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Kavanaugh Hearing Final Day Today; Meeting Over Deadly Airstrikes; Trump Vows Win on National Anthem; Elon Musk Controversy. Aired 9:30-10:00a ET

Aired September 7, 2018 - 09:30   ET



[09:30:21] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And you're looking at live pictures of Capitol Hill, where the final day of hearings is set to begin for President Trump's second Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Today we're going to hear from a number of witnesses testifying for him and against his nomination. This follows a spectacle on The Hill all week really, but certainly yesterday, with senators going after one another almost as much as some of them went after the nominee himself.

Let's talk about it. Our Supreme Court guru Joan Biskupic is with me. And back with me is our political commentator Errol Louis.

So, Joan, to you first. I mean Kavanaugh is done testifying. It went late into the night, but it's over. Now it's people for him and people against his nomination. What did we learn from Kavanaugh and perhaps, more importantly, what did we not learn?


First of all, we learned that he could take it. He could sit there for many hours, remain controlled, remain pleasant, stick to messages such as, you know, I will be an independent judge, I don't live in a bubble, I'm going to stay three zip codes away from political controversy. So we saw that side of him.

But you're absolutely right, that there's so much that we did not learn. He did not want to hip his hands, not just on any cases, which is, you know, expected --


BISKUPIC: But also in terms of elaboration on his philosophy. The question is, once he reaches the pinnacle, the highest court in the land, no longer is tethered to the precedent that lower court judges have to follow, what kind of jurist will he be --

HARLOW: Right.

BISKUPIC: And how far to the right of Anthony Kennedy will he be? HARLOW: Right.

And we'll get into that case in a moment.

Errol, on the politics of it. Wow. I mean hyper partisanship across the board here. We had Cory Booker, Senator Cory Booker's I am Spartacus moment. Then you have the Republicans on the committee and Bill Burke, who reviewed all those committee confidential documents that Booker and the Dems are so up in arms about saying, what are you talking about, Senator Booker? You had access to all of these documents before you made that statement and then Booker has subsequently made them -- the documents public.

Did Democrats help themselves yesterday or did they go too far?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think they dramatized that this is real for them and that they're going to fight as hard as they possibly can.

I don't know about "Spartacus." It's a great movie. I don't know if this really qualifies. This looked to me more like what you often see on television shows, frankly.


LOUIS: Or in real life where somebody playing poker takes all their chips and put them in the middle of the table.

HARLOW: And they did.

LOUIS: I thought that's what Cory Booker was doing. He's saying, I'm all in on this.


LOUIS: I'll risk expulsion. That's how badly I want to highlight and spotlight the transparency issues here.

Was this the best issue or batch of documents on which to sort of make that case? I don't know. But that's not the point. The point is that they're saying tens of thousands of documents have been kept secret through a process that doesn't really involve public employees. This person, this outside person --

HARLOW: A partisan attorney.

LOUIS: Just kind of decided who --

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: What would be allowed.

HARLOW: It's also the way it worked as Cornyn I think brought up yesterday during the Clinton, you know, during the Clinton years when it was about Elena Kagan. Joan, a 2003 e-mail about Roe v. Wade. The words of Brett Kavanaugh

himself when he was working in the White House on this, you know, key case came up and the beginning of the hearing yesterday and Dianne Feinstein read from it.

Where did it get us? Where did it get the American public in terms of understanding where Judge Kavanaugh truly stands on Roe v. Wade?

BISKUPIC: Well, in that memo, Poppy, he acknowledges what he didn't want to have to say to the committee, that even when a ruling is settled law, the Supreme Court can unsettle it. He noted in the memo that there are legal scholars who don't believe Roe is as firm as, you know, liberals, progressives would want and that there are members of the Supreme Court who want to overturn it. And she pressed him on that and he said, well, I was just, you know, stating what's the obvious. I wanted to make sure this memo that was going out was accurate.

But for the members of the committee, it was a revealing window into him saying outright, of course it can be reversed. He just didn't want to say that out lout to the committee.

