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Six Dead in Hurricane Disasters, Coastal City "Wiped Out"; CNN: Intercepts Show Saudis Discussed Plan to Detain Journalist; Trump Lawyers to Answer Mueller Questions; Kanye West Visits Oval Office. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 11, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has learned 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. That's the title of a Kanye West hit, and it also describes the reaction to the rapper's surreal visit to the White House. What was the president thinking as he sat and listened to West's rambling, fawning rant?

And intercepted. CNN has learned about U.S. intelligence of Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure a now missing journalist back to Saudi Arabia, this as a top Republican official tells CNN he's convinced that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Michael.

Tonight, the death toll from the storm is up to six, and it's expected to climb higher as rescue and recovery crews reach the hardest-hit areas across the Florida Panhandle. We have been getting shocking images of the destruction. And Mexico Beach is being described as ground zero for this disaster.

Michael's 155 mile-per-hour winds shredded entire neighborhoods, home after home after home. It flipped cars and trailers and uprooted trees. Nearly one million customers have lost power in Florida and five other states pounded by this ferocious storm.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they are standing by, including our team in the hurricane disaster zone.

First, let's go to CNN's Erica Hill. She's in Panama City Beach for us in Florida. Erica, it's really difficult for emergency crews and journalists, for

that matter, to reach some of the most devastated areas along the Panhandle.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is one of the biggest challenges today.

As we made our way here early this morning, the number of downed power lines, trees and just debris in the road did make it difficult. The other issue that first-responders and officials are facing, there is virtually no cell service at this point. So without some sort of satellite phone, it is almost impossible to get in touch with people.

And, of course, all of this happening as this state is still trying to assess the full extent of the damage.


HILL (voice-over): From the air, a first look at a beach town almost completely wiped out.

SCOTT BOUTWELL, HURRICANE VICTIM: Our lives are gone here.

HILL: Daylight exposing the force of Hurricane Michael, this Category 4 storm which made landfall near Mexico Beach packing winds of more than 150 miles per hour.

BOUTWELL: We had furniture in our house that wasn't even our furniture.

HILL: Getting into Mexico Beach, a challenge in itself, roads clogged with downed power lines, trees and debris.

BOUTWELL: All the stores, all the restaurants, everything, there's nothing left here any more. All the homes that are on this side of the road and the beach, they're all gone.

HILL: The need extends far beyond Mexico Beach, in Panama City, neighborhoods reduced to rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, God, Panama City, there's nothing there, nothing. I never seen nothing like it.

HILL: This middle school nearly flattened, the gym's roof torn off.

BRITT SMITH, PRINCIPAL: It was heart-wrenching. I know what the school means to our kids and our community. And to see that type of devastation on their school and realizing that that devastation not only is their school, but it's also with their homes, because the kids live nearby.

HILL: In Panama City Beach, a massive boat storage facility at this marina now a twisted cage for the vessels stored inside, the damage resembling the work of a strong tornado, especially when seen from the sky.

As the reality of what's left behind sets in, many people here still trying to make sense of what happened.

BOUTWELL: Where do we start now? I mean, what do we do? There's nothing left here.


HILL: Wolf, just recently, an 85-mile stretch of Interstate 10 that was closed has reopened. That is good news.

The first order of business today, though, was really clearing those roadways so that first-responders could get in and so that folks can get in to check these devastated areas, to help hopefully with rescue efforts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So awful, so awful. All right, Erica, thank you.

Let's go to CNN's Brooke Baldwin right now. She's in Destin, Florida, for.

Brooke, you did manage to get into Mexico Beach earlier today, bringing us some of the pictures of that decimated community.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I just got back from our chopper ride back, 90 miles to my east to Mexico Beach, and just starting to process the destruction that I saw firsthand.

You know, we woke up this morning, and I just wanted to get to the hardest-hit area, because I think the world needed to see how bad it really is in parts of the Panhandle.


And, you know, being in Mexico Beach, it had been described as Ground Zero, but I wanted to see if for my own eyes. And to take this helicopter ride early this morning, here from Destin, 90 miles down the way, east of where Erica was in Panama City Beach, we actually flew over the marina, and it was just obliterated.

