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Six Deaths Confirmed as Hurricane Devastation Revealed; Trump Holds Bizarre Meeting with Kanye West. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 11, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


KATE BENNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Of course not.

[17:00:02] TAPPER: Kate Bennett, thanks very much. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. Tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Leveled. Scenes of total devastation are revealed in the wake of the historic Hurricane Michael. Tonight, the death toll is climbing as rescuers look for people missing and possibly trapped.

Answering Mueller. CNN has learned that President Trump's legal team is preparing to answer questions -- to written -- answer written questions provided by the special counsel Robert Mueller, for his Russia investigation.

Can't tell him nothing. A surreal scene in the Oval Office where Kanye West made rambling profanity-laden remarks while a silent President Trump looked on.

And lured to his death? A source tells CNN that U.S. intelligence intercepted Saudi officials discussing plans to lure missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him. Did the Saudis decide to kill him instead?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Six people now confirmed dead following one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the U.S. mainland in decades. The full scope of Michael's devastation is still being revealed tonight even as the storm continues to bring life- threatening conditions to the Carolinas.

We have correspondents standing by in key locations, and our analysts and specialists are also here as we cover all the day's top stories.

Let's begin with CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, residents of Florida's Panhandle, they're reeling right now in the wake of this historic hurricane.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are reeling, Wolf and officials and responders are still trying to get a handle on all of this. Check out this scene behind me. A massive tree just snapped off,

brought down this power line here in Tallahassee. This is the kind of impediment that blocked us from getting around and blocked first responders from getting to one of the most isolated and devastated towns in the entire region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): From the air, Mexico Beach is a wasteland. Homes and businesses around this Florida Gulf Coast city took the brunt of the storm, obliterated by winds as high as 155 miles per hour.

This was a middle school gymnasium. This a mobile home park. Now an apartment complex. In some areas nothing is left but a concrete slab.

Bryan Waddell says as the storm came ashore, he hid in his bathroom.

BRYAN WADDELL, MEXICO BEACH RESIDENT: This was probably the scaredest [SIC] I've ever been in my life. There for a while, I didn't know what was going to happen. You know, I was trying to call people. We didn't have no cell phone service. But yes, the wind was really, really, really bad.

TODD: Florida Governor Rick Scott says officials are assessing how long recovery will take with damage reports still coming in.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: This hurricane was an absolute monster, and the damage left in its wake is still yet to be fully understood. Today the top focus is search and rescue.

TODD: But those efforts are being hampered by impassable roads, something we discovered as we tried to make our way into Mexico Beach. Downed trees and power lines are making it nearly impossible for first responders to reach certain areas.

KEVIN DALY, RESIDENT: Everything is complete destruction. All the trees are down; power lines are down. We've just been cleaning roads all morning long.

TODD: And those who rode out the storm away from their homes can't get back.

DONNA PADILLA, RESIDENT: It's not good. It's not looking good. We've got reports that it's bad, very bad.

TODD: Florida officials say thousands of rescue personnel are on the ground, along with dozens of helicopters and boats, to help pull people out.

Meantime, there are nearly half a million people without power across Florida, Alabama and Georgia. Tens of thousands of utility crews are working on restoring electricity, but officials say it could take many days.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: And again, problems like this with massive trees down blocking interstates, blocking major roads and arteries into these isolated areas. First responders still having trouble getting to those stranded and maybe those who still need rescuing.

We also got just word, Wolf, that Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Panama City, Florida, along the coast, has had to evacuate 130 patients because of their concerns over the infrastructure, sewage, power and other things impeding their work there. A hundred and thirty patients, including some of the most critically ill, this afternoon have had to be evacuated. So, Wolf, even the hospitals taking it on the chin tonight.

BLITZER: I understand even a major U.S. Air Force Base is not functional right now. Is that right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Got a word a short time ago Tyndall Air Force Base -- that's right near Panama City, near that hospital that we were just talking about, that's still shut down. Usually, airports, Air Force Bases are able to withstand this kind of thing, but apparently, they suffered catastrophic damage at Tyndall Air Force Base. They're not letting any evacuees back in. They don't know when that Air Force Base is going to be functional again.