HARLOW: All right, we have to leave it there. Thank you both very much, Joan, Errol. Have a good weekend. We'll see how today goes. We'll keep a very close eye on it.

[09:34:43] We want to take you out to Syria, next. Escalating tension in Syria after Russia warns the United States of a pending large scale offensive in an area where U.S. troops could be hit. This morning, how the U.S. is responding. We're going to take you live to Damascus ahead.


HARLOW: All right, so right now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is about to speak here at the United Nations about Russia and the assay regime's plan to launch a government offensive in Idlib province. The is the last rebel stronghold in Syria. We're keeping a very close eye on this because this is coming as we got new video just earlier this morning that appears to show another deadly attack in Idlib. We cannot independently verify this, but rebel groups say that Russian warplanes are hovering over southern Idlib and have launched several attacks in the area.

Meantime, according to a U.S. defense official, Russia warned the U.S. military twice that that its forces, along with the Assad regime's forces, are prepared and are preparing to attack an area where U.S. troops are stationed.

Let's go to Damascus, Syria. My colleague and senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is there inside of Syria this morning.

I think, look, the first question, Fred, is a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia in Syria more likely this morning?

[09:40:11] FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, it certainly looks as though it's growing ever more likely and certainly with this reporting that our Barbara Starr got, which is an amazing piece of information, that apparently the Russians warned the U.S. on at least two occasions they want to operate in that area. It's a base called Abtant (ph), which is in the eastern Syrian Desert. There's not very much there. But it is a key place if the U.S. wants to stop Iran from infiltrating that area and that the Russians want to operate and perhaps conduct strikes in that area. That certainly is something that could lead to big confrontations because right now the Russians have a huge fleet off Syria, 26 ships, that can all launch cruise missiles. And, of course, they have jets in the sky as well.

Now, the information that we're getting is that the U.S. is strongly warning the Russians not to meddle with the United States forces. They are in that area. And that the U.S., of course, is very capable of conducting some sort of response. But at the same time, we also have this new information that the U.S. now possibly plans to stay in Syria indefinitely, obviously trying to see through the war against ISIS, also trying to stop Iran from spreading there as well. And that in itself is something that could also cause some frictions with the Russians as well, Poppy.

HARLOW: We are hearing from Russian President Vladimir Putin this morning, Fred, at he's at this, you know, sort of summit. You've got Turkey meeting with Russia meeting with Iran, all talking about this and also discussing, you know, how do we avoid a bloodbath. You have reportedly Russian President Vladimir Putin saying that the Syrian's efforts, right, Assad's efforts in Idlib have to take into account the large number of civilians there. I mean should we take that at face value or given the fact that Russia has been propping up the Assad regime, and all of these civilian casualties, how do you read that?

PLEITGEN: I think it's very difficult to say. Certainly the Russians are supporting the Assad government and the Assad government, at this point in time, we know has amassed a giant force outside of Idlib province, that last place that is still held by the opposition. And these are some really battle-hardened fighters that are out there, veterans of some of the big fights here in Syria, like, for instance, in Aleppo. So whether or not if an offensive starts they would take civilians into account, it's a very big question. But, of course, he's there with the president of Turkey, the president of Iran, and they all say that they want to combat Islamist groups which no doubt are in the area. Some of them used to be affiliates of al Qaeda in the not too distance past. And there are also some foreign fighters there as well. All of the leaders agreed that that's something that needs to be done, but certainly the Turks especially warning that civilian casualties could be extremely high.

And just to give you a little bit of insight, the estimates are that around three million civilians are in that area, in Idlib province. It's a very crammed area. So just conducting a military operation there in and of itself more than likely will cause a great deal of bloodshed.


HARLOW: Fred Pleitgen reporting inside of Syria. A rare experience to be able to be on the ground there as this is all happening. Thank you for bringing us the reporting, Fred.

