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Kavanaugh: These are Smears, Pure and Simple; Interview with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired September 24, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:04] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

A second accuser emerges in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight, so do questions about the specifics of what she is alleging and her memory of it. "The New Yorker's" Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer did the reporting. Ronan Farrow joins us shortly tonight.

On top of that, there's the question of whether the man overseeing the Russia investigation will have even a job anymore and why if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is gone, some folks including our own Jeffrey Toobin, say it could spell the end of the Mueller investigation.

So, there's a very big night ahead. We begin with the Supreme Court nominee ahead of crucial hearings going on national television, in this case, Fox News, to defend himself against allegations of wrongdoing.


JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process, and we're looking for a fair process where I can be heard and defend the -- my integrity, my lifelong record, my lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women starting with the women who knew me when I was 14 years old. I'm not going anywhere.


COOPER: That's Judge Kavanaugh with his wife by his side. He said he's being wrongly accused.


JUDGE KAVANAUGH: The truth is, I've never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise. I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone in some place. What I know is I've never sexually assaulted anyone.


COOPER: Let's get perspective from one of the senators who may get to vote on Judge Kavanaugh. I spoke with New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand just moments ago. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Senator, first of all, I want to get your reaction to what Judge Kavanaugh said tonight because this is the first time, obviously, we've heard him defend himself publicly.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Well, a Fox News interview is not the same as an FBI interview, and if he's willing to talk to Fox News about his views, I don't understand why he's unwilling to talk to the FBI so they can do a proper investigation. He said over and over again, he wants a fair hearing. Well, a fair hearing means you have an FBI that investigates the facts, establishes a set of facts, that interviews not only Kavanaugh but corroborating witnesses and then have this hearing where it's not a he said/ she said scenario, but a scenario where you do have people who have knowledge of these events. I'd like to hear Mark Judge testify under oath, not only the FBI but any hearing. I'd also like to hear from the therapist, have her produce her notes, from Dr. Blasey Ford's husband, from her friend, and other corroborating witnesses with the second allegation.

COOPER: At this point, it doesn't seem like any of those things are going to happen, certainly. No FBI further background investigation. No other potential witnesses or potential testimony.

Do you think that by doing this interview, it gives Judge Kavanaugh some sort of an advantage going into Thursday, putting his side of the story out there first?

GILLIBRAND: No. He's entitled to tell his story, but he kept asking for a fair hearing, and the only way to guarantee a fair hearing is for the FBI to do a thorough background check, which now is not a complete background check because there's two allegations that have arisen since they finished it. Second, the only way for a fair hearing is if you do call other witnesses who have knowledge of these accusations.

The minimum that was done with Anita Hill isn't even being done here. They had an FBI investigation in that hearing, and they had over 20 witnesses to tell their version of events. And so, honestly, I don't understand how he could say to the American people he wants a fair hearing, but then not actually be interviewed by the FBI. A Fox News interview is not the same thing.

COOPER: I want to play a short clip from the interview and just have you respond.


MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS HOST: When you hear senators who are on the committee, Senator Mazie Hirono, and then you hear from others, you know, the New York senator, Gillibrand, she says, I believe this woman. I believe all of them. They're credible. And we all have to believe them.

When you hear United States senators who are making judgments, final judgments, what does that make you think about the presumption of innocence in this country?

JUDGE KAVANAUGH: In America, we have fairness. We hear from both sides. I've spent my life in the judiciary, in our judicial system. And part of the judicial system, as I've said during my first -- my hearing, was process protects you. That's what judges believe. That's what our system is built on, the rule of law about fair process.


COOPER: Since you were referenced, I wanted you to be able to respond.

GILLIBRAND: I've heard from both sides, and I believe Dr. Blasey Ford and I believe Ms. Ramirez. Both of their stories are credible, unlike his. Where he wouldn't actually answer the question or say why he wouldn't be interviewed by the FBI. That's not the response of someone who wants to plead his innocence.

I believe both of these women because there are corroborating witnesses who have testimony that is relevant to these accusations.

[20:05:02] Dr. Blasey Ford told her therapist five years ago, and her husband, she told a friend a year ago. She told a reporter before Kavanaugh was named. She's already submitted to a lie detector test and she's asking the FBI to do the investigation. That, to me, is credible. Those are the hallmarks of truth.

And then you have all this other information that's been divulged by Mark Judge about his heavy drinking, about the books, about what Judge Kavanaugh wrote in his own yearbook. I would like questions to be asked about these very issues because these are relevant facts of the time that the FBI is not investigating.

COOPER: Is it relevant that Professor Ford did not tell anybody contemporaneously or even for years afterward?

GILLIBRAND: Well, Anderson, if you know anything about the history of trauma, this is normal. This is exactly what happens. If you undergo this kind of traumatic event as a teenager, as a child, rarely are you going to tell your parents because you'll fear you'll get in trouble, you'll fear that you will be blamed. You feel guilty, you feel badly, you feel like you did something wrong.