[17:05:05] BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

Let's go to our national correspondent, Gary Tuchman. He's in Crawfordville, Florida.

Gary, what are you seeing there?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, earlier in the day we went to a town about 15 minutes away from here called Shell Point Beach right along the Gulf of Mexico, a charming, beautiful town, more than 50 miles away from where this eye crossed.

Nevertheless, this shows you how large and powerful Hurricane Michael was. Many families in the town homeless as we speak, many of the homes destroyed. Most of the homes heavily damaged.

And it's such a unique community, because you have mansions near the beach and you also have mobile homes that sit next to each other. People came back today, and genuinely speaking, they were surprised, and I'll tell you why.

We cover hurricanes. We go to the towns the next day. People come back. They expect to see heavy damage. But because this was so far from the eye, a lot of people were hoping -- and perhaps as they look back at it now, it's wishful thinking -- that they would go back and that their homes would be fine. But we were there when they came back; and they were startled and shocked and stunned at the amount of devastation they saw.

We spent the day yesterday, Wolf, before the hurricane arrived in this town. That's why we went back to it. And we saw how nice of a town it was and how it was very close to the beach and if the eye came close to there we knew they'd be in desperate straits. If the eye came further west, we thought maybe they'd be OK.

While we were doing the live reports yesterday, we saw the water start rushing up the street, and we saw it get very deep. And that's when we decided to leave, thinking our cars might be underwater soon. We found out it was inundated. When we went back last night, we saw five feet of water on the roads. The water is now all gone, but that revealed the damage.

People are so sad, but they're also so grateful that it does not appear in that town that there were any casualties whatsoever.

BLITZER: And so are people coming back now?

TUCHMAN: People are coming back, but most of the people can't go back to their homes. They're just not livable right now. They're seeing what they have to deal with, and they hope -- most of the people we talked to hope to rebuild and continue living these good lives by the Gulf of Mexico.

BLITZER: Let's hope for the best. All right. Gary Tuchman, thank you very much.

Joining us on the phone right now, Linda Albrecht, a member of the city council of the very hard-hit Mexico Beach, Florida.

Thank you, Linda, for joining us.

So far we don't know of any confirmed fatalities in your community of Mexico Beach, but based on the devastation you're seeing, do you expect that to change?

LINDA ALBRECHT, CITY COUNCIL MEMBER, MEXICO BEACH FLORIDA (via phone): Well, I don't officially know. I just hear on the TV that there have been casualties. But I don't officially know that.

I do know that 200 people did stay, and through the texting, we did notice they found so and so, they're OK. They found so and so. So I have not been texted that they have found any deceased friends or residents. So that's unknown for sure, the official number.

BLITZER: What do the people of Mexico Beach need most right now, because we're showing our viewers these awful, awful aerial shots of your community.

ALBRECHT: It -- it is -- it is absolutely devastating, and right now I am anxious. I'm scared. I'm frightened. I cannot locate my home with all of the videos out there. It seems like all the -- and I'm right on the Highway, 98. It seems like all the videos stop at about 15th Street, so the 15 blocks east to the end of the city, there are no pictures. So whatever has happened there, I don't know.

What the people need to -- in Mexico Beach need to know most is don't rush home. Don't get in the way of those people that are trying to clear the roads, clearing hot wires, just getting things functional so that you can get in.

The worst thing we need is more people there. And I do know that as of this afternoon they were not allowing any residents into Mexico Beach.

So my fear is that this weekend, people are going to say, "Oh, hey, great. It's a nice weekend. Let's take a ride and see what we have left." But, please don't do that until you get official notice.

BLITZER: It's hard to get there now. The roads around Mexico Beach are totally, totally clogged, not with cars or anything, but with downed trees, power lines, debris. Have you been in touch with state and federal authorities?

ALBRECHT: Yes. Our interim city administrator, Tammy Castro, spoke to the governor this morning, and he has been extremely helpful. I must admit that Ms. Castro has been our interim administrator for about two weeks now, and she has really jumped into this frying pan and is doing an excellent job. But he has been helping her and sending people her way to help navigate what she needs to do. So, yes, Governor Scott has been wonderful.

