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GOP Allies Urge Trump Not to Fire Rosenstein Ahead of Midterms; Cosby Sentencing Begins Today; Flood Waters Posing Environmental Threat in North Carolina; Tiger Woods Wins Tour Championship. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 24, 2018 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Welcome back. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's job could be in jeopardy, following "The New York Times" report that Rosenstein discussed wearing a wire to record President Trump and discuss the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump. Rosenstein, we should note, has forcefully denied the reports, saying that they are, quote, "inaccurate and factually incorrect."

[09:34:20] So this comes as Republican allies of the president are urging him not to act too quickly. Certainly not to fire Rosenstein, if he plans to do that, before Kavanaugh's confirmation vote and also before the midterms, saying it could complicate a lot of things.

With us now is criminal defense attorney Caroline Polisi. Thanks for being here.

I was struck -- we were struck, listening to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and this exchange on "FOX News Sunday" just yesterday. Let's listen to it.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: If you can't be on the team, if you're not supporting this mission, then maybe you just ought to find something else to do.

We need everyone who's engaged in helping achieve President Trump's mission. And I hope that everyone, in every agency -- DOJ, FBI, State Department -- is on that mission. And if you're not, if you're not, you should take this time to go do something more productive.

[09:35:09] CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: And I assume that talking about wiring the president, talking about the 25th Amendment has not been on the table.

POMPEO: Not remotely.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: How can -- or can Rosenstein survive this at this point in this role? Because he's got an incredibly important job and, by the way, he's the one who oversees the Russia probe, oversees Mueller's probe.

CAROLINE POLISI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That's right. Regardless of the veracity of the claims in this bombshell story, whether or not he said it sarcastically or whether it was actually in earnest -- and I don't think there's any possibility that it was in earnest, Poppy and Jim.

Because everything we know about Rosenstein is he's sort of a by-the- book guy. The idea of him wearing a wire is just preposterous. But it does highlight the precarious nature that he's been in since the very beginning, since the early days of this presidency. He, I mean, in my opinion, could both be a witness in this investigation, as well as overseeing the investigation, which is not a good place to be.

So, you know, there's been rumblings about recusal since the beginning here. But I think, if anything, this highlights that, potentially, Rod Rosenstein may need to recuse himself.

SCIUTTO: It's interesting, though. You mentioned for months, he's been in this precarious position. And yet, he is still the deputy attorney general of the United States, overseeing this investigation that the president dislikes strongly, to say the least. There's a lot of reporting that the president is getting internal advice not to take that move, because firing James Comey unleashed a whole host of consequences that the president does not like, including a special counsel. Does that hold, is the question? That advice holds.

POLISI: Absolutely. Remember, the special counsel's investigation is not only into Russia collusion but also obstruction of justice. And so the pillar of any obstruction of justice charge would be, obviously, the firing of James Comey and the intent there.

So we know that Rosenstein drafted that, what's now known to be a largely pretextual memo about the firing of Comey, saying that he was recommending it to the president because of the way that Comey handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal.

Now, it seems to me, if all the reporting is correct, that Rosenstein was shocked when Trump stated that the reason he was firing Comey was because of this memo. He essentially used that memo as a pretext. Then of course, he told Lester Holt that it was about the Russia investigation.

I think that, if the president fires Rosenstein at this point, it will be a disaster for the midterm elections.

HARLOW: You'll remember, Rosenstein went to the appropriate folks who oversee the ethics of all of this to check. You know, could he still adequately, when Sessions recused himself --

SCIUTTO: Right. He asked for guidance.

HARLOW: -- what was their guidance, or independent guidance on whether he could appropriately oversee the Russian probe because of your point that could he be a witness in it. It was found that he could.

Let's take this for a moment. That if he is, for any reason, no longer overseeing it, what happens? Who's then in charge of the Mueller probe?

POLISI: Right. Well, it goes down the line. So first of all, it depends. The question is, if he accuses himself versus if he is fired. And if he is fired, then the president would have the opportunity to replace somebody or put somebody up there.

