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Interview With Florida Congressman Ted Deutch; Supreme Court Fight; President Trump Rants Against Own Justice Department Over Republican Indictments. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 3, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hidden documents -- the Trump administration withholding more than 100,000 pages of documents related to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The top Democrat in the Senate calls it -- quote -- "Friday night document massacre."

And Putin's popularity. Russian state TV starts airing a new weekly show praising Vladimir Putin's, as his popularity among Russians appears to be sinking. Will the series boost his support?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer off today. I'm Jim Sciutto. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This is a SITUATION ROOM special report tonight.

President Trump blasting Attorney General Jeff Sessions over federal charges against two Republican lawmakers just ahead of the midterm elections. Mr. Trump sarcastically saying, good job, Jeff, in a tweet suggesting that Sessions should have considered the political consequences, despite Justice Department guidelines to the contrary.

We will talk about the breaking news and more with Congressman Ted Deutch of the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and analysts here with all of the day's news.

But, first, to CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, the president, of course, regularly has criticized Jeff Sessions, but this one stands out right in the middle of two criminal investigations.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it does stand out.

And it's pretty extraordinary. The attacks from the president on his own attorney general have, frankly, become pretty routine by now. But this one was different. And the president was talking specifically about an ongoing criminal case, suggesting the attorney general and his Justice Department should have used political considerations here to not effectively go after or indict these two House Republicans. But, Jim, all this comes as another sign the president at war with his

own Justice Department.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Summer maybe over at the White House, but the same storm clouds are gathering as President Trump heads into the fall. Tonight, the president lashing out again at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but this time over the Justice Department's recent indictments of two Republican congressmen.

"Two easy wins now in doubt because there's not enough time. Good job, Jeff," the president said on Twitter.

He's referring to Chris Collins of New York, indicted on insider trading charges and Duncan Hunter of California, accused of stealing a quarter of a million dollars from campaign funds.

It's an extraordinary statement, not only for the president to weigh in on specific cases, but also suggesting the Justice Department should overlook criminal allegations for political reasons. All this as a confrontation is looming between special counsel Robert Mueller and the White House over publicly releasing his report into potential Russian collusion and obstruction of justice.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It has nothing to do with collusion.

ZELENY: Rudy Giuliani, the face of the president's legal team, saying they're likely to cite executive privilege, telling "The New Yorker": "I'm sure we will try to block the release of the report."

The president walking out of the White House today, presumably to go golfing for a third straight day, but abruptly changing course and going back inside.

On the day traditionally seen as the kickoff for the fall campaign, the president had no public events on his schedule, but tweeted: "Our country is doing better than ever before, with unemployment setting record lows."

As Democrats like Joe Biden provided the opposing view, while marching on Labor Day.

JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're in a fight for the soul of America.

ZELENY: With the midterm elections only two months away, the president is hitting the road again this week, heading to Montana, North and South Dakota. And he's still threatening to intervene in the Russia investigation as part of his ongoing feud with his own Justice Department.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will get involved and I will get in there if I have to.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZELENY: The president also increasingly isolated from all but his most loyal supporters, as words from the funeral services of Senator John McCain still echo.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF JOHN MCCAIN: The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great.

ZELENY: As Meghan McCain spoke, applause filled the Washington National Cathedral, where the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were seated. While President Trump's name was never spoken, a critique of his tribal brand of politics was a notable theme.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John's voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder. We are better than this. America is better than this.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that.

ZELENY: Only hours after the service, a Trump tweets served as a quiet rebuttal: "Make America great again."

All this setting the stage for confirmation hearings this week for the president's Supreme Court nominee.

TRUMP: I will nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.

[18:05:03]

ZELENY: His nomination is one of the bright spots for the White House, as the president seeks to secure a more conservative legacy on the high court.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, so far today, most Republicans have been silent on the president's extraordinary attack on his own Justice Department, suggesting again that Jeff Sessions should have weighed in to prevent these two House Republicans from being indicted.

There is an exception to that, Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse issuing a very sharply worded statement just a few moments ago. Let's take a look at that.

He says: "The United States is not some banana republic with a two- tiered system of justice, one for the majority party and one for the minority party. These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the president was when the investigations began."

