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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Slams Attorney General Again; Trump and GOP Refuse to Order FBI Investigation Into Kavanaugh Sexual Assault Allegations; Anita Hill Questions if Ford Hearing Will Be a "Sham". Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired September 19, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans putting Brett Kavanaugh's accuser on the clock.
THE LEAD starts right now.
The GOP offering Christine Blasey Ford four options to tell her story about the night she alleges Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her in high school, as President Trump once again voices support for his nominee.
"I don't have an attorney general." President Trump's stunning comments about his top law enforcement official and a cancerous Russia probe. The latest chapter in the president fight's with Sessions taking a nasty turn.
Plus, after 68 years, is peace breaking out on the Korean Peninsula? The North and South committing to an era of no war, but, of course, there's a catch.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Jake.
And we begin with the politics lead.
Locked in a stalemate. Democrats and Christine Blasey Ford want the FBI to investigate her claim that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers. Republicans and President Trump say no need for more investigation and instead are pushing for Ford to testify on Monday.
The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee now offering four options for Ford to speak with the committee, which range from a public hearing to a private interview, even offering to travel to California, where Ford lives.
Today, President Trump continued his praise for Kavanaugh, also noting it's -- quote -- "very hard" for him to imagine that anything happened.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us.
So, Kaitlan, the president today also saying he wants to give this process all the time it needs.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erica, but it's a process that the president doesn't think needs all that much time.
President Trump urging Christine Blasey Ford to come forward and tell her story. But he's echoing what Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying, that she should come forward on Monday, and that no FBI investigation is necessary.
COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump voicing confidence today that is Supreme Court nominee will weather the sexual assault allegation made against him, so confident, in fact, that he's already referring to Brett Kavanaugh as justice.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Justice Kavanaugh.
K. COLLINS: Kavanaugh's nomination seems to be moving forward, as Republicans are growing frustrated with his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, who announced through her attorney Tuesday night on CNN that she wanted an FBI investigation before testifying.
Trump, who has the power to make that call, arguing for the opposite today.
TRUMP: I would let the senators take their course. Let the senators do it.
K. COLLINS: Florida alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, accusations he denies. Trump urging her to tell her story.
TRUMP: I would really want to see her. I really would want to see what she has to say.
K. COLLINS: But casting doubt on her allegation.
TRUMP: He is such an outstanding man, very hard for me to imagine that anything happened.
K. COLLINS: Trump adding this curious statement today.
TRUMP: If she shows up and makes a credible showing, that will be very interesting, and we will have to make a decision.
K. COLLINS: Ford's attorney tells CNN that since she came forward, she's had her e-mail hacked and been impersonated online.
LISA BANKS, ATTORNEY FOR CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: She has been dealing with hate mail, harassment, death threats. So she's been spending her time trying to figure out how to put her life back together, how to protect herself and her family.
K. COLLINS: White health officials say there's no plan to withdraw Kavanaugh's nomination. Though the Monday hearing is still in question, he's back at the White House today for prep sessions, spending hours this week telling aides about his dating life and teenage years.
TRUMP: They're hurting somebody's life very badly, and it's very unfair.
K. COLLINS: As the president vigorously defended his nominee, he made clear he thinks Democrats are to blame.
TRUMP: Why didn't Senator Feinstein bring this up at her meeting with Judge Kavanaugh?
K. COLLINS: Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, telling reporters today he's continuing to reach out to Ford.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Where I'm focused right now is doing everything that we can to make Dr. Ford comfortable with coming before our committee.
K. COLLINS: But Senator Susan Collins, who could be a crucial vote for Kavanaugh, pushing back on Ford's request for an FBI investigation, adding:
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I think it's not fair to Judge Kavanaugh for not to come forward and testify.
K. COLLINS: Now, Erica, the White House is pleased with this latest requests from Ford, because their biggest fear was having her come forward, tell a very convincing story, and sway the votes of people like right there Senator Susan Collins.
Now that fear seems to be disappearing. And this take-it-or-leave-it attitude from Republicans very well shows the Kavanaugh could be on his way to confirmation -- Erica.
HILL: Kaitlan Collins at the White House with the latest for us.
Kaitlan, thank you.
I also want to bring in this tweet from Senator Bob Corker, who writes: "After learning of the allegation, Chairman Chuck Grassley took immediate action to ensure both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh had the opportunity to be heard in public or private. Republicans extended a hand in good faith. If we don't hear from both sides on Monday, let's vote."
Kirsten, picking up on both that tweet and what we just heard from Kaitlan, it's very clear, Republicans are saying, look, we are moving forward with Judge Kavanaugh with you or without you, Dr. Ford.
Would it be in her best interest to be there?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know how just having two different people testify really helps anything, because then people just sort of decide well, I think I guess this person's story sounds more credible. How do you really assess that?
