Sen. Graham defends Kavanaugh. TRANSCRIPT:9/27/2018, The 11th Hour w Brian Williams

Guests: Cynthia Alksne, Mimi Rocah, Michael Steele

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: September 27, 2018 Guest: Cynthia Alksne, Mimi Rocah, Michael Steele

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news we`re covering tonight after this in credible day after this extraordinary testimony in Washington, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford fearful of coming forward, but 100 percent certain she says it was Brett Kavanaugh who assaulted her, saying she feared rape and feared for her life. Then we heard from Judge Kavanaugh speaking through anger and at times in tears, calling the process a national disgrace, a political hit, and declaring himself innocent of this charge.

And now tonight the biggest question of them all. Were any votes changed after what we witnessed today? THE 11TH HOUR just getting underway on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 616 of the Trump administration saw perhaps the most dramatic day in a generation or more on Capitol Hill in Washington. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford spoke publicly for the first time about her allegations of sexual assault at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Her testimony was followed by Judge Kavanaugh. They were the only witnesses at the Senate Judiciary hearing which lasted nearly nine hours. Competing stories with common themes, anger, memory, gender, class, affluence and the influence of alcohol. There`s a missing witness, there are missing pieces of the story. It was also a clear and rolling demonstration of just how deeply partisan we have become led by the people we have elected and sent to Washington.

And this is how we proceed. A vote on Kavanaugh in the committee expected at 9:30 a.m. We will begin here tonight with some of what we heard today. Dr. Ford was the first to testify.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, KAVANAUGH ACCUSER: I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.

I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me. I yelled, hoping that someone downstairs might hear me, and I tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy.

Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This is what terrified me the most and has had the most lasting impact on my life.

It was hard for me to breathe and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me. Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They seemed to be having a very good time.

For me personally, anxiety, phobia and PTSD-like symptoms are the types of things that I`ve been coping with.

RACHEL MITCHELL, STAFF COUNSEL: Was the statement that you provided this morning -- I assume that to the best of your recollection that that was accurate?

FORD: That this whole article is accurate?

MITCHELL: No, no, the statement that you made this morning.

FORD: Yes.

MITCHELL: OK.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VERMONT JUDICIARY CMTE: What is the strongest memory you have, strongest memory of the incident? Something you cannot forget. Take whatever time you need.

FORD: Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Dr. Ford, with what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?

FORD: One hundred percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: After a midday break, it was Judge Kavanaugh`s turn. He then gave an angry, at times tearful rebuttal of Dr. Ford`s accusation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: This confirmation process has become a national disgrace. The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy, a Democratic senator on this committee publicly referred to me as evil, evil. Think about that word. And said that those who supported me were, "complicit in evil."

This has destroyed my family and my good name. This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars and money from outside left wing opposition groups.

This is a circus. I intend no ill will to Dr. Ford and her family. The other night Ashley and my daughter Liza said their prayers. And little Liza, all of 10 years old, said to Ashley, "We should pray for the woman." It`s a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old.

I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation against me by Dr. Ford. I never had any sexual or physical encounter of any kind with Dr. Ford.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D-CA) RANKING MEMBER JUDICIARY CMTE.: All three of these women have asked the FBI to investigate their claims. I listened carefully to what you said. Your concern is evident and clear. And if you`re very confident of your position and you appear to be, why aren`t you also asking the FBI to investigate these claims?

KAVANAUGH: Senator, I`ll do whatever the committee wants. I wanted a hearing the day after the allegation came up.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA JUDICIARY CMTE.: If you wanted an FBI investigation, you could have come to us. What you want to do is destroy this guy`s life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D) CALIFORNIA JUDICIARY CMTE: Are you willing to ask the White House to conduct such an investigation? Because as you are aware, the FBI did conduct a background investigation into you before we were aware of these most recent allegations. So, are you willing to ask the White House to do that? And say yes or no and we can move on.

KAVANAUGH: I have six backgrounds investigations over 26 years --

HARRIS: Sir, as it relates to the recent allegations, are you willing to have them do it?

KAVANAUGH: The witness testimony is before you -- no witness who was there supports that I was there --

HARRIS: OK, I`m going to take that as a no.

Did you watch Dr. Ford`s testimony?

KAVANAUGH: I did not. I plan to.

HARRIS: Thank you. Thank you.

