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White House Press Briefing: Trump was "Stating Facts," Not Mocking Ford; 3 Key Senators Slam Trump's Mocking of Blasey Ford. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired October 03, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This entire process has been a disgrace. And the only reason that it has been that way is because Senate Democrats didn't do this the way that it should have been done and they circumvented the entire system.

And, frankly, they've undermined our entire judicial branch by the way that they've acted and the inappropriateness with which they've conducted themselves.



QUESTION: Pointing out inconsistencies in testimony is one thing. But the tone with which the president did it last night clearly had an effect on two key swing votes for his nomination. Is the president concerned that he may have put those votes in danger by doing what he did last night?

SANDERS: I don't think so.

The president is very confident in his nominee, as he has stated time and time again. And we expect the Senate to vote, and we hope they do that soon.


QUESTION: Two quick questions.

First, has the White House had any response to report (inaudible) ricin to Pentagon officials and also the president? And has the president been briefed on this investigation (inaudible)?

SANDERS: The president's certainly been made aware. But as we stated yesterday, I would refer you to the U.S. Secret Service to respond to those.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the president's meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that was supposed to be held last week? Is the president (inaudible) with him?

SANDERS: Again, we don't have any updates on that front. If there's a meeting we'll let you know, but at this point they continue to work together and both show up every day and do their jobs.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) tell us just a little more about Brett Kavanaugh? You said -- a couple of minutes ago, you criticized Democrats for undermining Dr. Ford's privacy, when the president (inaudible) trying to have that both -- have it both ways by, sort of, attacking Democrats for doing something that wasn't in her interest and then the president was out on stage late night essentially mocking her about her testimony (inaudible)?

SANDERS: Not at all. We're pointing out the hypocrisy -- again, none of this would be taking place if Democrats had done this in a normal order and not exploited Dr. Ford and attacked Judge Kavanaugh in such a public manner. All of this could have been handled completely differently, and the Senate Democrats hold all of the responsibility for that process.

Josh (ph)?

QUESTION: The New York Times reported yesterday that the president had engaged in outright tax fraud throughout the '90s with suspect tax schemes and, you know, basically getting more money from his parents than he said, using thousands of documents. You rebutted the story.

Could -- could you explain what is inaccurate about that story, if there's anything that is actually inaccurate about it?

SANDERS: So, a totally false attack based on an old recycled news story. I'm not going to sit and go through every single line of a very boring 14,000-word story.


SANDERS: The only thing -- I will say one thing the article did get right was that it showed that the president's father actually had a great deal of confidence in him. In fact, the president brought his father into a lot of deals. They made a lot of money together; so much so that his father went on to say that everything he touched turned to gold.

The president's lawyer addressed some of the specific claims and walked through how the allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100 percent false and highly defamatory. There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone. He went on much further, and I would encourage you to read every word of his statement, which completely undercuts the accusations made by the New York Times.

QUESTION: Are the president's taxes still under audit?

SANDERS: I know that a number of his taxes are still under audit.

QUESTION: (inaudible) from the '90s and early 2000s, are those as well (ph)?

SANDERS: I'd have to -- I can get back to you.

Cecilia? QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Would the White House be willing to provide any of his tax returns?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any plans to do so.


QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

It -- it was just a couple of days ago that the president called Christine Blasey Ford a very credible witness. Very credible, very compelling. But now he's basically making her out to be a liar, so which is it?

SANDERS: Certainly the testimony by Dr. Ford was compelling. But you can't make this decision based on emotion; it has to be based on fact. They have to determine what the facts are of this case. That's one of the reasons that they asked and begged for the FBI and delayed a hearing vote is so they could get more facts on this case.

We expect the FBI to turn those facts over to the Senate and they can make a determination based on that. That's all we're asking for.

QUESTION: You said that he was stating the facts at that campaign rally, but this was so much more than stating the facts, this was a full-scale campaign rally assault on -- on a woman who says she's the victim of sexual assault.

What -- what do you get out of that? Is that to -- to help Kavanaugh's nomination? Is this to rally the base? Is this going to help with the midterms? Like, what -- what's the point in doing that?

SANDERS: Again, I -- I'd dispute that.

It wasn't anything other than the president stating facts. In fact, facts that were laid out in the prosecutor's memo that she put forward to the Senate. Each of the things that he called out were things that were laid out in that memo.

