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Trump: Kavanaugh Protestors 'Evil'; Trump Meets with Rosenstein in Wake of Reports; Hurricane Michael Headed for Florida Panhandle; Potential 2020 Presidential Candidates Test Water in Iowa; Pompeo Returning from "Productive" Meeting with Kim Jong-un. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired October 8, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Follow the show on Twitter, @TheLeadCNN. And our coverage on CNN continues right now.

[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, supporting Rod. In a stunning turnaround, President Trump invites the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein to travel on Air Force One, just weeks after reports Rosenstein was about to lose his job. Mr. Trump now says he has no plans to fire the man who oversees the Russia investigation. But have the two men really mended fences?

Defending the justice. President Trump is blasting critics of new Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh, tonight calling the accusations against him "a hoax by people that are evil." This comes even as a new CNN poll shows the confirmation fight has sharply damaged the public's view of Kavanaugh.

Strengthening storm. Just weeks after the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Florence, a powerful new storm is taking aim at the U.S. Gulf Coast. We'll have the latest forecast from the National Hurricane center that's breaking right now.

And worthless inspection? Kim Jong-un just met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, agreeing to allow international inspections of a nuclear test site, one he appeared to destroy in front of reporters months ago. Is it real progress or is the U.S. getting played by North Korea's brutal dictator?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, President Trump is defending two of his most controversial appointees. He's heaping praise on new Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh, and labelling the sexual assault allegations against him a hoax by Democrats.

At the same time, the president says he has no plans to fire deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, despite the recent "New York Times" report that Rosenstein discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.

I'll get reaction from Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists, they will have full coverage of all the day's top stories.

First, let's go right to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the Kavanaugh confirmation fight remains a very sore topic for the president.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Even though his Supreme Court pick has been confirmed by the Senate, President Trump is still waging a war of words over Brett Kavanaugh today. He labeled Democrats and other unnamed forces who opposed Kavanaugh's nomination as, quote, "evil."

The president sees an opening in the upcoming midterm elections to use Kavanaugh to fire up the conservative base.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With his nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, heading to the high court, President Trump is still delivering some low blows.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: False charges. False accusations. Horrible statements that were totally untrue. That he knew nothing about. It was a disgraceful situation brought about by people that are evil. And he toughed it out.

ACOSTA: At a speech to law enforcement officials in Orlando, Mr. Trump did not make it clear whether he considered Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, as being evil, as well.

But before he left for Florida, the president signaled he could already see the battle in political terms, predicting that many Democrats are suddenly going to abandon their hopes for a blue wave in the upcoming midterms.

TRUMP: A man that was caught up in a hoax, that was set up by the Democrats, using the Democrats' lawyers. And now they want to impeach him. I think a lot of Democrats are going to vote Republican, because I have many friends that are Democrats. The main base of the Democrats have shifted so far left, that we'll end up being Venezuela.

ACOSTA: The president's Kavanaugh playbook was on display at a rally over the weekend in Kansas, where Mr. Trump accused Democrats of using mob tactics --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Think about them!

ACOSTA: -- pointing at the protesters shouting at senators up on Capitol Hill.

TRUMP: Unthinkable. In their quest for power, the radical Democrats have turned into an angry mob.

ACOSTA: The president may be forgetting, he too, has repeatedly encouraged unruly behavior as a candidate. TRUMP: I'd like to punch him in the face. I love the old days. You

know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks.

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?

ACOSTA: Still, the anger flowing through both parties after the supreme circus is palpable, from Lindsey Graham's emotional defense of Kavanaugh --

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I've never been more pissed in my life. I voted for Sotomayor and Kagan. I would have never done this to them. This is character assassination. This is wanting power too much.

ACOSTA: -- to the Democratic outrage directed at Republican Senator Susan Collins, who now says she does not believe Kavanaugh assaulted Ford.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I do believe that she was assaulted. I don't know by whom. And I'm not certain when. But I do not believe that he was the assailant.

[17:05:06] ACOSTA: Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got testy over the weekend when he left open the possibility he could support filling a Supreme Court vacancy during the next presidential election, something he would not do when Barack Obama selected Merrick Garland in 2016.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: If you can't answer my direct question -- are you saying that if Donald Trump --

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The answer to your question is, we'll see whether there's a vacancy in 2020.

ACOSTA: The president wasn't completely focused on Kavanaugh as he invited Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to ride on Air Force One. Rosenstein no longer appears to be on thin ice after he once talked of secretly recording the president and having him removed from office using the 25th Amendment.