I saw it from the sky. To land in Mexico Beach, we were one of the first journalists there. We were broadcasting live from a road. It was just eerie, looking from my left and to my right, the mattresses, toilets, homes that were carried by the storm surge, flipped upside down over highways.

Here's a picture of what it took to get there.


BALDWIN: Look at this marina down below, these warehouses of boats destroyed, just toppled over and crushed by the sheer force of the winds.

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. 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.


BALDWIN: We saw National Guard. We saw fire and rescue from a bunch of different cities around this area.

And, you know, I think one of the moments that will really stay with me is walking around where the homes were and you hear all these beeps, which I think were just smoke detectors that were blown off of homes, which you got a smoke detector, right, warning you of danger to come, and that's the noise that actually is still haunting me a bit of my day in Mexico Beach.

And I saw this woman. We knew that instantly that she was looking to see if her home was still there. We shoved our satellite phone in her hand just so she could try to get up with her sister to tell her sister that she was OK, because there's no cell communication. We're in a bubble all day being in Mexico Beach. No cell at all.

And she was able to tell her sister she was OK, and then we walked with her as she just lost it, Wolf, as she was trying to figure out where her home was, only to realize it was right in front of her, or it was right in front of her, and she could only tell because of how her sidewalk was paved.

The rest of it was totally gone. And that was just one story of people trying to come back, those who didn't ride it out, and some people did -- and we talked to them as well. We don't have a death toll yet out of Mexico Beach. I was talking to City of Miami Fire and Rescue. And they're still going door to door to door trying to figure out who is left, Wolf.

BLITZER: Oh, so heartbreaking. All right, Brooke, thank you very much.

The strongest hurricane on record to hit Florida carved a path of destruction across the Panhandle and beyond.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is in Crawfordville for us not far from the state capital, Tallahassee.

Gary, what kind of damage are you seeing there?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a sad testament of this hurricane that we are 90 miles east of where Brooke was today, Mexico Beach, because it was so large and so strong, the stories here are very sad, too.

We were in this very small town, Shell Point Beach, today, and we were there as people came back to their homes. And almost everyone evacuated this town Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m., not only because there was a mandatory evacuation that said you had to be out by then, but people knew this was a very strong hurricane. They had been hit by Hurricane Dennis 13 years earlier. And they knew

if this hurricane made a direct hit on their little town, it would be obliterated, so they left. When they saw that it came 90 miles to the west and that the eye missed them by quite a bit, there were a lot of people very hopeful when they came back to their homes today.

And they only came back today because it was underwater until this morning. The water then dissipated, they came back, they hoped for the best. And for many it was just wishful thinking, because when they came back to their homes today, many of the homes were destroyed and many more were heavily damaged.

It's such an interesting community. It's by the beach. It's a great place to live, mansions, mobile homes, a combination, but the people all have something in common. They suffered from the hurricane also -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Awful, awful, awful. All right, Gary, thank you very much.

Moments ago, I spoke to Linda Albrecht, a member of the Mexico Beach City Council.


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

LINDA ALBRECHT, MEXICO BEACH CITY COUNCIL: Well, my desire was to go back today, because, as an essential employee, you know, they're given 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 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 these things that you don't think about.


And so I don't know if I will return tomorrow either. I'm hoping to, but I have to think a...

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

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

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

ALBRECHT: No, I do not.

I keep putting texts out to anybody by there just to snap a picture. Don't sugarcoat it. I just need to know. And I am the first one -- I'm on the front line. I'm not on the beach side. But there are no buildings on the beach in front of me. It's the

Gulf, the beach, a road and myself. So I am on the front line. But, no, I don't know yet.

BLITZER: I know you're getting emotional, and it's totally understandable, given what you have 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.

Were you able to board up the house before you left?


It's very interesting, because this -- Michael just started last Friday as a thunderstorm south of the Yucatan. And Saturday morning (INAUDIBLE) and I thought, OK, it's going to be a tropical storm. And we have 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 with 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 waters. And so I just -- you know, they're the -- and they know more than I do about the waters.


ALBRECHT: And so I did do a lot of packing.

And some of my friends had laughed at all the things that I have taken. But I really thought, OK, so it's going to be a Cat 3, I will come home and everything will be fine. Little did I expect for it to be almost a 5.


