'This Week' Transcript 7-8-18: Trump Adviser on Judicial Nominations Leonard Leo, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and President Trump’s Personal Attorney Rudy Giuliani
This is a rush transcript for "This Week" on July 8, 2018.
A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, July 8, 2018 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Supreme Court countdown.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you turn in Monday at 9:00, I think you're going to be extremely happy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump poised to name his second justice.
TRUMP: It's such an important decision, and we're going to give you a great one.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As the president made his choice, will Republicans fall in line to lock in a conservative majority on the court? Is there anything Democrats can do to stop them? We asked the man who crafted Trump's shortlist, top Supreme Court adviser Leonard Leo in a This Week exclusive.
Plus, a top Democrat on the judiciary committee, Senator Richard Blumenthal.
And, after that Michael Cohen bombshell...
Quite an interview, he famously said he would take a bullet for President Trump. That's what appears to be changing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A wide ranging interview.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He told ABC I will not be a punching bag.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Cohen strongly hints at the possibility that he is, in fact, looking to cooperate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The White House is silent.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to answer questions on this topic.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But behind the scenes, the president and his team strategize on Cohen and Robert Mueller, taking their hardest line yet. Which investigation poses the bigger threat How will Trump respond. We ask Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, plus Alan Dershowitz joins our legal panel, and the latest insights and analysis from our Powerhouse Roundtable.
We'll break down the politics, smoke out the spin. The facts that matter This Week.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning. We have a lot to get to this Sunday, starting with that breaking news out of Thailand where rescuers are racing against dangerous weather and treacherous conditions to save that young soccer team trapped in a cave for two weeks.
The first boys have been brought to safety and ABC's James Longman is tracking all the latest. Good morning, James.
JAMES LONGMAN, ABC NEWS: Good morning, George. It was quite a moment, just about an hour ago when we saw two ambulances thread in a road behind me, and those are dark now, but we saw them thread between the hills here, because the cave is just about 500, 600 meters behind me here away from that cave.
The first two boys leaving there, and have made their way now to the hospital by helicopter. We understand there could be a further two boys who are currently being treated.
And so we understand that the entire operation decided to focus on the weakest of the boys first, and so that really does give us hope that the rest of the boys and their coach who remain in that cave could come out just as easily, but of course we have a long way to go.
The operation consisted of boys in small groups with masked fixed over their whole face with a diver in front and a diver behind of each boy. And then they were brought out along the surface. They did not want to any point for those boys to have to dunk their heads under the water. And that was the whole debate the whole way through this operation was how to lower that water level.
And the rocks that were in there, which were preventing the boys from remaining on the surface. And so they used jack hammers to cut through that rock. And it seems as though they have been successful.
That is a 2.9 mile tunnel, most of it, about three-quarters of it, if not fully submerged, then water really up to the neck. They reached the third cavern, which is the staging post for most of the diving operations. They're received medical attention. They were brought out of the cave, another 300, 400 meters where they walked out. They received medical attention at a tent up there, a field hospital, before they went over to the hospital in Changrai (ph).
But I can't tell you, George, about just the emotion of all this. You know, we arrived here just about three or four days after those boys had originally gone missing, and many, many people thought that there was no way that they were going to be alive in there. And then suddenly the news broke that they had been found.
No word at all from inside that cave for days, and then amazingly they were found actually 300 to 400 meters further into the passage than rescuers had originally anticipated.
And then the big rescue mission began -- the drilling, the billions of gallons of water that was pumped out of that cave, and the effort to reduce the water. They were building dams here to try to prevent more water from getting in there. And the rain was the major factor. And I don't know if you can see now, it started again now.
We had a few days of dry. That allowed the water to come down. But that was the thing that really pushed rescuers.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And I know the rain has been picking up, as you said.
Any sense of how long the whole operation is going to take
LONGMAN: Well, it takes something like five hours to get to -- for a diver to get all the way to the point where the boys are, and another five hours to get back.
This operation started at 10:00 this morning. So, if you take into account, then you would say that it should take about three to four days for this entire process.
But this is moving a lot quicker than anyone anticipated. The boys have to rest, of course, on their journey back. Some boys will be weaker and some boys will be fitter. We are not out of the woods, but this is an extraordinary moment for Thailand.
STEPHANOPOULOS: James Longman. Thanks very much. Some good news there out of Thailand. We’re going to stay on this all day long but now it’s time for the latest on the investigations into the president. This weekend we’re seeing a tough new line against Robert Mueller from Trump’s legal team laying out new conditions for an interview with the president.
And this move comes in the wake of those strong signals from former Trump attorney Michael Cohen that he is preparing to cooperate with prosecutors against President Trump. First, my exclusive interview where he criticized Trump’s attacks on Mueller and declared that family and country, not the president, have his first loyalty.
Cohen then changed his Twitter account to remove any affiliation with Trump, hired a new defense attorney from New York’s southern district, Guy Petrillo and long-time Clinton defender Lanny Davis, who was part of President Clinton’s legal team when he faced impeachment.
The White House refused to answer questions about Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the president worried after his comments this morning that Michael Cohen is going to flip and has he considered at all paying Michael Cohen’s legal fees?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: As you know, I’m not going to answer questions on this topic and would refer you to president’s outside counsel (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you at least tell us whether the president watched this morning and potentially how he feels about the idea that his former attorney said that he would put his wife, his sons, his family and his country first but not the president?