And so, oftentimes they will certainly not tell their parents and may not tell anyone for years, even decades. That is the hallmark of truth in a sexual assault survivor. And this hearing should also include experts, to inform the many senators who may not have any knowledge about how trauma affects a witness and why these things come out over time.

COOPER: Majority Leader McConnell today had very harsh words for how Democrats have handled this given they knew about, or some knew about these Ford allegations for weeks. Should your Democratic colleagues have handled this differently? Could that have avoided this showdown in the final days we're seeing now? GILLIBRAND: I don't see how. You have a witness who has recently

come forward as most recently as yesterday. You have another witness who came forward last week. You have women who are telling these stories about what happened to them, and credibly accusing Judge Kavanaugh of violent behavior, of sexual assault, of behavior that is disqualifying.

COOPER: But Senator Feinstein did know about Professor Ford earlier.

GILLIBRAND: Yes, Professor Ford very specifically asked to keep her name anonymous and she did not want to disclose her identity. She just wanted Senator Feinstein to be aware because she was concerned. But when her name started to be leaked and other people were telling her story, she decided to tell her story herself. And that is her right.

So there was nothing that could have been done before this time because she chose to be anonymous.

COOPER: You mentioned the new allegations by Deborah Ramirez. Should Judge Kavanaugh be questioned about those claims on Thursday considering she, as of now, will not be at the hearing to provide her account of what she says happened?

GILLIBRAND: Deborah Ramirez, again, has asked the FBI to investigate her allegations from the "New Yorker" piece. You have a witness from "The Times" saying he's 100 percent sure that he learned about the relevant facts of this incident the same day or the day after. So, you have a corroborating witness.

Those witnesses should be called. They should be allowed to testify. Deborah Ramirez should be allowed to be heard. Again, she's asking for the facts to be developed by a nonpartisan professional investigative body, the FBI, and what does the White House have to hide? What does Judge Kavanaugh have to hide? Why will the Senate Republicans not allow a fair process? One that was even followed in the Anita Hill hearings which are largely considered to be low moments of the U.S. Senate.

And so, it's shocking to me that they're unwilling to do the basics, to have a fair hearing, to get not only corroborating witnesses to testify, to have Mark Judge testify under oath and to allow both of these witnesses to be heard.

COOPER: Senator Gillibrand, appreciate your time. Thank you.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you.


COOPER: Well, joining us now is CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director at the Judicial Crisis Network which is supporting Judge Kavanaugh.

Kirsten, clearly, Judge Kavanaugh is categorically denying all the allegations. Does it help him or hurt him going into Thursday, do you think, to have done this interview?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it will help him with the people that they were targeting which is the base. And so, that's why they chose Fox News. They knew it would be an easy interview and it would be a sympathetic interviewer which it was.

I actually don't think he did that great of a job, if you're just an objective on observer. Just repeating over and over that you want a fair process but not really answering the questions, I don't think necessarily bolsters him. But for the audience that they wanted to reach, I think it will have its intended effect which is to portray him as somebody who's being persecuted and it will rally the troops around him.

And that's what's really has kept the Republicans on track is this fear of the base not turning out in the midterms because they're angry that they're not moving -- if they don't move forward with this nomination.

COOPER: Carrie, I mean, one thing that Kavanaugh didn't say in the interview is that he'd welcome an FBI investigation into this or continuation of the background check. Wouldn't you think he would want that if this is all a smear campaign as he says, just to fully and completely clear his name?

[20:10:06] CARRIE SEVERINO, CHIEF COUNSEL AND POLICY DIRECTOR, JUDICIAL CRISIS NETWORK: What he said he wants is a hearing and this investigative process he's been going through for the last week. There's nothing magical about putting the words FBI in front of it. We have a Senate investigation process, that is exactly what happened after the Anita Hill allegations were made public as well.

The Senate has interviewed -- all the things Senator Gillibrand said she wants to do, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been doing. Interviewing Judge Kavanaugh. Interviewing the witnesses. They've been trying to get participation by Dr. Ford, they've been trying to get participation by the Senate Democrats.

So things like interviewing her therapist, that would be great. She would have to participate to do the proper waivers to do that. She's been completely stonewalling them in terms of turning in the materials she needs to prepare for the hearing.

COOPER: Why not --

SEVERINO: And the Democrats have not been doing their part. What's that?

COOPER: Why not have them then testify at the hearing?

SEVERINO: Well, they would like to take the evidence first before the hearing. If you have the interviews under penalty of felony, you may not need to bring everything and ruin the hearing. Dr. Ford, herself, said she doesn't want this to turn into a circus. She's trying -- they're trying to honor some of those desires. I know she'd like to bring certain witnesses but the interviewers don't get to pick and run the entire process.

They said, we think it's going to be the most dignified if we can have the two main people here and then have outside counsel having -- doing the questioning. I think the real problem here is that we have a pattern of everything is not -- turning these uncorroborated allegations into simply discredited allegations.


