Return to Transcripts main page


State Department Provides Update on Reporter's Disappearance; Hurricane Devastation; Kanye West Visits Oval Office. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 11, 2018 - 15:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our continuing coverage from Florida. I'm Erica Hill in Panama City Beach. Brooke Baldwin has made her way, in many ways against the odds, to Mexico Beach, Florida. We're going to get to Brook in just a moment, where she's at ground zero.

Just to give you a sense, though, of the destruction here that we are seeing, behind me in Panama City Beach, there is a major structural issue, as you can see, with this boat barn behind me at this marina, which looks like a tornado tore through it.

Entire neighborhoods have been wiped out in this area. In Panama City, one woman told me it looks like a war zone. She said nothing left in the area where she was outside of a shelter where she was staying.

There are trees down, power lines down. There is virtually no cell phone service for many people. That means for first responders as well. And we can tell you the death toll have now risen. It now stands at five.

But some of the biggest questions were left unanswered because people couldn't get into Mexico Beach. That is ground zero for where this massive storm roared ashore with more than 150 mile-per-hour winds.

Brooke Baldwin and her team are there. And she has some of the first reporting from the ground -- Brooke.


Let me tell you, the best part of our day really has been sharing our satellite phone. There is absolutely zero cell service where I am here in Mexico Beach. Sharing our satellite phone with various people who either rode out the storm and survived or one woman who came up, literally had to walk from the neighboring town along the beach, came in.

And she was gracious enough to let us walk with her as she saw her house was gone. But to be able to hand her this phone so she could call her daughter, so another man could call his baby brother, has been nothing short of extraordinary, to see the looks into to years as people have been able to call loved ones to tell them they're OK, because this -- this is what their loved ones are seeing on television.

This is -- this was Mexico Beach, Florida. It's -- it's a small seaside town between Port St. Joe and Panama City Beach. And this is what really took the brunt of the storm.

We have seen Black Hawk helicopters. We have seen National Guard Humvees come through. We were talking to a couple of the guys with Miami -- City of Miami Fire and Rescue, and I was asking about death toll, because they have been going door to door to door. They said it's too preliminary. They couldn't give us any numbers just yet.

But they said it looks bad. In order for us even to get here, it's been a journey. The roads have been impossible. Trees are down for miles. And so we were able to get up in a helicopter.

And I want to just share with you part of our journey in getting here and what we saw, quite honestly, our first reaction when we saw the first bit of just devastation from the air.


BALDWIN: Oh, my God. We're above Panama City Beach right now. And this is the first sign of just utter devastation I have seen.

I was just told by one of your producers is, this is where Erica Hill was this morning. But look at -- look at this. Look at this marina down below, these warehouses of boats destroyed, just toppled over and crushed by the sheer force of the winds all around us, these four massive facilities.

It's incredible actually to see one of them is perfectly pristine, not even touched. Just as were discussing last hour, almost similar to a tornado, where it skips homes, this hurricane and its brute winds, and clocked at one point at 155 miles per hour, just annihilated these two in particular boat facilities right here, where people have clearly put their boats up for the season.

And it's just unreal. It is unreal to see with your own eyes. I just wanted to show you this as we're en route to Mexico Beach.

We have just now flown over Mexico Beach. And it's gone. It's gone. I went to -- we're going to get Leonel (ph) to show you guys exactly how bad it is. But, I mean, it's obliterated. And it's awful to look at.

Just, as we watch the deterioration along the coastline, it was bad in Panama City Beach, but I have never seen anything like this.


I see some people. I see about half-a-dozen people on the ground. And I can see some official emergency vehicles. We wanted to get in. We wanted to -- because these roads were impossible -- and you can understand why just by looking at these pictures -- we want to land this helicopter and go try to tell the stories of those few people who did choose to ride this thing out. Just imagine that this is your home, this is your livelihood, this is

where you love. This is beautiful, pristine Mexico Beach, Florida along this gorgeous part of the Florida Panhandle.

Here, we have made it to Mexico Beach, Florida. We saw it over from a helicopter. And we finally now have been able to get a signal to talk to you, because there's no cell service anywhere near here. And just the pictures tell the story.