SANDERS: Once again, I’m not going to weigh into this issue and I’d refer you to the president’s outside counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s a good thing, then, that we have the president’s outside counsel here. Rudy Giuliani. Thanks for coming back, Mayor. So let’s start --
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY, DONALD TRUMP: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- let’s start right there. What was the president’s reaction to that interview from Michael Cohen?
GIULIANI: Same as mine, which is fine. I mean, Michael Cohen should -- should cooperate with the government. We have -- we have no reason to believe he did anything wrong. The president did nothing wrong with him, so we’ve gone through every document we can. We see no evidence of it. The fact that Mueller gave --
STEPHANOPOULOS: All 1.3 million documents?
GIULIANI: 1.4 that we produced. Also, Mueller himself has indicated that there’s nothing here because he would have given it away. And he hasn’t taken it back. And every indication we have is the president is not involved in that. Now, I’m hoping that Michael is able to clear himself because I think what was done to him was really unfair and I know he’s being sensible and calm and trying to say the prosecutors did nothing wrong.
But invading a lawyer’s office? I don’t know, George. That doesn’t seem right to me.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well he -- he said it wasn’t invasion. He had no problem, as you saw, with how that --
GIULIANI: Well, I think -- if you were in his position, I think I’d advise you to say that too.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you have no concerns at all about anything that Michael Cohen might tell the prosecutors?
GIULIANI: Zero. None. As long as he tells the truth, we’re -- we’re -- we’re home free.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- but just to be clear, though, the joint defense agreement that Cohen had with the president’s legal team, that is no longer operable?
GIULIANI: I’m not really allowed to talk about that, but it wouldn’t matter whether it was or it wasn’t. We think we know everything we need to know at this point.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the president’s legal defense fund is no longer paying Michael Cohen’s legal bills?
GIULIANI: Again, that’s not something I’m -- I’m allowed to comment on, but it wouldn’t matter one way or the other. We want -- we want Michael to handle this in a way that’s most helpful to him. Michael’s not going to lie, he’s going to tell the truth. Long as he does that, we have nothing to fear.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Has -- has the president or his team -- anyone on his team had any conversations with Michael Cohen or his attorneys about a possible pardon?
GIULIANI: No, not at all. I have -- I have advised the president, which he understands, no discussion of pardons. You can’t abridge your power to do it, that’s something you can decide down the road one way or the other.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re not going to rule it out in the future?
GIULIANI: I don’t think you should, I mean that wouldn’t -- wouldn’t be fair to -- to the president, wouldn’t be fair to Cohen, wouldn’t be fair to future presidents. But the fact is there’s no reason for a pardon right now or even to consider it. And quite honestly, it would just confuse everything.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you’re not concerned at all about what Michael Cohen may say, but he is facing some potential legal jeopardy in part, dealing with that Stormy Daniels case.
When I asked Cohen if the president directed him to make the payments to Stormy Daniels, he said he couldn’t answer on advice of counsel. Did the president direct Michael Cohen to make those payments?
GIULIANI: As far as I know from his original statements and the president’s statements and everything I’ve seen in terms of documents and the way it was reimbursed, no the president did not originally know.
At some point, probably a little foggy as to exactly when, president found out and -- and -- and reimbursed him. I think that’s -- that’s the clear point because -- and second, wasn’t a campaign contribution.
This is something you (ph) would have paid for no matter what.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But -- but -- but to be clear, the president did not direct Michael Cohen in advance to make those payments?
GIULIANI: As far as I know, that is right. And second, even if he had, that would not necessarily be anything. If the president directed him to settle the case, he would have done that a year before, a year after, didn’t matter that he was running for office.
That’s something you settle because you don’t want your family to be embarrassed. And the amount of money involved, $140,000, would indicate it was a nuisance settlement as opposed to the millions of dollars that have been given away in cases like that in the past.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the president did not promise in advance to reimburse Cohen for that?
GIULIANI: That -- that I don’t know. Whether there was an understanding between them that I think Cohen knew he’d be reimbursed, didn’t seem to be any trouble in working out the reimbursement with the accountants.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There was another question that came up in my interview with Michael Cohen and it had to do with the Trump Tower meeting, that famous (inaudible) Trump Tower meeting, Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort all met with these Russians who had indicated they had some dirt on Hillary Clinton.
When I asked Michael Cohen did the president know about that meeting ahead of time, again he refused to answer in advice of counsel. What is the answer to that question?
GIULIANI: Don’t believe he did know about it, don’t believe he knew about it afterwards, I think that you could have very, very different recollections on that because it was right -- right in the heat of the campaign.
And I -- I was probably there that day. I don’t -- I don’t remember it. Did somebody say something to me? I don’t know, it goes off in your -- you know what a campaign is like, it’s complete helter skelter.
Again, it doesn’t mean anything because it resulted in nothing. That went nowhere, she tried to get back in, she didn’t, they never did anything with it (ph).
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well what it could mean is that -- that the president, as Tina (ph) said, he didn’t know about in advance. If it turns out that he did, then at least he hadn’t been telling the truth --
GIULIANI: Well I think -- I think -- I think you end up there with at most differing recollection. Since nothing happened with it, there’d be no reason to hide it. I mean he could have said yes, they did tell me about it, and what happened? Nothing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to move on to Robert Mueller, but I just -- I just want to be -- be very clear, you have no concerns that Michael Cohen is going to flip on the president.
