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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Third Kavanaugh Accuser Comes Forward; First Kavanaugh Accuser Set to Testify in Front of Senate. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired September 26, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: There's now a third accuser.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Breaking news: new, horrific accusations about Brett Kavanaugh's alleged behavior with girls in high school. Kavanaugh denies it all. He says the charges are from the Twilight Zone.
Michael Avenatti, who represents the woman in question, will be here in minutes.
These new serious allegations come just hours before Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, are set to testify in front of the world. Might these new charges derail that hearing? Could they even sink his confirmation?
Plus, we're just minutes away from President Trump taking questions in a very rare solo news conference. And if his newest comments on Kavanaugh are any indication, it might get a little bit nasty.
Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with the politics lead and the ugliest accusation ever made in American history against a potential U.S. Supreme Court justice, as the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh seems at its most vulnerable point ever.
A third woman today came forward with shocking allegations about Brett Kavanaugh's alleged behavior as a teenager. Julie Swetnick, who says she has held multiple security clearances while working for the government, has notified the Senate Judiciary Committee that in the 1980s at various parties she attended where the Supreme Court nominee was allegedly present, she saw Kavanaugh -- quote -- "drink excessively and engage in abusive and physically aggressive behavior towards girls, including pressing girls against him without their consent, grinding against girls and attempting to remove or shift girls' clothing to expose private body parts" -- unquote.
Even worse, Swetnick claims in this sworn statement that she witnessed efforts by Kavanaugh to -- quote -- "cause girls to become inebriated so they could then be gang-raped" -- unquote.
She says she saw lines of numerous boys, lines that included Kavanaugh, standing outside rooms where they waited for their turn with girls who were incapacitated. She says she was a victim of one such rape at a party where Kavanaugh was present. She does not say that Kavanaugh raped her or the other girls.
CNN cannot corroborate any of these claims, which are now being investigated by the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Judge Kavanaugh today forcefully denied the allegations, saying -- quote -- "This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone. I don't know who this is. And this never happened."
Swetnick of course joins Deborah Ramirez, who on Sunday alleged that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her in college, and Christine Blasey Ford, who last week said that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.
As of now, there are no eyewitnesses who have come forward to corroborate any of these charges, and, in fact, many people named as having been at the events described by Ramirez at Yale and by Blasey Ford in high school say they have no memory of those events happening.
This new accusation comes hours before President Trump's press conference in which he may attempt to get ahead of tomorrow's Senate hearing with Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.
Let's get right to CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us.
And, Phil, all 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon called on the White House to withdraw Kavanaugh's nomination.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. Senate Democrats have seen, heard or read plenty enough to pull the plug on this nomination.
You put that on one side. It stands in stark contrast with where Republican leaders are, basically telling their members to stay the course, maintain a united front. Behind closed doors at an all- conference lunch just a short while ago, that was the message. Even if members are rattled, keep pushing forward, Jake.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): A third accuser threatening to derail the already tenuous prospects of President Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR JULIE SWETNICK: The details in this declaration are specific. They are shocking. But, above all else, they are true. And my client stands behind them 100 percent.
MATTINGLY: The allegations from Julie Swetnick, who alleged in a signed affidavit she attended well over 10 parties where she saw Judge Brett Kavanaugh, then in high school, drink excessively at many of these parties and engage in abusive and physically aggressive behavior towards girls.
Swetnick also claiming Kavanaugh and others would spike the punch to cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented, so they could then be gang-raped in a side room or bedroom, later adding: "I became the victim of one of these gang or train rapes, where Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh were present."
Swetnick does not say they assaulted her or the other girls. And while Swetnick says she's aware of other witnesses who could corroborate her claims, she has not yet identified those witnesses.
Kavanaugh immediately denying the new allegations, saying in a statement: "This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone. I don't know who this is. And this never happened."
BETH WILKINSON, ATTORNEY FOR BRETT KAVANAUGH: I'm asking you why in this process which has been so debased on both sides, why are people who have these serious allegations not going to law enforcement themselves and saying, take a look at this?
MATTINGLY: Attorneys for Mark Judge, also identified by Swetnick, saying Judge -- quote -- "vehemently denies the allegations contained in the affidavit."
The Judiciary Committee Republicans snapping quickly to attention to review and address the allegations, aides say, while President Trump taking a break from meetings at the U.N. took aim at Swetnick's attorney, Michael Avenatti.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you look at this lawyer that just came out, he's a lowlife. He represented Democrats. Nobody ever talks about that. He's a Democrat lawyer. Not a very good one, but he's a Democrat lawyer.