I said it from the sky. I will say it, having been here. Mexico Beach is gone. We are standing in what would be somebody's backyard. I have seen mattresses, cars, grills, books, toilets all just tossed around because of the storm surge, and also because of just the sheer velocity of the winds.

But, to me, we wanted to stand right here in front of this home. This home used to be about a football field away right along the water. This storm and the wind carried it 100 yards this way and landed it on a side like straight out of "The Wizard of Oz."

Scott Botwell (ph), come on in, sir. You have been incredible to wait with us as we got a signal. Come closer to me. Come closer to me.

Thank you so much. This is Scott. Scott is -- lives in Mexico Beach. Your home is right here. You rode it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We stayed. We thought that the hurricane was not going to increase, but decrease. But we tried to stay until the day before yesterday. And then after the bridges all closed and everything, we knew we had to stay here, we had to bunker down.

And so you can see behind me and stuff how all the homes, when the surge came in and stuff, it was so tremendous that, once it came in, you couldn't do anything (AUDIO GAP) here all the homes and everything just tumbled and crashed.


BALDWIN: What were you seeing? Describe -- we have been talking the last hour, but what were you seeing float past your window?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what we have seen was, first was the cars started floating by and stuff, and all the debris was in the air.

And the wind was just so tremendous, so strong and stuff. And then the next thing is the water. When the water came in, houses started floating in front of our home and stuff. And so -- and then once you have seen that, then everything just went black.

I mean, you couldn't see anything anywhere. The storm was so strong. You can just see behind me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (AUDIO GAP) And this is all their homes and all their belongings and everything is, you're standing in. There's their mattress. And there's their bed stand.

BALDWIN: Your home belongings. We found you on the main road carrying your one briefcase that you managed to find.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So when we got back in the house and stuff, that is all that was, because we had furniture in our house that wasn't even our furniture. That's what -- the surge had brought stuff is so bad.

And it's like the walls collapsed and everything and stuff. And so like you stated, the only thing I could find of ours was my briefcase.


BALDWIN: His briefcase. That is how I found Scott.

Just imagine. Just -- I mean, I have been walking up and down the stretch of Highway 98 looking to my right. This shouldn't be an ocean view. But it is now because these homes are gone. Just trying to imagine trying to put myself in these people's shoes.

We have been watching families. I saw a little girl clutching a rooster. And she was just screaming: "I found him. I found him."

We have heard dogs barking. Presumably, people are trapped. That is why fire and rescue is here banging on all these doors. But people here are exhausted, those who chose to ride the storm out, and they are devastated. But at least those who -- those who survived survived, and that is -- that's what they're choosing to hold on to, as they are overwhelmed at the thought of what next.

Dana Bash, I'm going to go to you and in Washington, D.C.

But, as I do so, it's this eerie quiet in a place like this, punctuated with all these -- it's beeping, beeping in the background. It's all these fire alarms or smoke detectors that were ripped out of homes. It's the oddest noise as you walk through what was someone's home.



Beeps, they are supposed to tell you something is coming or something is happening, but that has obviously happened.

BALDWIN: Exactly.

BASH: And, Brooke, I'm not sure if you can still hear me.

I will just say the fact that you and our team there obviously are doing tremendous work, but at times like this, you're a journalist to observe and explain what happened, but also a human being. And the fact that you are -- you all are able to help people there get word to their loved ones because you have technology that they don't is really important. And, of course, you're doing that, Brooke Baldwin.

Thank you. We will get back to you very, very soon for more of your amazing reporting.

And as we see the depth of devastation across Florida, here's what's happening inside the Oval Office today.


KANYE WEST, MUSICIAN: If he don't look good, we don't look good. This is our president.


BASH: Rapper Kanye West going off in front of reporters in the Oval Office sitting across from the president, leaving him rather speechless.

And moments from now, the State Department is about to face questions about the U.S. response to that journalist who disappeared after entering the Saudi Consulate. How could this impact U.S. relations? And what, if anything, is President Trump going to do about it?



BASH: A surreal moment just added to Oval Office history.

