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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Looms Large Over Midterm Elections; Trump Administration Withholds Over 100,000 Pages of Brett Kavanaugh Documents; Papadopoulos Contradicts A.G. Sessions' Testimony to Congress; Lobbyist Pleads Guilty, Says He Helped Steer Foreign Money to Trump Inaugural Committee and Lied to Congress; Obama to Kick-Off Campaign Push this Week. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 3, 2018 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: So you felt it I think more acutely than some of us who just watched it on TV but obviously we've been hopeful in the past that there would be a reset. Let's hope this time it's true.

AVLON: Keep hope alive.

CAMEROTA: OK. See you tomorrow, John. See all of you tomorrow. Time for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Ryan Nobles.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks, guys. Happy Labor Day. I'm Ryan Nobles, in today for Poppy Harlow.

And summer may be behind us but politically it's only getting hotter. President Trump is amping up his campaign schedule in the home stretch to the midterms where he continues to predict at least in public a red wave, Republicans adding to their congressional majorities. Most every poll and analyst predicted Democrats will retake the House if not the Senate.

And speaking of the Senate, tomorrow begins days of hearings for the president's latest nominee to the highest court in the land. These were sure to be hyper partisan and pressure-packed even before the White House decided to hold back some 100,000 documents pertaining to Brett Kavanaugh's work in the George W. Bush administration. Documents Senate Democrats very much would like to see.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House for us this morning. And Abby, let's start with the campaigner-in-chief. What is the president planning this week?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Ryan.

President Trump is heading out on the campaign trail this week making three stops, in two cases targeting some vulnerable Democrats who are running in some closely watched Senate races. He's going to be in Montana on Thursday, then North Dakota on Friday, followed by a campaign fundraiser on Friday in South Dakota. But this is the president really making good on a campaign -- on a promise to head out and help Republicans keep the Senate, help push out some vulnerable Democrats.

In one case a feud with Jon Tester in Montana that he has been eager to fulfill, he's been trying to get Tester out of that seat after Tester played a role in nixing one of his Veterans Affairs Department nominees.

So the president, it's personal in that race. But the president is really saying he's going to be out there most of the week from now up until the -- the November election in part because it's an understanding of how serious this issue is for Republicans. They really understand that the Senate could be at risk of flipping here and they're trying to in some cases flip some Democratic seats that are being held, Montana and North Dakota in particular.

NOBLES: And Abby, while the president's on the road the fight begins over his next Supreme Court nominee. What can you tell us about the fight over the documents from Brett Kavanaugh during his time during the Bush administration?

PHILLIP: That's right, Ryan. Well, we knew that there were going to be some big fights on the document front with Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh has a long history working in White Houses and also on the bench. Now the Trump administration is actually claiming constitutional privilege to hold on to about 100,000 documents that pertain to his activities while he worked in the White House, and so that is something that Democrats were expecting but they are crying foul here.

Republicans are saying -- the White House is saying they've already made available about 440,000 documents so they're saying there's plenty that's ought there from Brett Kavanaugh's time both on the bench and in the White House. But this is a fight that was expected and it seems that they're going to hold on to these 100,000 documents despite Democrats wanting them to release them for the sake of transparency, Ryan.

NOBLES: All right. Trump administration holding firm on this.

Abby Phillip live at the White House. Abby, thank you.

More on the Kavanaugh nomination this week. At least one Democrat promising sparks will fly at the judge's hearing.

Suzanne Malveaux joining me now. Suzanne, what else are lawmakers saying about this situation?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ryan, you can bet that sparks are going to be flying and he also says there's going to be a lot of heat when it comes to this very issue. He also is going to be saying that there's going to be controversy as well.

Now it was just last week I spoke with both Senator Dianne Feinstein, she's the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as Senator Dick Durbin last week, and what they've said is that they really wanted to know quite a bit from Kavanaugh in the hearings but also the private meetings that they were both frustrated with what they see as a real lack of transparency from the nominee as well as these lack of documents that are coming their way.

Kavanaugh, he has an extensive legal record as the federal judge for the U.S. federal court of appeals in the D.C. Circuit. But having issued more than 300 opinions and dissents, he's really an open book in that area. But it's his time as working with the president, President George W. Bush, as deputy White House counsel and staff secretary that Democratic critics believe is going to reveal the true thinking regarding some of those controversial issues like his position on the administration's then torture policy.

The administration's now refusal to provide those 100,000 pages of documentation has led Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer over the weekend to declare, "We are witnessing a Friday night document massacre."