ALBRECHT: Little did I expect.


BLITZER: That was Linda Albrecht, Mexico Beach city councilwoman.

Just ahead, there is breaking news on the Russia investigation. Robert Mueller wants answers from the president. We are going to tell you how Mr. Trump's legal team is responding.

And a rather bizarre reality TV moment over at the White House in the Oval Office. We're going to break down Kanye West's long-winded, disjointed, gushing diatribe that the president calls impressive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KANYE WEST, MUSICIAN: 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.




BLITZER: Tonight, as the death toll climbs to six, President Trump has declared a major disaster in Florida. He says he's getting updates on the rescue and recovery efforts after Hurricane Michael's widespread destruction.

But in the midst of this catastrophe, the president took time today to meet with the rap star and Trump fan Kanye West. It was a rather bizarre scene.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, before we get to that rambling diatribe in the Oval Office, you're also getting some breaking news on the search for a replacement for U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.


This is something that has been moving the last couple days, when Nikki Haley announced her surprise resignation. One of the people on the list immediately was Dina Powell. She is someone who left the White House earlier this year after serving as a deputy national security adviser. She, of course, is the veteran of the Bush White House as well.

But now we're told that she informed the president in a phone call this morning that she is taking her name out of consideration. Our Elise Labott from the State Department confirming that Dina Powell told the president that, that she is withdrawing her name from consideration.

The president was talking in glowing terms about Dina Powell just a couple days ago. And he said he has talked to her about the position. I am told by a separate official familiar with this search that this entire process this week, with this escalating diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia, has indeed complicated Dina Powell's potential position and her potential confirmation as the ambassador to the United Nations.

And the source tells me this. No one is more familiar with the relationship between Jared, meaning Jared Kushner, and MBS, meaning the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Of course, Dina Powell was on the ground in Riyadh a year ago during the president's first foreign trip.

He picked that, to go to Saudi Arabia. She was at the heart of the developing relationship. So I am told that is another reason it would have complicated her potential nomination.

I'm told that Republican senators were making that clear to the White House. So, Wolf, all of this is happening as the president is now back to the drawing board to find someone else to fill the position. He's been talking about how he's had five finalists for that post, so a lot on his plate.


But, today, Wolf, he had time for something else entirely, as you said, the rapper Kanye West at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.


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

WEST: 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.

TRUMP: How does it feel to be in the Oval Office?

WEST: Oh, it is good energy in this.

TRUMP: Isn't it good energy?

ZELENY: The president somehow finding the time for a 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 1. 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.

TRUMP: True.

WEST: He has to be the freshest, the flyest, the flyest planes.

ZELENY: He came to the White House for a 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 the continental U.S., as he faces another test for how his government will respond.

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

ZELENY: Less than four weeks before the midterm 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 sell-off 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 most likely ordered by the Saudi crown prince, who is 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 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 it's 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? 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 the situation.


ZELENY: So, the president clearly taking off the table the idea of economic sanctions or stopping the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

Many Republicans on Capitol Hill who are concerned about this raise their eyebrows at that. But, Wolf, we have seen the president time and time again pound his hand on a desk and essentially call out allies, some of our most traditional allies, around the world.

That is something he has not done at all in this case. There is a sense of urgency about the disappearance and likely death of this journalist. Wolf, you do not feel that sense of urgency here, when the president had so much else, in public at least, on his plate and agenda today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you very much.

We're going to have a lot to talk about with our political and legal analysts. I want everyone to stand by.

There is breaking news also in the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. We will get to that in just a minute.



BLITZER: We have breaking news on the Russia investigation.

I want to bring in our analysts, including Gloria Borger, who has new reporting on Robert Mueller's efforts to get answers from President Trump.

What are you learning, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, along with my colleagues Dana Bash and Evan Perez, we're reporting that, finally, after almost a year, President Trump's legal team has received questions that they can answer in writing from Robert Mueller about collusion.

And so that would cover, Wolf, the pre-inauguration part of this whole controversy. And so they're working studiously on getting those answers back to him.