Award-winning rapper Kanye West dropped the F-bomb as he and football legend Jim Brown met with President Trump. It was just before the trio set off for lunch. The president had the least to say. You have to believe it -- you have to see it, rather, to believe it.

Here is a small portion of Kanye West's monologue.


WEST: What I need "Saturday Night Live" to improve or what I need the liberals improve on is, if he don't look good, we don't look good.

This is our president. He has to be the freshest, the flyest, the flyest planes, the best factories. And we have to make our core be in power. We have to bring jobs into America, because our best export is entertainment and ideas.

But when we make everything in China and not in America, then we're cheating on our country. And we're putting people in positions that have to do illegal things to end up in the cheapest factory ever, the prison system.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll tell you what that. That was really impressive.


TRUMP: I hate to this, Jim. Do you want to say something?


TRUMP: What do you do after that?


BALDWIN: Joining me now is CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins and CNN contributor Wes Lowery, who is also a national reporter for "The Washington Post."

Wes, let me start with you. What was going through your mind watching that?

WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it was certainly a remarkable -- remarkable spectacle.

At a time when we see these reports from Brooke down at the ravaged Florida coast during this hurricane, where my colleagues and I here at "The Post" are eagerly awaiting any updates or news about our colleague presumed assassinated by the Saudi government, that this type of spectacle is taking place in the Oval Office in the White House, with a controversial celebrity who himself even in this conversation acknowledge he'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was having this type of conversation ostensibly about criminal justice policy, but in reality not quite so much, I mean, it -- there are very few words to describe what we saw.

You could argue that it was sad. It certainly was remarkable. And it was -- it was entertaining, but empty calories.

BASH: Empty calories.

Kaitlan, what are you hearing from your sources inside the White House of how the president viewed this going in? Was he looking for press coverage or a real conversation about the issues that were technically on the agenda?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have seen the president tout Kanye West supporting him multiple times, because, of course, this is a president who has historically pretty low numbers as far as far as it goes with African-American approval of the job he's doing as president.

So he has been touting Kanye West's support. that is a lot of the reason why he was here today seated in the Oval Office. But people in the White House are a little stunned by what went down today, because this is a White House that experiences surreal moments on nearly a daily basis.

But this, Dana, certainly was one of the most surreal today. I mean, you can see there sitting there, even Jim Brown, this legendary football player was seated there, and he didn't get many words. Neither did Jared Kushner, who has been leading the White House's objective here for criminal justice reform, or Ivanka Trump.

They did not speak much. And neither did President Trump, who is very rarely the person to speak the least in any room that he's in, but very few of them spoke much as Kanye West went into this lengthy monologue that lasted about 10 minutes without interruption where he talked about manufacturing, he talked about how he believed he had been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder.

He talked about Democrats and how he had been criticized for supporting President Trump and even pitched President Trump on replacing Air Force One with this new idea. So it was certainly just a stunning moment in there.

And even President Trump, Dana, was at a loss for words at one point. He sat there and said, well, I thought this was just going to be a lunch, and then we had this lengthy meeting. That wasn't even the lunch part. That was just the meeting.

But Kanye West certainly is someone the president likes to tout his support. That is why you saw that happen today. That is why the president had him in there. But they also did talk a little bit about criminal justice reform. Of course, President Trump referencing Kim Kardashian, who met with President Trump to get clemency for the one woman who had been in prison for decades.

Certainly, a fascinating meeting. You have just got to wonder what even happened during their lunch after that.

BASH: Well, I'm glad you brought up Kim Kardashian, because she did have a successful meeting in private without the cameras. A picture was released.


Wes, and she, of course, was able to convince him to give clemency to Alice Johnson, as Kaitlan brought up. She was 63 years old, a first- time nonviolent drug offender.

But will be heard Kanye West talk about today was a man named Larry Hoover Supermax for a 150- to 200-year murder sentence. What do you make of that?

LOWERY: Certainly.

For viewers who may not be aware of Larry Hoover. Larry Hoover is a legendary gang leader in Chicago, founder of the Gangster Disciples, which is still among one of the more deadly gangs on the South Side. Younger viewers will recall the Rick Ross lyrics, "I think I'm Big Meech Larry Hoover."

