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Republicans Increase Pressure on Kavanaugh Accuser to Testify; Trump: Accusation Against Kavanaugh 'Very Unfair'; Trump Admits He Didn't Read Documents He Ordered Declassified. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 19, 2018 - 17:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And we're maybe happy to have the chuckle today. Appreciate it. Thank you.

[17:00:10] Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Happening now, supreme stand-off. Republicans want to hear from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's accuser while she and Democrats demand an FBI investigation into an alleged sexual assault three decades ago.

Insulting Sessions. President Trump lobs some of his harshest insults yet at Jeff Sessions, including saying, quote, "I don't have an attorney general." Why does the president continue to humiliate and belittle Sessions instead of just firing him?

Redaction reaction. President Trump admits he hasn't read Russia investigation documents that he declassified in an unprecedented move. The Justice Department and national intelligence are working on redacting them. Is the president politicizing intelligence?

And summit success. North and South Korea commit to a new era of peace with Kim Jong-un, agreeing to close two key weapons facilities but with conditions the U.S. is unlikely to accept. Is Kim really looking for peace or hoping to dominate the entire Korean Peninsula?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Republicans are increasing pressure tonight on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's accuser to testify about what she says was a sexual assault at a high-school party three decades ago, and they're rejecting her demand for an FBI investigation as a precondition of any testimony.

We'll talk about that and more this hour with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents, specialists and analysts, they're also standing by.

But firs, let's go to CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, Republicans including President Trump are making it clear there won't be an FBI investigation into this allegation against Judge Kavanaugh. SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly

right, Jim. And in fact, the chairman of the Senate Foreign -- Judiciary Committee today, Chuck Grassley, flatly dismissing that as an option today on Capitol Hill. He is focused on getting her to testify one way or the other, whether it be in public or in private, at her home in California or up here on Capitol Hill, it's certainly increasing the pressure on her to potentially testify.

Republicans also making it crystal clear along the way that they are pushing ahead, likely with or without her.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really want to see her. I really would want to see what she has to say.

SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, the high-stakes showdown is intensifying, with battle lines being drawn over Christine Blasey Ford's potential testimony on Capitol Hill.

TRUMP: If she shows up, that would be wonderful. If she doesn't show up, that would be unfortunate.

SERFATY: The White House and Republicans now in lock step, saying they are ready and waiting for Ford to testify on Monday. Sources tell CNN Grassley is offering to have his committee interview her in California, in private or in a public hearing room on Capitol Hill.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Where I'm focused right now, is doing everything that we can to make Dr. Ford comfortable with coming before a committee, either in an open session or a closed session or a public or a private interview.

That's four different ways you can choose to come.

SERFATY: And dismissing calls by Ford for an FBI investigation to happen first before she testified.

GRASSLEY: I'm not worried about anything other than just focusing for the next few days on encouraging her to come.

SERFATY: Chairman Grassley responding today to this letter, sent to the committee. Ford's lawyers saying she would not testify before the committee without an FBI investigation of her allegations against Kavanaugh first, because it will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a nonpartisan manner and that the committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions.

LISA BANKS, ATTORNEY FOR CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: The senators who have come forward and said they want to take it seriously mean that, then they'll have an investigation of these allegations so that we all go into this more informed.

SERFATY: Some Republicans are calling foul. Senator Lindsey Graham saying that requiring an FBI investigation is not about finding the truth but delaying the process until after the midterm elections.

There is some precedent in the past.

ANITA HILL, TESTIFIED AGAINST JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS FOR SEXUAL HARASSMENT: When the FBI investigation took place, I tried to answer their questions directly, as I recall.

SERFATY: In 1991 during the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, the White House called for an investigation. It only delayed the committee hearing for three days.

HILL: The hearing questions need to have a frame. And the investigation is the best frame for that, a neutral investigation that can pull together the facts, create a record so that the senators can draw on the information they receive to develop their questions.

[17:05:12] SERFATY: Meantime, two former classmates of Kavanaugh's are denying any knowledge of the party. The latest, Patrick J. Smith, saying today, "I have no knowledge of the party in question. Nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct she has leveled against Brett Kavanaugh."

