Let’s talk first about [Antonin] Scalia. Scalia dies. That night, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell (R-Ky.) immediately sort of says that there will be no hearings during the presidency of Obama. That night there was a debate, and candidate Trump, at that point, comes out and makes a comment about it, and basically tells McConnell to hold the line. And delay, delay, delay is what it’s all about. Talk about that moment, what his attitude about it is and why Scalia’s seat was so important, why the courts were so important, what the campaign—I know you weren’t there yet, but what the campaign understood about why this is so important. As President Donald J. Trump has said something publicly that he had said privately during the campaign, which is he recognizes one of the most fundamental and consequential duties and actions by any president are appointments to the United States Supreme Court, actually to the entire federal judiciary, the district courts, the U.S. circuit courts, but clearly the United States Supreme Court. As a candidate, the president—the president appreciated this, and that’s why he came up with a list of nominees, so that people could see the list. He released it publicly. He always had the same criteria for those individual men and women on his list for the United States Supreme Court should he be elected., and all of them had the type of judicial experience in temperament, the record that you could examine, but also fidelity to the Constitution. We’ve seen in recent years, if not decades, a great deal of judicial activism from some of these courts at the federal level. And really, all judicial activism means is you’re making it up as you go along, or you’re beholden to the polls or to politics or to something other than the four corners of the Constitution. And President Trump recognized that as a candidate and has fulfilled that as president. Some people say that the list that was put together by some of the conservative groups—Heritage was involved; Federalist was involved—got him elected. Well, those groups probably say that, yes. I believe Donald Trump got Donald Trump elected. But how important was it? The number one reason that Donald Trump is the president is Donald Trump. He did the improbable—took his message directly to the people every single day and formed this connective-tissue bond with so many of the men and women in this country who felt like they just did not have a voice. They had no visibility, no voice in Washington, in the federal government. But it certainly helped to have a list that the president helped to assemble, once he had. He had many different people to choose from, and one of these individuals—first it was 10, then it was a total of 21 on his list of the men and women he would consider to nominate to the United States Supreme Court when elected. I would say, for those fence-sitting, undecided voters who supported, say, a different Republican in the primary, or didn’t really know if this pro-life candidate Donald Trump would be a pro-life President Donald Trump—and indeed he is the most pro-life ever. For those skeptics and fence sitters and naysayers about the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, his commitment to nominating to the United States Supreme Court originalists, strict constructionists, people who had fidelity to the Constitution, not to a political party or to polling or to the whims of a special interest group, helped put him over the top among some voters who otherwise may have sat it out. Great. We talked about the Federalists a little bit, so why don’t we talk a little bit about it. What is the importance of the Federalist Society? Well, since its founding some 35 years ago, the Federalist Society has been able to sustain itself and grow exponentially into the center-right group, really movement, of lawyers and judges and like-minded individuals who fear that the founders’ vision to have limited government and three coequal branches of that government under constant threat; that if you look at some of the major Supreme Court opinions, people feel like the Supreme Court was making it up as they went along or that they were stretching the meaning of the Constitution in some ways to fit a conclusion that was searching for evidence. So the concern for the Federalist Society has predominantly been that the founders’ intent about the role of the judiciary, the role of our courts in our federal government, but also in our society, would be protected and not swallowed up by politics or by petty personal interests or even well-heeled, well-financed special interests. So the Federalist Society, though, has also been incredibly important in bringing onto different campuses and into different communities an alternative point of view in what could sometimes seem like a cacophony of monotony, one point of view, which is usually very liberal. And I think that’s really unfortunate. As somebody who graduated from law school 25 years ago, it was very unfortunate that we have the growing number of campuses that seem to not welcome, on the worst end, and not allow for, in the best circumstances, a diverse point of view on the matters of the day. This country has very specific and different opinions on when life begins and when abortion should be legal. The Democratic governors of New York and Virginia very recently thrust that into the public consciousness by saying they’re for infanticide, abortion just as the baby is being born, or, in the case of Virginia, after it’s been born. The governor of Virginia referred to it as an infant. So fact-check: infant is an infant. And so you’ve got big questions of the day. What is the—what is the role