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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

GOP Exploring Call for FBI Probe Into Kavanaugh; GOP Agrees to Allow a Week for Kavanaugh Background Check. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 28, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:28]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with some breaking news in the politics lead. A shocking turn of events this afternoon on Capitol Hill.

Just moments ago, the Senate majority whip, John Cornyn of Texas, confirmed that there is an agreement. The Senate is going to wait a week to vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, during which period the FBI has a week to investigate these allegations against Kavanaugh.

This came after the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning voted to send Kavanaugh's nomination to the Senate floor for a final vote among all 100 senators. But that came with a condition. Republican Senator Jeff Flake said his vote came with strings attached.

And those strings were the one-week delay and the FBI investigation. Flake's move coming after he was confronted by sexual assault survivors minutes after he announced he would vote for Kavanaugh this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at me when I'm talking to you. You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter, that what happened to me doesn't matter, and that you're going to let people who do these things into power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's just an 11-second excerpt of a nearly five-minute passionate confrontation where Senator Flake looked, frankly, wrecked.

Moments ago, President Trump, who said on Wednesday night that, if it had been up to him, he would have voted weeks ago on Kavanaugh, well, he deferred to the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'm going to let the Senate handle that. They will make their decisions, and they have been doing a good job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill for us for all the breaking news.

And, Phil, we just heard the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, put it simply that this was all just a gentleman and gentlewoman's agreement. But it sounds as though enough senators are standing with Jeff Flake that the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has no choice but to delay this all a week.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

To put it plainly, Jake, this is a math issue for the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and that is why Republicans have agreed and just put out a statement that they have requested the White House request that supplemental background check, no longer than one week from today. It's just the latest hurdle in a nomination that has contained, well, about a dozen of them just over the last 10 days.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): For a Supreme Court nomination defined by dramatic twists and turns, a significant new potential detour.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I will only be comfortable moving on the floor until the FBI has done more investigation than they have already. It may not take them a week. I understand that some of these witnesses may not want to discuss anything further.

But I think where we are -- we owe them due diligence.

MATTINGLY: Senator Jeff Flake telling colleagues he will only support Kavanaugh's nomination on the Senate floor if those floor votes are delayed and a one-week FBI probe into assault allegations is commenced.

FLAKE: The Democrats who have been, I think justifiably, uncomfortable moving ahead could -- could publicly, in an effort to bring this country together, say that we would feel better. I'm not expecting them to vote yes, but not to complain that an FBI investigation has not occurred.

MATTINGLY: That pronouncement coming after more than an hour of dramatic and secret closed-door talks between Flake and the panel's Democrats starting right, as Flake departed the hearing in order to meet with Delaware Democrat Chris Coons, who later praised Flake's move.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: It is my hope that we could work together on a bipartisan basis to diligently pursue an FBI investigation within the next week, not for the purpose of delay, but for the purpose of investigating further either allegations made by Dr. Ford or others, with a goal towards demonstrating a bipartisan commitment to diligently investigating these allegations. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Senator Flake.

MATTINGLY: Moments later, Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley called for a vote.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Called the role.

MATTINGLY: Kavanaugh's nomination moving to the floor of the Senate along party lines, but the whole affair a stunning turn, given Flake just a few hours prior announced he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh, and the first floor vote scheduled to take place less than 24 hours away.

But in between that statement, those secret conversations and the committee vote, this:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was sexually assaulted, and nobody believed me. I didn't tell anyone. And you're telling all women that they don't matter, that they should just stay quiet because, if they tell you what happened to them, you're going to ignore them.

[16:05:03]

MATTINGLY: Flake cornered in an elevator by a woman who said she was a sexual assault survivor, something that made him visibly shaken when he entered the hearing room and throughout the meeting.

FLAKE: This country is being ripped apart here. And we have got to make sure that we do due diligence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And, Jake, that's actually the same message that Senator Coons said Senator Flake had told him behind closed doors.

Now, it's worth pointing out, this is exactly what Republican leaders and committee chairs have been rejecting for weeks, that FBI investigation that Democrats have been calling for. But they were simply left with no choice.

Jake, as you noted, it wasn't just Senator Flake. It was also Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Susan Collins, Senator Joe Manchin on the Democratic side. Basically, every undecided senator that Republican leaders need to move this nomination to completion, they didn't have because of what Senator Flake did.

And that means, for at least a week, even though they will start the process tomorrow on the floor, the Senate is going to be frozen and wait for the FBI.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill with all the latest.