GIULIANI: I have no concerns that Michael Cohen is going to do anything but tell the truth, and if he does, as I said, there’s no suggestion that anything happened. The way you’d find out if he did flip on the president as opposed to just flip -- I don’t know what that means, but the case would have to go back to Mueller, because Rosenstein has made the decision that it should -- that the presidential part of this should be handled by an independent council.
I don’t think this other (ph) district would be able to handle that at least beyond a certain point.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Robert Mueller. The New York Times reported that President Trump won’t agree to an interview with Robert Mueller unless Mueller first proves he has evidence that President Trump committed a crime.
That was based on an interview with you. Is that the current condition?
GIULIANI: Yes, but I have to modify that a bit, look at my quote. My quote is not evidence of a crime, it’s a factual basis for the investigation. We’ve been through everything on collusion and obstruction.
We can’t find an incriminating anything, and we need a basis for this investigation, particularly since we now know it was started from (ph) biased -- by biased --
STEPHANOPOULOS: We have James Comey’s testimony.
GIULIANI: Well Comey’s testimony is hardly worth anything. And -- nor -- nor did he ever -- James Comey had -- never found any evidence of collusion. And rules out obstruction by saying the president had a right to fire me. So all the rest of it is just politics. I mean, the -- the -- the reality is Comey, in some ways, ends up being a good witness for us.
Unless you assume they’re trying to get him into a perjury trap by (ph) he tells his version, somebody else has a different version.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How is he a good witness for the president if -- if he’s saying that the president was asking him -- directing him, in his words, to let the Michael Flynn investigation go?
GIULIANI: He didn’t direct him to do that. What he said to him was can you -- can you --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Comey says he took it as direction.
GIULIANI: Well that’s OK. I mean, taking it that way -- I mean by that time, he had been fired. And he said a lot of other things, some of which have turned out to be untrue. The reality is as a prosecutor, I was told that many times. Can you give the man a break, either by his lawyers, by his relatives, by friends. You take that into consideration but, you know, that doesn’t determine not going forward with it.
Also, you know, the obstruction statute they want to charge him with or -- or write a report about --
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know they want to charge him with something --
GIULIANI: No, I don’t know that. But that -- that they’re -- they -- I think are investigating. Although they’ve never really told us what they’re investigating, which of course (ph) we want to know. It -- it says you have to actually obstruct. There’s no obstruction here.
If you look at the Lester Holt interview, which NBC unfortunately doesn’t play the end of, the president says, when Lester Holt asks him, do you expect this investigation to go on, on tape, the president says of course I do. In fact, I believe it’s going to go on longer now and I -- I did it for the best interest of the people -- of the country.
The president knew the investigation was going to go on. It did go on. That’s the best fact that we have. Nothing interfered with Mueller getting to the end of this investigation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve -- you’ve been on the case now for several months and it seems like every time you come on, you’re stretching out the timeline for when a possible encounter with Mueller will happen. First it was going to be within a couple of weeks, then it was going to be after the Singapore meeting with the North Korean leader. Is it -- have you simply determined that the president is not going to sit down for an interview --
GIULIANI: We have not. We’re close to determining that. But the reason for the -- for the extension are the extraordinary things that happened that we didn’t expect. It began before I started with the Cohen -- with the Cohen thing. It took a while to unravel all that. Then the -- the Horowitz report is devastating. I mean, it’s 500-and-plus pages -- there are (ph) more things in that that you have to review than you can imagine.
And it cast a taint over the entire investigation. It was started -- Mueller hired originally as his chief investigator a man that has some kind of vicious bias against Donald Trump. Out of all the FBI agents, how you could select that guy is beyond --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well as soon as he found about the texts, he fired him.
GIULIANI: Yes, but other people had to find it out. He didn’t find it out. He didn’t vet him properly. Nor -- nor has he vetted the people he has with him right now. He’s got very, very severe partisans working on an investigation that should be done by people who are politically neutral.
STEPHANOPOULOS: This has been part of the case that you and the president have been making for some time now. I was struck by an op-ed in the Washington Post this weekend by Bill Frist, the former Senate Republican leader. He’s saying basically that the White House should stop attacking Robert Mueller, should simply cooperate.
He says it isn’t easy to tell a president of your own party that he is wrong but the assault on Mueller’s investigation does not help the president or his party. When Trump talks about firing the special counsel or his power to pardon himself, he makes it seem as though he has something to hide. The president must remember that only Mueller’s exoneration can lift the cloud hanging over the White House.
GIULIANI: Well, I -- you know, Bill’s a good guy but he’s not a lawyer, I don’t think, nor has he ever defended someone who’s being wrongfully accused. The reality is that there are biases that have to be explored surrounding Mueller. How -- how you could end up hiring a group of people that are as prejudiced and biased as this group -- in their record, at least -- is extraordinary.
And then how you could expect us to just walk our -- our client like a lamb going to the slaughter, we wouldn’t be lawyers if we would do that.
He want -- he -- George, he wants to testify. He believes like --
STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s hard to believe that anymore, Mayor.
GIULIANI: Well it is hard to believe given all the things that have been shown about how tainted this investigation is. This is the most corrupt investigation I have ever seen, that the Justice Department is allowing to go forward.
I’ve never seen an investigation with text from FBI agents. Now seven of them that have such extraordinary bias against the person --
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Inaudible) pre-dated Robert Mueller.
GIULIANI: Well that’s -- but that’s the investigation he inherited with a lot of the testimony that he inherited. And then he went ahead and didn’t do anything to purge himself of that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He fired him.