TRUMP: We had a very good talk, I will say. That became a very big story, actually, folks. We had a good talk.


ACOSTA: Now, as for that meeting the president had with Rod Rosenstein, the White House told reporters the two men discussed what they called general Justice Department business over on Air Force One. But there weren't many other details besides that.

Those details, obviously, could be illuminating, as Rosenstein is the Justice Department official overseeing the Russia investigation. Right now, the president says he's not going to fire Rosenstein. And as for Brett Kavanaugh, the new Supreme Court justice will appear

with the president later on tonight at an event here in the East Room of the White House. You can hear the president, perhaps, just arriving here at the White House from his event earlier today on Marine One.

Wolf, one key thing to watch later on tonight is whether or not the president, after all of this hot talk the last 48 hours, whether he tries to turn down the temperature in this city, Wolf. It is a city where the temperature definitely needs to be turned out this evening -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, didn't turn it down earlier today. Let's see what happens later tonight. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Let's dig deeper right now in the fate of the future attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. Even though President Trump says they had a very good talk today aboard Air Force One, Rosenstein still oversees Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, which is always a very sore point for the president.

Let's bring in our political correspondent, Sara Murray. Sara, so how did Rosenstein go from expecting to be fired to being kept on, in spite of what he reportedly said about the president?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, such an awkward position that Rosenstein has been. You know, there was that -- the "New York Times" broke this story initially that Rod Rosenstein had brought up the idea of wearing a wire, that he had talked about, you know, the 25th Amendment process of removing the president from office. And in the wake of this, Rosenstein, of course, assumed the president would be furious. He expected that he would be fired.

And I think a couple things transpired after that. I mean, first, it became very clear that the Kavanaugh confirmation process was going to be a lot messier than the president and his allies initially expected.

I also think they got a sense, the president did, you know, from watching FOX News, from talking to some of these allies, that he wasn't really sure that it was true, this notion that Rosenstein raised the idea of wearing a wire. Rosenstein denied it.

And so I think this pushed all of this into the back burner. The two were originally supposed to meet sooner. That got delayed because of the Kavanaugh fight. And so now they seem to be, at least for now, on pretty solid ground. It might be a little bit tenuous, but at least they seem to have reached this kind of agreement. The president says he doesn't want to fire Rod Rosenstein, and Rosenstein seems willing to sit pretty, at least for now.

BLITZER: But he's not necessarily completely out of the woods yet.

MURRAY: Is anyone ever completely out of the woods, though, Wolf, when it comes to the Trump administration?

For Rosenstein, it's especially sticky, because look, this week, there are a number of House Republicans who have been very critical, who look for, essentially, any opportunity to get rid of Rod Rosenstein. He's agreed to go talk to them.

You know, you can bet that he will be asked about the notion of the 25th Amendment, about wearing a wire. So we'll see what comes out of that. It's supposed to be behind closed doors. But you know it's Washington. Things tend to leak. So that is still a big question.

And I think the other big question is, what happens after the midterms? The president may not want to deal with getting rid of Jeff Sessions, getting rid of Rod Rosenstein right now with this election coming up. But I think after the midterms, he's made it pretty clear, the president, that he wants to see some changes at the department of justice. That could include Jeff Sessions, it could include Rod Rosenstein.

And that, of course, you know, raises the big question of what happens to Robert Mueller and his Russia investigation. Right now we just don't know how that's going to turn out.

BLITZER: Mueller is sort of lying low between now and the election. We'll see what happens after the election.

All right. Thank you very much, Sara Murray reporting.

Joining us now, California Democratic representative, John Garamendi. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you believe Rod Rosenstein's job over at the Justice Department is secure?

GARAMENDI: Well, what I do believe is that the president wants to stop the Mueller investigation. That's been at least 18, 19 months in process. He's done everything he can to try to stop it. And Rosenstein is in the way.

So if I were Rosenstein, I'd be very concerned about what Jim Acosta just said about thin ice and the previous story about global climate change and the arctic ice melting. It's not a good situation for Rosenstein. And the Mueller investigation is at the heart of the matter, and the president has been very, very clear about what he wants to do about that. And that is terminate it.

[17:10:11] BLITZER: Why do you think he's kept Rosenstein so far? He must have been furious at that "New York Times" report.

GARAMENDI: Well, of course. But there is something just ahead of us. It's called the midterm elections. And if nothing else, the president is calculating. He is a very calculating person. He's looking out there. He wants to make sure that the Congress does not flip. And by the way, I'll tell you what's going on outside of the Beltway.

