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Report: Trump's Supreme Court Pick Begins Confirmation Process Tomorrow; Democrats Plan to Attack Kavanaugh As Untruthful; 11 House Seats Lean Democratic, Three Lean GOP; Arizona Governor Faces Difficult Decision of Filling McCain's Seat; Papadopoulos Contradicts Sessions Testimony; Hurricane Watch Issued for Parts of The Gulf Coast. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 3, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: No public events even as he faces a week of high stakes. He will hit the road to campaign with Republicans with midterm elections just barely over two months away. But tomorrow begins the process to what could turn out to be the president's most enduring legacy, the makeup of the United States Supreme Court. Confirmation hearings begin for Brett Kavanaugh who would become fifth conservative voice of the nation's highest court giving

the right leaning justices the default majority on the highest court in the land.

Plus, there is a new development on the Trump administration restricting tens of thousands of pages on Kavanaugh. We will dive into that coming up here. Let's begin the hour with our White House reporter Sarah Westwood who is standing by today. Sarah, let's talk about how the president plans to hit the road in the next 60 days or so. What are his plans?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. This week, President Trump will hit three states where he is hoping to unseat vulnerable Democrats. On Thursday he will head to Montana where he will campaign on behalf of GOP state auditor Matt Rosendale. That is who is challenging Democratic Senator Jon Tester. That race in particular is a little bit personal for President Trump because Tester is the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee was a key voice and helping to kill the nomination for Dr. Ronnie Jackson for VA secretary earlier this year.

Then on Friday he will head to North Dakota for a campaign event this wonderful Republican Congressman Kevin Kramer, running against Senator Heidi Heitkamp. She is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this cycle, in part because Trump won her state by more than 30 points in 2016. Then he will head down to South Dakota where he will be raising money for a GOP gubernatorial candidate. Like you mentioned he also has another busy week for other reasons. He has the Kavanaugh hearings and NAFTA re-negotiations this week. As Republicans are getting more and more nervous about the midterms they are turning more and more to Trump for support. While he is not popular everywhere in the country certainly is three states he will be visiting this week he could give those candidates a boost. In his fundraising prowess is something Republicans around the country are starting to lean on, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Those are the trips this week. Let's focus on what is happening tomorrow. You mentioned the Brett Kavanaugh hearings beginning. The Trump administration is withholding 100,000 pages, documents from his time in the Bush 43 White House. Obviously, Democrats, Sarah, are outraged. Talk to me about that.

WESTWOOD: Well that's right. Democrats are saying that these 100,000 pages of documents that the White House and the Justice Department are withholding for constitutional privilege reasons could shed more light on what Kavanaugh believes and what kind of justice he would be. At the same time, Republicans are arguing that the administration has already provided tens of thousands of documents from his time in the Bush White House to the Senate Judiciary Committee. And in addition, that perhaps the most effective way to determine what kind of justice Kavanaugh would be is to examine his record, his more than a decade as a federal judge. Obviously, this is all happening on a truncated time line because Republicans hope to get Kavanaugh seated before the mid terms. That's another sticking point for the Democrats. It's likely we could see fireworks at the hearings this week.

BALDWIN: Sure, we will. Let's dive in more on that and open up the conversation. I have with me now CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic who has covered the Supreme Court for 25 years and CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston is with us.

Happy laboring on Labor Day to the two of you. Mark, let me begin with you. We had great reporting from Manu Raju on the hill. He is reporting that Senate Democrats plan to hone in on with regard to Brett Kavanaugh. We will throw the four issues up on the screen. Can you walk us through these?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. As you look at that right now, the untruthfulness, we expect to hear from Democrats over the next week or so, is whether or not Brett Kavanaugh has been truthful enough in previous testimony specifically if you go back to when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2004, in 2006, what exactly was his role in the White House? They want to find out or explore whether he was being truthful at that time. If you look, there is questions where he is on the aca, otherwise known as Obamacare. Where does he line up with whether or not that is constitutional or not constitutional? In addition to that, roe v. Wad wade. This is the big issue we always see fought out on the supreme court between Democrats and Republicans. The last thing has to do, and perhaps one of the most important things is the investigative power of an independent counsel looking into the president when it comes to an investigation. Now, Brett Kavanaugh has voiced some concerns about that, post concerns since he was part of the Bill Clinton investigation, the Starr investigation. He has since then now said that he doesn't think necessarily that a president should be put under that pressure or put that type of investigation. So, these are all things that Democrats are going to try to bring up, though it's going to be very difficult for them to stop the nomination.

