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AT THIS HOUR

High Stakes Confirmation Hearings for President Trumps' Nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh; George Papadopoulos Publicly Contradicting Sworn Testimony Jeff Sessions Gave to Congress; CNN Forecasts 11 Races Moving Toward Democrats and Three Races Moving Toward Republicans, and That Now Puts 30 Races in the Toss-up Column. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 3, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


KATE BOLDUAN, ANCHOR, AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN: I'm Kate Bolduan. Forget renegotiating or throwing out NAFTA, forget sitting down and cancelling negotiations with nuclear adversaries like North Korea, and forget about the midterms.

The single event that will have the most impact on Donald Trump's legacy and shape the direction of the country for generations to come is happening this week. High stakes confirmation hearings for President Trumps' nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.

He is in the midst of a final day of prep, before he sits down in the hot seat tomorrow. Republicans are confident the conservative judge will be able to lock in the votes to win confirmation. So confident, though, that Senator Lindsey Graham is even guessing the votes before the hearings even begin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Senator (R): He does well at the hearing, he will get -- my belief is 55 or higher, if he does well, and I'm sure he will do well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: But that is not going to come easy. Democrats are outraged that the Trump administration is withholding more than 100,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh's past, during his time at the White House working for George w. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMY KLOBUCHAR, SENATOR FROM MINNESOTA: This isn't normal. It's not normal because we are not able to see 100,000 documents that the archivist has just -- because the administration has said we can't see them. They have exerted their executive power. 148,000 documents that I have seen that you cannot see, because they won't allow us to make them public. So I can't even tell you about them right now on this show.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: So where do things stand right now? Let's go live to CNN Abby Phillip. She's at the White House, joining right now. So, Abby, what about these documents being withheld? What is White House saying?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, in some ways this is the political fight that we have been expecting and anticipating, when it comes to Brett Kavanaugh. The reason this is an issue is because he does have tomes and tomes of documents from his past serving in the Bush White House, but also as a judge on the bench.

And so Democrats are saying, these 100,000 documents could contain inklings of how Kavanaugh could rule when he is on the bench. The Trump administration is citing the Presidential privacy and what they are calling constitutional privilege and holding back these documents.

They worked with a Bush lawyer to determine which documents they didn't think ought to be revealed as part of this process. Democrats are crying foul, because they believe that there could be information in there that could pertain to his confirmation hearing.

But what we are hearing from the White House is that they are saying they have been -- have shown some unprecedented transparency in this process. They are pointing to 440,000 documents that have already been released when it comes to Kavanaugh's background. And they are saying that they have already done quite a bit and that it shouldn't be unusual that some of the documents related to his time in the White House would be held back.

Now again, we knew this was coming, the Democrats had already talked about wanting more time to go through Kavanaugh's paper trail. So, I think this is the fight that we were anticipating and now, as we are on the eve of these hearings, we are going to -- it's going to be louder and louder these complaints that we're not getting enough information about Kavanaugh's background, Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, Abby. Let us see how it all goes. Great to see you. Thanks so much. Joining right now to discuss and kind of lay the stakes of what we are talking about right now, Brian Fallon, he's Executive Director, Demand Justice. He's one of the groups leading the opposition to Kavanaugh's nomination. Thanks for coming in, Brian.

BRIAN FALLON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DEMAND JUSTICE: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So you have got -- Abby laid out who has been released. You've got a million pages from Kavanaugh's past as White House attorney, as a federal judge. Make the case that you need more.

FALLON: Well, this process that will take place this week, Kate, is a sham before it even gets started. And really, you have to go back to how Kavanaugh was selected in the first place. This is really the first time that you have seen a Supreme Court nominee put forward after a President named explicit litmus test that we would apply in terms of who he is going to pick.

Donald Trump was very clear, he would only pick people that would overturn Roe, he wanted a judge that would gut the Affordable Care Act, and he used two conservative outside special interest groups to help them vet these candidates.

And then when they just settled on Brett Kavanaugh, it turned out he had the longest paper trail of any nominee in Supreme Court history. Mitch McConnell even warned against Trump picking him for that reason. Trump ignored that advice and picked him anyway.

And when it turned out that the archivist said we weren't going to be able to produce all his materials until late October, Senate Republicans and the Trump White House said, "We will hold it on September 4 anyway. And as a result, there's 3.5 million pages of documents that are being concealed that Senators have not seen prior to this hearing getting under way.

At this point, you have to sort of ask, what's the point of even Democrats showing up? If I was there, I might consider walking out of the hearing tomorrow. You cannot act like this is business as usual. As Amy Klobuchar said in that clip that you just played, this is not normal.

I think Democrats need to respond in kind. Otherwise, they risk lending legitimacy to a process that's fundamentally illegitimate.

