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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Limo Crash Kills 20; Trump Calls Kavanaugh Accusations Hoax; McConnell Flips, Now Open to Confirming Supreme Court Nominee in Presidential Election Year; Trump: "I Have a Very Good Relationship with Rosenstein". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 8, 2018 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:10]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump, who suggested that Ted Cruz's dad played a part in JFK's assassination, says the Kavanaugh allegations were a hoax.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news. Brand-new CNN polls showing President Trump revealing how Americans feel about the president, the two political parties and the newest associate justice of the Supreme Court during and after the bitter partisan battle.

Then: The midterms are less than a month away, but some politicians already have 2020 vision. Wait until you see who is visiting all- important Iowa, and who President Trump is singling out.

And this, the nation's deadliest transportation accident in nearly a decade, 20 people killed. And now we have learned that the limo and the driver should not have been on the road in the first place.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Jake today.

We begin with breaking news, brand-new CNN polls revealing how Americans feel about the president, the two political parties and the newest associate justice of the Supreme Court both during and after the battle to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, all coming less than one month from the midterm elections.

CNN's political director, David Chalian, at the Magic Wall with all of the results.

David, President Trump up, down, or about where he was?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No, he's up from where he was last month. Let's take a look at his overall approval rating, Jim.

Brand-new numbers from CNN conducted by SSRS, right now, 41 percent approve of how the president is handling his job; 52 percent, a majority of Americans, disapprove how he's handling his job. But like I said, he's up.

Take a look at where he was in September. He was at 36. So the president is up five points now. That's good news. You want to be heading this way four weeks from an election. But here's the problem. Take a look at how that 41 percent stacks up in history, Jim.

It's at the bottom. Donald Trump is matching where Bill Clinton was in 1994 at 41 percent. He's at a historic low, and we all remember, in 1994, when Bill Clinton was at this 41 percent, his party got wiped out in those midterm elections.

This is a concern that Donald Trump is this low four weeks out from the election.

SCIUTTO: All right, Brett Kavanaugh also in these numbers. He's been sworn in. But how do Americans feel about whether he should have been confirmed?

CHALIAN: Yes, it's a good question. A majority of Americans do not think he should have been confirmed; 51 percent say, no, he shouldn't have been confirmed; 41 percent said yes.

And look at this over time. We asked this question back in August, before his hearings, in September, at the time of his initial hearings. You can see what the allegations from Blasey Ford and others did. They really increased the opposition across the country to Kavanaugh.

We, of course, also asked about the allegations themselves, whether Americans believe the women or believe Judge, now Justice Kavanaugh. Take a look at that; 52 percent of Americans say, on the accusations of sexual misconduct, they believe the women. Only 38 percent believe Kavanaugh.

Take a look at the gender divide here when you break this out. Among women, 61 percent, more than six in 10 American women in this poll say they believe the women. Only 31 percent believe Kavanaugh. Men, much more, much more evenly divided. And then, of course, we asked about how the parties in the Senate handled these allegations.

Oh, I'm sorry. No, first, we asked about whether or not having two of nine justices facing sexual misconduct allegations getting to the court, is that a major problem? Nearly six in 10 Americans, 56 percent of Americans say that is a major problem, 16 percent, minor problem. Only a quarter of Americans say that's not a problem at all.

And now we also asked about how the Democrats and Republicans handled themselves during the Kavanaugh hearings. Jim, this did not wear well for either party. The majority of Americans disapproved; 55 percent of them disapproved for Republicans, 56 disapproved of how the Democrats handled themselves.

This process did not wear well on anyone, not Justice Kavanaugh, not the Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, maybe save for President Trump, who I said his approval rating is on the way up.

SCIUTTO: David Chalian, thanks very much.

To the panel now.

Kristen, if I could start with you, really, the one thing that folks seem to agree on in this poll is that both parties in their view did not handle these hearings well.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: In a way, that finding doesn't surprise me.

That was sort of a lot of the discussion that you would see after especially that Thursday, where you had the morning, you had Dr. Ford facing questions from a Senate panel where the Senate Republicans brought in someone to handle the questioning for her, followed by the sort of circus that unfolded around when then Judge Kavanaugh himself came in.

