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Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Trump Attacks Kavanaugh's Sexual Assault Accuser; Rod Rosenstein Under Fire; Pompeo Threatens Iran, Slams John Kerry in New CNN Interview; CNN Special Report on Hurricane Aftermath in Puerto Rico. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also tonight, Trump allies say it is time for Rosenstein to go.

Trump unleashes. The president goes after the woman accusing his Supreme Court nominee, questioning why she didn't file charges against Brett Kavanaugh 36 years ago, when she was just 15 years old. Tonight, Republican Senator Susan Collins says she's appalled.

And hearing proposal. A deadline was just extended for Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford to respond to a counteroffer by Senate Republicans for her to testify on Wednesday. Will they agree on terms for her to speak out under oath?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We are following the bombshell story that's breaking tonight.

Sources now confirming to CNN that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested he should wear a wire to secretly record President Trump after James Comey was fired by -- as FBI director last year.

We're told Rosenstein was so concerned about chaos in the Trump administration that he discussed ousting Mr. Trump by recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

A crucial question now, will the president fire Rosenstein, who oversees Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and has been a top target of Mr. Trump's anger?

I will talk to Leon Panetta, who served as defense secretary and CIA director. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by, including White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins and chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

But, first, let's to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez. Evan, break down this bombshell story us.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these were extraordinary conversations that allegedly happened last year in the days and weeks after the president fired James Comey, the FBI director.

Rod Rosenstein in meetings with FBI and other Justice Department officials suggested that he could possibly wear a wire, wear a recording device in meetings with the president.

He also, according to memos that were written after these conversations happened, he suggested that he could help recruit members of the Cabinet to try to invoke the 25th Amendment. That's one of the ways in which you could oust a president.

One of them, of course, is impeachment and the other is for members of the Cabinet to declare that the president is unfit for his job and to invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution.

In the end, we don't believe that Rod Rosenstein actually went through with any of these plans, that he didn't actually record any of these conversations, and so far as we know, he didn't actually recruit any members of the Cabinet, although, according to "The New York Times," he talked about perhaps recruiting Jeff Sessions and John Kelly in this plan.

Now, how did these conversations come to light? It appears that at least one of the persons who was in one of these conversations, Wolf, Andrew McCabe, then the deputy director of the FBI, went back to the FBI and wrote down memos, recording some of these conversations that he had witnessed.

There were other people, of course, in the room, and so that's how we now know that these conversations took place. Of course, Andy McCabe was fired, has been fired earlier this year, and he is now -- his memos are now in the hands of Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

BLITZER: And still in the hands of the FBI as well. What do we know about Rosenstein's motivations?

PEREZ: Well, Rosenstein was motivated by, apparently, the chaos that he was witnessing. Keep in mind, this is -- you know, he was just a couple of weeks into office and the president has now fired the FBI director and has used a memo that Rod Rosenstein had written.

And according to our own reporting from that period, we know that Rod Rosenstein was not happy about the way his memo was used. He felt that he was used by the president at the time. We have a statement from Rod Rosenstein. He is pushing back very hard on this story which was broken by "The New York Times."

He says -- quote -- "'The New York Times' story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biassed against the department and advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this. Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment."

Now, of course, the last line there clearly is a signal from -- I think from Rod Rosenstein to the president, letting him know that he believes the president is fit for his job.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, what's your reaction to this bombshell report?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it is further proof that the world is just spinning off its axis completely.

You know, just the incredible idea that the deputy attorney general seriously contemplated, A, taping the president, wearing a wire, and, B, trying to get him removed from office is really extraordinary. And I think when you look at that Rod Rosenstein's statement, I think it is worth parsing the last sentence where he says, there is no basis to remove the president under the 25th Amendment.


But he does not say there was no basis to remove the president under the 25th Amendment. So that would, I would say, qualify as a non- denial denial, and an all-but-real admission that he was so concerned about the president's mental state in those tumultuous days that he did consider raising the issue of whether he was fit for office.

BLITZER: And all of this, Evan, is apparently documented in contemporaneous notes, as you pointed out, by Andrew McCabe, the former -- the fired deputy director of the FBI.

PEREZ: Right, exactly.

And now we have a conundrum for the president, right? The president now has to decide who he believes, whether he believes this denial or non-denial denial from Rod Rosenstein.

BLITZER: It was not much of a denial.

PEREZ: Not much of a denial, or is he going to believe Andy McCabe, who the president went after on Twitter, called him a liar, has called him a leaker? He has frankly just been really mean to Andy McCabe.

And McCabe's lawyer, by the way, has issued a statement. We can put up a part of it here. He says: "When he was interviewed by special counsel more than a year ago, he gave all of his memos, classified and unclassified, to the special counsel's office. A set of those memos remained at the FBI at the time of his department in late January 2018. He has no knowledge of how any member of the media obtained these memos."