GIULIANI: He fired him after somebody else found out. Well how about looking at the texts of all of his people. Does his number two guy, his number three guy, his number four guy have similar texts in which they’re talking about how much they hate Trump? I don’t know.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question --
-- president has also put out tweets questioning the constitutionality of the special counsel. He said the appointment of special counsel is totally unconstitutional. Despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the democrats, have done nothing wrong. Is that going to be a part of the president’s formal defense, that the special counsel --
GIULIANI: Well that’s -- that’s based on several articles, the most prominent of which from Professor Calabrese, in which he argues that the -- given the way this particular independent counsel was appointed is unconstitutional.
Frankly, we haven’t really researched that with the depth that we should to see if we would raise it. Of course you raise every argument in favor of your client. So it would be hard for us to reject that from such a prominent person as Professor Calabrese.
STEPHANOPOULOS: All right, thanks for your time.
GIULIANI: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: (Inaudible) someone else it’s now (ph) from our legal panel, Alan Dershowitz, professor of medicine at (ph) Harvard Law School, also author of the new book, "The Case Against Impeaching Trump". That comes out tomorrow. And Asha Rangappa, former FBI special agent New York, now senior lecturer at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and an analyst with CNN. Welcome to you both.
And Alan, let me begin with you. It’s an (ph) interesting mixed message there from Rudy Giuliani. Nothing to worry about from Robert Mueller, yet the scorched earth against his team continues.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, LAYWER: Yes, because there is something to worry about, obviously. In the end, if the president sits down with Mueller, he may be walking into a perjury trap. If he is unwilling to sit down, he may be subpoenaed, then probably they’ll be a year or so of litigation. But in the end, probably he’ll have to appear in front of a grand jury. His great vulnerability is a perjury trap, a perjury rap, because as I argue in my book, you need to commit a crime to be impeached.
And if he’s committed previous crimes -- there’s no evidence of that -- that won’t work. But if he commits the crime of perjury, he’s in Clinton-land.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- and that gets to the question, Asha. I mean, the perjury is one concern that the president seen (ph) -- sort of looks like they’re not going to do an interview. But you heard Rudy Giuliani say there yesterday that without the president testifying, there is no obstruction case.
ASHA RANGAPPA, SPECIAL LECTURER, YALE UNIVERSITY’S JACKSON INSTITUTE FOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS: That’s not true. The obstruction case does center on the president’s intent, whether he acted corruptly when he fired James Comey. But Mueller does have a lot of circumstantial evidence.
He has the conversations between James Comey and the president, he has attempts by the White House to approach the CIA and NSA to try to stymie this investigation, he has his own words on the Lester Holt interview.
So he does have a circumstantial case. I do think Mueller wants to sit down and get from his own words what the president had in his mind.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think Mueller can write a report, make a case on obstruction without interviewing the president?
DERSHOWITZ: No, I don’t. I think where we respectfully disagree is a president -- and I argue this and I think I prove it conclusively -- a president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice for merely exercising his power under Article II.
He can be, the way Nixon was and Clinton was --
STEPHANOPOULOS: The question is what was going on in his mind --
DERSHOWITZ: You cannot question a president’s motives when the president acts. If a president pardons, that’s it. If a president fires, that’s it. You can’t go beyond the act and get into his motive or into his intent.
That’s -- no president has ever been --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- is pardoning someone to cover up a murder?
DERSHOWITZ: It doesn’t matter. He -- pardon is the pardon. The covering up of the murder may be an independent crime, the pardon cannot be the actus reus of a crime because you cannot have an actus reus of a crime that is a constitutionally protected act.
RANGAPPA: Well where I disagree with Professor Dershowitz is that the pardon is an explicit power granted in the constitution, and the firing of James Comey or the firing of one of his principle officers is an implicit power.
So he also has the duty to ensure that the laws be faithfully executed. So in many ways, obstruction of justice is almost implicit in the constitution as well to make sure that investigations don’t get thwarted for nefarious ends.
DERSHOWITZ: -- you can’t start -- you can’t start probing the motives of presidents, all presidents have mixed motives all the time. They’re political, they’re ideological, they’re patriotic, they’re -- can I write a good book after I finish my term?
When you start probing the motives of a president who has acted properly under the constitution, you’re really going down a very, very dangerous, slippery slope.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Michael Cohen for a second, you also saw Rudy Giuliani saying nothing to fear, no problem as long as Michael Cohen tells the truth. Do you agree with that?
RANGAPPA: I think that they have a lot to fear, and Michael Cohen is probably the closest person in Trump’s inner circle and have been for many years. He -- he was basically the fixer.
So, you know, he’s going to know a lot about what was happening, not just in the campaign, but in other areas such as with the Stormy Daniels case. And to go back to the perjury issue, let’s remember that the civil cases also present a problem for Trump, because he can be deposed in all of those cases --
DERSHOWITZ: Only if he testifies. And he’s not going to do that, he’s not going to make the mistake that Bill Clinton make (ph). He’s learned that lesson, nobody, no decent lawyer is ever going to allow the president to testify in a civil case.
It will be resolved in another way. The problem Cohen poses, it’s not about the past, because you can’t prosecute a president while he’s sitting, and you can’t impeach him for business dealings in the past that Cohen may know about even if there is any crime.
Cohen poses a problem, because if the president were to testify, Cohen could contradict him. Then you’d have a current perjury prosecution, which is an impeachable offense.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s one concern. Final question though, if the -- there is some charge related to the Stormy Daniels case and the president is implicated in that, that was in service -- that would be the charge of getting him elected.