It doesn't mean, however, that, in the end, Bob Mueller will, A, be satisfied with their answers, or, B, won't say to them, you know, we need to talk about obstruction, and

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: -- part of this whole controversy. And so they're working studiously on getting those answers back to him.

[18:30:06] It doesn't mean, however, that in the end, Bob Mueller will, A, be satisfied with their answers, or, B, won't say to them, "You know, we need to talk about obstruction, and I need to talk to the president about that."

But I think there was an agreement reached that, after going back and forth and back and forth for so long, they had to finally get this started. And it may be an indication, of course, that Bob Mueller is gearing up to get to the end of his investigation at some point in the not too distant future, obviously, after the midterms.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, the president's legal team, Laura, they're going to be drafting all the answers to these questions.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as Gloria likes to call it, this is a take-home test drafted by the lawyers. So you kind of struggle --

BORGER: Your mother does it for you.

JARRETT: You kind of struggle to think about, OK, well, what information are they going to glean from this and what value is it to them?

But to the extent that there is anything that they say in those answers, even if it's drafted by the lawyers, that conflicts with something they already know, I think that goes to how seriously you can take this and the credibility.

But at the end of the day, if he doesn't answer a single question on obstruction of justice and is not subpoenaed and does not have to actually sit down for an in-person interview, that's a win for the president. That is a huge deal if he never has to --

BORGER: We don't know that.

JARRETT: And we don't know that, and we're not there yet. But the fact that we're at a point where he's getting written questions, and that's all that we have at this late date is a sign.

BLITZER: The president keeps saying he's willing to sit down with Mueller, but as you know, his lawyers don't want him to do so.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. They're probably, as Laura and Gloria are saying, probably happy about this open-book test, at least to start.

At the same time, though, the president, from a political point of view, not a legal point of view, does have to keep up this facade or veneer that he's willing to just talk freely, because he doesn't want to look guilty. Even if he and his team don't think he's guilty, they understand that someone who won't answer questions, it doesn't look good. BORGER: Well, and also, there is the question about pre-inauguration.

The legal team obviously understands that the president is not protected by privilege. So they would have to answer these questions anyway.

I think, when it -- when it comes to the question of obstruction and why the president fired James Comey, the legal team believes they may have some Article II issues, and they may be able to say, "Look, you know, the president's conversations are completely protected."

And Mueller could very welcome back and say, "The president is the only person in the world who can tell us what his intent was, and we need to speak to him about that."

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's more news that we're following. There's an important development that occurred at the White House today. Kanye West was there in the Oval Office with the president of the United States. We'll assess after a quick break.


KANYE WEST, HIP-HOP STAR: It was something about when I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman. You made a Superman -- that's my favorite superhero, and you made a Superman cape.



[17:37:42] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts. And the West Wing drama that played out today when Kanye West met with the president in the Oval Office, I want to play a clip -- Don Lemon is with us -- and get your thoughts. Here's something -- here's some of the stuff that Kanye West and the president said. Listen to this.


WEST: 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 answer questions in simple sound bites. You are tasting a fine wine. It has multiple notes to it.

The liberal will try to control a black person through the concept of racism because they know that we're a 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, that don't stop me. That's an invisible wall.

Would you build a trap door that, if he mess up and you accidentally -- something happens and you fall and you end up next to the Unabomber -- let me get this guy a hug right here.

I love this guy right here. Hey, man. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He did most of the talking in the Oval Office. Don, what did you think?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, listen, I don't -- I have no animosity for Kanye West. I'm just going to be honest, and I may get in a lot of trouble for it.

I feel -- actually feel bad for him. What I saw was a minstrel show today. Him in front of all these white people, mostly white people, embarrassing himself and embarrassing Americans, but mostly African- Americans; because every one of them is sitting, either at home or with their phones, watching this, cringing.

I couldn't even watch it. I had to turn the television off, because it was so hard to watch. Him sitting there, being used by the president of the United States. The president of the United States exploiting him. And I don't mean this in a disparaging way -- exploiting someone who needs help, who needs to back away from the cameras, who needs to get off-stage, who needs to deal with his issues.

And if anyone around him cares about him -- the family that he mentioned today or whomever, his managers, maybe some other people who are in the music business who know him -- they need to grab him, and snatch him up and get Kanye together, because Kanye needs help.