SEVERNINO: Everyone who said they were there, she said was there, says it didn't even happen. So, it's not --


POWERS: That's not what they've said. That's actually not what she said. You have to stop saying that. There's a very big difference between someone saying something didn't happen and they don't remember it.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Especially when Dr. Ford, herself, has said she didn't tell them. So why would they know about it? So, the idea that they --

SEVERINO: They said they were never at the party that she claimed that it happened.

TOOBIN: You know, Carrie keeps saying --

SEVERINO: So, that's different.

TOOBIN: -- Carrie keeps saying this is a real investigation being run by the Judiciary Committee. It's not. It's a kangaroo court because the committee staff that is so-called doing the so-called investigation, their job is to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed.

Chuck Grassley's staff's job is not to do an investigation. It's to get Kavanaugh confirmed. So the idea that they could do a fair investigation is just absurd.

SEVERINO: Senator Feinstein's staff is invited as well.

TOOBIN: Was invited. Yeah, I'm sure that was a real -- I mean --

SEVERINO: Of course, this is how it normally happens.


TOOBIN: That's not -- no, no. You know, that's not how it happens. The way it happens --

COOPER: Let Jeffrey go on.

TOOBIN: -- is the FBI does an investigation. That's why they have access to the FBI. They don't want the FBI. They want to keep doing it their way. And they don't want to go call evidence. I mean, this is -- they

don't want to call other witnesses because that would complicate the matters. The matter here -- the way we determine facts in any sort of proceeding, whether it's legal or political, is you try to get corroboration or the absence of it for the people whose testimony is at issue. There's going to be no corroboration here because the majority, the Republicans, they don't want to have Mark Judge --


TOOBIN: -- the witness to testify.

SEVERINO: They asked repeatedly for her to bring in the evidence she wants to see. They said we will interview the people you want.

TOOBIN: What does that mean, bring in evidence?

SEVERINO: If she wanted to have her therapist speak to the Judiciary Committee, they have invited her to --

TOOBIN: To testify?

SEVERINO: -- submit those.

TOOBIN: To testify?

SEVERINO: To certainly at least be questioned.


COOPER: Why not testify publicly? Why not testify publicly under oath?

SEVERINO: This is this is under penalty of felony. There's a jail term that goes along with it.

COOPER: You still haven't answered. Why not do it publicly? Why not do it publicly on television in front of everybody?

SEVERINO: Well, that is possible they would have a later process doing that. I'm telling you --

TOOBIN: They said no.

SEVERINO: -- everyone wants a FBI investigation, this is the equivalent process in which you have to testify.

COOPER: Right. I still don't quite -- I still don't have an answer about --

SEVERINO: So, that's a great process. Why is this not?

COOPER: -- if openness and transparency is the idea, why not have other people testifying as well? Judge --

POWERS: Mark Judge. COOPER: Mark Judge. The therapist. Just, I don't quite understand

why -- what's the problem with --

POWERS: Let me help you out, Anderson. They don't want Mark Judge to testify because he's not going to be helpful to them. I think it's very obvious. And "The New Yorker" article, his ex-girlfriend from Catholic University of three years spoke out reluctantly because she said Mark Judge has been lying about what the culture was like at Georgetown Prep, which any person who's actually sentient knows, because if you look at the year books, it's quite clear what was going on.

We listened to Brett Kavanaugh in the interview claiming he's this churchgoing choirboy, just studying all the time and doing all these things when in fact, when you look at his -- at his yearbook, that is not quite the picture that is painted.

TOOBIN: Yes. I mean --

POWERS: And let me just say, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

[20:15:02] I don't think that if he was partying in high school, that's a problem. The problem is that he's lying. And if he's lying about this, what else is he lying about? Why won't they have Mark Judge testify or at a minimum send the FBI, put him under oath and question him?

I know Carrie's going to say, oh, he did a statement, that's threat of perjury. Not a statement that basically says I don't remember anything, but questioning. You have said all these things about Georgetown Prep and yet -- also, how about the fact that Brett Kavanaugh's college roommate is on the record with his name saying he frequently saw him incoherently drunk? Yet, we listened about how all he did was go to church.

SEVERINO: He's welcome to submit that to the Senate judiciary committee, again, under penalty of felony. The person at issue is not Mark Judge.

POWERS: You're not answering the question, Carrie.

SEVERINO: It is Brett Kavanaugh. And he's going to have the opportunity to testify under oath. So will Dr. Ford. This will be an opportunity for them both to be heard out --

COOPER: But if there are other people with knowledge in favor of Judge Kavanaugh, or in favor of Professor Ford or Ms. Ramirez, why not have them testify?

SEVERINO: They're welcome to submit statements to the committee.

COOPER: OK, that's not an answer.

SEVERINO: It's under penalty of felony. If they're refusing to do so, it's hard for them to complain the process hasn't even -- COOPER: Is it just that it would be too long? Is that your -- I

don't understand what the logically --

SEVERINO: The Senate Judiciary Committee's call how to run their hearings. Frankly, the Anita Hill and Thomas hearings turned into a bit of a circus. I think America saw that and was disgusted by it.