of the judiciary in being a check and balance on the executive branch and the legislature? And it’s probably unfortunate that most Americans are not forced to or don’t naturally focus on the role of our judiciary until it comes time for a big event like a Supreme Court vacancy, because our judges today are charged with many of the decisions over our personal liberty and pocketbook issues, if not national security and the security of the homeland, in a way that we hope people are paying more attention to that, because they always look at who the president is. They have to listen to their members of Congress and senators and other elected officials campaign every couple of years. But the lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary are probably something that escape most public view and inspection until—unless and until we have vacancies at the Supreme Court level. A very important thing. And the fact that the Republicans seem to have tied into that much more than the Democrats have. McConnell, Leader McConnell, of course, calls it the most important legacy that he will have, is his role during the Obama years and during the Trump years. Why is that, do you think? And McConnell’s role—how important has McConnell been? Have there been lots of discussions between McConnell and the president about these issues all the way through? Many would agree with Leader McConnell when he says that perhaps the greatest part of his legacy as majority leader will be the remaking of the federal judiciary under President Trump. We now have about one in seven of our U.S. Circuit Court judges—those are the courts right below the United States Supreme Court—is a Trump appointee, is a Trump nominee, and the hundreds in the U.S. District Courts with more nominations being put out by the president just this very week. So that will continue. The courts are important for so many reasons, not least of which is they are the final arbiter over what our rights and our responsibilities are as individuals, and what is our relationship with the government, and it with us. But they’re important for another reason. These are lifetime appointments, and I think that’s why you saw the hard political left and all of its adjuncts, including many people in the mainstream media, go nothing short of berserk in trying to destroy a good man named Brett M. Kavanaugh. And that’s what we’re going to talk about next. So let’s talk about Brett Kavanaugh. The President fulfills his campaign promise with Kavanaugh. How important was Kavanaugh to the president and to Leader McConnell, and why it caused such a ruckus? Well, any president has no idea how many, if any, Supreme Court nominees they will be able to put forth to the United States Senate for advice and consent in their first couple of months, a year, first term. But President Trump was able to do that not once but twice before he hit the two-year mark of his first term. And the confirmation battles and the ultimate confirmations of now-Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh were hard fought and sometimes incredibly ugly and revealing for many people who would try to stop them, stop at nothing to stop them, and leave them at nothing. But I will tell you with great confidence, the good guys won. Let’s talk about some specifics, and you can help us understand what was going on in the White House. So when the déjà vu moment of Dr. [Christine] Blasey Ford comes forward, and she gives her testimony, a very effective testimony. What was the feeling in the White House about that testimony? Were there worries that the nomination was possibly in danger? What was the president’s view at that point? Where were you when that testimony happened, and what were you guys thinking? Sure. Even there, respectfully, you’re interjecting your opinion about her testimony, which is really what the public doesn’t like, respectfully. No, but I will tell you that it’s because every single person we’ve talked to, Republican or Democrat, have said that when she came forward, she came, whether you believed it or not— It was compelling. The president and I both said that. The president and I—well, effective I wouldn’t say, because I guess she’s back in California; he’s on the Supreme Court. But —you know, that wasn’t answering the question. But back on camera, I will tell you—where was I? And the president and I have both said—each of us have said publicly, she rendered compelling testimony. To fast-forward to the actual testimony of Christine Blasey Ford would be to forget that the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh had occurred two-and-a-half months before that testimony happened. And that’s important to remember, because Judge Kavanaugh, with 300 written opinions under his belt on the D.C. Circuit, and interviews with 65 senators, a production of 500,000 pieces of paper that was requested, more than the previous four Supreme Court justices combined, 36 hours of testimony over five days, all of that had happened or was about to happen that day. And yet right before that is when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said, “Oh, by the way, there’s this woman who wrote a letter.” On the one hand, people felt great sympathy for Christine Blasey Ford, because apparently she had requested in her letter to Dianne Feinstein, the ranking minority member of the judiciary committee, to remain anonymous. She did not want her identity known. The Washington Post revealed her identity on a Sunday, and Judge Kavanaugh said he would immediately like to testify, immediately. He wasn’t worried about focus-grouping it, preparing with people. He just was ready to testify under oath, to add to his testimony, that