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Toobin: How Rudy Giuliani Turned Into Trump's Clown; Tropical Storm Gordon Strengthens, Aims for Gulf Coast; Trump Blasts Sessions Over Indictments of GOP Congressmen; Dems Say Documents on Supreme Court Nominee Withheld on Purpose. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired September 4, 2018 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And is as outrageous, as filled with half-truths, falsehoods, as -- as Trump's Twitter feed is. And, you know, that's -- that's one way or of defending a client.
[07:00:17] I think a lot of us were surprised to see Giuliani, you know, go all in in this respect. But if you look at Giuliani's history, and that's something of what I do in the piece, you see that, you know, he never does anything halfway. And, you know, sometimes that has been a benefit. When he was -- you know, after 9/11, the way he sort of took the city on his back, the way he fought crime in New York City.
But he also, you know, was not a big believer in the First Amendment when he was mayor of New York. So this is not really a different Rudy Giuliani. It's just a different challenge that he's facing.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And the way you frame it, a walking, living, breathing, Twitter feed version. All right. Thank you very much, Jeffrey. Stand by.
TOOBIN: All right.
CAMEROTA: Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CAMEROTA: We do start with breaking news for you. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We begin with breaking news, because there's an urgent warning for more than two million people along the Gulf Coast. There's a Tropical Storm Gordon. It is gaining strength at this hour. It is forecast to make landfall tonight as a Category 1 hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center is expected to give us an update on the storm's intensity and the storm's track in the next hour, so that is vitally important for so many of our viewers. We'll have a live report from the Gulf Coast in moments.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here's a question for you. Should the federal government back off investigations and not charge people for alleged crimes because of what party they belong to? This is not a trick question, astoundingly, and this is not a hypothetical question. Shockingly, the president is signaling that the Justice Department, he thinks, should lay off charging two members of Congress, because they are Republicans, not to mention two of his earliest supporters.
Now there are those who will suggest the president doesn't understand how the Justice Department is supposed to work, but maybe he does understand exactly how it's supposed to work and just doesn't like it.
While that drama is playing out, confirmation hearings begin in just a few hours for the president's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. We're watching it all very closely.
We're going to begin, though, with the breaking news on the storm. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest on the forecast -- Chad.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: John, this hour yesterday, it was lashing South Florida. Now it's in the Gulf of Mexico, to the west of Tampa. Not really affecting Florida right now, but it will affect all of Mississippi, Alabama, western Panhandle of Florida and Louisiana later tonight.
Now, we're not going to really focus on the timing of this because, yes, landfall will be somewhere between 10 and midnight. But the worst conditions may arrive around 6 p.m. tonight, right around the outside of what may be an eye wall.
Now, right now it is still a 65 mile-per-hour T.S. It is not a hurricane. It is forecast to get there, but it's having some problems today. There are a number of areas here of convection that not around the center and not really spinning around the center, and the hurricane Hunter aircraft just found only a 55 mile-per-hour wind. That's good news.
Now, the water is warm. This could go anywhere. This could get back up there to 75 or even more than that, but it may stay less because of the disorganization this morning. Hurricane warnings from Biloxi all the way back over toward Pensacola, and that's what we're going to see today.
Cat 1 likely. That's the forecast. Lots of rain. But the big story is the surge, and our Jennifer Gray is right here where the surge will be greatest, three to five feet. If you're in that area and below three to five feet above sea level, you need to get out.
CAMEROTA: OK, Chad. That is a great warning for our viewers. Thank you very much.
So as Chad just said, Gordon is expected to make landfall tonight as a Category 1 hurricane. How is the Gulf Coast preparing?
Let's get to CNN's Jennifer Gray. She, as Chad said, is live in Gulfport, Mississippi, with more where the storm surge -- I know you're keeping an eye on it. What are you seeing, Jennifer?
JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Alisyn. I think the storm surge is the biggest concern for people here in Gulfport and, really, all along the Mississippi/Alabama coasts.
We are here at the Gulfport marina, where all of the boats have been asked to get out of the water by 2 p.m. this afternoon. But in fact, just in the past 30 seconds or so, we saw some people walking by. Everyone here trying to get their boats out while they can. If they don't, of course, there will be a penalty for them.
So two to four feet storm surge, three to five. That's enough for these boats to go over the dock and start banging together. So that's why they want the boats out of the water.