But I think the question is, you know, a lot of people felt like Rod Rosenstein was sort of the lesser of two evils. I mean, I think that's the reason why he hasn't been recused thus far. Democrats felt like he was overseeing this probe, at least, you know, with integrity and he wasn't going to back down to Trump.

If Trump gets a yes-man in that position, it could be really dangerous to the Mueller probe in general. Because he could be, or she could sort of pump the brakes on the investigation in unseen ways. That wouldn't be so transparent to the public but could really have disastrous effects on the investigation.

HARLOW: OK. Carline, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Thanks so much.

Former TV star Bill Cosby in court right now, facing up to 30 years in prison for indecent assault. Coming up, the other major decision the judge has to answer during the sentencing hearing.


[09:43:00] HILL: All right. Sentencing begins today for Bill Cosby. We do have some video of him arriving at the courthouse a little bit earlier this morning. This is in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

SCIUTTO: He faces up to 30 years in prison. This, after being convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004. The judge will also determine today if he will have to register as a sexually violent predator.

Athena Jones joins us now. So Athena, five of Cosby's accusers, they testified today. We could also hear from them during the sentencing today?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We could hear from them again. We could hear from Andrea Constand herself and also these other women who are able to come forward in this second trial to bolster her testimony with substantially similar stories about being drugged, being incapacitated and being assaulted. So we could hear from them today in what's called the victim impact statements.

The defense side would get a chance to cross-examine them. So we could hear some more emotional testimony about them talking about being drugged and penetrated. We could also hear from Cosby himself. He did not testify at his trial. But usually, during the sentencing phase, you'll going to have the convict trying to ask for leniency, going for leniency, and that's one thing we expect from his lawyers, as well.

HARLOW: You know, we have heard some important things from Cosby in his own words that came from deposition that he gave, admitting to some things. How -- remind our viewers of what he said when he was deposed and then, B, how that could play into the judge's sentencing today.

JONES: Well, what's interesting about that deposition, that was a secret deposition that remains secret. It was related to the civil case that Andrea Constand brought --

HILL: Right.

JONES: -- against him several years back. That settled in about 2006.

But that deposition was secret, and then when -- there was allegations that reemerged in 2014 with -- with that comedian, Hannibal Buress bringing up Cosby's accusations against him. There's a lot of pressure, a judge decided to release that deposition. That is what laying the groundwork for the prosecutors in that county to bring -- to file criminal charges against Cosby a month before the statute of limitations expired in the Andrea Constand case.

So that is really why we're here now. And that could play a role, certainly. But I would expect these potentially very emotional victim impact statements.

[09:45:06] SCIUTTO: We know you're going to keep us up to date. Athena Jones, thanks very much.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, we also have updates, testing under way near a North Carolina power plant where floodwaters are posing an environmental threat now.

HARLOW: So over the weekend, water from the bloated -- look at that, the bloated Cape Fear River forced the closure of one of these power plants that led to fear that industrial waste could seep into waterways nearby.

Meanwhile, eight rivers across North and South Carolina remained at flood stage with at least one river expected to rise another three feet by tomorrow morning.

Let's go to our Kaylee Hartung as she joins us again in Wilmington, North Carolina. I mean, this is what they were talking about, Kaylee, with all these concerns over what would the aftermath of Florence be. What are you seeing?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim and Poppy. The threat to the Carolinas continues, and the work of the volunteers of the United Cajun Navy has evolved well beyond the rescue operations that they began more than a week ago. I'm here in the volunteer group's command center. And it has turned

into a distribution center, something of a 24/7 Wal-Mart, if you will, where folks can come in and pick up the essential supplies that they need, everything from dog food, and canned food, and snacks, to fresh produce, diapers and medical supplies.

And if people can't come here to pick up what they need, the volunteers here will deliver those same fishing boats they use to rescue folks are now taking these supplies out into the areas that are otherwise cut off, because plenty of those areas still remain.

