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Senate Schedules Hearing to Investigate Sexual Assault Allegations against Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh; Interview with Senator Chris Coons. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 18, 2018 - 8:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: How will senators change their tactics today when they question Kavanaugh's accuser in this Me Too era?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now is Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He is on the Senate Judiciary Committee and announced yesterday that he opposes Kavanaugh's nomination. You were going to do that even prior to this latest controversy, Senator Coons. Let me ask you this. Do you support this public hearing now scheduled for Monday when we will hear from Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh?

SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) DELAWARE: I think it is important that this hearing on Monday be informed first by experts who can help make sure that the panel understands the dynamics that cause many victims of sexual assault to refuse to come forward for years, why they fear retribution or mistreatment. And second, I think it's important that we hear from witnesses in addition to just Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, not the least of which is Mark Judge, a classmate of Judge Kavanaugh who is alleged to have also been a part of this disturbing incident. So I think we should have a broader hearing than just two witnesses next Monday. And it's my hope that the Senate Judiciary Committee will demonstrate that we are today capable of treating an alleged victim of sexual assault with the respect and thoroughness that her allegations deserve.

BERMAN: As of now, is it your understanding that this hearing will only have Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh?

COONS: I'm not aware of there being other witnesses who have been called or agreed to, but I expect that process is underway today.

BERMAN: And what about what we heard from the ranking member of the committee, Dianne Feinstein, senator from California, who has said she wants the FBI to investigate before there is this public hearing?

COONS: I agree with Senator Feinstein that in any investigation of this type, the first thing you ought to do is try and make sure what evidence there is is corroborated, and that there is a reasonable, responsible, independent effort to try and see if there is other evidence that could be discovered.

BERMAN: As of now, it is our understanding that that FBI investigation is not happening and will not happen before Monday. If that does not happen, do you propose that this hearing be delayed? COONS: I think we ought to take President Trump at his word. He said

he'd like a full process and that everyone should be heard from. Everyone certainly includes Mark Judge but also others who are classmates, neighbors, or faculty who could give some insight into the environment of these two small, elite private schools here in the Washington D.C. suburbs. These memories are now more than 30 years old, and so it's important if the Senate Judiciary Committee is to weigh the testimony of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh to have what other evidence can be reasonably uncovered by the law enforcement professionals at the FBI.

BERMAN: The reason I'm going down this line of questioning is because the last 36 hours has been remarkable a remarkable 36 hours.

COONS: Yes.

BERMAN: But at the beginning of it, it was we need to hear Professor Ford. The Senate needs to her from her. The country needs to hear from her. So the Senate Judiciary Committee said, OK, we'll schedule that hearing for Monday. But then what we heard from Democrats who have been calling for a public hearing was, well, not so fast. We want to hear a hearing but only on our terms after the FBI investigates. And I'm hearing from you only if there are other witnesses as well.

COONS: Right. Well, I disagree with your characterization. It is not that we said first all we want is for Dr. Ford to be heard and nothing else, and then once Republicans agreed to a hearing we said, oh, wait. We also want the FBI. From the beginning when this allegation came forward, Democrats on the committee kept saying we should do a full investigation. This should be part of the background investigation as are any other allegations relating to someone who is being nominated for a lifetime appointment on a federal court, and in this case certainly the Supreme Court. This is not an effort to slow it down by months, but it is an effort to make sure that we take days or weeks to ensure that there is a thorough background information.

BERMAN: So you're saying not slow it down by months, but you would be in favor of slowing it down by perhaps weeks.

COONS: I'd want to hear from the FBI how much time they think they need to do an appropriate and professional background investigation so that they could come forward and say whether they have found any additional evidence that either lend credence to Dr. Fords allegations or lends support to Judge Kavanaugh. I'll remind you, Judge Kavanaugh has already made public a list of dozens of women, classmate, former girlfriends, neighbors, who --

BERMAN: Should they be on the witness list also? Should we hear from some of them as well?

COONS: So my concern is that Dr. Ford has not yet had the opportunity to come forward with additional evidence. So I think, my concern first was that we wouldn't hear from Dr. Ford at all, that her allegations wouldn't be treated with respect and taken credibly. I am encouraged that's what's going to happen next Monday. But if we're really going to hear here, we should make sure that there is an opportunity here for what other evidence there is to also be brought.

[08:05:00] BERMAN: A lot has changed since 1991 when Anita Hill went before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Among other things, there are for four female members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Republicans, it happens to be 11 white men still on that side still. Are you concerned of the atmospherics of a woman coming forward and being questioned about her story, perhaps pressed about her story, cross examined about her story?