Also, four to eight inches of rain expected here. This is a very low- lying area. And so any amount of storm surge will definitely have an impact, especially with some of the major roads along these towns running right along the beaches.
[07:05:05] Those hurricane flags are flying high here today. Schools are closed. We are under a state of emergency here in Mississippi, as well as some of the other Gulf Coast -- Gulf Coast states.
So, people here are preparing. Everyone talking about the storm. We were out to dinner last night at the airport. This is what people are talking about today, and definitely some concern here along the Gulf Coast, John.
BERMAN: All right. We're watching it very closely. As we said, a new update from the National Hurricane Center in just a little bit. Jennifer, thank you very much.
In the meantime, just hours before President Trump's Supreme Court nominee faces the Senate, the president blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the indictments of his first two supporters in Congress.
The president seems to be suggesting that Sessions has now threatened Republican control of the House with criminal charges coming so close to the midterms. We don't know what's in the president's mind, but what seems crystal clear here is he doesn't want Republicans prosecuted.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill with the very latest here -- Sunlen.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
And the confirmation hearings up here on Capitol Hill for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is set to begin in a few hours. And it is expected to get contentious. Democrats are already outraged, frustrated by what they say is a concerted effort to withhold documents related to his time in the Bush White House.
SERFATY (voice-over): A late-night dump of 42,000 pages of documents related to Justice Brett Kavanaugh's time in the Bush White House on the eve of his confirmation hearing, escalating tension between Republicans and Democrats over transparency. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for the hearing to be
delayed, tweeting, "This underscores how absurd the process is. Not a single senator will be able to review these records before tomorrow."
Staffers for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley firing back, insisting that the majority has reviewed each and every one of the pages and is ready for today's hearing.
The fight over Kavanaugh's records intensifying after the Trump White House decided to withhold more than 100,000 pages of documents over the weekend, citing constitutional privilege.
REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: This is a life time appointment to the Supreme Court. The Trump administration simply said, nope, 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.
SERFATY: The Justice Department saying in a statement saying that they determined which documents were produced, noting, "The volume, depth and breadth of the production of Judge Kavanaugh's documents far surpasses the much smaller and narrower productions for previous nominees."
A Senate source telling CNN that Democrats are planning to focus on four key areas targeting Kavanaugh, including his truthfulness, his views on the Affordable Care Act and pre-existing conditions, Roe v. Wade, and executive power, including the ability to investigate a sitting president.
Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings kicking off as President Trump launches a new attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Justice Department's decision to bring criminal charges against the first two Republican congressmen to endorse President Trump's candidacy.
The president tweeting, "Two easy wins now in doubt. Good job, Jeff." Mr. Trump seemingly referring to the indictments of Congressman Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California. Collins has been charged with insider trading, while Hunter was indicted by a federal grand jury for misusing more than $250,000 in campaign funds.
Both men have pleaded not guilty, and both cases stem from investigations that began after President Trump took office, despite Mr. Trump's tweet stating otherwise.
Republican Senator Ben Sasse blasting the president in a strongly- worded statement, writing, "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."
SERFATY: And Congressman Hunter is expected to appear in court later this afternoon, and he is continuing to campaign for re-election, but Congressman Collins has suspended his re-election campaign -- John and Alisyn. CAMEROTA: OK, Sunlen, thank you very much for all of that background.
Let's discuss this with CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN political director David Chalian.
OK, Jeffrey Toobin. The president's tweet about how upset he is that his two long-time first supporters announced when he was, you know, running for president, Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, are being investigated and indicted. What do you see here in terms of does this mean the president is meddling in the Justice Department investigation?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You know, this tweet alone may be an impeachable offense. This is such a disgrace. This is so contrary to the traditions of the Department of Justice.
You know, I used to be a lowly assistant U.S. attorney. If I went to my supervisor and said, "You know, we shouldn't indict or investigate a member of the president's party, because he's a member of the president's party," I probably would have been suspended, if not fired.
[07:10:12] The sentiment at the core of that tweet is so contrary to the mission of the Department of Justice, and it's such an insult to the decent people who work there, the career prosecutors who work through Democratic and Republican administrations, it is -- you know, we wear ourselves out being outraged at things Donald Trump says. But this one really is different, because it is such an affront to the values of the Justice Department.
BERMAN: You know, as you pointed out, the tweet itself is factually wrong. The investigation, the Chris Collins investigation was not started under President Obama. We have footage of Chris Collins on the phone the day --
CAMEROTA: I think we have that.