[14:05:00] BALDWIN: Speaking of independent counsels, segue to the current special counsel, Joan, for you. Let me remind everyone what Brett Kavanaugh wrote in '09 in the Minnesota Law Review. "Looking back to the late 1990s for example, the nation certainly would have been better off if President Clinton could have focused on Osama Bin Laden without being distracted by the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and its criminal investigation offshoots. To be sure one can correctly say that President Clinton brought that ordeal on himself by his answers during his deposition in the Jones case if nothing else." Joan, given what he wrote, should Kavanaugh recuse himself from anything Special Counsel Robert Mueller related?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't necessarily think he should. I'm sure Democrats will ask him about that. But just to remind people of the context in which he wrote that. He was trying to separate himself from the Starr investigation, which was so controversial in the 1990s. So, this was part of that effort. It was also something he realized after serving with George W. Bush in the White House for nearly six years. He saw how much the president could be imped in his daily duties by an investigation. But in that statement, Brooke, he is not recommending that it happen unless Congress actually pass as law. And it would have to reverse who the super power already said that made Bill Clinton sub to civil investigation.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you, too, Joan, I'm a nerd and watched this RBG documentary ahead of time twice and watching how much the Supreme Court has shifted ideologically.


BALDWIN: And how this nomination could transform this court. Kavanaugh's confirmation would result in a rare replacement -- this is what I'm reading, would swing the justice moving John Roberts to the court's ideological center, something that hasn't happened in 80 years.

BISKUPIC: Of the chief justice?

BALDWIN: The chief justice being in the center.

BISKUPIC: He is no Anthony Kennedy. He was on the opposite side of Anthony Kennedy on hot button issues, abortion rights, gay marriage, affirmative action. This is going to shift the court to be more conservative, and John Roberts will not be the swing vote that we saw Anthony Kennedy will be.

BALDWIN: Mark or Joan, how is Kavanaugh preparing for some really tough questions he is going to get in the next couple of days?

PRESTON: Let me let Joan address that first.

BALDWIN: I love you, Mark, but I know Joan is kind the walking encyclopedia on all of this stuff.

PRESTON: I love listening to Joan.

BALDWIN: Go ahead Joan. BISKUPIC: Right now, he is trying to breathe deeply. He has done his

prep. He looked through John Roberts' confirmation hearing videos. He's practiced many, many answers here. And he has been trying to get a good night's sleep before tomorrow.

BALDWIN: Let me, Mark, to you move and then I have one more for you, Joan. Mark, the battle for control of the house, right -- we are looking past the Kavanaugh hearings into the next, you know, two months before November 6th, and the battle for control of the house of representatives is coming into focus. We have new numbers today here at CNN. What races are shifting?

PRESTON: There are 11 races right now that are shifting Brooke, shifting towards Democrats primarily. If we look at the overall landscape right now, you are looking at 11 seats right now that are in the tossup -- rather, are leaning Democrat. These are 11 seats that are held by Republicans right now or Republicans are retiring. In addition to that, there is another 28 seats that are Republican-held seats that are tossup seats. If you put that together -- I'm not very good at math but let me put it together for you, that's 39 seats. Democrats only need a net gain of 23 seats right now. So, if you think about that, and you just look at the numbers, it looks very good right now, Brooke, for Democrats heading into November. Frankly, it could grow bigger than that if we do see this Democratic wave that we all talk about so much.

BALDWIN: As we look to the mid terms I mentioned this RBG film which is airing tonight at 9:00. I highly recommend, anyone watching on either side of the political aisle. It is a fascinating story of this woman and her battles and her marriage and everything else. And being mindful of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it could come down to 25 votes.

[14:10:00] In retrospect, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed with a vote of 96-3. Would it be possible, Joan, for a Supreme Court nominee to receive that kind of bipartisan support ever again?

