Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Florence's Wrath; Trump Defends Supreme Court Pick; Brett Kavanaugh Facing Sexual Assault Accusations. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 17, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:19]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Dr. Ford deserves to be heard. To railroad a vote now would be a deep insult to the women of America, a lasting scar on the integrity of the Supreme Court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer just minutes ago speaking about the accusations against President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh forcefully denies the allegations.

I want to bring in two of our legal experts.

Laura Coates, let me talk to you.

These allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford date back three decades. There was no police report, no charges ever brought. According to her and her lawyer, she never told anyone about it at the time. It wasn't until six years ago in marital therapy that she first raised the subject of this happening to her.

[16:35:05]

What might an FBI investigation, which Democrats are calling for, what might that even look like?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, technically, this happened in Montgomery County. That's Maryland, which would mean that there's no real limitations, period, for a felony sexually assault.

But if this is a misdemeanor level, which is maybe what she's going for in terms of the allegation she has described of them, of the molestation, of groping or over a mouth, that may arise to the misdemeanor level alone, perhaps the FBI investigation will be figuring out what the severity of the allegations are.

But you're absolutely right to think about the delayed reporting. That's the number one hurdle that most sexual assault victims have to overcome. Why did you delay, what's your motivation, why now, and why did you choose once he was on the cusp perhaps of a greater level of prominence?

All of this goes into the victim shaming and questioning her, but it's also a real question for investigators, because they don't have all the facts in front of them. Memories starts to fade. And they have to kind of put it in the scope of would a prosecutor right now have charged this conduct?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Go ahead.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, just there are also facts that can be determined out there in the world.

She says there were four women and two men there. Who were the four women? Whose house was it at? Those are issues that can be determined.

Apparently, according to Orrin Hatch, Brett Kavanaugh said that he was not at that party, so he seems to know where the party took place. Let's talk to the people who live -- who live there. I mean, yes, it is a very long time ago. But it's not like you have to throw up your hands and just say it's one person's word against the others.

Investigators know how to do this. And they can learn a lot more than we know now.

TAPPER: And, Jeffrey, I want to tell you there's this 1998 memo from Kavanaugh, who was at the time working for independent counsel Ken Starr. And he wrote that he was strong -- strongly opposed to giving President Clinton a -- quote -- "break" in the questioning about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

He wrote, Clinton -- quote -- "He should be for to account for all of that and to defend his actions. It may not be our job to impose sanctions on him, but it is our job to make his pattern of revolting behavior clear piece by painful piece."

I have seen a lot of people citing this on the Web. What's your response?

TOOBIN: Well, in fairness to Judge Kavanaugh, he seems to be saying, go ahead, ask me anything. Ask me about this event. Ask me anything about my past in terms of relationships with women.

So, yes, he is calling for ugly, detailed scrutiny of Bill Clinton when he was working for Kenneth Starr. But in fairness to him, it sounds like at least he's willing to subject himself to the same kind of scrutiny.

COATES: And that's what actually should happen here, though, gentlemen. I mean, you're talking about somebody who's looking to fill a position for the rest of his life, which means that before, his entire life should actually be on display about what -- who he is as a person. And, frankly, just as he wasn't willing to give Clinton a break, it

makes sense, as somebody who is the head of the executive branch, whose job it is to enforce the laws, would have to have himself held accountable if he were to violate any principles or laws.

Same thing for a judge who would have interpret and decide in judgment over somebody else. It makes sense that he would have to account for it. It doesn't mean that he's guilty or innocent, but he should be tested. That's what due process is.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And then, Symone, let me ask you, because Amanda talked about how some conservative men she saw on Twitter were initially writing, oh, this took place when he was 17, 35, 36 years ago. And then they deleted that. They started -- started to think twice.

Is there a cutoff, do you think? I mean, is it when somebody is 15, 16? Or just does it depend upon the action?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think some of these same conservative folks, these are also some of the same folks that believe in mandatory minimums and enforcing -- and that believed that Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin got what they deserved.

I think that if we're talking about -- we have to remember that we are -- we clearly are living in a broken culture. Every single day, we are living in a broken culture, a culture that says boys will be boys, that sometimes that's just what happens.

A culture that forces some women to say, well, this just happened a lot of the time back in our day.

This is unacceptable. And I am fortunate that we -- that in 2018 folks are speaking up and saying, this isn't how it has to be. And so we have to have a conversation about it. And I do believe you have to atone for it. You have to be held accountable.

Like, if I stole from the store 100 years ago -- not 100 -- but if I stole from a store 15 years ago, I should have to...

(CROSSTALK)

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": But if you didn't steal from the store, you should be able to clear yourself.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: You cannot assume he is guilty because he's been accused of something. But it should be a fair hearing.

And I think Susan Collins, I give her a lot of credit for saying that, if he's lying, is disqualifying. He's not trying to make excuses. He's not saying it happened 35 years. I'm sorry. She's not making excuses. She's not saying it happened 35 years ago.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, to all that.

