Return to Transcripts main page


Confirmation Hearing for Trump's Supreme Court Pick Begins Today; Bob Woodward Writes Book Quoting Actual Conversations in The White House About Trump; Senate Confirmation of Kavanagh Becomes Very Contentious. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 4, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] SEN. COREY BOOKER, (D), NEW JERSEY: Of the powerful and the privileged and the elite. I just say in conclusion, sir, I said this to you in a heart to heart moment in the last seconds that you came to my office to meet with me one-on-one, which I appreciated, I pointed to the map behind my desk which is the central ward of Newark, New Jersey, A place with mighty people, it's a low income community, people still struggling for the fullness and the richness of the promises of America, that that's -- that's the concern that I have right now. That is what is at stake. So, I say in conclusion, sir, this to me is a profound and historical moment. I cannot support your nomination, not just because of the body of your work, but also the perverse process by which this comes forward. We should not vote now. We should wait. And if we are not waiting, we should object to your nomination. Thank you.


SEN. THOM TILLIS, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have a 12-minute preamble and 18 minutes of comments.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right. We are going to take a quick break. You've been listening to day one of this Senate confirmation hearing of who the current president hopes will be the next justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, judge Brett Kavanaugh there. Quick break. We now have reaction from this explosive book coming out from Bob Woodward, we have reaction from the White House. Stay tuned for that next.


BALDWIN: All right. We are now starting to get reaction not just actually from the White House, I'm going to read this for you in just a second, also from General John Kelly, the chief of staff who has quoted throughout this Bob Woodward book, this damning book out against this Trump White House out next week. We have the scoop. Also, from John Dowd the lawyer. Let me begin with the White House piece of all of this.

This is coming from the press secretary Sarah Sanders and I'm going to quote her, "This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees told to make the president look bad. While it is not always pretty and rare that the press actually covers it, President Trump has broken through the bureaucratic process to deliver unprecedented successes for the American people, so sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results. Democrats and their allies in the media understand the president's policies are working and with success like this, no one can beat him in 20, not even close."

[15:35:00] Apparently with this statement they released a long list of accomplishments from this White House from the past 20 months. I have our senior White House correspondent in front of the camera now, Jeff Zeleny. Talk to me about how the White House is responding.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, after several hours of silence as the White House is trying to get their arms around this book because I am told they, in fact, had not seen it until the news reports came out today, we are now seeing a slow string of denials coming out really sort of one by one of the people who were quoted in this book. Let's take a look at a couple of those, first is the current White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, of course. He released a statement with Sarah Sanders' statement, it says, "The idea that I ever called the president an idiot is not true. As I stated back in May and still firmly stand behind, I spend more time with the president than anyone else. We have an incredibly candid and strong relationship. He always knows where I stand and he and I both know this story is total BS in his words. I'm committed to the president, his agenda and our country. This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract the administration's many successes."

That is one denial from John Kelly, the current White House chief of staff. Another denial from John Dowd who was a former personal lawyer for the president, he parted ways with the president earlier this year over disagreements really over philosophy and strategy. This is what John Dowd says in a statement released a few moments ago, he says, "I have not read Bob Woodward's book which is the latest in misrepresentations based on anonymous statements. I do not intend to address every inaccurate statement attributed to me but I want to make this clear, there was no so-called practice session or reenactment of a mock interview at the special counsel's office. Further, I did not refer to the president as a liar and I did not say he was likely to end up in an orange jumpsuit. It was a great honor and distinct privilege to serve President Trump."

So, wrapping up there, John Kelly, chief of staff saying he didn't call the president an idiot, John Dowd his lawyer saying he didn't call the president a liar. But the reality here, Brooke, is in the hours and hours and hundreds of interviews Bob Woodward did, he compiled these from interviews with other people. We will see how these denials stand up and most importantly, we will see what the president says when he reacts to this. He has been oddly silent about all of this, Brooke, but we do know he's stewing.

