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Kavanaugh Asked About Ability of Trump to Fire Mueller; Law Firm Denies Kavanaugh Talks About the Mueller Probe; Debate Over Whether New York Times Should've Published Op-Ed; Actor Burt Reynolds Dies at 82. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] SEN. CHRIS COONS, D-DE: Let me be clear about the point I'm trying to get to. It's your views about whether or not when President Nixon fired Archibald Cox, he obstructed justice in violation of the constitution or the firing itself violated the constitution. It's important to know your views on U.S. v. Nixon as well, and we'll turn to that, but I'm interested in your understanding of the constitution and whether or not it prohibits restrictions on the President's ability to fire a special prosecutor at will.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: So, the Supreme Court said, and so you're asking my views, my views are what the precedent says. In other words, I follow the precedent. The precedent of the Supreme Court in the U.S. v. Nixon case did apply that regulation --

COONS: And judge, U.S. v. Nixon was unanimous, correct?

KAVANAUGH: It was unanimous, 8-0.

COONS: Are you aware of any justice having questioned the decision in U.S. v. Nixon since then?

KAVANAUGH: No, I have called it one of the four greatest moments in Supreme Court history, U.S. v. Richard Nixon.

COONS: You have and that's exactly what I want to get to because you've also in another context as we talked about yesterday in a roundtable in 1999 volunteered unprompted that maybe Nixon was wrongly decided. Do you think U.S. v. Nixon was wrongly decided?

KAVANAUGH: I've said it was one of the four greatest decisions, and correct decisions, in terms of the specific regulation at issue in the case and the court's holding in the context of a criminal trial subpoena that the subpoena for the information, the tapes, was enforceable in that context. And that's what I have said before publicly about the Nixon case. And that 1999 --

COONS: You would agree that it was correctly decided? Did I just hear you right?

KAVANAUGH: Of course, when I say it's one of the great -- when I say something is the greatest, that means I agree with it. And in the point was under the specific regulation at issue in that case, a criminal trial subpoena for the information, and it was a moment of judicial independence. A moment where the court, I think, came together as unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Berger. So, that's an important moment in the court's history.

COONS: So, you'd agree, then, you just following the U.S. v. Nixon precedent --

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: So, let's come out of that, and Bob, let me come to you because they're talking about U.S. v. Nixon, and he was saying it was one of the four greatest decisions the Supreme Court ever made. Unanimous 8-0, which basically meant they had to hand over the tapes and subpoenaed materials to the court. Can you talk a little bit more about the significance of that and why this moment really matters?

ROBERT BIANCHI, FORMER HEAD PROSECUTOR, MORRIS CO. NJ: Yes, sure, this is a hugely significant because there is an issue right now with the Mueller investigation, to what extent if he's made a justice of the Supreme Court, as a swing vote, he would rule with regard to what level of oversight does the court have in order to compel things that are subpoenaed.

And this is not the first time, it's the second time that Judge Kavanaugh has indicated that he believes that the President, with a lawfully issued subpoena, would have to respond to it, and that he's not above the law. So, Brooke, this gets to, is the President going to be above the law, be able to scuttle investigations, be able to withhold and hide evidence, and he's basically calling this one of the four greatest decisions that was written because it's the check and balance on the President. Whether he does that when he gets in there, we don't know, but that's what he's saying right now.

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, EASTERN AND SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Look, I think one thing that's important to note, though, is when he was giving his answer, he said it was enforceable in that context. And I think that's very important. I don't think this is somebody who uses his words lightly.

BALDWIN: The think there's some wiggle room?

BERGER: I think it is. I think he's being very careful and probably very deliberate in using those words in his answer.

BALDWIN: So, if it were -- so as he's being asked about the President's right, if it were -- this is all in the land of hypothetical, right, to fire Mueller, subpoena the President. That's what all of this really, the meat of this comes down to.

BIANCHI: Absolutely. And of course, there's a big decision here as to whether or not we would call it obstruction, influencing or impeding an investigation by firing those who are returning significant indictments. And this investigation is not just of the Trump administration. It's about Russian collusion. So, he may be asked at some point in time, justice, what is your opinion or your ruling with respect to whether the President, much like what Nixon did, just fires people who may do things that they think are an antithetical to their interest, thereby scuttling the investigation. He's a prosecutor. Can you imagine I'm in the middle of a murder case and somebody says, I don't like what Bianchi's doing here, you're fired? I mean this is not the way rule of law is. What would he do?

BALDWIN: That's why the questions matter. Berit and Bob, thank you both so very much. As the hearings continue, let me get to this. Up next, new denial from Trump administration officials over the blistering op-ed in "The New York Times." what CNN has learned about what the President is doing behind the scenes as the denials come in.