Speaker Paul Ryan issuing a much softer statement, saying the DOJ should be apolitical. But, Jim, you wonder, is this something that Senator John McCain would have weighed in on? I certainly think it would have been. So far, other Republicans in this town -- it is a holiday, of course -- have not yet responded -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: More of the same, it seems. They're very reluctant to challenge the president directly.

Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Let's look at the president's new attack on the attorney general more closely.

He writes: "Too long-running Obama era investigations of two very popular Republican congressmen were brought to a well-publicized charge just ahead of the midterms by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there's not enough time. Good job, Jeff."

Let's bring in CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, beyond the point of fact there that, in fact, the Chris Collins charges, it appears he made the phone call in question from the White House lawn while Trump was president, this is a remarkable thing for a sitting president to do, is it not, to say that the Justice Department should violate its old guidelines by delaying a criminal prosecution?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, I mean, it's absolutely extraordinary for the president to essentially be saying that the Justice Department should have delayed or perhaps not brought these charges simply because it's inconvenient, it's unhelpful for his own party in the midterm elections.

Look, this was a case -- these are cases that were overseen not only by Jeff Sessions as the attorney general, Republican attorney general, but also by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, a Republican nominated by Donald Trump, and Brian Benczkowski, who's the head of the Criminal Division, who consults with the prosecutors from New York and San Diego that brought these two charges.

So we have -- this is the way the Justice Department is supposed to work. I will read to you from the department's policy that governs just these types of cases. It says in part, "Prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party."

Of course, the Justice Department today -- it is a holiday -- and given everything that has been going on, the department is reluctant to just rebut everything the president says. They declined to comment. But about 10 days ago, 10 days ago, the attorney general responded to another attack from the president.

And in that statement, the attorney general said: While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations." Jeff Sessions, you can tell, has just about had enough of these types of attacks, Jim, simply because it is not something that he is going to be able to do anything about while he's the attorney general.

SCIUTTO: And maybe the irony is the president's attacks are steeling their resolve, rather than striking fear in their hearts.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions may possibly have another problem beyond politics. The former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in his sentencing statement seems to contradict sworn testimony from the attorney general regarding a proposed meeting between Trump and Putin during the campaign. What have we been learning?

PEREZ: Well, this is a March 2016 meeting. We have seen the pictures. We have shown it certainly on our air a lot. It has Jeff Sessions meeting with members of the national security team.

Donald Trump, then the candidate, is there. And George Papadopoulos is right in the middle of the room. And this is where this idea Papadopoulos brings up of a meeting between Vladimir Putin and candidate Trump. The meeting never occurred.

But we have now heard two different versions of what exactly happened when Papadopoulos asked -- suggested this meeting. In the sentencing memo on Friday, his lawyers, who are asking for leniency for Papadopoulos, say that while Mr. Trump nodded with approval to the idea that Papadopoulos was suggesting and deferred to Mr. Sessions, who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it.

And, of course, that contradicts what Jeff Sessions has said under oath in Congress. Take a listen to what he had to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting. After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government, for that matter.

[18:10:12]

I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PEREZ: And, Jim, at this point, obviously, there is a perception that Papadopoulos seemed to have developed from his own recollection of that meeting.

There were other people in that meeting, by the way, who back up Jeff Sessions' version of events. And we should make clear that Papadopoulos is looking for some leniency. He's asking for probation only, no jail time. Prosecutors have asked for about six months.

We will see what the judge decides when he sentences Papadopoulos later this week.

SCIUTTO: All right, CNN's Evan Perez, continue to follow that case.

Let's get more on this all with Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida. He's a member of both the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, thank you for joining us today.

REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: It's great to be with you, Jim. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: I want to give you a chance to react to the president's very public attack via his Twitter feed. But, again, we're told to treat those tweets as presidential statements.

A president, sitting president attacking two criminal investigations by a Justice Department led by an attorney general he appointed, is that threatening the rule of law, in your view?

DEUTCH: Well, of course it's threatening the rule of law. It's outrageous.

And anybody, anybody should be outraged by the president inserting himself into -- into the operation of the Justice Department, in criminal proceedings. Of course they should.