BERMAN: -- that those trades were made --
CAMEROTA: The picnic at the White House.
BERMAN: -- at the White House, the Trump White House.
CAMEROTA: It's interesting to watch, just to see if he looks excited that he's getting an insider tip, if we can glean anything from the video. Of course, he's just accused. These investigations are not complete.
BERMAN: This appears to be still video of us here. So if you want to do a dramatic reenactment, go ahead.
CAMEROTA: Kick my heels up.
BERMAN: But I will note, it's not the wrongness that's the issue here. It's that it's dangerous beyond the wrong, the factual wrongness of it. It's dangerous, David, because he's saying that investigations should
should -- should -- be political. And so far we have Ben Sasse, frequent critic of the president, standing up and saying this is bad. You have Paul Ryan sort of sitting down, putting his spokesperson out and saying he doesn't like this very much and will talk about it later.
Do you expect this to stir up much Republican outrage, David?
CHALIAN: I don't expect it to stir up much Republican outrage, just because, while Donald Trump breaks with tradition at every turn, Republicans do seem to sort of stay in line.
Nonetheless, I'm just listening to Jeffrey talk about sort of what's at the core of how the Justice Department works and the sensibility about not getting involved.
Do you guys remember back at the beginning of the Obama administration when President Obama weighed in on an arrest of Skip Gates, a Harvard professor, and a police officer; and they needed to have a beer summit at the White House, because the president got involved in something that perhaps he should have stayed out of.
CHALIAN: It was, like, unbelievable. It was world coverage. And President Trump constantly is inserting himself into what had been, for all presidents, this notion of some independent distance from justice working its will.
CAMEROTA: I mean, and Jeffrey, just to remind people, just so that they know what we're talking about, so Chris Collins's indictment highlights evidence that he was doing insider trading, including what we're talking about at that White House picnic.
And then Duncan Hunter, there's all sorts of evidence that the Justice Department has presented about how he was misusing a quarter million dollars of campaign funds on a $14,000 Italian vacation, on groceries, on other household items, on getting his wife different positions on the campaign, et cetera, et cetera.
And so, you know, I think the president -- the president's time line is wrong in terms of when the Department of Justice investigation began; but the bad behavior that is certainly receiving scrutiny did start in 2016, when the president could have seen some of that.
TOOBIN: But, you know, all of that is true, but the relevant factor here is that the president is saying that they should be treated differently, because they're Republicans and not Democrats. That's what's outrageous about this tweet.
I mean, the fact that he made yet another mistake in the timing, I mean, I don't really care about that. But the fact is these are perfectly routine public corruption cases. They have no political content. You know, insider trading, stealing from your campaign contributors. Democrats do it; Republicans do it. But the point, the outrage here is the president is saying the Justice
Department should treat these two differently, because they're Republicans; and they had safe seats, and they shouldn't have been indicted. That's what's so outrageous about this.
CHALIAN: Well, we should add one more thing to that, Jeffrey, right? It's because they're Trump-supporting Republicans. That's really what it is. I don't know that he would come in here for any Republican that may have been not so supportive of him. These were his two first endorsers.
TOOBIN: Right. But remember, I mean, John Boehner said not long ago -- and I just think this was -- there is no Republican Party anymore. There's just a Trump party.
I mean, you have Ben Sasse, who basically supports the president across the board, he says, "Oh, this is terrible." But then he doesn't do anything about it. Not even the rest of them say anything is terrible. This is the Republican Party today. They have completely surrendered their consciences to Trump. They all know how wrong this is. But they're afraid of him, so they say nothing.
BERMAN: Well, the question is, what could they do --
CAMEROTA: Yes. What can Ben Sasse do?
BERMAN: -- if they wanted to? There are some who suggest, David, that Ben Sasse should hold up the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh today. He's on the committee. I don't see that happening. I don't think Ben Sasse sees that as a reasonable way to address the problems he sees.
[07:15:07] The question is what could they do about this tweet? If this tweet is so wrong, what could they do, David?
CHALIAN: Well, they certainly have oversight responsibility. They could hold a hearing about it. I would imagine, if the Democrats do win control of the House, it's exactly this kind of a thing -- I know there's a lot of talk about impeachment, but it's this kind of a thing that will start taking place in Washington that hasn't, which is they, no doubt, will sort of call for hearings and investigate in terms of their oversight responsibility.