Sager (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

There's conflicting feelings on Capitol Hill right now over whether the FBI investigation into Judge Kavanaugh should be made public or not. Does the White House commit to transparency on this effort and let the American people see the full rein (ph) of this investigation regardless of the findings?

[13:35:00] SANDERS: Look, we've been very open and transparent through the process. The president's the one that ordered the FBI investigation to take place and has allowed the Senate to actually control and dictate the terms and scope of the -- of the investigation. We're continuing to do that and allowing the FBI to actually do what it is they do best, and that's their jobs to do this investigation. QUESTION: Another question for you, if I may, on declassification, since we haven't spoken in a while.

The president has said that...

SANDERS: I missed you guys, too.

QUESTION: The president said that he would refer the declassification process to the DOJ inspector general, but he wants to see that happen quickly. What does "quickly" mean? Are we going to see these documents before the mid-term elections?

SANDERS: I'm not going to walk through a timeline. But we're continuing to work through that process, and when we have an update on it we'll certainly let you know.

Alex (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, why did you say earlier this year that Michael Cohen was acting on his own in -- in an arbitration proceeding to prevent Stormy Daniels from doing television interviews, when the president actually directed that?

SANDERS: As you know, I'm not going to get into a back-and-forth. That's an issue for the president's outside counsel; I direct you there to answer it (ph).


QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. (inaudible) questions.

First, the impact and meaning of the president's comments in Mississippi not withstanding, it is a fact that Senators Collins, Murkowski, Flake and Manchin are the undecided votes critical to the nomination. Are there any plans for the president to call any of them between now and next week, and make one final pitch, perhaps explain his remarks a little bit more?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of a specific scheduled call. But we've certainly been in close contact with a number of members and will continue to do so up until the vote.



QUESTION: ... I was going to ask was, two of the presidents early supporters in the House, Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California, are running under indictment. There are rules of the National Republican Congressional Committee barring support for members who are under indictment. Does the president still support both of them for reelection?

SANDERS: I can't get in to a lot of details; one, for Hatch Act violation, but also with an on-going investigation, I'm not going to be able to comment on that front. Blake?

QUESTION: Sarah, thank you.

As this briefing was beginning, Bloomberg put out an article about the FBI background investigation. And Bloomberg is reporting right now that the FBI hasn't interviewed Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Ford, because the White House hasn't given investigators clear authority to do so. Is that indeed the case?

SANDERS: As we've said several times, the president's indicated that whoever the FBI deems necessary to interview, he's fine with that. But he's also asked that the Senate be the ones that determine the scope of what they need in order to make a decision on whether they vote Kavanaugh up or down.

I can also tell you that both Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford were questioned in the most public way possible by the members of the Senate, who are ultimately the ones who have to make the determination on whether or not they vote for Judge Kavanaugh. If they had additional questions for either one of them, they had a time and an opportunity, certainly, to ask those.

QUESTION: Does the White House believe that it's appropriate then -- does the White House believe it is appropriate for these two...


QUESTION: I know you said...

SANDERS: Again, we're going to allow the senators to make the determination of the scope.

Ayisha (ph)?


SANDERS: Ayisha (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you.

So, President Trump talked a lot yesterday about this issue of being concerned about men being guilty before -- being thought guilty before proven innocent and this idea of due process.

But in the past with the Central Park Five, he put out an ad basically calling for the death penalty before they had been found convicted. And even after they were exonerated, he still basically said that they may be guilty. And even as president he has talked about -- presided over rallies where people say, "Lock her up," talking about Hillary Clinton.

So I guess, is there a disconnect between when the president is interested in due process for some but not for others?

SANDERS: Not at all. The president actually encouraged the Senate to hear Dr. Ford's testimony in the same way he encouraged them to hear Judge Kavanaugh's.

He is simply stating the fact that we are a country of law and order, we are a country that still believes that you're innocent until proven guilty, and we want to see that process go through in its entirety, and it should be on a fair playing field. That's simply the only point I was (ph) making.


QUESTION: ... guilty. He said Central Park Five was guilty. Does he feel that now?

SANDERS: I'd have to look back at the specific comments.


QUESTION: But that's the real question. In the midst of this, the president has taken this moment...


QUESTION: The president has taken this moment to say that he's been affected personally by all of these allegations. And he's picking and choosing, just as this question was. He said that the Central Five -- Park Five was guilty and that he has made (ph) Bill Clinton guilty. Has he decided to change his mind on the Central Park Five, as -- as they have been exonerated?