But can -- I think it's really important, Jim, that we take a step back. This is outrageous. But why is the president tweeting about this out of nowhere? Well, it's because this is the same weekend when two things happened. One, the Papadopoulos news that you have already been discussing, which suggests that the president, then candidate Donald Trump, thought it was a good idea to meet with Putin to talk about how to win the election.

That's a big story. That would be one reason that the president chose to tweet today. But the other one that we're not even talking about is the timing of this tweet to divert attention from the fact that the administration decided that they're simply going to withhold 100,000 documents from the Senate and from the public just ahead of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

That's big news. This is a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. The Trump administration simply said, no, 100,000 documents that have to do likely with the time that Kavanaugh was working in the White House are off-limits. That's outrageous. That is what really infuriates me, and I know should be so upsetting to my colleagues in the House, especially those who work in the Senate, are about to start these hearings, and to the American people.

SCIUTTO: Well, two points there. I want to get to the Supreme Court issue. But first, on the president's attack here, you're saying that this is

part of a broader pattern of the president attacking with purpose, because he's concerned about the direction of the investigation?

DEUTCH: I'm saying, if you -- if you look at where this tweet came from, and you understand that it's consistent with what the president does, which is to try to stir things up, because he knows how to do it.

He stirs things up when things are getting closer to him. In this case, the Papadopoulos news just confirms -- it's one more step confirming what we have been talking about for weeks, which is this culture of corruption around the president, whether it's his personal life, or his personal attorney, these close friends from Congress who were indicted, the fact that his campaign manager, his senior policy adviser, his national security adviser all have trouble with the law, when all of those things happen.

And there's one more piece of this that suggests the potential for more -- another conspiracy. That's when we're talking about it. Conspiracy theories are one thing, Jim, but real life conspiracies that might include the president of the United States thinking it's a good idea to meet with Putin ahead of the election, that's the kind of thing that Mueller needs to get to the bottom of.

He tweets this out, so that he hopes we will forget how important the Mueller investigation is. I won't, and the American people won't.

SCIUTTO: Do you -- what can Congress do if the White House were to -- and let's get on that point of Mueller, because it's Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, who's raised the possibility of invoking executive privilege to block portions or perhaps all of the Mueller report from going out or even from going to Congress.

What remedies do you see that Congress can do to stop that happening?

DEUTCH: Well, I'm -- my priority right now, I think our focus has to be on protecting the Mueller investigation, so that it can be completed, so that we can see this through wherever it takes us.

[18:15:07]

That's what's most important right now. Rudy Giuliani going on TV and saying that he doesn't -- he's -- he's going to chime in and not allow the Mueller report to become public, quite frankly, Rudy is the president's personal lawyer. I don't believe it's up to him to decide what happens with the Mueller report.

And in a matter like this, which has to do with the Russians' attack on our elections, and ultimately the conclusions drawn by Mueller after an exhaustive investigation into all of the parties involved, it's hard to believe that the American people would allow something like that to remain hidden in secrecy.

The secrecy that we've seen this weekend, Giuliani doesn't want this reported. (CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: The American people may want to see it, but what will Congress do? Do you trust your Republican colleagues to make sure the American people see that report? The fact is, you're a minority party. That could change in November, but it may not.

DEUTCH: Well, I'm only a minority party. I am in the majority. In fact, I am with 100 percent of my colleagues in Congress who swore to uphold the Constitution.

That's not a partisan issue. That's what we all did. Sadly, Jim -- and I know we have talked about this before. Sadly, for too many of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle, their sole focus has been on defending the president, instead of defending the Constitution.

They're going to have a moment -- and it's likely to come soon -- where they're going to have to choose which of those obligations is more important to them and the people they represent, and that ought to be an easy question to answer.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Ted Deutch, thanks so much for joining us today.

DEUTCH: Well, thanks, Jim. I always appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: All right, coming up, next: more breaking news.

The president -- is President Trump undermining the rule of law with his latest attack, one of many, on Attorney General Jeff Sessions?