I think that's a signal from Andy McCabe's camp that they at least are trying to say they're not the source of the story. But, again, this means that the president is going to have to decide who does he believe, Andy McCabe, the guy he has called a liar, or Rod Rosenstein, who he has to deal with every day?

BLITZER: McCabe's statement, there's no denial of the substantive facts, just the denial that they were the source of this.

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeffrey? Does the president have a good case potentially based on this to fire Rosenstein?

TOOBIN: If he wants to, he certainly does. You know, he has obviously been unhappy with Rod Rosenstein, just as he's unhappy with Jeff Sessions.

The question is, does he want to take the political heat if he does fire Rod Rosenstein, because, you know, as we all know, Rod Rosenstein is the superior of Robert Mueller. He is the person who controls the Mueller investigation and decides whether Mueller can continue in office.

If Rosenstein is fired, that responsibility falls to Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, unless and until there's a new deputy attorney general appointed. But, you know, the question is, do Republicans want this kind of chaos on the eve of the midterm elections, or do they persuade the president, look, just do nothing and you can get rid of whoever you want after Election Day?

BLITZER: There's a bunch of people he probably wants to get rid of after Election Day.


PEREZ: Not to mention the Kavanaugh hearing, right? I mean, the Kavanaugh nomination, which I think everybody in the Republican Party would like the president to just focus on and get that through before he does anything that cause political problems.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on that coming up as well. Guys, stick around. I know you are both getting more information.

I quickly want to bring in our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. She is in Missouri for us right now, where the president has a major political event later tonight.

So, Kaitlan, what are you getting from the White House? How are they reacting?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's been no official response from the White House yet, but President Trump just touched down here in Springfield, Missouri, after spending a flight on Air Force One, presumably watching television, presumably watching this story being reported out.

And I have been texting with several White House officials who are talking about what a bombshell this is and how it is just going to prove the president's point that he believes there are people in this government, and especially in the Justice Department and the FBI, who are actively trying to undermine him.

So they're waiting for the president's response to this. They say that it is not going to be pretty when he does respond, Wolf, but it is interesting, because though he and Rod Rosenstein had a pretty testy relationship at the beginning, things had actually kind of improved a little bit between them.

The president had stopped tweeting out criticisms of him. Rod Rosenstein is actually at the White House quite on a pretty regular basis. But once he sees this story, Wolf, you can bet there's going to be quite a strong reaction from the president.

BLITZER: Do we expect that the president will actually address this at the political rally in Missouri, where you are later tonight?

COLLINS: Well, Wolf, there's definitely a chance of that. Of course, these are these rallies where the president is off-script and he speaks his mind. And this is certainly something that's going to bother this president.

So he could bring it up tonight. We know that last night in Las Vegas he had the Justice Department on his mind. He asked the crowd there in Las Vegas how they thought they were doing, and the crowd booed the Justice Department at that rally.

So, Wolf, you can only imagine there is a chance President Trump does bring it up here in Springfield tonight.


BLITZER: All of this comes, Kaitlan, as the president is now backtracking on his plan to unseal secret documents related to the Russia investigation. Tell us about that.

COLLINS: That's right, Wolf.

This is a pretty big walk-back from President Trump. He announced today on Twitter that he is no longer calling for the immediate declassification and release of those documents related to the Russia investigation. That's something just a few days ago, even though there's been so much drama in Washington, President Trump and the White House put out this statement saying they were calling on unredacted versions of these documented related to the Russia investigation, and specifically the surveillance of that former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, to be released without any redactions, as well as text messages between top FBI officials, including the former FBI Director James Comey.

Now, today on Twitter, the president backtracked on that, saying that he met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of these documents and that they agreed to release them, but said that doing so would have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe.

Wolf, he doesn't say what the perceived impact could be, but he went on and said that allies also asked him not to release some of the information, that, instead, he's going to have the inspector general continue to review these documents, which is already something the inspector general was doing, looking at the how the Russia probe got started. But, Wolf, the president said he believed that they would move quickly on this and in the end he could declassify them if he wanted to. Wolf, this is a really big reversal from President Trump, and you have to question what his conservative allies on Capitol Hill and his allies on television and outside of Washington are going to have to say about this, because they were the ones really calling on the president to release these documents because they thought that they would reveal some greater plot in the Russia probe to undermine the president.

But for right now, the president says they're not going to be published unredacted and declassified.

BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, thanks very much, Kaitlan Collins reporting.

Thanks to Jeffrey Toobin and Evan Perez as well.

Joining us now, Leon Panetta. He served as defense secretary and CIA director during the Obama administration.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.