All this as Republicans are starting to coalesce around the message, if Ford does not show up on Monday, it will be time to move ahead with a vote.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE (via phone): I think it's not fair to Judge Kavanaugh for her not to come forward and testify.


SERFATY: And Collins's voice here, such an important and significant one, given the fact that she's a moderate Republican and potential swing vote. So many Republicans really taken the temperature of what she says and how, potentially, where this is potentially headed.

Now, I should tell you, Jim, there was a new letter just sent out just moments ago by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, rejecting these Democratic calls to delay Monday's hearing, of course, to make room for a potential FBI investigation. He says in this letter that he's given Ford many options, which we outlined earlier to testify in public, in private, in California or up here on Capitol Hill, or anywhere else, he says in this letter. And he said he, of course, would keep the private session "with me; the matter would be kept confidential."

So again, Jim, just another iteration of this long back and forth that continues at this hour.

ACOSTA: All right. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, thanks for that update. Appreciate it.

President Trump was weighing in on the controversy and standing by his nominee. CNN's senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is working on that part of the story. Jeff, the president is also urging Kavanaugh's accuser to testify that

the Judiciary Committee, he said earlier today, he does want to see her testimony.

ZELENY: Jim, he did. The president was quite clear on that earlier today. He says, "I really want to hear what she has to say."

But in the next breath, the president also said this entire process, he believes, has been unfair to Judge Kavanaugh.

Now, Judge Kavanaugh, for his part, spending the third straight day preparing for that Monday public hearing. The only question: if it happens or not.


TRUMP: He is such an outstanding man. Very hard for me to imagine that anything happened.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump not only standing behind Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh tonight but subtly questioning the credibility of the woman accusing him of sexual assault.

TRUMP: Really, they're hurting somebody's life very badly. And it's very unfair, I think, to -- as you know, Justice Kavanaugh has been treated very, very tough.

ZELENY: The president expressing confidence about Kavanaugh's confirmation, repeatedly referring to the federal judge as "Justice."

TRUMP: Justice Kavanaugh --

Justice Kavanaugh --

ZELENY: But the president also saying today he's eager to hear from Christine Blasey Ford, who accuses Kavanaugh of pinning her to a bed and groping her during a party more than three decades ago in high school, allegations Kavanaugh categorically denies.

TRUMP: If she shows up and makes a credible showing, that will be very interesting. And we'll have to make a decision.

ZELENY: The president dismissions calls for the FBI to investigate, as Democrats and Ford have requested.

TRUMP: Well, it would seem that the FBI really doesn't do that. They've investigated -- they've investigated about six times before, and it seems that they don't do that.

ZELENY: Yet, that's exactly what happened in 1991 when Anita Hill made sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas.

CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: The Anita Hill who worked for me.

ZELENY: The White House ordered the FBI to investigate and send its findings to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile today, the president expressing more outrage at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, expanding his criticism beyond his recusal in the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: I'm disappointed in the attorney general for numerous reasons.

ZELENY: The president was even more blunt during an interview with "The Hill," saying "I don't have an attorney general. It's very sad."

It's the latest accusation of disloyalty from the president, even though the role of attorney general is to leave the Justice Department, not serve as the president's personal lawyer.

"He wanted to be attorney general, and I didn't see it, but he came very strongly," the president said. "He went through the nominating process, and he did very poorly. I mean, he was mixed up and confused. And people that worked with him for, you know, a long time in the Senate were not nice to him. That was a rough time for him."

All this as the president visited North and South Carolina today, where at least 36 people have died in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

TRUMP: To all those impacted by this terrible storm, our entire American family is with you and ready to help, and you will recover.

ZELENY: The president toured a flood-ravaged neighborhood in Newburn, North Carolina, handing out lunches --

TRUMP: How many do you need?

ZELENY: -- and hugs.


ZELENY: The president also asked about something close to his heart.

TRUMP: How is Lake Norman, that area. How is that doing? I love that area. I just -- I can't tell you why, but I love that area.

[17:10:06] ZELENY: The Trump National Golf Club, located on the shores of Lake Norman near Charlotte, that largely escaped the storm's wrath.


