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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Delaware Senator Chris Coons; Another Kavanaugh Accuser Comes Forward. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 24, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:34:07]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That this is a fine man. And we certainly hope he's going to be confirmed, and quickly.

His family has suffered. His family has suffered. What's going on is not something that should happen. Brett Kavanaugh is an absolute, outstanding person. Hopefully, he will be confirmed quickly.

Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That was President Trump just moments ago speaking about the now two accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior that have been launched against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Chris Coons from Delaware. He's on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, first of all, I would like to get your reaction, if possible, to what President Trump just said there, including his argument that Brett Kavanaugh is suffering and his family is suffering.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, I was struck that President Trump initially made some positive and appropriate statements. He actually said, we should have a full and fair hearing process, and that we should hear Dr. Ford's allegations.

[16:35:08]

That didn't last very long. And there wasn't much substance behind it, because the president and the White House declined to direct the FBI to actually investigate Dr. Ford's allegations.

And, as you have heard, Majority Leader McConnell and President Trump have both taken the side of Judge Kavanaugh, said, this is a shame. They do not believe Dr. Ford, and a number of other Republican senators have said slighting or disparaging things about Dr. For and now Deborah Ramirez.

And, frankly, I'm concerned that what we have heard from Majority Leader McConnell, that he intends to plow through the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh, is the majority opinion of the majority party here.

TAPPER: Well, the argument from Trump and Kavanaugh supporters -- we just heard from a Trump supporter on our panel -- is that Brett Kavanaugh has already been through five or six FBI background checks. They haven't found anything untoward. Why conduct another one?

COONS: Great question.

Why would the FBI have known to go back and question Judge Kavanaugh about an alleged sexual assault in high school or college, if no accuser had come forward? So, he may very well have cleared previous FBI background checks in which there was some questioning about high school behavior.

Every federal nominee for a federal judgeship is questioned about drug abuse, alcohol use. But they wouldn't have known to ask any questions about sexual abuse or assault.

And one of the things, Jake, I think is important for members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the general public to better understand is that the vast majority of victims of sexual assault don't come forward, don't share their terrible experiences, even with their closest friends and family members, often for decades.

TAPPER: What do you make of the "New Yorker" story about Deborah Ramirez, who, by her own admission, had been drinking a lot on the night in question and doesn't have a full memory of the incident?

Do you think that there is enough in that story to merit another investigation?

COONS: Well, I think that's exactly why we should have the professionals at the FBI conduct a prompt, but thorough investigation of the allegations of both Dr. Ford and Ms. Ramirez.

I will remind you that, 27 years ago, when Professor Anita Hill came forward with disturbing allegations of sexual harassment by then Judge Thomas, the hearing that was held in the room right behind me had an FBI investigation that preceded it. And there were 20 witnesses, witnesses who were brought forward in no small part by that FBI investigation.

And it didn't take months. It didn't even take weeks. There is still plenty of time for the FBI to investigate these allegations. This is about the reputation, the credibility of the Supreme Court. Why would we want two justices on the United States Supreme Court who have a cloud over their service of unresolved, not fully addressed allegations of sexual assault?

TAPPER: Do you believe the accusations made by Christine Blasey Ford and made by Deborah Ramirez?

COONS: I believe...

TAPPER: Do you think they're telling the truth? COONS: I believe them both. And I think it's important for other

senators,in order to assess their truthfulness, to have them testify in front of us, and to have an FBI investigation that would put in front of us more facts.

An easy question, I think, is, why not have Mark Ford come forward and testify? Excuse me, Mark Judge. Why not have Judge Kavanaugh's friend, who is named by Dr. Ford, who has written and spoken widely about his drunken and lewd behavior in high school, why not have him in front of us under oath?

It seems to me that there may well be something here that the majority is trying to not have put in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

TAPPER: Now, you have said that you agree with Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. You want Thursday's hearing postponed because you want the FBI to investigate all the allegations.

COONS: Correct.

TAPPER: Obviously, there was a lot of effort made to bring Professor Ford and the Judiciary Committee to an agreement. Is there any sign that Chairman Grassley is at least considering that?

I mean, and what do you say to the argument that, let's just let Professor Ford tell her story Thursday? She's willing to do it. Let's do it.

COONS: I do think that it is a positive thing that we are going to hear the testimony of Dr. Ford. I do think we should also be hearing from Ms. Ramirez.

And the point that I keep making and the ranking member of the committee, Senator Feinstein, keeps making is that, for us to be able to assess these facts, we need them to be further investigated by the FBI.

In the absence of that, it really is likely to turn into a he said/she said sort of hearing.

TAPPER: Senator...

COONS: I will remind you, Dr. Ford is not on trial here. It's Judge Kavanaugh who is seeking a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

[16:40:05]

TAPPER: Mitch McConnell says -- we only have 30 seconds.