And let's get, first of all, to this report in "The New York Times," which we have now confirmed, not only did Rod Rosenstein discuss removing the president from office through the 25th Amendment, but he also spoke about the possibility of recruiting other administration officials in that area.

Do you believe that this and the discussion about possibility using a wire to record the president, are these grounds to fire Rosenstein?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, in many ways, Wolf, this is not a new story.

We have known about the chaos and erratic behavior by the president. It was pointed out by Bob Woodward in his book. It was pointed out by an anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times" which talked about the possibility of considering the 25th Amendment, and it has been pointed out by others as well.

The problem is that this president has been extremely critical of our law enforcement authorities, the attorney general, the FBI, the Mueller investigation. And I think he's got to think very carefully about the implications of taking action here, because, if he does this, it raises concerns about the Mueller investigation.

It raises concerns about the possibility of obstruction, and, more importantly, it creates even greater chaos at a time when he's trying to deal with the midterms, the Kavanaugh confirmation and trying to fund the federal government.

BLITZER: As we have seen over these past few weeks, Mr. Secretary, others close to the president have secretly recorded conversations with him. Michael Cohen did. Omarosa did, a senior adviser to the president. But is it appropriate for the deputy attorney general of the United

States to have even suggested that?

PANETTA: Well, it is -- it is surprising to have a deputy attorney general making the suggestion that people ought to be wired in conversations with the president.

But it only confirms that, at least at that time, there were a lot of concerns about the president and his erratic behavior, and questions were raised obviously about the 25th Amendment.

But what's clear is that nothing has happened. The president remains the president of the United States, and even Rosenstein himself now says that there is no basis for implementing the 25th Amendment. So the bottom line is, not much has happened, even based on what Rosenstein suggested at the time.

BLITZER: What would happen if the president were to fire Rosenstein?

PANETTA: Well, that's what I think the president and the White House have to seriously think about.


I can understand the reasons for wanting to do that, but when you go after the deputy attorney general, particularly in light of the fact that he continues to criticize Jeff Sessions as attorney general, as well as others at the Justice Department, that it can raise serious questions with regards to the Mueller investigation, as to whether or not the steps he's taking involve additional evidence of obstruction of justice.

In addition to that, it just creates additional chaos for this president at a time when he certainly doesn't need more chaos.

BLITZER: Another development, a very sensitive development, after giving the order earlier in the week to release very sensitive classified documents in the Russia investigation, all of a sudden, today, the president walked back that earlier order.

Do you see any connection at all to the news on Rosenstein? Apparently, the White House was informed of this "New York Times" report yesterday.

PANETTA: Well, I see it as additional evidence of the kind of erratic behavior by this president, who decides to do things by instinct without doing the preparation work that needs to be done and understanding what the consequences are going to be of his action.

It is pretty clear here, once the intelligence officials looked at this information, that it would involve information that would be extremely sensitive and therefore ought not to be released. That's a decision, frankly, that should have been looked at before the president said he was going to release this information, but that wasn't the case. So now he's he's basically walking that decision backwards, and it

creates the impression, very frankly, that the president doesn't really take the time to understand the decisions that he makes.

BLITZER: Because -- and the president tweeted today that releasing those sensitive classified documents, in the president's words, "may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key allies called to ask not to release."

Don't you think that the president and his top national security, law enforcement, Justice Department, CIA officials, they should have gone through that before the president announced earlier in the week that he was about to release all of that information, unredacted, he said?

PANETTA: Well, Wolf, the way it is supposed to work -- and it doesn't work that way obviously in this White House -- but the way it is supposed to work is that you would call your intelligence and law enforcement officials together in the national security room and discuss whether or not -- if the president wants to do this, whether you should proceed.

And you would hear from those officials. You would hear about the concerns. They would have done some backup research to determine just exactly what the implications would be, and then they would make a recommendation to the president.

Obviously, none of that took place here. The president made a decision based on the politics of the moment. Then, obviously, the intelligence officials got involved, and now he's backed off. It is a bad way to do business.

BLITZER: Are we heading, Mr. Secretary, towards a constitutional crisis?

PANETTA: I, frankly, think that we have been in a constitutional crisis for a period of time here, because this president has been erratic, because he operates by chaos, because he makes decisions without thinking about the consequences of those decisions.

I think all of that raises concerns about whether or not our system of checks and balances is working effectively to try to make sure that this president doesn't do something that could be harmful to the country.

BLITZER: Secretary Panetta, thanks so much for joining us.

PANETTA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to get more reaction to the new reporting on Rod Rosenstein and whether it is giving the president a reason to fire him. What does it all mean for the Russia probe?

And will Christine Blasey Ford accept or reject the Senate's latest offer to testify on Wednesday about her allegations against Brett Kavanaugh? We just learned the deadline for her response has now been extended. We have details right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Sources confirming that he suggested he might wear a wire to secretly record President Trump in may of last year. That was in the days immediately after James Comey was fired as the FBI director.