That's why I think needs to be some sort of investigation. There are two people who have been identified who she says were there. They say that they weren't. Those people should be questioned by the FBI, at a bare minimum. And I think they should do an investigation similar to what was done with Clarence Thomas. It didn't take that long.
And I think it is a very difficult situation in terms of the amount of time that has passed, and it's very possible that we will never have a satisfactory resolution. But we should try.
And I think what's interesting about just listening to the president right now is what he just said is literally exactly what he said about Roger Ailes when Roger Ailes was accused by Gretchen Carlson. It is almost verbatim, that he's a good man, I can't imagine that he did this, and this is really awful that this is happening to him.
Well, we know very well that, after all those people came out and said, oh, Roger Ailes never did this to me, there was this whole other story that came out.
So I think it's important to investigate it. I don't think just having two people tell different stories really advances this in any way.
HILL: David, just in terms of that investigation, Kavanaugh has come out and said very clearly that didn't happen. So what is the downside to him if he is saying, this is the story to an investigation?
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what Kirsten just said is correct.
You can have the FBI talk to as many people as you would like to in this case and I think you're going to end up with where you -- where we started right now, not a whole lot of information.
POWERS: That's not what I said.
URBAN: Not a whole lot of information.
No, Kirsten, well, my point being is that you have you have heard the two other people here that are alleged to have been there. They both strongly deny that they were there.
POWERS: Not under oath, they haven't, and not to the FBI.
URBAN: OK. All right. Well, they could they could be brought before the committee and put under oath.
POWERS: They don't want to.
POWERS: They have been asked the committee, before the committee, and they won't. Why won't they? I mean, that's a sort of odd thing, don't you think?
URBAN: Listen, I think that Dr. Ford, Professor Ford has an opportunity to come and be heard.
I think Senator Grassley is giving her a wide range of options. He will go to -- he will go to California, so it doesn't make it uncomfortable for her. He wants to make it as comfortable as possible for her to testify...
URBAN: ... and give her side of the story. I think that he is trying to do everything within his power to...
POWERS: I don't think she wants to be comfortable. I think she wants an investigation. And she's willing to -- she is willing literally to put herself under oath with the FBI.
You have one person thing saying, I will talk to the FBI, at the threat of going to jail if I lie, and you have other people saying, I won't talk to anybody, I want testify, and we won't do an FBI investigation.
URBAN: I talked about this earlier.
I think that if you could get both sides together, when you look back to the Anita Hill hearing, way back, one of the things that both sides did well is that then Senator Thurmond and Chairman Biden, they both agreed to have the FBI jointly look into this and do this in a bipartisan manner, which engendered a lot of trust on both sides.
Here, in this case, you have both sides -- you have the Democrats showing up before -- before Judge Kavanaugh was even nominated saying they're going to vote against the president's nominee no matter who it is, and not a great hearing that took place.
You have this -- you have Professor Ford coming forward telling Senator Feinstein she doesn't want to be made public, her name doesn't want to be made public, it getting leaked by somebody, she being dragged out kicking and screaming here, unfortunately.
It doesn't do anybody any service here. There's a complete failure on the part of the committee to do their job.
(CROSSTALK) JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: David, if I could just jump in, I think we're missing the point here, which is that there's one person who's interviewing for a job. That is Judge Kavanaugh.
And right now, it's not a he said vs. she said. This should be a question of making sure the victim, who is Dr. Ford...
URBAN: I agree.
PSAKI: I know, but you're defending the approach, a...
URBAN: I'm saying suspicion -- there is suspicion aroused -- the Democrats -- everyone would like to have Dr. Ford have the opportunity to have her voice heard.
The Republicans on the committee, I'm just -- I'm surmising -- I have not spoken with them. But I'm guessing that they think that it's going to be unlimited delay. My suggestion is, you have some sort of limited -- you give the FBI a week to talk to all the parties involved.
It doesn't appear that there are 100 people involved here. It appears there's a handful of folks involved. I think the FBI could credibly look into all these -- the allegations, talk to all the parties involved and present the facts to both sides in a short -- in a short time.
HILL: ... should and could happen.
Sara, it's interesting, though. We're looking at even what we're seeing from Senator Collins, so putting out that -- we heard what she said to the radio station. She is saying, I hope that Dr. Ford will decide to come and speak.
It doesn't seem like there's a lot of wiggle room among Republicans at this point. They are appearing as if they are in lockstep. Is it your sense that there is any wiggle room, that maybe there could be some sort of bipartisan push here to say, OK, fine, let's do this investigation, try to get the president on board, and work through those channels?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not done until it's done.
