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Limo Crash Kills 20 in Upstate New York; Vigil to Be Held for Victims of New York Limo Crash; Unnamed Officials Say Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi has Been Killed at Saudi Consulate in Turkey; Turkey Asks to Search Saudi Consulate After Journalist's Disappearance; Trump to Take Victory Lap Over Supreme Court Nominee Confirmation; Trump, GOP Use Kavanaugh Battle to Rally Voters for Midterms. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 8, 2018 - 9:00   ET


[09:00:06] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto here in Washington this morning.

The Kavanaugh era begins on the Supreme Court of the United States and the nation has the political scars to show for it. With nationwide elections now just 29 days ago, Kavanaugh's triumphant supporters and defeated opponents are both looking to leverage their grueling battle.

We'll see the new justice at the White House today for a ceremonial swearing in but this hour we're also following two other major breaking stories.

HARLOW: That's right. A Federal Transportation Safety team is on the ground, at the site of the nation's deadliest accident in nine years. Twenty people were killed when an SUV limousine blew through an intersection of two county roads in upstate New York. Four of the dead were sisters. We will speak to family members of the victims and people who witnessed this tragic accident ahead.

Also this morning, the U.S. is said to be working behind the scenes to learn the fate of a Saudi journalist who disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Tuesday. He has not been seen since he walked in those doors and fears are growing this morning that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered after he refused to back down and continue to call out his own government.

So why is the Trump administration staying silent?

We begin, though, on Kavanaugh this hour. Our Abby Philip is at White House.

Again the ceremonial swearing in will happen today. He will serve on the court starting tomorrow morning. With all that's happened in the last week, is it fair to say, Abby, the mood at the White House this morning is mission accomplished? ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There's no question,

Poppy. This was a bruising battle for both Justice Kavanaugh and for the White House. And now President Trump is planning to take a victory lap at the White House here later today.

Kavanaugh was actually officially sworn in over the weekend by Chief Justice John Roberts and by former justice Anthony Kennedy. But this event tonight will be an opportunity for President Trump to really tout this accomplishment especially on the eve of a midterm election that he's already said will be on this issue and also on the issue of whether Democrats overplayed their political hand.

Now meanwhile, we have been learning a little bit more about Kavanaugh's time on the Supreme Court which will begin officially tomorrow. He has been preparing throughout this whole nomination fight to be ready to hear those cases starting tomorrow. He's already hired his clerks, four of them, all women as he promised the senators he would do during his confirmation hearings.

We're also learning a little bit more about where he's going to be seated. According to our sources, he's going to be seated on the far right, right next to Justice Elena Kagan who was appointed by President Barack Obama -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Thanks, Abby.

SCIUTTO: Seated on the far right.

Senate Republicans are now taking a victory lap. Suzanne Malveaux joins us me now here in Washington with what they're saying.

This is obviously a big victory. A narrow one but a big one and it's lifetime appointment, and arguably turns the court.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's very significant but, you know, I have to say, Jim, probably there's a collective sigh of relief right now until the next battle here. This was a brutal couple of weeks, bruising fight amongst senators who really pride themselves on being part of the congressional body that is more deliberative, able to reach common ground.

And I think right now we're in a very brief pause. You hear senators like Democrat Chris Coons, who I talk to often trying to pivot, calling a move forward, heal, find a way for Republicans and Democrats to work together. And then there's Hawaii's Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono. Well, she is charged up, accusing Republican Senator Susan Collins of insulting Professor Ford, for not believing her. Collins now defending herself, Kavanaugh, urging people to put themselves in his shoes.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Many people have thanked me for my vote and said that they were very pleased that I did the right thing and that I applied the judgment that I did.


MALVEAUX: If you think this is over, think again. Both sides are still re-litigating who told the truth, who behaved worst. We have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging the Senate Judiciary Committee now to investigate how Professor Ford's letter given to Senator Dianne Feinstein about her story of sexual assault was leaked to the public. You've got House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a letter to House Democrats saying that she's filing a FOIA request for the FBI report on Brett Kavanaugh along with transcripts of interviews and instructions from the White House and Senate Republicans.

And all of this comes as the Republican leadership is now branding Democrats as an angry mob. We heard that from Trump, McConnell, Senator Hatch. And then you've got the other side, Democrats accusing those who voted for Kavanaugh as anti-women.

So Capitol Hill is quiet now but it's not going to be for long. Many of those women who were sexual assault survivors who we saw and heard from firsthand in the halls of Congress say that they are coming back and that they will be heard and they have an impact and they vote.

[09:05:05] So 29 days from the midterm elections, we'll see just how much.