And while Phil's story was going on, we got a comment -- an official statement from the Senate Judiciary Committee. And let me just read it. It says: "The Senate Judiciary Committee

will request that the administration, the Trump administration, instruct the FBI to conduct a supplemental FBI background investigation with respect to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice in the Supreme Court. The supplemental background investigation would be limited to current credible allegations against the nominee and must be completed no later than one week from today."

We're trying to find out what current credible allegations means. My guess, and I would like to hear what you think, Senator, my guess is the allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford, Professor Ford, and not necessarily allegations made by anybody else.

But that's just based on the fact that they had a hearing about that one, not the other two.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, the fact is that -- and this was pointed out by Thom Tillis yesterday at the hearing -- none of the Democrats asked any questions on the other one. They certainly could have asked questions on the other one with respect to Judge Kavanaugh.

They didn't, because I don't think they saw them as credible allegations. So I certainly don't think Chuck Grassley and the Senate Republicans believe those other allegations are credible. And I think that's probably what it's going to be limited to.

TAPPER: What's your reaction?

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Senator Flake did the right thing. This nomination was on shaky ground from the beginning.

It is very clear that the women who voiced their opinions to him, very passionately in that elevator, got to him. He was uncertain of how he was going to vote all along. He made that clear all along. But that between him and his colleague that he's close to, Senator Coons, this is what we get.

Senator Flake did the right thing. The investigation should take place and the Republicans should have done this a long time ago.

TAPPER: I have heard the analysis that this is actually a savvy move by Jeff Flake and Republicans, even if they were forced to do it and even if you don't like Jeff Flake, because what it does is it removes a talking point from the Democrats, which is, why didn't you even just do another FBI investigation?

Now there will be that. And the likelihood is, and who knows what will happen. But the likelihood is, there won't be anything new that turned up, just based on how these things happen decades after the fact.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let's not fool ourselves. The goalposts will move when the week is over. And that is what people who object to Flake's decision object to.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: What will they become, do you think?

HAM: It will be they need to be here in public hearing, if it's just the forms from the FBI.

That being said, I do think you're right. Look, there's a lot of people, there's a large chunk of this country that believes him and thinks a grave injustice has been done. There's a large part of the country that believes her thinks a grave injustice has been done.

There's also a huge part of this country that is ambivalent about this, many of whom I have talked to in my personal life, who said, look, they both seemed credible. This is very hard to adjudicate. It was extremely hard to adjudicate last week. It remains extremely hard to adjudicate. I'm not sure what the FBI will be able to drill down on.

But you give that chunk of people something to hang their hat on. Those people include Flake and Murkowski and Collins. So I think the date has to be a hard line that you vote.

TAPPER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: They say no longer than one week, meaning a week from today.

I want you to take a listen to Senator Chris Coons. He's a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. He's friends with Jeff Flake. And he's talking about how Flake in his view is trying to serve as a role model.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COONS: Someone who is willing to take a real political risk and upset many in his party by asking for a pause, so that the American people can hear that we are able to work together on some things, that even though he and I are from different parties with different values and different backgrounds, we respect each other and we can work together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you think?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is exactly what the Senate needs, frankly. I think the damage to that institution was terrific. And the damage to the court will be lasting, should Judge Kavanaugh go through and become Justice Kavanaugh.

I think what Senator Coons and now Senator Flake are trying to do is find some way to put this back together. We all saw the footage this morning, after Senator Flake said, I'm going to vote to confirm Kavanaugh, women confronting him, women who had been victims of sexual violence confronting him, tearfully.

[16:10:08]

And I don't know Jeff Flake, but he looked like a man who was shattered and crushed and affected and listening. He could have shooed them out. He could have had security kick them out. But he listened.

And it really looked to me like this is a guy who is taking this very seriously. Now, people like me have criticized him a lot because he gives these windy speeches on the Senate floor about comity and decency and coming together, and then he votes with Trump 95 percent of the time.

This time, he's actually acting, not just speaking. And I really think it began by listening to those women. And I think all of us would do well to do more of that.

TAPPER: What's your reaction, as a former senator?

SANTORUM: I think that the Republican leadership has done an outstanding job in anticipating what was going to come down the tracks here.

The reality is that the -- I believe the reason the leadership and Chairman Grassley did not capitulate to the Democrats, and hold an FBI hearing is, you don't do that until you need to do it. And he didn't need to do it until the votes were cast. And you have to have something you're holding to say, OK, I can give you this.