That comes pretty close to an impeachable offense.
DERSHOWITZ: In my book I argue that that’s a close question, whether or not you can impeach a president for a crime that helped him get elected. I think the Stormy Daniels case would be a real stretch.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Alan Dershowitz, Asha Rangappa, thanks very much. When we come back, the president’s Supreme Court pick, prime time announcement set for tomorrow night, then we’ll get the latest from the man who created Trump’s short list, Leonard Leo, and a top Democrat from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Richard Blumenthal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Today I am keeping another promise to the American people by nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch of the United States Supreme Court to be of the United States Supreme Court.
So was that a surprise? Was it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is was the president's first Supreme Court pick in January 2017, next one comes tomorrow night in primetime.
We're now joined by the man who crafted President Trump's short list, Leonard Leo, on leave now from the Federalist Society, also now the president's top Supreme Court adviser.
So I guess I have to start out asking has the president made his decision?
LEONARD LEO, FEDERALIST SOCIETY: Well, it's his prerogative to tell everybody that, but I'll tell you this, what drives the president in this process is that he made the Supreme Court a huge issue in the election, more than any other presidential candidate. He greatly enthused voters over it and it was one of the big factors that led to his election and holding the U.S. Senate.
And so he kept that momentum going with Neil Gorsuch, and now he's got another opportunity to do it again.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Everyone coming from the list that you help craft at the Federalist Society. Our best reporting is that the president is down to four finalists, including Brett Kavanaugh, court of appeal in D.C., also worked in the George W. Bush White House, facing some conservative opposition. Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton all raising concerns. Ken Cuccinelli, the former attorney general of the state of Virginia said this, "he looks, walks and quacks like John Roberts Jr. The Bush lives loudly in Kavanaugh."
Are you concerned about that conservative opposition mounting to Brett Kavanaugh?
LEO: Every potential nominee before announcement, every potential nominee before announcement, gets concerns expressed about them by people who might ultimately support them. People aren't always familiar with their records. Sometimes people say things about one nominee because they favor another.
I think what you can say about what's going on right now, talk about Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Barrett, Thomas Kardiman, Raymond Kethledge who I assume are the four.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Those are the four.
LEO: Look, they're extraordinarily distinguished people. Certainly Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett have a lot of name recognition among supporters of the president, and I think that ultimately when people like them are nominated you'll see a lot of folks line up.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You didn't mention the two that -- according to The New York Times Senator McConnell has said would have any easier road to confirmation, Raymond Kethledge and Thomas Hardiman.
Is it true that Senator McConnell has warned the president that Kavanaugh and Barrett would have a tougher time getting confirmed?
LEO: Well, I think that first of all with regard to Ray Kethledge and Tom Hardiman, they're a little bit less known by conservatives. And their records are a little bit lighter. So, it might take some time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that an advantage, though
LEO: Well, it depends. I mean, remember the president ran on the Suprem Court issue and that greatly enthused voters. So, it is important to have people who are extremely well known and have distinguished records.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the -- our -- our next guest, Senator Richard Blumenthal, is raising question as (ph) saying that this should be put off until after the midterms, after the Mueller investigation because it would be improper for the president to nominate someone who may have jurisdiction over his investigation. How do you respond to that argument?
LEO: I think that’s a red herring. There are always issues in an (ph) executive branch and president deal with on a regular basis that are extraordinarily important and controversial and we don’t hold up Supreme Court nominations or confirmations for those.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The other big issue, of course, that is energizing so much opposition right now is the fear among Democrats, among progressives that whoever the president appoints is going to overturn Roe v. Wade. Is it fair to say that anyone who made it onto your list is -- is likely to be an opponent of Roe v. Wade?
LEO: No. First of all, nobody really knows. We’ve been talking about this for 36 years, going all the way back to the nomination of Sandra O’Connor. And after that 36 year period, we only have a single individual on the court who has expressly said he would overturn Roe. So I think it’s a bit of a scare tactic and ranks (ph) speculation more than anything else.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that comes from your -- your allies as well. I want to read from Ed Whelan, who wrote in the National Review, no one has been more dedicated to the enterprise of building a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade than the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo. That has been your goal.
LEO: My goal, first and foremost, has always been to find people to serve on the court who believe in the constitution as it’s written. And that’s really ultimately what drives the conservative legal movement (ph). You want judges on the court who understand that the best way to preserve freedom and dignity and prosperity in this country is to have people who are going to interpret the constitution as it’s written and not play politics when they’re judges.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you confident that anyone the president nominates tomorrow night can get confirmed before the midterms, that they’re -- that the Democrats would not be able to hold up the nomination until after the midterms?
LEO: I’m very confident with this president’s enthusiasm and with Leader McConnell’s enthusiasm that they can get anybody confirmed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Leonard Leo, thanks very much. Let’s get a response now from the other side. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. You just heard Leonard Leo there expressing some confidence that whoever the president nominates tomorrow night will get through before the midterms. Your response?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There is no question, George. We’re in an extraordinary time. This next nominee will be the swing vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. And equally important, to eviscerate the protections for millions of Americans who suffer from preexisting conditions and other healthcare rights along with workers rights, gay rights, voting rights.