KAVANAUGH: I plan to, but I did not. I was preparing mine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: At the end of the day, Donald Trump sent this out, "Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting. Democrats` search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham, an effort to delay, obstruct and resist. The Senate must vote."

White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shaw added this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the President was thrilled with his testimony. He was strong. He was passionate. He was very convincing because he was telling the truth. The President stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh.

Judge Kavanaugh is the White House`s nominee for this open seat. And he`s going to get confirmed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Let us bring in our lead off panel on a Thursday night. Robert Costa National Political Reporter for the "Washington Post," and moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS and what a week it`s already been. Cynthia Alksney, a Federal -- Former Federal prosecutor, Veteran of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. Mimi Rocah, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York, now Distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice at the Pace University School of Law. And Steve Schmidt, a political veteran of the Bush White House, the McCain presidential campaign and others. Welcome to you all.

Robert Costa, you are among the best connected reporters that we know. Take a minute. Tell us how the day played out. And what are you hearing importantly tonight?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: It played out in two fronts politically within the Republican Party holding the majorities of Congress and the White House. President Trump disappointed in how this process played out with Dr. Ford`s testimony. People inside of the White House, Brian, tell me the President found her compelling. The deter testimony compelling. He thought Kavanaugh, the federal judge needed to come through with his testimony.

He urged Kavanaugh in a phone call to make sure he was defiant in his testimony. And by end of day the President decided to stand by the nominee and thought he did a strong job in his testimony and really pushing back against the Democrats.

But it`s still TBD inside of the U.S. Senate. Where is Senator Collins, Senator Murkowski, they have decisions to make.

Senator Corker tonight, who was one of those possible swing votes, Republican retiring said he would support Kavanaugh. So it seems to be moving toward Kavanaugh, but a lot of votes still in the air.

WILLIAMS: We hear this reporting, Bob, that those on the fence of the Collins, of Murkowski, Flake may vote as a black, are you hearing that same thing?

COSTA: There is a buzz tonight among top -- in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, that all of the senators, the red state senators, the moderate Republicans, that group within the chamber, they are really looking to each other. No one really wants to be out there as the isolated person taking a political stand that`s very dramatic, perhaps the lone vote if you`re in a way that breaks away from your party. And so they`re looking to each other. A lot of back channel discussions tonight about where are people really going to go.

WILLIAMS: Taking a political stand. Imagine that. Cynthia Alksne, as dispassionately as you can, how did --

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I`m out. You got the wrong girl.

WILLIAMS: Well, let`s say a good lawyer can argue both sides. How did each person do today? You were with us all the way through the coverage.

ALKSNE: Well, starting with her, because she first, she was outstanding as a witness. She was raw. She was -- made every effort to be fair. She worked very hard, for instance, I remember one specific time when the question came up about who pushed her into the room. And she was concerned that somebody would think she was testifying Judge Kavanaugh pushed her -- she wasn`t sure and she didn`t want to put that on him. There were little moments like that I thought were very compelling and really enhanced her testimony.

The other important thing about her was, which was brought out frankly by the prosecutor very effectively, although not on purpose, was that she knew Judge Kavanaugh. And there is no identification question. That was really taken off the table effectively. I just thought she was an outstanding witness and I would have put her on the stand in any case and been just thrilled at the manner in which she testified.

Now, about the dispassionate part about the judge, I mean, I thought a couple things. One I thought he clearly demonstrated he did not have the temperament to be a United States Federal Court judge. The screaming, the accusations, the politics were just completely inappropriate.

I mean, independent of what happened, his demeanor was unhinged. It was a bit of a temper tantrum and it was inappropriate. That, number one.

Number two, it`s very hard for him in my opinion to get away from the fact that he -- seven ways from Sunday he tried to dodge the question about whether or not he would have an FBI investigation and he denied it. He just wouldn`t do it. And the inescapable conclusion is he won`t do it because he doesn`t want anybody to know what this guy Judge says. And I don`t see how you get away from that.

The other thing about his testimony, which is he tried to belittle about this discussion about his high school year book. And I get that. And I think on some level he was pretty effective --

WILLIAMS: Yes.

ALKSNEW: So let me put that in my dispassionate column. I think he was effective in neutralizing that. But upon reflection, things that he said, like for example, oh, and we said -- this girl whose name I won`t say because I think she`s been through enough, alumnus, that didn`t mean anything. That just meant we were friends. OK. That`s a lie. That`s a lie.