But I think we should take away from this situation, if this did take place -- I'm not saying it did -- Brett Kavanaugh would probably not be in the situation he is in today, because he would have a record that would follow him.

[16:40:02]

And do people have different treatment who come from different kinds of families, with lawyers in their families? This opens up a whole other conversation about how drastically his life could have changed if he had gotten the charge.

TAPPER: Jeffrey, go ahead.

TOOBIN: Well, I just wanted to point out that there is still a lot of uncertainty about how this fact-finding will unfold.

You notice when Mitch McConnell was talking about an investigation, he didn't mention public testimony. He didn't say there would be a public hearing. Susan Collins was sort of vague about that.

I mean, there are a lot of details to be worked out here. Will the FBI be involved? Will this, in fact, be under oath in front of the country at large? Who else will testify besides these -- the two protagonists in the story?

These are all very important questions. And what you could tell from McConnell's statement is that he wants as small, narrow, private an investigation as possible, and that is not going to be acceptable to a lot of Democrats.

TAPPER: Angela?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So a couple of things here.

The FBI is already involved. Dianne Feinstein passed her letter to the FBI initially when she received it. I think the other part of this that we have to keep in context, of course you want to hear both sides of this story, but we need to remember what will be before Brett Kavanaugh if he were nominated to the Supreme Court, women's choice, equal pay, workers' rights.

And if he has a pattern and practice of demonstrating that he cannot ever side with women or that women are beneath him, I think that this is another piece of this.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: But don't you think the professional career he's had speaks to that?

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: ... favorably, actually. No, in fact...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You're talking about the rulings, and she's talking about his professional behavior. They are two different things.

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: But I think the other part of it is, speaking of professional behavior, in the hearing where Kamala Harris was questioning him, the way in which he chose to engage her is also telling and damning.

So I think I do have questions about how he engages with women professionally. I do have questions about how he would rule in cases that are about women's bodies. I do have questions about how he would side on women with -- for equal pay issues or affirmative action issues.

CARPENTER: But that's completely independent of what may tank his nomination today.

RYE: Yes, but it's not to me, because I think that there -- again, where I started was a lot of red flags exist to me.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: You disagree with his policy.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: But what may doom his nomination is a potential character issue.

RYE: I agree.

And what I just spoke to was his professionalism, his character.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: One of the things that Amanda is trying to talk about here is in a lot of these MeToo cases, Harvey Weinstein -- I could go on forever, we only have 18 minutes left.

But the MeToo, there's been a trail of men who have been -- who have fallen because of their disgusting past behavior. In almost all of them, it's a pattern. You see more than one. What if nobody else comes forward? Does that -- does that change things for you at all?

SANDERS: No, I still think Dr. Ford, she has credibly come forward, in my opinion.

And I think the fact that she first came out -- first was anonymous, then came out on the record, and is now saying she's willing to testify speaks volumes.

I hope, if there is any -- if there any other women out there, they do come forward. These women are probably some of the most powerful people on the planet right now. If you believe and you stand on side of justice, and you -- and you want to -- and you don't want to see this happen to anyone else, you do not want to see two credibly accused folks on the Supreme Court, come forward.

But even if they don't, I still think that her merits stand on their own.

TAPPER: Thank you, one and all, for that discussion.

A rapidly rising death toll in the Carolinas as rivers swell -- is the worst from Florence on the way?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:12] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Authorities in the Carolinas warn that the worst may be yet to come from what was Hurricane Florence. The now-tropical depression is making its way north, while the death toll was just increased to 21. Three of those lives lost were babies.

Because of Florence, several rivers are running over their banks, cutting off cities such as Wilmington, North Carolina, with no way in by car right now. CNN's Polo Sandoval is inland in Lumberton.

Polo, what are authorities worried about right now where you are?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly what you just mentioned, Jake, which is access. You know, floodwaters still remain in communities throughout North Carolina including here in Lumberton. Many interstates and also some of these roads continue to be flooded even though in this particular city, the river has stopped rising.

Keep in mind, many people here in Lumberton have been through this before when Hurricane Matthew swept through the area just two years ago. People I've spoken to tell me that it's like history seems to be repeating itself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL: Deadly and deep. Floodwaters are rushing through the Carolinas as days of rainfall break 140-year records in some places. Deaths continuing to mount including 1-year-old, Kaiden Lee Welch whose body was found this morning. Police say the baby was swept out of his mother's arms as she tried to pass through fast-moving water Sunday.

SHERIFF EDDIE CATHEY, UNION COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: She was a stranger to this community. Driving through this road. She did not know. The water forced her off the road and across an open field.

SANDOVAL: There are ongoing rescue efforts across the region as water levels continue to rise.

The Lumber River outside of Wilmington invaded many neighborhoods still not yet recovered after Hurricane Matthew two years ago. Images shot by CNN show the devastation at ground level. Dozen who thought they had survived the worst of Hurricane Florence now suddenly reliant on rescue workers as they leave their homes behind.