The American people will understand what’s at stake here. And by the way, you’ve just heard extraordinarily powerful reasons why the next justice appointed by this president ought to recuse her or himself. Rudy Giuliani raising the possibility of a pardon. This next justice will sit on the issue of whether or not the president can pardon himself or others --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Leonard Leo called that a red herring.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, it’s far from a red herring when Rudy Giuliani is saying he will not be interviewed -- the president will refuse to talk to Robert Mueller or his team unless he is given evidence of a crime. That is a preposterous position.
And the next justice on this Supreme Court will probably be the swing vote in deciding whether he has to comply with a subpoena along with whether or not he has to stop defying the chief anti-corruption provision of the constitution that forbids him from taking payments without coming to Congress for --
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve seen the short list that we just talked about with Leonard Leo. Are you certain that any one of those four is a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?
BLUMENTHAL: If you look at what the president said, which is he will nominate someone only if that person is committed to automatically overturn Roe v. Wade, if you look at what the president said about John Roberts, his berating Roberts for failing to strike down the Affordable Care Act, he certainly has criteria. And the president’s outsourced this decision to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.
It is extraordinary. I was a law clerk to Justice Blackmun, I’ve argued cases before the Supreme Court for them. I’ve never seen a president of the United States in effect make himself a puppet of outside groups and choose from a group of right wing fringe ideologues that are prepared on this list.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We’ve talked about the stakes but do Democrats have any power to stop this?
BLUMENTHAL: We do. The Republicans control the voted in the Senate, but we have the American people on our side. The vast majority of American people, shown by poll after poll, want Roe v. Wade to be preserved.
They want protections for millions of Americans against preexisting conditions to be sustained. They want these voting rights and gay rights and other rights to be not only preserved, but also enhanced.
And I think we can take this call to action to the American people, take our case to them. Our colleagues know they’re going to have to answer to history for this vote.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question, on another subject, you’re also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. You saw Mike Pompeo come back from his meetings in North Korea and -- and being accused now from the North Koreans of gangster like tactics.
What’s your reaction to this latest move in the negotiations over the North Korean nuclear program?
BLUMENTHAL: Unfortunately, and I really mean unfortunately, I think that some of the more dire views of what we sacrificed in this reality show that the president conducted are now coming through.
We made concessions like cancelling military exercises and to some extent undermining the credibility of this country in that region, and look at what we are seeing in return. The North Koreans are following their standard playbook, which is delay any denuclearization and in effect give nothing for what they’re getting, which is legitimacy on the world stage.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Richard Blumenthal, thanks very much.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Round Table’s up next, we’ll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Round Table’s ready to go, Stephanie Cutter, Chris Christie, Patrick Gaspard and Sara Fagen and all week long you get the latest on politics and breaking news alerts on the ABC News app. We’ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Let's say I'm debating Pocahontas, right? I promise you I'll do this. I will take -- you know those little kits they sell on television for $2? Learn your heritage. We will take that little kit andsay, but we have to do it gently because we're in the #metoo generation, so we have to be very gentle, and we will very gently take that kit and we will slowly toss it, hoping it doesn't hit her, and we will say, I will give you $1 million to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you're an Indian, you know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump unleashed in Great Falls, Montana on Thursday night. A lot to talk about now with our roundtable, joined by Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundation, former political director in the Obama White House, Republican strategist Sara Fagan, the Bush White House political affairs director, now a CNBC contributor, Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter, she is a veteran also of the Obama White House. Happy to welcome her as her newest ABC News contributor. Joining here at ABC, Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, and ABC News contributor.
And Chris, let me begin with you. Let's talk about the Supreme Court. President clearly working the phones. He loves this process of picking the Supreme Court justice, loves to have a little bit of surprise as well. But are you pretty confident that the choice is one of these four people on the short list we've been talking about?
CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: I am. And I think they're four really good people, four very different people in terms of their background and their experience. But I think all of them are people who no one could argue are extraordinarily well qualified from a legal perspective to serve on the Supreme Court.
So I think the president's got a good list of four people. Knowing him, he is going to continue to think about this until the last hour...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Which means the lobbying is going to continue until the last hour as well.
CHRISTIE: Well, of course. But I've got to tell you the truth, I don't know how affected he is by that, George. I think on this kind of stuff he'll have a pretty good gut feel of whether that person is someone that he wants to sell to the American people and to the United States Senate as the right person for the Supreme Court.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sara Fagan, not just gut feel. We just had Leonard Leo here, formerly of the Federalist Society, in many ways anybody on short list is pretty much a known quantity to Republicans.
SARA FAGEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: They are. They have track records of course, but some of them have longer track records. You know, there's been some conversation about Brett Kavanaugh, for example, a former colleague of mine. He's been on the court for 12 years. He has an incredibly, impeccable track record, and I think somebody who would move the court forward and influence his fellow justices if selected.
STEPHANOPOULOS: 12 years on the court, Patrick Gaspard, it may not be enough in President Trump's mind to overcome the connection to George W. Bush.
PATRICK GASPARD, OPEN SOCIETY: Well, yeah, and you know you showed that clip from that rally. And in addition to those attack lines, he actually even had the gall to go after President Bush’s impressive record on encouraging Americans to volunteer --
-- the first -- the first President Bush, insist (ph) the (ph) absolutely I think regrettable on -- I’d say reprehensible. But yes, this judge does have I think 289 decisions that are going to be parsed through all -- all -- all four of these potential contenders, have a long history that would suggest that all of them are going to move the courts in this decisive moment further to the right.
I think that’s going to compel to moderate -- independent -- to independent Republican senators and three Democratic senators in red states that Trump won to ask a really tough question about how this moment is very different than the Gorsuch moment in that --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Which wasn’t changing the balance of the court.