SANDERS: It's interesting that you bring up Bill Clinton. Nobody wants to hear those accusers' voices being heard, but you're certainly happy to hear all the others.

Dave, go ahead.


QUESTION: The president...

SANDERS: I've addressed this. I don't have anything else to add.

QUESTION: The president (inaudible).

SANDERS: Dave, go ahead.

QUESTION: Is he still talking to them?

QUESTION: Sarah, several times in the last week, the president has tried to reassure voters that he'll protect people with pre-existing conditions from losing their health insurance. Is that a sign that he's worried Republicans are losing the argument on health care in this election? SANDERS: I think it's a sign that the president wants to protect people with pre-existing health conditions. I think it's pretty simple. He said that he supports that, and he wants to make sure that that's not something that gets lost.



QUESTION: (inaudible) go back to this. I think it was pretty obvious that the president was mocking Christine Blasey Ford last night. He said, "How did you get home?" "I don't remember." "How did you get there?" "I don't remember." "Where is this place?" "I don't remember." He seemed to be, to the delight of the crowd there in Mississippi,, mocking her repeatedly.

Isn't there something wrong with the president of the United States mocking somebody who says she was sexually assaulted?

SANDERS: It seemed to me that he was stating facts that Dr. Ford herself laid out in her testimony.

Once again, every single word that Judge Kavanaugh has said has been looked at, examined, picked apart by most of you in this room. But not -- no one is looking at whether or not the accusations made are corroborated, whether or not there's evidence to support them.

Every person that she named has come out and said either they didn't recall it or it didn't happen or they weren't there. Every single bit of evidence and facts that we've seen in this moment have supported Judge Kavanaugh's case.

And the president's simply pointing out the facts of the matter. And that is what the Senate will have to use to determine whether or not they vote to support him or not.

QUESTION: Are you saying Judge Kavanaugh -- are you saying Judge Kavanaugh is the victim in all this?

SANDERS: I think both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh are victims at the hands of the Democrats. I think it is absolutely disgraceful what they've done and exploited this process. They exploited Dr. Ford. They're exploiting all of the women that have come out to make any type of accusation.

This isn't the process that should've been done. And certainly everybody deserves to be heard, but that includes Judge Kavanaugh. And that should be part of this process. And the facts have to be looked at.

And I think you have to look at the prosecutor's memo. Those are where you see all of those facts laid out. And I think she makes a very compelling case.

John (ph), go ahead.


QUESTION: You don't have any problems defending...

SANDERS: I don't have any problems stating facts, no.

John (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Just...

SANDERS: I know that's something you probably do have a problem with, but I don't.

QUESTION: Actually, Sarah, we do state the facts. But I think there have many occasions when you don't state the facts, if I may respond.

SANDERS: John (ph), go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

Just five days ago, on Friday, the president, when asked about Dr. Ford's testimony before the Senate, said that she was a very credible witness. And we saw a different tone, a different sustenance last night in those remarks to that campaign rally audience in Mississippi.

Why the change in tone? And does the president still believe what he said on Friday, that she was a very credible witness?

SANDERS: I've addressed this a number of times.

The president also said she had a very compelling story. And nobody disagrees with that...


SANDERS: And nobody -- nobody disagrees with that.

But the president's simply stating the facts that she laid out in her own testimony and that the prosecutor laid out in her memo.

At the end of the day, the Senate has to make a decision on where they stand.

I'll take one last question.


QUESTION: Does he still -- does the president still believe that Dr. Ford's testimony was credible when she testified under oath? (inaudible)

SANDERS: The president believes that Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed. He has a lot of confidence in him, and he'd like to see a vote, see that happen.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Sarah, a couple questions.

President Trump has seemed to link the credibility of a claim with how much time has passed since the individual made it. President Trump has also called the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church very sad, but many of those victims waited decades before coming forward.

Why does the president seem to assume men who are claiming abuse but wait to come forward are telling the truth, but not women?

SANDERS: That's just completely untrue.

The president has supported, again, throughout this entire process Dr. Ford's ability to come forward and tell her story. He's the one that ordered the FBI to do a background -- further supplemental background check to look into each of the accusations and allegations that the Senate deems necessary before making a vote. He's also been more than happy to give a platform to the accusers that have come out against then-President Bill Clinton.

To say that he's never sided with women is just ridiculous.

QUESTION: No, but he -- he has implied that they're coming out of the woodwork all of a sudden, and cited that as a reason why, even though he has called for an investigation...