BLITZER: Am your happy with the help you're receiving?

ALBRECHT: Am I happy -- I'm sorry, I didn't hear that.

BLITZER: Are you happy with the help the community is receiving?

[17:10:13] ALBRECHT: It has been slow, from what I'm understanding. Now, you have to understand, I'm not there. It has been slow, but we're a very small community, and -- we haven't been -- nobody has been able to get in. We have first responders that belong in Mexico Beach. They cannot get in -- cannot get through the roads to get there.

Many of our police officers, you know, we don't require them to live in Mexico Beach. It's a very small community. They can't get into Mexico Beach, our first responders.

And so yes and no. We're getting the help, but, of course, we'd like it quicker, but it's almost impossible right now because of the debris in the roads.

BLITZER: Do you know when you'll be able to return to Mexico Beach?

ALBRECHT: Well, my desire was to go back today, because as an essential employee, you know, they're giving the OK, and as a councilwoman I could have gone back today. But the roads weren't open. And so now I'm thinking I'd go back tomorrow, and then friends of mine say, "That's crazy. First of all, what if you need gas in the car? What if you need this? What if you need this?" All those things that you don't think about.

And so I don't know if I'll return tomorrow or not. I'm hoping to, but I have to think it through.

BLITZER: I'm sure there's no power, no electricity in Mexico Beach and a whole bunch of other communities along the Panhandle.

ALBRECHT: And no -- and no cell phone. So once you're in there, our communications between each other is very, very minimal. Because like you said, there's no power and no cell phone.

BLITZER: And I think you told me, but I think I'll ask. Do you know how your own home fared?

ALBRECHT: No, I do not. I -- keep sending texts to anybody, if they go by there, to just snap a picture. Don't sugarcoat it. I just need to know. And, you know, I am the first one -- I'm on the front line. I am not on the beach side, but there is -- there are no buildings on the beach in front of me. So it's the gulf, the beach, a road and myself. So I am on the front line, but, no, I -- I don't know yet.

BLITZER: I know you're getting emotional, and it's totally understandable, given what you've gone through, so many others have gone through. And you don't know what the state of your own home is and all your possessions. Did you -- were you able to board up the house before you left?

ALBRECHT: Yes. It's very interesting. Because this -- Michael just started last Friday as a thunderstorm south of the Yucatan, and Saturday morning it was a little bit stronger, and I thought, OK, it's going to be a tropical storm. And we've lived through that.

And then there's a couple of boat captains that started passing the word. They were concerned about Michael on Saturday. They were concerned. And were texting everybody else. I started to get nervous, and I did start to pack some things up Sunday.

And they just kept saying, "This is something to watch. We're not playing around with this one. This one is going to be serious."

You know, and that's their business. I mean, they're boat captains, and they know the water. And so I just -- you know, they're the -- they know more than I do about the waters.

BLITZER: Yes.

ALBRECHT: And so I did do a lot of packing. And some of my friends have laughed at all the little things that I've taken. But I really thought, "OK, so it will be a Cat 3, and I'll come back home and, you know, everything will be fine." Little did I expect for it to be almost a 5.

BLITZER: Yes.

ALBRECHT: Little did I expect, but I did leave. It was a mandatory evacuation. Again, they're the experts, I'm not, and that's what I -- I heed what the experts have said.

BLITZER: And you did the right thing by evacuating. And good luck, Linda Albrecht, who's the Mexico Beach, Florida, councilwoman. Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone there. We'll stay in very close touch. ALBRECHT: All right.

BLITZER: Thank you very much for sharing some thoughts.

ALBRECHT: All right. You're welcome.

BLITZER: All right. Up next, the hurricane is just one of multiple crises facing the White House right now, but President Trump took some time today to hold a rather bizarre profanity-laden Oval Office meeting with Kanye West.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KANYE WEST, HIP-HOP STAR: Trump is on his hero's journey right now, and he might not have expected to have a crazy (EXPLETIVE DELETED) like Kanye West run up and support, but best believe we are going to make America great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:19:10] BLITZER: With the hurricane disaster still unfolding, the stock market plummeting and a growing foreign policy crisis over a missing Saudi journalist, President Trump took some time today to have lunch with Kanye West.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, the lunch was private, but their Oval Office meeting was totally public and extremely unusual.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it certainly was. Now, we know the president, over the course of his year and a half in office, likes to show his guests to the White House the Oval Office. He likes to show them around. And he likes when they hear him speak or see him sign a Bill.

