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Sources: Republicans Meet on Kavanaugh Strategy, Some Appear Open to Final Committee Vote This Week; Trump Returns to U.N. One Year After Fiery Debut; Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; Interview With Congressman Adam Schiff; Trump Set to Meet With Rosenstein Thursday. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 24, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Distraction or disaster? We're exploring why the White House is dragging out the suspense about Rod Rosenstein and what it all could mean for the Russia probe. This hour, key lawmakers getting ready to weigh in on Mr. Trump's motives.

Supreme allegations. Brett Kavanaugh is denying a second allegation of past misconduct, as he and Christine Blasey Ford prepare to testify on Thursday. In a just-released letter, Ford is defending her decision to publicly accuse the high court nominee.

And it's political. The president and GOP leaders claim Democrats are trying to smear Kavanaugh. Tonight, the top Senate Republican is suggesting there will be a confirmation vote no matter what.

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're following breaking news with huge implications for the Russia investigation.

President Trump is set to meet with his deputy attorney general on Thursday amid new indications that Rod Rosenstein might be fired or forced to resign. Tonight, Mr. Trump is refusing to confirm or deny whether he's getting ready to oust the man who oversees Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Also breaking, embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh speaking out tonight. He's vowing to keep fighting allegations by professor Christine Blasey Ford, as well as a second woman who's now come forward. As Kavanaugh and Ford prepare to testify on Thursday, Ford says she has only one motivation, to tell the truth.

I will talk with the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, and with Senate Judiciary Committee member Richard Blumenthal.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, you are with the president in New York as the fate of the deputy attorney general is now very much up in the air.


And the White House is pushing back on reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is on his way out the door, at least for now. Rosenstein, we're told, thought he was going to be fired today, but that, of course, did not happen. And the president has been speaking very carefully about the fate of his deputy attorney general, a sign that he knows full well there could be severe consequences if he fires Rod Rosenstein.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Arriving at the United Nations, where he likes to throw his weight around with world leaders, President Trump is treating one matter delicately. That is whether to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think it is a very sad story, and people are obviously -- we are looking into it, but it is a very sad state of affairs, when something like that can happen.

QUESTION: You must be unsettled about it.

TRUMP: I'm not unsettled about anything.

ACOSTA: Amid revelations Rosenstein once talked of secretly recording the president and removing Mr. Trump from office using the 25th Amendment, the deputy attorney general paid a visit to the White House this morning with reports swirling he was on his way.

CNN has learned Rosenstein talked about those revelations with top White House officials over the weekend. He has denied the allegations, a denial he will have the chance to repeat to the president on Thursday.

TRUMP: I'm meeting with Rod Rosenstein on Thursday, when I get back from all of these meetings. And we will be meeting at the White House. And we will be determining what's going on. We want to have transparency. We want to have openness. And I look forward to meeting with Rod at that time.

ACOSTA: Advisers to the president seem to disagree on how to respond to the Rosenstein story, with some warning Mr. Trump firing the deputy attorney general could have unintended consequences. The president's outside attorney, Jay Sekulow, argued Rosenstein's departure could lead to a pause in the Russia investigation.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think it is really important that there be a step back taken here and a review, and basically a time-out on this inquiry. ACOSTA: It is a tricky decision for the president, as Rosenstein

oversees the special counsel's Russia probe after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in the investigation. At a speech in Alabama, Sessions seemed to hint that perhaps the chess pieces were in motion.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Going back to Washington, you never know what is going to happen next in the capital city. That's for sure.

ACOSTA: Rosenstein is no stranger to criticism for how he has handled his job, as he described earlier this year.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The dictionary defines piling on as joining other people in criticizing someone, usually in an unfair manner. I also have experience with that.

ACOSTA: But it is unclear how far Rosenstein's alleged talk of the 25th Amendment even traveled. Both U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo say they never heard the subject come up.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I'm not aware of any Cabinet members that are even talking about that. It is completely and totally absurd. No one is questioning the president at all. If anything, we are trying to keep up the pace with him and the fact that he has a lot he wants to accomplish very quickly, and we are going to continue to support him in a way he does that.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So, you can now report there are two senior leaders that have said that your statement -- your question was ludicrous.