We're told Rosenstein was deeply concerned about chaos within the administration and also discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to oust Mr. Trump.

Let's discuss this and more with our legal and political experts.

Ron Brownstein, how significant is this?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think you have to look at -- on two different dimensions.

The fact that other administration officials, again, have been reported to be discussing the 25th Amendment to remove the president, even if in a preliminary and offhand way, has got to reinforce the sentiment among swing voters that there needs to be more of a check and balance on him than Congress has provided.

On the other side, on the question of firing Rosenstein, certainly, this gives the president more rationale that he can kind of put out there before his base. But I agree with what Jeffrey said before. I mean, I don't know if it changes the long-term calculus very much.

Firing him before the election, I think, would be seen by most voters as an effort, what it would be, to decapitate the Mueller investigation. I think most Republicans on Capitol Hill would be reluctant to do that. If it is after the election, the president has already made clear he intends to fire Jeff Sessions, with Lindsey Graham sending him the key signal, and in that way take control of the situation.

So, I don't know if it changes things much on the dimension. But it does -- again, having this discussion on the 25th Amendment cannot be helpful to Republicans who have chosen not to have exert a lot of oversight on the president.

BLITZER: Abby Phillip, is it just a matter of time until the president fires Rod Rosenstein?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it seems that way.

The president has wanted to fire Rosenstein for a while, and this story reinforces a lot of really touchy narratives for the president, who has already been paranoid about this stuff from the very beginning, first the idea there are people, senior people in his administration trying to undermine him. Second, this talk of the 25th Amendment is really just radioactive for

Trump. And Rosenstein has already been in the crosshairs for so long. Trump has been resisting intense pressure from the sort of cable news voices that he values very highly to fire Rosenstein. It is going to be very difficult for him to resist that much longer.

And I think Ron is right about the political calculus not changing much between now and November, but the question is, does the president care about that political calculus? And I'm not convinced that he does. I don't think he ever did. Now I think that question is going to be even more salient as we look to what happens.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

Susan Hennessey, if the president does fire Rosenstein, what does that mean for the Russia investigation?


SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, in practical terms, the deputy attorney general oversees, he is acting attorney general for purposes of that investigation.

After he is fired, the solicitor general, Noel Francisco, would occupy that role, but only until President Trump nominated and was able to confirm a replacement.

So, effectively, that means that Trump can pick the person who oversees the Mueller probe. And I think, for Trump's purposes, that's as good as firing Jeff Sessions, that's as good as firing Rod Rosenstein himself.

You know, there is one additional check, which is that the Senate has to confirm this person. We have seen in the past, particularly after the firing of James Comey, that Trump wanted to pick a loyalist like Rudy Giuliani, but he was forced to pick a really establishment type person in Christopher Wray.

So, that cycle may play out once again, where even if he gets rid of Rosenstein, he isn't able to replace him with the kind of person that is going to offer him the protection that he wants.

BLITZER: Rachael Bade, it's very interesting. This is not the first time that it has been reported that senior administration officials were thinking about the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove the president.

Omarosa suggested that there was discussion of that. A senior unnamed official writing in "The New York Times," that anonymous piece, suggested the same thing. And it is not the first time we have heard of secret recordings of the president either.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, no, definitely not. The op-ed just a few weeks ago totally turned Washington upside down when people were talking about, yes, top officials saying the 25th Amendment was something they talked about regularly. The difference here is we know who was talking about this, Rod

Rosenstein specifically. And he also not only talked about this, but apparently suggested that maybe Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, would be on board, John Kelly, who is now chief of staff. So, they were very specific there.


BLITZER: He was then the secretary of homeland security.

BADE: Correct.

And regarding whether or not this is the end, the beginning of the end for Rod Rosenstein, from the Capitol Hill standpoint, Republicans up there, Trump allies, have been trying to hit a fatal blow on him for a long time. They actually have an impeachment resolution and they filed that because they say Rod Rosenstein has not been giving over documents that they want in certain committee investigations.

This seems to go way beyond way, allegations that are made in a "New York Times" story from FBI sources saying that he wanted to record the president and was talking about the 25th Amendment. This is that fatal blow they had been looking for. But, again, the election just jumbles things.

I don't know if the president cares about keeping the House, if he thinks the House is already gone. But, again, I just feel like this gives conservatives the ammunition that they want to really go for him.

PHILLIP: And from the president's perspective, he looks at the politics of November and I think he worries that he looks like a patsy by allowing his Justice Department to be run by people who are disloyal to him.

I think he is concerned about the impact of that on his base, who wants him to stand up for himself. So that's the other side of the coin to the political damage that firing Rosenstein could do in this late stage.