Plus, more on Rudy Giuliani's plan to keep the public from seeing parts, perhaps all of the special counsel's report on the Russia investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:48]

SCIUTTO: The breaking news tonight, President Trump slamming Attorney General Jeff Sessions for allowing indictments against two Republican congressman ahead of the midterm elections, suggesting, in his view, perhaps, that Republican wins are more important.

Let's dig deeper now with our correspondents and specialists.

Ron Brownstein, your reaction to the president's attacks? Certainly not the first time he's gone after ongoing investigations or executive agencies run by his appointees, but this one seems particularly pointed.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it is just another reminder that there is no boundary, there is no boundary to his willingness to undermine any institution, particularly a law enforcement institution, that he thinks can threaten him or his interest. I also think, Jim, it is a reminder of what a charade we are living

through with the arguments from, say, a Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, that he has full competence in Jeff Sessions and he doesn't want him to go anywhere.

I think the indications could not be more clear, especially after this tweet today, that the president intends to fire the attorney general after the election. Lindsey Graham basically bought him a neon sign saying that Republicans would confirm a replacement. And they don't want to do that before the election, because they're afraid of the signal it would send to voters who worry about the lack of checks and balances.

But I think, once again, with the kind of language they used today, no one should have any illusions about what is coming, probably very soon after the November election.

SCIUTTO: Susan Hennessey, that is what's different now about Jeff Sessions' position.

The president has attacked him before, in fact, for months, more than a year, but he is slowly losing public support from prominent Republicans. Lindsey Graham is one of them, but others opening the door as well. Do you agree with Ron Brownstein that this could be the death knell for him?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't know.

I do think that this is -- Trump is crossing a line. We even are seeing sort of pushback from Paul Ryan. So, this actually might be something that we finally see a little bit of backbone from congressional Republicans.

Look, we should be clear about what the president is saying here. He's suggesting, in the face of prosecutors saying they're prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt these crimes, that the attorney general United States should intervene to protect a Republican because it is politically advantageous to his party.

That is the kind of thing that, if it was captured on secret tapes, we would be in impeachment hearings right now. But instead Trump right out in the open is suggesting that the job of the Department of Justice is to protect his friends and go after his enemies.

I mean, that's something that's not just an abuse of power. It is really antithetical to basic fundamental American values.

SCIUTTO: Well, let's look, David Swerdlick, because Susan brought them up, some of the reactions, just a very small number of reactions from Republican lawmakers.

But Paul Ryan's spokesperson put out a statement. Does not mention Trump at all, but does say: "The DOJ should always remain apolitical and the speaker has demonstrated he takes these charges seriously."

Paul Ryan's tended to be very conservative when he's disagreeing with the president.

Ben Sasse, who's been willing to go further -- and he does today. He said the following: "The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice, one for the majority party and one for the minority party. These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the president was when the investigations began. Instead of commenting on ongoing investigations and prosecutions, the job of the president of the United States is to defend the Constitution and protect the impartial administration of justice."

[18:25:10]

So, Ben Sasse does actually mention the president there.

But I got to say, when you do the final analysis, John McCain has passed away. He was a rare Republican willing to challenge the president. Lindsey Graham has undergone some sort of spiritual change, where he does the opposite now.

I mean, really, you have an increasing number of Republican voices willing to challenge.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, Jim, so Senator Sasse gave a pretty strong unequivocal statement there, But Senator Sasse does not control what goes on in the Senate.

Meanwhile, you have someone like Speaker Ryan, who does have a lot of clout on Capitol Hill. Obviously, he controls events in the House. But his statement, as he so often does, found the perfect line between nothing and nothing, just an obvious statement that we have a constitutional republic and we're a country of laws, but not suggesting that he will take any action to prevent the president from making good on the statements that were reflected in that tweet.

So I think when you combine that with the fact that more and more senators, like Senator Graham, are starting to come out publicly and described Sessions as a liability, when they're starting to come out and suggest that, after the elections, they might be more willing to acquiesce to what the president wants to do, I do think we are in a period where we have a serious concern about the president suggesting, as Susan said, openly that the Department of Justice should be essentially pursuing justice that favors Republicans in the election.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca Berg, Jeff Sessions has another potential issue here separate from the politics. And that is that George Papadopoulos, former Trump campaign adviser, in his sentencing document, he contradicts sworn testimony from Jeff Sessions regarding consideration during the 2016 campaign about a meeting between Trump and Putin.