So it doesn't surprise me that you would see a lot of voters in the middle kind of going a plague on both their houses.

[16:05:02]

Another number that is from a poll from Quinnipiac last week was, even though those numbers looked very similar to what the CNN polls show, more said they believed Dr. Ford, more said they opposed Kavanaugh's confirmation than not, 49 percent nonetheless said they felt Kavanaugh had been treated unfairly in the process.

So those numbers in many ways don't surprise me.

SCIUTTO: So, David Urban, you have a situation here where both parties are claiming that these hearings were a motivating factor. And you see some of that in the numbers for women, no question, on the Democratic side. But you also see it, as Kristen was saying, folks on the Republican side who think Kavanaugh was treated unfairly.

Who is going to benefit more, in your view, or is it a push?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, look, at the end of this, I think these numbers show that nobody wins in this.

What is the old adage? When you wrestle with a pig, you get dirty and the pig likes it. Right? So this is a losing situation on both sides. I think it could have been handled much better if Senator Feinstein and Senator Grassley would have before this all got started sat down and, you know, tried to get a hearing, tried to get -- I said this before.

Have an FBI investigation for a week, and then you roll this out. And, you know, Dr. Ford could have been heard. It might not have been as big a spectacle and you wouldn't have had all this acrimony you are at now.

Nobody benefits in the long run from this. The political gain, I think, if you look at some of the individual House seats, I think it's going to be not great for some of these House members that you see the polling says that, you know, women who are extremely motivated or even more motivated. Some of the House seats are going to tilt a little bit maybe further to the D side.

And I think some of the Senate seats may tilt a little further to the R side here. There's no winners overall, but if you're looking to take a political score, it's going to be a wash at the end of the day.

SCIUTTO: Angela, I have heard some smart people say, smarter than me, that anger is a real motivator, that, in effect, in the end, the side that lost will be more motivated to vote in the midterms than the side that -- in a month's time, the news cycle is pretty fast in this environment.

But in a month's time, the Democrats, because they feel that they were wronged here, will be more motivated to come out and vote.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and I think that part of it for us, for the progressives among us, I think the real question has to be, and then what?

So there were a number of people who were urging people to call their senators, to make sure they voted appropriately. And then I would say, and then what, right? So Susan Collins is someone that people were hoping would remember her womanhood before she remembered her party. That didn't work.

So the question again is, and then what? So you have to ensure that when you turn out to vote, you're voting for people who share your same values. This process has resulted in folks overwhelmingly sending in money, contributions to Susan Collins' opponent, who does not yet exist, right?

And so the question really becomes, how do you stay engaged and motivated in ways that hold your elected officials accountable, not just to get your vote, but to also support your positions on policy priorities, which I think is the longer -- the longer term question we have to answer writ large?

SCIUTTO: No opponent yet, but Susan Rice floated as a name out there.

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: And she reneged on that.

SCIUTTO: A couple years from now.

RYE: But I would love to see that.

SCIUTTO: Jackie, the other headline number here is President Trump's approval rating going up 5 percentage points from 36, which was CNN's low in our previous poll in September, now up to 41, which is more in the band of where his approval rating has lived, almost without variation or too much variation in the last couple years.

But that's five points in a month, not insignificant.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Striking because of the economy. Last week, "New York Times" story aside, was a very, very good week for him, particularly on trade.

A lot of the president's base -- he has really made promises made, promises kept campaign.

URBAN: Novel.

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: No, no, that has been part of his brand.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: No, it's great. Go to every rally.

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: Right, exactly.

And so I think that in and of itself I think is why. And the economy is great. It continues to be great. And it's striking that the president's numbers aren't higher because of the economy. And while -- that's why his party, particularly House seats, are struggling because of the economy.

And in terms of -- when you look at the numbers for Kavanaugh, I do wonder how that looks in red states, because I do think it's a much, much different picture in red states, particularly where these Democrats are running and they took some votes that they know they might end up paying for.

SCIUTTO: You mean different worse for Democrats?