BALDWIN: We're waiting for it. Jeff, thank you so much. Max, I'm turning to you first. You know, John Dowd says I never said that, there was no practice session. You know, others are saying absolutely no, and then you have standing up against, you know, the Bob Woodward. Someone ain't telling the truth. MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Keep in mind, Brooke, this is

the most dishonest White House in history and that includes the Nixon White House. This is a president who lies an average of something like eight times a day according to the "Washington Post" and that trickles down to his subordinates. I would take these denials with a giant heaping of salt, not only because of Bob Woodward's half a century of credible reporting, but also because what he's reporting tallies what we've heard from other sources. Remember, Rex Tillerson Trump's own secretary of state referred to him as an f***ing moron and he did not deny that. So maybe it's true that General Kelly did not call Trump an idiot, maybe he called him a moron or something else, but the general idea that people around Trump have a very low --

BALDWIN: And there's more from that in this book. Stand by, Max, Senator Kamala Harris, California, here now going back to Capitol Hill.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D), CALIFORNIA: In terms of the point that has been made about playing politics and blaming the Supreme Court, I think that we have to give pause when those kinds of concerns are expressed to also think about the fact that there have been many a political campaign that has been run indicating an intention to use the United States Supreme Court as a political tool to end things like the affordable care act, the voting rights act and campaign finance reform. Which makes this conversation a legitimate one in terms of a reasoned concern about whether this nominee has been nominated to fulfill a political agenda as it relates to using that court and the use of that court.

As it relates to the 42,000 documents -- or 42,000 pages of documents, I find it interesting that we get those documents less than 24 hours before this hearing is scheduled to begin, but it took 57 days for those documents to be vetted before we would even be given those documents. So, there's some suggestion that we should be speed readers and read 42,000 pages of documents in about 15 hours, when it took the other side 57 days to review those same documents. Would even be given those documents.

[15:40:00] So, there's some suggestion that we should be speed readers and read 42,000 pages of documents in about 15 hours, when it took the other side 57 days to review those same documents. So, the logic at least on the math is not applying. Now, the chairman has requested 10 percent of the nominee's documents, that's 10 percent of 100 percent of his full record.

The nominee's personal lawyer has only given us 7 percent of his documents. 7 out of 100 percent of the full record. Republicans have only given 4 percent of these records or made them public. That's 4 percent of 100 percent of a full record. 96 percent of his record is missing. 96 percent of his record is missing. It is reasonable -- this is reasonable that we should want to review his entire record and then we can debate among us the relevance of what is in his record to his nomination. But it should not be the ability of this -- the leadership of this committee to unilaterally make decisions about what we will and will not see in terms of its admissibility, instead of arguing about the weight of whatever is made admissible. The late Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts called these hearings a

Supreme Court nominee's, quote, "job interview with the American people." And by that standard the nominee before us is coming into his job interview with more than 90 percent of his background hidden. I would think that anyone who wanted to sit on the nation's highest court would be proud of their record and would want the American people to see it. I would think that anyone privileged to be nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States would want to be confirmed in a process that is not under a cloud, that respects due process. I would think that anyone nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States would want to have a hearing that is characterized by transparency and fairness and integrity and not shrouded by uncertainty and suspicion and concealment and doubt.

We should not be moving forward with this hearing. The American people deserve better than this. So, Judge Kavanaugh, as most of us know, and I will mention to you and you have young children and I know they are very proud of you and I know you are a great parent and I applaud all that you have done in the community. So, as you know, as we all know, this is a week when most students in our country go back to school. It occurs to me that many years ago right around this time I was starting kindergarten and I was a bus -- in a bus, a school bus, on my way to Thousand Oaks elementary school as part of the second class of students as busing desegregated Berkeley, California, public schools. This was decades after the Supreme Court ruled Brown V. Board of education that separate was inherently unequal.

As I've said many times, had Chief Justice Earl Warren not been on the Supreme Court of the United States, he could not have led a unanimous decision and the outcome then of that case may have been very different. Had that decision not come down the way it did, I may not have had the opportunities that allowed me to become a lawyer or a prosecutor. I likely would not have been elected district attorney of San Francisco or the attorney general of California. And I most certainly would not be sitting here as a member of the United States Senate. So, for me a Supreme Court seat is not only about academic issues of legal precedent or judicial philosophy, it is personal. When we talk about our nation's highest court and the men and women who sit on it, we're talking about the impact that one individual on that court can have, impact on people you will never meet and whose names you will never know. Whether a person can exercise their constitutional right to cast a ballot, that may be decided.

[15:45:00] If Judge Kavanaugh sits on that court. Whether a woman with breast cancer can afford healthcare or is forced off lifesaving treatment. Whether a gay or transgender worker is treated with dignity, or maybe treated as a second-class citizen. Whether a young woman who got pregnant at 15 is forced to give birth or in desperation go to a back alley for an abortion. Whether a president of the United States can be held accountable, or whether he will be above the law. All of this may come down to Judge Kavanaugh's vote, and that's what's at stake in this nomination. And the stakes are even higher because of the moment we are in and many of us have discussed this. These are unprecedented times.