COONS: I think this is going to be a moment of real challenge for the Republican majority on the Judiciary Committee. On our side, the Democratic side, we have a number of experienced, seasoned former prosecutors. Two of them happen to be Senator Klobuchar of Minnesota, Senator Harris of California who have handled sexual assault cases. And I think you'll see on the Democratic side the sort of balance and respectful questioning that is appropriate given the context. I do think this will be a real challenge for the Republican majority to conduct a questioning that is the sort of respectful questioning that was really not given to Anita Hill.

BERMAN: Last question, will you cede your time to Senator Harris and Senator Klobuchar perhaps because of their prosecutorial experience in this case?

COONS: That's an excellent question, one I frankly hadn't thought of, and I might very well because we have got members of the committee who are far more experienced than I am in these matters. They have actually handled sexual assault cases or prosecuted public crime cases. And so they're more likely to be agile, capable, well-informed questioners in this particular topic. You make a good suggestion.

BERMAN: It wasn't my intention to perhaps shape history or influence your decision. I was curious had you already made that decision. But Senator Coons, thanks so much for being with us. I appreciate it.

COONS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Joining us now, we have former federal prosecutor and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, and "New York" Magazine senior correspondent Irin Carmon. Great to have all of you. Irin, you have a new piece about this. Will Brett Kavanaugh face any consequences? Women will. This is in the cut. What are you looking for on Monday?

IRIN CARMON, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE: The stakes of this nomination were already enormously high for women. This is the judge who is poised to shift the balance of the Supreme Court. The substantive stakes were already really high in terms of especially women's reproductive rights and a host of other issues. Now this is a job interview. This is not a criminal proceeding. This is a lifetime appointment. And now with Dr. Ford's allegations and anything else that we might learn in the next few days, or if the hearing happens next week, I think there are genuine concerns about this man being the one to make those extremely pivotal decisions in women's lives.

BERMAN: Dana, we were just listening to that interview right there. It was interesting to hear all of that and it was interesting to hear about Chris Coons talk about when he want this is hearing to take place. It didn't sound like Monday to me.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, no. It certainly didn't. And so that's why it's pretty clear that the Democrats who have not decided on whether or not they're going to go along with this are keeping their powder dry. It is the Republicans who have the majority. It is the Republicans who set the schedule and can announce and did announce things like this hearing on Monday.

They're trying to figure this out as they go along just as Republicans are as well. So we'll see if they get together and say no, no, no, we're not going to do this. It is harder for them to say no because what it will look like to some is that they're saying no to hearing from this woman who everybody on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of this case, say that they need to do. So it's -- Republicans have put them in a pickle, and we'll see how or whether Democrats try to get out.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And remember what's going on here. The Republicans are trying to do the absolute bare minimum that satisfies their members in order to vote for Kavanaugh's confirmation. They are not trying to do an investigation. They are trying to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed, and those are two very different things. They are not getting the FBI involved. They are not calling additional witnesses. They are not doing anything except trying to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed. And that's a very -- and I think that's -- we need to keep that in perspective. This is not -- they are saying, OK, you want your witness. Here is your witness. Let's get on with it and let's have a vote as soon as possible after.

CARMON: I don't even think they would be entertaining the notion of a hearing if they didn't think that this was something they have to at least have the appearance of taking seriously. This is obviously a moment of huge political peril and they may well want to do the bare minimum if that's really important. But obviously, somebody like Dr. Ford, the more we learn about her, she is precisely the woman that Republicans don't want to alienate and don't want to have turnout in the midterms. If they are questioning her with their all white panel the way that Anita Hill was questioned, it is going to be a really fraught situation. So right now they have to at least say that they're hearing from her, and even that I think is a sign of things changing, and that it remains to be seen, will this hearing actually happen.

[08:10:00] BASH: And one of the game changers that led them to what you are saying, which is right, is something that happened on this show yesterday morning, Alisyn, with you, which is an interview with Dr. Ford's attorney when she said, A, she's willing to testify and, B, she used the word "rape." I was just told by an official familiar with the strategy particularly inside the administration that that was a game changer, and it was very clear this woman needs to be heard. That has to be the message loud and clear coming from the White House and even from the Republican leadership in the Senate, which is what led to this frenzy and this decision to have this hearing without the consent or cooperation in a bipartisan way with the Democrats. CAMEROTA: That's really interesting. What Debra Katz, the attorney,

told yesterday was, I think she used the word "attempted rape," but she said that it was the impression that had it not been for his inebriated state, the rape would have been able to be completed. That's how she felt because, again, her story is that when she tried to scream his hand was over her mouth and she felt in fear for her life because she couldn't breathe. So that is her story, and that's what her lawyer told us tropical storm.