ZELENY: Now, the president is flying back to the White House at this hour where, certainly, this confirmation battle is waiting for him and one of the things that is hanging over his administration.

But the president was asked earlier today, Jim, if he's been expressing so often how he feels badly for Judge Kavanaugh. A reporter asked the president, "How do you feel for the accuser?" That California professor.

Jim, this is what the president said. He said, "We'll have to see what she has to say. I've given her a lot of time. The senators have given her a lot of time. We continue to give her a lot of time. We have held up the whole hearing. He goes on and on, never expresses a bit of empathy for her.

But he clearly says he still -- and Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, want to hear from her. So that again, Jim, is the question hanging over all of Washington. Will that hearing happen? Will she testify in public or private if at all, Jim?

ACOSTA: That is the big question. CNN's Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a member of the Armed Services Committee. Senator, thanks for joining us.


ACOSTA: On Monday, Professor Ford's lawyer said her client would be willing to testify publicly before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And as you know, she is now asking for an investigation first.

What do you make of that change? And what do you think changed her calculation?

GILLIBRAND: I don't think it's a calculation. I think it's basic fairness. There should be an investigation by the FBI, because they're nonpartisan. They'll do an objective investigation of the facts, present those facts to the Judiciary Committee.

And this is exactly the process you do for all judicial nominees, especially for the Supreme Court. You have to have a background check on this specific allegation, which wasn't done in the previous background check. They afforded the same investigation during the Anita Hill hearing. It's absurd that 27 years later, we can't do better than what we did 27 years ago.

And so we need to at least have the investigation done so the facts can be presented. And then when you do have the hearing, witnesses should be allowed. We should allow the corroborating witnesses. It's outrageous that they just want a "he said-she said" with just Dr. Ford with Judge Kavanaugh.

ZELENY: And you said you support Professor Ford's request for an FBI investigation, but Senator Grassley, as you know, from the Judiciary Committee, says, quote -- and I can read this to you -- "Nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee."

Why is an investigation so important in your view? And what do you make of what we're hearing from Senator Grassley, which is that this hearing has to happen on Monday. If not, they'll send investigators or staffers out to talk to her. It seems as though the senator is saying he wants this over with.

GILLIBRAND: Well, staffers aren't nonpartisan, first of all. And they're not professionals in the same way the FBI are.

Second, there are corroborating witnesses here. There was a witness to the actual event in Mark Judge. And so he should be questioned under oath by the FBI and then asked to testify in the hearing, also under oath.

And this is a woman who is literally -- she has no reason to lie. She is asking for a federal investigation by the FBI knowing, that if he made a false statement, it would be under penalty of perjury, and it would be a felony. She's asking for the oversight and accountability to be done.

Who's not asking for it? The White House. They're the ones who are not allowing the FBI to do it. And neither are the other witnesses. The fact that Mark Judge doesn't want to testify, well, maybe he doesn't want to be under oath.

And so that is a red flag to me that they are trying to railroad this. They're trying to create a sham hearing on Monday.

There is no rush for this. They have not given her time. And to not even have the courtesy of an investigation of the facts first and then have corroborating witnesses? Anita Hill had not only an FBI investigation, but she had 22 witnesses on her allegations, with more witnesses that wanted to testify.

This sounds like a sham hearing designed only to have a he said-she said. But the truth is, I believe her. She has a credible allegation against Judge Kavanaugh. She told her therapist five years about it, her husband. She told a friend a year ago. She told a reporter before Judge Kavanaugh was even nominated. This is all indication of truthfulness. And now she wants an FBI investigation to get to the facts.

I believe her, and I think the women of America should be paying attention right now to how the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are treating a woman who wants to testify to make sure that someone who gets a lifetime appointment has the character necessary to be a Supreme Court justice.

ZELENY: And Senator Grassley just point out this statement, and he's saying that "I am following" -- this is a quote from him -- "I am following the same time line Chairman Biden did after Professor Hill's allegations were made public." Grassley wrote that "It would be a disservice to Dr. Ford, Judge Kavanaugh and this committee and the American people to delay this hearing any further."