BALDWIN: We were looking in. Here he is, Judge Brett Kavanaugh being questioned there up on Capitol Hill by senators. This is who the President would like to be his next justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, there was a moment I want to play for you. Democrat Senator Kamala Harris, California. Pushing back hard on a statement from Kasowitz, Benson, and Torres. That's a law firm founded by the President's personal attorney, Mark Kasowitz, that reads.

[15:40:00] There have been no discussions regarding Robert Mueller's investigation between Judge Kavanaugh and anyone at our firm.

What am I talking about? Let's get to the scene here. Senator Harris telling CNN the law firm is not under oath. This is coming after a mysterious line of questions that happened last evening. Watch this.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Judge, have you ever discussed special counsel Mueller or his investigation with anyone?

KAVANAUGH: Well, it's in the news every day.

HARRIS: Have you discussed it with anyone?

KAVANAUGH: With other judges I know.

HARRIS: Have you discussed Mueller or his investigation with anyone at Kasowitz, Benson, and Torres, the law firm founded by Mark Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer. Be sure about your answer, sir.

KAVANAUGH: Well, I'm not remembering, but if you have something you want to --

HARRIS: Are you certain you have not had a conversation with anyone at that law firm?

KAVANAUGH: Kasowitz, Benson --

HARRIS: Kasowitz, Benson, and Torres, which is the law firm founded by Mark Kasowitz, who is President Trump's personal lawyer. Have you had any conversation about Robert Mueller or his investigation with anyone at that firm? Yes or no?

KAVANAUGH: Is there a person you're talking about. HARRIS: I'm asking you a very direct question, yes or no.

KAVANAUGH: I need to know -- I'm not sure I know everyone who works at the law firm.

HARRIS: I don't think you need to. I think you need to know who you talked with. Who did you talk to?

KAVANAUGH: I don't think -- I'm not remembering, but I'm happy to be refreshed or if you want to tell me who you're thinking of.

HARRIS: Are you saying with all that you remember, you have an impeccable memory. You have been speaking for almost eight hours -- I think more to this committee about all sorts of things you remember. How can you not remember whether or not you had a conversation about Robert Mueller or his investigation with anyone at that law firm? This investigation has only been going on for so long, sir.

KAVANAUGH: I'm not sure -- I'm just trying to think do I know anyone who works at that firm. I might know --

HARRIS: That's not my question. My question is, have you had a conversation with anyone at that firm about that investigation.


BALDWIN: That was just a piece of that. That kept going. Joseph Moreno is with me, former counterterrorism prosecutor at the Justice Department. And Joe, let me be clear out of the gate, we don't know yet what Senator Harris knows or doesn't know to predicate that line of questioning. But what did you make of that exchange?

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Brooke, I made that Judge Kavanaugh exited largely unscathed yesterday until that point. And his exchange with senator from California. We don't know what the Senator is getting at, but obviously, what she's trying to do is to lay the foundation that perhaps Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed if that's the case we want to lay the grounds to say he should be recused because he may have had conversations with individuals surrounding the President that possibly were involved in his defense, to the Mueller investigation. So, then the idea is that down the road, if the possibility becomes reality that issues regarding the Mueller investigation make their way to the Supreme Court, that newly installed justice Kavanaugh should not be permitted to rule on them.

BALDWIN: So, as I said off the tip top, the Kasowitz law firm, again, Kasowitz, Trump's personal attorney, they said they hadn't had any sort of conversations. The Senator then has fired back saying that, to give that statement, the law firm wasn't under oath when they made that denial. Does she know something we don't?

MORENO: That's an emphatic denial on behalf of the law firm. They're not leaving themselves a lot of wiggle room there. If she knows something, that's potentially bad. She's right, the law firm is not under oath when it issues a press release or a statement saying something like that. I think myself and a lot of Americans right now are wondering what does the Senator know and when will she decide if ever to let us know about that.

BALDWIN: Joe Moreno, that's the question. Thank you so much.

MORENO: Thanks, Brooke. Good to be here.

BALDWIN: Good to see you.

Just in, "The New York Times" says it's now receiving high call volume after White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, put the newspaper on Blast, urging people to call "The New York Times" to find out who penned that anonymous editorial criticizing the President. We'll talk about the media angle to all this next.


BALDWIN: As some administration officials continue to deny that they are the author of this anonymous op-ed, many are also taking a page out of their boss's playbook and slamming "The New York Times" for printing this piece in the first place. This is happening as President Trump is demanding that "Times" hand over the anonymous writer for national security purposes. We start with senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter and Sarah Ellison, she's a staff writer at "The Washington Post." So, the whole who done it, let's start with you, sir, on what you know about the phone call that came in to the "Times". We'll go from there.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this was an intermediary, someone that the op-ed editor had known for a long time and trusted.