That was what they were doing and they were basically calling her easy or a slut or whatever the term was in the 1980s. I went to high school in the 1970s, it would have been a slut. Maybe in the 1980s it was easy.

But either way, they were calling her a bad name. They had a poem about how easy she was. There were like 14 of them that had their little Renata alumnus line. It was hurtful and mean and terrible. And instead of owning it and saying that was terrible and apologizing, he tried to tell us all that, "Oh, no, we were just being nice. We thought we were friends with her and that was our way of being sweet." What does he think we are, stupid?

So, I was very offended by that. I was offended when he tried to say this "Devil`s Triangle" business is a quarter`s game. OK, it`s not a quarter`s game. I don`t think we need to get into it, but it ain`t no quarters game.

And so I think he -- if you add his sort of insulting our intelligence with his lies and you couple that with the lies about the memos of Leahy, the lies about his role in the prior investigation -- prior confirmation, with the lies about Judge Kozinski and his chambers and the sexual harassment. I mean, you really have a credibility problem with him.

And if you`re looking at it fairly, you can`t say, "Oh, I believe this woman, but I think he didn`t do it." Right? You can`t do that. So once you say, "I believe this woman," then he did it because she knows he did it.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

ALKSNE: And especially in light of the fact that he has a serious credibility problem. And just frankly he`s not told the truth.

WILLIAMS: Mimi Rocah, while this is not a court of law, in effect, if you were prosecuting this I would have to ask you to do it without a named witness. Mr. Mark Judge last seen at a beach house on the eastern shore. I`m going to play one of the exchanges. We`ll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: Mark seemed ambivalent, at time urging Brett on and at times telling him to stop. A couple of times, I made eye contact with Mark and thought he might try to help me. But he did not.

During this assault, Mark came over and jumped on the bed twice while Brett was on top of me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So, Mimi, a question for the lawyer in you, how are we to process this, a known witness. We know who this guy is and have a pretty reasonable idea where he is, and yet we can`t have access to him?

MIMI ROCAH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: It`s the ghost of Mark Judge was all over this hearing. And, you know, no prosecutor would proceed without being able to at least talk to him, have a trained investigator talk to him, not some, you know, statement through a lawyer or on a piece of paper.

I think hopefully what today maybe proved to people is the importance of seeing witnesses in person and being able to evaluate their credibility. So, you know, he is an eyewitness. What we have right now is a very credible victim witness who I certainly believe and I think, you know, a lot of people in America or around the world who saw her believe, and she`s corroborated right now by her own prior statements, her consistent statements.

Some of the things that Kavanaugh has put out there, the calendar entries, I mean, some of those actually corroborate her. There`s this whole July 1st date that, you know, lists some of the very participants that she`s talking about being at this party in July 1st. And his calendar, so the calendar she`s never seen before. I mean, how compelling is that? And it talks about some of the very same participants going to, you know, a party on a summer weekend in the same year that we`re talking about.

I mean, that already really kind of starts to look like some real corroboration of already her testimony. And, you know, but you need to hear from Mark Judge. And the fact that they won`t let that happen, as we all keep saying, but it really -- there`s just no explanation for it other than they don`t want to hear what he has to say.

And one other point that I think gets us to that conclusion is not only don`t they want to go talk to him, but I thought Judge Kavanaugh was starting to do the sort of coffee boy defense with Mark Judge. You know, well, he`s got drinking problems. He`s got -- I mean, I`m sure he does and it sounds like he has problems. But I really felt like Kavanaugh was trying to say even if we go talk to Mark Judge, you can`t trust what he`s going to say because I think he`s so afraid of what he might say if he`s really questioned by a trained investigator.

WILLIAMS: All right, Steve Schmidt, after a complex day, the question to you is rather simple. Do you feel better or worse about America than before this day started?

STEVE SCHMIDT, FMR. MCCAIN CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: Worse. This was a disgrace that we witnessed today. The United States Senate, Brian, the formerly known as the world`s greatest deliberative body and we`ve seen for 30 plus years a cycle of revenge and retribution in our judicial nominations that came to this moment today. And I think about kids who you would admonish playing with matches. And for purposes of the analogy, the United States senators are the kids. And today the kids playing with matches literally burn the house down.

And so enormous damage was done to the institution of the Supreme Court today, to the process, to the United States Senate. I think the American people look at this and they`re shocked by it. To see the degeneracy in our politics, to see the cost, the terrible cost of partisanship in our institutions.