Dana, I want to stick with you for one more second, because just tell us what's happening behind the scenes. We know that Brett Kavanaugh went to the White House for nine years.

BERMAN: That's a long time.

CAMEROTA: That's a long time to be huddling with the White House, and so what was going on, and President Trump's reaction to all of this.

BASH: Well, yes. From everything we have heard, the team here and myself from sources I have been talking to, is that Kavanaugh is very explicit, as he is in public, in private. This has not happened. I don't know what she's talking about. I have no memory of this. I don't even remember being at that party. And so that is driving the strategy around what he will do or what he will say.

With regard to how to treat the accuser here, it was fascinating. It is fascinating that President Trump, whose M.O., particularly with his own accusations against him, is go out guns blazing and to double down and say no way, was so restrained.

And I was told a couple of things. One, that he saw the interviews yesterday morning, understood and understands, despite what he says on Twitter and in public, that culturally things are changing. And he understands the import of this nomination for him, for his base, for the movement that he is pushing, and he understands that he has to be restrained sometimes. So that's why he did that.

Now, it is also the next day, and we will see how things go, and things can change on a dime for this president. I'm not surprised that he didn't attack Dr. Ford. What I am surprised about is that he didn't go after the Democratic politicians.

BERMAN: Yes.

BASH: Because that is something that he is wont to do in the past. But I was told that he was -- he had conversations with advisers. The other thing I would just point out is also yesterday morning Kellyanne Conway went on television and said she should not be diminished. She has a right to be heard. No one should impugn her. That was a message for everybody, including and especially the president. And he followed her lead, which I think is fascinating.

BERMAN: I think it was for people watching television who she knows includes the president of the United States. Irin, when you look at the makeup of the Senate Judiciary Committee, again, the Republicans, it is 11 white men, talk to me about how you think the tone inside this hearing on Monday will be perceived? What are the potential minefields there?

CARMON: I think people react to the fact that news networks yesterday were playing footage from the Anita Hill hearings and the kind of trauma that women watching that experienced watching her be put on trial. I have been talking to survivor advocacy groups and I've been seeing survivors organize online, and what they're asking is for her not to be put on trial.

Again, we don't really know what is the format of next week, what are going to be the rules, who is going to be called. As Jeff says, the goal for Republicans is going to be to confirm him and minimize their political peril. So we don't know what form it's going to take. But I think there is an enormous risk in pushing really hard at this woman who is an educated person, a psychologist, someone who maybe isn't as experienced as Brett Kavanaugh in testifying before the Congress, but on the other hand is probably someone who knows what she is getting into and is going to be prepared.

On the other hand, you have Mark Judge, who is the person that she puts in the room in her account, somebody who has written three memoires and made a career in talking about his youthful hijinks. So I think that the possibility of Republicans making a scene like her credibility is something what is on trial is something that -- in the last year we have learned a lot about victims. Republican women also said "me, too." We have heard a lot about why people don't tell these stories and I'm already seeing a lot of people really identify this women when we even hasn't seen her face yet.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, HOST, NEW DAY: Yes, but very quickly, there is also a therapist or two that she told six years ago about this. There's her husband who says that she remembers him - he remembers her using Brett Kavanaugh's name. So could all of those people could be called?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: If you were doing a serious investigation, absolutely. I mean, if you really wanted to find out what happened, you do a real investigation and call all the relevant witnesses. If you want to jam his confirmation through while throwing a bone to people who, you know, want to hear from her, you just put her on the - let her testify for a day and then you move for a vote very quickly.

I think the latter is the Republican strategy. The former is what you do if you want to learn the facts.

CAMEROTA: Thank you all very much. All right, meanwhile, other news, President Trump is moving to declassify these documents from the Russia investigation and texts from the FBI while the investigation is ongoing. Is this about transparency or political retribution? We have the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee joining us next.

President Trump has ordered some documents and text messages related to the ongoing Russia investigation to be declassified and released. Conservatives House Republicans say these could shed light on politically motivated wrongdoing in the Justice Department and the FBI. Key Democrats call this unprecedented and dangerous. [08:20:12]

CAMEROTA: Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says it's an abuse of power. In a statement, Schiff says, "I have been previously informed by the FBI and Justice Department that they would consider their release a red line, it must not be crossed as they may compromise sources and methods."

Congressman Schiff joins us now. Good morning, Congressman.