BOLDUAN: I want to get to the idea of walking out or not showing up in just a second. But you talk about the paper trail and Kavanaugh's record. But here is what I'm hearing from Republicans, is what's the best way to gauge what kind of judge someone is going to be, Brian?

It is looking at the 12 years that that very someone has been a judge. There's a lot of cases. That's a lot of a paper trail in and of itself. How is that not the best window into what kind of judge Kavanaugh is going to be?

FALLON: Well, to some extent, I agree that if you look at his record as a judge, it tells you enough to oppose this nominee.

For instance, if you--

BOLDUAN: From the part of Democrats maybe. But does that - but isn't that in and of itself negate the need for all of the outcry over more paper trail need?

FALLON: I will give you an example, Kate. I think that, in one big abortion case that came before him, he basically sided with the Trump administration, Brett Kavanaugh did, in saying that a woman should be forced to continue to carry her pregnancy.

So, for us, on the side of those opposing Kavanaugh, that's a telltale indication that the litmus test is true, and that if Kavanaugh gets on to the court, he will be the fifth vote to overturn Roe. But in spite of that evidence of his judicial record, you have people like Susan Collins of Maine who holds herself out to be prochoice, but is saying, "I'm not persuaded that he is anti-choice just based on that one case in his record."

BOLDUAN: Brian, again--

FALLON: So, we would like to see documents. So this is the reason, Kate. So as a result, we would like to see the documents, because during the time that he was in this role in the Bush White House, they took several controversial positions regarding abortion, stem cell research, cutting off foreign aid to countries where abortion was allowed.

So we might actually get more of a window into Brett Kavanaugh's views on this very issue that will determine Susan Collins' vote on a lifetime position for the Supreme Court. There's no reason why we should be rushing these hearings. The archive said, by late October, they can turn these documents over.

So why not wait for the archives and conduct this process in the same way it has been conducted for every Supreme Court nominee in the past? When Elena Kagan was nominated by Barack Obama--

BOLDUAN: Short answer, I will give to you, is this election has consequences. Republicans are in charge of the majority in the Senate and they get to plan the schedule. That is the short answer and I know you know that very, very well.

FALLON: You are right, but that doesn't make it right.

BOLDUAN: Let me -- before we talk about Susan Collins and which way she might vote, what you had mentioned, talking -- your suggestion is the Democrats should not show up, should walk out of the hearing. Let me play you what one of the Democrats on the committee, Amy Klobuchar you mentioned earlier, what she said about that idea yesterday. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You heard that?

KLOBUCHAR: OK, that's interesting. You have incredible Senators on there like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Dick Durbin, Mazie Hirono, Dick Blumenthal. There are - and Dianne, you name it, Chris Coons, I think it's much more powerful if we go in there and we ask the questions.

Patrick Leahy. We need that opportunity to ask the questions. And if we just walked out it, it would simply be one side asking the questions. So I don't think that's the way you examine a nominee and get the facts out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Does she have a point?

FALLON: Well, tomorrow Tuesday is the first day of the hearings and there's not going to be any questions of the nominee asked tomorrow. It's just going to be every Senator on the committee droning on with ten-minute opening statements. And then finally, at the end of the day, we will hear from Brett

Kavanaugh an opening statement, and then they will adjourn and they won't ask any questions till Wednesday. So how about just walking out on Tuesday?

I think the larger point that I'm trying to say is--

BOLDUAN: So just walk out on Tuesday and then show up to ask questions on Wednesday?

FALLON: Sure. I think the larger point is this. A Fox News poll - and I don't usually cite Fox News polls, but a Fox News poll came out last week and it showed the majority of the public, not just Democratic voters, but a plurality of the public wants to see Democrats do everything they can to block this nominee.

Senate Democrats need to show this is not business as usual. I think walking out tomorrow would make quite a statement.

BOLDUAN: And Fox News polls, like a CNN poll, they are -- you can believe them, as far as you can believe polls.

FALLON: Well, I just cited one.

BOLDUAN: You can believe them, Brian, despite what you might say. Real quick, one final question, if a single Democrat votes in favor of Kavanaugh's confirmation, what do you think Democratic voters should do in return?

FALLON: I think any Democrat that votes for Brett Kavanaugh is risking suppressing the historic level of enthusiasm we're seeing right now from Democratic voters. If you look at the polls, Brett Kavanaugh is the most unpopular nominee in the last 35 years.

There's no reason why any red state Democrat should feel any political pressure whatsoever to have to support this nominee. He is historically unpopular.

BOLDUAN: Should Democratic voters not vote for a Democrat, if they support Kavanaugh?

FALLON: I think that the people that out there knocking on doors and calling on the phones for voters and turning out the vote for these Democrats are -- they will be less inclined to want to do those types of tasks that it's going to take to win in November, if democrats do not do everything they can to fight this nominee now.