As others have already observed, less than two weeks ago the president's personal lawyer and campaign chairman were each found guilty or employed guilty to eight felonies. The president's personal lawyer under oath declared that the president directed him to commit a federal crime. Yet that same president is racing to appoint to a lifetime position on the highest court in our land, a court that very well may decide his legal fate. And, yes, that's essentially what confirming Judge Kavanaugh could mean. So, it is important, more important I say than ever, that the American people have transparency and accountability with this nomination. And that's why it is extremely disturbing that Senate Republicans have prevented this body and most important the American people from fully reviewing Judge Kavanaugh's record and have disregarded just about every tradition and practice that I heard so much about before I arrived in this place.

Judge Kavanaugh, when you and I met in my office you said with respect to judicial decisions that rushed decisions are often bad decisions. I agree with you. I agree with you. And when we are talking about who will sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, I believe your point couldn't be more important. Mr. Chairman, when Judge Kavanaugh was nominated in July he expressed his belief that a judge must be independent, must interpret the law and not make law. But in reviewing this nominee's background I am deeply concerned that what guides him is no independence or impartiality, it's not even ideology. I would suggest it's not even ideology. What I believe guides him and what his record that we've been able to see shows is what guides this nominee is partisanship.

This nominee has devoted his entire career to a conservative Republican agenda, helping to spearhead a partisan investigation into president Clinton, helping George W. Bush's legal team ensure that every vote was not counted in Bush V. Gore, helping to confirm partisan judges and enact partisan laws as part of the bush White House. And in all of these efforts he has shown that he seeks to win at all cost, even if that means pushing the envelope. And if we look at his record on the DC circuit, and in his recent writings and statements, it is clear that the nominee has brought his political bias to the bench. He has carried out deeply conservative partisan agendas as a judge favoring big business over ordinary Americans, polluters over clean air and water and the powerful over the vulnerable.

Just last year Judge Kavanaugh praised the dissent in Roe V. Wade and ruled against a scared 17-year-old girl seeking to end her pregnancy. He has disregarded the Supreme Court precedent to argue that undocumented workers weren't really employees under our labor laws.

[15:50:00] We have witnessed horrific mass shootings from parkland to Las Vegas to Jacksonville, Florida, yet Judge Kavanaugh has gone further than the Supreme Court and has written that because assault weapons are, quote, in common use, assault weapons and high capacity magazines cannot be banned under the second amendment. When he was part of an independent counsel investigation into the Democratic president, the nominee was dogged in demanding answers. And yet he has since changed his tune arguing that presidents should not be investigated or held accountable. A position that I am sure is not lost on this president. These positions are not impartial, they are partisan. Judge Neil

Gorsuch, Judge Kavanaugh's classmate insisted before this committee that judges are not merely, quote, I fear that Judge Kavanaugh's record indicates that he is exactly that. Impartial, they are partisan. Judge Neil Gorsuch, Judge Kavanaugh's classmate insisted before this committee that judges are not merely, quote, I fear that Judge Kavanaugh's record indicates that he is exactly that. Now I know members of this committee and the nominee's friends and colleagues have assured us that he is devoted to his family and supportive of his law clerks and volunteers in his community and I don't doubt that at all.

But that's not why we are here. I'd rather that we think about this hearing in the context of the Supreme Court of the United States and the impact it will have on generations of Americans to come and do we want that court to continue a legacy of being above politics and unbiased or are we prepared to participate in a process that is tainted and that leaves the American public questioning the integrity of this process. And I'll close by saying this, we have a system of justice that is symbolized by a statute of a woman holding scales and she wears a blindfold. Justice wears a blindfold because we have said in the United States of America under our judicial system, justice should be blind to a person's status. We have said that in our system of justice, justice should be blind to how much money someone has, to what you look like or who you love, to who your parents are and the language they speak and every Supreme Court justice must understand and uphold that ideal.

And sir, should those cases become before you, Judge Kavanaugh, I am concerned whether you would treat every American equally or instead show allegiance to the political party and the conservative agenda that has shaped and built your career. I am concerned your loyalty would be to the president who appointed you and not to the constitution of the United States. These concerns I hope you will answer during the course of this hearing. I believe the American people have a right to have these concerns. I also believe the American public has a right to full and candid answers to the questions that are presented to you during the course of this hearing. I will be paying very close attention to your testimony and I think you know the American public will be paying very close attention to your testimony. Thank you.

GRASSLEY: Senator Graham?


GRASSLEY: Yes, but don't forget we're going to hear from the nominee and his introducers before you can go home and go to bed.

GRAHAM: OK. Thank you. I was going to ask you to take me to dinner but that's not going to happen.

GRASSLEY: You know the answer to that.