BISKUPIC: It's really hard to imagine, Brooke. It might come for example, if a senator was nominated and there was a bipartisan support for that senator. But in our lifetime, at least in the next decade or so I don't see it happening. Given the kind of payback attitude that we have got on the hill. Remember how this all started we went more than a year without President Obama being able to move his nominee through.

BALDWIN: Right, right. Joan, thank you. Mark, thank you. As I mentioned make sure to watch the premiere of the new CNN film RBG tonight at 9:00 eastern and pacific here on CNN.

Coming up next, how the FBI and Justice Department actually tried to get about half a dozen Russian oligarchs, obviously with ties to the kremlin to flip on Vladimir Putin and become an inside source for the U.S. government. And what happened when these oligarchs refused to help. The "New York Times" author behind that story joins me live next.

Also, ahead, gaining strength, a tropical storm hitting the Florida Keys prompting hurricane watches. All eyes on where that is heading next.

His passing has left a massive void in the U.S. Senate. The governor of Arizona now with the tough task of considering who will be appointed to fill Senator John McCain's vacant Senate seat. The question so many are asking, will he name a McCain Republican or someone who will carry the Trump agenda? You are watching CNN. We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: We are back. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. A stunning new court filing in the Russia investigation is publicly contradicting Attorney General Jeff Sessions' sworn testimony to Congress. George Papadopoulos, the convicted former Trump campaign adviser says both Sessions and the president supported his proposal for this meeting between then candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 presidential campaign. I want you to contrast that with what Sessions said under oath.


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


BALDWIN: Papadopoulos pleaded guilty last October to lying to investigators. He will be sentenced this Friday in Washington.

We are also learning more about the FBI's efforts to flip Russian oligarchs into informants. For example, according to the "New York Times" between the years 2014 and 2016, the FBI and the Justice Department worked to recruit Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska, Bruce Ohr and Christopher Steele were reportedly

involved in that effort. For more on this, CNN national security analyst Matthew Rosenberg. He cowrote the story for the "New York Times." Matt, nice to have you back. If we can, just first question, tell me, about the overarching effort, right, on behalf of U.S. law enforcement to try to get this cooperation from what, about half a dozen of Russia's richest men. What were they hoping for.

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think they were hoping to turn these guys into sources of a sort. They were trying to open communications, I'm sure, in an ideal world they would have loved one of these guys to say I will tell you everything. They recognized that was unlikely to happen but that in the case of dare possible ka, this is a man with business interests in the United States. He wanted to travel here freely. And that provides an incentive to say well, if you play ball with us we will play ball with you. He fears prosecutions and sanctions in the U.S. when this began in 2014 it was about Russian organized crime and the relationship to kremlin and Russian intelligence.

But it was about organized crime. It wasn't about Trump. He wasn't even close to a candidate yet. Nobody was thinking about Paul Manafort and people like that. This then later on though became by the fall of 2016 we know that FBI agents showed up at dare possible ka's home in New York where he had done a lot of travel recently. And they wanted to talk with him about many of the. He was one of his business partners and they had an acrimonious breakup. So, it did go over into the point where they were talking about potential interference.

BALDWIN: Why weren't they successful? Because of their ties to Vladimir Putin?

ROSENBERG: Yes, as far as we know, dare possible ka told the kremlin every time he had a contact with the FBI and the DOJ it doesn't look like there was any hope there of this working. In retrospect. At the time they had reason to believe he would be willing to talk. He had previously engaged with the U.S. over a totally unrelated issue. So, they thought well maybe there is a chance here.

[14:20:00] BALDWIN: Then when we hear the names, Ohr, and Steele, and their involvement in this clandestine effort, these are two of the president's favorite punching bags of late on Twitter. Does it hurt or help Trump's argument that this whole thing is a witch hunt?