BERMAN: Hey, guys, we just got some of the excerpts of the opening statements that Brett Kavanaugh will give. And this is happening in just two hours and fifteen minutes from now. I'm seeing this for the first time. So let me do a --
CAMEROTA: Dramatic reading.
BERMAN: -- dramatic reading, if we will.
BERMAN: "A good judge must be an umpire, a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy. I don't decide cases based on personal or policy preferences. I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro- defendant judge. I'm not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge."
CAMEROTA: That's a good start.
BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin.
Toobin: Well, you know, that image of the president [SIC] as an umpire is something that John Roberts used in his confirm -- very successful confirmation hearings. And those sentiments are certainly very admirable.
But let's remember how Brett Kavanaugh was picked and by whom. You know, Donald Trump said, "If I have two appointments to the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned." And you know what? Donald Trump was right. Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned if -- if Brett Kavanaugh is appointed.
CAMEROTA: But how do you know that? Hold on, Jeffrey. How do you -- how can you say that so definitively when, you know, we just had one of his clerks on who says that he follows precedent and that there's not a suggestion that it will certainly be overturned.
TOOBIN: The only people who don't think Roe v. Wade -- you know who are not saying Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned are the people who have dedicated their lives to overturning Roe v. Wade. They have suddenly discovered, "Oh, wow, this is maybe a great big mystery."
Donald Trump outsourced the selection -- remember he has this big list of people. You know, it's 20 people, 15 people. It's very --
CAMEROTA: To the Federalist Society.
TOOBIN: -- to the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society is built on the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade; of declaring affirmative action unconstitutional; of saying that religious people can keep gay people out of their bakeries, out of their hotels, out of their restaurants. This is a platform of issues that that -- that's what matters to them. That's why Brett Kavanaugh was picked. Of course, he's going to say, "I'm keeping an open mind."
You know, Susan Collins is free to delude herself into thinking that Brett Kavanaugh has no opinion about the future of Roe v. Wade and thinks it's settled law. Come on. Let's at least be honest.
You know what? A lot of people think Roe v. Wade should be overturned. They should -- they want a Supreme Court justice on -- you know, their Supreme Court justice. But let's be honest about who these people are, not, you know, pretending that there are open questions when they're not.
BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, David Chalian, thank you for joining us. I appreciate it.
Jeffrey fresh off his work on "The New Yorker."
CAMEROTA: Yes, everybody --
BERMAN: Finding time for a little bit of TV.
CAMEROTA: Everyone should read Jeffrey's article in "The New Yorker" on Rudy Giuliani.
All right. Meanwhile, President Trump's tweet to Jeff Sessions basically giving senators new questions to ask Brett Kavanaugh about, about the Justice Department, about presidential powers, about their separation. So Senator Chris Coons is going to join us with his questions, next.
[07:22:43] CAMEROTA: About two hours from now, the confirmation hearings begin for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. At the same time, there is a new tweet by President Trump that could bring new questions for Brett Kavanaugh.
The president is blasting his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, again over the indictments of two Republican congressmen who are big Trump supporters.
Joining us now to talk about all of this is Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He serves on the Judiciary Committee. It is holding today's hearing.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Good morning, Alisyn. Great to be on with you again.
CAMEROTA: Great to have you on. So let me read to you the first portion of the president's tweet that we are all talking about this morning. Here it is: "Two 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 is not enough time. Good job, Jeff."
Senator, we just heard from our own Jeff Toobin, great legal mind, as you know, who said that he thinks that this is an impeachable offense. Do you agree?
COONS: Well, Alisyn, those tweets are wrong on the law and wrong on the facts, as Jeffrey Toobin was just saying. These aren't long- running Obama-era investigations. These are investigations done by career prosecutors of the Department of Justice, which is supposed to be independent of partisan politics.
And the president is wrong on the law. He is dragging the Department of Justice off its long-standing perch as the gold standard for prosecution in the world, as something that's been an independent of presidential influence agency for so long.
And these aren't just two popular Republicans. These are, as you said in your last segment, the first two Republican congressmen who endorsed President Trump. And they've been investigated and indicted on garden-variety criminal activity by congressmen: insider trading in the case of Chris Collins, and stealing from his campaign funds to benefit his family in the case of Duncan Hunter Jr.
And that President Trump continues to insist in seeing the Department of Justice as his own personal arm to settle political scores or advance his political allies is a genuine threat to our democracy. It's just another in a long series of profoundly concerning things this president has done.