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: I think it might be worse for Democrats in some of these states where there are more Republicans than Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: And you have seen some evidence of that, for instance, in Heitkamp's race, Missouri, other swing races.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: I think Heitkamp knew what she was doing going in. I think we really have to see what it's going to do with Joe Manchin. That will be kind of the litmus test, whether Joe Manchin pays a price for this or not.

To your point, to Angela's point, what now? Do people show up at the ballot box in West Virginia? Do Democrats take him to task for it, or do people kind of look the other way and vote for him? KUCINICH: And do Republicans keep up this energy, right? Because

people usually don't go to the ballot box to say thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Not over judges, especially.

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: And they won. Right? So can this anger and can this energy keep up for four weeks? Goodness knows what will happen.

(CROSSTALK)

[16:10:07]

SCIUTTO: The president certainly hopes so. That's been a consistent message.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Well, talking about impeaching Judge Kavanaugh in the next term if the Democrats take the House.

But the president has said repeatedly in his rallies, listen, look at this like I'm on the ballot, basically making it about himself. Winning strategy for him?

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTIS ANDERSON: It lines up with what we're seeing in a lot of polling. This is something I have seen. The Pew Research Center asks this every midterm. How much is your vote is going to be about the candidate and issues or how much is it going to be about showing a sign of support or opposition for the president?

And this time around, you have an enormous number of Republicans, significant majority, who say their vote is going to be about support for Trump. Not about the name of the person who is on the ballot. Not about the issues that they may be talking about locally. That it's going to be about Trump. And the same thing for Democrats.

That they're saying, look, whoever is on my ballot, may love him or hate him, I'm sending a message this is about Trump, which is why to the point about the House and Senate being so different, that's bad for these House Republicans in districts Hillary Clinton won. And there are about 23 of them. Democrats only need 24 seats to take the House.

So, scary stuff for Republicans in the House. But the Senate, that map is so red with so many Democrats who are having to thread that needle.

SCIUTTO: Running in red states.

You could -- conventional wisdom, granted, wrong all of the time, but that you could have Democratic gains in the House and losses in the Senate as an outcome.

URBAN: Yes. That's what I think.

We will see. You guys are both involved, Floridian involved in the Florida race. Those are the kind of seats that are kind of on the razor's edge and we will see come Election Day what happens.

RYE: I think another important piece of this is, even if they are traditionally red states, if there are people who are voting and they haven't been voting before, like in the Florida primary, where there were 150,000 new voters just in the Democratic primary alone, that can very well tilt things.

You might have some happy Republicans who still get outvoted.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: You have seen a big uptick in Democratic registration in the Georgia governor's race as well.

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Let's stand by.

A lot more to talk about.

With Kavanaugh now confirmed, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could be changing the rules for future Supreme Court nominees. Imagine that.

Plus: new details just coming out about this horrific crash we have been covering in the last couple days, 20 people dead in a limo crash, including four sisters and a newlywed couple. Investigators are giving an

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:03] SCIUTTO: Apparently, the rules just changed again on when it is okay or not to confirm a Supreme Court justice. Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, just moved the bar, saying that if another Supreme Court vacancy were to come up in a presidential election year, he might try to fill that seat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Are you saying that if Donald Trump --

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, the answer to your question is, we'll see whether there's a vacancy in 2020.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Just two years ago, you may remember, McConnell bragged about holding up president Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland, because it was during a presidential election year. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: One of my proudest moments was when I looked at Barack Obama in the eye and I said, Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: David Urban, can I get you to admit that there is some dirty political pool going on?

URBAN: Yes. This is, you know, hard ball or sharp-elbowed politics, right?

I don't think there will be a vacancy. I don't think anyone is going to go. But Mitch McConnell could take pride in the fact that -- to the detriment of all other nominees that are waiting, 300 nominees that are waiting in the Senate, he has put two Supreme Court justices on, 26 judges on the court of appeals. Ten were waiting to be confirmed. And 40-some district court judges.