SCIUTTO: Yes. When you look at generic ballot, other polls, even those key races, the gap with women, women fleeing in many cases the Republican Party, there's some big numbers. We'll see if that measures out because of course many Republican voters are excited by this nomination.

MALVEAUX: Both sides.

SCIUTTO: Confirmation, rather.

MALVEAUX: Yes. Highly energized. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much. Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Let's talk about all of this with our political panel. Molly Ball, Josh Dawsey are here.

And Molly, let me begin with you. I mean, exactly what Jim and Suzanne were just saying. You've got the mob. I think that word, you know, mob mentality was first used in all of this by John Cornyn in the middle of the Kavanaugh fight, and then you heard Mitch McConnell echoing it yesterday on the Sunday shows, saying we stood up to the mob. The way the "Wall Street Journal" put it this morning, quote, "The ugly Kavanaugh confirmation has awakened many complacent Republicans to the methods of the American left."

Who is right? I mean, is "Journal" right? Is McConnell right? Or do we just not know who is angrier until the midterms?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, everyone is definitely very angry. And I think that's been the theme of our politics for the last several years. And it is going to be a contest of who is angrier in the midterms. Political strategists know that anger is a very powerful motivating force for voters that fires them up, it gets them to vote, much more than any positive sentiment, much more than wanting to support politicians that they love, for example. And that is part of the problem that Republicans have had in this midterm cycle.


BALL: Is that their voters are relatively complacent. They feel like they're getting what they want. They've got the Republican leadership in the executive branch and in the Congress. And so on the one hand, this reminds Republican voters of what they are getting out of the Trump administration, the Supreme Court being one of the president's signature senior promises, something that both conservatives and sort of Trumpists alike can agree to support.

But on the other hand, that language about the mob also does make the right angry. They do want to, as they see it, avenge what was done by the Democrats in that instance. Does that mean that they're angrier than the Democrats already were particularly those Democratic women? I don't think we know yet and I think we should not underestimate the power of those angry women, in particular, but the left in general because it's that anger, that enthusiasm on the left that's really been powering the stirrings of a Democratic wave that we've seen thus far.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Just what we need, Poppy, right, both sides stirring up anger to political advantage.

HARLOW: Right.

BALL: Right.

SCIUTTO: Josh, if Dems win the House, and again we don't know, but generic ballot -- lots of polling pointing in that direction, Representative Jerry Nadler who chairs the House -- who would chair, rather, the House Judiciary Committee.


SCIUTTO: If the Dems were to get the majority. He says that he plans to launch an investigation of Kavanaugh but it's interesting because one of his colleagues in the Senate chamber, Chris Coons, seemed to push back on impeachment talk yesterday. Have a listen.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: There's only ever been one justice that's been impeached and I think talking about it at this point isn't necessarily healing us and moving us forward.


SCIUTTO: You know, Josh, there's been some disagreement debate about whether impeaching President Trump would be good or bad politically for Democrats. How about on Judge Kavanaugh? Is this something that is building support among House members if they were to win the majority there?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there certainly seems to be increasing chatter about that. But among many of the House Democrats I think there would be other rich targets as well. You would see they might try to go after to the president's ties to his businesses, some of the Cabinet members, different episodes in the administration. There will be a cascade of targets for House Democrats.

And Jim, I think it's a little premature to say in six months or three months what they'll want to investigate first. I mean, you know, a month-long -- a month could be a totally different news cycle in the Trump administration. And there certainly seems to be some palpable angle here that's I don't think is going away any time soon.


DAWSEY: On the Kavanaugh, on both sides frankly. But whether they would make any sort of firm tangible effort to really do that, I don't think we know yet.

HARLOW: A month? A day could be an entirely new news cycle, right?

Guys, Molly, to you, let's listen to Senator Lindsey Graham, who is anything but happy over the last few weeks. Then he started out this "FOX News Sunday" interview very happy and then he got serious in his tone when he said this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I've never campaigned against a colleague in my life. That's about to change. I'm going to go throughout this country and let people in these, you know, purple states, red states where Trump won, know what I thought, know what I think about this process.


HARLOW: I don't think, Molly, anyone is wondering what Lindsey Graham thought about this process. I think we all know what Lindsey Graham thought about this process if you've been watching TV or reading the newspaper in the last few weeks but what does that mean for the midterms?

[09:10:00] BALL: Well, I think for one thing it's definitely a new development to see Lindsey Graham conservative hero. He's always been sort of someone that the right regarded warily or even despised. And now for him to be the hero of the Republican Party, someone you would want campaigning for you in a red state, is sort of a new persona for Lindsey Graham.

But look, you know, when Jeff Flake came to that committee with Chris Coons and said, let's have a one-week pause, let's get to the bottom of this, let's have this FBI investigation, his perhaps naive hope in that was that we could bring the country together, bring the Senate together, find some kind of consensus on this very controversial nomination that in his view was tearing the country apart. And it does not seem like that was successful.