[15:50:00] Who was told just several days ago, I have a senior official who wants to go and write this op-ed. And the response from the "Times" was great, let's read it, we'll see if we like it. Of course, the paper knew what it had once it saw this op-ed. Any newspaper would have found a way to publish this. I know "The Washington Post" doesn't allow anonymous op-eds. So, this is a controversial topic. And yet I still think this is the kind of scoop that anybody would have been excited to receive. And so, the "Times" -- obviously 24 hours ago at this point, published it. And yet it's still the talk of the country. We've the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders telling people to call "The New York Times", complain to "The New York Times", call up the opinion section. You can see the statement here. In response the "Times" confirms it is receiving a large number of calls.

BALDWIN: Imagine working that switchboard today.

STELTER: It has been a very busy afternoon there.

BALDWIN: The fact that it is of all papers that this senior administration anonymous official -- he or she, we don't know -- went to "The New York Times," the President's hometown paper, the paper that he hate reads.

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, I mean, there wouldn't be that many choices of a paper that you would go to. I could argue that the "Washington Post" is a fabulous paper to go to for these kinds of things. But yes, "The New York Times". But Trump has a specific relationship with the "Times".

STELTER: It's so twisted though.

ELLISON: And he loves to hate it but he also cares about it more than any other outlet that is out there. It is sort of a perfect trolling of him in a certain way.

BALDWIN: Don't you think unlike what we were talking Deep Throat in the commercial break and how he initially denied it and it took decades. It is 2018 guys. Someone is going to figure this out if the person doesn't come out before.

STELTER: I had a Congressman asked me today, what happens if this cabinet official -- let's pretend it's a cabinet official -- what if this person comes out and denies being the source but is the source? Will the "Times" out the person? I don't think so. I have asked the paper. They are not going to comment. I don't think they'll do that. But there has to be a point where enough people know the identity of this person. It could well leak out or the person could choose to come out publicly at some point. I wonder if that is the end game here.

ELLISON: You have to wonder what the piece accomplishes as an anonymous piece of writing. It doesn't add to anything.

BALDWIN: Because a lot of critics, like Erik Wemple in the "Post" today were like this is old news, guys.

STELTER: Count me is still surprised. Can't we retain our capacity for shock and surprise to some degree?

ELLISON: What does it do? What does it give us more than what we knew already?

BALDWIN: Put it this way, the flip side of the argument is, it's an entire piece full of this person's words. It's an opinion piece in "The New York Times". It's not like, you know, a senior administration source says, a phrase here and there. This is a wealth of information in his or her own words. So, you can argue you can see it the other way around.

ELLISON: You can argue though that there are specific examples that are in Bob Woodward's book that are much more specific than what is in this piece, too. I'm just sort of playing devil's advocate.

STELTER: What amazes me is that every song, they are all singing the same tune. All of this lines up. That is what is so chilling.

BALDWIN: Do you think this person writes again?

STELTER: The "Times" did not rule that out. Is this person going to submit another column? Or are they going to become --

ELLISON: It can materialize. STELTER: -- a guest commentator and they will not rule that out. So,

I think it is possible.

BALDWIN: Wow. Sarah and Brian, thank you so much. Thanks for the conversation.

Coming up next here, back to our breaking news. Actor Burt Reynolds has died at the age of 82. More on his life and legacy next.


BALDWIN: Burt Reynolds was many things, Hollywood icon, sex symbol, leading man. Burt Reynolds passed away earlier today at the age of 82. And he was known for so many roles, Smoky and the Bandits, Deliverance, The Longest Yard, Cannon Ball Run, Boogie Nights. Here is a clip for you, Smokey and the Bandit, with someone he dated once upon a time, Sally Field.


BURT REYNOLDS, ACTOR, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT: Last time I saw legs like that they had a message tied to them.

SALLY FIELD, ACTOR: What do you mean? These are great legs. They're professional.

REYNOLDS: In that case, you shouldn't be dressed in white.

FIELDS: Dancer.

REYNOLDS: Oh. Well, cowboys love fat calves.

FIELDS: They're not fat.

REYNOLDS: They're bigger than mine.

FIELDS: Do we really want to talk about legs?


BALDWIN: Celebrities, friends responding to Burt Reynolds' death. Let me read one tweet from Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is what he wrote.

Burt Reynolds was one of my heroes. He was a trailblazer. He showed the way to transition from being an athlete to being the highest paid actor and he always inspired me. He also had a great sense of humor. Check out his tonight show clips. My thoughts are with his family.

Burt Reynolds gone at the age of 82. I'm Brooke Baldwin, thank you so much for being with me. Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thanks, Brooke. Everyone in D.C. playing a dangerous game of clue today. "THE LEAD" starts right now. President Trump reportedly white hot as one by one senior members of

his administration race to issue personal denials about who authored that explosive anonymous "New York Times" op-ed. Almost 20 senior administration official so far --