He's shutting down the idea of pushing this past next Monday. What is your message to Senator Grassley?

GILLIBRAND: Well, I would urge my colleagues to allow the FBI to do the investigation, to get to the facts. What are they hiding? What are they worried about?

[17:15:06] These questions should be asked under oath to Mark Judge and to others who may actually have corroborating information about the event and that those individuals should also be asked to testify.

Because when you have corroborating evidence and relevant evidence, you want to have the whole picture when you're making the decision of who do you believe? And I believe Judge Ford. I believe Dr. Ford. I think what she's told is truthful.


GILLIBRAND: I think what she's told is honest. And I just don't think they are following the procedures. And they're not allowing with investigation, where they did in Anita Hill, and they're not allowing corroborating witnesses, as they did in Anita Hill.

ACOSTA: And Senator Gillibrand, two quick questions.

First of all, respond to President Trump, if you can, who said earlier today that, if Professor Ford makes a credible showing, he'll have to make a decision. But he also said it's very hard for him to imagine that anything happened.

Do you think the president is showing enough empathy for Dr. Ford? And why is it that he seems to show more empathy for Judge Kavanaugh than for the accuser in this case?

GILLIBRAND: Well, because he has over a dozen credible accusers against him for sexual harassment and sexual assault, and he has not shown empathy towards women. He doesn't believe women. And I don't think he actually values women, given how much he said in the past about women; misogynistic comments and constantly trying to undermine women's rights. His goal in appointing Kavanaugh was to find a judge who would undermine and overturn Roe v. Wade. He does not support women's rights to make decisions about their own bodies, and neither does his nominee for the court.

ACOSTA: And Senator, finally, I know you worked on a lot of these issues for many years up on Capitol Hill, especially with respect to the military. So you do have some expertise in this area. Professor Ford is now faced with an incredibly difficult decision on whether to testify on Monday. It does sound as though she's hit the pause button on some of this.

What would your advice be to Professor Ford, if you would give her advice, if you could speak directly to her? What would you say to her?

GILLIBRAND: Well, you know, I -- I stand with her. And she is being bullied by this committee. It's outrageous that this committee has not moved forward, despite the rest of the world. They're stuck in decades ago. They literally are frozen in time. And not only should she be given the opportunity to testify, which she has asked for; she's asked to cooperate. She's asked for an investigation which is the minimum that should be afforded her. She will want to have the corroborating witnesses testify, too, so the full story can be testified to under oath.

And so I believe her. I stand with her. And -- ACOSTA: Do you hope she shows up on Monday? Do you hope that she testifies?

GILLIBRAND: I don't think she should be bullied into this scenario, where it's a he said-she said, where many members of the committee have already made up their minds. Without the benefit of an FBI investigation, where it's not partisan and objective, and without the benefit of corroborating witnesses being able to testify, it's a sham hearing. And I don't think she should participate in it.

ACOSTA: OK. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it. Good talking to you.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you.

ACOSTA: More on the Kavanaugh controversy ahead. Will Republicans go forward with a vote without hearing from the Supreme Court nominee's accuser?

Plus, President Trump admitting he didn't read the Russia investigation document that he just declassified in a move raising new concern about politicizing intelligence.


[17:22:55] ACOSTA: It's an unprecedented move raising new concerns about politicizing intelligence, and now President Trump has admitted he didn't even read the documents from the Russia investigation that he declassified.

CNN's justice correspondent Evan Perez joins us now. And Evan, is there a concern that the president is asking to declassify documents that he hasn't read? I suppose he can't read all of the documents.


ACOSTA: But I mean, you would think he's read some of them.

PEREZ: Right. You'd think he would have read at least the ones before he signed this memo.

But we do know that some of the pages in particular that he has identified for declassification, actually, the pages that were identified by Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and which sort of -- which sort of lines up with what we've known, which is that members of Congress, his supporters, have been selectively leaking some of this stuff into the right-wing media to try to get the president worked up, to be able to declassify some of these things.