SANDERS: He's saying that because after Judge Kavanaugh has been in public service and in the public eye for over 26 years, been through six backgrounds investigation, now part of a seventh, that this is the first time you're ever hearing of any of these allegations. The fact that through all of those background checks, not even an inkling of any of those things has ever come up; despite the fact he was one of the top prosecutors for Ken Starr, and in a major public position, none of these things came up; when he was nominated to be on the federal bench, none of these things came up. He has been a public figure, and there's been a lot of opportunity for people to raise this issue, and it never has.

And now, at the 11th hour, the Democrats have exploited this process, and done so publicly. And it's a shame, and he's simply calling that out.

[13:45:44] Thanks so much, guys. We'll see you soon.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: There she is, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, answering reporters' questions about 20 minutes, making a strong, strong defense of the president last night, who mocked Professor Ford and her allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. She says, "This whole process is now a complete and total disgrace." She also strongly denying the "New York Times" extensive report on the president's finances saying all those allegations of alleged tax fraud, tax evasion, are totally false and not based on facts.

Let's discuss. Gloria Borger, she came out swinging, right now, defending the

president and making it clear that they want this over with and they want it over with quickly.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. She called these smears, a disgrace, and that the Democrats are acting against the voice of the American people when they elected Donald Trump who can pick Supreme Court justices. And what she is also trying to do, interesting to me, was have it both ways. She said the president said that it is fine with him if Kavanaugh and Ford are interviewed, but in the end, it is really up to the Senate to decide if those two should be re-interviewed. And obviously, they have not.

What was kind of stunning to me is that the notion that politics is involved in this. And that the Democrats want to hold the seat open until 2020. That is probably true, but I remind you with Merrick Garland whom the Republicans delayed for, what, 300 days and never even came to the floor. So you see the raw politics underneath all of this.

And her defense of the president one more thing was that he was just stating the facts. He -- his tone last night at -- the way he was mocking Dr. Ford seems different than someone just stating the facts.

BLITZER: He really was ridiculing her in front of that crowd in Mississippi.

BORGER: Right.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: And the crowd was clearly loving it. And I don't know of many political crowds and rallies that just enjoy recitation of facts. He was clearly mocking her and the crowd was getting in to that.

One thing that I think was really important and really interesting, and perhaps a mi miscalculation on the part of the White House, Sarah Sanders was making the argument this can't be based on emotion. It must be based on fact. That these Senators have to determine what the facts are in this case and that it cannot be determined based on emotion. Where does that exist in how Senators decide and how to vote to confirm or not a Supreme Court justice? I think we saw emotional comments today from Jeff Flake, from Susan Collins, from Lisa Murkowski. I think that the White House is fooling themselves if they think that their votes are simply based on the facts of this case. I would imagine the emotions will also play a role in their vote.

BLITZER: And Jim Acosta is our chief White House correspondent.

You're there in the briefing room. You had a chance do a little Q&A with her yourself. What stood out to you?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, they are on the defensive, Wolf. And I think we saw why this White House rarely does press briefings. They are in a losing battle with the truth it seems on many days. So you saw the press secretary up here at the podium trying to sell the whopper that President Trump was not mocking Christine Blasey Ford last night. He was obviously mocking Christine Blasey Ford. Only the most partisan, you know, Trump assumer would argue otherwise. And I think Sarah Sanders was trying to just essentially get through this briefing answering that question over and over again. She told me at the end of the briefing that the president was just trying to deliver facts. That is obviously not the case. And I asked the follow-up question, do you think that she is the victim here. She said that Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford are the victims of the Democrats. So the partisan talking points were certainly on display at this briefing, Wolf. And having been lectured on not understanding the facts, I'm not exactly sure the facts were on display at this briefing.

[13:50:03] But I do think it is notable, Wolf, when it was asked at the very beginning of it briefing whether or not the White House is concerned, whether the president is concerned about losing some these Senators, Senator Flake, Senator Collins, Senator Murkowski, the way Senator Collins answered that, I think it is a sign that perhaps they understand behind the scenes here at the White House, Wolf, that some damage was done when it comes to the White House and its backing of Judge Kavanaugh. You saw earlier this morning, Kellyanne Conway saying Christine Blasey Ford had been treated like a Faberge egg. Wolf, I think that's an indication that they -- the patience is wearing thin at this White House. They want this confirmation done by any means necessary, Wolf, facts be damned -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Why the sudden shift last night? The president had been relatively restrained in the days leading up to that rally in Mississippi. All of a sudden, he took off the gloves.