Mitch McConnell says this is all a smear campaign by Democrats because you couldn't stop Brett Kavanaugh.

COONS: I disagree, and I disagree fervently.

I think what we have here is an opportunity for the Judiciary Committee to show that we can give a respectful hearing to the allegations of victims of sexual abuse.

TAPPER: What do you make of the fact that Brett Kavanaugh and his wife are giving an interview to FOX News?

COONS: Well, they're welcome to give interviews to any outlet they wish. What matters is what they're going to say in front of the Judiciary Committee.

I wish he would also submit to a lie-detector test, which Dr. Ford did, or submit to further FBI background questioning. You know, if Judge Kavanaugh wants to set this record straight, there are easy ways for him to come forward. An interview on FOX News doesn't quite rise to that standard.

TAPPER: A lie-detector test. Senator, lie-detector tests aren't even admissible in court. You know that.

COONS: Yet they are widely used by the federal government in order to conduct certain background checks and to confirm that certain folks are appropriate to serve in federal law enforcement functions.

I'm just pointing out that, compared to doing an interview on FOX News, Dr. Ford volunteered to have a former FBI agent administer a lie-detector test.

What really would count, in my view, is if both of them would submit to further questioning by the FBI and bring forward names of folks who they would suggest would be able to corroborate their side of the story.

TAPPER: Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.

COONS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Drama unfolding on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue while President Trump is front and center at the United Nations in New York.

A look at the White House's strategy on how to deal with all of this next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: As the president tackles global issues at the United Nations right now he and his administration are scrambling to handle two crises back in Washington and both appear to be coming to a head on Thursday. The confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is in jeopardy after a second woman has accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior, raising the stakes for that Thursday hearing with Christine Blasey Ford.

On the same day, Thursday, a crucial meeting between President Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who supervises his special counsels Russia investigation. Rosenstein does not know if he will have a job beyond that meeting indeed. He expected to be fired today, sources tell CNN. CNN's Jeff Zeleny filed this report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump on the world stage today but overshadowed by troubles far closer to home. Sitting alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Mr. Trump besieged with questions about the latest episode in his long-running feud with the Justice Department.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I have a meeting with Rod Rosenstein on Thursday when I get back from all of these meetings and we'll be meeting at the White House and we'll be determining what's going on.

ZELENY: It was a day of doing dramas for the Trump administration. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who oversees the Russia investigation went to the White House expecting to be fired. He was seen leaving with Chief of Staff John Kelly. After hours of speculation about his fate, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement saying, "at the request of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he and President Trump had an extended conversation to discuss the recent news stories. Because the president is at the United Nations General Assembly and has a full schedule with leaders from around the world, they will meet on Thursday when the President returns to Washington."

The news story in question is an explosive report from the New York Times that said Rosenstein secretly discussed recording the President last year and had conversations about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

TRUMP: We want to have transparency, we want to have openness, and I look forward to meeting with Rod at that time.

ZELENY: All this as the White House fought to keep Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation alive amid new allegations of sexual misconduct which he categorically denies.

TRUMP: People come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and 30 years ago and never mention it, all of a stuff that happens. In my opinion, it's totally political. It was totally political.

ZELENY: His close advisor Kellyanne Conway who just last week set the tone for the White House response to Kavanaugh's first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: She should not be -- she should not be ignored.

ZELENY: Now changing her tune.

CONWAY: This is starting to feel like a vast left-wing conspiracy. Are we going to put decades a pent-up demand for women to feel whole on one man's shoulders?

ZELENY: The president standing squarely behind Kavanaugh and signaling it's time for Republicans to fight back.

TRUMP: There's a chance that this could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything. But I am with Judge Kavanaugh and I look forward to a vote.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now just a few moments ago, Jake, the President again reiterated his support for Judge Kavanaugh. He called him a fine, fine man and a scholar. He said it would be sad if anything stopped his confirmation. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny with the President at the U.N. Let's talk about this with my experts. I want to bring in Major Garrett who's on loan from CBS for us because he's promoting his new book Mr. Trump's Wild Ride, about covering the Trump presidency. Major, we just got some new sound from this exclusive interview that Brett Kavanaugh and his wife did with Fox News. Let's roll that clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- look at each other and say I'm out. This is enough. This is just isn't worth it.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, NOMINEE, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of -- out of this process and we're looking for a fair process where I can be heard and defend the -- my integrity, my lifelong record, my lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women starting with the women who knew me when I was 14 years old. I'm not going anywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:50:26] TAPPER: He seems to be getting a little upset there. Major, your reaction.

MAJOR GARRETT, HOST, CBS NEWS: This is an odd tactic. It's kind of a prebuttal to his own testimony before the Judiciary Committee. It gives those who support him cause for celebration that he's "fighting back," but those who are curious about his deportment, his demeanor, his orientation to these underlying questions are also going to have fodder that they can pick at and discuss and it will change the atmospherics before this Thursday Judiciary Committee hearing. '

They were willing to risk changing the atmospherics to begin to get their push back out there. To do that by themselves as a nominated Supreme Court Justice is -- we say this word a lot and I'm always cautious about using it because sometimes we overuse it in our trade, but I've never seen this before. It is clearly unprecedented.