[09:05:09] And Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar over the weekend also to decry that this is not the way that the Supreme Court should behave in terms of vetting a nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: This isn't normal. It's not normal because we are not able to see 100,000 documents that the archivist has just -- because the administration has said we can't see them, they've exerted their executive power. 148,000 documents that I've seen that you cannot see because they won't allow us to make them public. So I can't even tell you about them right now on this show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: So, Suzanne, there's obviously a lot of big issues that we're going to be talking about this week with Brett Kavanaugh, executive power, abortion, gun control. I mean, those are just three of the big key issues. Where does he stand from what we can tell?

MALVEAUX: So it's going to be a very difficult process, that we know. And we know that the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee they're arguing that the heart of the debate over these documents and the Democrats is their desire to stall this process, to drag this out through the midterms. While we do expect the kind of boiler plate questions to Kavanaugh regarding his abortion rights, gun control, also an interest in marriage equality, it is going to be the issue of presidential power that's going to be most notable considering all of the investigations, the potential legal jeopardy that the president faces with the Russia investigation.

NOBLES: All right. Busy week on Capitol Hill for sure. All right. Suzanne, thank you very much.

MALVEAUX: Thanks.

NOBLES: Let's talk more about this. I want to bring in CNN Legal and National Security Analyst, Asha Rangappa, and former Yale University law and political science professor, Akhil Amar.

Akhil, let's begin with you. We have a lot going on here in this conversation regarding the confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh. I mean, what are the things that you're looking for this week?

AKHIL AMAR, PROFESSOR OF LAW AND POLITICAL SCIENCE, YALE UNIVERSITY: Well, I'm actually going to be testifying on Friday and-- but I don't think I've been fired yet so I'm not former. I'm still there. And I think your setup piece nicely catalogued a lot of the process and substantive issues that will arise. And my own view is the most important part of the record to examine is his record as a judge. It's the most recent and it's the most probative of what sort of justice he'd be.

NOBLES: Asha, to that point, I mean, so much has been made about the White House's refusal to hand over all of these documents related to his time in the George W. Bush administration. How important is that? Is it more important than his judicial record, or is it something that these members of the Senate should have access to?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think that given the unusual circumstances that we're in, we have on the horizon potential looming issues that may come up with regard to the president himself. And I think it's important that the legitimacy of the court should Kavanaugh be confirmed not be questioned. And so to that extent I think that there should be a completely informed advice and consent of the Senate.

The Presidential Records Act means that a lot of those documents are no longer going to be able to be privileged starting in 2021. They will come out and at that point I don't think there should be any question that there wasn't full information at the time that Kavanaugh was confirmed, you know, just to preserve the legitimacy of the pronouncements of the court, whichever way they go.

NOBLES: Akhil, I wonder from your perspective how much we should take into this idea of these documents, even if they were revealed what they would tell us about Brett Kavanaugh. I mean, he was working as an attorney and the White House or the president was his client at that time. Does it necessarily tell us anything about his political leanings if those documents were to be revealed?

AMAR: Well, it doesn't necessarily tell us something about how he would rule as a justice. And to that precise point, one of the points I'll be making in my testimony on Friday as one of the witnesses before that Senate Judiciary Committee is in a piece that your readers -- that your audience can pull up off the Web in the 2016 Marquette Lawyer Alumni magazine, Judge Brett Kavanaugh gave a speech about his vision of separation of powers and singled out as his role model Robert Jackson who was the president's lawyer, said all sorts of pro- presidential things that got quoted back at him when he sat on the court as Justice Jackson in the famous case involving presidential power, the "Steel Seizure" case.

And Jackson actually said, you know, that was when I was a presidential mouthpiece. Now I'm a justice. Very different job. And Brett Kavanaugh actually singled out Justice Jackson in that opinion as his, Kavanaugh's, role model for judicial independence.

NOBLES: And Asha, I wonder, too, are we making too much about Brett Kavanaugh's views on executive power given the current political climate? Shouldn't we have a more wholesome view of his judicial record and how he thinks on a number of issues?

[09:10:03] I mean, obviously the climate right now regarding President Trump is important, but this is a man that's going to sit on the court for a lifetime. Is there too much focus on his thoughts on executive power?

RANGAPPA: Well, I think you're absolutely right, Ryan. You know, this is someone who will sit on the court with a lifetime tenure, so absolutely all of his judicial philosophies should be examined, and in fact, I think when you look at his writings on executive power specifically, if you look carefully, they're not really that favorable to the president. He has, you know, emphasized that, you know, the executive privilege, for example, to shield from criminal investigation is legitimate, that -- sorry, you know, shouldn't be used to shield criminal liability.