We're talking about visiting individual home, shelters. There was even a delivery to a farm that needed hay and feed for their animals. Yesterday, about 20 boats loaded up with supplies.

I hopped in one, a 16-foot bass fishing boat with two military veterans. We travelled about 50 miles up the Cape Fear River. And I was struck not just by how vast this flooding was but also the stench of that water.

You mentioned the environmental concerns of the contaminants that could be getting into this water, as it comes to that one power plant just off the Cape Fear River in this Wilmington area, Duke Energy, assures me that the coal ash basins are secure and water testing has come back with positive results. That water not contaminated, to their knowledge.

But also hog farming is a big industry here in North Carolina, the waste from those farms entering the water, as well. At one point in this journey up the river, we went more than a mile inland and we were driving a boat down the streets of the small town of Whitestock in North Carolina.

And I was able to step very easily from the boat onto the roof of a church to get a better look. And water stretches as far as the eyes can see.

When you think about the dangers of this water, though, that stench is more than just displeasing when you're in it, but it's a danger to those who get anywhere near it.

The volunteers I worked with yesterday, one of them suffering from a staph infection after working overnight rescues, another with sores on his feet. And yet these volunteers continue to donate their time, their skill and their resources to helping people who need it.

We just got a call in to this command center from a shelter in North Carolina, an area we have heard so much about in terms of how it has been cut off from the rest of civilization. They need canned goods, dish washing liquid, batteries, bug spray, pull-ups and toilet paper. Boats being loaded up right now to get those supplies to them.


SCIUTTO: Sometimes they forget the aftermath. We're glad we have Kaylee Hartung there. A lot of people still suffering, a lot of people still in danger.

On to a different story now in the sports world. He is back, Tiger Woods, finding his winning form to capture his first tournament in more than five years.


[09:53:16] SCIUTTO: Tiger Woods is back on top of the golf world, winning the Tour Championship. Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Listen -- listen, five years, Andy, four back surgeries. A host of personal issues. This is a remarkable sports comeback.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS: It is. One of the best sports comebacks maybe in the history of -- or that we've ever seen. You know, first win since 2013.

And you know, if you needed a reminder of how much Tiger Woods means to the game of golf, the scene at Eastlake, I mean, it was just incredible. Check out all the fans in the gallery, just running, cheering for Tiger as he walked up 18 on the way to victory. Never seen anything like this before.

After multiple back surgeries, you know, Tiger said he didn't know if he would ever be back in this place after putting in for his 80th PGA win of his career, Tiger raising his arms in the air to celebrate. And then he got pretty emotional when talking about his comeback.


TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: I just can't believe I pulled this off after, you know, what the season has gone through and --


SCHOLES: It had been 1,876 days since Tiger last won on the PGA tour. And in that time, there have been 239 tournaments in which 119 different people won. But after his first win in five years, Tiger spoke with CNN's Patrick Snell.


WOODS: It's been unbelievable. To get to this level again, I didn't know if that would ever happen again. And lo and behold, here we are. We're through the -- an unknown, and that was the hardest part. It was an unknown. I didn't know if I -- what I would be able to do this again or at what level, to what degree. And here we are with 80 wins. It's a pretty cool number.


[09:55:10] SCHOLES: Yes, Tiger's now off to Paris, where he's going to compete with Team USA in the Ryder Cup, which starts later on this week, guys. And he's now also the favorite to win the 2019 Masters.

HARLOW: Look at that.

SCIUTTO: Lots of emotion there watching that yesterday, for sure.

HARLOW: Love a comeback. Thank you, Andy. We appreciate it.

All right. So still ahead, President Trump speaking out this morning add the United Nations, defending his pick for the high court, Judge Kavanaugh, amid a new allegation of inappropriate sexual conduct. The president claims all of this is totally political. You'll hear from him next.


SCIUTTO: A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. So glad you're with us.