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Fireworks Erupt over Hidden Kavanaugh Documents; New Denials from Trump Administration Officials over "Resistance" Op-Ed; Survey: Unnamed Trump Official: Whispers of 25th Amendment; Poll: Germans Fear Trump More Than Terror; Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing Resumes. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired September 6, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: So let's discuss all of this critically important information. Gloria Borger and Eliana Johnson are still with us. Page Pate is joining us as well, our legal analyst.
Gloria, several of the Democrats on the committee backed Booker, saying they would also release some confidential e-mails despite the Senate rules.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Committee confidential, as they're called. Their reason for doing it is obviously they want to raise questions. They want to raise questions particularly about Roe v. Wade and whether or not Judge Kavanaugh believes it is so- called settled law. There's one line in this released e-mail where he had written that, "I'm not sure all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since the court can always overrule its precedent, and three current justices on the court would do so."
Well, that is true. And we also know that everybody talks about settled law and precedent, and everybody knows that precedent can be overturned if the court wants to. But again, they were raising this to say, look, Roe is in danger, and this is a bit of proof about why Kavanaugh, who was so important replacing Kennedy here, could be a key vote in overturning roe.
BLITZER: But, Page, and you're a legal analyst. He was right. There are legal scholars who agree that Roe v. Wade could be, if there's a majority in the Supreme Court, overturned.
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Settled law is settled from lower-court judges. It's not at all settled for Supreme Court justices. Since he wrote that, there's now another vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. With a fifth vote, I think it is certain that a Justice Kavanaugh would look at the issue very differently than a Judge Kavanaugh because, once you're on that Supreme Court, you get to make the call.
BLITZER: Eliana, I want to play a clip. This is the ranking Democrat, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who said this on this sensitive issue of Roe v. Wade and Kavanaugh. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: So thank you, Senator Feinstein. In that draft letter, it was referring to the views of legal scholars. I think my comment in the e-mail is that might be overstating the position of legal scholars. So it wasn't a technically accurate description in the letter of what legal scholars thought at that time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I've actually read these memos that were confidential but now are out. They've been released by some of these Democratic Senators.
The question is, on the sensitive issue of abortion rights for women in the United States, you think any of this is going to have an impact on two moderate Republican Senators, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, who are very important on this issue of Roe v. Wade and may convince them because of this disclosure of what he said that they may vote against this confirmation?
ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think this will be enough. But you're definitely right. The ultimate goal in publicizing these e-mails is to suggest that Republicans and Kavanaugh have been hiding the ball about what his true views on Roe v. Wade are. And if he is confirmed to the court, he will be a vote to overturn this. I don't think this e-mail, which really is a factual statement about precedent and the views of legal scholars, will be enough to convince Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Susan Collins, of Maine, that Kavanaugh -- it says nothing about what Kavanaugh's personal views on the issue are or what he might do if he's nominated and confirmed to the court. So I don't think it will be enough to get them to turn on their own party and to scuttle the nomination. If this is the worst thing Democrats have on him, I just don't think it will be sufficient.
BLITZER: Because it looks like he has the votes, especially -- he needs 50 votes in the U.S. Senate. There are 51 Republicans, 49 Democrats, including the two Independents who vote with the Democrats.
And there are at least three moderate Democrats who may vote to confirm as well.
BLITZER: So if it's a simple majority, it looks like he hasn't had a major blunder yet and looks like he's on his way.
BORGER: Right. He hasn't. And in this memo, he didn't state what his personal views are. That's sort of important. He didn't say, you know, I personally believe that this shouldn't be considered settled law or shouldn't be considered precedent. He was sort of remarking on what legal scholars were saying. So I really -- you know, I agree with Eliana. I don't see it as sort it would kill the nomination. PATE: This is important. If the Democratic Senators will bear down
on this issue and say, look, you're telling us your personal opinion does not weigh into your decisions. Well, that may be true while you're a lower-court judge. But now you have to recognize, you have to acknowledge that once you're on the Supreme Court, your personal opinions do make a difference, how you view the Constitution, how you view Roe v. Wade, because you will then have a vote to change that precedent if you decide to exercise it.
[13:35:21] BLITZER: Don't forget, Judge Kavanaugh, if confirmed, and it looks like he will be confirmed, could spend 30 or 40 years -- he's, what, only 53 years old -- on the U.S. Supreme Court and have a huge impact well beyond the Trump administration.
Guys, stick around. There's more we're following.
We're also getting right now new denials from top Trump administration officials over that historic and blistering op-ed article in the "New York Times." This, as we're told what the president is doing behind the scenes as all of these denials are coming in.