GARSPARD: Wasn’t changing the balance and -- and this might be a good deal nmore polarizing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Stephanie, you’re a veteran of -- of these confirmation battles from both the Senate and the White House. Put on the strategist hat, is there really anything standing in the way of any of these four nominees, given the line up in the Senate right now?
CUTTER: Well potentially, you know, of course Gorsuch won with 55 votes, including three Democrats. But since he was confirmed, Republicans are down one with Doug Jones winning the Senate seat in Alabama.
We don’t know whether John McCain will be able to come back to vote for this nominee. So that puts the -- the count right at the balance at 51. If Democrats hold together and there is a compelling argument for Senator Collins and Senator Murkowski to see this as the swing seat, which could mean a -- a big change in direction for women’s rights, the ability for women to make their own decisions about their healthcare decisions.
Both of these Senators have said that’s incredibly important to them. There’s a chance that this nominee could at least be delayed if not blocked, we don’t know yet though.
FAGEN: (Inaudible) of that argument of course is that we’re heading into a very contentious election. We have a -- we have 10 Democrats running for the Senate in states that Donald Trump won.
And so the notion that some of those Democrats would not support this nominee for their own political futures to meet leads me to think that any one of these four would get through the process and be confirmed --
GASPARD: -- of the election -- of the election and the mid terms, I would just also add that right now, poll that we saw from the Washington Post last Friday demonstrates that this president only has the approval of 32 percent of American women.
So if this Supreme Court fight is litigated on healthcare, litigated around choice, that’s going to have implications for Republicans as well --
CHRISTIE: -- this Supreme Court fight’s not going to be litigated out there, it’s going to be litigated in the United States Senate. Republicans who do not vote for one of these four very qualified nominees are going to have an awfully difficult time explaining to their constituencies why they didn’t.
And again, this is one of those things where what party you’re in really does matter, and you talk about those three, there’s more than three as Sara points out, that are going to really have to worry about his.
Clara McCaskill’s going to have to really think about what she’s going to do --
-- I mean there -- I think there are six or seven Democrats --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- once one Democrat goes, you could see a whole bunch go --
CUTTER: -- the one thing that we are talking about with this Supreme Court nomination that we very rarely talk about these nominations, usually it turns over Roe v. Wade or some obscure commerce clause argument.
This one, I think for these Democrats that are up for reelection in some red states, it’s going to turn on healthcare, because there are cases moving through the courts, the last check on this president has been the courts in terms of unraveling the Affordable Care Act.
And there are cases moving towards the Supreme Court that --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- this weekend we saw them in the district court.
CUTTER: Exactly, and we saw the administration just yesterday end payments to insurance companies that helps them cover with -- people with preexisting conditions.
Those -- those Democrats in those red states care about people with preexisting conditions. That is going to be determinative.
CHRISTIE: That’s not going to be determinative to Joe Donnelly in Indiana or Heidi Heitkamp in -- in her state. I mean it -- the fact is that those states are so red and Trump won by so much that they’re a very, very difficult if not almost impossible races and they’re not going to want to make their lives more difficult.
FAGEN: But we saw also Senator Blumenthal, I mean the line of attack, which we anticipate from -- Democrats are gearing up for a war over whoever the nominee is. You know, that it’s -- you know, there’s going to be no rights for anyone who’s gay, no women will have any rights, you must recuse yourself on a vote on -- in a theoretical vote on impeachment.
I mean, Democrats are going to throw everything at this, and at the end of the day, the governor’s right. This is politically untenable --
-- Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly.
GASPARD: No -- you know, I’ll -- I’ll -- I’ll take your point but right now we’re not seeing Democrats gearing up for war, we’re seeing Republicans gearing up for war around this nomination where you’re seeing a profound fissure inside of the Republican party.
FAGEN: There’s no fissure --
FAGEN: I don’t think there’s any fissure --
GASPARD: -- about just how right they can take this nomination (ph).
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me try to connect some of these -- these points here as well. Let’s say Mueller does come forward with some kind of report before the final hearings, which are likely to be in October. Isn’t that -- and we heard -- we heard the response there from Leonard Leo, but isn’t that going to strengthen the Democrats’ case for delaying anything if -- if a Mueller report drops right in the middle of confirmation hearings --
CHRISTIE: No, it’ll just -- what it’ll do, I think, quite frankly, is make confirmation easier. Because then people would (ph) be distracted. If the Supreme Court is the only thing that people are going to be able to focus on, that’ll be one thing. If we’re focusing on a report from Bob Mueller and the Supreme Court, this -- this nominee will, I think, sail through because people will be distracted by the brightest, shiniest object.
And let me say this, there’s not going to be a report. I’m -- I’m willing to bet you right now --
STEPHANOPOULOS: No report?
CHRISTIE: -- there will be no report until after the election.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK (ph).
CHRISTIE: There’s no way he’s going to finish -- listen, George, he’s going to have to finish them -- we’re -- we’re sitting here today at July seventh or eighth. Right? July eighth. He’s going to have to finish, you know, by September first. Not going to happen.
GASPARD: Governor --
CUTTER: If there’s ever an argument to delay a Supreme Court nominee, it is with a special prosecutor issuing a report on whether the president of the United States colluded with Russia on an election and obstructed justice. That is an argument to delay a Supreme Court nominee.
