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Hearings for Kavanaugh; Papadopoulos Offers Details; Sixty Day Law for Investigations; House Races Intensify. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 3, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


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[13:00:21] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Jim Sciutto. It is 1:00 p.m. here in New York. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks so much for joining us today.

Up first, high stakes for the high court. Confirmation hearings for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh begin tomorrow before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If he's ultimately confirmed, it could shift the high court further to the right for decades to come. Democrats are expected to pepper Kavanaugh with questions on Roe v. Wade, executive privilege, a host of other hot-button political issues.

Already a partisan fight has erupted over documents from Kavanaugh's time as staff secretary to former President George W. Bush. The Trump administration is withholding more than 100,000 pages of those documents.

CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is with us now live from Washington.

Manu, when you look at this, the Democrats clearly at a disadvantage here. Now only do the Republicans have a majority, but there are a couple of Democratic senators in red states who look likely to vote along with the president here. Are they still going to put up a fight during the hearings, the Democratic Party?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Expect a very contentious hearing. Tomorrow is when the hearings begin. The questioning begins on Wednesday. And those questions, I expect them to break down on the Democratic side around four main areas. They want to push Kavanaugh about his truthfulness, in their view, about how he testified in two previous appearances in 2004 and 2006 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They do not believe he was honest at that time over some of his actions and activities over some key issues, including judgeships during the Bush era, when he worked there as a Bush aide, as well as the issue of detainee policy, wiretapping policy, but also major issue like Roe v. Wade. He has privately told senators he believes that it's settled law. They want to push him further because they do not believe that means that he's going to uphold the Supreme Court precedent.

But expect them also to ask him about his views about the Affordable Care Act and a case moving -- led by Texas to try to gut the Affordable Care Act and those pre-existing conditions for people -- the insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Expect that to be a huge line of questioning.

And the fourth area, Jim, executive power. He is expressed skepticism about indicting a sitting president. He's expressed skepticism about an independent counsel, of course that's separate than a special counsel, but all those questions Democrats plan to push him on. They hope that if he does not answer those questions, that his evasiveness could be enough to get some Republicans to defect ultimately, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, those issues certainly a personal interest to President Trump as well.

So on the Republican side, you have the two senators, Senator Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, as being ones that -- most skeptical. We don't know how they're going to vote. But on the -- on the flip side you have red state Democrats, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly. I mean, at the end of the day, in terms of vote counting on this, I mean, is it pretty much a done deal that he's confirmed?

RAJU: It's going to be very hard for Democrats to stop Kavanaugh unless he makes a major mistake and that convinces Republicans to ultimately defect. Yes, you mentioned those two key Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine. Both have been positive about exactly the process so far and about Kavanaugh. They have not suggested they are going to defect at this point. And they've been supportive of the process that Republicans have led to ask for documents, but not ask for all of the documents involving Kavanaugh's time in the past. And also those red state Democratic senators in difficult re-election races, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota in particular are the ones to watch. They need those Trump supporters to win re-election, Jim. If they vote no, could they lose those. That's a question they would have to ask themselves, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

Manu Raju in Washington, thanks very much.

For more on the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, what we can expect, what to look for, let's bring in our guests now. We have CNN political analyst Amie Parnes. She's senior political correspondent for "The Hill" and co-author of "Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign. We have CNN's Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue, and Gloria Browne-Marshall, she's a constitutional law professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, also author of "The Voting Rights War."

Thanks to all of you for joining.

Gloria, if I could begin with you.

Justice Kennedy was for years the crucial swing vote in this court between left and right conservative and more liberal justices. Kavanaugh more cut from the traditional conservative cloth. Is it correct to say that this turns the court to the right for many years to come?

GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Definitely. I mean if he is confirmed, not only does it turn it to the right, it turns it to the far right.

[13:05:03] At this moment, Justice Clarence Thomas is the most conservative justice on the court. However, when we talk about Justice Kennedy, there were things that he did with social justice, for example voting rights and others, that would make him a right-sided candidate.

However, Kavanaugh goes to the far right. His mentor is William Rehnquist, who is the late chief justice of the Supreme Court. And this is the Rehnquist who, when he was a law clerk, would have upheld Plessy versus Ferguson. This is the Rehnquist who did not believe that Brown versus Board of Education was the case that the court should find in favor of.