[13:40:28] BLITZER: It's truly an extraordinary day here in Washington punctuated by a chorus of "not mes" comes from the most senior Trump administration officials, including members of the cabinet, including the vice president of the United States. There you see some of them. They are publicly having to declare that they didn't write a very damaging op-ed article in the "New York Times" about an active resistance to President Trump from inside his own administration.
Joining us now, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline. He's a Democrat on both the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. DAVID CICILLINE, (D), RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: On Twitter, you wrote this: "Dear anonymous senior official in the Trump administration, thank you for your words. They would be much more powerful if you came out and identified yourself. I promise there are millions of Americans who will hold you up as a hero."
So tell us why you think it would be more powerful, more advantageous to the country if this senior official came out, announced it was me, was immediately fired by the president, as opposed to staying inside the government and trying to protect the American people from what this official regards as disastrous decisions and awful behavior by the president.
CICILLINE: Well, I think, first of all, Wolf, the letter to the editor, the op-ed I think didn't really surprise very many of us. It was consistent with the president's behavior and the way this administration is operating. There's nothing shocking in it. The president and his allies are denying it's true, claiming it's made up, not really a government official. I think what would make it very powerful is if this person were to come forward, identify themselves, and the American people would see it actually is a member of the Trump administration, a high-ranking official, who would then lose his or her job. I think it would give tremendous credibility to those observations. Presumably, that would have some effect. Because I think the president relies on the constant denial that there's chaos in the White House. He says it's a finely tuned machine. And this would be an opportunity for someone who's worked in the White House at a high level, shared very important observations, to identify, to have the courage to say, you know, it's me and this is important for our country. We can't have our country operate with a bunch of people secretly trying to mitigate the damage the president is causing. We need to shine a light on it in a real way, let the American people see it, and then elect people who are going to hold this administration accountable. But I think it would be go a long way to piercing the president's claim that all this is made up and some big conspiracy but not actual people working in the White House who are making these observations.
So I really hope the person who wrote that is reflecting on it and will come forward and identify himself or herself. I don't think, you know, frankly, it matters, but it will give a lot more meaning to this written piece if the person is known. I think it would help.
BLITZER: The counterargument to that, Congressman, is simple. This official would immediately lose his or her job. We assume it's a very senior administration official. They would be replaced by someone who would be presumably very, very loyal to President Trump and would not be as concerned about protecting what this person would regard as national security, for example, as opposed to a replacement, and the American people might lose someone inside the administration who was out for them.
CICILLINE: Yes, but the hope is that if this person comes forward, it might begin to persuade my Republican colleagues to actually do what they're required to do under our Constitution, meaningful oversight. It might cause people to vote for elected officials in the midterms that are committed to responsible oversight. So there are other benefits that will come from this.
I think the other thing is the writer of this made it clear he or she is part of a group of people within the administration that are attempting to protect the country from the worst reckless behavior of this president. Presumably, there are others who will continue to do that. But that's not the way our democracy is supposed to work. We elect people. They ought to be allowed to assemble their teams that reflect their own priorities. And kind of relying on people to remain secret in the White House to protect us from our own president is really not the way it's supposed to work. I think shining a light on this, having this official identify himself or herself, and then, hopefully, that's going to cause a series of other things, like real oversight, like the election of the right people in the midterms and a number of other things that will have a much more significant benefit for our democracy than this one single person within the administration. BLITZER: Does this set, potentially, what has happened with this
article in the "New York Times," does it set a dangerous precedent for the future? For example, Donald Trump is the 45th president. But does it set a dangerous precedent for the 46th president or the 47th president that it's OK to have someone inside the administration, someone who's not elected, working against the sitting president, the sitting commander-in-chief because he or she, as an individual, doesn't think the president is capable of doing the job the American people elected him or her to do?
[13:45:28] CICILLINE: Well, I mean, I think it raises some very serious questions about what your duty is as a high-level official in the government. And people who take those positions take oaths of office, take oaths to our Constitution, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and serve the people of this country. You can imagine there are instances where people, in order to honor the oath they've taken, need to take a view contrary to the president, particularly this president. This is a very unusual moment in our nation's history. I don't know there are many examples of it happening before, but there have been a few examples. I think, in general, we want people to get elected and assemble the team that reflects their priorities. But these are dangerous times. These are different times. We've seen a president who has repeatedly taken actions contrary to the interests of our country. Helsinki maybe being the most recent example where he stood next to Vladimir Putin and sided with a country that attacked our democracy and undermined the rule of law and the confidence we have in our intelligence agencies. These are unusual times. And I think having people who are willing to be courageous and stand up for our country and put their country over their political affiliation with a particular president is important. But it also is something that people need to understand. That's why I think the identity of this person would be helpful to make people understand that this really is happening at the White House, and completely reject the president's notion that everything is terrific and it's running like a finely tuned machine. We know that's not true. This person wrote about it, and they can help confirm that by disclosing who they are.