BOLDUAN: Thanks for coming in, Brian.

FALLON: Thanks Kate.

BOLDUAN: Busy week ahead. All right, let's continue this right now. More perspective, CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue is here and CNN's senior political analyst Mark Preston. Some interesting perspective from Brian Fallon, and just a foretaste of the fight to come this week. Ariane, Supreme Court confirmations are always a battle though. Is

this one any different?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Here's why this one is different, and it's because of the seat that Kavanagh wants to take, and that's of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Remember, Kennedy's key vote here, he was the swing vote on all those social issues; abortion rights, LGBT, affirmative action.

Now that he's stepping down, and if Kavanaugh does get to step in, he is going to swing this court to the Right solidly for decades. That's what makes this one different.

And from all the talk about Trump being an out-of-the-box candidate, he has chosen a pretty much in-the-box nominee, Kavanaugh. He was Ivy league educated, he worked for Justice Kennedy, then he worked on the Starr investigation, a little bit of politics there, the Bush Presidency, and then he served as a judge.

And then, besides all of that, he's developed these 300 opinions, even more than that. They're solidly conservative and that's what the Democrats, Kate, are really worried about and it's what makes this different.

BOLDUAN: You heard Brian Fallon there, Mark, making the case. But we've heard Democrats raising alarm. Do you see anything that they are bringing up as changing a single Republican vote, because the important maybe they haven't said yet is Republicans, because of where things stand in the Senate, if they all stick together, they can confirm it without a single Democratic vote.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and they're also going to have support, Kate, of -- a very likely support of red state Democrats who are up for re-election this year in states such as West Virginia and North Dakota, Indiana. You know, there's going to be an incredible amount of pressure on those Democratic Senators to support Brett Kavanaugh.

You can go back a few years and say Democrats are the ones who created this situation for themselves, and that's when Harry Reid, then the Democratic leader, decided to change the rules that allowed these Presidential appointments -- President Barack Obama's Presidential appointments specifically to the Cabinet to be approved on a very simple vote, of 51 votes, right.

So, that is where we went down this road. And then Democrats decided to go after Neil Gorsuch and force Mitch McConnell at that point. Some would say it wasn't a forcing, but Mitch McConnell decided to then change the rules for Supreme Court nominees, and that's how Gorsuch got through.

Basically as Democrats, Kate, should have waited to try to trigger Mitch McConnell to change the Senate rules right before election, they fired their bullet - their one bullet they had too early.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it is a tangled web in terms of busting the filibuster on this one. It started with -- you've got Democrats who did it, when it comes to just judicial nominations, and then it came to the Supreme Court nominations, when it came from Republicans. So, yet again on Capitol Hill, a tangled web they weave.

Ariane, finally, what is the biggest issue as we head into the confirmation this week? Is it the scope of Presidential powers, is it women's reproductive rights, what do you think is the biggest issue that will be addressed this week?

DE VOGUE: Well, there's going to be a lot, right--

BOLDUAN: Of course.

DE VOGUE: --and we've already talked about the documents. But look at the issue of abortion. Roe v Wade is once again going to play a central role in these confirmation hearings, and it's over 40 years old.

And Brett Kavanaugh, he's never ruled squarely on it, right. He did have that opinion on his bench where he disagreed with his colleagues when they ruled in favor of an undocumented teen who sought an abortion.

But many people believe he could be the fifth vote, either to overturn or at least to weaken Roe. And he came out of that meeting with a pro- life Republican the other day, and he said, "Well Roe is settled and she seemed satisfied."

But saying Roe v Wade is settled or saying any Supreme Court case is settled really isn't saying much, right. Because while lower court judges have to abide by it, Supreme Court justices don't and they can vote to overturn it. That's going to be key in this hearing.

BOLDUAN: It will be obviously a key -- some key questions for sure. Great to see you guys, it's just getting started, I appreciate it.

Coming up for us though still today, the coffee boy strikes back. George Papadopoulos says both Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump supported his proposal for a 2016 meeting between then candidate Trump and Vladimir Putin. Details on that coming up.

Plus, the final push to the midterm elections starts today, and CNN's making a major update to the forecast. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Is this officially what revenge of the coffee boy look like. And honestly, nothing against anyone getting coffee for anyone, but the very same former Trump Campaign Advisor that the Trump campaign and Trump White House did its level best to dismiss, diminish, and degrade when he first pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Robert Mueller, is the very same Trump Campaign Advisor who just offered up a doozy of an accusation against Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

George Papadopoulos publicly contradicting sworn testimony Sessions gave to Congress. This coming out in a pre-sentencing court filing, and it all has to do with the potential -- a potential meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin back during the campaign.