COOPER: But if they're having a professional sex crimes prosecutor ask the questions because they don't want male Republican men to ask the questions and have it look bad, doesn't that give it the aura of a court and why not then have actual people with actual corroboration or note of corroboration called in to testify?

SEVERINO: Anyone who watched the last round of hearings and who watched the Senate hearings regularly recognizes that having a professional investigator is going to make things cleaner and more coherent. Major trials in the past have had that. The Iran-Contra investigation, the Waterhouse hearing -- the whitewater hearing.

COOPER: That was -- the Watergate was, you know, was months long and took a long time. You can't compare the Watergate hearings or Iran- Contra to this, can you?

SEVERINO: Absolutely. They're important hearings. This is something the Senate Judiciary Committee does. It's something that Senator Collins said both sides would do. I think that would be much more clean and coherent testimony.

I know the 2020 candidates in the Senate judiciary committee would rather be doing the questioning, themselves. I think everyone who's watched hearings agrees, having a single experienced questioner doing it on either side would make for a better process.

COOPER: I don't think Dr. Ford agrees. Professor Ford. Jeff --

TOOBIN: Yes, I think there's something bleakly amusing about the fact the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee don't trust themselves, that they won't embarrass themselves by asking questions. That they feel they are such sexists that it will just come out if they're allowed to ask questions. So, they'll bring in an experienced lawyer, which I don't think is a terrible idea actually. I think that's fine.

SEVERINO: You've all been complaining it's a bunch of men asking questions. They say, you know what, you're right, let's have a woman ask questions, then you fault them for that. Honestly.

TOOBIN: I know. It's poignant.

No, the point is not who's asking the questions. The point is who the witnesses are. And there are only two witnesses and that's the problem.

COOPER: All right. Kirsten Powers, Jeff Toobin, Carrie Severino, I appreciate the discussion.

More now on the "New Yorker" article and the second accuser. We'll speak with one of the correspondents, Ronan Farrow, when we come back, one of the writers of the article.

Later, is Rod Rosenstein done as deputy attorney general? What's next for the Russia investigation if he is? Breaking news on its fate and his, ahead.


[20:22:55] COOPER: Well, Brett Kavanaugh calls the allegations against him smears pure and simple. He denies them, plain and simple. Now, whatever you call them, they're growing.

A second woman, Deborah Ramirez, has come forward alleging inappropriate sexual behavior by Judge Kavanaugh when they were in college in Yale. She tells the story to "The New Yorker," Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer did the reporting. Ramirez told them that she was initially hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memory contained gaps because she'd been drinking at the time of the alleged incident.

Again, Judge Kavanaugh flat-out denies it. CNN has not independently confirmed the "New Yorker's" reporting.

Additionally, Ms. Ramirez's two attorneys have not responded to CNN's requests to confirm the accounts she gave the "New Yorker," despite multiple communications with both of them. They've repeatedly declined to comment on the record about he whether her allegations that Brett Kavanaugh exposed h himself to her are accurate. Despite repeated calls, text and emails and in person conversation.

With that said, the "New Yorker's" Ronan Farrow joins us now.

Ronan, thanks for being with us.

To people who haven't read the article yet, can you just explain what your reporting is on this Ms. Ramirez, what her allegation is?

RONAN FARROW, THE NEW YORKER: Certainly. She alleges that at a dorm room party when she and Brett Kavanaugh were freshmen, he exposed himself and attempted to force his penis into her face and she has vivid memories of moments of that. She also was extremely cautious, as you pointed out. She pointed out wherever she felt there was a gap in her memory, due to her level of alcohol consumption.

She took days to decide whether she wanted to go out and take this extraordinary step of throwing herself into this crucible of partisanship that she is now in the center of and also said repeatedly she wanted to be fair to Judge Kavanaugh. That she wanted to carefully consider what she was going to say and how before she did so.

COOPER: In terms of her motivation for speaking to you, as you said, she didn't want to at first, correct? And she, you know, she had doubts about her own memory. She had questions about it, correct?

FARROW: She wanted to take as much time as she needed to come to a place where she was certain she wanted to upend her life for this. And that did include looking at every piece of this that she had vivid memories of. The voices she heard, the faces she saw, and really making sure that there was no doubt in her mind.

[20:25:03] And until she decided there was no doubt, she didn't want to speak publicly. And what you pointed out is often lost in the conversation here. I think about both Dr. Ford and also about Ms. Ramirez. These are not women who came out publicly of their own volition.

These are both cases where the Senate began looking at this. Dr. Ford sent a letter but she intended that to be anonymous initially. When we first reported the details of her allegation, we kept her name out of there at her request. But the story became huge and it was out of her hands and she felt ultimately she had to speak.

That's also the case with Ms. Ramirez. She was not connected to the individual who first reported this to "The Hill." Those reports came to "The Hill" through other individuals in this Yale class who were all talking about this story, dating back to when the nomination happened. Not after Dr. Ford.

COOPER: So there were other individuals who were freshmen at Yale I guess at that time, or at Yale at that time, and I think we're talking about '83, '84, if memory serves me correctly who --

FARROW: '83.

