News Brief: 'New Yorker' On Kavanaugh, Rosenstein Report, Cosby Sentencing
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There is another allegation of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. That's according to new reporting in The New Yorker magazine.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Deborah Ramirez told her story to the magazine. She is in her 50s today. In the 1983-'84 school year, she was at Yale University. She says she attended a party, drank a lot, was encouraged to drink a lot more. And while she admits her memory is clouded, she says she believes Brett Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and adds, quote, "I can still see his face." Kavanaugh says this never happened. And the White House is emphasizing her statement that she assessed her memory for days before coming forward.
MARTIN: We're joined now by Jane Mayer. She reported this story with Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker. Jane, thanks for being here.
JANE MAYER: Great to be with you.
MARTIN: As Steve noted, there are a lot of caveats in this piece. You write that it took six days of Ramirez, quote, "assessing her memories" before she was comfortable naming Kavanaugh as the young man who did this. Do you believe she's telling the truth?
MAYER: Well, I do. But I think that the most important thing is that she's calling for an FBI investigation which can really assess it better than I can really. They can put people under oath and interview them, so her and the people that she names who were at the party.
MARTIN: Why was she so hesitant, though, to implicate Kavanaugh?
MAYER: I think given the environment we're in right now where there's just so much anger and so much on the line and so much partisan rancor, I think anybody would be quite reluctant to weigh into this unless they were very certain of what they wanted to say and what they remembered.
MARTIN: Although, you write in the piece she admits there are large gaps in her memory of this event.
MAYER: She's been remarkably, I think, forthcoming about what she does know, what she does remember, what she doesn't. And the pieces, I think, also - we made a big effort to put across both sides what everybody is saying about it and what's known and what's not known. I think it's - you know, it's - again, it's such disputed and rancorous territory. You've got to be really careful here, but I think we've really allowed her to tell her story for the first time. We were the...
MAYER: ...Only people she talked to.
MARTIN: Was anyone else able to corroborate her claim?
MAYER: What we described in the story is that there was a classmate who has remembered this for 35 years. He learned about it that night or he said maybe the next day. And he remembered all the details almost identically to what she has said, though the two of them have never talked. And then he began to speak - he's a classmate from Yale - he began to tell other people about it long ago. I mean, the classmates have been talking about this for a while. And when Kavanaugh was named to the court, they began to email back-and-forth with each other - people who had heard a little bit about this. And they were comparing notes. This was in July before any other sexual misconduct charges came up against Kavanaugh. And we've looked at the emails to see them.
MARTIN: Though some of Kavanaugh's college friends are insisting no such thing ever happened as you articulate in the piece. Kavanaugh himself says this is a smear campaign. Can you say categorically that Ramirez is not motivated politically in any way?
MAYER: Well, she says she's not. And, you know, I actually interviewed some of the people who have come out in support of Kavanaugh from the class publicly and said, do you think she's politically motivated? And they declined to say she was. They're the people who know both of these people. And they're not - they're saying actually, no, we really don't see any reason to believe she's politically motivated.
MARTIN: There was news over the weekend that another Kavanaugh accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, has now agreed to testify before the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday even though the ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, now calling for that hearing to be canceled. Do we know whether Deborah Ramirez has been asked to testify before the committee about this allegation. Or if asked, would she accept?
MAYER: I don't know. It's just moving really fast. What I do know is that Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat, asked for a delay. She wants the FBI to investigate this.
MAYER: And that's what the lawyer for Ramirez and what Ramirez want. They want - they're calling for an FBI investigation...
MAYER: ...To try to get to the bottom of it.
MARTIN: Jane Mayer, chief Washington correspondent at The New Yorker magazine, thanks so much.
MAYER: Great to be with you.
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MARTIN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggests that the No. 2 at the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein, should find another job if he can't support the president.
INSKEEP: If he can't. Pompeo was responding to a question from Chris Wallace of Fox. The New York Times reported that back in 2017, Rod Rosenstein spoke of secretly recording President Trump or getting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, removing a president who can't do the job. Rosenstein disputed this report while a person who was in the room for the remarks admitted that they were made but called them sarcastic.
MARTIN: NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here this morning. Carrie, help us understand exactly what Rosenstein is accused of here.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Two central allegations, Rachel, according to The New York Times. The first is that in a series of meetings - at least two meetings - in May 2017 during a very chaotic period at DOJ and the FBI after the president had unexpectedly fired FBI Director Jim Comey, that the new deputy attorney general had mused aloud about wanting to wear a wire or someone else to wear a wire to record the president - and second, that he had brought up the idea of invoking the 25th amendment, something he couldn't do on his own. But he said he would discuss it with the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and then DHS Secretary John Kelly.