QUESTION: If it is so ludicrous, why did the deputy attorney general have discussions about it behind the scenes?

POMPEO: I find -- I find the question ludicrous. I have been involved. I have been at the center of this administration along with lots of other folks for -- from virtually day one. I think it was actually day three or four. I have never heard anyone talk about it, whisper about it, joke about it in any way.


ACOSTA: The president is at the United Nations, but he's not using any Little Rocket Man-like rhetoric when it comes to Rod Rosenstein. Why is that? Why all of the caution?

We were told by a senior GOP official up on Capitol Hill earlier today that firing Rod Rosenstein at this point could throw the midterm election cycle into chaos and that it could energize Democrats at a time when they're already motivated to vote.

Wolf, over the weekend, we are told by sources close to the president and close to the White House, that he was advised of all of this earlier over the weekend, and that at the moment he appears to be listening to that advice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta in New York.

Also tonight, a senior administration official tells CNN that Rod Rosenstein appears to have overestimated how angry the president would be after reports that he discussed secretly recording Mr. Trump and trying to remove him from office.

Let's bring in our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, first of all, what can you tell us about that?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it comes from reporting from our White House -- Kaitlan Collins reported there that it seems like Rod Rosenstein had overreacted.

And certainly you can see that developing through the weekend and through the day. Our initial report was that he expected to be fired because of this, so something was going on over the weekend where Mr. Rosenstein perhaps was having conversations with people at the White House that gave him some indications, at least it seemed more dramatic than it really was in the end.

Certainly perhaps maybe some paranoia set in that he was going to be let go, and so that's what he was expecting this morning, that something was going to happen, whether he was going to resign or whether he was going to be fired.

There was a lot of activity that developed this morning, tons of drama certainly unfolded through the day, and now it seems like everything is quiet and things are back to normal, and we will see what happens on Thursday.

BLITZER: That's not going the stay very long. Thanks very much, Shimon Prokupecz, for that analysis.

I want to bring in the top Democrat right now on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's get to some of the substantive issues.

You're urging Rosenstein to force President Trump to either fire him, rather than resign. Why do you think that would help protect the overall Mueller investigation?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, because, if he does resign, if he's somehow cajoled into resigning, then the president can slot someone into that position under the Vacancies Act that could control the Mueller investigation.

And the president has made it very clear he wants his own Roy Cohn to do his business, never mind the interest of justice. He wants someone completely loyal to him, not the Constitution. So there's no reason why Rod Rosenstein should resign.

And I think that if the president is intent on obstructing justice, then Rod Rosenstein should say, I'm going to protect the investigation, you do what you need to do, and if you need to fire me, you fire me, but I'm going to uphold the rule of law.

And I think that's what the Constitution requires.

BLITZER: Because it makes a very significant difference, as you point out, whether or not the president fires him or whether or not Rod Rosenstein resigns, in terms of a successor, someone who oversees the Mueller probe.

What does it tell you that the president is still weighing this decision?

SCHIFF: Well, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if over the weekend the president was stewing on this, as he usually does, and growing more angry.

You know, you can say a lot of things about Rod Rosenstein. I have never found him to be paranoid. If he went to the White House today thinking he was going to be fired, he probably had very good reason to believe that that was the case.

But I think, also, Wolf, the other consideration here is, if the president fires Rod Rosenstein, it is exhibit B in the obstruction of justice case against him, exhibit A being the firing of James Comey. He would have fired the FBI director in charge of the investigation. He would have fired the attorney general representative in charge of the investigation.

And, of course, it would be abundantly clear why. Jay Sekulow removed all doubt this morning when he said, if Rosenstein is pushed out, that should bring about at least a temporary halt to the Mueller investigation. Of course, they want to make that halt permanent.


So, the rule of law is hanging by the balance here, and I think all of this means that Congress needs to take up legislation in its last week or weeks to protect Bob Mueller.

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan can no longer make any credible claim that the Mueller investigation is anything but at risk. They need to do their job. They need to understand that our role is as a check and balance and a defender of our democracy, and right now they're completely falling down on the job.

BLITZER: If Rosenstein is fired, Congressman, do you think potentially he could be a witness in any investigation that Mueller and his team are engaged in as far as obstruction of justice is concerned?