Sessions testified, under oath, that he essentially rejected that idea. George Papadopoulos says the opposite, that he was open to the idea. How significant a legal problem for Jeff Sessions?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, this could be a significant problem. And, of course, George

Papadopoulos has his own agenda. He has his own narrative he wants to craft here, and he is hoping for a more lenient sentence. And so all of that likely is playing into his statement here into this issue that he's racing.

But, of course, perjury would be a major issue for Jeff Sessions. And there's some evidence that Mueller considers perjury relevant. In his most recent indictment, perjury, false statements to the Senate committee was one of the charges, one of the things mentioned in this indictment.

And so, for Jeff Sessions, that could be a very worrisome development, and certainly any false statements he has made to Congress could come back to haunt him.

SCIUTTO: Michael Flynn facing the same charge for lying to FBI investigators.

Ron Brownstein, I want you to watch something that Senator Lindsey Graham said just on Sunday. Have a listen, and I want you to react.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm going to look long and hard about the FBI abuse of the FISA warrant, about how the Department of Justice and the FBI, I think, just really were in the tank for Clinton and were out to get Trump early on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So that's Lindsey Graham, who'd been willing to challenge this president on a whole host of issues, now, in effect, repeating the president's attack on the Justice Department.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all, it was striking to see all of the ways Lindsey Graham this week signaled that the Republican Congress will continue to lock arms and protect the president after the election, exactly as, you know, his longtime colleague, mentor John McCain was being laid to rest.

And Graham has moved so far from that independent posture that defined him earlier in his career. As you mentioned, it is remarkable.

I will say that this a defining gamble for the Republican Congress in -- as we move closer to the November election, because they are sending an unmistakable signal that, if they retain the majorities, they will not move to create any more serious oversight, much less constraint, of the president.

And, Jim, we have been living in an era of politics that has become more parliamentary. If you look at every midterm election since the 1990s, somewhere between 83 to 87 percent of the people who disapprove of the president vote against his party's candidates for Congress in the midterm elections. In the last CNN poll, in the last Quinnipiac poll, that was up to 90 percent; 90 percent of the people who disagree with Trump said they were planning to vote Democratic for Congress this year.

And there are places where aligning with Trump will be a benefit, in some of these red states in the Senate. But there is no question that I believe this is the defining gamble that Republicans are taking in many of these swing districts that will define control of the House, where they're essentially saying to people who are ambivalent or worse about Trump that they will not change and they will not constrain or oversee him if they retain the majorities.

SCIUTTO: Well, we will see. The poll that really matters is the one on Election Day.

Thanks to everyone.

Just ahead: The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani tips his hand to our Jeffrey Toobin in a revealing interview for "The New Yorker." How effective is his strategy?

[18:30:04] Plus, the new TV show designed to boost Vladimir Putin's popularity at home.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: We're back now with our correspondents and specialists. Susan Hennessey, if we could talk about this.

The president and his lawyers' strategy, no secret, because Rudy Giuliani says it in magazine articles, in interviews, and says it on television. In this case, to our colleague Jeffrey Toobin in "The New Yorker," saying that the White House may attempt to keep parts or perhaps all of the Mueller report from being shared publicly or even with Congress by invoking executive privilege.

Is that something that an administration could do?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think it is a question. It's a little bit unclear what Giuliani is talking about. Because ordinarily, executive privilege is asserted against another branch.

You know, ultimately, they could try. That's going to be a question for a court to decide.

Now, they're unlikely to prevail in sort of the ordinary reasons why executive privilege would exist. Doesn't necessarily apply here. It's overwhelmingly in the public interest.

That said, if there is a report -- and again, we don't actually know that there will be a report, but if Rod Rosenstein does decide to refer that report to Congress, you know, I don't know anybody who's ever worked with the United States Congress who doesn't think that that document would be leaked almost immediately. So the notion here that, if there is a report, they're somehow going

to be able to prevent this from coming to the public, you know, I just don't think that strategy is going to work.