Outside of the Beltway, there is deep, deep determination, really building off the Million Women March the day after the inaugural. We had an event here in California planned for more than a month and a half to raise money for the red to blue candidates. We expected a good turnout. We got twice the number of people. People that have never written a political check before in their life wrote political checks. They are determined, men and women alike, particularly the women, determined to see change. And they're out to change Congress.

BLITZER: We're going to talk about the midterms, but let's get back to Rosenstein for a moment.


BLITZER: Ordinarily, the president holding a lengthy meeting with his deputy attorney general wouldn't raise any eyebrows. But given Rosenstein's oversight of the Russia investigation, do you think it was appropriate for him to travel with the president today aboard Air Force One?

GARAMENDI: Well, these are the kind of questions that will undoubtedly come out if there's ever an open investigation of collusion or conspiracy or efforts to try to shut down an investigation. We really don't know.

Do I expect Rosenstein to say what actually occurred in that conversation? No. Certainly not in the near term, perhaps later that will come out.

But right now, I cannot imagine a situation in which the president was not assessing how he could get rid of Rosenstein and then get rid of Mueller.

BLITZER: Do you think it's comparable at all to former president Bill Clinton's boarding the plane of the attorney -- then attorney general, Loretta Lynch, while his wife, Hillary Clinton, was under investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department?

GARAMENDI: Well, there are some similarities. We know that what both the attorney general and Bill Clinton said took place in that conversation. We can assume that they were accurate and truthful. And we could assume that the president is truthful in his comments about the discussion that he had with Rosenstein.

In either case, it raises a lot of questions that have been asked, certainly about Clinton and the attorney general at that time. And while the questions are now being asked by you to me, I don't know. But in both cases, it was not a good thing to do.

BLITZER: I will note that Hogan Gidley, the deputy White House press secretary, made a point of saying, yes, they met on Air Force One in the president's private cabin for about 30 minutes, but other aides were present, meaning other people were witnessing what was going on. It wasn't just a one-on-one meeting between the president and the deputy attorney general.

Rosenstein, as you know, he's scheduled to testify behind closed doors later this week. What do you anticipate will emerge, if anything?

GARAMENDI: Well, I suspect very little that will be useful going forward.

The president is undoubtedly being very coy about what he intends to do. But once again, his intention has been for more than a year-and- a-half to stop the Mueller investigation. Rosenstein is a key player in that effort that he has been very persistent about.

Can he terminate that investigation with Rosenstein in place? Don't know. Probably not. And therefore, if Rosenstein were to go, either voluntarily or being dismissed, fired, would he be able to appoint somebody in that position that could then take over the control, terminate, or simply redirect or slow down and misdirect the Mueller investigation? Don't know the answer to that.

But I'm quite sure the president is thinking through and perhaps with his assistants, thinking through how he can maneuver to stop the Mueller investigation. And that means Rosenstein is right there with the stop sign.

BLITZER: What did you think of President Trump's remarks earlier today, regarding the newest U.S. Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh? The president says Kavanaugh was caught up in a hoax. It was all set up by Democrats who want to see -- who now want to see Kavanaugh impeached.

Is there any truth to the accusation that Democrats, including you and the House of Representatives, want to start some sort of impeachment process against this newest Supreme Court associate justice?

GARAMENDI: Well, you said "you" meaning me? No, it doesn't make any sense.

CLINTON: No, you and your Democratic colleagues.

[17:15:03] GARAMENDI: Well, in all the discussions I've had, which have been several with key people in the party, not with the Democratic leadership in the House, but others, no. An impeachment does not make any sense, in the near term or off into the future.

Rosenstein is going to be there. The chances of an impeachment ever coming to pass, both in the House, as well as in the Senate, is nil. Not going to happen. So why waste our time on that?

There are critical issues that we need to turn to. We know that the Republicans want to do away with the protections in the Affordable Care Act on preexisting conditions. We want to turn our attention to that. We want to turn our attention to jobs and good wages. And we want to turn our attention to the other corruption that is existing in Washington in the president's cabinet, in fundraising. All of those issues are key issues that we want to turn our attention to. So if we are to take back the House, we're going to focus on things

that are meaningful to the families of America. And the -- I can assure you that the impeachment of Kavanaugh has no meaning to the people I've been talking to out here in California in this red-purple district that I get to represent.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Good to be with you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more on the political aftershocks from Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation fight.