And I do believe that it's the right thing to give. I think, to Mary Katharine's point and others, hopefully, I have made this, and that is, I think this is a good thing for the process. I think that this is good for Judge Kavanaugh.

I think they were -- the judge was sort of holding back and not answering, you know, because he was confronted. Why don't you just ask? Turn to Don McGahn and ask. And he couldn't, because he needed to keep this arrow in the quiver for the Republicans to fire to get the vote they needed.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: And now they have it. And it's going to be good for him, because now he's going to be able to say, look, the FBI has cleared me. And all these -- it's going to be good for everybody. So I'm actually very happy the way things have gone.

HAM: From his point of view, I think that he believes he's innocent. And I don't think he's scared of an investigation. I think he's scared of the delay, because during the last delay of 10 days, much of the media, I think hugely irresponsibly, ran with a bunch of outlandish claims that were not corroborated.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: It remains the fact that the most credible one has no contemporaneous corroboration. No contemporaneous reports. If they get to the end of the FBI investigation of this, and that

remains the case, I am uncomfortable with that being the standard for any person.

TURNER: I mean, there's a lot to unpack here. So whether or not the judge -- he could have very clearly -- he was asked the question in the committee, would you consent to FBI investigation?

He said, the pleasure of the committee. No, just say, I commit to it. He has a storm cloud over his head, Jake. Whether or not he's confirmed or not confirmed, that Supreme Court will never be the same, and it's not just about the policy positions or the positions he may take as a judge on that court. But it will absolutely never be the same, because he cannot get rid of the storm cloud that is over his head.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We have got a lot more to talk about. We're going to keep talking about this.

Is this the moment that changed Senator Jeff Flake's mind?

Plus, imagine having to be the messenger who had to tell President Trump what happened on the Hill today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Somebody has got to explain this to Trump. So I guess that would be my job.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:17:11] ANA MARIA ARCHILLA, SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVOR: What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit in the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them.

I have two children. I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years, they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl! What are you doing, sir?

I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me! Any tell anyone, and you're telling all women that they don't matter. They should just stay quiet, because if they tell you what happened to them, you're going to ignore them. That's what happened to me and that's what you're telling all women in America, that they don't matter. They should just keep it to themselves, because if they have told the truth, you're just going to help that man to power anyway. That's what you're telling all of these women. That's what you're

telling me right now. Look at me when I'm talking to you. You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter! That what happened to me doesn't matter. And that you're going to let people who do these things into power. That's what you're telling me when you vote for him.

Don't look away from me. Look at me and tell me that it doesn't matter what happened to me! That you let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Was that the moment that changed everything?

Just a few hours after being confronted by sexual assault survivors over announcing he planned to vote yes on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court, that man you saw in the elevator there, looking utterly devastated, Republican Senator Jeff Flake, called for a delay, and an FBI investigation before the full Senate vote. A delay that now Republicans have agreed to.

Let's talk about it with the panel. Do you think -- I mean, we don't know. And we'll hear from flake at some point, I suppose. But he had announced he was voting for Kavanaugh. And then that happened. And then came this demand.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If that's the case, I imagine he will probably say that. I do think as a woman who is more familiar with sexually threatening situations than I would like to be, as many women are, I do think that is not the way that I am called to weigh the facts in this situation. And so that is not how I approach it. I don't think it's a responsible standard for the Senate to just use emotion and other people's experiences to adjudicate this. I don't think it's responsible to do it publicly, where I'm called to be respectful to both the accuser and the accused.

And yet that seems to be the standard, even though we're looking at the facts and I don't see a lot there. In fact, I see refutation of some of the facts that the accuser has brought.

[16:20:03] And I just -- I'm trying to be respectful of everyone without letting the emotion take over, because frankly, that's what this should be about.

TAPPER: The facts of the specific --

HAM: There could be a moment and emotions but this is the way I'm called to deal with it in public.

TAPPER: And the fact of this was, for millions of Americans, upsetting to watch Professor Ford's testimony, to watch Brett Kavanaugh. A lot of people rooting for Brett Kavanaugh and the president among them, et cetera. He's fighting back, et cetera, from the Democratic smear machine. But a lot of people seeing their own experiences, rightly or wrongly, in this confrontation.

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right, Jake. I mean, people were triggered. I mean, even the phone calls to the hotlines were up by almost 150 percent. People were absolutely triggered.