SCIUTTO: David Swerdlick, in the latest "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, 63 percent of Americans still support the Mueller investigation; 29 percent opposing. So more than 2-1 there. And that was after there were some dips in Robert Mueller's public support, his approval rating had dropped a bit. But it seems to be going in the opposite direction now.

Is that a relevant number to this president?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, Jim, I think it is and it isn't. On the one hand, 63 percent is a decent majority of Americans who say, "Look, we've been this far down the road. We've been talking about this for two weeks -- two years, rather. We want to know what's at the end of the rainbow of the Mueller special counsel investigation.

On the other hand, will it matter to the president? In this week's "Real Clear Politics" polling average, his approval is at 41.8 percent, which is slightly down, but it's still not that far down from where he was on inauguration day.

The president's strategy all along has been to hang onto his base. He knows that. If you look at numbers, you see that he still has his base. And so it's not clear to me that these numbers are game changer numbers that are going to influence the way the administration handles the Mueller investigation going forward, even though, yes, a lot of Americans want to know what he finds out.

SCIUTTO: The numbers, the average, and you do always want to watch the average. The most recent "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, it had lower than what has been the president's average, 36 percent, and that whopping 60 percent disapproval rating there.

Ron Brownstein, you made the point earlier that in polling, that a large portion of people who disapprove of a sitting president, you said I think even 90 percent in some polling, go on to vote -- go on to vote against his party in that midterm election.

While the president maintains his base, and that is a fact. It's pretty consistent. Does that large number who disapprove, does that get reflected in midterm results?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first, yes, I think the approval of the president on election day among the people who vote will be the single most important factor in the outcome of the midterm election. Full stop. I believe.

The 60 percent disapproval here, as you pointed out, is at the high end of what we have seen. But the president overall, he's polling somewhere around 40 percent, 42 percent approval at a moment when unemployment is 4 percent or less. But there are huge gaps in that. You know, he is stronger among older

blue-collar, evangelical and rural whites. He is weaker among younger voters. He's weaker among minority voters, and he's weaker among college-educated white voters, especially women.

The problem the Democrats have is that the first two groups on that list, young people and minority voters, traditionally vote less in midterm elections than they do in presidential elections. So one of the questions about November is how many of them turn out.

The other issue, though, I think, the one that's facing Republicans is many of these suburban districts is those college-educated white voters are reliable voters. And there is no question that the president has lower ratings with them than any other modern Republican, I think, national figure would have seen, largely about his temperament and the way he conducts himself. And as I said before, their choice to link arms with him so closely, even in these suburban districts, I think is the defining gamble for them in this 2018 election.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca Berg, you were in Pittsburgh today with the former vice president, Joe Biden, and former -- possible future presidential candidate in 2020. I'm curious what was the reaction was to him there? We often said during the Trump campaign that folks missed just how energetic and excited the reaction was for Donald Trump in the run-up for 2016. What did you see with Joe Biden?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, there was a lot of enthusiasm here for him, Jim. I should note that Pittsburgh is sort of Biden's home turf. He, of course, was raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as he likes to mention often in his stump speeches.

And he's been a fixture at this particular Labor Day parade, one of the biggest in the country, for many years. Senator Bob Casey, I was speaking with him during the parade, and he said he remembered Biden having been a part of this parade on and off for the past 25 years.

[18:40:08] So he's really sort of a hometown boy here in a sense. So there was a great deal of enthusiasm.

But of course, Biden has been one of the loudest voices among Democrats since the 2016 presidential election, calling for Democrats to speak to workers, to speak to their issues, to blue-collar voters, to talk about trade, talk about some of these other issues. And he was here doing that today, drawing a contrast with the president on trade, saying that President Trump isn't going about renegotiating NAFTA in the right way, that he would do it differently.

And so certainly, he is working on those issues that he sees, Biden sees, as being key to 2018 and also, you know, potentially, 2020. He wouldn't answer the question, what is he thinking, when is he going to make a decision? He said recently that he would decide in January. So he wasn't making any announcements today. But he said if he did run, he would spend a lot of time here in Pennsylvania.

SCIUTTO: All right. Well, thanks to all you folks for walking us through it.