ROSENBERG: I think it depends where you sit right now. It's easy to look at in and see kinds of a vast conspiracy. When we know, and one thing the people have to understand is there is a network of people in the U.S. and in Europe who for more than a decade have been interested in, been aggressive about pursuing Russian organized crime and Russian intel intelligence. One of those people is Bruce Ohr. Another is Chris Steele. They knew each other professionally. When the FBI and justice department wanted to start this outreach with those oligarchs, Steele, who had a number of connections is somebody they knew each other professionally. When the FBI and justice department wanted to start this outreach with those oligarchs, Steele, who had a number of connections is somebody they reached out to as an intermediary. In the telling of Trump and has allies, Chris Steele was working with Bruce Ohr to get this dossier. Steele and Ohr had breakfast in Washington in July of 2016 when Steele passed through town. According to what we are told about that conversation, Ohr asked what are you working on? And Steele told him about the dossier. He wasn't going to Ohr to try to get information on the dossier. He had gone to a different FBI agent on that. What exactly Ohr's role is still being worked on but it doesn't seem to be clear-cut as some have made it out to be.

BALDWIN: Matthew Rosenberg breaking the story for the "New York Times." Thank you.

Right now, moving on, hurricane watches are all up and down the gulf coast as tropical storm Gordon churns off of the Florida coast. The storm is expected to strengthen as it closes in on the coast. When and where we expect the storm to make land fall in the coming days. That's coming up.

Also, ahead, following John McCain's funeral services attention now shifting to the now vacant Arizona Senate seat. The governor under pressure, will he choose a Trump Republican or more of a maverick like the late Senator John McCain?


BALDWIN: Tropical storm Gordon is gaining strength by the hour. Hurricane watches are already in effect for folks in Mississippi, all along the Alabama coastline as Gordon is gathering steam. Right now, Gordon is lashing south Florida and the keys with heavy non-stop rain. Powerful winds caused power outages there. Governor Rick Scott reminded people who live there this is the peak of hurricane season and warned folks to be prepared. Gordon is expected to make land fall along the gulf coast in the next 36 hours. When it does it is expected to be at or near hurricane force. Let's go to CNN's meteorologist.

TOM SEDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Believe it or not this cluster of storms wasn't even a tropical depression early this morning. It went right to a named tropical storm. I think by tomorrow, sometime maybe tomorrow afternoon into early evening period we will have our first hurricane of the season. The name Gordon, the letter G, we have been spared. This season is nothing like last year. The peak is next week. Mainly because there has been so much Saharan dust across the Atlantic, the temperatures are lower than they were last year at this time.

But now it is just above Key West it is like bath water and we have 50 mile-per-hour winds and if it gets up to 74, probably late tomorrow it will be our first hurricane. We have a hurricane watch in effect already. This is from around New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain over to the border of Alabama. It has some distance to move. It's moving quickly. That's good news because it could keep the rain totals down. Although from Miami southward to Homestead we have seen four and a half to five inches of rain.

The concern in the last couple of hours besides the massive development, quickly developing has wobbled northward right toward Marco Island. So, the National Hurricane Center may want to adjust the track in the coming hours.

The rain has pretty much spared Key West. It's been mainly to the north. But it is coming down. Because it's moving at such a forward speed, the rain totals, maybe four to six inches when we get to this area. But they have been inundated with shower after shower for the entire week so the ground is saturated there. But there could be a few isolated nine and ten-inch totals. That would prompt emergency crews to perform some water rescues. Would not knock that out of any possibility here. But again, when you look at the possibility of storm surge heights it is really from near Slidell, across Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula, getting to near maybe Bay St. Louis. That will be a concern of three to five feet especially with all the rainfall we have had. Not to mention the inundation of some of the Parishes in Louisiana like Plaquemines Parish.

[14:30:00] So, if it continues to move quickly rain totals will be on the lighter side if it continues to move quickly. It is the first hurricane of the year. I know of course, Brooke, many times the first one of the year the heart starts beating faster and people have to prepare for what could be an uptick in the hurricane season in the next 30 to 60 days.

BALDWIN: Hey, we will take a quieter season if need be. Thinking of the emergency responders getting ready to rock and roll. Tom Seder keeping us posted.

Ahead for us, Joe Biden hitting the parade route today. Shaking hands, taking selfies talking trade. Yes, confirmation. Joe Biden is running, he is running so to speak. This as the former vice president warns Democrats that everything is on the line heading into November.