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Politics & Government

Week In Politics: The Allegations Facing Supreme Court Nominee Kavanaugh

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Tracking two big political stories today - the first, the one that has dominated the news all week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEDIA MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We are following breaking news concerning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old research psychologist, described Kavanaugh in the Post report as stumbling drunk at a Maryland house party in the 1980s.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Breaking just minutes ago, professor Ford says she will take her story to Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: She will agree to participate in any proceedings that she's asked to participate in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Why didn't somebody call the FBI 36 years ago? I mean, you could also say, when did this all happen? What's going on? To take a man like this and besmirch - now, with that being said, let her have her say, and let's see how it all works out. But I don't think...

KELLY: To remind, Christine Blasey Ford is accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they both were in high school in the mid-'80s. Kavanaugh categorically denies it ever happened. We're going to talk this through with our regular week in politics segment. We are also going to tackle a story The New York Times broke today that the No. 2 at the Justice Department - that would be Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein - that he suggested secretly recording President Trump and discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. Lots to chew on here with Margaret Hoover. She is host of PBS's "Firing Line." Welcome.

MARGARET HOOVER: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Hey, and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution here in the studio. Hi, E.J.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Great to be with you.

KELLY: So as of this hour, the Senate Judiciary Committee and lawyers for professor Ford still apparently struggling to agree on how and where and when she might tell her story. Is there any way Republicans can push ahead with a confirmation vote without hearing from her? Margaret, you get first whack at that.

HOOVER: I think there's absolutely no way that they can proceed forward without hearing from her and also I think taking the very wise advice of Anita Hill in an op-ed this week in The New York Times which said an independent and neutral body should investigate this first. This doesn't have to take long. This doesn't have to delay much. The Anita Hill FBI investigation itself only took three days. But this would behoove Republicans, especially with their political optics challenge with women as we come into the 2018 election cycle.

KELLY: E.J.

DIONNE: I completely agree with that. I think that the Republicans are torn between their desire not to lower turnout on their right wing and particularly not to anger evangelical conservatives. So they want to look like they're fighting really hard for Brett Kavanaugh. And yet, as Margaret suggested, they really risk alienating a lot of moderates, particularly women. And I think that just common sense says that if a charge like this comes up, it makes sense to investigate it. And I think Ms. Blasey Ford really adds to her credibility by saying, I want this investigated; I'm not just making a charge that I can't stand behind.

And I think that very powerful interview you had earlier with her friend Kirsten Leimroth suggested a real seriousness here on her part. And I - so I think it's essential Republicans hear from her. But it wouldn't shock me if they try to barrel through, if they say, we can't negotiate anything, and we're just going to try to vote. And then it comes down to Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

KELLY: All right, well, you've weeded us right into the thicket of the politics around all this, E.J. And, you know, all this week President Trump, Republicans on the Hill have been super careful not to question professor Ford's credibility, careful right up until this morning when the president started tweeting. And it boiled down to - he said, if these allegations were so credible, why didn't somebody call the FBI 36 years ago? What changed, Margaret?

HOOVER: Well, nothing has changed in the sense that the president of the United States has consistently demonstrated that he doesn't have the ability to discipline himself or to keep his mouth shut. It was shocking frankly to most people that he had not weighed in yet. And so we knew it was always a matter of time.

But I think it's worth noting that immediately Susan Collins, a lead Republican senator, obviously a woman and very seriously on the fence on this Kavanaugh vote, immediately suggested that the president's remarks were completely unacceptable - as they are, by the way, completely unacceptable - and that professor Ford does need to have her day and her time to discuss this and that there is a very good reason why women don't come forward time and time and time again - because they are ashamed, because they're in denial, because they are afraid of the consequences. And all of these must be true for professor Ford.

KELLY: E.J., your quick take - do you think this is the president rallying his base, assuring them it's all right, our man's going to make it through eventually?

DIONNE: Well, with the president you never really know whether it's pure impulse or calculation, and maybe sometimes it's both. I think in this case there was a story on the front page of The New York Times today saying, you know, the evangelicals are all up in arms, and they really want to not only get Kavanaugh approved but Ralph Reed, an activist on the religious right, said to defend Kavanaugh. And right at the moment, defending Kavanaugh seems to involve trying to tear down Christine Blasey Ford. So in that sense, I think it may well have been political. Maybe they are also worried and are kind of trying to go on the offensive in a way that I'm not sure helps them very much.

KELLY: Speaking of the front page of The New York Times, let me turn you both to this story that the Times broke today about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. They are reporting he suggested wearing a wire to tape President Trump in the White House. I want to mention he categorically denies this allegation. He calls the New York Times story inaccurate and factually incorrect. But quick reaction from each of you - what's the significance of this, E.J.?

DIONNE: Well, you know, it's striking. When you read Rosenstein's statement carefully, he denounces the whole report as inaccurate, but he doesn't back away from any of the particulars. For example, his statement on the 25th Amendment isn't, I never suggested anything like that. It was contemporaneous. I don't believe that we should apply the 25th Amendment. They tried to explain the...

KELLY: You're saying not the most forceful denial you've ever seen.

DIONNE: No, it was pretty close to a nondenial sort of denial. They said the wire comment was a joke. Well, we don't know if that's true. So that - you know, so far at least from the exchanges, this Times story seems to be on very strong ground. And it supports that op-ed piece from - anonymously written op-ed piece which also suggested that Trump officials were thinking about the 25th Amendment, which would allow the Cabinet to push the president out of power.

KELLY: Right. Right. Margaret, this is what I wanted to ask you. If true - and again, Rosenstein is denying or non-denying denying it. But if these allegations are true, does this lend some credence to what the president has been saying all along - that there is a deep state out to get him, and this shows that it was the deputy attorney general leading that charge?

HOOVER: No. No. Because you know what the deep state is? The deep state actually refers to - and conservatives invoke the deep state all the time. It refers to this fourth branch of government or these people who are appointed and not held accountable by the electorate, the people who, according to the anonymous op-ed and if this is true about Rosenstein, are not people who are bureaucrats who are in positions time and time again. They are appointees of the president of the United States.

Cabinet officials are not part of the deep state. The anonymous op-ed senior appointee in the White House is not part of the deep state. And what this story does is it is one more data point followed by Bob Woodward's book "Fear" and the accounts in it, followed by the anonymous op-ed, followed by - if you've watched all of the news as it's developed over these years, this is one more data point that demonstrates that actually, when you get up close in the White House, it's worse than it looks from the papers.

KELLY: Margaret Hoover, host of PBS's "Firing Line," and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, thanks so much to both of you.

DIONNE: And thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.