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Trump Brings Up Impeachment at Montana Rally; Former President Obama to Deliver Pointed Rebuke of Trump; Witnesses Testify at Brett Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 7, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, it just raised a lot of questions about whether the face of the public company should be --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: He is brilliant. We all know that.

ROMANS: He's 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. And this has so many people questioning what's going on.

ROMANS: He is a very unique business leader. We'll see if he needs -- if he's going to have to apologize for that or if the board will maybe say he needs to do something different or have a different kind of behavior -- public behavior for the company.

HARLOW: I think he actually tweeted out the podcast, saying, good times with Joe Rogan so -- all right, Romans, everyone is talking about it this morning.


HARLOW: Thank you. Have a good weekend.

All right. Top of the hour. 10:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Thank you for being with me.

President Trump is wrapping up what is to be -- has had to be one of his most tempestuous weeks in office and one of the most Republican Trump friendly parts of the country. That's right, at a rally last night in Billings, Montana, he warned about the so-called deep state and its threat to democracy. It's a message that we may hear twice more today because he is traveling next to Fargo, North Dakota. Then he is going to South Dakota. Still he says it is not the deep state or what he calls the gutless coward behind that "New York Times" op-ed whom he intends to blame if he is impeached. Here is who the president says would be at fault. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it does happen, it's your fault, because you didn't go out to vote. OK? You didn't go out to vote. You didn't go out to vote. That's the only way it could happen.


HARLOW: We expect to see the president in just a few minutes. He's headed to Fargo. In the meantime, let's go to the White House.

Good morning again, Abby, to you. I don't know. What struck you most last night? Was it the fact that the president said, seeming a little bit in jest to his supporters there, you know, it's your fault if I get impeached or was it that he spent so much time talking about this op-ed that was bad for him and talking about impeachment that would be bad for him?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, maybe it was a lighthearted joke or maybe it was a signal to his base. It seems impeachment was in fact on his mind and it could be because this week has been a tough week for the president. He's faced Bob Woodward's book and some of the revelations in there about what his own aides think about him. And then this op-ed.

The president may or may not have been sending a signal to his base that all of this taken together is a good reason for you all to get out to the polls. But he is also not laying off this anonymous senior administration official who still has yet to be identified despite what some aides characterized as a witch hunt going on in the White House right now. But he did call on "The New York Times" for national security reasons to turn this person over to the government. Listen.


TRUMP: Nobody knows who the hell he is or she. For the sake of our national security, "The New York Times" should publish his name at once. Unelected deep state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself.


PHILLIP: And again we don't know who this person is or who it might be. But we have now had dozens of the president's Cabinet members and senior officials in his administration denying that it was them. Coming out in public statements saying, no, I did not write this op- ed. Some of those statements being delivered -- hand delivered to the president on paper so that he can read them and see who is coming to his defense at this critical moment.

Meanwhile, we will hear him later today, twice, in North Dakota and in South Dakota at campaign-style fundraising events. Perhaps we'll see him once again reprising this issue.

But, Poppy, I think we're seeing some signs of the president is -- if nothing else, going to use this as a political argument aimed at his base to get them out to vote to the polls this November.

HARLOW: Sure. It's all about enthusiasm in these midterms. Right? Who can stoke it more? And you have President Obama, we'll get to that in a moment, but President Obama is going to make a big pointed speech today trying to do that on other side.

Abby, thanks for the reporting.

With me now, let's talk about this, "Washington Post" political reporter Amber Phillip and from Reuters, White House correspondent Jeff Mason.

Good morning, guys.



HARLOW: So, Jeff, to you, let's pull up the full screen of all the people that are denying that they wrote this anonymous op-ed slamming the president. Someone who is a senior administration official, all these people say it was not me. What is not in a lot of their statements of denial, Jeff, is oh, that's not how things are, though, at the White House. Significant?

MASON: True, absolutely true. And I think it's worth noting that despite the -- you know, how interesting this op-ed was, a lot of what was said by that author are things that we have been reporting already. My colleagues in the White House Press Corps and others, Bob Woodward's book this week as well, about sort of the atmosphere around the president and the way that he makes decisions.

[10:05:06] But certainly, it was a very critical op-ed. And it's sort of fascinating to watch administration officials kind of tripping over themselves to say that they didn't write it. I think they are doing that as much to reassure the president as they are to give fodder to those of us covering this and trying to figure out who the mystery writer was.