SCHIFF: Absolutely. If, in these private conversations with the president where the

president is outlying his grievances against the deputy attorney general, the president is essentially giving evidence of why he may be motivated to fire Rod Rosenstein -- it is not unlike the evidence the president gave when he talked to Lester Holt and said that he had Russia on his mind when he decided to fire James Comey.

It is certainly more than possible. And, indeed, Rod Rosenstein may have more information about the firing of James Comey. So, I think all of these things will be pertinent to the Mueller investigation.

BLITZER: What do you make of Sean Hannity's warning to President Trump not to fire Rosenstein because it might be a -- quote -- "setup"?

SCHIFF: Well, it is difficult to say. You have got on the one hand Sean Hannity making that argument. You have got other FOX News hosts making exactly the opposite argument.

This story, I think, certainly added fuel to the FOX heads that have been calling for Rod Rosenstein's firing. Whether that was part of a deliberate campaign by these FOX voices, along with the president's allies in Congress, I don't know.

But one thing is abundantly clear. And that is the Trump legal defense team, the president's allies in Congress, the Gowdys and the Nunes as the Meadows, as well as most of these FOX sycophants, have all been calling for Rod Rosenstein to go, in the hope that someone else can be put in that place who can kneecap Bob Mueller.

And shame on the Congress of the United States if we allow that to happen. I think the firing of Rod Rosenstein is one step removed and not far removed from the firing of Bob Mueller, and we need to protect that investigation.

BLITZER: Do you believe the whole Russia investigation right now, Congressman, is in peril, in peril, as we speak?

SCHIFF: Well, I do.

And I think what probably precipitated all of this, what precipitated the president's order to declassify information that could risk sources and methods with precipitating this effort, this campaign against Rod Rosenstein right now may very well be the fact that Paul Manafort pled guilty and agreed to cooperate.

That upped the ante tremendously, and all of this may be the president feeling cornered and lashing out and the president's allies feeling embattled and fighting back. But that puts the rule of law, let alone the Mueller investigation, in great risk.

I will add to that these -- the speculation, based on the comments of the attorney general at that conference, that his head may be on the chopping block as well. What made that possible, Wolf, was two prominent Republican senators saying that, as long as the president was willing to wait until after the midterms, when they wouldn't pay a political price for it, they would help him find a new attorney general.

Now, this I think so undermines our democracy, because the reason why he wants to get rid of Jeff Sessions isn't a disagreement on criminal justice reform or disenfranchisement of minority voters. The president is perfectly happy with Jeff Sessions there.

No, this is about the president dissatisfied with the attorney general because he won't make a criminal case go away that may implicate him and he won't persecute the president's rivals. And for leading members of the Congress to say that's OK directly undermines the system of checks and balances.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to have more on Rod Rosenstein's fate and the likely turmoil for the Russia investigation if he is fired.

And we also will have the very latest on the allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, as we're hearing now directly from him and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, ahead of their testimony later this week.

I will speak with Senate Judiciary Committee member Senator Richard Blumenthal. There you see him. We will discuss when we come back.



BLITZER: We're continuing to dig on the breaking news on Rod Rosenstein's very uncertain fate, as President Trump confirms the two men will meet on Thursday.

Right now, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is going to new lengths to try to defend his integrity, as Professor Christine Blasey Ford tells the Senate she is going to testify on Thursday, despite her fear.

The battle over the president's Supreme Court nominee growing even more heated tonight, after a new report about a second Kavanaugh accuser.

Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is covering all of this for us.

Jessica, there's a new interview on top of all of this with Kavanaugh tonight.



And Brett Kavanaugh has issued repeated denials, but, tonight, he is making an extraordinary move. In a first for a Supreme Court nominee, he is sitting in front of the television cameras to make his case that these two allegations are false, that he plans to continue defending his integrity, and that he refuses to withdraw from this nomination process.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is mounting an unprecedented defense, sitting down for a TV interview with his wife as the questions over his confirmation multiply.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process. And we're looking for a fair process, where I can be heard and defend the -- my integrity. I'm not going anywhere.