Larry Hoover is also someone who has been incarcerated for decades at this point and in the '90s and early 2000s began doing some community work, began creating some political action organizations to try to gain political power even from behind bars in Chicago, and at the time then received additional charges, with prosecutors alleging that he was still running the drug trade from behind bars.

He's become a bit of a cause celebre, I mean, in some communities in Chicago, with a suggestion that perhaps he was at this point in his life and his career attempting to really be a positive influence in Chicago.

But, on the other hand, this is someone who has been convicted of murder, who unquestionably was a founder of an extremely violent gang.

And I just can't help but think to myself, I can remember and recall the controversies when President Obama invited people like Common, a relatively controversial rapper, to a poetry reading at the White House. I can't imagine a world in which President Obama sat across the desk of the Oval Office and had a rapper advocate for the release of a gang leader.

I just can't even imagine the conversations we would be having about that.

BASH: That's so true.

Kaitlan, we're out of time.

I just have to ask you one quick question. Colin Kaepernick, Kanye wore that MAGA hat, make America great again hat. He also has been known to wear -- not here -- a shirt with Colin Kaepernick on it. Any reporting about whether or not that could be a conversation, whether he could have success in turning the president around on such a controversial issue that he uses to talk to his base about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem?

COLLINS: Well, Dana, you wonder if that's going to be a topic that comes up.

But Kanye West did bring Colin Kaepernick during that when he talked about how he wanted to see unity. He said he wanted to see Colin Kaepernick wearing the same hat he was wearing there in the Oval Office, that signature red make America great again hat.

Whether or not that's ever going to happen because of the feud between President Trump and Colin Kaepernick over kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality is pretty much anyone's guess at this point.

LOWERY: I'm going to guess no.

BASH: No truer words have been said, sounds like from both of you.

Thank you very much for that discussion, and especially your insight.

Actually, we're going to go right now over to the State Department. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert is giving a briefing.


QUESTION: The president in a some kind of an interview this morning said that you guys did have investigators on the ground. And then a Turkish official came around and said, no, that's not correct.

Can you fill -- what's the story here?


So, to take the second part of your question first, whether or not there are investigators on the ground...


NAUERT: ... the United States government has offered its support to the Turkish government to provide law enforcement assistance to the Turkish government.

In terms of whether or not we have people on the ground, that's not something that I can address here from this podium. That's not something that the State Department does. I would have to refer you to some of our other government agencies that could or would be involved with that, such as Department of Justice and others.

QUESTION: But there are regional security D.S. officers on the ground already. They have been -- they're always there. You can't say if they're...


NAUERT: Our diplomatic security officers, to my knowledge, don't handle those types of investigations. They handle State Department matters only.

QUESTION: And then the first part of the question, is there anything new in terms of your understanding or lack of understanding of what happened to him?



And I think it's something that's really important to keep in perspective. As we have said from the beginning, we are not certain about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi.

The secretary released a statement earlier this week. The vice president has talked about this. The president has talked about this. We are all concerned about his whereabouts.

We don't have any information his whereabouts right now or what happened to him. As you can see, any time you turn on the news, you open the newspaper, there is a lot of speculation and there are a ton of rumors out there.

We are making determinations and watching this for facts. We don't have the facts yet. And so we are going to hold back on our comments until we have concrete information that the U.S. government can share. We don't have that information at this point right now.

An investigation, as our understanding is, is under way, and we're not going to get ahead of that.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) two, but they're part -- same kind of same question.

The Turks -- the -- Turkey has announced that they're going to join in or take part in a -- some kind of working group with the Saudis to shed light on what happened.

Is something that you might be involved in? Or is it something that you would welcome? And then, secondly, I just wanted to follow up on a question...


NAUERT: Well, let me just that part, because we welcome a thorough and transparent investigation.

And we have been extremely clear about that. I can also add another piece of information, that we have communicated with the Saudi ambassador to the United States. It's my understanding that he is on his way back to Saudi Arabia. We have said to him that we expect information upon his return to the United States.

When and if we have additional information to bring you, we will bring it to you right away.