this is just not true; he didn’t do that. He didn’t do that to her; he didn’t do it to anybody else. And yet two weeks later, the testimony happened because she asked for more time. So the testimony—I famously went on TV and said to the gaggle—I said it on the television programs, a few of them, the very next day on that Monday, and to the gaggle outside of the White House on the North Lawn, that Christine Blasey Ford should not be ignored, and she should not be insulted. And indeed, she had her opportunity to testify weeks later. Her testimony was compelling, and those who wanted to destroy Brett Kavanaugh at any cost felt that they had found in Christine Blasey Ford the magic bullet, the needle in what was otherwise a haystack of beautifully reasoned, publicly released opinions, count 300 in number from his time in the D.C. Circuit, and really, the sworn testimony from so many people who were character witnesses about Brett Kavanaugh, everyone from the parents, mothers of the young girls’ basketball team he coached, to the folks who had benefited from his service projects in feeding the homeless, to law clerks, most of whom were female, who had worked with him. So with all these character witnesses, and with him all but assured confirmation, the left drops a bomb called Christine Blasey Ford. She testifies. She says what she remembers. What she says is her version of events from 34 years earlier. She is treated with respect and, many would argue, kid gloves in her testimony. And we at the White House don’t interfere at all. In fact, I on behalf of the White House went out and said, “Let her be heard.” And we all heard her. But then a funny thing happened within the next hour. We heard from him. We heard from Judge—Judge Kavanaugh, and he had his moment. And he talked about who he is and how he spent his time. And he was very raw and relatable about liking beer in high school and college, but he also said that never happened, and that he’s sorry for her, that she’s experienced pain at someone else’s hand, somehow, some way. That’s what he testified. And the performance of some of the United States senators on that Judiciary Committee will and ought to haunt them as they run for president in 2020, because the way they treated Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the disrespect, the preening, the politicking, the self-involvement, the badgering, the bullying of him, there is very little evidence they wanted the truth. What they wanted was his head on the platter, and instead, we have [him] on the United States Supreme Court. Like I said, the good guys won. You know, there’s reports that the president, that there was some concern at the White House that the president made a phone call to Leader McConnell, saying: “Where are we? What’s your thoughts?” And McConnell said to him, “Don’t worry, Mr. President, we’re only at halftime.” Were there concerns? Was there any possibility at any point that the nomination might have been pulled? I was in the White House the entire day, including watching the testimony of both Ford and Kavanaugh. The president watched it live. And I will tell you, as somebody who talked with the president every single day during that period of time about this issue, and was sent out to be one of the public faces on behalf of the White House on network and cable TV, radio, print interviews, President Trump never had a plan B when it came to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. I already know President Trump to be a very loyal individual boss, man, leader, but that really rose to an entirely different level, because even people who didn’t vote for President Trump or worked for other candidates marvel at his loyalty to Brett Kavanaugh the man and Brett Kavanaugh the judicial nominee during that very fraught time, when I can only imagine—and people ought to pray for and some ought to ask forgiveness from the Kavanaugh family and what they went through. His two young daughters, his wife, and the awful threats she was getting from miserable jerks around the country. The president never wavered. He never said, “I need to see that list again,” or “Let’s just call Brett. He probably doesn’t want to do this either. It’s getting a little tough for him, isn’t it?” He knows how the game is played. He knows people will stop at nothing to dismantle and disrupt and indeed destroy a person’s reputation, and even the person, if you must, to stop him or her from succeeding during his administration. But the president also—and this is his relationship with Leader McConnell and the legislature anyway, but particularly with Leader McConnell—he also respects the fact that it is the Senate’s job to advise and consent the president, so he wanted to get the report from them, or he wanted to get their vote. And so—but they went way beyond advice and consent. It was search and destroy. And he saw that. He’s very familiar with that. And he also knows, as I well do on his behalf, that winning and prevailing finishes a lot of sentences. But the behavior of people who act like nobody remembers or noticed what they said, what they did, how they acted during that time, is nothing short of disgraceful, particularly for those who are elected by their constituents in their states to be a leader. You can vote against Brett Kavanaugh, go vote against Brett Kavanaugh, but in the process, you can’t just cast that negative vote against him. You have to try to destroy him and his reputation and his family, and if that’s what this is about, people better really look inside themselves before we do this process again. Did the president, when he was listening to Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony when he