BROWNSTEIN: But just to be clear, on the other side of the coin, in every one of these white-collar suburban district, where the Republicans have been pal palpably losing ground since Labor Day, when you poll, do you want a member of Congress who will put a check on the president vs. one who will enable him to advance his agenda, it is not that close anymore.

And many of the Republicans who are trying to hold on have been running better than that number. You fire Rosenstein between now and the election, I think, Abby, if we polled the Republicans in white- collar districts, we would not have a lot of disagreement about whether this was a good or bad idea.

Now, whether he cares, I don't know. But don't forget, the Senate is still on the outside of being in play as well. And I do believe this would be an earthquake, because I think most Americans would view it as an effort to decapitate the Mueller investigation, rather than as a justifiable strike back against a disloyal employee.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin is still with us.

A source close to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, says that he, the attorney general, is upset, deeply concerned about this latest reporting involving Rod Rosenstein. What would all of this mean? What would it mean for Sessions' fate if Rosenstein is fired?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, the issue of Rosenstein's fate is, I think, an interesting and complicated issue.

The issue of Jeff Sessions' fate is not complicated. I think the polls close at about 7:00 on the midday of the midterms. He's out of there by 7:30 at the latest. He is just gone. There is -- the president hasn't even tried to pretend -- to pretend otherwise.

And this will lead to the appointment of a new attorney general, who will not be recused from the Russia investigation. As we have all been discussing, the Senate, probably the old Senate, the lame-duck Senate, will have to decide whether that person can be confirmed, and that is going to be an extraordinary battle, because everyone knows that is going to be a proxy fight over the fate of Robert Mueller.

BLITZER: You know, Susan Hennessey, you heard Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary, the former CIA director, when I asked him if this could lead to a constitutional crisis, he says, we're already in a constitutional crisis.

HENNESSEY: Yes, I think this is an incredibly dangerous moment.

You know, it's a dangerous moment for the Mueller investigation and it's a dangerous moment for the country. This is really where the rubber meets the road, where we find out if our systems of checks and balances actually work.

[18:30:12] And while we've seen our system be put under extraordinary stress in the past, it's never come up against the precise circumstances here. And I think one of the fears is not only that we're going to face a constitutional crisis, but that nobody is really sure whether or not we're going to survive one.

BLITZER: Rachael, you cover Congress. Do they see it like that up on Capitol Hill?

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": You know, Republicans increasingly, they're just -- they're hitching their wagon to the president right now. I think a lot of them privately and maybe last year were really disgusted by everything they're seeing with all this drama, but they've thrown in their lot with them. And so we're not going to see them as any sort of check on that.

I do think the thing to watch, obviously, do Democrats take the House, and what are they going to do about this? If the president goes out and fires Jeff Sessions, fires Rod Rosenstein, Democrats are absolutely going to use that. They're going to hold it up and say, "Look, he's trying to obstruct justice. He's trying to shut down the Mueller probe."

And right now, the way the polls are looking, Democrats are probably going to take the House. So that could be a big pain in his side there.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This makes the midterms so incredibly consequential, even more than before.

If it turns out that, on November 7, President Trump fires the top two officials at the Justice Department and Democrats take over the House, the chances of years of investigations, possible impeachment hearings are almost 100 percent. We will almost certainly have Democrats taking up whatever is left of what Mueller has been doing -- if they complete it, if they don't -- they will take that up, and they will run with it all the way through 2020.

HENNESSEY: I mean, the irony here is that we are actually seeing the stakes play out in real time. And that is why the Republicans are going along with the president that makes him so incredibly uncomfortable and that's the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, this seat in play.

And so I think it is a vivid illustration in terms of the compromises we're seeing on the GOP and also what they have to gain out of all of this.

BLITZER: Some have suggested, Ron, that some at the White House may see this whole uproar involving Rod Rosenstein as a welcome distraction from all the Kavanaugh stuff.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, frying pan meet fire I suppose. But look, yes, for a day -- look, the Kavanaugh controversy is still barreling down the track here.

And you know, the other day I was -- I was looking at the data. We talk about 1992 as the year of the woman, ignited by Anita Hill's testimony on another Republican Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, in 1991.

In that year Democrats nominated 70 women for Congress. This time it's 183, over two-fifths, almost half of the Democrat nominees for the House are women. And with the Republicans already facing, potentially, the biggest deficit that they have faced in a midterm election among college-educated white women, they're looking at the prospect next week that an all-male contingent on the Senate Judiciary Committee will be skeptically questioning a professional white woman who is claiming a sexual assault in high school.