[07:25:05] And I suspect this will end up being both brought up in the hearings with Judge Kavanaugh and further justifies questions that senators like myself have about why President Trump picked this particular judge to nominate to the Supreme Court at this time.
CAMEROTA: But before we get to those questions -- and I do want to get there -- Jeffrey Toobin suggests this is no ordinary tweet. Look, the president often has fact-free tweets. But this, to Jeffrey Toobin, crossed the line into what he would consider impeachable offense that the president is meddling -- I mean, this is how he sees it -- in a Justice Department criminal investigation.
CAMEROTA: I mean, you point out that the president doesn't draw any line, doesn't see a distinction between the branches of government.
COONS: Right. I'll remind you, Alisyn --
CAMEROTA: So -- so just connect those dots for us. Do you think that that rises to the level of something impeachable?
COONS: Alisyn, as you know, in the structure of impeachment, senators end up being the jury. So I think rather than prejudging any particular charge, I'll say this is another outrageous act by the president that shows his complete lack of respect for the Department of Justice.
He swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. So did Attorney General Sessions and everybody at the Department of Justice. They swore to uphold the Constitution, not to be the private law enforcement agency of the Trump Organization.
Let me move on to what I think is the most concerning question about Judge Kavanaugh. I've known Judge Kavanaugh since law school, known him or known of him. We went to the same law school. We clerked in the same courthouse. He's just a few years ahead of me. What we'll see in today's hearing is evidence that he is a lovely man, a nice husband and father, that he's got wonderful children and a great family and that his neighbors and clerks like him. And that's wonderful, but that's not the point.
The point is that as a judge, as a lawyer, as a participant, a partisan participant in some of the greatest partisan battles of our lifetime, from the Judge Starr investigation of the Clinton presidency to the Bush v. Gore recount, he is someone who has staked out positions at the far end of the judicial mainstream in America. And on the particular question of whether the president can or should
be able to fire a special counsel at will --
COONS: - whether he can refuse to obey a subpoena for evidence, Judge Kavanaugh has been very clear in law review articles, in speeches and in opinions as a D.C. circuit judge.
I'm going to press him on whether he still holds those opinions and whether that might have been the reason that he got added to the list of judges that were ultimately put forward to President Trump and why he might have been chosen by President Trump as a nominee for the Supreme Court.
CAMEROTA: Meaning -- meaning that it is clear to you that Judge Kavanaugh does not believe a sitting president can be indicted or subpoenaed or even investigated? You're basing that on his 2009 Minnesota law review?
Not yes but many others. He has spoken and written about this topic for over 20 years. And as I'm sure you know, Alisyn, there's a landmark Supreme Court case that's 20 years old, Morrison v. Olson. And Judge Kavanaugh has repeatedly called it out as the one case that he wants to overturn, the one case that Justice Rehnquist wrote that he strongly disagrees with, the one case where he has repeatedly cited Scalia's lone dissent. In fact, he cited it 20 times.
And in a case just last year, he disagreed with his own circuit court, the D.C. Circuit court, and obviously, he disagreed with the Supreme Court.
The question whether or not a Supreme Court justice will overturn settled precedent is central to these confirmation hearings. And I think it's pretty clear exactly what precedent Judge Kavanaugh, if he becomes Justice Kavanaugh, will be gunning for from his first day.
CAMEROTA: Well, Senator, I will tell you what he's going to say, because we have a little preview of his comments right here. These excerpts have just been released. Here is what he's going to say. A good judge must be an umpire, neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy. I don't decide cases based on personal or policy preferences. I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge."
I mean, he's going to say all the right things.
COONS: That's right.
CAMEROTA: All the things that you would want him to say. And so how are you going to get him to answer that definitively, your burning questions?
COONS: It will be very difficult to get him to answer, in front of us in this confirmation hearing process, those questions definitively. But I'll give you two points that I think are relevant here.
Now Justice Gorsuch last year sat before us in the same confirmation process and cited his own book on precedent, a book which Judge Kavanaugh helped co-write. And yet Justice Gorsuch has, in this last year, voted on five occasions to overturn long-settled precedent.
Since yesterday was Labor Day, I'll give you one key example. In the Janus case, a new conservative majority on this court overturned a 40- year-old precedent delivering a gut punch to public unions.
So I don't believe a candidate who comes in front of us, a nominee, who says, "Well, I respect precedent. I'm an umpire".