But he did something very unusual today, on top of everything else. He sat and listened while he turned the microphone over to Kanye West in the most unusual settings of all, right there in front of the Resolute Desk.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): A surreal scene in the Oval Office today, with Kanye West embracing President Trump.

WEST: I love this guy right here. Let me give this guy a hug right here. I love this guy right here.

ZELENY: The unscripted episode of reality television unfolding across the Resolute Desk.

[17:20:05] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How does it feel to be in the Oval Office?

WEST: Oh, it is good energy in this.

TRUMP: Good energy? Yes.

ZELENY: The president somehow finding the time for a private meeting and lunch with the controversial rapper and loyal Trump supporter that devolved into an incoherent televised rant.

WEST: This right here is the iPlane One. It's a hydrogen-powered airplane, and this is what our president should be flying in.

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.

ZELENY: He came to the White House for a private meeting on prison reform but capped off his appearance by cursing in the Oval Office as the president smiled.

WEST: Trump is on his hero's journey right now, and he might not have expected to have a crazy (EXPLETIVE DELETED) like Kanye West run up and support, but best believe we are going to make America great.

ZELENY: It was a far cry from what he said about President Bush in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

WEST: George Bush doesn't care about black people.

ZELENY: Asked about that today, he said this.

WEST: And we also, as black people, we have to take a responsibility for what we're doing.

ZELENY: A striking scene as the administration scrambled to deal with devastation from Hurricane Michael ravaging Florida's Gulf Coast, a second straight day of a major slide in the stock market, and an escalating diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia.

TRUMP: I have a very busy day today.

ZELENY: The president said he would visit Florida early next week to assess damage from one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to strike to the continental U.S. as he faces another test for how his government will respond.

TRUMP: The path that it -- it chose is incredible the kind of destruction. We've not seen destruction like that in a long time.

ZELENY: Less than four weeks before the mid-term elections, the nation's rosy economic picture suddenly facing a new reality check as the Dow plunges more than 1,000 points in two days amid rising interest rates.

TRUMP: I think the Fed is out of control. I think what they're doing is wrong.

ZELENY: Most presidents shy away from criticizing the Federal Reserve, let alone blaming it for a major stock selloff that most analysts viewed as an inevitable correction to the soaring market.

But tonight it's a deepening foreign policy crisis that is most worrisome for the White House: the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a foreign policy columnist for "The Washington Post," is threatening to upend relations with Saudi Arabia. He's not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate last week in Istanbul.

Turkish officials say he was killed and dismembered in a plot likely ordered by the Saudi Crown Prince, who's close to Trump and his son- in-law, Jared Kushner.

As Republicans call for tough action, the president is taking far more of a wait-and-see approach, saying the journalist isn't a U.S. citizen, but he is a U.S. resident who lives in Virginia.

TRUMP: Well, we have -- it's not our country. It's in Turkey, and it's not a citizen, as I understand it. But a thing like that shouldn't happen. It is a reporter with "The Washington Post," and something like that should not be allowed to happen.

ZELENY: The president seemed to take off the table economic sanctions or cutting off arms sales to Saudi Arabia from the U.S.

TRUMP: I don't like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States, because you know what they're going to do? They're going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else, so I think there are other ways. If it turns out to be as bad as it might be, there are certainly other ways of handling this situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So the president seemingly there making clear what his priorities are, and they are selling arms and keeping an open business relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Wolf, this is something the president and his top advisers, particularly his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have been trying to build this relationship ever since he came into office. You'll remember the first foreign trip he took as president was to Saudi Arabia. He was feted there by the crown prince, who came back here to Washington.