[18:40:10] And this has nothing to do with being liberal or a conservative. This has to do with honesty. And we have to stop pretending, sitting here on these CNN panels or on whatever network panels, and pretending like this is normal; and "Let's have this conversation about Kanye West, what he's doing."

Who cares? Why are you sending cameras to the Oval Office for Kanye West? Did you send cameras to the Oval Office and carry it live when Common visited the White House? Common visited the White House and did a beautiful poem, spoken word, talked about how black people are kings and queens, how we need to rise up and do better. He didn't disparage anybody. He didn't speak in non-sequiturs. He didn't do anything awful. And you know, the only people who criticized him, the only people who really covered it were Sean Hannity and his band of hypocrites, who are now -- who are now applauding Kanye West, the same people that many in that group called the "N"-word because of Taylor Swift and because of George Bush.

And now all of a sudden, he is the person who represents the African- American community? He doesn't.

We need to take the cameras away from Kanye and from a lot of this craziness that happens in the White House, because it is not normal. And we need to stop sitting here pretending that it's normal.

This was an embarrassment. Kanye's mother is rolling over in her grave. I spoke to one of her friends today or texted with one of her friends today from Chicago, Donda's friends. I used to live there. I know them. She said Donda would be -- would be embarrassed by this. She would be terribly disturbed by this. And Kanye has not been the same since his mother died.

He kept talking today about, "Oh, I put the hat on, and the hat made me feel strong" and wearing a cape. He needs a father figure. He needs someone to help him and to guide him; and he needs a hug more than anything.

Kanye, back away from the cameras. Go get some help. And then come back and make your case. Nobody -- if you want to be conservative, if you want to support Donald Trump, that is your business. But as you're doing it, have some sense with it. Make sense. Educate yourself.

BLITZER: You know, Don, we just played a one-minute clip of that -- of that exchange. But it really went on for more than half an hour, if you watch the whole --

LEMON: Talking about hydrogen -- the last time we really talked about hydrogen, seriously -- "Oh, the" -- do you remember that, the Hindenburg? So Kanye, come on, man. Stop embarrassing yourself.

And it's not even that. We're doing it. Because everyone wants to watch him. We're watching someone's demise in front of our eyes.

And the president, as well. The office is sacred. Can you imagine if President Barack Obama had Kanye West or any rapper or any person entertainer in the Oval Office who said "M.F.?" Can you imagine? Everybody's heads would be exploding. Not just over at FOX News, not just the conservatives. Everybody's heads would be exploding, saying, "What's happening?"

And this is not the first time that Donald Trump has denigrated that office. He brought Ted Nugent in, who said some very disparaging things about the former president. And Google it, and you'll see. Had him there in the Oval Office. So this is not the first time that he's had someone that denigrates that office, that didn't live up to the respect of that office in there. And today was another example of that. He is disrespecting the Oval Office more than Kanye did, because he invited Kanye in and exploited it.

BLITZER: All right. David Swerdlick, what did you think?

SWERDLICK: OK, so I think Don is onto something, Wolf, and I just want to focus on one little piece of what Don said. Because there's one data point I just want to drill down on. And that is this.

Look, Don said if Kanye West wants to be conservative, he can be. There is absolutely a robust discussion being had, has been had, will continue to be had in the African-American community about political ideology. There is not a monolith in the black community.

But a lot of what you hear Kanye West saying today and what he has said recently is about critiquing President Obama. I want to point to one number, because this is always pointed to by Kanye and other people around him, about black unemployment. The unemployment rate for African-Americans went down from 7.8 to 6

percent under Trump. That's good. Trump should brag about that. But under President Obama, the only African-American president, it went from 12.7 to 7.8, almost a 5-percentage-point drop.

So, if there's a discussion to be had about what Republicans or Democrats or African-Americans or white politicians are doing for black people, let's have it, but let's not have it on the basis of bogus information.

BLITZER: Gloria.

BORGER: I want to add to something that Don said and agree with him about the president using -- using Kanye. He thinks the -- the president thinks he's boosting his popularity with African-Americans. We haven't seen that. And he thinks he's good for him.

But he sat there and smiled the entire time.