If anything, people are more angry and more divided, including in the U.S. Senate where Lindsey Graham, who has always been someone who was eager to work across party lines with his Democratic colleagues, to see him so angry that he would take this step which, as he said he's never done before, I think that tells you exactly the extent to which this nomination fight really did rip apart the Senate.

SCIUTTO: Yet consensus is an endangered species in Washington to say the least.

Josh Dawsey, there's back and forth on the issue of Merrick Garland, whose name has been invoked frequently through the Kavanaugh confirmation battle. On CBS yesterday the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed back against the idea that his decision at the time under President Obama to block Garland's vote kicked off a new stage of partisanship. He argued, he seemed to redefine the terms a bit on this. Have a listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: You have to go back to 1880 to find the last time a Senate controlled by a different party from the president confirmed a Supreme Court justice to a vacancy created in the middle of a presidential election. And we simply followed the tradition in America, which is that if you have a party of a different -- Senate of a different party than the president you don't fill a vacancy created in a presidential year. That went all the way back to 1888.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Are you saying that if Donald Trump --


MCCONNELL: The answer to your question is we'll see whether there's a vacancy in 2020.


SCIUTTO: So when McConnell was on CBS, John Dickerson made the point that in 1956, Eisenhower, of course Republican president, he nominated Justice Brennan when the Congress at the time was controlled by Democrats. I mean, does Mitch McConnell -- you know the history decently well. You covered this for a bit. Does he have the history wrong here?

DAWSEY: Well, there's certainly no constitutional cause that says you cannot confirm a Supreme Court justice in a particular year based on who is in a particular party. I think Mitch McConnell is, you know, a shrewd operator in 2016. He said publicly this was one of the most consequential decisions of his public life. Obviously filibustering, stopping Merrick Garland for a year, not giving him a hearing, not giving him any sort of public airing, not even trying to decide if he was a qualified nominee or not, stoked a lot of fueled resentments on the left and this certainly -- I don't think there are written precedent anywhere that says this is the way it's supposed to be done.

You know, that said, that decision I think gained a lot of support for President Trump and Republicans. I mean, one of the reasons we saw the president elected, if you talk to many of his supporters and aides and advisers, you know, is the Supreme Court and the fact that so many Republicans didn't want Hillary Clinton making the choice. So Mitch McConnell obviously made a political move here and one that worked out well.

The question is, will the tables ever be turned on the other side and how would Republicans respond if such a move was made to them?


SCIUTTO: We could make a pretty informed guess as to how they would respond.

Molly and Josh, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thanks, guys.

SCIUTTO: You probably heard about this over the weekend. Just a horrendous tragedy in upstate New York. Four sisters and a newlywed couple among 20 people killed in a limousine crash. We're going to be there live.

Plus a Saudi journalist, an outspoken critic of the crown prince, goes missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey last week. Turkish officials telling Reuters he was killed inside.

Why hasn't the U.S. talked about it yet? Will the U.S. respond? We're following all the details of this story.

HARLOW: Also President Trump checking off a whole lot of campaign promises in the last week, from the Supreme Court to a new NAFTA deal, to jobs. How do Democrats play this just days ahead of the midterms?


[09:15:00] HARLOW: Hi, welcome back. It is the deadliest U.S. transportation accident in nearly a decade. Twenty people were killed this weekend after a limousine crashed after careening through an intersection on two country roads in Upstate, New York.

SCIUTTO: Just a horrendous tragedy here. The driver and all 17 passengers were killed, also two bystanders killed. Cnn correspondent Polo Sandoval, he is live exactly where it happened in Upstate, New York. But Polo, what are you learning this morning?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim and Poppy, we're learning more about those 17 passengers of the limousine that were being driven in that vehicle. A group that was described as a very close group of friends here, among them, Amy and Axel Steenberg, recently married. Amy was traveling with her three sisters who also died in the crash as well as some other recently married couples. I keep getting told by several officials here and members of the

community that this was a close-knit group of friends, almost considered family. They were out, celebrating a birthday, when things took a terrible turn on Tuesday afternoon.

What we know at this point according to investigators is that limousine, a 2001 Ford Excursion for some reason did not stop at this T intersection, instead, plowed through the driveway of a nearby country store, killing those two pedestrians that you mentioned and then eventually crashing in the ditch that I'm standing in front of.

[09:20:00] The main question now is how? How could this have happened here? We have state and federal investigators that have been spending the last 48 hours trying to get to the bottom of this. And also, just north of here in Amsterdam, New York, there is a massive sense of sorrow and of sadness here.