So there are many more calls, aggressive ones, on Capitol Hill for this administration to stand up and do something on this. Wolf, there is no sense of urgency that we could detect on this here at the White House.

BLITZER: Yes, those calls are not just from Democrats but Republicans, as well. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

We have a lot to discuss with our political and legal analysts. Everybody stand by. We're going to get some breaking news about a very important development in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:29:05] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal analysts as we follow multiple breaking stories, including a major development in the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, investigation.

CNN has learned President Trump's legal team is now preparing answers to written questions provided by Mueller's team.

Let's get right to our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. Tell us what your sources are sharing with you.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a report that I've done with Gloria Borger and Evan Perez, and it really is a significant development, in that for almost a year, maybe even a little bit more, the question has been whether the president would participate with the special counsel in any way, shape or form, and the answer has been TBD.

Well, now, we are told, according to sources we're talking to, familiar with this, that the president's legal team is preparing answers to written questions provided by the special counsel and his team.

Now, those -- those questions and the answers, of course, are solely in and around the question of collusion. It has nothing to do with anything that -- that -- that began when the president took office, so nothing about obstruction of justice, for example.

And there's also a chance that this is just round one of a back and forth on written questions. So, you know, we don't know how far this is going to go, but the fact that they have come to this place where they actually can at least have an acceptance on the part of Robert Mueller that he can get some answers from the President in a written form is quite significant. We'll see how it goes. They've been very quiet, you might have noticed over the past several weeks, and we understand this is why.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You know, Jeffrey Toobin, I'm sure the President's legal team is preparing those written answers to those questions. So, how significant is it, even if the President does sign it and it's all under oath?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's significant because it's a big win for Rudy Giuliani, Jay Sekulow, and of course, the President himself because when you submit written questions and answers, the answers are written by the lawyers in consultation with the client, so they can take every bit of care that there is no legal jeopardy imposed on Donald Trump by what he says in answer to these questions. There's no spontaneity, there's no risk, and it is certainly much preferable for the defense team of the President than to expose him to just a free-flowing questions and answers, even if the subjects were defined in advance.

BLITZER: This is all, Bianna, been months and months in the works, it's finally happening apparently right now. How important is this?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I think the President has been hinting at this over the past few weeks if you listened to what he said specifically with regards to collusion, the collusion issue, and that's what Dana says this pertains to the narrow scope of just addressing that. We've heard Rudy Giuliani and all of his spokespeople come out and focus on the conclusion aspect of this investigation. The President as recently as a few days ago brought this up again unprompted with regards to collusion, so I think Jeffrey is right. If the focus is on one issue with the answer submitted as opposed to the President sitting down, remember, there were reports that his attorneys were concerned that he would not be able to be honest if he were actually doing this interview in person, so submitting these answers gives him a bit of a buffer, if in fact, this is the direction it's going in.

BASH: And one thing I want to make clear, if I might, about this reporting is that we have absolutely no indication that there is any agreement on the other big issue and the big question that has been a Mueller -- part of the Mueller probe for a while, which is obstruction of justice. We don't have any indication that the two sides are anywhere near the possibility of talking to the President about that. And certainly, we don't have any information or indication that Robert Mueller's team has given up on a face-to-face interview with the President on that issue.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I was just going to just add it to Jeffrey's point, it strikes me that this is a win -- if this goes through, and I always remind people, Rudy Giuliani -- I think I told Dana and said publicly in August, in 10 days we'll decide on whether or not Donald Trump is going to sit down. But, you know, it's October 11th, and we're not there yet. But if this does happen as we're reporting, written statements, it's not -- I think it's a picture for Donald Trump's lawyers over Donald Trump.

Now, to Jeff's point, that's sort of a cruise to Donald Trump's benefit because it's unlikely he gets himself into any legal peril, but, remember, I mean, we've seen this before, when Donald Trump is deposed, he's not a good witness. There was real concern there that he would get himself -- this is not a campaign rally. This is not a Fox News interview. You can't just say whatever. And so, if this is how it winds up, that is a major victory for a legal team that's seen a lot of turnover, although relatively stable of late.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: I want to go back to what Jeffrey said as well. The lawyers will be taking great care. Even though they may take great care, there's still an issue, as we're all talking about, the issue of honesty, dishonesty and truth. And what this words will do, even if the lawyers take great care, these words could come back to haunt the President at some point, these written words. Whether it's in-person, an in-person interview, or whether it is the word, the written word. This President is not known for always having everything on the table, the truth, and the question is will it come back to bite him?