QUESTION: It's your understanding? Did you tell him that he better get his...

NAUERT: We absolutely -- we absolutely did not. That was not at our direction.

QUESTION: But you told him that?

NAUERT: I can't speak on behalf of that government.

But I can tell you that I'm told that he is headed back to that -- to his home country. And we expect some information when he gets back.

QUESTION: Have you told him not to bother coming back unless he has some -- an explanation?

NAUERT: No. No. No. I'm not going to get ahead of things.

I mean, look, the U.S. government is extremely concerned about the situation. This has the highest attention at the highest levels of the administration.

QUESTION: I'm not trying to make light of it. I just want to know, have you told him that, look, when you get back here, you better have -- you better have an explanation for us?

NAUERT: We would like some information. We certainly would. And I don't think we have been shy about that. QUESTION: And then last one, and I'll shut up.

Yesterday, I asked Robert and other people did too about this -- reports about intelligence that you guys may or may not -- or reports that you did have intelligence that there would be some -- might be some harm that came to him.

He gave a kind of cryptic answer at first, said that you had no advance notice of his disappearance. And then, when I pushed him and said, does that mean you didn't have any advance notice that anything bad might happen to him, not disappearance necessarily, he said, we had no advance notice.

So I just want to clarify. Does that mean you had no advance notice of or no intelligence or any information about anything that might or possibly could happen to him at the consulate?

NAUERT: Almost never do you hear us talk about matters of intelligence here at the State Department.


NAUERT: I'm not going to get into those matters of intelligence.

An investigation is under way.

QUESTION: But he did yesterday.

NAUERT: I have nothing to add beyond what Robert said yesterday here from that podium.

But we are going to let this investigation take place. The united States government will continue to offer its support. We will provide information based on facts, based on information that we have.

And when we don't have facts, we won't bring them to you. I would just be mindful of the speculation and a lot of rumors that are out there and let's wait until we can get some solid information.

OK. Leslie (ph), go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

(OFF-MIKE) with a message from Washington back to Riyadh, or was he recalled?



NAUERT: And that's what I just said.

My understanding is that he's on his way back there. We said when you come back, we would like to hear -- get a report from you.

QUESTION: Right. And so -- and so the message from the U.S. is like -- is from him, bring us what the Saudis know or the outcome of an investigation or -- I'm just a little confused.


NAUERT: No, there's no be confused about this, OK, because there is an investigation under way.

QUESTION: Correct.

NAUERT: We're not going to get ahead of that investigation.

We will let that investigation play out. I know there are a lot of people who want answers at this point, understandably so. But we're not going to get ahead of those investigations. And so bring us whatever information you have when you return. And we will go from there.

QUESTION: Is that above what the secretary, as well as Bolton, then discussed with the crown prince yesterday?

NAUERT: I'm sorry. Is that above? What does that mean?

QUESTION: Meaning so yesterday, Bolton -- two institutions in the government spoke to MBS yesterday, the conference.

Were they not satisfied with what they were told, and therefore the ambassador has got to come back?

NAUERT: I wouldn't assume that at all.

Look, obviously, we have multiple agencies and departments in the United States government that are paying close attention to this issue. So I would not make the assumption that we didn't get satisfactory answers and therefore require another level of communication.

QUESTION: Another level, correct.

NAUERT: OK, this is obviously an interagency effort, OK?


NAUERT: Go right ahead.



NAUERT: Hold on. OK.


QUESTION: OK, because I wanted to move on. They want...


NAUERT: Look, I don't have much more for you on that. And we're not going to let this go on and on, because we're sticking to the facts here. And I'm not going to speculate.

Saeed (ph), I will be happy to come right back to you.

Rich, go ahead.

QUESTION: OK. All right.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Saudi ambassador left because of this incident, or was he planning on going?

NAUERT: OK, third time.


NAUERT: Third time.

We did not request that he would go.


NAUERT: He went over there. My understanding, he is going over there.

But any additional on that, I would have to refer you to the Saudi government. We simply said, when you come back, provide us a report, provide us a readout of what you have learned.

QUESTION: And who spoke with him from State?