CHRISTIE: Really? Because you’re speculating that at some point a matter like that in fact get to the Supreme Court and that person you’re already deciding could be the deciding vote when in fact when you look at what happened when President Clinton was in office, the people who President Clinton appointed voted against him on the Paula Jones matter.
Supreme Court justices on issues like that are not going to vote in a partisan way, they’re not going to vote according to party. We’ve seen that over and over again where there was the Nixon tapes case, where there’s Bill Clinton and Paula Jones --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Although we have seen --
GASPARD: But -- but -- but governor, the notion that somehow Senators are going to be distracted from the Supreme Court decision I think is -- that’s a -- that’s a -- that’s a stretch. This is --
GASPARD: No, no. This is one of the most remarkable shifts that we’re going to have in the Supreme Court in -- in -- in generations. The 1930 shift was remarkable, the 1968 shift was profound. This one is as consequential and there’s no way that Democratic Senators or Republican Senators will be distracted from it. And this is going to be --
CUTTER: Particularly when it is the last branch of government that performs a check and balance on this president.
FAGEN: And let’s not forget that this nominee is going to get confirmed because of Harry Reid getting rid of -- you know, including the nuclear option for court picks and so Democrats have no one but themselves to thank for the fact that --
CUTTER: Well, it was actually Mitch McConnell who did away with the filibuster for Supreme Court picks --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Both sides are always -- always switch -- switch places on all of these nominations. Is it true that even if Harry Reid had not done away with the filibuster, if it were necessary to do away with the filibuster now to get a Supreme Court pick through Republicans would do it?
FAGEN: But the -- but the reality is that this is the -- this is the way we select Supreme Court justices now in this country and whoever this person is, they will be able to get confirmed.
CHRISTIE: Now, I’m not ready to buy into this -- that this is the most profound moment in the court since 1968. Anthony Kennedy, if you look at his voting record in the main, if you -- if you don’t look at --
CHRISTIE: -- at Roe and -- and at --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Gay rights.
CHRISTIE: -- gay rights, Anthony Kennedy --
GASPARD: Two -- two historic --
CHRISTIE: But guess what? You know, on most other things -- OK. I understand your point. Except that those issues are much more important to some as opposed to others. There others issues (ph) on the court that are much more important certain (ph) people around the country and Anthony Kennedy has been a main --
GASPARD: You’re right that Roe versus Wade is important to a majority of the country --
CHRISTIE: -- has been a main line conservative. And so this profound change that we’re talking about I think, as someone who’s appointed Supreme Court justices at the state level, no matter what you’re told before you nominate them, take my word for it, they forget once they get to the court and they make decisions based upon what they believe is right.
CUTTER: Except -- right. But you have a president -- let’s not forget that this is the first president who laid out some pretty strict litmus tests during the campaign which is what ultimately helped him get elected on the kind of justice that he’s looking. Both on Roe v. Wade, also on healthcare and many other -- other things.
CHRISTIE: Are you trying to tell me that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did not have a litmus test on Roe v. Wade? You trying to tell me that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama would have appointed a justice that they knew was going to not support Roe versus Wade? Please, stop. Just because Donald Trump was honest and said it --
CUTTER: Well, you know, they didn’t stake their election on it.
CHRISTIE: Just because Donald Trump was honest and said it and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama didn’t, don’t tell me that they would have considered pro-life justices.
FAGEN: All you have to do is look at the court today to know that the governor’s right about that. And -- and you know, look, all this conversation about Roe v. Wade, that’s not the -- that’s not likely to every come up. That is not likely to be the legal precedent. I mean, the -- the court has moved to Casey versus Planned Parenthood as the legal precedent that --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, maybe not strict overturn, but you can see the court continuing to improve shaving away at Roe V. Wade over time.
FAGEN: Well, also the science on abortion is the whole other factor that we forget 36 years later.
STEPHANOPOULOS: No question.
FAGEN: Has moved this debate.
This debate is completely different than it was when Roe V. Wade passed. And any future court cases are going to be different, because of all of those factors.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's absolutely right.
Let's turn quickly back to the investigations. And, Chris, let me go back to the Michael Cohen potential cooperation with prosecution.
You heard Rudy Giuliani saying he's not worried about it at all. Do you share that?
CHRISTIE: Listen, I don't think Rudy's telling the whole truth there. I don't think you can ever not be worried when someone who has at one time represented your client is now in the cross hairsof prosecutors, but what I will tell you is I do think that Michael Cohen's role, based upon my observations, has been significantly overplayed.
You know, he was one of many, many lawyers that Donald Trump had.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, but he got the hottest of hot button issues, didn't he? Trump Tower in Moscow, the Stormy Daniels case.
CHRISTIE: Listen, you know what, my experience with Donald Trump is there aren't very many cool legal issue that he gets involved in, not ones that don't create a lot of controversy and a lot of heat.
So listen, but it's all speculative, George. In the end, if Michael Cohen has some things to say, I think he's made it very clear he's going to say them with the actions he's taken by hiring a new lawyer, by cleaning up his Twitter handle, all the rest of it.
And by the way in my experience as a prosecutor, every criminal defendant makes almost all the time, which is to put their own liberty and the sake of their family ahead of anybody else. That's what happens.
GASPARD: I thought that Michael Cohen's interview with you was absolutely astounding and it's clear that somebody who has had a long-time loyalty to this president has shifted. That has to be causing anxiety inside of the White House, some of the president's counsel.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That has to be the last word today. Thank you all very much. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We decided to keep the roundtable going, but that is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out World News Tonight. And I'll see you tomorrow on GMA.
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