MATTINGLY: For their part, Democrats are calling for Thursday's hearing, where Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford will testify, to be suspended.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: When the credibility is so much in doubt as it is now as Kavanaugh, that person should not be sitting, not be sitting on the highest court in the land.
MATTINGLY: But that hearing will stay on as planned, according to the committee chair.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Tomorrow is very, very important. She's been waiting for 10 days now to appear.
MATTINGLY: And, Jake, I can hardly imagine a more dramatic lead-up to a hearing or a more important, consequential hearing on Capitol Hill.
But Republicans have made very clear, not only do they plan on holding the hearing, they also still plan on having the committee vote on Friday, with floor consideration, the entire Senate voting as soon as Tuesday. But that's all contingent on one thing, actually having the votes.
And here's what I have been told by several GOP sources over the course of the last couple of hours. They don't have them right now. As one aide told me, it's basically been like Whac-A-Mole. And are they going to end up with those votes? Another aide said, we literally have no idea right now, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.
Let's talk about this with my experts.
Scott Jennings, let me start with you.
You used to work with Brett Kavanaugh, yes?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I did, yes, in the Bush White House.
TAPPER: In the Bush White House. The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, says Democrats should stop the proceedings, Kavanaugh should withdraw. At what point do you think the White House might consider doing that? This nomination, as of now, does not have the votes. They're taking on a lot of water.
JENNINGS: I think the -- what I hear from the Senate leadership today, Jake, is that they are going to have this committee hearing. They are going to take a vote. They are going to keep the Senate in all weekend and they're pressing forward and they are confident in the outcome.
So I don't sense that there's any movement towards taking this nomination down. I don't sense there's any movement towards hitting pause. I think right now Republicans are galvanized against this onslaught against Brett Kavanaugh, and the Senate leadership feels that and the White House feels that. And they're gearing up to keep the Senate in session all weekend to deal with it.
TAPPER: What do you make of this new allegation? I have heard some people say, while no one should belittle such an accusation, it seems difficult to imagine that such horrific events would be going on consistently in these parties and only it would come out this week, that nobody would have ever heard about it before now.
What would you reaction...
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know if you have ever been to a good college party, Jake, but I spent a lot of time on college campuses. So, I don't know.
TAPPER: This is high school.
(CROSSTALK) SANDERS: Oh, well, yes.
JENNINGS: She was in college.
SANDERS: No, she was in college.
JENNINGS: And these are sophomores in high school.
SANDERS: But what I'm saying is -- and I think I have to say this. Unfortunately, what is being alleged, what the accusers are saying that happened happens more often than folks think.
And it is not OK. It is not acceptable behavior. What I'm concerned about, the fact that Senate Republicans are pressing forward, is that to me it says that they don't care about allegations of sexual assault, that they do not want to credibly vet and investigate these claims, and that if Brett Kavanaugh did this or whether he didn't, they don't care. They want him to be the Supreme Court nominee.
TAPPER: You think there should be an FBI investigation.
SANDERS: I think there should be an FBI investigation.
At the least, I think we should take a pause. Why are they rushing this? And I know we're probably going to get here, but I also think there is something to be said about the fact that Senate Republicans don't apparently feel they can do their jobs without being misogynistic creeps, and that's why they have to get an outside counsel lawyer who is also a woman.
TAPPER: We will talk about the outside counsel in the next block.
But I do want to ask you, Mona, this isn't the first time we have heard this allegation about gang rape in this culture, not against Kavanaugh, but in this culture. And let me just read this.
At the end of "The New Yorker" story, there was a moment where there was a testimony or an interview with a woman named Elizabeth Rasor. She was Mark Judge's ex-girlfriend.
And they reported -- quote -- "Rasor recalled that Mark Judge" -- again, this is not against Kavanaugh, but this is about potentially the culture there. "Mark Judge had told her ashamedly of an incident that involved him and other boys taking turns having sex with a drunk woman. She says that Judge did not name others involved in the incident. She has no knowledge that Kavanaugh participated, but Rasor was disturbed by the story and noted that it undercut Judge's protestations about the sexual innocence of Georgetown Prep."
I only cite that because the gang rape allegation is such a horrific allegation, and the worst thing we have heard so far. And it's actually not the first time we have heard it this week. MONA CHAREN, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: Well, so think about
the other recent times when we have heard these kinds of allegations.