BLITZER: Very diplomatic, the way you phrase that.

RYAN: I try to be. CILLIZZA: Not always familiar with the truth.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's see how diplomatic all of you are. I'm going to play a clip, this is the President meeting with Kanye West in the Oval Office over at the White House earlier today. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[17:34:52] KANYE WEST, RAPPER: 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 empowered. We have to bring jobs into America. I don't ask the questions in simple sound bites. You are tasting a fine wine. It has multiple notes to it.

A liberal will try to control a black person through the concept of racism because they know that we are very proud, emotional people. So, when I said I like Trump to like someone that's Liberal, they'll say, oh, but he's racist. You think racism can control me? Oh, they don't stop me. That's an invisible wall. Would you build a trap door that if you mess up and you accidently something happens, you fall and you end up next to the Unabomber, let me give this guy a hug right here. I love this guy right here. Come here. Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How many years, April, have you been covering the White House?

RYAN: 21.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this in the Oval Office?

RYAN: I've never seen anything like that in the Oval Office. I've never heard anything come out of the Oval Office publically like that. I mean, we've seen the angst about presidents and those who come into the Oval Office who don't wear jackets. We saw the angst about President Obama and President George W. Bush putting their feet on the Resolute desk, which is in some political circles sacred. That's the desk where JFK, John Kennedy, Jr. went through the door with his dad when he was President. I mean, we -- when the people were going crazy about Kellyanne putting her feet in the sofa when the HBCU president came and she wanted to take a picture. And this, I just think about how the reporters reacted. They're like, oh, my gosh, M.F. in the Oval Office. That is sacred in the political world.

CILLIZZA: What's remarkable about it -- in addition to what April said, what's remarkable about it to me is you -- if I said to you Donald Trump invited Kanye to the -- to the Oval Office --

RYAN: Different kinds of funny.

CILLIZZA: -- you wouldn't -- you wouldn't -- you wouldn't be super surprised, and then if you kind of saw the way it played out, you also wouldn't be super surprised. I mean, this is who Donald Trump is, he likes celebrities. He likes people who say nice things about him, particularly those who do so in ways that are unpredictable like Kanye West.

RYAN: But he came in as an adviser.

BASH: Exactly. Adviser role. That is a problem.

RYAN: I don't know that -- and that's --

CILLIZZA: Yes. No, I think it's a -- I don't disagree it's a problem. The only thing I would say is this is -- it is -- if an alien landed from another planet and they asked, well, give me five minutes on what the Trump presidency is, this would not be the worst five minutes to show them.

BASH: Really?

CILLIZZA: Yes. Because I think it's unpredictable. I think it's driven by his desire to be interesting and (INAUDIBLE) I'm not saying what it should be. What it is.

BASH: Right, OK.

CILLIZZA: This is who the guy is.

BASH: So, let's just look at what it was supposed to be, which it was supposed to be a real conversation about really important issues that the President genuinely has been -- has been looking at in a bipartisan way.

BLITZER: Prison reform.

BASH: Prison reform is, you know -- first and foremost. That's why you saw Jared Kushner sitting there, he's been working with our colleague Van Jones on that -- on that very issue, but we're not talking about that. We're talking about this 10-minute monologue, dropping the F-bomb, and that is what is unfortunate about it. One thing I have been wondering, though, is away from the cameras, they left there, they went to lunch, is whether or not Kanye West actually used his private moments with the President to explain in a calmer way why he thinks Colin Kaepernick is doing the wrong -- doing the right thing. Because he not only wears the Make America Great hat, he wears Colin Kaepernick t-shirts all the time.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I'm going to get Bianna -- Bianna and Jeffrey, I want both of you to weigh in on this. But I've got to take a quick back. When we come back, we're going to continue this conversation. Our viewers are interested to hear what both of you have to say as well. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:25] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts. And Bianna, what did you think of the President's meeting today in the Oval Office? The public part was about 30 minutes or so with Kanye West.