I mean, unprecedented injunction with President Trump. And so he's rightfully so kind of taken a victory lap. And look --

SCIUTTO: Where is his credibility? Because in 2016, he said let the people speak, et cetera --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Listen, I understand. I think he feels pretty emboldened, and his legacy will be that this court -- the Supreme Court, the district -- the courts for the next generation will trend Republican. They may not be able to move legislation, but they're moving judges.

SCIUTTO: Angela Rye, your response?

RYE: Yes, I think that we already knew what Mitch McConnell stood for. I think he was very clear at the outset of Obama's tenure, and that was his primary focus, was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. So, of course, he wasn't going to be useful or helpful in moving anybody along. I would take it further than Merrick Garland, who it took more than 400-plus days to even get a hearing and still didn't get the hearing. So, there's no surprises here.

I think the reality of it is that's exactly why the poll numbers are where they are for Republicans. That's part of the reason why Donald Trump's approval rating is higher. And I think our reality is, you speak of sharp elbows in politics, it's time for Democrats, and sorry in this context I'm not using gender-specific, but it's time for us to man up. Meaning, we have to play the game hard if we're going to win and really move the needle politically.

SCIUTTO: Where does this leave, though, the court? I spoke to Republican Senator John Kennedy last week, Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, strong supporter of Kavanaugh. And he said, listen, at the end of the process that Americans equate the Supreme Court with politics by another means, where does that leave the institution?

This has been sliding down this hill for some time. Now, you're in a place, 50-49 for a lifetime appointment, and the American people look at it from two very different ends of the spectrum.

KUCINICH: You know, but it can't go unmentioned that Democrats typically don't vote because of the court. That is not a motivating factor in the Democratic base. They haven't been able to make them care about. The same way Republicans do.

Republicans go to vote, because the Supreme Court justices. That's one of the reasons Donald Trump is president. Because that's something that --

URBAN: He's smart to publish the list.

SCIUTTO: Right.

KUCINICH: Well, right, and that's something that -- I mean, say if it's right, if it's wrong, that is -- right now, that is not -- I mean be, and you can -- if I'm wrong, please tell me. It's not a motivating factor right now.

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: It hasn't been. Maybe it will be now.

KUCINICH: Perhaps. We'll see.

ANDERSON: The sort of changes of norms or the sort of like I'm going to use the process to my advantage. The letter if not the spirit of the law. I don't think Republicans actually paid a political price for Merrick Garland. And so, there's no incentive in that case.

If voters aren't holding you accountable, if you're not getting voted out of office for that, why change? And I think the Donald Trump era has brought about a lot of shredding of norms, things that began before Donald Trump came on the scene -- the elimination of the filibuster for judges happened under Harry Reid.

[16:20:04] So, it didn't start with Donald Trump. But what Donald Trump has been able to effectively say to Republicans is, would a more conventional Republican administration maybe have backed off the Kavanaugh nomination? Ooh, well, let's put somebody else. Where the Trump style of how you do things is keep going and you don't apologize. And that just put someone on the court.

URBAN: If any president has to get 60 votes for a justice or a judge. You're going to have a more moderate nominee. And so as long as that rule stays in place, no matter who -- who the president is, they're going to pick somebody that goes to either the left or to the right. You don't need to pick someone --

(CROSSTALK)

ANDERSON: For the rules or the norms to change, the political incentive has to change.

SCIUTTO: There you go. What majority leader of either party is going to change it back to 60 now because --

URBAN: They're not.

SCIUTTO: -- you're going to want to revenge.

URBAN: That's a huge problem.

KUCINICH: And it's going to be -- I mean, no one has sort of learned that it's not this sort of what-aboutism, right? And that's how the Senate is right now. You did this, so we're going to do this. And until someone makes that stop, which I don't see happening any time soon, it's going to be like this.

URBAN: When that rule change is taking place, institutionalists from both parties went to the floor to bemoan the change. Democrats and Republicans went to the floor to speak out against it. And unfortunately, it went through and passed. And that's the problem for America.

SCIUTTO: This is the problem, with this, you have a whole host of decisions coming up to this court that affect people's lives, whether it's gun control legislation, president's ability to avoid prosecution while in office, and crucially, Roe v. Wade, possibly. How can you expect the American people to respect those -- or a large portion to respect those decisions if they imagine the court is purely just politics by another means?