SCHNEIDER: It is just the latest counterattack from Kavanaugh. He's issued several denials and sent this letter to the Senate Judiciary's top Republican and Democrat in the wake of a second accusation, reported by "The New Yorker," that he exposed himself to now 53-year- old Deborah Ramirez at a dorm room party in the 1983-'84 school year at Yale.

Kavanaugh writing: "Once again, those alleged to have been witnesses to the event deny it ever happened. This is now a frenzy to come up with something, anything that will block this process and a vote on my confirmation from occurring. These are smears, pure and simple."

The latest allegation Prompted senator Mitch McConnell to lash out against Democrats.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man's personal and professional life on the basis of decades-old allegations that are unsubstantiated and uncorroborated.

SCHNEIDER: McConnell vowing there will be a vote.

MCCONNELL: Judge Kavanaugh will be voted on here on the Senate floor, up or down. On the Senate floor, this fine nominee to the Supreme Court will receive a vote in this Senate in the near future.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, the reporter who broke this story, Ronan Farrow, is standing by his story about Deborah Ramirez.

RONAN FARROW, "THE NEW YORKER": We did receive, however, several direct accounts from people who said they were told right after or saw her describing it right after, and who independently of Ms. Ramirez recounted the same fact pattern about Brett Kavanaugh doing this.

SCHNEIDER: CNN has not corroborated Ramirez's claim and her lawyers told CNN no comment when asked to confirm the details in "The New Yorker"s story.

"The New York Times" reports it has interviewed several dozen people over the past weeks and could found no one with firsthand knowledge of the alleged sexual misconduct. The president continues to defend his nominee.

TRUMP: Judge Kavanaugh is an outstanding person, and I'm with him all the way. For people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and 30 years ago and never mentioned it, all of a sudden it happens, in my opinion, it is totally political. It was totally political.

SCHNEIDER: On Capitol Hill, protests erupted outside senators' office, including Republican Susan Collins, a key undecided vote whose aide tried to appease demonstrators.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Collins needs to make a decision now.

SCHNEIDER: The plan is to move forward with the testimony from Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the first woman who accused him of sexual assault.


SCHNEIDER: And Chairman Chuck Grassley's spokesman says the committee will look into this new allegation of sexual misconduct by Deborah Ramirez.

And, Wolf, Democrats, though, are still demanding this postponement, this delay, and, of course, they're renewing those calls for an FBI investigation. But it doesn't look like it will happen.

BLITZER: Looks like Thursday morning, that is when it is going to happen.

All right, thanks very much, Jessica Schneider, for that.

Joining us now, Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a key Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, I know you have got a vote, but let's get through a couple of substantive questions before you run off.

Is it appropriate, do you believe, for Judge Kavanaugh to go on FOX News ahead of Thursday's hearing?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Judge Kavanaugh has the right and the freedom to explain or make his case in whatever forum he wishes.

The important place that he has to be truthful and completely accurate is before our committee on Thursday. And there is simply no way, Wolf -- and here is the really important point -- that the United States Senate in good conscience can vote on this nomination without a full, fair FBI investigation.

There is no way the United States Senate should proceed to a vote without an investigation conducted by professionals who are trained in investigating sexual assault cases, and a hearing where all of the witnesses, not just Dr. Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, should come forward, but also other witnesses who can offer facts and evidence.

That's what is important here.

BLITZER: So what options do you have to get that done your way? It looks like the committee chairman and the Republicans, they're not going along with a full-scale FBI investigation, for example.


BLUMENTHAL: My hope is that our Republican colleagues, and mostly the Republican leadership, will realize that these claims about smearing the nominee really are designed to smear the survivors and the survivor community.

Think about the nightmare that these two women face, the public shaming, character assassination, and even threats to their public safety in coming forward. They have everything to lose, nothing to gain.

Their credibility is really very powerful, and that's why I hope our Republican colleagues will heed the message that they receive from the key Republicans whose votes are necessary, as well as the American public.

BLITZER: What does it tell you, Senator, that this new allegation by a Yale classmate has led Judge Kavanaugh and his supporters to double down?

BLUMENTHAL: They're doubling down with claims about smears and about lack of corroboration, but remember that each of them has named potential witnesses who can be interviewed by the FBI if there is an investigation.