GOLODRYGA: Well, look, I was just thinking about the hundreds of thousands of Americans who couldn't watch because they don't have power, because they're suffering from one of the worst hurricanes this country has ever seen. The State of Florida, the Gulf as well. I don't think anybody would have been surprised or upset if the President cancelled a lunch with Kanye West because he instead was focused on the cleanup and the recovery there and the loss of life there. So, by going to a rally last night, not cancelling that, spending a few hours with Kanye West, you know, when you talk about leadership and you talk about what the focus of the country should be on, and, you know, I know CNN had a debate that you were moderating in Florida that was cancelled because of this recovery.

You know, you put things into perspective when you're coming off of one of the worst hurricanes in the country, and you look at all of that devastation, to be focused on Kanye West and talking to him and having him curse in the White House and having Kid Rock follow him, it just seems like it's two different worlds that we're focused on right now. And so, taking that away from the President, I mean, it seems to be a bit surprising.

BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: I had a somewhat different view. You know, when he was talking about how he feels about the President, that he wants him to have the freshest, the flyest stuff, that's how we feel about you, Wolf, we want you to have the freshest and the flyest stuff, and that's the thing I couldn't get out of my head thinking about what Kanye was saying in the White House.

GOLODRYGA: What makes you think he doesn't, Jeffrey?

BASH: Yes, really?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, but it's got to stay at that level. All I'm saying is the fly level he is at now.

CILLIZZA: While we're at it, I do think it is -- it is worth noting that my favorite part of that whole thing was when he's showing that Kanye is showing Donald Trump the hydrogen-fueled plane fixture. And he turns to Jared Kushner and says, how about that, Jerry?

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: He went by Jerry.

RYAN: But you know -- and the comments about other things happening are correct. You know, we've got an economy -- you know, Wall Street is having some issues, we've got Florida having major issues, death, devastation, a President leads -- leadership means service. And then, what else do we have going on? You know, we've got a journalist, a journalist who is presumed dead or kidnapped. And the President has made a stance of strength as of yet, and we have to worry about the spectacle of Kanye West looking at Donald Trump as his dad.

BASH: Well, that's -- and that's what it is -- what is -- the point I was trying to make about whether he talked about Colin Kaepernick, for example. It's not as if celebrities can't have an effect on politicians. They do all the time. And a lot of times, for good. I mean, his wife, Kim Kardashian, went in, in private, no cameras, just a still photo, and helped get somebody who was wrongly imprisoned.

RYAN: Alice Johnson. Yes.

BASH: Freed. OK. She got clemency. So, it's not as if Kanye West can't have a real effect. This was not a way to actually probably have an effect because it took away from the very real issues that people are working in a really robust way, in a bipartisan way in Washington to deal with.

BLITZER: It's less than four weeks to the midterm elections.

RYAN: Yes.

BLITZER: The President clearly believes a meeting like this will help get some African-American support for Republicans.

RYAN: No. There was a lot -- there's Jeffrey laughing again.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Are you going to say fly again? Jeffrey Toobin, if you say fly again, I don't think I can handle it.

[17:45:03] TOOBIN: I am sorry.

RYAN: Fly and fresh from Jeffrey Toobin, that's amazing.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN: No. But let me say this. Yes, it was less than four weeks. We're talking about a blue tsunami, and we're also looking out for this red wave. I don't know if it's going to go to tsunami as well, because they are hearing about this blue wave. But African-Americans are very upset right now with how things have been happening over the last two years, but most importantly with how women have been treated with this Kavanaugh confirmation, and just the example alone, the reaction to Donald Trump within two years, you have Stacey Abrams, you have (INAUDIBLE) and so many others who are poised to be in leadership positions around this nation minorities.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Less than four weeks to go. Everybody, stick around. We're going to have much more on all the breaking news, including the incredible devastation left by Hurricane Michael.