But the president's voice is a big one in this. And he is the one who could say, OK, look, I have asked the FBI to go back to have these conversations, to do this investigation.
And I think it's notable that instead the president is refusing to say that. He says he doesn't necessarily believe the FBI needs to be involved in this. He talked about how hard he believes this is for Kavanaugh.
And this is a man who's sitting in the White House. It would probably benefit his own credibility, his own standing among women if he didn't take a step to suggest, OK, I'm going to give this alleged victim's story a little bit of credibility. I am going to ask the FBI to look into this, because of the allegations that Trump has faced in his own past, and because he does consistently take the side of the man who is accused of bad behavior, rather than an alleged victim who is bringing these accusations.
But we're not seeing that President Trump. And I think that that is why you can see Republicans sort of move forward in this lockstep. They're not getting any backup. They're not getting any pressure from the president, and the Democrats don't have the votes to stop this.
URBAN: Yes, but, Sara, to kind of push back on that narrative, I mean, Senator Corker, Senator Flake, Senator Collins, Senator Murkowski, there never one to follow the president's lead on this.
They're speaking independently here. They're not falling the president's lead on this. As a matter of fact, I believe they spoke out earlier today before you heard the president.
MURRAY: That's a fair point. But, I mean, the president is the president of the United States. He's had his own issues on this front.
I don't think, for the United States, for women in the United States, especially, as we're looking ahead to the midterms and also the president's reelection, to say, hey, maybe the president should step up and take some leadership on this issue, I don't think that that is a crazy thing to put out there.
But it's obviously not something he wants to do. And as you pointed out, you're right. There are not other committee members right now who are pushing for this, other senators right now who seem to be pushing for this in a way that you might expect.
HILL: And even if they're in the minority, is there anything that Democrats could do at this point? Because they have been fairly silent.
PSAKI: Well, look, I think what the Democrats are doing, which should tell the American people everything they need to know about the difference between the parties, is trying to be respectful of the wishes of the victim of sexual assault in this case.
And they are not trying to make this an absurd circus, which is what the other side is trying to do.
URBAN: Jen, I don't think Senator Grassley is saying I will travel to you to do whatever you need, Professor Ford, to make it comfortable.
I think he's trying to avoid the spectacle of a circus. PSAKI: David, I think what we have seen from Senator Grassley and
from a number of Republicans -- Orrin Hatch is my favorite example of the past week -- is efforts to get at the credibility of Dr. Ford.
PSAKI: This is something that quite common, quite common that happens to victims.
It is very rare for a victim of sexual assault in this country to falsely accuse someone. And, instead, they are putting her on the stand, instead of putting Kavanaugh on the stand.
HILL: Hold that thought.
URBAN: No one is looking to put her on the stand, Jen. They're trying to make her comfortable telling her story.
HILL: All right, hold that thought.
We're going to continue to dive into this, because there's still a lot to say.
Meantime, dazed, confused, nonexistent, President Trump's latest lines of attack against one of his own.
Plus, a crackdown at the State Department, as Secretary Mike Pompeo was taking a page from an elementary school teacher.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[16:18:21] ANITA HILL: But we're not talking about whether the conditions are ideal. We're talking about weather the conditions are actually tenable, whether or not it is going to be anything more than just a sham proceeding so that the senators can say we gave her a chance to talk and then move on to doing exactly what they were intending to do before she came forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: That, of course, is Anita Hill, the woman who testified about sexual harassment allegations against now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas back in 1991, and there are definite parallels today.
David, I want to pick up on something that you were talking about in the last segment and you were saying, yes, what do we give it a week? Let's see about this FBI investigation.
URBAN: Right. HILL: We know what only took three days with Anita Hill, why do you think there is so much resistance? We have both Chairman Grassley, we have the president saying this just isn't the FBI's thing but there's precedent. This is the FBI's thing.
Is there a chance that that could change? And as Sarah pointed out this could be a great moment for the president to take the lead here.
URBAN: Look, I don't disagree. I think this is -- that we should give Professor Ford the opportunity to be heard in whatever format she'd like to be heard. So, I think by affording the FBI a few days to go in and conduct an investigation and then bring that back to the committee, I don't think it's the end of the world. And I think that's what it takes to make her comfortable and to get everybody on the same page moving forward. I don't see the giant drawback in that.
What I do think though is that the parties on the Hill, both the senators -- both senators on both sides of the aisle, that they're stuck in this intransigent position in which each side is unwilling to give an inch.
[16:20:01] And I think that's unfortunate.
URBAN: Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton who, of course, was in the House during the time of the Anita Hill hearings. She spoke with CNN last night. Here's part of what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: Actually, I think Anita Hill received more due process. For example, witnesses were allowed to testify. There were witnesses said that Clarence Thomas had done the very same thing to them and they put in affidavits. They were able to testify. You don't see anything like that being for brought forward here.