Just ahead, Russian President Vladimir Putin turning to television to help boost his falling popularity.

Plus, breaking news. Millions of Americans are now under a hurricane warning as Tropical Storm Gordon gains strength.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:04] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Confirmation hearings for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh begin tomorrow. But as senators dig into his record, the Trump administration is withholding some 100,000 pages of documents related to Kavanaugh and his work.

CNN's Supreme Court reporter Ariane De Vogue, she has more.

Ariane, the administration says these documents are protected by a constitutional privilege? Is that right?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, these documents are going to be the first line of attack, Jim. And there are so many. There are thousands of documents.

Brett Kavanaugh is really the child of the Internet age. I mean, we have never seen a Supreme Court justice with so many documents, or a nominee. And Jeff Grassley said, look, I'll give you thousands of documents, but really you should judge him on the 300 opinions that he has issued.

But Democrats, as you said, they are really going to attack here. They have three attack lines. The first is they say a big load of the documents are currently called Committee Confidential, and they won't be used tomorrow. And what really bothers them is that the people who designated them, Committee Confidential, are the Trump and bush lawyers. And then there is another set documents from Kavanaugh's time as staff secretary, and Grassley refused to release those.

And then, finally, the ones you are talking about, 100,000 documents that the Trump White House says should be covered by the privilege. Those are -- could be really important documents. For instance, all his discussions about judicial nominees. So, really the documents issue is going to be a big topic of conversation tomorrow, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I seem to remember, Republican lawmakers accusing the Department of Justice of not releasing documents. But anyways, short memories in Washington.

DE VOGUE: Right.

SCIUTTO: Beyond the document issue, I mean, there are hot-button political legal issues that this court will decide and he will likely be a conservative swing vote for Roe v. Wade at the top of the list?

DE VOGUE: Well, look, most people think that he could be the fifth vote to either overturn Roe or at least really weaken it. And he has never said anything about it. He has never ruled directly on it, although his court just a couple of months ago, they ruled in favor of an undocumented teen who was seeking an abortion, and he dissented. He's also really praised Justice Scalia, Chief Justice Rehnquist.

So, there is a fear that he could be the fifth vote. And what's interesting is that he came out of a meeting with Susan Collins, right, a Republican who supports abortion rights, and she said, look, he said that Roe v. Wade is settled law. And she seemed satisfied.

But, Jim, that doesn't mean anything. Saying law is settled, that might hold for a lower court judge who has to follow Supreme Court precedent, but it doesn't really stop a sitting justice from deciding to overturn precedent. So, that case, the abortion issue, again, another key point that's going to come up a lot.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching. I know you'll be watching.

CNN's Arianne De Vogue, thanks very much.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Just ahead now, can a TV show help Russian President Vladimir Putin as he faces growing criticism from his own people?

Plus, breaking news. Millions of Americans are warned to brace for Gordon. We have a new forecast that's just out tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:54:04] SCIUTTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to boost his falling popularity at home with a new TV show.

CNN's Brian Todd has details.

Brian, no coincidence the show comes as Putin facing growing criticism from his own people on a whole host of issues.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jim. Absolutely no coincidence here. We are told tonight that Vladimir Putin and his inner circle are very worried about his falling approval ratings. This new show is a not so subtle attempt to try to win back the hearts of Russian people with classic Putin propaganda.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Hiking in the mountains, traversing lakes and rivers, projecting toughness and strength, staples of Vladimir Putin's image-building machine.

Now, part of a weekly show on Russian state TV titled "Moscow, Kremlin, Putin", a show devoted to depicting Putin as Russia's renaissance president, able to attend to the government's most crucial functions while visiting a mining operation, talking to schoolchildren, or engaging with a noted pianist.

[18:55:09] SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Classic Kremlin project to elevate Vladimir Putin and to humanize him at a time when he's under increasing fire from his own public. It's not an accident that this is occurring it seems to me right at a time when he is embroiled in a real political controversy.

TODD: That controversy has brought thousands of Russians into the streets this summer, protesting Putin's plan to raise the minimum age when Russians can start collecting their pensions. It's caused Putin's popularity to plummet. According to an independent polling group in Russia, his approval ratings, normally sky high at about 80 percent, dipped to 67 percent in July.