And as someone who has been sexually assaulted, I cannot say, and have sisters who have been, and this is probably the first time I'm ever saying this, even I was triggered by watching this, triggered in many ways, triggered as a woman, triggered on the race and class side, because as much as I keep hearing people saying that Dr. Anita Hill was treated better, she was not treated better than Dr. Ford, and even people making those kinds of comparisons is not fair.

Dr. Anita Hill was maligned, and she didn't have the benefit of the movements that we have now. Now, that's not to say, as a country we should get better and recognize this. But the emotion of everyday people is not the same as the senators.

And the fact that Senator Flake could be moved is not that this is a wild move for him. He wasn't 100 percent convinced in the first place that he was ever going to vote. But this is no fairytale. So people are not going to be pristine about showing their emotions about what they believe to be true.

Now, what I will agree on is the absolutism now that I'm seeing that just because somebody says that, that it is absolutely correct. That may or may not be true. There is a history in this country, and nowhere should Judge Kavanaugh, I'm not even because I know I'm going to get the don't make the comparison.

This is not about him. But there is a history in this country of black men being blamed, and that being the standard, just because somebody -- we could look at Emmett Till as one example. That little boy lost his life. There is a wicked history in this country.

But that being said, we have to understand that the #MeToo movement has elevated and brought this up in a bubbling and the triggering, and people need to understand that. I think Senator Flake was calm, cool and collected in that moment. He did exactly what he should have done in that moment. But the pendulum can go -- can go -- too far.

HAM: Yes. I'm genuinely concerned that the -- that believe all accusers is a slogan and it's something I would bring to my friends and family if they brought something to me. But it's not an intellectual or fair judicial or public -- public standard.

TURNER: I would agree with that, even though we weren't in a court. But I do agree we have to somehow say, people lie. Women lie, men lie. Human beings lie.

That does not mean Dr. Ford -- I don't believe she's lying about what happened to her. But we cannot -- she's not --

(CROSSTALK)

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It happens a lot. TURNER: I know. But the way -- I mean, the men -- so they can

question -- they brought in a female prosecutor to question Dr. Ford, to make it look all pristine and nice. But then they were engaging with Judge Kavanaugh.

Judge Kavanaugh was out of line yesterday. And, Senator, you and I both -- you served in the U.S. Senate. I served in the senate. There is no committee chairman in my Senate in Ohio that would allow somebody to come and -- Chairman Grassley said to Senator Blumenthal, hurry up, be quick. But then he said to Judge Kavanaugh, take your time. Judge Kavanaugh was out of line.

SANTORUM: First off, I think Judge Kavanaugh's statement was not out of line.

TURNER: Not his statement. I'm talking about how he kept --

SANTORUM: He was forced -- to several members of the committee, was out of line. And I communicated that with the White House.

TURNER: OK.

SANTORUM: That he -- look, he was -- I can't imagine, but I'll try to imagine the stress and -- I mean, his adrenaline must have been just at all-time levels. But he needed to -- and I think he did as the hearing went on. But I think initially with some of the initial questions with Senator Whitehouse, Senator Klobuchar in particular, I think he was --

TURNER: Senator Blumenthal.

SANTORUM: He was combative when he didn't need to be.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Why?

SANTORUM: He was rude when he didn't need to be.

BEGALA: Why?

TAPPER: What do you think?

BEGALA: Well, because he was prevaricating. That's --

TAPPER: That's what you think. You think he was lying.

BEGALA: Senator Whitehouse said that today in the hearing. Senator Whitehouse asked him about sophomoric terms in his yearbook.

TAPPER: Right.

BEGALA: He did not tell the truth about what those terms mean.

[16:25:00] According to reporting from the "New York Times," the FBI can now look into that.

With Senator Klobuchar, even more telling him. She was asking him something right at the heart of the matter -- do you get blackout --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Have you ever blackout drunk -- have you ever gotten blackout drunk a lot?

BEGALA: Because he may well have been blackout drunk -- and honestly saying he may not remember when he assaulted Dr. Ford.

TAPPER: Right.

BEGALA: This is at the heart of the matter. Instead of answering honestly, he attacked her. That's a tell that he knows he cannot handle the truth.

HAM: Can I say that sometimes in the national media -- sometimes in the national media, if you're accused of running a gang rape ring and you're innocent of doing that, it might tick you off. It might tick you off.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Right. Everyone, stick around. We've got more.

Brett Kavanaugh's future comes down to these four senators. Why their votes are the deciding factors. We're going to go into who they are and how they might vote. Stay with us.

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