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Justice Anthony Kennedy Retiring From Supreme Court; North Korea Still Upgrading Reactor Despite Summit Pledges. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired June 27, 2018 - 15:30   ET





DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I also have great respect for Justice Anthony -- you know who I'm talking about. Justice Kennedy will be retiring, and he is a man that I've known for a long time and a man that I've respected for a long time.

He has been a great justice of the Supreme Court. He is a man who is displaying great vision. He has displayed tremendous vision and tremendous heart. And he will be missed, but he will be retiring. And we will begin our search for a new justice of the United States Supreme Court.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us this afternoon as we've now gotten reaction from the president. What are you hearing?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, to take you back to how all of this happened, the president said that he met with Anthony Kennedy about a half hour before they announced that he was going to retire. And you can see him there praising his service saying that he has a tremendous amount of respect for Justice Kennedy.

But he also says that during that conversation about his retirement when Kennedy was essentially giving him the head's up that he was going to retire, that he did suggest some potential replacements for him.

Now, the president didn't say during that meeting in the oval office with reporters who those names were, who Kennedy suggested. But of course, there is certainly a list that everyone will be looking at and the president said he will be choosing from that list the 25 names.

A list that the White House updated just last fall that raised a lot of eyebrows as to why they were updating it in November when no retirement has been announced, but now that list is going to come into play. It is largely the same list that we saw during the Gorsuch nomination before that came out, but they did add five new names to that, several people that the president will be considering as he goes about this process.

The president there saying this process we can expect to go pretty quickly. He said he hasn't considered delaying nominating someone to the Supreme Court until after the midterms because believes that it is something to get done as soon as possible.

Of course, that on top that we have sources telling us that the president wants to have a new Supreme Court justice confirmed before the midterms. That would he speak a lot of you power to what is going to happen, what will come into play for those midterms. Something that has been of concern for the White House.

But that does seem to me that the president will be picking someone to replace Anthony Kennedy here in the next few weeks, someone to nominate. That will be quite a process for D.C. this summer. And we know some of the names on that list, one is Senator Mike Lee of Utah.

Another is Thomas Hardiman, that is someone who came down to the final few finalists when Gorsuch was being elected as well as Amy Barrett, a former professor at Notre Dame. So, several lists of more than two dozen names that the White House will be considering. And the president there, you heard from, Brooke, saying he wants to do it as soon as possible.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you from the White House. Misha Tseytlin, a former clerk of Justice Kennedy is with us, current solicitor general of Wisconsin. So, Mr. Solicitor General, thank you for joining me. What is your reaction to this piece of news this afternoon?

MISHA TSEYTLIN, FORMER CLERK TO JUSTICE KENNEDY: Thank you for having me on. Working for Justice Kennedy was one of the great honors of my life. Obviously, it is sad to see his great career come to an end, but he certainly earned it. He is one of the longest serving justices in recent memory and the retirement that he announced today is very well earned.

BALDWIN: What does his legacy look like to you?

TSEYTLIN: I think that he will be remembered as an ardent defender of individual liberties and the constitutional protections that are enshrined in our Constitution especially his broad-based defense of the First Amendment. He will also be remembered for his collegial style.

I think he was universally admired and well liked on the court both among the justices and among the court staff and the law clerks. And he will be remembered for his personal qualities as well.

BALDWIN: Do you know how did he feel being constantly referred to as the swing vote of the court?

TSEYTLIN: I believe he once said in a public interview that he doesn't swing, the cases do, and I think that is the fairest way to describe it. For example, one of his most famous decisions, some people described him as a swing vote, but I don't think that that is accurate.

Justice Kennedy had been extolling the virtues of the First Amendment in the area of election law for long before that case. And so, it is fair to say that the court came around to his view rather than the other way around.

[15:35:12] So, I think that he did not like the (inaudible) for good reason because his principles didn't swing. His commitment to individual liberty and structured Constitution was steadfast throughout.

BALDWIN: Misha Tseytlin, thank you so much. Appreciate you weighing in on Justice Kennedy. Again, his retirement according to the letter he wrote to the president effective the end of July. You're watching CNN. We'll be right back.



BALDWIN: We're back on the breaking story here. Justice Kennedy will be retiring at the end of July. Lots of reaction. We have some of our legal experts, Laura Coates, Jeff Toobin, Joan Biskupic with us.

Joan, you were talking about being in the court this morning, some observations you had. I'm just curious, how the more liberal justices, what their thinking and feeling knowing that another conservative justice will be joining the court?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: You know, life as they knew it has changed big time. They depended on Anthony Kennedy to be the fifth vote on key issues that mattered to them, it mattered to many people out in the country.