And we have breaking news. The National Hurricane center just updated the forecast for Hurricane Michael and warns it will bring life- threatening conditions to the U.S. Gulf Coast.


BLITZER: The breaking news. President Trump is now back at the White House for tonight's formal swearing in ceremony for the newest Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

He's taking some questions from reporters right now. We're about to get the tape. We'll have that for you in a couple of moments. Stand by. He's speaking about some issues.

President now also calling the allegations that nearly derailed Kavanaugh's nomination a hoax committed by Democrats. During a speech in Florida this afternoon the president said Kavanaugh faced what he called a disgraceful situation brought on -- and I'm quoting now -- "people that are evil."

Let's get reaction from our political experts, and Kaitlan Collins, once again, we're waiting to hear from the president. He's chatting with reporters right now. But listen to what he said earlier in the day about the process that led to the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh.


TRUMP: A man that was caught up in a hoax, that was set up by the Democrats, using the Democrats' lawyers, and now they want to impeach him.

False charges. False accusations. Horrible statements that were totally untrue, that he knew nothing about. Frankly, terms that he probably never heard in his life. He was this, he was that. He never even heard of these terms. It was a disgraceful situation brought about by people that are evil. And he toughed it out.


BLITZER: Now, that was him earlier in the day. Now he's been speaking with reporters, again. We'll have that tape in a moment. But the president sort of spiking the football right now. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSES CORRESPONDENT: Today we're seeing

something we haven't seen President Trump do yet in the wake of this drama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh. And that is he is completely saying that these allegations are entirely fabricated.

That first he said that he cast doubt on them -- first he said he believed her. Then we saw him cast doubt on Christine Blasey Ford. And now saying we are seeing him say they're completely manufactured by Democrats and that he's citing that, saying that House Democrats want to impeach Brett Kavanaugh, though I don't think very many people have said that publicly. Maybe privately they're saying that on Capitol Hill.

But as you just heard, Congressman Garamendi say that's not what he's going to be concerned about if Democrats do win back the House in the midterm elections.

But that's what President Trump is focused on. And we're seeing his language change, because he feels like he's won in this situation. He thinks his language, his advice to Brett Kavanaugh to push back and to push back hard and to be forceful and not only to deny these allegations, but deny them so forcefully, he feels that he's won. And we're seeing him take a victory lap, not just at the White House tonight, but clearly in his remarks, as well.

BLITZER: Yes. We're about to get the tape right now. Here's the president. Watch this.


TRUMP: So we have a big night. I think it will be very interesting. I assume most of you will be there for the official swearing in of Judge Kavanaugh. And I think it will be something very, very special. I've always been told it's the biggest thing a president can do. And I can understand that. So it will be very special.


TRUMP: We just had a very nice talk. We actually get along. And a really good talk.


TRUMP: Yes, I'm not doing anything.


TRUMP: No, I don't want to do anything about that. That -- I think it -- I think it will be treated very fairly. Everybody understands, there was no collusion, there's no Russia. It was all made up by the Democrats. They're the ones that colluded with Russia. The Democrats colluded with Russia. And, frankly, the previous administration didn't do anything about Russia when they knew that they should have.



TRUMP: You've got to speak up.


TRUMP: I said that I was going -- I'm not making any changes. You'd be the first to know. I'm not making any changes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) journalist who may have been killed (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Have you heard anything about that?

TRUMP: I am concerned about it. I don't like hearing about it. And hopefully, that will sort itself out. Right now, nobody knows anything about it. But there's some pretty bad stories going around. I do not like it.

Thank you. I'll see you -- I'll see you at 7 p.m.

[17:25:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you have to say to Taylor Swift, now that she's in politics? Taylor Swift is jumping into politics. What do you have to say to her?

TRUMP: And what did she say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She says she wants people to vote for Democrats. And not Marsha Blackburn, especially.

TRUMP: You know, Marsha Blackburn is doing a very good job in Tennessee. She's leading now substantially, which she should. She's a tremendous woman. I'm sure Taylor Swift has nothing -- or doesn't know anything about her. And let's say that I like Taylor's music about 25 percent less now, OK? Thank you.


BLITZER: All right. So the president stopping off on his way back to the White House to answer a few questions from reporters. Jim Acosta is over at the White House.

Jim, once again, making it clear, he has no intention of firing the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. And I thought it was interesting. There was almost -- I don't want to call it a bromance between the president and Rod Rosenstein. That might be taking things too far. But he was certainly giving him the Air Force One treatment. He was there in front of the cameras, traveling with the president.