It was regarding the University of Virginia rape on campus story that "Rolling Stone" ran that turned out to be a complete fabrication. And yet the same kind of thinking and analysis was in evidence then as we're seeing now.
It was like, yes, those frat boys, they're just the type to do something like that. And, you know, they practically had to shut down this entire fraternity over this, and it turned out to be false.
Another one was the Duke lacrosse case. Same sort of thing. There was this sort of smearing a whole group of people with a broad brush and saying, well, lacrosse players, everybody knows what they're like. So they must be guilty.
And, look, the presumption of innocence still has to mean something. It's not a courtroom. But just as a matter of elementary civic fairness, you have to say, yes, men may do bad things in certain instances. That doesn't shed any light on whether this particular man did those things.
NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, she brings up a point, I mean, this culture of just blaming -- I mean, taking one side over the other without evidence.
Every single abuse claim of this magnitude should definitely be investigated. Women should be heard. Part of this backlash that we're seeing right now comes from a culture of sexism and paternalism in this country, where the patriarchy in this country has controlled everything, has silenced women generation after generation.
So this moment that we're in is not just about him and what he has allegedly done. It's also about generations of women who never felt as though their voices could be heard or even their voices would be listened to, because men control all of the levers of power in this country.
TAPPER: Do you agree with that, Symone?
SANDERS: I agree with what Senator Turner is saying.
I want to underscore here, though, that Brett Kavanaugh came out and painted himself as an ally of women, of someone that champions women. And if he is truly a champion, I have yet to hear Brett Kavanaugh speak out on behalf of these women, speak out to say that not only should these women get their due, but we need to have an FBI investigation.
This is, though, the patriarchy on full display. This is the patriarchy on full display.
TAPPER: So, Chairman Grassley already has a committee vote scheduled for Kavanaugh on Friday. What do you think of that, the fact that the hearing is Thursday and there's going to be a committee vote Friday.
CHAREN: Look, the argument that she has not been heard, she has been invited to testify.
TAPPER: Blasey Ford, yes.
CHAREN: Blasey Ford, she's going to be heard. The committee it seemed was very solicitous. They said we can send people out to California if you don't -- you're afraid to fly. There were all kinds of ways the committee was attempting to give her a platform.
So I don't think it's fair to say the patriarchy was in action in this case.
SANDERS: ... lambasting her character in the media.
SANDERS: Senate McConnell stood on the Senate floor and said this is a smear campaign.
CHAREN: ... is at work as well with all these people saying, of course Brett Kavanaugh must be guilty. Isn't he a man? And he's privileged.
TURNER: That shouldn't happen, and, unfortunately, in this 24-hour news cycle, social media.
But these are the points. It is the height of arrogance for the Republicans to say, we're going to give her, her day, and then we're going to vote the next day. To me, they're already predisposing that they don't care -- they don't care what she has to say.
JENNINGS: Isn't the point of giving her, her day and then having a vote, isn't that exactly the way the process is supposed to work?
TURNER: Something may come out that changes things. Why don't they let her have her say? Then now we have two other women out there. An FBI investigation. It should be police investigations in those jurisdictions where these things have happened.
But to say, the very next day, regardless? And Leader McConnell is already on record, as you know, of saying, don't worry about it, Republicans. We don't care what they say, what these women have to say. He will be...
CHAREN: OK. So you have a point that it does convey something when you say, well, we're going to let her talk and then we're going to...
TURNER: Then we're going to do it anyway.
CHAREN: Yes. No, I don't dispute that.
But what I would say is it's not just the Republicans. The Democrats too are showing bad faith here. They are the ones who right at the beginning of the hearing were saying -- were, first of all, interrupting the speaker and also demanding all of these documents, when they had all...
CHAREN: One second -- already been on the record saying they were opposing him.
SANDERS: Because they didn't have the records.
SANDERS: I just want to back up. This is a job interview.
If anyone -- if this is a job interview, I would be hard-pressed to think that anybody at this table would let someone come into your job for a potential -- with a potential application to say, I want to work here, and all of the allegations and everything that has come out about Brett Kavanaugh, you didn't have their full resume, you didn't have their full work history.
[16:15:03] You're willing to hire them for a lifetime appointment? A lifetime appointment and you don't have all the documents? That's what Democrats are saying.
Now, Democrats are saying, we have a lot happening here. We need to pump the brakes.
JENNINGS: The president of the United States hired Brett Kavanaugh. The United States Senate hired Brett Kavanaugh for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. I have a hard time believing that someone who cleared six FBI background checks was over a period of time running what amounts to apparently a gang rape sex ring involving hundreds of the most prominent children from the most prominent families in the greater D.C. area?