On abortion rights, on gay marriage, on racial affirmative action, even some issues related to the death penalty, they depended on Anthony Kennedy, they worked with him. He had actually -- during the time that the court was only at eight justices after Justice Scalia's death.

He moved more to the left and worked with senior liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a way that he hadn't before Scalia's death or frankly this term. So, they know how they depend on his. And this starts a whole new world for those four justices.

I think that what Justice Kennedy -- Brooke, I was telling you that in the courtroom I actually saw no sign of it except for that Mary Kennedy his wife was there, perhaps some extra family members were there.

But at the end of the term often the spouses do show up. But Justice Kennedy, there was nothing on his face that made him look like he was about to drop this bombshell. Everybody seemed pretty relaxed. But I would say one thing that you've been talking -- that many of our colleagues have been talking about is the idea of getting someone in place before the midterms, that's the priority of the president.

But I would say that what Anthony Kennedy would want is someone in place by the first Monday in October because that is when this court comes back and begins the business of deciding the law of the land.

And they know what it was like down to just eight members. So, I bet there is lots of pressure all around. I would have loved to have been a fly on the world for the conversation between Justice Kennedy and the president in terms of that kind of pressure.

And also, in terms of, you know, how much the president might have felt him out about Justice Kennedy's own favorites. Because President Trump was very solicitous frankly of Maureen Scalia, the widow of Justice Scalia, and in fact invited her to the rollout of Neil Gorsuch back in 2017 when he introduced him to the world.

There in the room was Maureen Scalia. So, he was very much in touch with sort of the legacy of Justice Scalia there and I'm wondering if the legacy of Anthony Kennedy from Kennedy's point of view could influence him. But I still think whoever we get will be to the right of Justice Kennedy.

BALDWIN: I was wondering, Jeff Toobin, bouncing off of Joan's point, how much of Justice Kennedy sitting at the White House today and who knows what exactly they talked about. According to the reports he said here are some people who I think would be great for the job. How much of really any I guess exiting justice and current president, how much of what he or she may say is really considered?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Zero. Nothing. Polite conversation. Pleasing the base. The entire Trump presidency has been about pleasing the base. The last thing they want, they hated Justice Kennedy, they hated him because he saved Roe versus Wade.

They hated him because he wrote that same-sex marriage had to be the law of the land. Do you think they want a justice like that on the Supreme Court? They would go nuts if Donald Trump nominated someone like that.

Anthony Kennedy will be treated with great respect. He will be praised. He will be honored. And he will be ignored completely. This is -- the person who is most influential in this is Leonard Leo, who is the executive vice president of the Federalist Society.

He composed the list of 25 justices. He is the one who has to be pleased and the last thing Leonard Leo wants is a justice like Anthony Kennedy.

BISKUPIC: I'll add something here. Jeff is right about Leonard Leo's hand in this, but Leonard Leo has been in close touch with Justice Kennedy as has Don McGahn.

[15:45:11] You just can't help but wonder what kinds of conversations went on in terms of going this year, going next year. And the other thing I should say is everyone on that list that we've seen is already to the right of Anthony Kennedy.

There is no one on that list who we would say that could possibly be a swing vote. No, these people have been vetted the way no set of nominees has ever been vetted except for Neil Gorsuch.

TOOBIN: By the way, I think it was a great idea that the president did this. I hope all presidential candidates do it.

BALDWIN: Did what?

TOOBIN: Made this list. Made this public list. I think it is great to know who is being considered.

BALDWIN: Laura Coates, you get the last word.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: In many ways this mirrors what happened in 2006 when you had O'Connor Lee and then the more conservative, Alito, took the place of her. I suspect this will be very much the same as Joan and Jeffrey are talking that somebody to the right of it.

But I still think that there is some opportunity in some areas that will have an opportunity to have vetting by members of Congress about whether the person is going to rubber stamp or whether they will have actual independent viewpoints.

We saw this last summer with Neil Gorsuch who we talked about whether or not he believed that the president's antics would be weighed into consideration. It may be that he will have a part in that as well.

It's maybe on the horizon among other things. But I have to say for people who are involved in criminal justice reform, one of the big losses here if Kennedy -- since he is leaving will be the issues of criminal justice reform and confinement.

He all be implored people to take this to the Supreme Court. With him gone, this is one of the real tragedies of him resigning at this point in time.