HARLOW: What do you make of how some Republicans in Congress, Amber, are responding to it? You have Republican Senator Rand Paul suggesting, you know, maybe everyone should take a lie detector test. You have Mark Meadows, head of the Freedom Caucus, saying we should investigate this. And according to Axios, even saying that some, you know, Democrats in Congress are calling his office, agreeing with him on that. They're unnamed but I don't know who they are if that's happening. But, I mean, what -- what do Republicans in Congress end up doing with this?

PHILLIPS: Yes, well, I have a hard time seeing Republicans in Congress taking this up for the simple reason -- well, two reasons, actually. House Speaker Paul Ryan who is the head of the House Republicans said that isn't going to happen. And then most of the people that I hear talking about this and trying to help President Trump out in a way by offering suggestions about how to find this person are people who are already inclined to pander to Trump in a lot of ways.

And I think that the risk here for those people if they wanted Congress to do something is that it escalates this into something bigger than it already is. President Trump came into the presidency from day one paranoid about a deep state that's out to get him. We have seen him twist facts about various FBI official stories to fit that narrative. With this op-ed he doesn't have to. And if Congress gets involved, it kind of -- it raises the drama a little bit.

HARLOW: That's true. OK, so to both of you, Senator Lindsey Graham, who, you know, is a golfing buddy of the president, supports him on a number of things, also publicly disagrees with him when he doesn't like what he is seeing. He just spoke to cameras on Capitol Hill about the anonymous op-ed. Listen to what he said.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This op-ed piece about the personality of the president suggesting that he is unhinged and he is incapable of being a good president without being minded tells me a lot about the Mueller investigation. I think what's happening here is a new line of attack, that is the best evidence yet that there's no collusion.

This, to me, is a signal that if there's nothing there with Russia in terms of the president working with the Russians during his campaign, the next line of attack is the man is unfit for office, he is crazy. When you take the op-ed piece which was published by the --


HARLOW: OK. That is really interesting, Jeff. I mean, that is Lindsey Graham, who has been part of an effort to protect the special counsel, I should note, Bob Mueller, saying, this is the best evidence yet, the op-ed is the best evidence yet that there's no collusion. What do you make of it?

MASON: Well, it's hard to see how he is drawing that conclusion. The op-ed doesn't refer to collusion. The op-ed isn't about the Russia investigation. It doesn't suggest that staff members are hiding anything related to collusion or relating to the campaign or related to a cover-up.

HARLOW: Right.

MASON: The op-ed is focused exclusively on how President Trump governs. Sure, if you're an ally of the president, as Lindsey Graham certainly is, you have reasons to be critical of that op-ed, not the least of which is because it was written anonymously. And "The New York Times" is taking criticism for that. And this particular author is. But tying that to the Russia investigation or somehow Robert Mueller, I'm not sure that Senator Graham has made a clear case for that in those remarks.

HARLOW: Right. The argument there -- and we just heard a little bit of it at the end of the sound, Amber, is he says, well, you know, the reason is that they can't show collusion, so this is Democrats, he is saying, you know, trying to say look, the president is crazy. I should note it's not some, you know, radical left-wing Democrat outside of the administration who wrote this. It's a senior staffer in the administration who wrote this. PHILLIPS: Yes. What I just heard Senator Graham say is nothing short

of a conspiracy theory with absolutely no evidence to it. I mean, he is ignoring all of the actual evidence that suggests otherwise, that this op-ed has nothing to do with Russia and is everything about people working with the president to try to control his worst impulses. As Jeff mentioned, the entire White House Press Corps has corroborated much of what this op-ed said. We have a book by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with direct firsthand knowledge of his sources, of his aides being worried about this. And then this op- ed. So all I can say is that sounds like a conspiracy theory from Senator Graham.

[10:10:03] HARLOW: So just really quickly, Jeff, why do you think that Lindsey Graham would do this? I mean, he chose to walk to the cameras. No one asked him this question. He chose to walk to the cameras and make this statement. Why?

MASON: Well, I can't speak, obviously, for Lindsey Graham. But I think that he and other people who are close to the president are trying to reassure the commander-in-chief and trying to give him other things to think about, other ways to perhaps divert his anger about this particular issue. You saw a little bit of that from the president himself at the rally last night talking about the deep state. It's just another sort of tract or tact, rather, from an ally of the president and a way to focus attention on something else.

HARLOW: All right. Thank you both. Have a good weekend, Amber and Jeff. Nice to see you both.