Look, I thought that Dr. Ford was very credible, and I think that Brett Kavanaugh, and it pains me to say it, has a credibility problem. We have a -- we have in politics, we often say that the outcome is determined by the last big thing that happened as opposed to the first thing that happened. And we know this. This is the first thing at the beginning of the process that Brett Kavanaugh said.

He said, "Mr. President, thank you. Throughout this process I have witnessed firsthand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary. No president has ever consulted more widely or talked with more people from more backgrounds to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination." Of course, that is self-evidently not true. He made an untruthful statement and a political statement with his first utterance as a new nominee for the court.

Now, the rage and the anger that we saw from him today I think is appropriate for somebody who feels that they are falsely accused. But as you go through this, it makes no sense why someone who is falsely accused would not want to instigate a reopening of the FBI background investigation for the purposes of explicating him from the situation. The answers on drinking were not credible.

And lastly, and I say this as somebody who worked with Brett Kavanaugh in the Bush White House and has no ill will towards Brett Kavanaugh, liked Brett Kavanaugh, but in his statement, though he may be aggrieved, and through his perspective justly aggrieved, it was a declaration of partisan war upon the left, upon the Clinton`s allegations of conspiracy, a declaration of war against the Democratic Party. How can a Supreme Court justice function in a lifetime appointment that partisan that convicted, that one half of the country are his political enemies? How will he adjudicate cases fairly if you just look at the plain intent behind the words he spoke?

We saw tremendous disrespect for senators like Amy Klobuchar. We saw profound anger. And I think that anger, even though he may view it as justified, is inherently disqualifying for someone who is going to have a lifetime appointment.

And then lastly, he`s in his early 50s. He could credibly serve on the Supreme Court to, let`s say, 2058. He could be up there for 40 years. And for every second that he`s up there, fair or not, it will raise a question about the legitimacy of the court.

We already have that with Clarence Thomas. I`m not sure that we need to have another compromised justice who is in his early 50s serving with a lifetime tenure with that cloud hanging over him.

Trump is a symptom of the problems in the country, not a cause. And the reason we have President Trump is because the collapse of trust in very nearly every institution in the country. And what we saw today was another chapter in the erosion of public trust and for good reason in our most vital institutions. I think this was a tragic day for the country. And for the two individuals we saw testifying.

WILLIAMS: Been a momentous day. All of our guests have agreed to stay with us. We have to fit in a break. Obviously our discussion, a special one at that, continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: This is going to destroy the ability of good people to come forward because of this crap. Your high school year book. You have interacted with professional women all your life. Not one accusation. You`re supposed to be Bill Cosby when you`re a junior and senior in high school. And all of a sudden you got over it.

It`s been my understanding that if you drug women and rape them for two years in high school, you probably don`t stop. Here`s my understanding, if you lived a good life, people will recognize it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Lindsey Graham`s tirade got noticed across town. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders posting this after hearing that, "Lindsey Graham has more decency and courage than every Democrat member of the committee combined. God bless him."

Short time after Graham`s comments, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah echoed some of Brett Kavanaugh`s testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) UTAH JUDICIARY CMTE.: This is a national disgrace the way you`re being treated. And in the middle of it all we have Judge Kavanaugh, a man who until two weeks ago, was a pillar of the legal community. There`s been no whisper of misconduct by him in the time he`s been a judge. What we have are uncorroborated, unsubstantiated claims from his teenage years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: After today`s hearing, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee announced as we said he would be voting for Kavanaugh. There are several other important votes we don`t yet know about. As we mentioned, Senators Flake, Murkowski, Collins, Joe Manchin met in private tonight after the hearing. After their meeting Flake told reporters he is facing a tough choice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R) ARIZONA JUDICIARY CMTE.: It was close call. I mean, you leave with doubts whichever way. That`s the nature of this.

We`re -- there`s no way you can leave, not certain that you`re completely right, he`s right, she`s wrong, she`s right, he`s wrong. I mean, we use to -- you`re never certain. You just do the best we can. That`s what we`re trying to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Back with us, Robert Costa, Cynthia Alksne, Mimi Rocah, Steve Schmidt.

Robert, not since the heart injection and pulp fiction have I seen someone spring to life the way Senator Graham did today. It was right after Dick Durbin, you`ll forgive the phrase, "drew blood" on the subject of the FBI. And let`s face something here. It`s a town of a lot of whispering and a lot of cynicism and people, as soon as they heard Lindsey Graham, thought this was an audition for a Cabinet position, perhaps justice, perhaps Pentagon at some point in the future.