That's what needs to be done here, so that we have an impartial, objective inquiry by trained professionals. And the courage of these two survivors to come forward, facing these threats, I should -- I think should inspire, not just the Republicans, not just Democrats, but really all of us to come together in support of the survivor community.

BLITZER: And that former Yale classmate, Deborah Ramirez, has acknowledged the gaps in her own memory of the incident that she describes. How credible do you think she is?

BLUMENTHAL: I believe that she is very credible.

She's come forward to tell her story with sufficient detail that it merits investigation.

And I believe Dr. Blasey Ford. I believe the survivor. And the question is, why are they blocking an investigation? What do they have to hide? Why are they rushing to judgment? And why are they preventing us from seeing millions of pages of documents that could bear on Judge Kavanaugh's credibility?

The stain and the cloud will be not just on Judge Kavanaugh, but on the entire Supreme Court. BLITZER: Do you think eventually your committee chairman, Senator

Grassley, will accept Senator Collins' call, for example, for a staff interview with Deborah Ramirez, the Yale classmate?

BLUMENTHAL: More than a staff interview is required. It has to be a full, fair FBI investigation.

And, by the way, reopening investigations is done routinely. Since June of this year, 10 background investigations have been reopened for judicial nominees before our committee.

So it is entirely routine for the FBI to go back, do more interviews, conduct an investigation. That's what is needed here, not a staff interview.

BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, I know you got to run and vote, but thanks so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we are learning more about Rod Rosenstein's state of mind just ahead of his meeting with President Trump and after reports that he's on the way out.

And we will also talk about Judge Brett Kavanaugh's strategy of giving an interview before the potentially explosive hearing on Thursday with his accuser. Our political and legal experts are standing by.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news tonight, the fate of the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, more uncertain than ever. The No. 2 at the Justice Department, who oversees Robert Mueller's Russia probe, will meet with President Trump Thursday for the first time since we learned that Rosenstein talked last year of secretly recording the president and working to have him potentially removed from office.

[18:33:50] A source says Rosenstein expected to be fired over that today. It didn't happen today. We'll see what happens Thursday.

Let's get some more from our correspondents and our analysts. And Kaitlan Collins, walk us through this back and forth, because it was so powerful, so dramatic today.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was complete confusion all over Washington today about whether or not he still had a job, but what we do know is that he did offer to resign to John Kelly on Friday. John Kelly told people, as of even this morning, that he had accepted that resignation.

But what we're told is the thinking behind that is that Rod Rosenstein thought President Trump was going to be a lot angrier about that "New York Times" reporting that he had suggested secretly recording the president and talked about invoking the 25th Amendment to get him out of office. He thought he was going to be a lot angrier about that than the president actually turned out to be. Yes, on Friday Trump was asking people, "Do you think I should fire

Rod Rosenstein?" but he also voiced a lot of skepticism about that reporting in "the New York Times," because it was based off memos written by Andy McCabe, someone President Trump despises and often says he doesn't trust.

That paired with the fact that his relationship with Rosenstein has improved in the last few months, even though it has been really bad before and he's told people, "He's not on my team. He's weak." In the last few months he laid off the public criticism, and they've been meeting a lot.

So those, too, factor into why President Trump wasn't as angry as people thought he was going to be. Rosenstein had this impression he was going to be fired, so he might as well offer his resignation to John Kelly anyway on Friday. That's what he did, and that's why we've gotten all this confusion.

[18:35:17] But now here we are. They've had this phone call with the president today, and now they're waiting for this big meeting on Thursday where they're going to decide what exactly his fate in this administration is going to be. And as a word of caution, we know President Trump doesn't like to confront people when he's one-on-one.

BLITZER: Yes. He doesn't necessarily like to personally fire people, although he became famous by saying "You're fired." So -- but it sets the stage for real drama on Thursday.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does. And just to sort of add onto what Kaitlan is getting from her reporting, mine is that, first of all, we saw so much of the kind of pushback in public on another news channel from conservatives, trying to tell the president, "Don't do this, because you are being set up," that this is not something that you should be even thinking about at this meeting, firing Rod Rosenstein, because they believe, probably understandably, that that would cause tremendous chaos.