And the president making it clear, he's not going to -- he's not going to fire the deputy attorney general. He may be concluding, Wolf, that he just might be better off in terms of this Russia investigation by, you know, showing Rod Rosenstein some respect. More respect than he's shown to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. And that may be just the strategy at this point, moving forward. The Russia investigation has been sort of on a slow burn, on the back

burner through this midterm election cycle, and we haven't heard a whole lot of that. So perhaps that is the thinking there on the president's part.

Now, I thought it was interesting that he weighed in on, of all things, Taylor Swift, who has come down in support of Phil Bredesen, the Democrat running against Marsha Blackburn in that hotly-contested Senate race down in Tennessee. The president saying there that he thinks he likes Taylor Swift about 25 percent less. Just goes to the constant surreal nature of covering the Trump presidency when he weighs in on all this.

And, of course, we have to fact-check things to some extent here, Wolf. That's part of what we do here. And when the president says that the Democrats colluded with the Russians in 2016, that's obviously not true. He's making things up there. That did not happen during the 2016 election cycle, as far as anybody knows.

And, of course, there is ample evidence that perhaps things were happening inappropriately inside the Trump campaign with respect to the Russians, and that's what's being investigated by the Rod Rosenstein supervised Russia investigation as we speak, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and I was also pleased that he finally spoke out about this missing very prominent Saudi journalist who writes for the "Washington Post," a U.S. resident who's gone missing out of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The president saying, "I'm concerned about it. I do not like it."

There has been a lot of criticism of the Trump administration over the past few days that there's been a thunderous silence from the U.S. on that.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. That's right. The case of Jamal Khashuggi, if I'm pronouncing his name correctly --

BLITZER: Khashoggi.

ACOSTA: Khashoggi. He is an op-ed columnist that has apparently -- has appeared from time to time in "The Washington Post." Went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and vanished. And there are concerns, and there are concerns inside the Turkish government that this -- this columnist, this journalist, was murdered.

And, yes, you're right, Wolf. For several days, there has been sort of a deafening silence over here. And it has raised concerns as to whether or not this administration shows enough concern for what happens to journalists around the world. And it's not just this case of Jamal Khashoggi, but other journalists around the world. There are journalists who are putting their lives on the line, just like this man. And it is -- it's very abundantly clear that we need to get to the bottom of what happened.

BLITZER: Certainly do. All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much. David Chalian, what do you think? The president basically making it

clear, you know, that the deputy attorney general of the United States is here to stay.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No doubt about that. For now. Meaning I think Rod Rosenstein is safe, perhaps, until the Mueller investigation is wrapped up, and then we'll see what happens with the replacement of Jeff Sessions, and how the line in the DOJ sorts itself out, Wolf.

But I think what you saw there, and what you can see in the president is somebody who's really excited to get this victory lap going tonight in the White House with Justice Kavanaugh. I mean, he said it's going to be this great celebration. He was eager to make sure all the reporters were going to be there to cover it. This is a real feather in his cap.

And I would also take a guess that perhaps Marsha Blackburn would rather have the victory with Justice Kavanaugh to energize her Republican base troops rather than worry about the Taylor Swift endorsement for Phil Bredesen. So that, too, I think is playing into -- into the Republicans' hands here right now as we're four weeks out from this election. They were desperate for an energy boost, and Kavanaugh is giving them one right now.

BLITZER: Mark Preston, how do you see it?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple things. One is he was trying to be cutesy with the Bredesen comment regarding Taylor Swift. He could have said, "I'm just going to shake it off." Right? He could have said that.

[17:30:11] I can't even get a laugh out of you down there. Good Lord, come on. Can we have a little bit of fun in politics?

Look -- here's the situation right now. He's in a very good mood. We saw that this morning. We have seen that right now. We don't know what his mood is going to be in an hour, let alone in 24 hours.

And that is the biggest problem with this presidency right now, is that we are basically at the whim of whether he's angry at you or whether he's happy with you. And right now, Rod Rosenstein appears to be in good graces with him. So as David noted, he is still employed, for now.

BLITZER: And you heard, Sabrina, the president say the Democrats, they already want to start impeaching Justice Kavanaugh. And you heard -- I haven't heard any Democrat say impeach, impeach, impeach. Maybe they say impeach the president but not necessarily this new Supreme Court justice.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": In fact, Nancy Pelosi rejected the prospects of an "impeach Kavanaugh" campaign. She says she has her hands full with the calls to impeach Trump.