COSTA: I`ll tell you what it was, Brian, as someone who was at the Capitol, they`re reporting it was revealing. It was revealing about the Republican Party. What a split screen, Senator Graham versus Senator Flake.

Senator Graham just like Judge Kavanaugh, taking the advice of President Trump, following the model of President Trump, defiant, fight, total political war in this charged America that we`re all living through and covering. And then there is retiring Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona, , reluctant to embrace that kind of turn in the Republican Party, that kind of war mentality when it comes to American politics, unsure of how he`s going to vote. It`s just a split Republican Party in how they`re coming down on this. For now it`s that Graham/Trump approach, that aggression that`s fueling senators inside the GOP. When I`m talking to them in the hallways and they`re mulling what to do.

WILLIAMS: Cynthia, back to something, a point you started before the break, to find for Judge Kavanaugh, does that have to mean you believe she is crazy, mistaken, or lying?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yeah, absolutely.

WILLIAMS: It`s that simple?

ALKSNE: It`s that simple, because she is 100 percent sure. She knew him in advance. This is not a stranger situation.

WILLIAMS: Right. She didn`t have to establish how they knew each other.

ALKSNE: Yeah, you know, that`s all established. They knew each other. She was dating a friend of his. They had been to parties together. She absolutely knew him. There`s no way she can look him in the eye -- she didn`t have to look him directly in the eye. But she can look the camera in the eye and say, he did this to me. And if you vote for him, you`re calling her a liar. There`s no way around that.

WILLIAMS: Mimi Rocah, in the world of sports, they call it a designed play. And I hate to reduce this to sporting terminology. But Dick Durbin came into the hearing with two of them in mind. His first one highly effective, what`s your degree of certainty? His second one was to Kavanaugh about the FBI, I`m going to play it. We`ll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: So you`re saying there`s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn`t remember what happened the night before or part of what happened?

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: You`re asking about -- yes, black out. I don`t know, have you?

KLOBUCHAR: Could you answer the question, judge? So that`s not happened, is that your answer?

KAVANAUGH: Yeah, and I`m curious if you have.

KLOBUCHAR: I have no drinking problem, judge.

KAVANAUGH: Nor do I.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, thank you.

KAVANAUGH: I was going to say, I started my last colloquy by saying to Senator Klobuchar how much I respect her and respected what she did at the last hearing, she asked me a question at the end that I responded by asking her a question. I`m sorry I did that. This is a tough process. I`m sorry about that.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I`ve got a suggestion for you. Right now, turn to your left in the front row, to Don McGahn, counsel to President Donald Trump, ask him to suspend this hearing and nomination process until the FBI completes this investigation.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Stop the clock. This committee is running this hearing, not the White House, not Don McGahn, not even you as a nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Apologies. Thank you, everyone, for rolling with us. Obviously that was Klobuchar from Minnesota prior to Durbin of Illinois. But, Mimi, what do you make of both of those moments? He had to apologize to the senator for asking -- for answering a question with a question and casting aspersions. And then Durbin was left without an answer there.

MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT US ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, the first one with Klobuchar was not him asking a question. It was him getting so defensive about the question she had asked.

WILLIAMS: Alcohol was such a part of today`s discussion.

ROCAH: It was. And, I mean, others have said this, but I`ll say it again. It is clear he is lying about the degree to which he did drink, and frankly probably the degree to which he drinks now. Whether or not he drinks alcohol isn`t the central issue of whether he should be a judge, but whether he`s lying about it is. And it goes to the truth of the main issue here which is, did you sexually assault Dr. Ford.?

And if he was so drunk that he couldn`t remember it or couldn`t control it or, you know, just doesn`t want to admit all of that. Then, that goes to that central issue. And there`s no doubt in my mind in that answer. He was terrified to answer that question because the truth is he did drink too much. And that`s why it wasn`t just him asking a question of her, it was him getting defensive and belligerent, frankly.

And then, look, Durbin asked the right question that we`re all asking, all of America is asking. We`re asking on TV, we`re asking it to our neighbors. Why don`t you want the FBI to do an investigation? Don`t say there`s nothing they can`t do. I can list you five things right now.