Also, new clues emerging right now about what happens to a Saudi journalist who vanished more than a week ago? President Trump spoke out about it earlier this afternoon saying if reports of a state- sponsored murder are true, in his words, it's a terrible thing. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:51] BLITZER: Tonight, a U.S. official tells CNN the working assumption in the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is that he was murdered inside Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. President Trump today told reporters the U.S. is taking the matter very seriously bus he's against U.S. sanction on the Saudis who buy billions and billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment. Let's go to our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's been working his sources. And what are you hearing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, now, several lawmakers on the Hill have been briefed on the intelligence, and based on that intelligence, those lawmakers including Bob Corker, Republican, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, say that it indicates two things: one, that the Saudi Arabian government is responsible and, two, sadly, it appears Jamal Khashoggi is dead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Tonight, a senior Republican Senator tells CNN that he believes the missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, and that Saudi Arabia is likely responsible.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The intel points directly at them, and them thinking about this in advance, I think they did it, and unfortunately, I think that he's deceased.

SCIUTTO: CNN has confirmed that the U.S. has intercepts of Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi back from the U.S. where he lived to Saudi Arabia and detain him there. Taking him from the consulate is believed to have been the backup plan, though it is unclear if there was ever a plan or intention to kill him.

U.S. officials say Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would likely have had to approve of such a plan, but cautioned that he may not have known the specifics of the operation. Senator Lindsey Graham warned of, quote, a bipartisan tsunami if the Saudi government is proven responsible.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), ARMED SERVICE COMMITTEE: Behavior like this is unacceptable, it violates every international norm, it can't be condoned, and the way we deal with Saudi Arabia will be a message to others.

SCIUTTO: The Saudi government vehemently denies any involvement. Turkish police say they have evidence otherwise. Their assessment is that Khashoggi was allegedly killed at the consulate. The New York Times citing Turkish officials who say his body was cut up into pieces with a bone saw and taken out. CCTV cameras captured Saudi government vehicles leaving the consulate less than two hours after Khashoggi entered, then driving to the consul general's compound. Turkish authorities have identified 15 Saudi men as persons of interest. Several of them caught on camera arriving in Istanbul hours before Khashoggi disappeared. Saudi sources tells CNN that one of them is a former diplomat and intelligence officer, another, a forensics expert. CNN tracked a separate charter flight departing Saudi Arabia and landing in Istanbul a few hours after Khashoggi's disappearance. It left Turkey just an hour later, stopping in Cairo, Egypt, en route back to Saudi Arabia. CNN does not know if the plane was checked or the luggage x-rayed. The Turkish government now says, "At the request of Saudi Arabia, a joint working group will be established to uncover the events surrounding Jamal Khashoggi." The allegations against Saudi Arabia now sparking an international crisis at a time when the U.S. does not have an ambassador there or in Turkey, a fact that a State Department official seemed to stumble on on Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the name of the Ambassador in Turkey right now?

ROBERT PALLADINO, DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: I don't have that in front of me right now and I, Matt --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the name of the Ambassador in Saudi Arabia right now?

PALLADINO: I see what you're getting at, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: I spoke to a friend of his this evening. He said that he had been invited back to Saudi Arabia before this year and did not return, Wolf, out of fear for his own safety. And I said what specifically was he fearing? He said he feared that if he did return to Saudi Arabia, he would be jailed or possibly even killed. So, this was a fear he had before the events that took place just earlier.

BLITZER: This is escalating into a major, major diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much. A quick note to our viewers, during our next hour, I'll be speaking live with a career diplomat who was recently expelled, kicked out of Saudi Arabia.

[17:55:01] Also coming up, more breaking news, the death toll is growing along with the scope of the devastation from Hurricane Michael. We're going live to the disaster zone. Plus, the surreal scene inside the Oval Office today as President Trump meets with Kanye West.

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BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, total destruction, an apocalyptic scene in the Florida panhandle tonight, as the death toll from Hurricane Michael rises. CNN is in the air and on the ground across the disaster zone, where one beach town has been wiped out.

Russia responses, CNN has learned that the President's lawyers are preparing answers to written questions provided by Robert Mueller. Is the special counsel getting close to revealing the results of his investigation?

Yikes!