MASON: Nice to be with you.

HARLOW: Still to come, off the sidelines and in the spotlight, President Barack Obama set to unveil his midterm message to Democrats today. That message is said to be a pointed critique of the president.

Also, right now witnesses testifying for and against the president's Supreme Court pick, Judge Kavanaugh. Will we see more fireworks?

And former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos set to be sentenced today. He is facing jail time for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. We'll have new details ahead.


[10:15:46] HARLOW: So today former president Barack Obama will send a pointed critique of the state of affairs in Washington, targeting President Trump when he steps back into the political spotlight. In just a few hours, he's set to give a big speech, we hear, at the University of Illinois. One of his top advisers said this will be a pointed rebuke of the president and his current time in office.

Keep in mind, these two presidents, current and former, have not spoken since President Trump's inauguration.

Joining me now is Karine Jean-Pierre, she's worked with the Obama administration. She's also a senior adviser to Thanks for being here.


HARLOW: I'm fascinated by this. And we saw President Trump last night trying to rally his base, get out his supporters to vote in the midterms. And that's what President Obama is going to do today. But what I think will be different from all the reporting we have about the speech he gives today is that his team keeps saying this is going to be sort of a pointed rebuke at the state of affairs in Washington and of President Trump. What are you expecting?

JEAN-PIERRE: That's exactly what I'm expecting. I think he'll take the gloves off and really try to motivate Democrats. I think he is one of the best people who can do that, being incredibly popular, being seen still as a leader of the Democratic Party. I think he'll really lay out what's at stake in this upcoming election, how critical it is this moment, the opportunity. We are on the precipice. Democrats are of taking back the House and to be the stopgap to this runaway administration. And I think he'll lay that out really clearly.

Let's not forget in his farewell speech in January of 2017, he talked about being active, right? Being -- taking on action and making sure we protect the democracy and talked about being vigilant. And we've seen that the last two years. So now it's taking that activism and turning --


JEAN-PIERRE: And really electoralizing it and taking it to the polls.

HARLOW: Do you think he will say President Trump's name? And I know that might seem minor, but it's not. Because he has purposefully avoided doing it in his other criticism, even in the speech that was rather pointed that he gave in South Africa.

JEAN-PIERRE: I don't think he needs to. I think it will be very clear who he is talking about. I mean, and the thing about President Obama is he has spoken out in important times with ACA last year, when it was being repealed and healthcare was being attacked. With immigration he has spoken out and just recently this past weekend when he eulogized Senator John McCain and he talked about principles and values.


JEAN-PIERRE: And how that transcends politics. So he has been out there and it's been really clear who he is talking about and what he is trying to state. And so I think that he doesn't really need to do that. And I don't think he will.

HARLOW: Let me read you -- so our Dan Merica has been getting fascinating reporting and little snippets of this, of what he is going to say. Here is part of it. Quote, "People in power want us to believe that the rest of us are powerless to solve our problems through democracy." And he talks about, you know, how we're in a moment of backlash, he says. And we didn't get here overnight.

I am fascinated by whether he is going to address this progressive wave and frankly creating the divide within the Democratic Party. I mean, is he going to talk about what's happening right now with the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the Ayanna Pressleys of the party versus the more center of the party. Do you think he'll go there and talk about what he thinks defines the Democratic Party right now?

JEAN-PIERRE: I think what we're seeing is pretty amazing. And we're seeing a massive turnout, right, of young people, of the base that normally doesn't come out in midterm elections who are coming out, which is people of color, African-Americans, Latinos, and as I mentioned young people. And that's what has been considered to be the Obama coalition. And they are being engaged and activated because of what they're seeing here at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

HARLOW: But is he going to say --

JEAN-PIERRE: I think --

HARLOW: I mean, you worked for him. Is he going to say like this is the future of the party or this is the future?

JEAN-PIERRE: But those are the people that he brought to the table just 10 years ago, the same people that I'm talking about. Those are the people he motivated. And so I think what he's going to say is now is the time. We've seen the activism. Everyone is coming out to fight back. Now we have to go to the polls. So this is -- I mean, this is very much the Obama coalition and somebody says -- I'm going to steal this from someone -- plus. Right?

[10:20:06] Where we're seeing the base that he has really come along with him the last 10 years and now that are coming out in like massive folds for a midterm election.

HARLOW: Karine, it will be fascinating again in just a few hours. Former President Obama will speak at the University of Illinois. We'll be watching. Thank you. Have a good weekend.

JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Poppy. You too.

HARLOW: Right now on Capitol Hill, witnesses are testifying for and against the president's second Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. We'll take a live look in just minutes.


[10:25:14] HARLOW: All right. You're looking at live pictures of Capitol Hill, day four and the final day of the president's confirmation hearings for his Supreme Court pick Judge Kavanaugh have just gotten under way. One of the biggest moments yesterday of course was Democratic Senator Cory Booker's "Spartacus" moment where he said that he would release these committee confidential e-mails and by the way he did release those e-mails.

So this morning Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was on Hugh Hewitt's radio show and he called it unusual and even talked about a possible ethics investigation surrounding that.

Let's talk about this. Manu Raju, our senior congressional correspondent, is with me. Also with me again, our Supreme Court guru, I love that title, Joan Biskupic.


HARLOW: Is here. Manu, interesting response from -- you know, McConnell, given that Cory Booker said in his words, bring it on, I know I'm violating the rules, but I think it's that important.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it shows that he did actually violate some of the Senate rules. That was actually a question that was -- that occurred yesterday, whether or not the documents that he did release were, in fact, confidential or not. But what we do know is that there were four documents that he released that the committee had actually green lighted for release.

But he released several -- more than a dozen other documents that were considered confidential. He also did read from confidential e-mails in a closed -- during the open hearing as well, in which the Republicans accused him of breaking the rules. And not just Senator McConnell but also Senator John Cornyn tweeting earlier this morning that there should be an ethics investigation to look into Cory Booker's handling of this.

And clearly, this is something that Booker is open to, saying that he said bring it on, they view this as a good fight for them politically. But nevertheless, it just shows, Poppy, that the intensity and the unusual nature of this hearing.


RAJU: One thing I will point out, there's still protests that are going on during this --

HARLOW: Right.

RAJU: During this hearing. In fact, right behind me right now, there is a silent protest of sorts. A couple of dozen women demonstrators are dressed up as a mock funeral procession to make the case that they believe that their lives would be lost if Kavanaugh were confirmed. And this comes of course after so many dozens, more than 100 or so people were arrested for interrupting the proceedings over the last several days.

HARLOW: That's right.

RAJU: So it just shows you even if the votes are --


RAJU: If he's confirmed, a lot of people still pushing back -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. And Joan, to you. I mean, what do you think is the most important thing that we learned about Judge Kavanaugh, who would hold a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should he be confirmed, and he's young, by the way. What's the most important thing we learned about him this week?

BISKUPIC: That's a great question. You know, I was thinking we probably learned more about Cory Booker than we learned about Brett Kavanaugh.

HARLOW: Right. You mean that he is running for president? Maybe? Yes.


BISKUPIC: He's -- OK. So you're right, Brett Kavanaugh is young. He is 53. We learned he can stay on message. He is disciplined. He will probably be ready to enter the Supreme Court, hit the ground running, feel like a full player. He turned all the questioning to his advantage, and that's something he'll probably do at the Supreme Court, too. But what he held back on are the crucial things we want to know. His sort of underlying thoughts and principles for big issues like Affirmative Action, abortion rights, gun control.

He pretty much repeated standard principles and in some ways, Poppy, could have been just any other generic conservative nominee sitting there with different children, slightly different slogans, but I think that was his goal, get in, get out and say little.

HARLOW: But here's the thing, Joan. I mean, do you remember the day when -- and let's show you all of the other justices on the Supreme Court. Do you remember the day when Antonin Scalia was confirmed unanimously by the Senate? A very -- you know, a very conservative ideological justice, 98-0. Kennedy, 97-0. Ruth Bader Ginsburg 96-3. On the other side, on the left. It all changed around Roberts, right? And then it kept going. Are those days over?

BISKUPIC: I think so for now at least, Poppy. Because it's a reflection of our very polarized times. So that you start with that, the country, Washington have increasingly gotten partisan. And the court reflects that. So you have that. Then you have the court itself tightly divided, hanging on one vote. And for the past 10 years at least, it was hanging on Anthony Kennedy's vote.


BISKUPIC: So that makes it even stronger. And then finally, Poppy, our president, Donald Trump, who has signaled in so many ways that he has expectations for the judiciary. He wants to control the judiciary in ways. And that's why the idea of the question of how independent Brett Kavanaugh would be was so crucial.

HARLOW: Right. And has said on the record --