COOPER: '83. Who had heard about this incident at the time?

FARROW: Exactly so.

So, you know, obviously, with all of these stories, we are extraordinarily careful. Judge Kavanaugh deserves fairness. The alleged survivor of this incident deserves fairness. That was her request. And it's always our commitment.

The last story my co-author, Jane Mayer and I did, was on Eric Schneiderman, a prominent Democrat. We used the same care and caution there.

In both cases, you look for things were people told at the time? Sexual assault is difficult to report on partly because either there's often no one in a room or in a case like this, the individuals alleged to be in the room were largely participants in the alleged misconduct. They were people who were in her recounting of the events egging Brett Kavanaugh on, and those individuals have signed a statement saying they're defending him.

That said, there were other people who heard about this at the time. There was an individual who's on the record in this piece saying by name, I saw a woman crying and recounting details of this incident at the time. And that woman, in Ms. Ramirez's recollection, is her.

There's an individual who said 100 percent he was told this fact pattern right after. This was someone not in contact with Ms. Ramirez, independently, he came to us and recounted that. COOPER: Your piece has come under criticism, so I want to go through some of it.

What's your best understanding of why it took her six days after being contacted by the "New Yorker" before she would actually name Brett Kavanaugh as the person who allegedly exposed himself to her? And apparently, this was only after conversations with her attorneys and, you know, she waited six days to actually name Kavanaugh, because tonight, Fox News, Kavanaugh cited a "New York Times" report that said Ms. Ramirez recently contacted former classmates and told some of them she wasn't sure it was Kavanaugh.

FARROW: Let me take that first with a second assertion. It's absolutely not the case that "The New York Times" reject bed or passed on this story. That's been a conservative talking point today. It's simply false.

Dean Baquet, the editor of "The New York Times", came out and that that was false, that they weren't questioning this reporting. What did happen is they aggressively pursued this story to the very end. The reporter made many requests for Ms. Ramirez and she decided not to cooperate with them because she was already working with a reporter and felt comfortable doing this carefully with one outlet. That's a perfectly fair choice.

In terms of the period of time in which she considered whether to come forward, it cuts both ways. Certainly, we're upfront in this story saying this is an incident that involved a lot of alcohol consumption. She is upfront in saying that. She wanted to take the time to consider whether she was absolutely confident to a point where she knew this would rip apart her life and she would be the subject of all of this partisan sniping that you've seen today. She in the end decided she was that sure.

I would just say that that is a typical kind of process for women coming forward in the stories that I've done about difficult stories of trauma which are often affected by factors like alcohol, like the age of the allegations.

COOPER: And what about the assertions tonight by Judge Kavanaugh? He said it repeatedly tonight in that interview that "The New York Times" had -- and "The New York Times" is reporting that Ms. Ramirez had talked to former Yale classmates and to some expressed that -- saying that she wasn't sure if it was Kavanaugh.

FARROW: We disclosed a very similar language in our own piece that we called dozens of individuals. Certainly, that she was talking to people during this process of considering her recollections carefully is not at all surprising. And I think is indicative of her level of caution here, Anderson.

COOPER: Ronan, I appreciate the reporting. It's in the "New Yorker" online. Ronan Farrow, thanks very much.

FARROW: Always a pleasure. COOPER: Coming up, we have breaking news. It could get us one step

closer to knowing the fate of a key figure in the Russia investigation. The question is will Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein still have his job at the end of the week?


[20:33:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There's breaking news tonight in a story that's been generating conflicting headlines all day long. Concerns the fate of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and by extension, perhaps, the fate of the Russia investigation. Comes after that report last week in the "New York Times" about Rosenstein discussing taping the President and enlisting cabinet members in efforts to remove him under the 25th Amendment.

Going into today, Rosenstein was thought to be on thin ice. Earlier today, it looked like the ice was cracking. Now yet another story. CNN's Jim Acosta joins us with the latest. What are you learning tonight?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we understand that since this story broke on Friday about Rod Rosenstein, you know, secretly offering to record the President invoking the 25th Amendment, and trying to get that conversation started behind the scenes in early 2017, that ever since that story broke, he's been talking about this with chief of staff John Kelly, has been talking about this with the White House counsel Don McGahn.

But Anderson, I'm told by an administration official that one of the hang-ups today in terms of letting Rod Rosenstein go was the fact that they believe, many people believe inside the White House, that it's the President who has to fire Rod Rosenstein or accept the resignation of the deputy attorney general. Most importantly, Anderson, the White House says the President and Rod Rosenstein talked about the story and the President acknowledged that earlier today and said they're going to try to table this discussion until later on this week. Here's what the President had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Meeting with Rod Rosenstein on Thursday when I get back from all of these meetings, and we'll be meeting at the White House and we'll be determining what's going on. We want to have transparency. We want to have openness. And I look forward to meeting with Rod at that time.