And "As one of my crowning achievements, that I was able to expose something that is truly a cancer in our country." He's referring to the Mueller investigation, of course, in part. But really, what he is getting at is that, you know, he believes and his allies believe that these documents are going to show that the beginnings of this investigation were done shoddily, that it was done in bad faith by the FBI, that they were doing things that they should not have done. There was malpractice, really, by the FBI.

And then we'll see where -- when this lands when these -- when these documents do finally come out.

ACOSTA: And I wonder will there be pushback from the justice and intelligence communities? Because you would have to think that inside those communities, they're upset about this. They don't want to do this. But I'm not sure there's much that they can do about this.

PEREZ: There isn't. The president is the ultimate declassification authority in this country. He can decide -- frankly, if he wanted to, he could just take these documents and put them out on his Twitter feed, if he wants to. But --

ACOSTA: He might do that.

PEREZ: He just might. I don't want to give him any ideas.


PEREZ: But we do expect that they are -- right now they're going through these documents. They're identifying things that they really believe need to be hidden, including some of the sources of this intelligence that made -- that was behind the FISA application to do surveillance on Carter Page, including things that came from foreign governments, for instance.

[17:25:11] And of course, there is the Privacy Act, which has do with protecting people's private information. So we expect that all of that is going to be identified by the Justice Department, by the director of national intelligence, people who are doing the work behind the scenes. They're going to go up to the president, and then the president can decide whether to push back and say, "I want it all."

By the way, the Democrats have written a letter, asking for the Justice Department and the FBI to identify exactly what they want to be redacted so that they can then litigate this, I suppose, in the public sphere.

ACOSTA: Everybody scrambling to figure out what the president is up to here. CNN's Evan Perez, thank you very much.

Breaking news next. The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee rejects Democratic calls to delay Monday's hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser.

Plus, President Trump's new attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Is it part of a broader strategy to make the case for firing him?


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: All right. This evening's breaking news, a new letter released tonight. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley rejected Democratic calls to delay Monday's hearing at which scheduled Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Judge Christine Blasey Ford are scheduled to testify. Ford accuses Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her years ago when they were both teenagers. Kavanaugh denies it. Ford wants an FBI investigation before she accepts -- excuse me -- the Judiciary Committee's offer to testify.

[17:31:09] Let's talk to political experts and legal experts on all of this.

And guys, let me go to you first, Mark Preston. What do you make of Grassley saying here the -- I mean, the middle of the week here. Days are -- days are going by. Monday is getting closer. That he does not want to delay this hearing set for hearing any further?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple things. I mean, clearly, Republicans want to try to get Kavanaugh through to -- in order to take over the majority of the court in an ideological way that they haven't had in a very, very long time.

Having said that, this is an incredibly complicated situation. It's very unprecedented to think you can have a victim come forward and actually give public testimony. So that in itself is unprecedented.

We know that she's receiving death threats and all of us, in some way, shape or form, have probably received death threats, given this political environment we're in.

So it is insane to think that they're going to put a deadline on when she comes in that's going to be so quick.

The question is, though, will the FBI come back in and do part of an investigation. Grassley doesn't want that to happen. He also says that's not their role; it's the role of the committee.

This is incredibly complicated. That is why, for the reason alone that this should be put on pause.

ACOSTA: And Nia-Malika Henderson, I mean, the chairman is saying that he doesn't want to delay things. But you heard Senator Gillibrand earlier on this program saying that -- you know, that Christine Blasey Ford is not going to be bullied in all of this.

I mean, there is -- there is a potential backlash here for the senators if they try to ram this into a Monday schedule when, really, they have all the time in the world. They don't have to have it on Monday.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a completely made-up deadline. The original deadline was Thursday for putting this through a committee vote. That was switched to Monday. Apparently, the date was set even before they really talked to her.

It seems like they want this to be a very -- you talk about it being complicated. They, in some ways, want it to be simple, right? So they have set this date for Monday. They only want two people to testify, essentially, because they want it to be he said-she said. I think the problem if you're Dr. -- Professor Ford, is you don't know

what to suspect, right? Sort of the terms of this haven't been set. Are the lawyers going to be there; are they questioning her? Are the senators going to be asking her questions? Is it five minutes for each senator? So it's a little hard, I think, to kind of press her, implore her to testify, given the fact that she doesn't really know that it is, and she doesn't agree to any terms yet. And she wants the FBI to get in there first and sort of set the terms of what the questioning and the debate might be.