TAPPER: Do you think all three women are lying?
JENNINGS: I don't know what these women are doing. I think they deserve to be heard. I think Grassley has done the right thing by having Ford come in.
I think the circumstances of today's allegations are strange, if you look into the details of it. I think the committee should listen to Dr. Ford. But listening to Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, I don't understand why that should then indefinitely postpone a vote. Why shouldn't --
JENNINGS: The Democrats asked Kavanaugh to be withdrawn today. That would be indefinite.
TURNER: So, OK, let me tell you something. I'm not here to lobby for the Democrats.
SANDERS: You've got the wrong one, Scott. That's the wrong one.
TURNER: I'm here to say, let the truth come out. As my grandmother used to say, truth in the river four days after, truth is going to catch up. So the truth is going to catch up. But in order for that to catch up, you cannot have -- this is a very serious -- these allegations are serious. And they are allegations, I will give you that.
TURNER: Some Democrats may be playing politics with this, in the same way that folks did it to Dr. Anita Hill, that should have never happened to her. But this is about these women and maybe other women. And they should be able to have not only their say, but not to have Senate Republicans be so arrogant in this moment that they're going to say she can have her say, but we're going to vote anyway. No matter what comes out.
CHAREN: Dianne Feinstein holding this back and not going through the normal procedures.
TURNER: We're forgetting that professor ford did not want her to come forward.
CHAREN: Yes, that's not the reason. Dianne Feinstein released the information about the letter before --
SANDERS: I'm just going to say this. I want to underscore --
CHAREN: I'm not talking about the leak. I'm saying she released the fact of the letter before Ford had gone public.
TAPPER: Let's take a quick break. We're going to talk more about this. But up next, I'm going to talk to the lawyer representing this third woman who just came forward with these allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.
And then this doesn't happen very often. President Trump is going to have a solo news conference just in a few minutes. Stay with us.
[16:21:46] TAPPER: Judge Kavanaugh's latest accuser, Julie Swetnick, is represented by the same attorney who represents Trump's nemesis, Stormy Daniels, and who also himself might run for president as a Democrat in 2020. President Trump called that attorney, Michael Avenatti, a quote, lowlife today and pointed out that he's a Democrat.
Joining me now on the phone is Michael Avenatti.
Michael, thanks for joining us.
Does President Trump not have a point that your history -- at the very least the fact that you're talking about running for president against him, might color the way that the public views Ms. Swetnick's allegations?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY (via telephone): Well, I would certainly hope not, Jake. I mean, I think that's outrageous, frankly. Donald Trump knows nothing of my background, knows nothing of my nearly 20-year record as an attorney.
I've represented Democrats, I've represented Republicans, I've represented working people, all over the United States. This is nothing but an effort by Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham and other Republican hacks designed to distract away from the very serious sworn allegations in the declaration by my client, who is 100 percent credible.
And they don't know what to do with the allegation, so now what they want to do is, they want to try to attack me. And it's disgusting.
TAPPER: Let's talk about the allegations. The Judiciary Committee reached out to you for an interview with your client. Is that the plan? Is there going to be an interview? And if so, when?
AVENATTI: Well, we initially alerted the committee to the allegations on Sunday evening. They refused to get back to us on Monday. They refused to get back to us on Tuesday. It was only within the last couple of hours that they finally got back to us and said that they want to meet with my client. We're considering that request.
But frankly, Jake, that's not how this should be handled. The FBI should be brought in to do a proper investigation, interview all of the witnesses, all of the accusers. They should interview Brett Kavanaugh. And then they should present those findings to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and they should be made public so that ultimately, we can get to the truth.
This is a search for the truth before this man is voted on as it relates to potentially serving on the highest court of the land for the rest of his life.
TAPPER: You're talking about an FBI investigation. I want you to take a listen to a big question posed by Kavanaugh's attorney, Beth Wilkinson, about how you're handling this allegation. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BETH WILKINSON, BRETT KAVANAUGH'S ATTORNEY: Why in the world did he not take these allegations to the police?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Well -- he did get the sworn statement from her, which they have submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
WILKINSON: Those are not law enforcement people. As an attorney, your obligation is to your client. And if you believe that these crimes were committed against your client, you should go immediately to law enforcement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So you're talking about trying to get an FBI investigation. But I guess the question that Beth Wilkinson, Kavanaugh's attorney, is asking, why don't you and your client go to the police, presumably Montgomery County Police or D.C. police?