Ahead for us, the NFL kicks off and the president sounds off. The president says he's going to win the culture war over the national anthem on a night when no players actually took a knee, next.


[09:47:39] HARLOW: All right, welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

And the president is vowing to win the culture war over the national anthem. We're talking, of course, about the NFL. Listen to how he stoked the crowd in Montana minutes before NFL kickoff last night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From Colin Kaepernick, to the NFL, to now Nike, who's going to win this cultural showdown of standing for the anthem?




HARLOW: The president went on to slam Nike for its new ad featuring Colin Kaepernick and followed it up this morning with a tweet that simply reads, what was Nike thinking?

No players actually took a knee last night. As you can see, two Eagles' players did sit down for the end of the anthem.

Let's talk about all of this, big picture. Our sports analyst Christine Brennan is here, as is George Martin, a former New York Giants player and former president of the NFL Players Association.

Good morning to you guys. This is the beginning, I believe, of what is going to be a continued, long conversation about this through the NFL season. Last night was, of course, kickoff for game one of the official season.

And, Christine, you say this is almost like the next step in the conversation. What do you mean?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: I do, Poppy, because with Nike's ad, which appeared right before 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time, early in the third quarter, that two-minute ad, Colin Kaepernick, all the conversation the last few days about that, it's almost as if the players maybe don't have to do as much now because the conversation has turned.

HARLOW: Interesting.

BRENNAN: Everyone in the country has to know the name Colin Kaepernick. They know about the Nike ad, or everyone who's paying any attention at all. So the conversation -- it's almost like the players have already won this particular battle.

And you've got Nike, of course, a business partner with the NFL, on your side. And when the president is saying, you know, what's Nike thinking, well, I think Nike is thinking, we'd like to have market share for the next 50 years with this younger generation, the Parkland kids, the much more socially active age group, the millennials what have you, than their parents and grandparents. And so in many ways it seems like Nike and the NFL -- frankly, the NFL doesn't really have a plan. Nike does have a plan. And the players seem to be joining the Nike side of this.

HARLOW: I do think it's interesting, George, that we did not see any kneeling last night. That, you know, Christine has a really interesting point, that maybe sort of they've done their part for now and this conversation has gotten -- has so many more tentacles now. You know, heavyweights like Nike making this bold move with Colin Kaepernick. What do you think all in all this week has shown us from the Nike ad, to the president's response, to what we saw last night?

[09:50:04] GEORGE MARTIN, FORMER DEFENSIVE END, NY GIANTS: Well, first of all, I'm disappointed that it's been termed as a war, because it really shouldn't be. This should be something that brings people together.

And I applaud Colin Kaepernick. I think he's a hero for our times. And I think in retrospect I think history will prove that he's a hero.

I think that -- I think the mistake that the NFL players made initially was that they didn't have enough structure around their whole purpose. And had they had the support of the NFL Players Association, the NFL itself, this could have been handled much differently to make allies out of those people who are now seem to be enemies.

HARLOW: You know the president last night, Christine, also said in this Fox interview that, he said, quote, I understand it's in contracts that you have to stand for the national anthem. What?

BRENNAN: No. No. It's not in their contract at all. The NFL says the players should stand, but it's never been mandated.

And I think the important thing -- when you -- when we mention the president, I think he's almost the key factor in this. This story was not a story anymore last September. It had just trickled to just a couple guys standing until the president ginned it all back up and the Alabama Senate race in his speech there, the famous SOB line. So it's almost like the -- if the president just stays out of it, it would have gone away. Because he kept entering it, I think that's one of the reasons why the players felt they had to answer.

HARLOW: Well, and, George, there's some interesting new polling that's just -- in the last week or so from NBC and "The Wall Street Journal" and it actually shows 54 percent of Americans have deemed kneeling during the anthem inappropriate, 43 percent have call it appropriate. OK, so we get a sense of American sentiment there a bit. It's not really clear one way or the other. What do you hope this conversation does for America? Remembering why Colin Kaepernick took a knee, you know, what, two years ago now for -- in the first place.