Joining me now with some very important details on this CNN Justice Correspondent Evan Perez. So, what's going on here, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, George Papadopoulos is asking the court to make sure he doesn't go to prison for any time whatsoever, to essentially serve probation, which is what he's already done.

He's scheduled to go to sentencing later this week. And what he's -- his lawyer is doing here is saying he has some regrets, he's only a small part of this much larger operation. But as you said, the importance of what he's saying now contradicts what Jeff Sessions said in public testimony, sworn testimony.

Take a listen to what the Attorney General said, when he was asked about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I push back at that. You made statements that he did in fact -- at the meeting, I pushed back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And the reason why that's important is now Papadopoulos in this court filing says that Jeff Sessions did not push back. I'll read a part of what the court filing says. He says, "While some in the room rebuffed George's offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions, who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it. George's giddiness over Mr. Trump's recognition was prominent in the days that -- during the days that followed."

Look, the problem here is that George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. So, some would question his credibility. There are other people who were in that meeting, who back up Jeff Sessions' version of events. We do know that obviously Papadopoulos has been, as you described as a paperboy -- as a coffee boy.

But you know, he was the first witness really to flip here in this investigation, so he's a very important witness as far as the Robert Mueller investigation. We'll see whether the judge buys this explanation. At this point, we expect that the prosecutors are going to push for at least a little bit of jail time in return for Papadopoulos' cooperation. But also the fact that he's pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, thanks. So, thanks so much Evan. For a little more perspective on this, CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan is joining me now. So, Paul, jumping off right where Evan was leaving off, why would George Papadopoulos and his legal team put this information and this accusation in his sentencing memo? PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's a great move by them as defense attorneys. They're trying to demonstrate to the Mueller team that we are being totally cooperative, totally transparent, and in fact we may be handing you a really important issue, did the Attorney General of the United States commit perjury before Congress.

So that's a big play by them to try to get leniency for Papadopoulos.

BOLDUAN: So for Papadopoulos, they're hoping for probation, right. Do you think he will still serve jail time?

CALLAN: I think he has a shot at probation, because you have to remember the way federal sentencing guidelines work. The judge listens to a recommendation by the government and weighs the amount of cooperation that the subject has given. But ultimately, the decision is up to the judge.

BOLDUAN: Right.

CALLAN: And if the judge looks at Papadopoulos, he may say you know he's been totally cooperative and he deserves probation, it's a first offense.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, does it change anything for Jeff Sessions?

CALLAN: Well I think it changes a lot in terms of his reputation. I mean obviously you now have on the table a claim that he committed perjury before Congress. Now, the reality, Kate, of this going forward as a prosecution is another matter. Because remember, for Congress to vote a perjury indictment, it takes a majority of the House of Representatives to vote for those charges.

And at least as the Congress is currently constituted, they're certainly not going to vote to indict or refer to the Justice Department for perjury charges. So, I think Sessions is safe in terms of criminal charges at least so far.

BOLDUAN: Is it safe from Congress, but safe from the President? Oh who knows, depends on the day.

CALLAN: Well, that's--

BOLDUAN: Thanks Paul. Great to see you, thank you so much.

CALLAN: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a big update in the battle for control of the House of Representatives and it doesn't bode well for Republicans today, and it didn't yesterday. That's next.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your message about what's at stake here in the midterms sir? JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everything. It's simple, everything. We're in a fight for the soul of America. It's about time we restore dignity to work. It's about time we started talking to each other like we're civilized and deal with one another with respect. That's what this is about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Former Vice President Joe Biden there doing nothing to lower the stakes going into the final leg of the midterm elections. And that battle for control of Congress is now coming into even sharper focus.

Today, with a new CNN forecast, now moving 14 more seats. 11 races moving toward Democrats, three races moving toward Republicans, and that now puts 30 races in the toss-up column. That's up from 27 just last month.

That positions Democrats even closer obviously to the 23 seats that they need to shift the balance of power in the house. So, what now -- so, what now in the unofficial kickoff of the midterm race?

Let me bring in Alice Stewart, she's CNN Political Commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz's Presidential campaign; and Joe Trippi, CNN Political Commentator and Democratic strategist.

Alice, first to you, if you're a Republican looking at this new forecast today, what do you do different, anything?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You continue to focus on the issues that are important to your specific district. One thing we can say about Congressional races is it is not a one size fits all.

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

STEWART: Each different district has different needs and the constituents are leaning towards certain areas as to why they would vote for any certain candidate. And throughout history, it is proven that, in midterm elections, the party in power generally loses about 27 seats. So there -- it will be a difficult battle.

There is a very slim chance the Democrats could gain up to 23 seats. But what's going to happen, as we get to this final sprint, Republicans are doubling down.