Yes, maybe, you know, for today on -- you know, we're talking about something else, but that is still out there. And it is still, I think, you know, just another potential accelerant of this divergence that we're seeing in the election, where these white-collar suburbs are moving in an historic way against the Republican Party as Donald Trump has defined it, whereas he's still holding much more of the blue-collar and rural side. Kavanaugh pushes right at that divide, as does everything about Donald Trump. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: So Wolf, the hypothesis is

"Well, my Supreme Court nominee may be an attempted rapist, but on the bright side, my deputy attorney general thinks I'm too insane to be president." I mean, those are not really -- either one of those are not terribly good news, as far as I can tell.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of discussion in the last couple of weeks or so, Jeffrey, about the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. And basically, what it suggests is, if there's a majority of members of the cabinet and the vice president, they think the president should be removed, they go to the Congress; and there's got to be a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate to go ahead and remove the president. That's not an easy chore, by any means.

TOOBIN: It's not an easy chore, and there has never been any sort of invocation of the 25th Amendment.

You know, this came up -- I believe it was after the -- Ron can help me with this. But I believe it was after the Kennedy assassination, where there was an issue, really, about the medical -- the medical inability of the president to serve. What would Congress do? What would -- what would the nation do if the president had some sort of physical ailment, a stroke, a heart attack, where he simply -- or she -- couldn't be -- couldn't exercise the duties. This was sort of a shortcut to impeachment.

It has never been -- there's never been any sort of proceeding. And it's never been even suggested that it was about sort of bad performance in office. It was -- always had a medical orientation.


TOOBIN: Even though there's nothing in the words of the 25th Amendment that says that.

[18:35:04] BLITZER: Yes. And this is the third time we've heard about the 25th Amendment in the past couple of weeks. Omarosa talked about it. That anonymous official in "The New York Times" op-ed talked about it, and now this report.

Everybody, stand by. I want to get to the other breaking story we're following, the negotiations for Brett Kavanaugh's accuser to testify before Congress. A deadline for Christine Blasey Ford to respond to a new counter-offer by Senate Republicans. That deadline has just changed again.

Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is up on Capitol Hill. Phil, what are you learning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just got a statement from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley. And you'll remember there was a GOP counter proposal that was sent to Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers earlier today.

The original deadline, 5 p.m. The deadline was extended to 10 p.m. That is supposed to be the last and final deadline, according to committee sources. I want to read you the statement that Chairman Grassley just issued.

It says this: "Despite the fact the July 30 letter remains hidden, my committee has been investigating the allegations and has heard from multiple witnesses since Sunday. Ms. Katz has discussed Dr. Ford's allegations in numerous media interviews and said on TV Monday morning that Dr. Ford wants to share her account with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"It's Friday night, and nothing has been agreed to, despite our extensive efforts to make testimony possible. I'm extending the deadline for response yet again to 10 p.m. this evening. I'm providing a notice of a vote to occur Monday in the event Dr. Ford's attorneys do not respond or Dr. Ford decides not to testify.

"In the event that we cannot come to a reasonable resolution I've also been seeking all week, then I will postpone the committee vote to accommodate her testimony. We cannot continue to delay."

So basically, the chairman of the committee, who has been engaged in these negotiations that really started last night and kind of gone back and forth throughout the day, is officially laying down the gauntlet at this point. If there is no response by 10 p.m., they are going to move forward, and they are going to move forward at the start of next week, Wolf.

Republicans have been talking about this behind the scenes. Particularly, Wolf, you'll recall throughout the week when there was silence when the committee wasn't hearing back from Christine Blasey Ford's attorneys, that if there was no response, if there was no confirmation that she would show up at a hearing on Monday, they were going to move forward, hold the votes and eventually get Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the floor.

The chairman now making clear that they are back in that place as they wait for a response from Professor Ford's attorneys, a response they have not gotten up to this point.

I will note, you've gone through kind of the details of what the counter proposal was from Republicans earlier today. There are several elements that go against what Professor Ford's lawyers wanted and laid out to the committee staff last night.

I think the plan, or at least the proposal as I was told by Republican sources earlier, was that this is a good-faith negotiation. They would help them on the security issues. They would help them on several pieces of the request, but they would not grant the ask for the hearing to be on a Thursday. They said Wednesday, Professor Ford's lawyers said they did not want an outside lawyer or another counsel beyond the senators asking questions. That was in the proposal. And Professor Ford's lawyers asked that Brett Kavanaugh testify first before Christine Blasey Ford. That was not agreed to in the proposal.

So there's a lot of dispute here. People thought things could get ironed out but, Wolf, no question about it. At this moment, it seems like we're heading back towards impasse and possibly towards a vote as soon as Monday.

BLITZER: Yes. They've got a 10 p.m. deadline tonight. We'll see what happens.

You know, Phil Mattingly, thank you very much for that update.