The new TV show almost smacks of a desperation to try to hike up those numbers. In one exchange with the host, Putin's spokesman gushes about the man known to intimidate and allegedly order the killings of those who cross him.

VLADIMIR SOLOVIEV, HOST, "MOSCOW, KREMLIN, PUTIN" (through translator): When Putin is talking to a mother and a child or just looks at the child, you can see how much he loves children. He has this very humane and his feelings for these children. You can't fake that.

DMITRY PESKOV, PUTIN'S SPOKESMAN (through translator): You know, Putin not only loves children, he just in general loves people. He's a very humane person. It's true. And this is what I see every day.

GLASSER: The slavish devotion to Putin is notable. It is a hallmark of authoritarian societies. And, you know, dear leader type propaganda.

TODD: Those falling poll numbers, analysts say, likely won't hurt Putin significantly for now. After 18 years in power, he just won re- election by a predictable and carefully engineered landslide. Neutering any serious opposition. But experts do see a possible Achilles heel down the road.

GLASSER: Actually, Vladimir Putin has a millennial problem. Russian millennials have grown up their entire lives basically, they have no conscious memory of a leader before Vladimir Putin. Young people today in Russia are increasingly alienated by some measures from Putin or at least the Kremlin is very worried about this new generation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, analysts say that even though Vladimir Putin's rule is secure for now, he is worried enough about his slide in popularity that he might try to pull off some kind of a drastic move to goose that popularity and do something that's worked for him in the past, something like an aggressive military move or maybe even an invasion like what he did in Crimea -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Alarming prospects, no question, but more protests could be coming soon. What are you expecting in the days ahead?

TODD: Well, Putin's main opponent, Alexei Navalny has called for more protests this coming weekend to call attention to the worsening economic conditions, and the Russian government is bracing for possible new U.S. sanctions that could threaten to hit their currency, the ruble, fairly hard. That would affect the spending power of ordinary Russians between that and the penchant move that Putin has made that's hitting them in their pocket books. They're pretty angry with them.

SCIUTTO: It's the economy stupid, how do you say that in Russian?

TODD: Right.

SCIUTTO: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Breaking news tonight. A hurricane warning is now in effect for parts of the Gulf Coast with residents being warned to brace for Hurricane Gordon.

CNN meteorologist Tom Sater tracking the storm for us.

Tom, a new forecast out from the National Hurricane Center we were talking earlier. Do we know better where the track is going to take the storm?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Jim, the track's been pretty much right on since this morning. I think a big story here is what a surprise for many residents. Just last night, it was just a cluster of storms in the Atlantic but once that center moved across South Florida and got into warm waters off the Keys, it wasn't even declared a tropical depression, it went right to a named tropical storm.

But the last advisory has changed that hurricane watch to a hurricane warning. Notice it up to the north there. It does not include New Orleans. It's just to the east. All the way over across Mobile Bay to the border of panhandle of Florida and Alabama. But the storm system wobbled a little bit earlier, moving towards Marco Island which, of course, had its damage from Irene or Irma, that is.

And now, the system is moving at a pretty good clip, 17 miles an hour. All the computer models are in good agreement where it wants to place it. It's the timing and intensity. Category one hurricane expected 10:00, 11:00 p.m. tomorrow night, give or take an hour. And that cone of uncertainty does cause it to maybe around Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, over toward around Mobile Bay.

Authorities in Biloxi are evacuating the harbor right now. Good news to do some evacuating. But there hasn't been much preparation time for this because it was just declared a storm this morning. But still, it looks like it's going to be moving in.

Now, because of its fast speed and forward movement, we may be able to keep those rain totals down, four to six inches, isolated, sure, could be nine or 10. But the tropical storm force winds are going to be broad enough, that obviously you down a branch or a power line, that's going to change everybody's week. But if we keep the rain totals down, it should be insignificant.

But every storm is different so this is one to watch, 10:00 tomorrow night. SCIUTTO: We'll be watching closely. Tom Sater, thanks very much.

I'm Jim Sciutto. Thanks very much for watching us.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.