And it is ironic, given the fact that we have heard so much from so many Republicans on Capitol Hill, particularly in the House, especially in the Freedom Caucus, who want Rod Rosenstein out, impeached, you know, even worse because of the role that they say he played in the Hillary Clinton situation and also in the Russia - - in the Russia probe.

So you have this incredible push and pull from within the president's own party, from people the president trusts, telling him very different things. "You're being set up" on the one hand. On the other hand, "You've got to get rid of this guy. Enough already."

So we'll see what happens on Thursday, but I agree with you. Unless Rosenstein comes and the sort of -- the meeting is precooked, that they're going to know exactly what's going to happen, which is possible, it's hard to image the president right there on the spot saying, "You're gone."

BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, if he's forced out, what would be the impact on the overall Russia probe?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So Rod Rosenstein has been a real protector of Robert Mueller's investigation, the independence of that investigation, the integrity of that investigation. So if the president was able to appoint a loyalist in the deputy attorney general role, that person could do a lot of harm, up to and including actually firing the special counsel.

One thing to keep in mind is that Robert Mueller has not thus far spoken to the public, and that is a prudential decision. He -- there's no rule that says he's not allowed to speak to the public. And so we -- one thing that is possible is that, if Mueller feels as though his investigation is being obstructed by a Trump loyalist, he might decide that it's time to make his case to the public and bring forth those concerns.

BLITZER: The president's personal lawyer, David Swerdlick, Jay Sekulow was on his radio show saying if Rosenstein is out, there should be what he called a time-out in the overall Russia investigation.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. That sounds like a trial balloon to me, Wolf. All the chaos that's going on in Washington with the Kavanaugh hearings, with the Rosenstein news, or non-news as the case may be, you know, what a time to just sort of put that in the stream and see if it floats. The idea that, wait a second, you know, there's a whiff of, "What are we even doing here?" going on with that suggestion.

But we know what we're doing here. There's an investigation going on. Mueller has been proceeding professionally, methodically, indicting people. They've been negotiating about interviewing the president, and then you have a situation where his lawyer, of course, wants to slow this down, because he's the president's lawyer. So why not see -- throw that up against the wall and see if it sticks.

BLITZER: Take us a little bit more behind the scenes, Kaitlan, and give us a sense of how close the president might be to actually getting rid of Rosenstein.

COLLINS: Well, let's look at history. Back in April, President Trump was openly talking about firing him. That conversation came along with Jeff Sessions; he wanted to fire both of them. He talked about it often. It was zero secret in the West Wing that President Trump wanted them both gone.

But then we've seen that shift kind of come, but then the president did an interview over the weekend before all of this reporting got out about him offering to resign, and he was asked about firing Rod Rosenstein. And he made this answer, saying essentially that he wanted to wait for all the facts.

He repeated something like that today, saying he wanted transparency during his meeting with Rod Rosenstein. But then he distanced himself from the deputy attorney general by saying that he was picked by Jeff Sessions and that Trump had nothing to do with it. Well, of course, that's not the case. Yes, Jeff Sessions picks him,

but he obviously cleared it with the president who nominated him. So that's like a little history into, essentially, what their background has been, what the president thinks of them.

But things have changed between the two of them. Of course, right now the president isn't always as predictable as he seems, though a lot of times he is. But as you said --

BASH: No truer words have been said.

COLLINS: As you pointed out, you know, he's got two different things, from some allies -- Sean Hannity, someone who he quotes a lot, an advisor that he speaks with outside of the White House, telling him not to fire him, that it's a setup. The president is listening to those conversations. He's skeptical that it's coming from Andrew McCabe's memos.

[18:40:08] Those are reasons why the president -- if he decides ultimately not to fire him, those could be the reasons.

BASH: And yet, I'm told by a source familiar with conversations that John Kelly is having to try to get to the bottom of what caused this all, which is a "New York Times" report on Friday that Rod Rosenstein said he was going to maybe wear a wire, tape record a conversation he was going to have with the president back in 2017, and maybe invoking the 25th Amendment.

And the question being, was he kidding? Was he being sarcastic? And what I'm told is that what John Kelly at least initially found out from other people in the room is that his denial was, quote unquote, "weak."