ACOSTA: And Susan Hennessey, I mean, you know, right now we know that Brett Kavanaugh has been preparing behind the scenes over at the -- over at the White House. Various officials have been peppering him about his private life and so on, getting him ready for a potential hearing -- potential he said-she said.

But how does Christine Blasey Ford prepare for something like this? I mean, she seems to be at a disadvantage. She doesn't have White House officials preparing her.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. So there's a huge amount of asymmetric power in sort of the position here. This kind of congressional testimony in a packed room with hundreds of cameras in your face, and hostile questions, that is incredibly difficult for anyone to do. It is something cabinet secretaries, the heads of federal agencies prepare for for and weeks weeks, and fully staffed in order to do.

You know, this as Brett Kavanaugh has, essentially, an army of people behind him. He has the White House team, led by Don McGahn, that has been shepherding his nomination from the outset. As you mentioned, he's been preparing.

Meanwhile, the Republicans on the committee are essentially deploying a machine designed to destroy this woman's credibility. I think that is why it is so incredibly reasonable for her to expect to be given more time. And I really do think that that is the strategic push here.

The Republicans understand that the faster they can force her to testify, the less prepared she is, the fewer facts are available. That is all going to make it more difficult for her to present a credible case.

[17:35:04] ACOSTA: And Shawn Turner, I want to switch gears, because the president made a lot of news today, not only talking about this case, the Brett Kavanaugh controversy, but also I mean, he's been talking about his attorney general in ways that I suppose we're accustomed to. But I mean, just look at this graphic. Let's put it up on screen.

The latest round is he's saying, "I don't even have an attorney general." But these are all the other things that he's said about Jeff Sessions since this whole saga began. "An idiot," "he's beleaguered," "he's very weak," "I'm very disappointed with him," "disgraceful," "I made a terrible mistake," "if we had a real attorney general," "Never took control of the Justice Department." "I don't have an attorney general," I guess, would be the last one in that list.

You've come out of the intelligence community. You know, I mean, what does this do? I mean, does it just turn Jeff Sessions into a laughingstock?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The understatement of the year. These men are not great friends.

You know, look, I mean, the -- the president wants an attorney general who, to some degree, acts as his personal attorney. And that's what he's -- that's what he's really frustrated about.

Look, Jeff Sessions, whether you like his politics, his history or not, he has made a decision that he is going to lead the Justice Department in a way that is separate and distinct from the way that people who show loyalty to the president behave. And obviously, the president has taken issue with that.

For people who are in the Justice Department, in the intelligence community, people who work with government, this is a very difficult time for them. Because they're seeing a leader who's trying to do the right thing, who's trying to separate himself from his relationship with the president, and they're seeing him being attacked increasingly in ways that are, quite candidly, unprofessional and unpresidential.

So I think it's -- it's just a very difficult time. And I think Jeff Sessions, you know, you've got to give him credit for holding his ground right now. It's an open question as to how long he's going to be able to do that.

PRESTON: A hundred percent. You know, you may hate Jeff Sessions for his politics. He may have done things that, you know, as a Democrat, like, you're angry at. But God bless the fact that he's not allowing the president of the United States to say things on television to make him quit. Jeff Sessions is going to force Donald Trump to basically fire him.

And when the history books are written, I bet you Jeff Sessions doesn't come out as bad as a lot of people think that he is right now.

HENNESSEY: Sure, although at the same time, Jeff Sessions is overseeing a Justice Department where the president is attacking career civil servant officials by name on Twitter, impugning their credibility, suggesting removing their clearances. And Jeff Sessions absolute crickets. Nothing to defend his staff, nothing to defend his agency, the agency he's tasked with leading against an outright assault by the president.

ACOSTA: That's across the board in this administration.