MARTIN: Right. We have to steer the narrative back to its original intent, and that was a human rights infractions and abuse. It has been very successfully hijacked. And it's unfortunate to say that it's about the national anthem. It is not disrespect to the national anthem.

By the way, which we have the right to do. It's always been about human right violations and abuse. So until we can come together and focus on what the actual discussion should be about, it's going to continue to create a divide.

HARLOW: Christine, do you remember back -- a long time ago, we were -- we were both alive, though, in 1995, you had Sam Smith's book "Second Coming," right, and you had Michael Jordan quoted in it as to why he didn't really speak out, at least then, on social issues, and he said Republicans buy shoes, too. You know, two decades later, it's just a different time, isn't it?

BRENNAN: It is, Poppy. It pendulum swings. It swung from the '60s with Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King, to Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods and a time of corporate acquiescence. And now here we are with the social activism again.

And I would maintain frankly because the players have been tweeting about the Nike ad and about Colin Kaepernick, maybe we have already gotten to the point, George, where we are talking about the next steps. And these players -- I've talked to them, the NFL players, they work in their community. They have been doing a lot of this. So while the noise is out there with the president, all the rhetoric, all the polarization, I think we can make a strong case that most of the players have already turned that page and gone back to what this is about, which is, of course, a very good thing, about helping communities, which is -- which is something that we should say athletes would be role models for. And I think almost everyone could agree on that point.

HARLOW: George, do you agree?

MARTIN: Absolutely 100 percent. I think that we have steered back to that conversation.

HARLOW: Thank you both very much. Nice to have you.

BRENNAN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Nice to meet you in person.

MARTIN: A pleasure indeed.

HARLOW: And, Christine, always a pleasure. Talk to you soon.

BRENNAN: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, ahead, seriously, drinking whiskey, smoking weed, not a night out for a billionaire Elon Musk. That was an interview. You'll see it next.


[09:58:07] HARLOW: All right, what do you get when you mix a billionaire trying to change the world, some whiskey, throw in a little weed and a flamethrower, and then record it all on a podcast and on camera for all of you to see. That's what happened when Tesla's CEO Elon Musk went on Joe Rogan's podcast last night. Here he was playing with a personal flamethrower that his company has built. You see that? And then this happened.


MUSK: I mean it's legal, right?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How does that work? Do people get upset at you if you do certain things?

MUSK: Ah -- there's tobacco and marijuana in there. That's all it is. The combination of tobacco and marijuana is wonderful.


HARLOW: Seriously, Musk has been criticized lately for threatening to take his company private, all these erratic tweets, then going back on that, keeping it public. I mean there is a whole context to this that's important to understand.

Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans back with me.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And this is the big story in the business world this morning. Everybody is talking about this.

HARLOW: His stock is taking a beating.

ROMANS: His stock is down 6 percent. Questions about whether this was good judgement for him to do this. He talked a bit about that single --

HARLOW: Questions about whether it was good judgement?

ROMANS: The single deep breath he took on that cigarette or blunt they're saying. He's almost never -- he smokes pot. He says, I know a lot of people are -- who like weed. That's fine. But it's not good for productivity. So there he is on the record with that.

There was also a samurai sword at one point during this podcast too. They talked about the end of the universe, the end of the world. They talked about populating mars. They talked about a lot of things.

He talked about being five or six years old and knowing that he was different than everyone else. There was so much going on in his brain, he thought they were going to put him away.

But he is the face of a public company. Can you imagine Jamie Diamond or Mary Barra (ph) or any of the other, you know, Bob Iger or --


[10:00:00] ROMANS: You know, it just races a lot of questions about whether the face of a public company should be --

HARLOW: He's brilliant. We all know that. It's not --

ROMANS: He is brilliant. And eccentric.

HARLOW: Yes, and eccentric. And it's not just Tesla. I mean SpaceX. I mean he -- you know, he's trying to change the world in multiple ways