BLITZER: That argument is clearly also backed up by the new Bob Woodward book, which will officially be out on Tuesday. So much of it already out there.
Congressman Cicilline, thanks for joining us.
CICILLINE: My pleasure. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Moments ago, the first lady of the United States, Melania Trump, slamming the author of this op-ed, saying he or she is sabotaging the country. Her statement, you'll hear it, when we come back.
Also, as the fallout from the op-ed ripples around the world, a stunning headline out of Germany right now where a majority of people now say, according to this poll, what scares them most isn't terrorism, it's President Trump.
[13:52:03] BLITZER: A new op-ed in the "New York Times" dropped bombshells about the Trump administration, but also raised a constitutional question. An unnamed senior administration official wrote, and I'm quoting, "Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president."
The author of the article said they decided not to do so because they are afraid of precipitating a constitutional crisis.
So what is the history behind the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
Our correspondent, Tom Foreman, is here to break it down for us.
Explain this to our viewers, Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The 25th Amendment, Wolf, grew out of long-simmering concerns about what the nation would do if a president became incapacitated. The question was first raised when Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke. Again, when Dwight Eisenhower suffered some serious health scares. And when President Kennedy was assassinated, it became law.
What does it say? Specifically, Section IV allows the vice president and a majority of the cabinet or some other group named by Congress to declare the president unable to serve. But the rules also make it quite difficult to use this amendment to simply push out a president.
This is how it's supposed to work. Say a president appears to have suffered some wildly debilitating injury or illness or is acting as if he's simply gone insane. The vice president and the cabinet could tell Congress, he's got to go. We are now in charge. And they do take control. But the president could then immediately respond, no, I am fine. I get to stay. And he immediately takes back control simply by that declaration. At which point the first group, if they want, can then go back to Congress and they can say, we want a ruling from Congress. And at that point, if within three weeks two-thirds of the members of Congress say yes, we agree, the president is no longer fit to serve, then he is out.
But make no mistake. None of this was designed for foes of a president inside or outside of his party to simply take him down because they strongly disagree with his policies or behavior. The 25th Amendment is specifically aimed at measurable, provable mental or physical incapacity -- Wolf?
BLITZER: The other option is impeachment, which is in the Constitution. A simple majority in the House, but two-thirds in the Senate would be needed to actually remove a president from office.
Tom Foreman, thanks for that explanation.
FOREMAN: Thank you.
[13:54:43] BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
The fallout from the so-called resistant op-ed about President Trump in the "New York Times" has gone international. And the overwhelming reaction from U.S. allies in Europe seems to be less than a surprise. In fact, a German weekly has now replaced its coverage of the op-ed with an eyebrow-raising poll on the things Germans right now fear most. Coming in at number one, with 69 percent -- look at this -- President Trump. He beats out fear of refugees overrunning Germany at 63 percent, and terrorism, which got 59 percent.
Coming up, is it the one word that could unlock a mystery, as speculation builds over who wrote the op-ed? One unusual term used by the author is getting a lot of attention. We'll explain.
BLITZER: We're going to go right back to Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Judge Kavanaugh as the next U.S. Supreme Court justice. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat Senator, is questioning Kavanaugh.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D), RHODE ISLAND: -- confidentiality protection they feel you are owed. It's up to you do, do that.
KAVANAUGH: I spoke to reporters at the direction and authorization of Judge Starr...
WHITEHOUSE: You just recited the exact same words that you answered me with beforehand. Will you release them?
KAVANAUGH: That's relevant to the answer of the question if I could continue?
WHITEHOUSE: What I'd really like to get is an answer to the actual question I asked rather than a disquisition in the general topic area that I asked. This is a very simple thing. You either will or will not.
Or if you wish, you're welcome to say, look, I'd like to take that under advisement and I'll get back to you after some reflection and consultation. But our situation right now is that reporter may very well have information about what you told them during the Starr- Clinton investigation that they are unwilling to divulge now because you were a confidential source.
Can you release them from that by simply saying here publicly, look, anybody I talk to, say what I said. It's not a problem. I don't need confidentiality any longer.
KAVANAUGH: Right. Senator, and if I could just get 30 seconds on this, if that's UK?
WHITEHOUSE: Just 30 responsive seconds. I'll offer that. Go for it.
KAVANAUGH: OK. I spoke to the reporters at the direction and authorization of Judge Starr, and therefore Judge Starr would be the one who would be part of that process.
KAVANAUGH: I was not acting on my own, so...
WHITEHOUSE: No. No, that is not the way that reporters look at it. They look at it as you were the source. You were the one to whom they owe the obligation of confidentiality. Starr's name has not come up.
KAVANAUGH: But I was, in turn, acting as part of that office. And therefore, I guess...