And then so now we're talking about someone who would not even be here in this discussion if he had not shown the bonafide to be the ultimate conservative that Trump wanted, that his base wanted, and the conservatives say that they want to overturn Roe, as well as to maintain conservatism on the court for the next three or four decades.

SCIUTTO: Plessy versus Ferguson, that was separate but equal right, proceeded the desegregation.

BROWNE-MARSHALL: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

Ariane de Vogue, I get smarter when I listen to you on constitutional issues. But I heard you earlier in the day that this question of settled law, that Kavanaugh has carefully answered questions on Roe v. Wade saying that he believes it's settled law, which some take as him saying, listen, I'm not going to challenge it. But you made the point that's not 100 percent true.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Absolutely, saying a Supreme Court precedent is settled law is not saying much at all. Keep in mind, abortion is going to be key here. Many people think that he's going to be the fifth vote either to overturn Roe or really gut it, cripple it. And he has never said exactly what his position is on Roe v. Wade. His court, just a few months ago, did rule in favor of an undocumented teen who sought an abortion, and he dissented there. He said how much he respects Rehnquist and Scalia, but he hasn't said it.

So when Susan Collins, who's a Republican and supports abortion rights, came out and said, oh, well, he has said it's settled law, she seemed to be sort of satisfied, it doesn't mean anything because while lower court judges do have to abide by Supreme Court precedent, once you sit on the court, you can unsettle it. You can rule against it. And so that's why it's really not saying much, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Interesting point. Amy, Senator Lindsey Graham, of course Republican senator, he has

predicted that some Democrats will, in the end, vote to confirm Kavanaugh. Have a listen to how he said that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If 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.

I think there are a handful of Democrats who will vote for Judge Kavanaugh if he does well, and maybe even more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Amie, of course a lot -- a lot of this are red state Democrats, Democrats facing re-election in states that Trump won. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota. Joe Donnelly, Indiana. Is that, do you think, an accurate prediction on Senator Graham's party?

AMIE PARNES, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE HILL": I think so. I think -- it will be interesting to see mostly how these two Republicans vote. If Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski actually do support -- because I think the Democratic strategy right now is to focus on abortion, focus on Roe versus Wade. If they can make the point, if they can kind of scare these two senators into thinking, you know, that he isn't going to uphold it, that he's going to take kind of a radical position on this, those are the two people I think to watch. If they do vote for him, I think a couple of other Democrats will as well because we're a couple months away from the midterms. I think a lot of people in these red states are kind of scared about, you know, their electorate and where these people will go. So I think that these are people to watch as well. But I would focus on these two Republican women.

SCIUTTO: Amie -- Gloria, rather, you heard Amie there say, you know, Democratic strategy, what's the strategy going forward. There has been some criticism from Democratic voters that they haven't seen a strategy in terms of challenging the Kavanaugh nomination. From your point of view, has there been a coherent plan to try to stand in the way? Now, some of this, you know, you can't magically make him disappear. All you need is a straight majority under the current rule. It's very hard to beat that. But do you see a Democratic strategy?

BROWNE-MARSHALL: I don't see a legal strategy. I would have liked something creative. I would have liked to see some legal challenges brought, maybe challenge the ability of these senators on the Judiciary Committee to give their true advice and consent as set out in the Constitution without these hundred thousand pages of documents. I mean, I would have liked to see the press force some type of challenge in the courts regarding the Freedom of Information or First Amendment. I'm just not seeing anything creative.

And that's been the problem with liberals and Democrats for the last two or three decades. They don't bring in the creative legal challenges needed to take things to the next level. [13:10:04] SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can to you, Ariane. You heard

Gloria there mention these hundred thousand documents that the Trump administration has refused to release citing executive privilege there. Of course we don't know really what's in all those documents. But is that a significant oversight there, or does that keep us, the American voters, the American people, knowing what's truly in his mind?

DE VOGUE: Well, from Senator Grassley's perspective, he says, look, Brett Kavanaugh is a child of the e-mail age, and there's thousands and thousands and thousands of documents, more than we've had for anybody else. And he says, look, I've put forward an unprecedented number of documents, and on top of that you've got more than 300 of his opinions. So why not use that?