HENDERSON: Yes, and in some ways, oftentimes, Jeff Sessions doesn't do much to defend himself. Right? A couple of times, he's come out and pushed back against the president. But he mostly just remains silent and remains in his job. A lot of conservatives think he's doing a great job. But you have seen some cracks here. This idea that maybe it's time for him to go. It also -- it's also interesting, because Donald Trump seems to be expanding the reasons he doesn't like this guy. He was saying, you know, he did terrible in the hearings. He seemed mixed up; he seemed confused. So that's a very interesting thing to watch, you imagine that, after the midterms he might make a move to push him out.

ACOSTA: Makes you wonder who he would pick on if he didn't have Jeff Sessions.

HENNESSEY: Right. Exactly.

PRESTON: Jim, let's not give him any ideas.

ACOSTA: Thanks, guys very much.

HENNESSEY: I think we should be candid, though, that the reason the president wants to fire Jeff Sessions is because he wants to replace him with someone who's not recused.

ACOSTA: That's right.

And you can't do that.

All right. Well, thanks very much.

Well, coming up, more on President Trump's visit to the hurricane disaster zone in the Carolinas, where officials describe the damage as a gut punch to their communities.

Later Kim Jong-un makes a new offer to close down a missile testing site and more. But there are strings attached.


[17:43:17] ACOSTA: President Trump is due back in Washington soon. He spent much of the day visiting with flooding victims and emergency officials in both North and South Carolina. Their message to the president: people need help.

President also delivered a message, as well, warning South Carolinians to prepare for new flooding as run-off from the hurricane works its way down river.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now it looks nice, but it's really the calm before the storm. You're going to have a lot of water. We see it. It's coming down, just comes down. Nobody would believe it, a thing like this could happen.


ACOSTA: CNN's Nick Watt is in Wilmington, North Carolina. This disaster, Nick, it is still not over. How bad is that situation? Are we seeing any improvement?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jim, it seems very strange to be standing here in the beautiful evening sunshine in Wilmington, talking about the ongoing effects of Florence. But that is the reality.

You know, the president's last stop was in Conway down in South Carolina. And there, officials were telling him they're worried about Friday, because the river is going to rise and rise. Some rivers down there, you know, may not crest until early next week.

An official down in North Myrtle Beach also texted me and said, you know, "We are slowly becoming an island."

So much rain fell in the storm. It has to go somewhere, and a lot of it is in those rivers right now.

But up here in North Carolina, the governor said this afternoon, "We are a state that is hurting." And the point is, it's a state that is still hurting up here. About 100,000 people still don't have power. Hundreds of roads are still closed. We've got 13 rivers on major flood. Nearly 8,000 people still in shelters.

And also, you know, the Carolinas rely on tourism to the coast and also on agriculture. And, you know, we just heard more than three million chickens have drowned. More than 5,000 hogs have been killed here. This is an ongoing situation with the water and the rivers, and it's going to be an ongoing situation for this state as it tries to rebuild and recover. And frankly, Jim, the cost.

ACOSTA: The president has been criticized for how he handled his trip to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. What's your sense of how he did today?

WATT: Well, yes. I mean, remember that trip down to Puerto Rico where he was seen kind of tossing those rolled paper towel. He did not do that today. He was very circumspect. He was at a release center handing out meals, handing Styrofoam boxes to, frankly, rather surprised people in cars.

And, you know, his message today was basically the federal government is 100 percent behind you. I mean, he said, you know, Washington is with you. Trump is with you 100 percent.

Now, of course, you know, there was what has become a fairly typical Trumpian scene of local officials telling the President what a great job he's been doing. But he was there, steadfast, saying whatever you need, we're with you -- Jim.

ACOSTA: OK. Nick Watt, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Coming up more big promises from Kim Jong-un but they come with

conditions on the United States. Will that make the whole deal a nonstarter?


[17:50:51] ACOSTA: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged today to shut down important weapons sites.

The agreement was announced with plenty of fanfare during the ongoing summit between the leaders of North and South Korea. But experts say there may be less here than meets the eye.

Let's bring in our Brian Todd. Brian, what are you hearing right now?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we're told there is a lot less here than meets the eye. Experts say that Kim Jong-un is offering to dismantle nuclear and missile sites that aren't even that important to him anymore.