TOOBIN: Laura is exactly right. And that extends well to the death penalty. He was not with Justice Alito, Justice Scalia, Justice Robert, Justice Thomas who have been much more supportive of moving the machinery along and allowing executions to take place.

Justice Kennedy was not as liberal as Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, but he often sided with them in the death penalty cases. Say good-bye to that fifth vote on those cases.

BISKUPIC: You know, one thing, Brooke, that Laura referred to, Sam Alito's nomination in 2005 going into 2006 to ultimately succeed Sandra Day O'Connor, I think all of us remember what happened first is that George W. Bush nominated Harriet Miers and the base went crazy saying, first of all, she doesn't have the constitutional law chops, but also. we cannot count on her to vote the way we want a new justice to vote.

And there was such an uproar that she withdrew and that is how Sam Alito got the spot. And you know, for those of us who have been around even longer than that, the mantra used to be no more Suitors, as in no more David Suitors, who President H.W. Bush had put on before.

BALDWIN: OK. We've got to leave it. I appreciate the geek out at the Supreme Court today. Joan, Jeffrey and Laura, thank you all so much.

TOOBIN: I resemble that remark.

BALDWIN: Thank you guys so much.

Quick break. The other big news of the day, the president essentially just confirming a new summit with an American adversary.




PRESIDENT TRUMP: We'll be talking about Syria and I think we'll be talking about Ukraine and many other subjects and we'll see what happens. You never know about meetings what happens, right. But I think a lot of good things can come with meetings with people.


BALDWIN: That was President Trump moments ago there at the White House discussing the upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. We're expecting to find out tomorrow when and where that meeting will take place.

Max Boot is here with me. Our CNN global affairs analyst and senior fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations. Obviously, the timing is key, and the NATO summit is next month. Thoughts on what the president is saying or could discuss?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think there is a major potential for a diplomatic disaster here. Assuming that Trump meets with Putin right after the NATO summit. I mean, you have to remember what happened a few weeks ago in Quebec when you had the G7 meeting which was the most rancorous and most contentious and the most disastrous G7 meeting we've ever seen with Trump feuding with all of the European and Canadian heads of state.

Especially getting into this personal tiff with Justin Trudeau and trying to invite Vladimir Putin into the party, and so this really is throwing the future of the Atlantic alliance to the doubt.

So, imagine what happens in a few weeks from now if Trump goes to the NATO summit, has another disastrous exchange, and gets into it with Merkel and Trudeau, et cetera. And then goes to Putin and then it becomes a love fest where he's fawning all over him the way he fawned over Kim Jong-un or the way he fawned over Xi Jinping.

I mean, this is going to send a horrific message about the future of NATO even if he doesn't make concessions to Putin which is something our European allies are worried he will do.

BALDWIN: Does he bring up -- John Bolton say's he'll bring up the precious interfering in the U.S. election?

BOOT: I think the chances of him bringing that up are somewhere close to zero. There is no way he will confront Putin about that. He desperately needs to confront Putin to send him a message that we will not accept Russian interference in 2018 and 2020, but again I think the odds of that happening are slim to none.

BALDWIN: You mentioned Kim Jong-un, there is news out of North Korea today because it looks like the North Korean regime is actively upgrading its nuclear reactor. We have these newly released satellite images showing North Korea maybe rapidly making improvements to one of its nuclear facilities.

[15:55:09] The new images this is week after the fanfare surrounding that big summit between Kim Jong-un and Trump in Singapore. So, you have this, the administration said North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat.

BOOT: This is more evidence and it is obvious at the time that Donald Trump got taken for a ride because Kim Jong-un did not make any real commitment beyond this vague promise of denuclearization with no time table and no specifics.

And Trump claimed this is the end of the nuclear threat, the problem is solved and now we are seeing, no, the problem is not exactly solved. You're seeing that -- that Kim is upgrading his facility at the main nuclear research facility. Now if you were about to demolish your house, would you be upgrading the kitchen?

BALDWIN: I would not, Max Boot.

BOOT: Exactly. And all we've got is hot air and Trump has legitimized North Korea. He is effectively cutting sanctions and ending U.S. military exercises, which is something that our allies are very, very concerned might happen in Europe after he meets with Vladimir Putin.

BALDWIN: Max Boot, thank you very much.

BOOT: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Quick break. More on our breaking news. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring. We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: He will turn 82. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the big news this afternoon, announcing he will retire from the nation's highest court from the U.S. Supreme Court effective the end of July. Jake Tapper will pick up our coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin, thanks for being with me. "THE LEAD" starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to CNN.