And let's talk a little bit, Abby, about this. Because these three conditions that the Republicans put forward, as Phil just accurately pointed out, Professor Ford and her team, her legal advisors, aren't happy with it.

They don't want to do it on Wednesday, maybe Thursday. They don't want her to go first. They want her to go second. They want Kavanaugh to go first, and they don't -- they want senators to ask the questions, not outside counsel.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, I think those are pretty -- I think the third of those issues is perhaps the biggest one. It's the dynamic of an outside person. Who will this person be? What will their political leadings be? Will this kind of set her up to be kind of cross- examined as if she were in a courtroom, but in an unfair way in which Kavanaugh might not be examined, as well.

But I do think it feels like there's still movement forward, that they are getting -- inching closer to something of a compromise. And I think that creates, truly, a perilous moment for Republicans and for this president around this testimony. I think the fact of her sitting in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and testifying and telling her story is, in and of itself, something that they cannot control, and that will create some new dynamics here that -- that will pose some problems.

BLITZER: And Rachael, the fact that all of the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, all 11 of them, are men. That may be the reason they don't want the men to be asking this woman about all those sensitive issues. They want outside counsel, presumably a female, to be asking the questions.

BADE: Absolutely. They don't want another Anita Hill moment. And right now if you have the same thing that happened back then in the '90s, you would -- the #MeToo movement, I mean it just couldn't. The women, there would be such a backlash there.

[18:40:05] I think that there's a feeling on Capitol Hill that, if she does testify, that that could really be a game changer for Kavanaugh, even if it still is a he said/she too [SIC] situation where there's no proof either way.

And that is because it's different between -- you know, there's a difference between reading a woman's allegations on paper and actually seeing her perform and sit in front of people. The emotion that's going to come out reliving that experience and talking about that, that's really going to hurt him.

So I think it's going to be -- regardless, Republicans, especially moderate Republicans in the Senate, they're going to be in a really difficult position here. And they're just going to have to basically figure out who do they trust more. And it's going to be a really difficult choice for them.

BLITZER: This professor has been getting death threats to her and family. It's not an easy decision to make a decision to come to Washington, appear before a committee like this with millions and millions of people watching.

PHILLIP: And we haven't seen her at all --


PHILLIP: -- except for this one photograph of her. So she's pretty much unknown until this point.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stick around. There's more news we're following, more breaking news as the new reporting on the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, sinks in over at the White House. Will it be a pretext for the president to fire him?

And after the deadline was just extended, we're waiting to see -- we're waiting to learn how and if Brett Kavanaugh's accuser responds to the new Republican terms for her to testify.


[18:45:58] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including the new reporting on the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But, right now, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is issuing a new threat, a new threat to Iran.

Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, sat down with Pompeo for an interview earlier today.

Elise, Pompeo had some very tough words for Iran and for one of his own predecessors, John Kerry.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, Secretary Pompeo told me he does not believe a former secretary of state should be advising America's greatest enemy on how to undermine the current administration. He had a stark warning for Iran, vowing that the U.S. would respond if the regime continues support for groups attacking the U.S.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have told the Islamic Republic of Iran that using a proxy force to attack American interests will not prevent us from responding against the prime actor.

LABOTT (voice-over): A direct threat from the secretary of state against Iran, after a pair of rocket attacks hit U.S. facilities in Iraq, allegedly by Iranian-backed militias.

POMPEO: We will not let Iran get away with using a proxy force to attack an American interest. Iran will be held accountable for those incidents.

LABOTT (on camera): Even militarily?

POMPEO: They're going to be held accountable. If they're responsible for the arming and training of these militias, we are going to the source.

LABOTT (voice-over): Pompeo double-downed on his attacks against former Secretary of State John Kerry for meeting with Iranian officials and counseling them on a strategy after President Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran.

(on camera): Can you tell me, how is this jeopardizing your efforts right now?

POMPEO: No American, and in particular, no former secretary of state, should be actively seeking to undermine the foreign policy of the United States of America. You know, frankly, this was Secretary Kerry's problem. He always refused to treat our enemies like enemies.

LABOTT (voice-over): Pompeo said he will begin negotiations on a nuclear deal with North Korea this week, but conceded the fate of any agreement hinges on the bond between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

(on camera): Is the president allowing Kim Jong-un to set the pace and scope, knowing that he made these commitments and trust that he will make that decision ultimately?

POMPEO: We knew the pace would be uneven, but the progress each and every day was important. We think we're getting that.

Remember, the sanctions remain in place -- the world's sanctions, not America's sanctions. The U.N. Security Council resolutions demand that Chairman Kim make this decision to denuclearize, and those sanctions and enforcement of the sanctions will continue until such time as that occurs.

LABOTT (voice-over): In his explosive book "Fear," Bob Woodward details measures the president's closest aides have taken to curb what they viewed as Trump's dangerous impulses on foreign policy.