KUCINICH: It's going to be problematic. And I think a lot of it is up to these politicians, how they cast the court. If you have a bunch of Democrats going out there, after -- after this election and talking about the court not being legitimate, you're going to start hearing that reverberate through the base. I think we're at a really pivotal time right now.

SCIUTTO: John Roberts, right? You often hear -- feels he wants to rescue the court from that.

ANDERSON: When most people are thinking about the Supreme Court, they think about high-profile issues, Roe v. Wade, voting rights, et cetera. But an awful lot of what courts do are not the headline- grabbing issues.

I mean, in Susan Collins' remarks on Friday, a line that stuck out to me, when she said then judge now Justice Kavanaugh and Merrick Garland voted together 93 percent of the time on the D.C. court. So, like, I think that there's a lot that we talk about in terms of the courts about the political issues that are hot buttons. But a lot of what these courts do a lot of people don't see.

RYE: Seven percent is crucial, because in one of the things that you didn't just mention is even like the collective bargaining issue that was just before the Supreme Court. So, those are major, major issues. And I think we do have to start paying attention to them. To your point, I have no answer, the million-dollar question.

SCIUTTO: Citizens United, redistricting, also decisions that could face this court.

RYE: Huge.

SCIUTTO: All right. Stand by. More to talk about.

Just a few days ago, he thought he was going to be fired. Now Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and President Trump appear to be BFFs, according to the president. New details on their Air Force One one- on-one. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:06] SCIUTTO: President Trump taking a victory lap on Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation, hosting a ceremonial swearing in tonight. It comes after the president traveled to Florida this afternoon with none other than deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, whose fate has been up in the air, shall we say, for weeks now.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

Kaitlan, the president said he had a good talk with Rod Rosenstein while aboard Air Force One. Do we know whether his future came up at all in that conversation?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know right now, he's still the deputy attorney general. And according to President Trump, they had a great talk.

Now, the White House says the talk lasted for about 45 minutes. They discussed a myriad of issues, one of them being general DOJ business. Now, we don't know if that means the Russia investigation or the bomb shell reporting that Rod Rosenstein debated wearing a wire when he met with the president. But right now, President Trump is keeping the readout of that meeting to just one word.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump putting the speculation about firing his deputy attorney general to rest today.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, as well, to our deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, for being here. We flew down together.

COLLINS: Inviting Rod Rosenstein to fly with him on Air Force One, and claiming it was a smooth flight.

TRUMP: The press wants to know, what did you talk about? Well, we had a very good talk, I will say. That became a very big story, actually.

COLLINS: Trump referencing the news that Rod Rosenstein discussed secretly taping him and questioned his fitness for office. Despite a dramatic showdown weeks ago, where Rosenstein offered to resign, Trump says he has no plans to oust the man in charge of the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: There has been no collusion, folks. No collusion. And -- but I have a very good relationship.

COLLINS: Amid a bitter fight over the confirmation of President Trump's second confirmation pick who he'll reportedly swear in tonight, the president arguing calls to impeach Brett Kavanaugh are an insult to the American public.

TRUMP: The American public has seen this charade, has seen this dishonesty by the Democrats.

COLLINS: After once saying he found Professor Christine Blasey Ford's testimony compelling, Trump now saying her allegations remain manufactured by Democrats.

TRUMP: It was all made up. It was fabricated. And it's a disgrace.

COLLINS: The president predicting Democrats will pay a big price in the midterm elections.

TRUMP: I think a lot of Democrats are going to be voting Republican on November 6th.

COLLINS: Trump is taking that message on the road, making four campaign stops alone this week, in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, we're going to see the president make Brett Kavanaugh front and center during all of those stops he's got planned this week. That's what he's been doing so far, clearly seeing this, Jim, as a winning political issue for him.

But first, he's going to take one more victory lap when he swears him in during a ceremony here at the White House tonight.

SCIUTTO: Kaitlan Collins in the White House, thanks very much.

You heard the president say today that he has a very good relationship, in his terms, with the deputy attorney general.