds of almost 70 miles per hour. There's the latest, 70 miles per hour. That's not technically a hurricane, but the Hurricane Center said close enough. We're not going to mess with this. We know it's getting there. We know it's getting a lot bigger before it stops. So let's just make it a hurricane right now. Let people know this is going to be a big one. And 120 miles per hour, and some computer models are higher than that, making landfall somewhere here in that Florida panhandle area. Normally the right side is a lot worse than the left side. We'll have to keep watching that, but the cone is still somewhere between Pensacola and Apalachicola as we're still 48 hours away.

But then where does it go? Right over the area that flooded from the last storm. And there could be six inches of rainfall on top of those places because here's how the tracks are going to work. The American model and European model, the Euro, the yellow one here, turning to the right, right toward Charleston, and that's -- anywhere in that area doesn't need another drop of rain -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, no kidding. You mentioned it seemed to develop -- it really seemed to develop, I mean, kind of come out of nowhere. Is that just because that's how it works in gulf?

MYERS: It is how it works in the gulf. That Caribbean area by Cancun and Cuba, very warm water. Then you get into the Gulf of Mexico, we don't have shear pushing it and tearing it apart, a little bit but not a lot. And the heat of the water is just enough to make it explode, called rapid intensification. Some spots could have a 12-foot storm surge with this. So this is something to watch out for. You have 36 hours to make preparations. Boards up, water in your house, whatever it is. That's not a lot of time.

[11:19:56] BOLDUAN: No kidding.

Thanks, Chad. Really appreciate it.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the deadly limousine crash that killed 20 people, including four sisters. How did this happen? And what are investigators finding on the scene right now. We'll be right back.


[11:24:54] BOLDUAN: Heartbreaking details and no good answers today after a tragic and horrific crash in Upstate New York. An astounding 20 people, including four sisters and two brothers and newlywed couples, lost their lives after a limousine on its way to a birthday party lost control at an intersection. Everyone inside the vehicle died. And two pedestrians also who were hit. It's the deadliest transportation accident in the United States in a decade.

This morning, we're learning more details about the victims. Barbara Douglas lost two nieces in the crash.


BARBARA DOUGLAS, LOST TWO NEICES IN CRASH: They were fun loving. They were wonderful girls. They would do anything for you. And they were very close to each other. And they loved their family. They loved their parents. They had -- one has two little children and one has one child. And they now have no home or no parents.


BOLDUAN: Just devastating.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is live near the scene in Schoharie, New York.

Polo, what are you hearing there today?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, there are many questions that we will hopefully get answered in the next day or two, at least later this afternoon. The most important of which is how could this happen? Of course, as law enforcement tries to get to the bottom of that, the region where this horrible accident happened is left in a state of shock, in a state of mourning.

And that sadness is certainly palpable, as we have been talking to people who have been stopping near the scene, including New York Congressman John Faso, who represents the area.

Congressman, first off, our condolences to you and the rest of your constituents here.

What do you want the rest of the country to know about what the residents of New York's 19th congressional district are experiencing now?

REP. JOHN FASO, (R), NEW YORK: There's a lot of pain and extraordinary sadness. The lesson here is every life is precious. We should hug and love our family and our friends, and realize that every single day we have on this earth is a gift from God. There will be time for us to reconstruct this accident and the investigators and state police and the sheriff and the NTSB are already working on that to try to figure out what was the cause -- was it vehicle failure, was it driver incapacity, whatever -- but the main focus right now is on the 20 lives that were lost. The incredible sadness that this has brought to families in our region. And the fact that every day is precious. You have to love your family and friends and your loved ones and recognize that.

SANDOVAL: Congressman, thank you for your time. Again, we'll pray for your whole district.

FASO: Thank you. God bless you.

SANDOVAL: Thank you, sir.

Again, Kate, this is one of many people who have stopped by. The Congressman hitting on that point, of course, that the attention right now on these 20 individuals, but at the same time, pushing investigators to hopefully be able to reveal and eventually they'll find out what led to the horrible accident on Saturday afternoon.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and the ripple effects and the fallout, really not even beginning to set in for so many families of the lives that were lost.

Polo, thanks so much.

So was it speed? Was it the intersection which locals have called a dangerous one? Was it the limousine itself? There are so many questions for investigators as they try to figure out what went wrong.

Joining me now is someone with insight into what this investigation and what this investigation could look like, former head of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman. She's now the president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

Thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: If you were investigating this, what are the questions you would be looking for? What would you be doing right now, what questions do you want answers to today?

HERSMAN: So the investigators really want to look at the human, the machine, and the environment. So when it comes to the driver, they're going to want to understand everything with respect to the driver, his history, his work rest history, if he might have been impaired. They'll wand drug and alcohol tests, if there were medical conditions, and subpoenaing things such as cell phone records.

When it comes to the record, they want to make sure that 2001 vehicle that's been reported was in good working order. They're going to want to look at maintenance records and the information on that. They'll be documenting the environment, the physical scene. It's been reported that this intersection has had crashes before. They will want to look into all of that and understand what happened.

But in particular, when it comes to the vehicle, understanding the crash dynamics and occupant protection will be a big thing they'll pay attention to.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you more about that because the early reports are this was a 2001 Ford Expedition that was retrofitted to become a limousine. Generally speaking, how stretch -- how are stretch limousines not subject to the same safety regulations that other passenger cars are subject to? When you're talking about kind of the protections within the vehicle, what could be different here?

HERSMAN: So when we talk about vehicle design and requirements, when we're looking at stretch vehicles, all of those things are off the table because, very often, what's happening is after market, they're stretched. They may come out of the factory, if it's an Excursion, will come out of the factory per specs and tested, but it may be modified after that, and there are no requirements for after-market modifications --