So, if anything, this is a more serious allegation with not as much due process as Anita Hill had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Jen, could there be some sort of middle ground here? Could it involve an affidavit for example?
PSAKI: Look, I think the question should be why should there be middle ground? Shouldn't even Republican senators, I certainly hope Republican senators listen to what David Urban has to say, but shouldn't they want to get to the bottom of this?
URBAN: Jen, I love that.
PSAKI: Shouldn't they want to get to the bottom of this and take the time necessary? I think a justifiable question which David also seems to agree with is, why is Monday the rushing time? Why wouldn't there be more witnesses? Why couldn't there be a thorough process to see to get to the bottom of these accusations? You know, as I said in the earlier part of the show, it is very rare for someone to falsely accuse -- you know, for a woman to falsely accuse a man of sexual assault. That being said, you know, this is a person who is being hired for a lifetime appointment. So, let's take the time whether that's days, weeks, months to get to the bottom of it.
And I'm not sure there -- I don't think there should be a middle ground or a lesser ground when it's something that is that significant. We should hold our Supreme Court justices to the highest standards.
MURRAY: I do think one of the things, though, that Republicans would say and, David, you can obviously run on this though, is that there is a process for this kind of thing. I mean, there is a process by which you can go over sensitive issues like this and that Dianne Feinstein did have, you know, information that she didn't bring up in in due process, and in a lot of ways, she has done a disservice to this woman's story --
URBAN: That's correct.
MURRAY: -- by waiting until the last second and waiting until Republicans sort of felt like they were backed into a corner and that was more of a political move that anything else, because, you know, there is good reason to bring this stuff up behind closed doors and to air these allegations.
URBAN: Sara is correct.
MURRAY: And I think Republicans are in that in that way, they're right to feel --
PSAKI: Well, look there though, and then David. Look, I think that this is -- this has been messy, and I think it hasn't been handled perfectly. But ultimately, what Senator Feinstein was trying to do -- and remember, she was somebody who got elected right after the Anita Hill hearings and this is all very still present in her mind, was be as respectful to the victim as humanly possible.
Now, should she have shared it earlier? I understand all these questions that are being raised, but it doesn't matter. It's out in public now.
URBAN: Jen, you can still raise it with the FBI and keep confidentiality.
PSAKI: But, David, I think ultimately the question is, it's out in public now. We're talking about Brett Kavanaugh and whether he is guilty of sexual assault. That's what we should be focused on. Not the process of when it came out and how it came out, who cares?
URBAN: I'm not, I agree with you. I think that there should be a -- she should get to be heard in a format that she's most comfortable in, that satisfies the committee, that may, you know, what -- the Republicans are now fixated on the Democrats going to seek to delay this forever, and that's why I was saying, you know, when you're talking about not trying to agree to a middle ground, you have to get a middle ground here. Otherwise, nothing's going to move forward.
MURRAY: And just to be clear, the FBI has said there is no there's no federal crime to investigate here. So, it's not like the FBI, you know, even if they were brought in to do this background check would come out and say, oh, you know, Brett Kavanaugh is guilty of sexual assault here. That's not what would -- what would happen in a background check, the FBI has been very clear that there's not a federal crime for them to come in and investigate.
That's different, of course, than them being brought in and saying, you have this new information now, go back, interview these people, use this to flesh out your background check and then come back to us.
PSAKI: Absolutely true, but it's quite common to reopen a background check, and it is something that was done when I was in a Democratic White House when it was requested by Republicans.
HILL: Real quickly, Kirsten, is there any way for this not to be political? And let's be clear, this is political on both sides.
POWERS: I mean, no. There's no way for anything to not be political in D.C. But that doesn't really matter. And at the end of the day, this person has made an accusation and there needs to be an investigation into it.
And I'm glad to hear David saying this, but no other Republican is this. They're all arguing, it doesn't need to happen. And I think for Judge Kavanaugh's sake, it needs to happen.
URBAN: I agree.
POWERS: If I was him and there were and there were two people who could go you know and talk to the FBI or be under oath and say this absolutely didn't happen, I certainly would want that. So, you know, I don't think we want to have this out there, you know, hanging over him if he's appointed to the court.
URBAN: Yes, I agree.
HILL: All right. Stay with us.
How about this next one? If your boss tells you -- tells the world that you don't exist, imagine what that must feel like. The target of President Trump's latest insult outburst.
[16:29:45] HILL: I have no attorney general, stunning comments by President Trump as he continued his blistering attack on Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department. The president then piling on again before leaving Washington today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Disappointed in the attorney general for many reasons. And you understand that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is here.
So, Jessica, the attorney general is, of course, the president's hand- picked chief law enforcement officer.