JOHNSON: Now, Rod Rosenstein has since put out a statement saying he never pursued or authorized recording the president, and any suggestion that he's ever advocated for the removal of the president is absolutely false.
MARTIN: So you can imagine the Trump White House not being very pleased with this reporting. What has been the reaction from the administration?
JOHNSON: Yeah, the president did a rally over the weekend where he said there was a lingering stench at the Justice Department that we're going to get rid of. Some speculation he was mentioning Rod Rosenstein there. But then he did an interview - Donald Trump did with Geraldo Rivera for Geraldo's radio show. And the president said it's Jeff Sessions' fault because he hired Rod Rosenstein. The president went on to say it's a very sad story. We will look into this and make a determination about what to do next.
MARTIN: Jeff Sessions, a frequent punching bag for President Trump. So let's just imagine, I think, a helpful hypothetical here. If Rod Rosenstein is fired, what would happen to the Mueller investigation?
JOHNSON: He's, of course, supervising Mueller day to day, has to approve any major steps. If he is fired, somebody else at DOJ will have to take over that investigation - Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, or Steven Engel who leads the Office of Legal Counsel. No sense yet of whether they'll be as direct in supervising Mueller and give Mueller as much leeway as Rod Rosenstein has.
MARTIN: And we should, of course, again say that's a big if. So we will keep following this. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thanks so much.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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MARTIN: Bill Cosby's sentencing hearing gets underway today in suburban Philadelphia.
INSKEEP: Cosby finds out soon if he will receive prison time for aggravated indecent assault. A jury convicted him of drugging a woman and sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious. This was the only case involving Cosby that made it to trial, although more than 60 women have accused Cosby of other offenses.
MARTIN: Reporter Laura Benshoff of member station WHYY joins us now. Laura, these are all serious felonies. What is the possibility - what is the range of sentences that Cosby could be looking at here?
LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: Well, judges in Pennsylvania do have a lot of leeway for handing down sentences. And the state uses guidelines to help give them a plan. I had the executive director of the Pa. Sentencing Commission walk me through those guidelines. And he said for this crime, for a first-time offender, which Cosby is, a typical sentence would start at 22 to 36 months. That's the minimum. An absolute maximum is 10 years in prison. But it's within the law for the judge to give Cosby more time or just house arrest or probation, too.
MARTIN: This is an exceptional case in so many ways, not least because of his stature - Bill Cosby's. What can you tell us about the things the judge is weighing during the sentencing?
BENSHOFF: So there's a lot. I mean, Cosby - he's a lot older than the typical person facing sentencing, right? He's 81. He has well-publicized vision problems. And his attorneys are expected to bring that up and ask for leniency. But on the other hand, things like not showing remorse, the fact that not one but six women testified at his trial that he took advantage of them, a judge can't - they can't ignore that information either. And the prosecution is going to bring about - bring that up. They're going to talk about him being a serial predator. And the other question that the judge will have to decide is whether his three sentences will run all at the same time or one right after the other.
MARTIN: It has been five months since the trial came to a close. What has Bill Cosby been doing? Where has he been?
BENSHOFF: Cosby's been here. He's been outside Philadelphia in his house on house arrest. Some of the things that have to happen between the trial and sentencing in Pennsylvania are he had to get evaluated by a state board for sex offenders to see if he should be classified as what's called a sexually violent predator, which would require him to undergo counseling and put him on a lifetime registry.
MARTIN: And is Cosby mulling over an appeal at this point? Could he even do that?
BENSHOFF: Well, in Pennsylvania, again, you can't file an appeal until after sentencing. But certainly his spokespeople have been very, very vocal basically since the trial ended that they would be pursuing an appeal. And his attorneys have also, you know, been raising issues recently in the courts saying that his judge was biased. They're trying to sort of look for openings that could bring them into appeal territory. And at the same time, his wife, Camille, has been very vocal criticizing the judge, criticizing the whole process. So we certainly, I think, can expect an appeal.
MARTIN: All right. Reporter Laura Benshoff of our member station WHYY reporting on the fact that Bill Cosby's sentencing hearing gets underway today. It begins outside of Philadelphia. Laura, thanks so much for sharing your reporting on this. We appreciate it.
BENSHOFF: Thank you, Rachel.
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