It almost seems palpable as I am told that many of the passengers in that limousine were either from that community or had ties to that community. They expect to honor their memories tonight at a vigil, so what we're seeing here in Upstate, New York, guys, is really this sense of community coming together while investigators try to find out what went wrong.

HARLOW: OK, Polo, thank you for being there. It is stunning to see what happened, we're thinking about all of them. Thanks so much, Jim?

SCIUTTO: Well, the force of this crash so powerful, it could be heard far down the street. Bridey Finegan heard it from inside her home, a witness to this and she joins me now by telephone. Baddy, thank you for taking the time, just such a horrific tragedy.

You were close to it, you were sitting in your living room as it happened -- your dining room, rather, Saturday afternoon. Tell us what --

BRIDEY FINEGAN, WITNESSED CRASH AFTERMATH (via telephone): That's right, yes --

SCIUTTO: And what you saw.

FINEGAN: Well, I heard a loud bang and I thought it was somebody in my own driveway. And I went out and looked up the road and I could see many people running out of the Apple Barrel and then I suddenly heard a lot of screaming.

And I walked up to the scene and I could see that there was this unusual-looking vehicle in the bushes and it turned out -- it was -- it was -- it looked like a bus, it turned out that it was a van limousine.

And there was the first responders right on the scene doing their work and they had trouble getting into the vehicle and were pounding on the windows with sledge hammers and fire truck brought the jaws of life, but it turned out that no one survived in the -- in the vehicle. SCIUTTO: As you've been speaking, we've been showing pictures here

and you see such a scatter of wreckage which gives us a sense of the force of speed of the impact. You grew up in the area --

FINEGAN: I did --

SCIUTTO: We've heard some concerns --

FINEGAN: I did --

SCIUTTO: About this intersections at state route 30. Had there been issues there before? Is there something about the stop sign or the stop lights, what are the concerns?

FINEGAN: Well, the Route 30 hill is a very steep hill. And throughout my childhood, we always knew it was a dangerous hill and there were issues with trucks not being able to stop in the past. About eight years ago, New York State Transportation made some major redesign of Route 30A, which is in front of my house, and Route 30, which comes down the hill.

And they were trying to make the intersection safer. It turns out that the stop sign for Route 30 at the bottom of this steep hill is right opposite the parking lot for the Apple Barrel, and there have been issues there with trucks not being able to stop and going into the parking lot.

There was an accident there this past Spring and I understand there was another one maybe about a year ago. So it's been a known area that's dangerous.

SCIUTTO: And so many families now in mourning. Bridey Finegan, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, ahead for us, growing fear this morning that a Saudi journalist and a writer for the "Washington Post" who was a vocal opponent of his own government may have been murdered inside of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. So far, not a word from the Trump administration on this, why? We'll bring you the latest ahead.


SCIUTTO: This morning, there are growing calls, urgent calls for the U.S. government to speak out about the disappearance and suspected murder of a "Washington Post" writer. Jamal Khashoggi; a Saudi journalist, outspoken critic of the Saudi government entered the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul last week to get a papers for his upcoming marriage.

But his fiancee who was waiting outside, says if you could believe it, he never came out.

HARLOW: Unnamed Turkish officials this morning say they believe that Khashoggi was killed inside of the consulate there, and now Turkey is asking Saudi for permission to search the entire building. So far, nothing. No comment from the president or from the White House. Although Cnn has learned that State Department right now is working to

try to figure out what happened, actually quietly doing that behind the scenes. Joining us now is our journalist Jomana Karadsheh who joins us from Istanbul with the latest. So, the last time he was seen publicly was Tuesday.

And now Erdogan's government wants to get inside of the Saudi Consulate there to investigate what they believe is the murder of a Saudi national and permanent U.S. resident inside. What else can you tell us?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Poppy, over the past few days, we have been getting conflicting information from Turkish officials. You know, their official line has been that Jamal Khashoggi walked into that consulate on Tuesday at about 1:00 p.m., and he never left after that.

You know, I spoke to the fiancee of Khashoggi who was out here in the days after that, still hoping that he would emerge from that building. And she was saying that he was really worried, he was reluctant about going into that building because of the crackdown that was going on in Saudi Arabia.

He didn't feel safe, but he had no choice. He needed to obtain the paperwork that would allow him to get married, so he did do that and go into the consulate. And as you mentioned, you know, Turkey has maintained their line that, you know, they are investigating this incident, but over the past couple of days, we've heard these reports, allegations from some Turkish officials saying that he may have been killed inside the consulate.

They haven't provided evidence to support that or explain how they reached that conclusion. And this is something that has been denied by Saudi officials, saying these are baseless allegations. People here are telling us, the United States needs to be doing more.