ACOSTA: Now, it's interesting, Anderson, we understand that Rod Rosenstein, himself, thought earlier today that he was going to be fired because of all of this. And you notice some of the caution in the President's voice which raises the question why all of this caution? [20:35:05] Well I was told by a source close to the White House earlier this evening that one of the concerns inside the White House, and among the President's supporters, is that this Rosenstein story, this is, you know, true or false, whether or not this is some kind of setup to trigger the President to do something drastic because Anderson, as you and I both know, if the President were to fire Rod Rosenstein, it would really prompt a whole series of events that the White House may not be prepared for.

COOPER: Is there any insight into what may or may not happen on Thursday?

ACOSTA: Anderson, I think that is a huge question. And obviously, all of this is going to be happening on the same day that the Kavanaugh hearing is happening up on Capitol Hill, so we're going to -- it's almost going to be like watching tennis looking up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. But Anderson, I've been told by multiple sources that there is a very big concern that the President fires Rod Rosenstein, it is going to energize Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. Democrats who are already motivated to vote.

And that the President was advised of this over the weekend. That there's a real risk, political risk, to firing Rod Rosenstein. He's already mindful of the fact that he could really take a shellacking in this upcoming midterm election cycle. And so that might be part of the reason, Anderson, why we have not seen the President who, you know, when he comes to the UN he likes to use rhetoric like little rocket man, why he's been very careful talking about Rod Rosenstein today and for the last several days, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, appreciate it.

With me now CNN political analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman. Also CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

So Dana, what does the White House gain by having this or dragging it out on Thursday? Or having it on Thursday. I mean if the President wants to fire Rosenstein, he probably could have done it by phone today. And is it coincidence it's going it be on Thursday, the same day as the Kavanaugh hearings?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, you're right. It's not as if the President is afraid to fire people from afar. Remember how James Comey was fired. He sent one of his aides over to the FBI. And Comey was -- all away across the country.

COOPER: Right, he got fired on TV basically.

BASH: He got fired on TV. Exactly. So that is certainly not a concern of this President. The biggest concern is as Jim is laying out and as we've been reporting here at CNN all day, about the conflicting and confusing advice and points of view that the President and his top aides have about Rosenstein. Do they think that Rosenstein said what he said, that the "New York Times" reported on Friday about wanting to tape the President, about the 25th Amendment? Probably. Yes, they do.

You know, the whole question is whether he was being sarcastic or not. My understanding in talking to sources is that John Kelly has done his own kind of internal investigation and he has concluded that Rosenstein's denial is weak. But the question is, to what end? To what end is Rosenstein going to get fired? And the backdrop that we're up against, the midterms six weeks from tomorrow, the fact that as Jim was saying, the Republican base and the Democratic base are very focused on this issue, is no small thing which is why you're seeing uncharacteristic restraint from the President on the notion of getting an opportunity to fire somebody he didn't like, hasn't liked for a long time, and at least for now --


BASH: -- is not doing it.

COOPER: Maggie, you have new reporting tonight that concerns chief of staff John Kelly.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So John Kelly is central to everything that has happened over the last couple days because Rod Rosenstein, as Dana said, was the subject of some internal investigation that John Kelly did. This began Friday. Where he called Rod Rosenstein to the White House, asked him about what had happened, told him to issue a better denial if this was, indeed, not true. But they had some discussion about Rosenstein resigning. And my understanding from two people who were briefed on what took place is that John Kelly made clear that he expected the President was going to be quite angry about this.

The President for whatever reason, whether is because of the political ramifications which I do think is the main one, whether it's because he touched the hot stove once before by firing James Comey and what he got as a result was Robert Mueller and he doesn't want to go through that unknown again or whether he's distracted by Brett Kavanaugh or all of the above. He has not been extensively focused on this in the way that we have grown accustom to him being so.

Now, he might once he gets back from the UN General Assembly on Thursday and he turns his attention to this. One reason why we also heard what Jim heard which is a bunch of White House officials thought that only the President could accept this resignation, I don't know how much of that is true or how much of that is an interpretive dance- around what the law says so that none of them have to get called before Congress to testify about this. If Rod does get fired.

And Rod, himself, Rosenstein, is concerned about having to testify about what he said, you know, a year and a half ago about the 25th Amendment and what he says is a sarcastic line about wiring the President.

COOPER: Imagine if you're Rod Rosenstein right now, you got to wait two days for this meeting.

HABERMAN: Well, except that I'm confused, if I can be candid, about his perspective on this. It's not -- you know, if you talk to some people who talk to him, they believe that he has no problem if he gets pushed out of his job. You talk to other people, they think he wants to stay.

[20:40:09] What will happen on Thursday is anyone's guess. People I've spoken to around the President are not certain what will happen. They're not certain whether Rosenstein will really walk in and say I'm resigning. If so, it's a little hard for the President to say I don't take it, although he certainly could. Or will Rosenstein say, you know, the "New York Times" got it wrong, fake news, and try to assuage him in that way? We just don't know.

COOPER: Dana, I mean the larger question, of course, if Rosenstein is forced out, what does that mean for the Mueller probe?