And I think this is sort of like the "abolish ICE" line with respect to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement where the president and Republicans are talking more about Democrats suggesting that ICE be abolished than democracy are actually calling for it to be abolished. And similar, you haven't really heard Democrats, as they move past the Kavanaugh confirmation process, talk about impeachment.

But what it speaks to it the president recognizing that this is a moment to try and galvanize his base ahead of the midterms. This was certainly an issue that energized the voters on both sides of the aisle. And I think the question is whether or not the fact that Kavanaugh was confirmed sort of neutralizes some of the momentum on the Republican side. Because from their point of view as voters, the fight may well be over.

So I think the president wants to try and at least prolong this line of attack on Democrats, and that's why you saw him really go more forcefully, as Kaitlan said, for the first time, really saying that these allegations aren't simply false, in his view, but that the entire controversy was a hoax.

BLITZER: Because, Kaitlan, they seem to be energized right now. A lot of Republicans -- certainly, you cover the White House. Officials at the White House, not only because of the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice, but the incredibly good economic numbers, 3.7 percent unemployment in September, the lowest in almost 50 years. A new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement just signed. All of that very significant.

COLLINS: Yes, they have all of these big things going on. A lot of people inside the White House saying that last week was one of their best weeks that they've been here. That is really extraordinary, given the circumstances that were unfolding last week with Brett Kavanaugh and "The New York Times" report about the president's finances.

But those other things did happen. The U.S.-Mexico, USMCA trade deal. This with the job numbers, as well.

But the question is, how does the president maintain this energy boost for the next month? Can he hold onto that? Because this administration can change in 24 hours or less. So can he hold onto something like that and that energy for the next four weeks? That's what we're going to see.

Because the president is making several campaign stops. And we have seen him since this Kavanaugh stuff started unfolding start to focus more on the midterms at these rallies and less just on his greatest hits. He really does try to plug the candidate in the midterms by saying he's the one on the ballot. He's got four stops this week. So he's starting in Iowa tomorrow. He's ending in Kentucky on Saturday. He's got a lot coming up on his plate. And he is going to make Brett Kavanaugh front and center at those rallies.

BLITZER: They say -- I was going to say, David, they say four weeks is a lifetime in politics. But with early voting coming up, four weeks is going to move very quickly. CHALIAN: Yes, and some very big critical states this week are

beginning the early voting. Some states began in the previous couple weeks, Wolf.

But when we're talking about the boost that Republicans are getting, I just want to emphasize also, the Democratic Party has been so super- charged this election cycle. We've seen it in their primary turnout numbers. We've seen it in these special elections. Democrats are ready to walk on broken glass to get to the voting booth and cast a vote against the president.

Every Republican strategist in this town has been concerned for the last year about Republican complacency. So they've got a boost. What we don't know is, is that really going to be enough to last them all the way through, and it is doing nothing to diminish that Democratic enthusiasm, which is super-charged?

So I don't think all of a sudden the midterm election landscape has been completely up-ended. But I think Republicans got a much-needed jolt of energy that they were lacking.

BLITZER: They certainly needed it right now. Because the polls, at least over the past several weeks, were showing the Democrats were in a good position, a very good position, to take the majority of the House.

PRESTON: Look, we talk to strategists, the four of us all of the time, and there was this big sigh of relief that came out of the Republican strategists' mouth when they realized that Brett Kavanaugh was going to get through, that Donald Trump wasn't going to scuttle the nomination, cause more problems within his party.

But, again, I go back to the problem with Donald Trump, is that he's being a good guy today. But you want to go back to Saturday night, and he had some really strong things to say, including, you could argue, racist comments about the Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren, in discussing high cheek bones and her being Native American. So, you know, he's OK today. Let's see where he is tomorrow.

[17:35:04] COLLINS: And one idea also is that the president hasn't fired Rod Rosenstein, to go back to him, because he didn't want to create even more chaos out of the midterms, because they felt that could really affect Republicans, even more than they believe they're going to be affected.

And it was really interesting to hear what President Trump said there. It is stunning that these two men flew on Air Force One today; and President Trump gets off the plane and he says they had a great talk, a nice talk and that they have a good relationship.

Two weeks ago, Rod Rosenstein offered his resignation to the chief of staff, John Kelly, because he thought he was going to be fired, because of that report that he had privately discussed recording the president and forcibly removing him from office.

Two weeks later, here we are, and President Trump hinting at the end of the Russia investigation there, saying, "I think we're going to be treated fairly." This is a president who has railed against Rod Rosenstein, his family, tweeted about him, and said that the Russia investigation is a witch hunt. And right there we saw a very different tone from President Trump.