Talk to Mark Judge. Talk to the woman that was there with her who wrote this statement and then later apologized. You can`t do things by paper, you know. You have to have people in front of you and establish their credibility. Go find out the dates that Mark Judge was working at that store, you know, what other documents does he have besides the calendar?

I mean, there are so many things you can do in just a couple of weeks. And Durbin really got home the point that not only is it the Republicans in general that don`t want that investigation, it is Brett Kavanaugh because I think he is really deathly afraid of what Mark Judge will say.

WILLIAMS: Steve Schmidt, I hate to get personal, but let`s get personal. It`s late. Lindsey Graham, what do you think is going on with him? And here`s why I ask. When his friend John McCain was alive, and you`ve spent time around both gentlemen, he liked being known as a bit of a maverick. But since the death of John McCain, I think you can draw a line to the kind of dizzyingly fast degree with which he has become an unquestioning Trump supporter.

Republican from South Carolina, I get the rest of it politically. But what do you think is the motivation here?

STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: He`s corrupted by ambition, corrupted by politics, and it`s tragic because this country could use a statesman right now. And Lindsey Graham for a long time was on a path that he would be that person, that he`d be a figure of courage, that he`d be a serious person in a frivolous era. And to see him corrupted by the Trump era, to see him become sycophantic, to see him become dishonest and angry and smearing, is just tragic. Certainly not the person I once knew.

But again, if you hang around politics long enough you tend to get disappointed by people. And he is a profound disappointment.

WILLIAMS: After a hell of a day, thanks to our front four for bringing their A-game tonight, Robert Costa, Cynthia Alksne, Mimi Rocah, Steve Schmidt. Greatly appreciated.

Coming up, the raw drama of Senate hearing could have lasting and national ramifications for years, decades perhaps to come. More on what happens next when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAVANAUGH: My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional accusations, as no doubt was expected, if not planned, came a long series of false last-minute smears designed to scare me and drive me out of the process before any hearing occurred. I`m never going to get my reputation back. My life is totally and permanently altered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: this drama that played out on the Hill today may not stop or even stall Brett Kavanaugh`s Supreme Court nomination. Republican senators met tonight to decide how to move forward. The verdict, there`s no change to the schedule.

Judiciary Committee expected to vote morning, 9:30 a.m. here in the East. Full Senate will likely take up the nomination within the next few days as early as Saturday. With us tonight to talk about all of it, former US Attorney Joyce Vance who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning Columnist for the Washington Post, and Michael Steele, former Republican Chairman of the Republican National Committee, former Lieutenant Governor of the great state of Maryland.

Mr. Chairman, I`ve yet to talk to you all day.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Yes.

WILLIAMS: We had this situation today, Mr. Chairman, where a sex crimes prosecutor from Maricopa County, Arizona, not that there`s anything wrong with that, was questioning a sitting federal judge as designated woman to ask the questions and take the heat for the 11 white male Republicans on that side of the committee. Did that backfire or did that turnout pretty well for them, do you think?

STEELE: I think it fell very flat, to be honest with you, Brian. In fact, I think the general consensus emerging out of that was at the end where I thought she just kind of punted, to be honest. She was not the prosecutor.

You could almost see in the way she was asking the questions two things going on in her mind. One, I`ve got to somehow preserve my reputation out of this. And, two, this woman is credible. She is telling the truth and I think that made it much more difficult for her to pursue the line of questioning the way I think the Republicans on the committee envisioned it.

So much so -- and I think after that testimony, there was a lot of consternation and bubbling about the effectiveness of not the questioning, but the answers to the point where I think it pushed all of this to a head with Senator Graham and others that wound up. They just said, Forget this, we`re going to take control of asking the questions of Kavanaugh.

Joyce, you were with us when this all played out. When he came out, it was just like he was going to throw the long ball. You heard him there say, "My name has been destroyed", past tense. Well, you could argue not if you`re still going to make your way to the Supreme Court.

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER US ATTORNEY: You know, there is this incredible moment when I think everybody listening to him thought, he`s about to take his name out of consideration. And then he pushed past that through this toddler worthy temper tantrum and staked out his right to be on the Supreme Court, his right to push past any sorts of allegations that were made against him. It was really a remarkable and I don`t mean that in a good way sort of a moment.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, a good friend of mine who has a Pulitzer Prize -- oh, it`s you -- has written a column and title right here is, "Just how low can Republican senators Go?" I`d love you to take a whack at answering your own question.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, look, if you had imagined earlier in the week, how bad can Thursday be? You wouldn`t have been close to how bad, but it wouldn`t have been close.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I guess for safety.