But Democrats come back hard because they say three things. First of all, the White House is asserting -- says it's going to assert privilege on 100,000 of these documents, which includes those on judicial deliberations. But also there's a whole pot of documents that are called committee confidential. And those are only for members and can't be brought up in front of the hearing. And the problem is, is the Democrats say it was Trump lawyers and Bush lawyers who called them or designated them as confidential. And so they're going at the core of the process here. And that's what we're going to see erupt probably as early as tomorrow.

SCIUTTO: All right. Thanks to all of you, Gloria, Ariane, Amie.

Coming up, new claims from former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos now contradict Attorney General Jeff Sessions' sworn testimony. This about a proposed 2016 meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. What does this mean for the attorney general?

Plus, 64 days out from the midterms and a new update in the battle for control of Congress that could spell trouble for Republicans.

Plus, a tropical storm is headed for the Florida Keys this holiday weekend and warnings now extending elsewhere in the southeast. We're going to tell you where it's headed and who may be affected. That's ahead.

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[13:16:25] SCIUTTO: Loyal no longer. Lawyers for convicted former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos say that loyalty to Donald Trump led him to lie to the FBI. They also offered more details on reaction from then candidate Trump on a possible face to face meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. This during the campaign.

CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez joins me now.

What are we learning now about this meeting when it was proposed, because it sounds like there was -- it was a more welcome idea than we first knew? EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, that's according to

George Papadopoulos' attorney, who filed this paperwork in court on Friday. He's facing sentencing in a few days for pleading guilty to the FBI -- to the -- for -- to lying to the FBI.

This is a meeting, of course, that happened in March of 2016. It's a picture that we've shown a lot, which has president -- the then candidate, Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions and a host of other people who were advising the president on -- the then candidate, on national security.

Here's Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, testifying on Capitol Hill about exactly what he says happened in that meeting. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Yes or no, after the March 31st meeting, did you take any steps to prevent Trump campaign officials, advisers, or employees from further outreach to the Russians?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Nadler, let me just say it this way, I push back at that. You made statements that he did, in fact --

NADLER: Did he --

SESSIONS: At the meeting, I pushed back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: Of course, George Papadopoulos says now in this memo filed to the court that that is not exactly what happened. He says that President Trump seemed a little open to it. Here's s part of what he says in the court filing. It says, while some in the room rebuffed George's offer, Mr. Trump nodded in approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions, who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it.

By the way, there were other people, Jim, in that meeting who back up Jeff Sessions' version of events. And we should also underscore that George Papadopoulos has, of course, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. We'll see which version of the events here holds the day. Of course the judge will have to decide in the end whether George Papadopoulos gets some leniency in his sentencing.

SCIUTTO: Right.

Evan Perez, thanks very much.

PEREZ: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Well, George Papadopoulos offering information on both Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions.

Joining me now here in New York is CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd, and in Washington CNN legal analyst Shan Wu. Shan, if I could begin with you here. I mean you have George

Papadopoulos appearing to contradict Jeff Sessions' account of that proposal for then candidate Trump to meet with the Russian president during the campaign. Now, you could say Papadopoulos lied and he's going to go to jail for lying to the FBI. But presumably he knows the penalty for lying, lying once again.

From a legal standpoint, when you have someone like that, is there -- is there credibility automatically impugned by that guilty plea to lying or does this create problems for the attorney general?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it creates big problems for the attorney general. I mean I think he should be thinking about lawyering up himself because he's clearly on the record under oath stating the exact opposite of what Papadopoulos is saying. And at this point, while juries sometimes factor in the question of credibility of someone who's pled guilty, for purposes of our analysis and the investigation's analysis, Papadopoulos has no reason to lie about Sessions at this point.

SCIUTTO: Right.

[13:20:02] WU: And there's this transition that cooperators make where they may start out very aggressively denying things and then Papadopoulos, obviously without the benefit of counsel really leading him through it, continued to fudge with the FBI, which got him into more trouble, may have landed him with some jail time at this point. And that's a transition he's made. And I think he is fully on board with knowing he's got to tell the truth now. That's not a transition the attorney general seems to have made.