AVENATTI: Well, we are certainly considering that, Jake, as of this moment. But look, this is a distraction by counsel for Mr. Kavanaugh.
[16:25:00] Let me ask you this question. We've offered to have my client take a polygraph examination. Why won't Brett Kavanaugh take a polygraph examination? Why won't Brett Kavanaugh allow his close friend, Mark Judge, who is very knowledgeable about what happened, very knowledgeable about these allegations, why are they hiding Mark Judge from the American people and the Senate Judiciary Committee? Why won't they bring him in to testify truthfully?
We want -- look, Jake, I want to be really clear about something. We want all of this aired and we want it aired publicly. And we want the American people to be able to decide who is lying and who is telling the truth. This should not be decided by a bunch of white privileged guys that are basically shaming sexual abuse victims.
TAPPER: So, you're willing -- your client would be willing to testify publicly about her charges? Before the Senate committee?
AVENATTI: Yes, absolutely. But we believe first --
TAPPER: First, an FBI investigation.
AVENATTI: The first step should be -- correct, a full FBI investigation.
AVENATTI: Jake, let me ask you this question. Why is it that when the most heinous crimes appear or occur, I should say on U.S. soil, whether it be 9/11 or Timothy McVeigh or the Unabomber or any number of other crimes, why do we turn to the FBI in those instances, but now, the Senate Judiciary Committee and Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump are afraid to have the FBI investigate these allegations?
TAPPER: I'm certainly taking no position on it, but I would point out that you haven't committed to taking these allegations to local law enforcement, which seems like a reasonable thing to do, as far as I know. I'm under the impression that there is no statute of limitation for rape in Montgomery County, Maryland. So that is something you could do. You say you're considering it.
I want to ask you about your client's sworn declaration. She details a horrific assault, saying, quote, in approximately 1982, I became the victim of one of these gang or train rapes where Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh were present. She didn't specifically say that Kavanaugh was one of the attackers.
Is your client claiming that Kavanaugh raped her?
AVENATTI: I'm not going to have any further comment on that specific allegation. She's going to detail that for the FBI and hopefully for the Senate Judiciary Committee, ultimately, in a public hearing. But I'm not going to provide any --
TAPPER: That's a pretty big thing to hang out there. Are you saying that Kavanaugh was present? That Kavanaugh was present in the room? He was in the line? He was in the party?
I mean, just to say he was present is a really egregious lack of specificity when you're talking about charges this horrific. And I'm not saying that I don't believe them. I'm just saying, what exactly are you saying or is she saying that he did?
AVENATTI: Jake, I disagree completely with what you just said. Let me be clear about something. This is not my declaration. These are statements by my client. These are her statements about what happened.
And let's just eliminate that paragraph from the declaration, in its entirety, just for the sake of argument. Do you mean to tell me that the balance of the declaration still permits him to be sworn in as a sitting Supreme Court justice? No, it does not. The conduct that is littered throughout this declaration is outrageous. There are plenty of men and women in the United States that serve as attorneys and judges that don't have this kind of conduct in their background.
TAPPER: I want to ask you about something else that Kavanaugh's attorney, Beth Wilkinson said to wolf Blitzer earlier today, in which she seemed to be suggesting that the public should be questioning your client's judgment. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILKINSON: When you say you went to ten parties like that and you kept going to those parties, even though that was happening? And you saw that supposedly happening to other girls? That is a different thing not to report.
This is saying, I went with other women, other girls at the time. I saw all this happening, and I went back. And I went back again. And I never told anyone. And I never brought it up. I never thought about what was happening to those other women. I just -- I have a very hard time believing that's true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What's your response to that, Michael?
AVENATTI: Two responses. The first response is, my client did not have all of the details about what was going on in those back rooms at each party that she went to. That's number one.
And here's my second response to that, Jake. I'll tell you what. I'll make this offer, morning, noon and night, I'm going to make it now. Why don't we place my client under oath and Ms. Wilkinson can question her for eight hours about these allegations, and then let's place Brett Kavanaugh under oath, and I can question him for eight hours about these allegations. I'm ready to do it. We'll do it tomorrow.
TAPPER: We've heard voiced at our panel table today, skepticism about the notion that, according to your client, there were regularly gang rapes at these parties, just outside Washington, D.C. Can you understand why some people might be skeptical that this is only now starting to come out?
AVENATTI: Well, I can understand why people may be skeptical. But I think if you look at the "New Yorker" article, for instance, there's statements within that article that support these allegations.