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's more breaking news we're following. The judge, Brett Kavanaugh, speaking out about the accusations threatening to derail his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.


[18:45:39] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: There's more breaking news we're following.

We are just getting word on when a vote on the U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh may happen.

Let's quickly go to our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly.

What's the latest, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, several Republican senators coming out of a leadership meeting from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office a short while ago saying it's very possible there's a committee vote on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination as soon as this week, as soon as Friday. Now, that would be one day after the scheduled hearing where Judge

Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the original accuser with sexual assault allegation, will be testifying in an open forum. I think what this underscores is something I've been picking up from sources throughout the day, Wolf, far from endangering Brett Kavanaugh's nomination, at least amongst Republicans, the new allegations last night from "The New Yorker", which CNN has not verified, have almost served to steel their resolve to move forward.

Republican senator after Republican senator not worried about what is going to happen next, but several aides told me they're legitimately angry. It is in contrast to what the Democrats are saying, postpone the Thursday hearing, open up an expanded FBI background investigation. Republicans right now on Capitol Hill, Wolf, they believe now more than ever they need to move forward.

And it's something that also brings up a key point I keep hearing. We have seen the protests, we have seen the pressure from the Democratic side, from the left to try to stop the nomination, to try to get a withdrawal even at this point. The opposite is also happening on the conservative side of things. I have talked to several Republican lawmakers and top lawmakers who heard publicly and privately from conservative activists, from grassroots activists that said, absolutely do not back down from this nomination.

It's the competing pressure. We're obviously going to see it all on a very public forum on Thursday, but at this moment, if you want to know where Republican senators are, you got a hint from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the floor earlier today, saying there would be a vote and it would happen soon. They're now talking about a committee vote as soon as this week, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. Phil, thank you very much.

Let's get back to our analysts.

And, Dana Bash, let me play a clip. Brett Kavanaugh, he taped an interview with Fox News earlier today. I'll play this clip.


BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: The truth is I've never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise. I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone in someplace, but what I know is I have never sexually assaulted anyone.


BLITZER: What did you think of that? The decision, first of all, to do a sit-down TV interview at this critical moment?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Unprecedented. I mean, literally unprecedented, never happened before. It's pretty astonishing, but it really plays right into what Phil just reported which I'm hearing exactly the same thing. Just from the Republican side, they are digging in. They are determined to see this through and that is in large part because Republican lawmakers I'm talking to who have conservative constituents are getting slammed saying, what are you doing, how can you let the left do what they're doing to Brett Kavanaugh?

Now, whether or not that is actually happening from the perspective of these conservatives who -- many of whom get their information from conservative media and are seeing what they believe is a Republican Supreme Court nominee, a critical nominee that they have waited for generations to put on the bench getting, from their perspective, getting railroaded, which is why we have to keep our eye on the ball and the ball here is the three, four Republican senators who after this hearing is going to happen on Thursday are going to be the major- or make-or-break votes for what this nomination should be like because they're getting hammered.

Susan Collins for example, back home by the other side, really hammered by women's groups, for example, Susan Collins in Maine, for even considering voting for somebody like Brett Kavanaugh.

BLITZER: Yes, Kaitlan, they may be pressing for a vote, conservative Republicans, but there are 51 Republicans, 49 Democrats. If they lose two Republicans and the Democrats vote against Kavanaugh, it's over, they lose.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's the fear, that even if these allegations aren't proven, there isn't some kind of corroborating evidence, that it's the public opinion that's going to win over here. But two things that are happening at the White House, and one is we are seeing a change in strategy here.

[18:50:03] They have gone from saying, you know, let her come testify, let her be heard and then we'll lay it out and we'll move forward from there. Now, after the second allegation was published in "The New Yorker" last night, they have taken a different strategy with Kellyanne Conway starting it from the top this morning saying essentially that this was a conspiracy theory from the left.

We saw that continue with Mitch McConnell throughout the day calling it a smear. President Trump saying he believes it was all political. We are seeing that as a new strategy.