[16:50:03] JOHN MCGUINNESS, VOLUNTEER RESCUER: Some people say they've been praying for a while. Some people -- some people are crying. And some people are just like, thank you, Lord.

SANDOVAL: Teams searching for survivors in submerged trucks and hovering above flooded homes to airlift citizens to safety. This woman was stranded in her house for days without medication.

One Myrtle Beach official tells CNN, quote, we are slowly becoming an island as some citizens try to make their way through flooded roadways by car and even canoe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're saying 500-year flood levels. This is not a matter of hours, of days, this is a matter of weeks, and months, and maybe even years to fully recover from this storm.

SANDOVAL: Flood watches and warnings have now expanded to include 10 states and nearly 30 million people all looking at the Carolinas for signs of what may be coming next.

GOV. ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Some areas have not seen the worst flooding yet. So this is a monumental disaster for our state.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL: The widespread power outages continue to be a major issue. Just a little while ago, I walked to a nearby hotel where people there have been waiting to go into their homes, Jake, for the last five days. They've been waiting there in the dark.

Last point I should make here during Matthew, some of the hardest hit people were those who were struggling economically which means they lost whatever little they had. And now, here they are again, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

CNN's Erica Hill is in Fayetteville, North Carolina where flooding is posing a real threat to locals. And, Erica, the river levels there are keeping locals on edge.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are. And that's the major concern here. So we're actually -- it's the Cape Fear River that's just behind us, Jake. And we sent our drone up a short time ago, just to give you a sense of what we're looking at here.

So this is one area where the Cape Fear River has certainly expanded beyond its banks at this point. There is some flooding. But this far from what we are expected to see tomorrow.

The biggest concern is, it's a beautiful day here in Fayetteville. People have been cooped up for days with rain. One official said to me, you know what? You should go outside. Folks should go outside. They should enjoy the sun while they're packing up their cars to move to higher ground.

There are mandatory evacuations in place for the one-mile surrounding both the Cape Fear and the Little River because that river feeds into the Cape Fear.

What we're seeing from the sky too and even on the ground, a lot of the creeks that feed the Cape Fear River are really contributing to the flooding.

The river is expected to crest tomorrow morning at 62 feet, Jake. When it was Matthew's turn, it was only 53.

TAPPER: All right. Erica Hill in Fayetteville, North Carolina, thank you so much.

In our "National Lead," how one woman's narrow escape led police to a border patrol agent-turned-accused serial killer? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:09] TAPPER: New details just in about a U.S. border patrol agent described as a serial killer and the woman's daring escape that led to his arrest. Juan David Ortiz confessed to killing four women in a two-week time span in the Laredo, Texas area, near the U.S.- Mexico border.

Ortiz was a border patrol agent and supervisor who had worked for that agency for a decade. As CNN's Ed Lavandera reports, investigators say Ortiz knew his victims.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tasked with protecting our borders, Juan David Ortiz is now instead called a calculating serial killer by police.

ISIDRO ALANIZ, WEBB COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Ortiz carried out these murders in a cold and callus way.

LAVANDERA: Ortiz, a 35-year-old border patrol agent is accused of shooting four women in the head.

FEDERICO GARZA, CHIEF DEPUTY, WEBB COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE: I believe Ortiz targeted all victims because of their profession and being vulnerable. In addition, all the victims were defenseless and at one point, Ortiz was able to gain their trust and then viciously shot them.

LAVANDERA: The killings came to light after a would-be fifth victim narrowly escaped. Investigators say that on Friday night, Juan David Ortiz ended up at this gas station with a woman named Erika Pena. Pena told investigators that they were talking about one of her friends named Melissa who had been found dead a week earlier. That's when she says that the border patrol agent started acting weird.

When they got to this gas station, Ortiz, investigators say, pulled a gun on her and tried to keep Pena from exiting the vehicle. Pena told investigators that she ripped off her shirt and ran toward a state trooper was gassing up his patrol car for help.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, two of the four killings took place in the hours after Pena made her escape. But before police tracked him down in the parking garage of this hotel, where they say he was hiding in the bed of a pickup truck.

Police say Ortiz confessed to killing four people between September 3rd and the 15th. All the victims, four women worked as prostitutes, according to investigators. Their bodies were found over the past two weeks. And authorities fear there could be more.

GARZA: We will do a historical research to everywhere that he has been to see if we have a pattern of victims such as this, and we'll continue the investigation.

LAVANDERA: As for Ortiz, he spent 10 years with Customs and Border Protection, rising up to an intelligence supervisor after spending time in the U.S. Navy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: Jake, border patrol officials say there is nothing in Ortiz's disciplinary record to raise any kind of red flags. And investigators also say that Ortiz met with his victims numerous times and that's how he developed a confidence and the trust of his victims before killing them. Jake.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera, in Laredo, Texas, thank you so much.

[17:00:58] Follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @jaketapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now with this.