Still, Kim is getting some credit tonight for an offer which could jump-start talks with the Trump administration that have stalled.


TODD (voice-over): A triumphant scene at May Day Stadium in Pyongyang. An enormous cheering crowd greets the North Korean dictator and the man who he saw as his enemy not long ago.

Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have colorfully dressed children bow before them, take in fireworks, and the choreography of a large dance troop. The two men basking after their new agreement to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula once and for all.

KIM JONG-UN, SUPREME LEADER OF NORTH KOREA (through translator): We committed to make active efforts to make the Korean Peninsula a place of peace without nuclear weapons and nuclear threats.

TODD (voice-over): According to the declaration he signed, Kim Jong- un is promising to close a facility at Tongchang-ri, a key missile engine test site, and allow, quote, international experts to witness it.

And Moon says Kim offers to destroy his gigantic complex, Yongbyon, which produces material for nuclear bombs if the U.S. takes corresponding measures.

What do they mean by corresponding measures and would the U.S. agree to it?

MICHAEL GREEN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR ASIA AND JAPAN CHAIR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: In the past, when they asked the U.S. to do this, it's a very long list that includes ending all economic sanctions, ending all nuclear weapons umbrella protection for Japan and Korea, ending military exercises, and giving them a peace treaty.

TODD (voice-over): So far, no response from the White House tonight to that proposed trade off. President Trump did respond positively overall to today's deal, saying if Kim Jong-un, quote, he is calm, I'm calm.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had very good news from North Korea, South Korea. They met and we had some great responses.

TODD (voice-over): The President also said he's happy that North and South Korea announced they'll make a joint bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics. But what does today's deal really mean for the U.S.?

Experts say the talk of peace is a positive move, but they caution Kim's promises to dismantle that missile engine test site and the Yongbyon nuclear complex are a bit hollow and don't reduce the current threat to America because those are older sites that the North Koreans don't use as much anymore.

GREEN: In a way, they have offered to sell us the dodge dart and the old pick-up truck they have out on the front lawn in exchange for us stopping sanctions and doing all these things. But we know, inside the garage, they have a Lexus and a Humvee and a BMW, and they're not willing to negotiate on that. And that's the real threat.

TODD (voice-over): One thing Kim wants from the U.S., a formal treaty ending the Korean War. Then Kim could argue, if the war is over, the U.S. should remove its 28,500 troops in South Korea.

LINDSEY FORD, DIRECTOR OF POLITICAL-SECURITY AFFAIRS, ASIA SOCIETY POLICY INSTITUTE: It means that, essentially, North Korea has the ability to coerce unification -- reunification with the South under its terms if it wanted to, and that the United States would not be there and would not really be able to do anything to defend South Korea if necessary.


TODD: The South Korean President did just declare in Pyongyang that the two sides would, quote, reconnect the blood between North and South. Analyst say that could mean reunification of some families that have been split up, but the two sides have also been talking a lot recently about overall reunification.

Still, experts warn that to the Kim Jong-un reunification means a unified peninsula with Kim Jong-un in charge, something the U.S. and South Korea will never agree to, Jim.

ACOSTA: That's right. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Breaking news, next. The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee tells Democrats he is not delaying Monday's hearing on the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Will his accuser testify?


ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. Senate showdown. New ultimatum tonight in the battle over the President's Supreme Court nominee. The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee is refusing to delay a Monday hearing even though Brett Kavanaugh's accuser says she's not ready to testify.

General frustrations. Trump goes after Jeff Sessions again, claiming he is disappointed in his Attorney General for many reasons. Is he laying the groundwork to fire Sessions and deny it's because of the Russia probe?

Refusing to talk. As the investigation into Trump ally Roger Stone intensifies, one of his former associates is declining to appear before the Senate. Why is he saying no to lawmakers after giving testimony to Robert Mueller's grand jury?

[17:59:58] And gut punched. As the President visits the storm-damaged Carolinas, officials are warning thousands of evacuees to stay away from their homes. Tonight, the nightmare of flooding, death, and destruction refuses to end.