ROBINSON: I will -- this is a round about answer to your question. If you want to take a look at this with the widest possible lens, this is all part of, to quote my favorite American, now we are engaged in a great civil war, right? And this is a war between the America that was and the America that will be. And this is a very, very difficult transition. This war has many theaters and many fronts, race, diversity, age, urban/rural, there are lots of fault lines here.

And it`s becoming more like, to mix my war metaphors, like World War I. We`re dug into trenches. Today dug those trenches deeper because Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was credible. I mean, she was totally credible. There`s no mistaken identity.

She is -- she happens to be qualified as an expert witness as well to testify in this case, so she knew exactly what was going on. Not only what happened to her, but what was going on with her perception, her memory of it. She was as credible as you possibly could be. And when it came Judge Kavanaugh`s turn, he decided to go full partisan.

WILLIAMS: Let it fly.

ROBINSON: Just absolutely let it rip. And when the Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell just happened to be asking him about specifics and was getting to that date that could be a potential date where this might have happened because, you know, the skis with all the folks in July 1st. I think it is, 1982. That just happened to be the point where Lindsey Graham goes off.

WILLIAMS: Changed the tone.

ROBINSON: And completely derails any sort of fact finding, even in this venue. Not that we`re going to have actual fact finding by the FBI, which has been rule out, but even in this venue. All we can do is dig the trenches deeper. And so there`s going to be more fighting.

WILLIAMS: I`m tempered by the fact World War I involved nerve gas. Our guests have agreed to stick around. We`re going to go to a quick break. When we come back we`re going continue to talk about just what it is we witnessed today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, KAVANAUGH ACCUSER: I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That woman, a reluctant traveler on top of everything else, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford`s testimony brought the Me Too Movement to the highest court in the land. Twenty-seven years after the Anita Hill hearings, Dr. Ford cited her commitment to civic duty as she delivered her testimony, reliving her claims in public as this Associated Press headline asks tonight, will the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing be a where-were-you moment? I would argue it already is.

Still with us, Joyce Vance, Eugene Robinson and Michael Steele.

Mr. Chairman, I heard Kasie Hunt report tonight that part of what is motivating the clock, the 9:30 hearing, the word that there may be a Full Senate vote as early as Saturday, is that they don`t want her story to sit with people that long because it may, it may come back and resonate?

STEELE: Right.

WILLIAMS: And her decency and her obvious expertise in her field may rattle around in folk`s heads. It`s sad.

STEELE: It`s sad, and I think it`s largely true. But I would say to that extent, Brian, that story has already resonated. It resonated in the time she was sitting in that chair confronting that chamber.

But here`s the bottom line in all of this. There was a moment, and I think it was triggered by Lindsey Graham, where he basically was saying to the leadership and to the Republicans, we are going to die on this hill. We are prepared to die on this hill. And, and that means that we will vote him out of committee tomorrow and we will vote him on to the bench whether it`s on Saturday, Sunday or Monday. It will happen.

And that`s because the calculation, as cold and unremitting as it is, is that having that seat on the bench, we can withstand the loss of a chamber for one or two cycles. We`ll get that back. We may never get this opportunity to get this seat again. So this hill, for a lot of Republicans, is worth dying over. I don`t think so, because the price is too high to pay.

WILLIAMS: I have literally just been handed a letter that has been sent via e-mail to Grassley and Feinstein. It reads, "Dear Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein, as I stated my Attorney Barbara Van Gelder, September letter, I did not ask to be" -- this is from Mark Judge to cut to the chase. "I did not ask to be involved in this matter nor did anyone ask me to be involved. We`ve told the committee that I do not want to comment about these events publicly. As a recovering alcoholic and cancer survivor, I have struggled with depression and anxiety. As a result, I avoid public speaking."

"Brett Kavanaugh and I were friends in high school but we have not spoken directly in several years. I do not recall the events described by Dr. Ford in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes. I am knowingly submitting this letter under penalty of felony."

Joyce Vance, I`ve looked around. You are not only the only lawyer here. You`re the highest ranking lawyer here. There is the letter. What does that mean to you? Does that advance the ball anywhere from where we were today?

VANCE: You know, it doesn`t -- and I suspect that if one of my oldest and dearest friends was in the fight of his life and if I had testimony that could exonerate him, I would not be hiding in a beach house on the Maryland shore. I would not be, you know, holding up my medical condition.

