The Latest In Politics: Kavanaugh, Rosenstein

Sep 22, 2018
Originally published on September 23, 2018 1:04 am
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

President Trump has a lot to think about as he spends this weekend at his New Jersey golf resort. Yesterday, The New York Times published an explosive report saying the number two official in the Justice Department talked about secretly recording the president last year and recruiting Cabinet members in an effort to force Trump from office. Meanwhile, Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court continues to be dogged by an allegation of a decades-old sexual assault, and it appears a Senate committee will get to hear more about that this coming week. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us to talk through all of this.

Scott, welcome.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Melissa.

BLOCK: And let's start with that New York Times story, which is really putting a lot of heat on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. What has he had to say about it?

HORSLEY: He denies that he ever pursued or authorized secretly recording the president. Now, it appears there was some discussion of recording Trump, but, by some accounts, that suggestion was made in jest. The Times story is dealing with a very turbulent period at the Justice Department last year shortly after the president fired FBI Director James Comey. And it was not long after that that Rosenstein went on to launch the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign - an investigation that, of course, continues to haunt the president to this day.

The Times says its story is just designed to paint a picture of that very unsettled moment at the Justice Department last year. But even though the events described happened more than a year ago, and even though Rosenstein himself denies that - what he's accused of doing, this story could end up giving the president ammunition to use against those whose investigation he has often criticized.

BLOCK: And, in fact, already we have heard calls from some of the president's conservative allies to fire Rosenstein, which would have all kinds of implications.

HORSLEY: Right. I mean, Rosenstein is the Justice Department official who directly oversees the special counsel's probe, so his firing could affect the progress of that investigation. And remember, the special counsel just won a conviction and guilty plea from Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Robert Mueller's team is also talking with Trump's longtime attorney and fixer Michael Cohen after he pleaded guilty to fraud charges. Beyond that, there would also be political fallout, especially if Rosenstein were to be fired just before the midterm elections.

BLOCK: Yeah. Scott, let's turn to the Supreme Court nomination. It does look as if Brett Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. The timing is still uncertain. Walk us through what's been going on.

HORSLEY: Ever since Ford went public last weekend with her story of how Kavanaugh assaulted her at a high school house party in the early '80s, there has been a lot of jockeying between her lawyers and the Judiciary Committee over when and how and whether she would testify. Kavanaugh, who denies the charges, also wants a chance to testify and says he wants to clear his name.

Last night, the committee's Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley, set a deadline of 2:30 this afternoon Eastern time for Ford to agree to appear before the committee or else, Grassley said, the committee was going to go ahead and vote on Kavanaugh's nomination to the high court on Monday. Just before that deadline, Ford's attorney said she would accept the committee's invitation, although we are still waiting for some of those details to be worked out.

BLOCK: Right. And there have been a lot of details that have been the subject of negotiation between both sides.

HORSLEY: Right. Ford's attorney says she wants a hearing that is fair and that will also protect her safety. Ford says since her story surfaced, she has been getting death threats, and her family has been hounded out of their home in California. From the committee's point of view, the optics here are also sensitive. All 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are men. They looked into perhaps hiring an outside counsel, a woman, to do the questioning. But Ford says she doesn't want that. She wants the senators to do their own questioning.

And the back-and-forth has also really highlighted the competing pressure on Senate Republicans. On the one hand, they are eager to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed and on the high court as quickly as possible. On the other hand, Republicans know they're facing a big deficit with women voters in November, and they can ill afford to look as if they are either ignoring Ford or creating a hostile hearing environment.

BLOCK: OK. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.