TAPPER: No we talked with our Supreme Court Reporter Joan Biskupic who says that Clarence Thomas did an interview with People Magazine after his confirmation hearing, after he was confirmed, but this is the first time we've ever seen anything like this.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's unheard of. And so this signals to me that Judge Kavanaugh thinks he's in trouble and he thinks he's in so much trouble that it is in his best interest to go out there with a prebuttal before the American people or at least the Fox News viewers, OK, and try to make his case.

I think it's telling that Dr. Ford has that ran to -- run to the cameras. She's not running to the cameras, she's not necessarily even -- she's not running the People Magazine, Variety, Vanity Fair, whoever. She is waiting to get her day at the hearing because her only incentive in coming forward is to tell the truths. And so I frankly -- this makes Judge Kavanaugh look real iffy if you ask me. I think -- I don't think this was a sound strategy.

ALFONSO AGUILAR, PRESIDENT, LATINO PARTNERSHIP FOR CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES: Well, let me actually agree with Symone in the sense that I think the White House is concerned. Look, this is a P.R. event. We're not going to find the truth about the allegation. We're going to hear two different sides. I think what they're trying to do, and I agree with you this is unprecedented, this very unusual is to humanize him. Show that he is an honest person, that he doesn't have the personality of the sex abuser, but again --

TAPPER: That his wife is willing to stand by him in an interview.

AGUILAR: To stand -- to stand by him, exactly. And again, this is not a court of law. What we're going to see is the P.R. strategy from both sides and we're going to have to see Thursday what happened.

SANDERS: But I'd like to note, we haven't seen a P.R. strategy from Dr. Ford. She had only come forward to tell her story to tell the truth.

TAPPER: Right.

AGUILAR. No, but -- I agree. I agree. I don't --

SANDERS: We have seen Kavanaugh pontificate on Fox News because he's in trouble because --

AGUILAR: Symone, I don't question Dr. Ford. I questioned the people around her that are manipulating her for political purposes.

TAPPER: So I want to change the subject if I can to Rod Rosenstein in this big important meeting that he's going to have with President Trump on Thursday where he and potentially the Russian investigation, the fates of both of them hang in the balance. You have some new reporting.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been so much confusion over why would Rod Rosenstein offer his resignation, did he, what was the confusion going back and forth on that. We're learning a little bit more behind the reasoning of that and that's what as Rod Rosen Stein was under the impression that President Trump was going to be a lot angrier about that New York Times story that said he said suggested secretly recording the president and discussed weighing -- invoking the 25th Amendment to get him out of office.

Now, Rod Rosenstein thought when that story dropped which they had a heads up on obviously because they were to shop for comment that President Trump was going to be really angry, that he was going to be fired by President Trump. That is why in part that he offered his resignation to the Chief of Staff John Kelly on Friday and we've had that you know, continuing drama over what his status was today.

President Trump was angry about it. He was skeptical of it though because the reporting came from Andrew McCabe in those memos. And he asks people in the hours after should I just fire him? What should I do? But he wasn't as angry with it as people thought. He was much more preoccupied with the Kavanaugh drama this weekend than he was with Rod Rosenstein.

GARRETT: For a good reason. President Trump prioritizes the fate of the Supreme Court and it's attachment to his legacy over almost everything else in domestic politics especially now. He also feared and I heard over the weekend that he was being set up, that this New York Times story was meant to create --

TAPPER: (INAUDIBLE) was saying that. Yes.

GARRETT: -- a volcanic reaction and get him to do something that would be damaging to him politically in the short term and potentially the long term. And there were parts of that story to me based on my reporting that didn't add up either. If you were going to talk about the 25th Amendment, you don't take that to Jeff Sessions and John Kelly at DHS. Those are the two least likely allies you're going to have with that. That didn't add up. The President thought maybe this was something working him in a direction that would be injurious.

TAPPER: All right, Major Garrett, again the book is Mr. Trump's Wild Ride. Go catch it. You can get it at Amazon or your local bookstore. A Plane full of firsts arrives in the nation's capital for a very special trip, decades in the making. Who are these people? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD," what's being built as a history-making flight for a group of women who risk it all to serve their country. A veterans group flew more than 130 female veterans to Washington D.C. today so they could visit the memorials dedicated to their service. The oldest veteran to make the trip, a 98-year-old woman who was a nurse during World War II. She was joined by female veterans from Vietnam, the Gulf War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The veterans were also treated to a guest appearance by Loretta Swit who played Major Margaret Houlihan on MASH. To those women and to all others who served and sacrificed, thank you so much. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, you're fired or not.