BASH: It is. It is the question, which is why we're all focused on a deputy attorney general which is certainly not somebody who generally makes headlines or is even becoming a household political name. And the answer is, that it is incredibly hard to believe, and this is based on talking to Republican sources, not Democratic sources, Republican sources, that they would allow on Capitol Hill despite the fact that you haven't seen a lot of profiles in courage lately on this Mueller probe, it's hard to believe that they would allow anything really big to change in terms of overseeing the Mueller probe or, of course, the finishing of the Mueller probe in general. There has been legislation languishing for a long time. Both parties have it. To protect Robert Mueller.

COOPER: Right.

BASH: Unclear if that would happen. But I do think that this is something that is really hard to see changing. And I agree with Maggie, when the President has somebody face to face, it's generally harder for him to say you're fired. It would probably be up to Rosenstein to say, Mr. President, I can't take it anymore.

COOPER: Right, yes. Dana Bash, thank you, Maggie Haberman as well. Thanks.

Up next, to that point with Rosenstein's future up in the air, the President's attorney is already talking about quote, "tune out for the Mueller" -- or excuse me "time-out for the Mueller investigation". Time-out, his word. We'll hear that and get reaction from a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee in just a moment.


[20:45:54] COOPER: As we reported, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the President are scheduled to meet on Thursday. The President's attorney, Jay Sekulow, is already talking about pausing the Russia investigation.


JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I think it's really important that there be a step-back taken here and a review, and I think it's a review that has to be thorough and complete and a review that has to include an investigation of what has transpired with all of these statements and all of these allegations going back to Strzok and Page and Bruce Ohr and basically a time-out on this inquiry.


COOPER: Joining me is Senator Ron Wyden, member of the intelligence community.

Senator Wyden, does it make sense to you there should be a time-out in the Mueller investigation?

SEN. RON WYDEN, (D) OREGON: Absolutely not. And look, the President's lawyer is basically giving away the game at this point. It's very clear that this is all about interfering with the Mueller investigation. That's what the tweets are all about. That's what all of the changes in it the story over the last few months has always been all about. And right now, if the Republican are serious about protecting the Mueller investigation, they had to step up and back our legislation that when sure Bob Mueller is insulated from politics.

COOPER: If there is truth though to the reporting about the "Times" that Rosenstein suggested secretly recorded President and discuss 25th Amendment. Should he resign or be fired? And couldn't even perception that his compromise work against the special counsels investigation?

WYDEN: Again the factor unclear at this point, Anderson. But here's my bottom line. If Donald Trump fires Rod Rosenstein, for the purpose of protecting himself from the Mueller investigation, that would represent high crimes and misdemeanors.

COOPER: Should Rosenstein leave Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, would likely oversee the Russia investigation, at least temporarily. Based on what you know about him, do you have faith that he would protect the integrity of the investigation?

WYDEN: I don't, and the fact is he has a long record of trying to inflate executive power at every opportunity. That's a prescription for trouble with this President.

COOPER: There has been a push from Democrats for months now, as you talked about, to pass some kind of legislation protecting Mueller, protecting the investigation. At this point, I mean, doesn't seem like there's any real appetite on the other side of the aisle among Republicans to support that.

WYDEN: I think it's unfortunate, again, today, we saw them make statements. In other words, whenever they have a microphone in front of them, they say, look, we want Bob Mueller to be able to do his investigation and he ought to have the opportunity to be independent. We appreciate it. But then when it comes to passing legislation, it would really put some teeth behind that rhetoric. They aren't there.

COOPER: So what's your message to the President tonight about whether or not he should fire Rosenstein? Or what would happen if he did? WYDEN: My message to the President tonight is that interfering with the Mueller investigation is the wrong thing to do. It's the wrong thing to do for our country. It in effect says that the President is above the law and Donald Trump shouldn't go there.

COOPER: Do you think having the meeting on Thursday is to distract from the Kavanaugh hearings?

WYDEN: My sense is today was really right out of the Trump playbook. Whenever they got problems, they go out and create some chaos. They create some distraction. We were getting reports on the Hill that this was the smoke bomb today to distract from the Kavanaugh allegations. Again, the bottom line is -- and a lot of us are very concerned about this. That Bob Mueller is really in a race against time, is the President should not interfere with this investigation.

COOPER: Senator Ron Wyden, appreciate your time. Thank you.

WYDEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up, along those lines, our Jeff Toobin has just written a piece in "The New Yorker" saying if Rosenstein is out, then the Mueller investigation could be, in his words, kind of toast. He's back along with Preet Bharara and I'll try not to sneeze during this next interview, next.


[20:54:12] COOPER: We're talking about the fate of Rod Rosenstein and perhaps the Mueller investigation, as well. Our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin ponders this at length in "The New Yorker." He's back along with CNN senior legal analyst and former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara.

So Jeff, who will protect the Mueller investigation if Rosenstein resigns or is fired? Because Rosenstein goes to Mueller for approval on things.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That's right, and his replacement will be the person who supervises the Mueller investigation. And the whole reason that Donald Trump wants Rod Rosenstein out is that he has been too protective of the Mueller investigation, so it stands to reason that the person he puts in there, if that person really gets confirmed, or really, you know, takes office, will be someone less protective, as a technical legal matter, it appears to be Noel Francisco --

COOPER: Francisco.