The special counsel as it's currently constituted actually conforms to a lot of the critiques that he said should be corrected after the independent counsel statute expired. So I don't know that that is the only issue and even on that issue it's not necessarily a slam dunk for the president.

NOBLES: Well, he's certainly going to be grilled on a number of these topics including executive power and beyond this week on Capitol Hill. A busy week for Brett Kavanaugh in the nomination process.

Thank you for your perspectives, Akhil Amar and Asha Rangappa. We appreciate you being here.

All right. And still to come, does Special Counsel Robert Mueller have a midterm problem? The closer we get to November, are we less likely to see any of the results of the Russia investigation?

Plus, cameras are rolling when a woman carrying a baby reportedly tries to escape a high speed chase by carjacking another driver.

And one of the richest men on the planet with some advice for President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: What is, Warren, the number one thing that the Trump administration could do right now to help the most marginalized in society?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] NOBLES: And the countdown is on just three days left until the official kickoff of mid-term campaign season, and that marks exactly 60 days until the November elections could, emphasis on could be crucial. Many have suggested that is when Robert Mueller will go silent to

avoid influencing voters. But will he act before then? This as we're hearing more from one of Mueller's first targets George Papadopoulos.

He says both Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump supported his proposal for a 2016 meeting between candidate Trump and Vladimir Putin. But that's not what Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee. Joining me now live from Washington, CNN's Justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, do we have any reason to believe that Robert Mueller all of a sudden is going to go underground over the next 60 days before the election?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, no, I think a lot of people have been making that sort of assumption and Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer has been kind of helping to flog that idea, hoping I think it would be true, but I don't expect that Robert Mueller is going to go silent, certainly not in September.

We know for a fact that there are a number of things that are coming up. He's going to take testimony from people in the grand jury. There's a lot of things that are coming up that just will require him to speak. So we don't expect September to be quiet from Robert Mueller.

NOBLES: Hey man, we should emphasize too that this idea that there would be no kind of action taken before a campaign, there's no law?

PEREZ: There's no law, there's no --

NOBLES: And specifically said that, right?

PEREZ: Yes, it's a general practice of the Justice Department, but Mueller is not a regular U.S. attorney. He's not going to be around forever. So to take away an entire month from him would be a lot more detrimental to his mission really than anyone else.

NOBLES: Right, and let's talk now about this lobbyist, the Samuel Patten pleading guilty on Friday to acting as an unregistered foreign lobbyist. What exactly did he admit to doing?

PEREZ: Well, he admitted to not failing to file the paperwork required because he was acting on behalf of Ukrainian clients. He got paid over a million dollars, according to prosecutors for working for Ukrainians during the years. But what's interesting about this guilty plea and he's by the way agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors as a result of his guilty plea.

What's interesting about it is that for the first time, we see an American who's admitting to helping funnel foreign money into the inauguration of Donald Trump. He helped buy four tickets for the inauguration for a couple of Ukrainians -- Ukrainian oligarchs who under the law are not allowed to donate to the inauguration or to the campaign.

So now we see a new line of the inquiry that we knew was going on behind the scenes in the Robert Mueller inquiry. And so now, I think what we're expecting is we're going to hear a lot more about this. Was there money that went into the -- illegally into the campaign and into the inauguration, and is someone else going to get in trouble for that?

NOBLES: OK, all right, Evan Perez, thank you for being here, we appreciate it.

All right, let's talk more about this and we'll bring back Asha Rangappa who is the CNN legal and national security analyst. Asha, you heard what Evan had to say about this.

But let's talk about George Papadopoulos saying that both Attorney General Sessions and Donald Trump supported the proposal for that Trump-Putin meeting. Of course, Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee that he pushed back on the idea.

So somebody here is lying. Who's going to be impacted more by it from your view, Attorney General Sessions or Papadopoulos?

RANGAPPA: I would say in this case it would be Attorney General Sessions. So if you look at the sentencing memo that the special counsel's office has submitted to the court, this is a memo that is giving the court the recommendation on, you know, how long Papadopoulos should serve, they're recommending the sentencing guideline range of zero to six months because Papadopoulos actually lied to them repeatedly and impeded the investigation.

[09:20:00] But everything that's in there, the special counsel can substantiate with evidence. And among those things is exactly this, that Papadopoulos was in communication with entities he knew to be affiliated with Russian government and trying to organize some kind of trip between the campaign to Russia.

And if this was being lied about, then this is going to be in contravention to what the special counsel has. And I think it's important to note, Ryan, that these contacts were happening just at the same time that the Trump Tower meeting was happening.