ADAM SCHIFF, US CONGRESSMAN, CALIFORNIA, DEMOCRAT: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: Okay, so let's start with that red line. If the FBI and the DOJ believe that this is a red line, it must not be crossed, what are their options? Are you calling on Director Chris Wray of the FBI and DNI Dan Coats to refuse the President's directive?

SCHIFF: Well, I think what they're intending to do is they are going to go through these documents and they're going to redact ...

CAMEROTA: All right. Technology has failed us. He is on the kind of technology where the audio drops out of. Do we have - oh, hi, Congressman. Are you back?

SCHIFF: I am back, I hope.

CAMEROTA: Fantastic. Oh, hi. So you were saying that they are going to be redacted documents?

SCHIFF: I would expect what will happen is that the Justice Department and the FBI will redact portions that of it that would be revealing of sources and methods or revealing methods or material that could compromise the investigation. And a question is will the White House take no to an answer when it comes to those redactions? I think they have to insist on it. We have been told by the FBI and Justice Department that some of this material not only shouldn't be shared with the public but shouldn't be shared even with other members of the Congress outside of the gang of eight.

CAMEROTA: And why is that? I know you don't want to reveal specifics, but what is so dangerous about this being revealed? Because again, the White House says this is all in the interest of public transparency. And so, what is it, your impression, that would be so dangerous for the public to see?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, a couple things. First of all, the argument about transparency is salacious because among other things, for months, we have been urging the majority to release the transcripts of all these witnesses we've interviewed and they promised to do, and they refused until two days in what looks like a coordinated move, both the Chairman of our committee and the President have ordered stuff released.

That is essentially what the Trump legal defense team has called for. This is a president intervening in a specific case pending investigation that potentially implicates the President of the United States. So that is one huge problem, but the problem that the Justice Department and FBI and members of the intelligence committee are concerned about also is that people's identities could be revealed who are sources and beyond that, other people around the world who are sources are going to look at what's happening in this political circus with this President and believe their identities won't be protected. That will cause them to cease cooperating with us. That is dangerous to the country.

CAMEROTA: All right, well here is what the Chairman of your committee, Devin Nunes says about your objections. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEVIN NUNES, US REPRESENTATIVE, CALIFORNIA, REPUBLICAN: I don't know how many times they are going to run this play call. But it is laughable that they are saying this is going to somehow endanger national security. This is really full transparency for the American people. This will be all the information really that I think the American people will need to see because for two years, we have been force feeding this Russia Kool-Aid to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Congressman, what is your response to him saying that it is laughable?

SCHIFF: Well, of course, this is a person who went on the midnight run to go to the White House and then present documents back to the White House and misrepresent where he got them and produced that memo that was so misleading once we did get to see some - when the public got to see some of the FISA - so I think, his credibility is not what it ought to be.

But more than that, this is not just Democrats on the Intelligence Committee saying that this is what the directive of the FBI, the Republican appointed director of the FBI, Christopher Wray has told us in terms of this being a red line and it should be treated at the gang of eight level. This is what the Deputy Attorney General appointed by the administration, Republican President has told us. This is the view of the intelligence community and law enforcement and that ought to be respected.

And the fact that they simply don't care about the repercussions in terms of national security. All they care about is defending the President or putting out material that you think is legal sensitive and to be used tells you a lot about where their priorities are.

CAMEROTA: And just give us the context of - is this unprecedented that the President of the United States would call for the release of this evidence while there is an ongoing investigation?

[08:25:01]

SCHIFF: Absolutely. We set a strong precedent in policy and established a powerful norm after Watergate that a President of the United States does not interfere with specific cases handled by the Justice Department. And that would apply tenfold in any case that might implicate the White House. That's exactly what's happening here.

The president is saying effectively as if he were a defendant in a criminal case, "I'm going to order the government to give me material I have no right to see. I'm going to order it be made public as the way I am feeding it my defense team and my seedy lawyers." That is completely unprecedented. It is yet another break down of the rule of law and among the most troubling aspects of this, the Congress of the United States, which is supposed to be a check on abuse by the executive, is instead working in concert with the executive to undermine the rule of law.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you for your patience with our technology gremlins. Great to have your perspective this morning.

SCHIFF: No problem.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much.

JOHN BERMAN, HOST, NEW DAY: It's just unprecedented for this kind of presidential order to release this kind of information in the middle of an investigation.

CAMEROTA: Right. Regardless of whether or not you think that the contents will, you know, endanger national security, which is what he believes, that's what Devin Nunes refutes, it is just a norm breaking unprecedented move.

BERMAN: Right, no Republican women - sorry, no women, I should say on the Republican side of the Senate Judiciary Committee, how will that affect the questioning of Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh during this groundbreaking hearing on Monday?

[08:30:00]