They're going on offense, which clearly President Trump endorsed that interview that Brett Kavanaugh did on Fox News because he tweeted about it, encouraging people to watch it, saying what's being done to Brett Kavanaugh is really unfair. Secondly, what we had heard throughout the weekend was that White House officials feared a second accuser coming forward, not because they thought maybe it was true, but they thought that this first story could inspire other people to come forward. And then once there were other accusations out there against their nominee, that that is nomination would be derailed altogether.

So, that is the concern there in the White House and that is likely why they're changing their strategy here in these last few days before he does go to testify.

BLITZER: You think this is smart strategy on the part of the Republicans, David?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think from the Republican point of view, it is. They are trying to get through this committee vote at least. There is a vote of the full senate, but they don't want to have to shift their strategy on the committee vote. This is, as Kaitlan said, leaning forward into this.

Brett Kavanaugh, although he has the Ivy League law pedigree, although he is a federal appeals judge, he's been a part of a lot of Republican political battles over the years, and I think his experience probably tells him, look, you can't shy away from this, you have to lean into it. He's got his wife with him in this interview saying, look, he wants to present the idea. I don't have anything to hide.

BLITZER: But now, it's not just one woman making accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, Susan. It's two women.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: I think that's right, and that is why we've seen this new, more combative, more aggressive strategy. But, look, I do think we need to take a step back and think about what is really at stake here. If they try to attempt the strategy, which they clearly are, of winning over that bare minimum two or three Republicans that they need, you know, that doesn't win -- it fails to sort of preserve the institutional integrity of the court, and so, maybe they can get those bare minimum votes, but there's going to be an asterisk and a cloud that hangs over this seat for the rest of Brett Kavanaugh's tenure should he be confirmed. And that really does have potentially very, very dramatic consequences for the long term institutional integrity of the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Yes, you've sensed that all along, right?

BASH: Yes. No question. Look, they -- the Republicans in the Senate are running up against a deadline they imposed, one that Democrats understandably are, you know, frenzied about because the Democratic president who preceded Donald Trump, Barack Obama had a nominee that was hanging out there and never even got a hearing. And now, Republicans who are in control, fellow Republican in the White House, see a potential for them losing their majority after the election in six weeks, so that is why you see this absolute frenzy to get this done. We'll see. We'll see.

The other thing I think we should keep in mind, as much as Republicans are saying they think the independent voters are turning, and saying that he's not getting a fair shake, you have people like Michael Avenatti and others who are warning that more accusers are going to come out.


BASH: Which I think is another reason why Brett Kavanaugh did what he did today. BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more we're following.

What happens to the Russia investigation if President Trump fires the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein? More on the breaking news right after this.


[18:58:11] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and our analysts.

And, Kaitlan, let's talk about the president, he's on the world stage at the United Nations this week about to deliver a big speech tomorrow morning, before the general assembly. Last year, he was very fiery. What are we expecting this time?

COLLINS: Well, aides are worried that last year, he wasn't diplomatic enough, and that this year, he might be trying to be too diplomatic with places like Iran. So, that is what they are trying to wrestle away right now. But it's interesting to see the president is on the world stage. He has so many important meetings this week. He's going to chair the U.N. meeting, he has so much going on, but also, you notice what he's dealing with still back here in Washington, even though he's not even here. And he's in New York.

Today, he was at Trump Tower during a brief period of a break between some of his meetings, even though he's already met with several world leaders. And that's when he needed to go on the phone with deputy attorney general to discuss that.

So, you have to pair what these White House aides are working with, they're trying and hoping this week that instead of being focused on the Kavanaugh drama, the Rosenstein drama, that he will be focused on what the issues are at hand in New York at this big meeting. But, so far, they've been having trouble getting him to stay off of Kavanaugh and now especially with the dramatic events of today, Rosenstein.

BLITZER: Yes, it's very difficult, David Swerdlick, for the president to be focusing on major world events when he's got so much going on here.

SWERDLICK: Right, and he wants to be able to say that he is doing things in North Korea in the Middle East. But the focus clearly is on everything we've been talking about here today with Kavanaugh, with Rosenstein.

BLITZER: Yes, and that's not going away any time soon, right?



BLITZER: It's going to be on his mind even while he's at the U.N. General Assembly, while he's chairing a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, talking about Iran, you know what he's thinking about, what's going on here in Washington. Guys, thank you very, very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.