And the campaign was briefed in August of 2016 that Russia -- by the FBI, that Russia might be trying to contact and infiltrate the campaign, and yet nobody reported any of these contacts and lied --

NOBLES: Yes --

RANGAPPA: About them afterwards.

NOBLES: And Evan broke down the role that Sam Patten, the lobbyist who just pled guilty last week to lying to the Senate Intelligence Committee and funneling a Ukrainian oligarch's money to Donald Trump's inaugural committee. I'm interested in your take on this. What do you think it reveals about Robert Mueller's investigation?

RANGAPPA: I think Shamoan(ph) was exactly right that this is starting to show a new line that he is investigating. When we talk about active measures by Russia in the campaign, we're looking -- we're talking about a number of different fronts on which Russia was operating.

One is disinformation campaign, and we know that Mueller has already indicted several individuals and the internet research agency on its Facebook and social media activities. Then we have the hacking and intrusion into e-mails and voting machines.

We already have an indictment on that against 12 GRE Russian intelligence officers. I think that there's going to be another series of indictments concerning illegal campaign contributions, and this Patten plea being the one -- first of them.

But where Russia might have been using straw donors, illegal donors to funnel money into places that they would otherwise not be able to directly.

NOBLES: OK, Asha Rangappa, thank you, we appreciate you being here. And with the mid-term campaign season kicking into high gear, President Trump is ready to rally, but could he cause more harm than good for some candidates? We'll explore next.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOBLES: President Trump set to make three campaign stops this week, and this morning a likely preview of his rally cry. He's tweeting about the economy and touting historically low unemployment, but also hitting a new low, his approval rating, now at 36 percent according to a new "Abc"-"Washington Post" poll.

And joining me now to talk about this is Matt Lewis; CNN political commentator, and Amie Parnes, a senior political correspondent for "The Hill".

Matt, I want to start with you, I want to read for you something that Josh Holmes, smart guy, knows a lot about Republican politics, former adviser to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell.

This is what he said recently, "Senate Republicans will not get to where they need to go without the president this Fall. That means doing exactly what he's been doing. The great danger in a mid-term is an enthusiasm gap and there is nobody who can quite close the enthusiasm gap like the president."

So my question for you is, is Josh, right, especially given the fact that the president's approval rating has hit 30 -- his disapproval rating has his 36 percent? Is it smart for candidates, especially Republicans to attach themselves to President Trump?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it depends where they are. Overall, I think Josh is mostly right. And I mean, if you're running in a suburban district outside of Washington D.C. in northern Virginia let's say, you probably don't want Donald Trump to even know who you are, much less come to town to campaign for you.

But if you're in North Dakota or Montana, you probably -- look, you're going to be anything negative attached to Donald Trump, the Democrats are going to try to attach to you. So if you're going to get stuck or labeled with a negative thing, you might as well try to get the upside.

NOBLES: Right --

LEWIS: And you know, look, conventional wisdom at least is that mid- terms are about excitement and turnout and enthusiasm. Democrats have turned out an excitement to try to beat Donald Trump. If you're a Republican, you need to match that. So I think Josh -- you know, it's not a crazy strategy there and I think in the right districts it will certainly pay off.

NOBLES: Well, I wonder any -- there's a place where this could be put to the test, and that's in Texas, right? Because yesterday over the weekend, John McCain laid to rest or emotions over McCain's contentious relationship with President Trump and President Trump's actions following his passing have been very high.

But we also know in Texas that there were billboards of President Trump's past tweets on Senator Cruz on full display. Obviously, Ted Cruz's relationship with Donald Trump has been somewhat of a roller coaster, but could his past words and all of this tension over Senator McCain backfire on him, especially in a place like Texas?

AMIE PARNES, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE HILL: Maybe so and that's what they're trying to do. They're trying to sort of make that case that he's not what the Republican people think he is. Democrats are going to do the same thing.

They're trying to make sure that, you know, in places where Donald Trump isn't doing so well, that you know, they're emphasizing that he has been a contentious figure, that he's divided the country, that even some Republicans don't like him.

So this is problematic for him going into the mid-terms and that's exactly what the White House is trying to do. They're trying to kind of pick the places where the president is popular and send him there.

And that's also what Democrats are doing by the way. You don't see former President Barack Obama anywhere near North Dakota or Montana. They're sending in someone like Joe Biden to help out. So that's what's happening across the aisle as well.

NOBLES: Yes, expand on that a little bit. I know you have some reporting about President Obama's role in all of this. He's actually stayed pretty quiet in terms of his political calculations in his post-presidency. He is going to hit the road in favor of some candidates.