GRAHAM: You know that, that's right. So, to my colleagues on those -- I look forward to working with you. I think you've got to be blind as to what's going on here. Have you heard of justice briar? Do you know him? You can't say anything, I guess. Where did he come from? He was Ted Kennedy's Senate judiciary person. Where do you think Republicans are going to go find a judge? The whole argument is, you can be a conservative Republican president but you got to nominate a liberal to be fair to the country. That's absurd. Where do you think Ruth Bader Ginsberg came from, she's the general counsel of the ACLU, wonderful person, what groups do y'all use to pick from?

[15:55:00] This is shaping up to be the hypocrisy hearing and that's hard to do in the Senate in today's time to be hypocritical, but let me just point to a few of these things. Clinton, it didn't bother anybody for Clinton to nominate Briar while he was under investigation? It didn't bother any of you all that Ted Kennedy staff person was his pick. It didn't bother me either because that's who I expect to you pick. This is ridiculous. You're one of the best choices any Republican could make as I said with Justice Gorsuch, I'm glad you're here because there were days I'm wondering who he would've picked and this is a home run from my point of view.

Let's talk about Roe V. Wade. Who would ever play politics on the campaign trail where Roe V. Wade? What a bastard Donald Trump is, until you hear about Hillary Clinton. February the 3rd, 2016, this is what Hillary Clinton said when asked does she have a litmus test for SCOTUS nominations. I do have a litmus tests, I have a bunch because the next president could get as many as three appointments and I hope she's right. We've got to make sure to preserve Roe V. Wade, not let it be nibbled away or repealed. She sounds very open minded. October 2016, we need a Supreme Court that will stand up on behalf of woman's rights. It is important that we not rebirth Roe V. Wade. I want to Supreme Court that stick with Roe V. Wade and a woman's right to choose. I understand where she's coming from. Anybody running for president over there, I dare you to disagree with her? You'll wind up like I did getting 1 percent. If you even suggest that you will pick a nominee that's not going to uphold Roe V. Wade that's the ends of you, but you figured that out. You don't need me to tell you.

So, this is the way we do politics. This is a big decision called Roe V. Wade. There are two sides and a bunch of nuances. Here's what I know about you, you're going to take it as press dent, you wrote a big book that I will never read and you're going to tell us what it took to overturn a long-standing president. Nobody on this side will care if you overturn citizens united. Matter fact they will cheer you on. Somebody will challenge citizens united and you will say let me hear both sides of the story and I will tell you whether or not to uphold it. So, Hillary Clinton, we know where she's at on Roe V. Wade and that's just the way it is. Now, what other things? Executive power.

This idea that Trump picked you to save him. Amazing concept since you said what you said back in 1998 and 2008, the bottom line is when Clinton was being impeached, my good friend and this is true, he is my good friend, on February the 12th, 1999 introduced into the record during the deliberations of the Clinton impeachment trial an article by Brett Kavanaugh suggesting that you should wait if there is an indictment until after the president is out of office. The same concept we're talking about here today when the shoe was on the other foot, here's what Joe said about your thinking. The president's not simply another individual, he is unique. He is

the embodiment of the federal government and the head of a political party. If he is to be removed the entire government likely would suffer and the military or economic consequences should the nation could be severe. These repercussions if they are to occur should not result from the judgment of a single prosecutor whether it be the attorney general or special counsel and a single jury. Prosecution -- a non-prosecution of a president is in short, a political act, thus as the constitution suggests, the decision about the president while he's in office should be made where all great national judgements and our country should be made in the congress of the United States according to Joe Biden. The gift that keeps on giving for us. I think that's pretty hypocritical. During the Clinton days, you were right, but all of a sudden, you're a danger to the Republic.

[16:00:00] Let's talk about -- there's so many -- how many minutes do I have here? The bottom line is --

GRASSLEY: [00:30:00] Don't exceed what White House --

GRAHAM: I will not. Guns. Somehow, you're going to make sure that Congress -- the bottom line on guns, Dianne Feinstein's a wonderful lady and has passion on this issue about assault weapons. She was able to succeed politically after ten years the gun assault weapons ban expired and its been hard to get it re-established. She introduced legislation in 2013 that got 60 no votes, 16 Democrats, so I don't believe they see you as a threat to the nation if you come out on the idea that the second amendment has some meaning. In other words, the political process when it comes to guns is a work in progress and I'd rather us decide that than you. When it comes to the pillar of virtue Comey. Harry Reid that he's been a supporter of Comey and led the fight to get him confirmed as he believed Comey was a principled public servant with the deepest regret I now see I was wrong. Mr. Nadler from New York. The president can fire him for cause and ought to --