People who are recovering alcoholics testify in courts all the time in this country. People are subpoenaed when they are material witnesses. He is a material witness. And he can say penalty of felony or whatever the phrase that he and Brett Kavanaugh used today in the hearing, it`s an unusual turn of phrase, now it`s in this letter. But whatever he wants to call it, he can say that until he`s under oath and the senators can look into the whites of his eyes and observe his demeanor as he testifies. This issue of what he knows and what he would say under oath is still wide open.

WILLIAMS: And let me ask you about the other witness, Dr. Ford. You and I had this conversation contemporaneously. You take her obvious decency and the fact she was plucked from a normal life in California. Add to it a PhD in her field of study that also spoke to the questions she faced as a witness. It was an extraordinary combination.

VANCE: She was a surprisingly good witness. I think what you expect in that situation is to have someone who is fragile, someone who is maybe tentative in telling their story. And she comes in, obviously distressed, but obviously working hard to overcome that distress. And she is very careful.

She at points in the story where she could have really condemned Kavanaugh, she pulls back. When she talks about him putting his hand over her mouth and her fear that he would kill her, she is very clear about saying, inadvertently. She doesn`t want there to be any shadow of a doubt that he might have been acting intentionally. She has so much credibility because of the care with which she chooses her words.

WILLIAMS: Gene?

ROBINSON: I would just point out that, by the way, she has suffered symptoms of anxiety and PTSD -- yes, stress disorder. And she managed to suck it up and be able to testify.

VANCE: Exactly. I thought about this morning, you know, here she is forced to testify and this guy, and all of the other folks, get a pass. It`s not fair.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, in the last 60 seconds we have, does finding for the judge, does a yes vote on the judge mean that you find her crazy, mistaken, or telling a lie?

ROBINSON: I think it means you don`t believe her. You know, for whatever reason, you don`t believe the events she described happened. And so why? You prefer to believe Brett Kavanaugh is really the only rationale basis you have to make that decision. You don`t have -- you haven`t heard the testimony. You haven`t had an FBI investigation. You don`t have a factual record, and maybe it would be a fairly meager one.

Maybe it would be a full one. But you know, you don`t have that to make that decision. So it`s whom you prefer to believe frankly and you prefer not to believe her.

WILLIAMS: Joyce Vance, last word. Was this a good day or a bad day for law and those who love the law in America?

VANCE: This was a tough day for the rule of law. And I think the reason goes back to what you just said, Eugene. I think that there may be folks who listened to her today who found her to be credible, but who decided it was so important to put a conservative justice on the Supreme Court that even knowing that she`s speaking the truth they`ll vote for him. That`s a bad day for the rule of law.

WILLIAMS: And that`s where we`ll have to leave our conversation at the end of this long day, along with our thanks to Joyce Vance, to Eugene Robinson, to Michael Steele. Really appreciate it, gang, for joining us.

It brings us to the last thing before we go tonight. It is about what we witnessed today. A moment of genuine high drama, human drama in Washington, the likes of which as we said we haven`t seen for a generation or more of American life, and it gave us one of those rare tell me you`re watching this, or, are you watching this national television moments? Combined with the fact that watching television is now much more of a portable pursuit than when we were, say, younger.

It meant that we had millions not just watching in living rooms and kitchens, but in office cubicles, and break rooms, and waiting rooms, listening in the car, continuing on computer screens when we got to work. Students gathered in college campuses to see history play out live. It even happened underground, a photo tweeted out today widely circulated showing a couple listening to the proceedings on a New York subway train. And trust me, that`s not an easy trick.

In the air today, the hearing dominated those seat-back TV screens on the planes so equipped. The television chef Andrew Zimmern noted on his flight no one is reading a magazine, no one is talking. A woman from New York sent this out. When other women on your jetblue flight are watching the Kavanaugh hearings with you, it`s hard not to feel the impact Dr. Ford`s testimony has on the greater American public.

And there was the daughter who shared the picture of her father watching the Kavanaugh hearing while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Oh, Americans watched and listened today, but political divides as we have chronicled here tonight, being what they are, people saw and heard different things today. That conversation continues tonight. It continues first thing tomorrow morning. The stakes couldn`t be higher.

It is time here on the East Coast, at least, for this long day to come to an end. And that is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being with us for all of it. And good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END

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