[20:55:03] TOOBIN: -- the solicitor general. And we'll see what his perspective is on this, but he has the right to fill that deputy attorney general job and the job requirement, as far as I can tell, is someone who will not protect Robert Mueller and his investigation.

COOPER: Preet, during an interview for the job of deputy attorney general, could the President ask interview subjects what they think of the Mueller investigation?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, he can ask anything he wants. I suppose he can. That would be a terrible idea. And the one thing -- I agree with Jeffrey on, you know, what the President probably wants out of somebody who would replace Rod Rosenstein, but I do think it's the case. I don't know Noel Francisco personally, but he has a decent reputation, and he also has a reputation for believing in a little bit over leaning executive power. But part of the reason we have Robert Mueller in the first place I think is that Rod Rosenstein cared a lot about his personal, professional legal reputation in the country, which was very strong, and after he wrote that contextual memo on the basis of which Donald Trump claimed to fire Jim Comey.

COOPER: Right.

BHARARA: I think that Rod who I know for long time, wanted to make things right and wanted to show that he understood what the rule of law was about and appointed Mueller. And people in the department, I don't know if Noel Francisco is one of these people, I suspect and hope that he is or anyone else is going to have some gravitational pull towards wanting to make sure that they don't become the person in history who shuts down an appropriate investigation.

You know, whatever their, you know, other proclivities are. So I have some faith that there are going to be people who are not going to want to die on the sword of Donald Trump wanting to shut down the investigation.

TOOBIN: And Anderson --


TOOBIN: -- it's not just about firing Robert Mueller. That is the most extreme step. And that certainly, as Preet suggests, would be a black mark against whoever did it. Rosenstein also supervised Mueller's jurisdiction and said, you can investigate here, you can investigate here, and Mueller has been fastidious about asking questions. And this is not something that's been public. We only know bits and pieces that came out, chiefly during the Manafort case. If there is a new supervisor who is less protective of Mueller, that person could limit Mueller's jurisdiction in ways that we will not know until very long afterwards.

And that's something that, with you know, it's not firing, but it could seriously damage it will Mueller investigation.

COOPER: There's also a question, Jeff, of whether Mueller would make a public report. And is that up to, in this case, Rod Rosenstein?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, this has been one of the long-term mysteries. Everybody has been talking about the report Mueller will write. But if you look at the regulation under which Mueller has been appointed, all he's supposed to do is file a report. And it's not even clear what that report is supposed to contain. And give it to his supervisor. It was Rod Rosenstein. And then he decides, does he give it to the Congress? Does he make it public? That's another very important responsibility of whoever takes over this job, what happens to Mueller's report.

COOPER: Preet, I mean, the President obviously has made his displeasure about his attorney general very clear for quite a long time. And, you know, there's wide speculation, rumor, belief, perhaps, that after the midterms, Jeff Sessions could be let go. If that was the case, wouldn't, potentially, that have an impact on the Mueller investigation, regardless of what happens to Rosenstein?

BHARARA: Yes, I mean, it doesn't have a direct effect, because as everyone knows, and this is the subject of the ire of Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions recused himself. But a new attorney general, you know, presumably, would not have the same --

COOPER: Would not have had to recused himself or herself.

BHARARA: But then it depends on how long it takes to put someone new in. And the other thing is, if yourself on the cusp of firing Rod Rosenstein, and we'll see what happens with this meeting on Thursday that's going to be very dramatic, we'll see what happens with Jeff Sessions. You're going to have a vacuum of leadership at the top of the Justice Department, that's a big deal.

The last point I would make is, you know, a lot -- with respect to the Mueller investigation, whether or not Mueller is fired, and I hope he will not be, a lot of barns were -- a lot of the cows were already out of the barn, to use a farm analogy, even though I've never lived on a farm.

COOPER: Clearly, you have shown your farm knowledge.


BHARARA: How does that go again? The cows are in the barn and go out of the barn. And one of those cows is the southern district of New York. And there are investigations that have been parceled out to other places, and we also know that the New York attorney general's office that does not have to answer to any pardon that Trump may issue is also on the case in various ways. So there are lots of things that are out there, because Mueller has been in business for a year and a half, that no matter what happens at the Justice Department, I don't think there's anything they can do about them, really.

TOOBIN: I was going to respond to that, but I know Preet has to get up early to start milking, so I'll just leave that alone.

BHARARA: That's the last farm analogy I'm going to make.

COOPER: Yes. Farmer Bharara, appreciate it. Thank you very much. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks.

A reminder, don't miss "Full Circle," our daily interactive newscast on Facebook, you pick some of the stories that we cover. You can see it weeknight 6:25 p.m. eastern at [21:00:05] The news continues right now. I want to hand over Chris, "CUOMO PRIME TIME" starts now. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to "Prime Time".

Should I stay or should I go?