came back, and he was very angry, what was his gut? Was that sort of the direction that he would have suggested? Was he happy with that? Did they ever have discussions about this? Again, but you’re saying Judge Kavanaugh was angry, because you see him as angry, and others read Twitter instead of actually reporting news these days, many. And so they say he must have been angry, because angry people say he was angry. And people [who] don’t want him to be on the Supreme Court say he was angry. He was passionate. And he was much more restrained than maybe I would be if somebody was trying to reduce to nothing a man who said he was innocent of all charges levied against him—not that this was a criminal court of law, by the way. That from 34 years ago, that wasn’t him. He never did that to her or anyone else. He showed mercy for her. He said, “I’m sorry that something terrible has happened to her.” And so if you want to describe and characterize his emotions and his performance that day, I think you’d also have to, in fairness, talk about how badly he felt for Dr. Ford that the Democrats, just to destroy him, used her. They absolutely used Dr. Ford to try to destroy and stop Brett Kavanaugh from getting to the United States Supreme Court. And I’ve got to believe she knows that, as she was just—she was a pawn in the game. And many of us felt sorry for her. That’s why I said don’t ignore her; don’t insult her. But that was for everybody. That wasn’t just for Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. No one can fault Judge Kavanaugh for emphatically and passionately defending himself against unspeakable hate, and from the public, and accusations from Dr. Ford that he says simply weren’t true. Did the president think the same thing, though? Did the president sort of say—was he outraged at all of this? Was he happy at the way Kavanaugh very forcefully testified that morning? Well, the president appreciates people who stand up for themselves and for what they believe and don’t allow the politically correct police—or, in this case, accusers who, in the case of Brett Kavanaugh, says it was false, false accusations—stop them or thwart them or impede them. And the president would tell you he knows a thing or two about that. But he was very proud of the process working out ultimately…One of their freshman congresswomen took as her guest this week [to the State of the Union address] the woman who had stopped and confronted Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in the elevator that day. And Flake then said—Sen. Flake then said, “I have to call for an FBI investigation.” Others agreed with that. He did Brett Kavanaugh and the president a huge favor, whether he realizes it or not, because those couple extra days and that additional FBI investigation, which was the seventh FBI investigation that Brett Kavanaugh had been a subject of, that allowed senators like Susan Collins, who says she was undecided, to then feel comfortable to go ahead and cast her vote in favor of Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination. And the speech that Sen. Susan Collins of Maine gave, I will want my daughters, and indeed my son, to read that again and again as they mature and get older, because it is one for the ages. Absent the FBI investigation, perhaps Sen. Flake wouldn’t have voted for Justice Kavanaugh. So the left, you know, in their blinded hate sometimes, and in their being bent on destruction and dismantlement of people who are pursuing certain positions, or even the people themselves, sometimes they really help us out. And the same here. Now you see, I mean, the Democrats, really the political left, has a problem on their hands because they went so far out of their way on the whole Brett Kavanaugh/Christine Blasey Ford situation. And hold it right there, because I’m going to ask you, that’s your summation would be in one more question. But what was at stake at this moment? I mean, again, remember we’re coming up to an election. The Senate could have been lost to the Democrats. Time was running out, which seemed to have been a tactic to some extent. What was at stake during what was going on during this period of time about this nomination? Well, what’s at stake is whether or not you’re going to allow false accusations and unhinged berserk-like hate and vitriol define you and destroy you or not. And I think, just as was the case in 2016, when candidate Trump publicly released his list of 21 men and women that he would nominate to the United States Supreme Court when elected, fast-forward 2018—the judiciary was probably on the ballot. Well, fast-forward to 2018, the judiciary was absolutely on the ballot in some of those Senate races, because the one Democrat who voted in favor of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court, Joe Manchin, won re-election in West Virginia. But four of them who voted against him, for no good reason, all lost: Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, and Bill Nelson in Florida. And the vote came one month before the election. And it clearly must have influenced some people’s votes, because they got to see their members up close and personal, too, in saying, how are you voting against him? It’s vote against him because you actually bothered to read 200 of his 300 opinions, and you found some passages with which you disagree. That was never the case. I mean, think about this. This is the United States Supreme Court nomination, and we’re listening to the testimony of one woman to decide practically everything, and not giving the same due consideration to the opinions this man has written as a judge on the court right below the United States Supreme Court? People had