ACOSTA: It's a very curious question. Wolf, I've been to countless of these rallies, and sometimes there's no rhyme or reason. That is why we're told often the president has a teleprompter in front of him, he's on script. But as his aides will say, there's no holding him back. The teleprompters are essentially the guard rails for these appearances and that he does often go off the cuff. My sense of it is that is what he did last night.

But I think, Wolf, my sense of it is, even though the president said last week that he thought Christine Blasey Ford was very credible in her testimony, they understand how close this vote is going to be, and if they can in any way possible chip away at her credibility, I think that they believe that that is, at the end of the day, going to be able to cobble together the votes that they need. But how that works when the president of the United States is mocking somebody who says she's a sexual assault victim, it's beyond me how there could be any strategy behind that other than trying to rally the base.

And you see that really on display with Lindsey Graham as well. He was doing that as well. He was talking earlier this morning about Judge Kavanaugh, and he was booed and he said right back to the audience, "Boo yourself." There's a circle-the-wagon mentality inside the Republican Party right now, inside the president's team right now about Judge Kavanaugh, and they are just trying to get to the finish line by any way necessary -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Important points. Kim Wehle is with us, former federal prosecutor.

Kim, the FBI apparently they are completing their supplemental investigation. They're about to hand over their report to the White House and the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senators will have a chance to look at it. It doesn't look like it's going to be made public, at least not now. That could change. Should it be made public?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAWL PROSECUTOR: Yes, I think it should be made public. There's a lot about this process that has been distorted from the White House just right now with Sarah Sanders.

I just want to make a couple points from a legal standpoint. Number one, the Republicans are in charge of this. The Democrats don't have power in terms of this process. It's implementing the advise-and- consent clause of the Constitution. And it can be based on emotion. It can be based on anything. The other thing has to do with the presumption of innocence. That's something that applies to a criminal defendant when government is trying to take something away, life, liberty, property. Does not apply to someone trying to get a job. That's a real distortion. The third has to do with the truth and facts, and whether things were corroborated or not. This is why we should see what the FBI actually -- who the FBI spoke to, how this was done. On the civil and criminal side, traditionally, the investigation is done first, and then you reach a conclusion at a hearing. You don't reach a conclusion and then do the investigation. I think, knowing Brett Kavanaugh, having worked with Brett Kavanaugh, I respect him as a jurist, a lot of this could have been avoided had it been done in advance outside of the public eye. But now we're in this drama, I think, because, procedurally, the Democrats were kind of ousted at the beginning from actually deciding how it would go.

BLITZER: Sarah Sanders, as you point out, Gloria, opened up this Q&A by delivering a lengthy statement, going after Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, saying he and the Democrats "have sunk lower, it's a coordinated smear campaign against Judge Kavanaugh, a complete and total disgrace." And at one point, suggested the entire judicial system has been undermined.

BORGER: Right. Look, they are going all out now. And I think Senator Jones, of Alabama, said that the president has now decided to play to his base at the expense of the rest of the country. I think that's what's going on. It may be going on in both parties to be honest about it. What we saw last night from the president was playing to the base, trying to keep control of the Senate, the United States Senate. We've seen polling -- and David knows this better than I do -- but I spoke to a pollster this morning who said, look, he's playing to white, non-educated college men in red states who could help him keep control of the Senate who feel like he does. And that will be at the expense of moderate Republican women who will vote perhaps to give the Democrats control of the House. And that's really what's going on here politically.

[13:55:44] CHALIAN: I think also, we should just make clear Sarah Sanders' tactic to blame this all on the Democrats -- no one should get confused here. What the crucial vote are here, it's Senator Collins, Murkowski and Flake on the Republican side. Sarah Sanders can bemoan Democrats all day long. That's not what is causing the White House heartburn in trying to get Kavanaugh over the hump. It's Republican Senators they need to get on board that they have not yet.


BLITZER: The question is whether or not the president's ridicule of Christine Blasey Ford will impact those three Republican lawmakers.

BORGER: Well, Murkowski said, I'm going to take it into consideration. Flake said it wouldn't. But Murkowski said yes.

BLITZER: We'll see if that has an impact.

Everybody stick around.

There's much more on the breaking news. Coming up, the White House coming out with a strong defense of President Trump following his mocking of Brett Kavanaugh's accuser last night. This, as three key undecided Republican Senators have now slammed those attacks of this woman by the president.