BLITZER: It was interesting that he invited the deputy attorney general to fly down for this -- this speech that he was delivering down in Orlando, Florida.

Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more news coming up. North Korea's Kim Jong-un agrees to let inspectors into a nuclear weapons site, but it allegedly was destroyed months ago. Is it really progress toward denuclearization?

And we'll have the latest forecast on the rapidly strengthening hurricane. It's Hurricane Michael. It's headed for the eastern Gulf Coast.


[17:41:13] BLITZER: Breaking news. The National Hurricane Center has just issued an updated forecast for a very dangerous new storm that is now threatening the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Let's go to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray.

So Jennifer, where is the hurricane, Hurricane Michael, heading?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's headed straight for the Florida Panhandle, as of right now, and it has strengthened with that 5 p.m. advisory, now with winds of 80 miles per hour, gusts of 100 miles per hour.

Now, the hurricane-force winds extend about 30 miles from the center. Tropical-storm-force winds extend about 175 miles from the center. Right now, interacting with the western side of Cuba. But once it gets into that warm gulf water in the next six to 12 hours, it's really going to be in a favorable environment to intensify, and will rapidly. By this time tomorrow evening, this could be a major storm, Category 3, and expected to make landfall Wednesday afternoon, possibly around 1 p.m., around the Florida Panhandle as a major storm before racing off to the north and east.

So with the current wind projections, we could get more than 100-mile- an-hour winds right around the Panama City area. Of course, there's still time for this to jog a little bit to the east or West. But this is going to bring quite a bit of wind to the area.

This is going to be a fast-mover, very different from Florence; it just sat over the Carolinas. This one is going to move very quickly, so the flooding threat isn't going to be as big as it was in Florence, but the difference is going to be the wind. The wind threat is going to be huge with this one.

We already have rain across Cuba, also the Florida Keys, the west coast of Florida. The models are agreeing for the most part right now that this is going to make landfall just on the west side of Panama City. So the dirty side, the most intense side of that storm, is going to be from, say, Panama City through Apalachicola and the Big Bend of Florida. That's where most of the storm surge is going to be, as well.

We now have hurricane warnings in place from Pensacola all the way through cedar key. And 8 to 12 feet of storm surge possible across the Big Bend. That includes Apalachicola all the way down to Cedar Key. We could see 12 feet of water push inland, Wolf.

This is going to be huge for Florida. Again, a very fast-mover, but it is going to pack a powerful punch with major hurricane-force winds. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. And let's see what happens after it hits the Gulf Coast, as well. Jennifer Gray, thank you very much. We'll stay in close touch.

Also tonight, we're only four weeks away from the midterm elections. That means the 2020 presidential election is close enough for potential Democratic candidates like senator Cory Booker of New Jersey to be testing the political waters in Iowa.

CNN's Rebecca Berg is in Des Moines for us right now. So how's the senator being received, Rebecca?


A very enthusiastic reception so far for Senator Cory Booker. He says he is here in Iowa to support Democratic candidates, to get out the vote ahead of the midterm elections. But he has been doing all of the things you need to do to lay the groundwork here to run for president, potentially.

He's thinking about it. On Saturday evening he spoke to a big fundraiser for Democrats here with roughly 1,000 activists and Democratic party donors. Very influential Democrats there. And today he's been out on the campaign trail for Democratic candidates, including for J.D. Scholten, the congressional candidate in the 4th District, running against Steve King.

There, Cory Booker really revved up the crowd. It was a crowd of farmers, packed to the rafters to see him. And when he mentioned running for president, they were extremely enthusiastic. He got a standing ovation at that event.

And earlier today, we were on an RV with Booker and Scholten, driving to that event. We asked Cory Booker about this trip, about being in Iowa. And I want you to listen to what he had to say.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: I was happy to see people energized. To help and support and do some labor. To drive in a Winnebago through Iowa farm country. It's this country, again, that helped my family get a start from poverty to the middle class. I'm excited to be back here in Iowa, the land of my grandmother, and help out.


BERG,: So playing up his family connections to Iowa, clearly laying the groundwork, as I said, to potentially run for president.

He told us that he doesn't plan to sit down and make a decision until after the midterm elections, until after November. For now, he says he is focused on getting out the vote and getting up Democratic energy for that big Election Day, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, a lot of Democratic presidential hopefuls. They'll be in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, right after the midterm elections. Rebecca, thank you very much.