SCIUTTO: Right, because, I mean, he knows he's going to jail for lying. I suppose it would be a big risk to lie again in those circumstances.

Samantha, of course the politics overshadow this entire investigation on every level. You have Trump and his lawyers now claiming that there is some sort of 60 day rule, that since we're 60 days from the midterm election, that Robert Mueller is barred, somehow legally even, from releasing any report or making further indictments, et cetera. Is that really true?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's not true, Jim. And this has been the subject of much debate by lawyers, much smarter than I am. There's no written rule that says that prosecutors can't make indictments or take investigative steps within 60 days of elections. It's general guidance, and prosecutors are supposed to look at any political impact that these steps or indictments may have.

But I think that President Trump and his team are really glossing over the key point here, which is we should want this investigative process to be thorough. This is about a hostile foreign power directing intelligence operation against the United States. And we have no indication that Bob Mueller has wrapped up his investigation yet. We have more hearings next Friday. Roger Stone was e-mailing his supporters earlier asking for contributions to his legal defense fund. So the first question is whether Robert Mueller is done with his

investigation. And at that point the DOJ will assess the timing.

SCIUTTO: And, Shan, of course, when James Comey came out, re-opened, in effect, the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation a handful of days before the election, you didn't have objections from many Republicans, including Trump supporters.

That said, in the FBI and elsewhere, there were many critics of Comey bringing that investigation so close into the public spotlight so close to a vote. From your perspective, what is the -- if it's not a law, what is the norm?

WU: I think the norm is to try to not have bombshells going off right on the eve of an election. And I think that Mueller is going to be respectful of that norm. But the way Giuliani is pitching it, I mean it just sounds kind of like desperation. As Sam said, there's no hard line, there's no law about that.

And as a legal strategy, he's got two points he's got to think about. First, he's got to satisfy his client, which is the president, and he may be repeating this just to keep the president happy. The other strategy he's got to do is to see if he can somehow advance the ball and he would like to delay things. That I don't think he's succeeding in at all. He's beginning to sound like he's repeating this over and over again. I think people don't really believe it. And it's not going to have any effect on Mueller. That's been very clear. No amount of publicity affects the Mueller team whatsoever. So, in that sense, his repeating this doesn't get him anyplace.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's one -- been one hard and fast rule for sure is that the special counsel does not seem to be listening to the noise outside this investigation.

Samantha, on another story, really important story in "The New York Times" just a couple of days ago. The U.S. made an effort to try to flip Russian oligarchs as informants, one of them, Oleg Deripaska, someone who became somewhat central to the Russia investigation, Russia saying today, calling those efforts brutal tactics, but I imagine, from your perspective, long time national security, that this is something that countries do.

VINOGRAD: It is. And this is just one of those come on moments, Jim. We know that the Russian intelligence service, at Putin's direction, tried to reach out to members of the campaign and high level officials throughout the U.S. government. This is just standard spy craft by the Russians and the FBI and the DOJ working on their own counterintelligence operations and trying to speak with men and women close to Vladimir Putin is something that's routine, par for the course, because they know that someone like Oleg Deripaska would have valuable information and valuable access.

SCIUTTO: No question. Well, Samantha, Shan Wu, thanks very much for walking us through it.

VINOGRAD: Thanks. WU: Sure. Good to be here.

[13:24:32] SCIUTTO: And coming up next on CNN, a new update in the fight for control of the House. And it doesn't look like good news for republicans. We're going to have the details right after this.

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SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

It is crunch time for the midterm races, the elections now less than 70 days away. And the balance of power in Congress on the line as the numbers stand right now. Democrats need just 23 seats to take control of the House. Will we see that blue wave?

Here to discuss, CNN politics senior writer and analyst, Harry Enten, CNN political analyst Rachael Bade, and CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston.

Let's first take a look at CNN's latest reporting, 11 House seats now moving towards Democrats, three moving towards Republicans.

[13:29:58] Harry, if I could start with you. To be clear, these are 11 seats moving towards Democrats that are currently held by the GOP.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes, that's exactly right. And when I look at what these race ratings are doing moving towards the Democrats, and that's been a trend we've seen all year, I think the big question was