taken leave of their senses. But the Democrats have put themselves in a terrible bind now for 2020 and beyond, because they’ve said, quote: “We always believe the woman. Always believe the woman. The woman’s always right.” And also at stake was the balance of the Court, to a large extent. I mean, this is what McConnell was sort of saying. He had been working for 30 years. Yeah. I mean, that’s obvious. Yep. But it’s important. Why is it important? … Elections have consequences, and one of the greatest consequences of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton will be the makeup of the United States Supreme Court, and indeed the entire federal judiciary. Under his watch—it’s early February 2019 as I speak to you, and he’s already had two United States Supreme Court justices confirmed, 30 on the U.S. Circuit Courts and 52 in the District Courts. This is an extraordinary transformation of our courts. And you cannot overstate how important the judiciary is to some voters right, left and center. But Donald Trump as a candidate did something Hillary Clinton failed to do with respect to the judiciary. He actually published his list of would-be nominees for everyone to see, and she did not. So people who were already supporting Clinton probably said, “Oh, she’ll put someone on there who will do this or do this or believe that or believe this.” And people who were on the fence about for whom to vote or whether to bother at all in 2016 late in the game said: “I don’t know. I don’t trust who she might put on there. Who would she put on there? Why isn’t she telling us? I’d like to poke the fruit over there, too.” And so President Trump in his transparency and accountability with respect to the judiciary, and indeed the Supreme Court, really had an advantage over Secretary Clinton when it came to the judiciary. And I think people just presume maybe she’d let Merrick Garland’s nomination stand and he would be the first nominee. But Leader McConnell had left that job open for quite a while. Will the courts continue to be this major focus for this president? And lastly, if you have a chance at the end, Don McGahn’s role in all this. … The federal judiciary is and will continue to be a legacy issue for President Trump. There will be a continuum of what, by any objective measure, has been an incredibly successful component of the Trump presidency, the remaking of the federal judiciary with a number of his nominees. Men and women who have fidelity to the Constitution, not fidelity to a political party or polls or some special interest group, these men and women have the right record, the temperament, and believe that the Constitution is the law of the land and that their job is to interpret it, not to make it up as they go along. Don McGahn, the first White House counsel, who served for just about two years and had served as counsel to the Trump campaign before that, had a very central role in all of the judicial nominations, including the two United States Supreme Court nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. And because Don McGahn is not a public-facing individual—he does not go in front of the cameras; he doesn’t write op-eds—he did his job very quietly and very effectively in terms of working with those nominees, working with the team ahead of time, interfacing with the Senate Judiciary members, and also with other members of the Senate who would like to meet the different nominees over time. … Let me say one last thing, because you might like it for a little color. You asked me a question about did the president want to dump Kavanaugh, or was he ever nervous. Right. The president never had a plan B to the point where I specifically remember at one point, I was asked to go in my personal capacity to South Bend, Ind., to campaign for then-candidate, now Sen.
Mike Braun, who beat Joe Donnelly, who voted against Brett Kavanaugh. And I was in South Bend, Ind., for a few hours, did a few events. And when I was getting back onto a plane to come back to Washington that night, the basketball coach for Notre Dame recognized me and said, “Kellyanne, Kellyanne.” I went over and said hello. He said, “Could we take a picture?” “Sure.” We took pictures. Somebody posted the picture, and I got two calls from members of the media while I was on the plane. Got the calls later. “Were you in South Bend tonight to talk to Amy Coney Barrett?” It never even struck my mind. This woman who is also on the president’s list, and is also this—she’s in the 7th Circuit already, an extraordinarily qualified nominee for the Supreme Court. And it never even—never crossed my mind. Here I am going to South Bend, where she’s a professor at Notre Dame, and people think I’m furtively going in there to see if she’s ready or to talk to her. There was no such thing. I was there in my personal capacity for a Senate candidate. But that’s the way people think. But it’s not the way the president thought. He never said to any of us, “Go quietly.” I should say he never said to me, “Go quietly and see if somebody else is ready, or if they can step in; see how Brett and Ashley are really doing.” He knew how they were doing because he would talk to them, and he would tell them, “Stay strong; get your chance to testify.” And he gave people the same advice that he takes himself when he’s under fire and under pressure. And I witnessed that first firsthand in the campaign, particularly in that last month. And I witnessed it again and again, that the president applies the same principles to people to whom he’s being loyal, that he believes in, and that he believes were being treated unfairly, and should tough it out. And I’ll say it again: The good guys won this round.