(on camera): Woodward book describes a president who doesn't understand national security, a cabinet that is moving things around to save the country from the president's national security. Have you seen that? Do you do that?

POMPEO: I find it absolutely ludicrous that there is -- I'll be careful. There are not many members of the president's cabinet who have spent as much time with him as I have. I briefed him almost every day as CIA director. I see and talk to him every day now.

This is a president who is fully informed, well-briefed, listens and asks hard questions and is leading his foreign policy team towards solving so many problems that plague this world. I wish the previous administration had acted with such diligence and power, but it was left to us. We'll get it right. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: And Iran will be a major focus next week at the United Nations with speeches by Secretary Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton.

Pompeo will also be meeting with members of the Iranian opposition. This is all part of an administration-wide effort, Wolf, to rally the world to counter Iran around the world.

BLITZER: Big week next week at the United Nations.

All right, Elise. Good reporting.

[18:50:00] Thank you very much.

Just ahead, will President Trump talk about Rod Rosenstein at a political rally in Missouri later tonight? We're staying the breaking news about the deputy attorney general as sources now say he discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to the U.S. constitution.

But first, a preview of the final episodes of "PARTS UNKNOWN" as Anthony Bourdain took CNN's W. Kamau Bell on the trip of a lifetime. Take a look at this.


ANTHONY BOURDAIN, "PARTS UNKNOWN": Who gets to tell the stories? This is a question asked often. The answer, in this case, for better or for worse, is I do, at least this time out.

First time on this continent.


BOURDAIN: It's unbelievable.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I always wanted to do it.

BOURDAIN: Try that in New York.

New York, in your mind, is where the writer's life was.


BOURDAIN: Superb and crazy.

Here we are.

ANNOUNCER: "ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN", the final episodes, starts tomorrow at 9:00 on CNN.



[18:56:11] BLITZER: It's been a year since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. We've heard the president claim that recovery efforts there were a huge success, but tonight, CNN has the real story about what happened in a special report, "Storm of Controversy."


BILL WEIR, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Among that exodus is a mom named Vimarie (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's overwhelming.

WEIR: She brought her two youngest kids to Orlando where FEMA helped her with a motel room. Her nursing degree gave her hope she'd find a good enough job to get her own place, but Florida wouldn't honor her credentials. So, she cleans rooms at a famous resort.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Florida Board of Nursing told me I needed an English competency test because I studied in Puerto Rico.

WEIR: And after months of scraping by, she learns that FEMA's help has run out, and worries that her and her kids will end up on the street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, I'm like, where -- I don't even know.


BLITZER: Special correspondent Bill Weir joins us now with more on CNN's in-depth reporting in Puerto Rico.

Bill, you've been reporting on this recovery ever since Hurricane Maria hit. How much progress has been made over the course of the several trips you have made there over the past year? Has the federal response been the, quote, incredible unsung success the president calls it?

WEIR: Well, Wolf, it's really hard to find anybody on the island who would agree with that, even some of the president's supporters. FEMA boasts like a record number of flights, a record amount of food and water sent, but unfortunately, as we learned tonight, it came too late. Too much came too late, and it's all about timing for these folks who were, as we found out, by suing the Puerto Rican government, dying of water borne illnesses because there was no fresh water for them. There are 300 schools now have closed due to that mass exodus. You saw one of the Diaspora living in Orlando where they're trying to contribute, trying to get work but so many hurdles and uphill battles along the way, it's a long way to go.

And because Leyla Santiago and John Sutter, our CNN colleagues, have spent the better part of this year down there, we were able to have reunions with dozens of people, really dig into the investigation and tonight put together -- sort of weave it into an island-wide hunt for the truth. BLITZER: What kind of stories are you hearing, Bill, from the people

you've met on the ground?

WEIR: You're hearing everything from people a year after just now getting power, still sleeping under broken roofs, waiting in line for tarps, 45,000 people are living without roofs and then this has led to a spike in suicide attempts, depression among school children as well. So, this is really a case study, Wolf, in how human nature can take Mother Nature and sort of super charge the tragedy with mismanagement.

We've found millions of bottles going to waste down there, of fresh water, that who knows if it could have saved lives but FEMA steps up, takes ownership. We have officials from the Puerto Rican government who step up and take ownership and this is less about finger pointing for political points and more about if we can't count our dead and accurately measure our losses, how will we possibly prepare for the next big bad storm, and are people who live in a commonwealth, a territory like Puerto Rico, true, full Americans.

Do they deserve the same amount of attention they got in Texas and Florida?

BLITZER: They certainly do. They're U.S. citizens like you and me.

Bill Weir, looking forward to the report later tonight. CNN's special report, storm of controversy, airs tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. Watch it.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.