Coming up, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is on his way home right now from North Korea and his latest meeting with Kim Jong-un. Did this trip convince the North Korean dictator to move more quickly on getting rid of his nuclear weapons?


[17:50:33] BLITZER: Secretary of state Mike Pompeo is now on his way home after what appears to be a successful visit to North Korea. Unlike his last visit there, Pompeo was able this time to get together with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

CNN's Brian Todd has been following the Secretary's progress with us.

Brian, he seems to be pretty satisfied with this visit.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Mike Pompeo, as always, is couching his visit with Kim Jong-un in very positive terms. But tonight, there are some serious questions being raised, especially about Kim's promise to let inspectors look at a key nuclear test site.


TODD (voice-over): President Trump's top diplomat, fresh off a critical meeting with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, North Korea, is expressing characteristic optimism about the U.S.'s relationship with the brutal dictator.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's another step forward, so this is, I think, a good outcome for all of us.

TODD (voice-over): Mike Pompeo says Kim Jong-un is ready to allow international inspectors to look at what was once a key nuclear testing site, Punggye-ri. This is where Kim's regime conducted at least six nuclear bomb tests, including its most powerful blast in September of last year, a test of a hydrogen bomb many times stronger than the one the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima.

But in May of this year, the North Koreans put on a show for journalists, appearing to destroy at least three tunnels at Punggye- ri. Days later, U.S. intelligence officials told CNN that's all it appeared to be, a show.

Intelligence and arms control officials said those blasts may have been too small to really collapse any tunnels, that portions of the tunnel complex could have remained usable.

No weapons inspectors were allowed there at the time to witness the event. Now months later, analysts wonder why the reclusive dictator, who has never allowed inspectors into his country since taking control from his father, would suddenly change course.

ADAM MOUNT, SENIOR FELLOW AND THE DIRECTOR OF THE DEFENSE POSTURE PROJECT, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS: They could have other test sites prepared. The important thing to remember is that this is not one of the core facilities that produced North Korean fissile material, the missiles that deliver nuclear weapons.

TODD (voice-over): Pompeo says he's also hopeful that Kim will also allow inspectors to look at a missile engine test site, but analysts say there's a lot that the regime is still hiding.

MOUNT: North Korea has succeeded in resisting administration attempts to dismantle the facilities that produce the fissile materials for or the missiles to deliver nuclear warheads. So, so far, this is a relatively cosmetic step.

TODD (voice-over): Still, Pompeo, emerging from his fourth trip to Pyongyang, says a second summit between President Trump and Kim is, quote, pretty close.

Tonight, veteran Korea watchers are torn. Some believe continuing the dialogue between two men who say they've developed a personal friendship is positive.


TODD (voice-over): Others say Kim Jong-un got a lot and didn't give up much at the last summit in Singapore.

OLIVIA ENOS, POLICY ANALYST, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It granted Kim Jong-un a lot of legitimacy in the international community. I mean, people saw him taking selfies with the Prime Minister of Singapore, walking along Marina Bay Sands. It has the effect of sanitizing Kim Jong-un's image in a way that he is not deserving of.


TODD: Now, tonight, what analysts are also worried about is that Kim Jong-un is going to keep up this pattern of dodging, weaving, meeting with President Trump and having dialogue, but never really offering a verifiable inventory of the nuclear weapons that he has or the fissile material that he's producing. And they think he may keep this up indefinitely now that President Trump and his team have taken away any hard timelines for Kim to really denuclearize, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you have reported, he may have as many as 60 nuclear warheads right now. TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: We've gotten other indications that Kim's regime, Brian, could have been hiding something even when they blew a part of that nuclear testing facility back in May. Is that right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Now, before the regime blew up those tunnels at Punggye-ri that we showed in that piece -- that was back in May -- according to U.S. officials who spoke to CNN, the North Koreans actually removed some technical equipment from the tunnel complex.

That was a sign that the North Koreans were preserving some equipment for future use. We can get ready for more, you know, dodge-and-weave games like that in the months ahead.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, as President Trump prepares to welcome Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the White House, tonight, he is still lashing out over the bruising confirmation fight. But the President also appears to have mended fences with Rod Rosenstein. Is the Deputy Attorney General's job really safe?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. High stakes on a plane. President Trump says he's not making any changes when asked about the future of the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. The President describing what he calls a very nice talk with Rosenstein on Air Force One.

[17:59:57] Calling it a hoax. The President says sexual misconduct allegations against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were made up by Democrats and, quote, evil people.