[18:45:03] He was clearly uncomfortable.

But when Kanye dropped the F-bomb and all the rest, he didn't do anything about it. He didn't say, stop, this is the oval office, we don't do that in the Oval Office. And this also happened on a day when you had thousands of people -- thousands of people losing their homes --

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Gloria. Thank you, Gloria.

BORGER: -- in Florida, and instead the president is sitting and meeting with Kanye West because it makes him look good. I know they're supposed to discuss criminal justice reform, et cetera, et cetera. But it was like watching a train wreck because it was, and the president just sat there. I remember when presidents used to say, you know what, need to put on your jacket to go into the Oval Office.


BORGER: Right, exactly. And so --

LEMON: Let me jump in here. I'm sorry to hog this panel. This has gotten me -- so we need to stop putting people like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.

And again, no shade to Kim Kardashian. Kim Kardashian helped get one person free. This is no comprehensive overhaul of the criminal justice system. This president loves celebrities, and so that helped.

But Kim Kardashian brought no experts in that I know of, no one who knows about criminal justice reform, no one who can overhaul the system, nothing. She sat there, another celebrity with another celebrity at another time, former administration, we would have criticized this and said that he was disparaging the office. So let's not pretend. We should stop putting Kanye West and Kim Kardashian on the same plane as Jamal Khashoggi who deserves more coverage than Kanye West and the people who are down in Florida and in the panhandle who are dealing with a devastating storm. We should be focusing on them instead of Kanye West in the Oval Office that nobody cares about and he has no credence and no credibility in the black community on these issues.

BLITZER: We're going to focus on that, guys. Thank you very much.

Don Lemon telling us how he really feels. By the way, you can see his show later tonight. He'll elaborate 10:00 p.m. Eastern. That's going to be later tonight.

I want to get back to the other breaking news we're following. More devastation from Hurricane Michael revealed by the hour as emergency crews struggle to reach areas ravaged by this record-breaking storm. At least six people are now confirmed dead.

Let's go live to the up center of this disaster. That's Mexico Beach in the panhandle.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is there.

Miguel, from what we've been seeing, there is not much left of Mexico Beach.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I want to show you what is Mexico Beach today. We drove through the entire town today. What you are looking at, what, 24 hours ago, 36 hours ago was beachfront property here, beautiful homes and businesses completely wiped away.

There are parts of Mexico Beach that no longer exist at all, the drive in here utterly treacherous. Thousands and thousands of trees downed, snapped in half, all in the same direction. It is something reminiscent of a nuclear blast that came through here, just entire forests mowed down all the way down here. And emergency services just getting up and going in Mexico Beach right now.

Florida task force 2 is here, Louisiana task force 2 is here, the urban search and rescue are going through home after home. There's 165 of them working pretty much 24 hours a day trying to get through here. They have found a lot of people who survived the storm here.

And if you would allow me, I just want to name a few people who are okay. They want their families to know they are okay. They're all gathered in an area we couldn't get a live shot out of earlier, so we're here now, but I want to read their names off.

Robin Retslof (ph) from -- her family is from Kalamazoo, Michigan. She's okay. Don Vickers (ph) and her entire family are okay. Robert Brock (ph), he's okay. David Seaberg (ph), he wants his mother in Mobile, Alabama, to know he's okay. Annette Cofield (ph), she and her mother are okay as well.

But there is just the amount of need and the disaster that is unfolding here is immense. There are so many people hanging out in town here, waiting, hoping for a ride out of here at some point. Emergency services only able to deal with those who are actually injured, actually sick right now, that they have to get out on an emergent basis.

Everyone else at this point will have to wait until they can do that. But people rode out this storm. Their homes are now completely gone, entire neighborhoods. I mean, this is the sort of stuff we see everywhere.

[18:50:01] Eighty to 90 percent of this town is majorly affected, a large portion of it is completely gone and it will be a long, long time in rebuilding here in Mexico Beach, Florida, just enormous damage. What you're looking at now is across 98. 98 is the main drag that goes along Mexico Beach.

There are giant chunks of 98 that are now gone as well, completely washed away. There is literally nothing left. It's almost impossible to traverse this town very quickly because there are so many dangers on the roadways, in the town, and in some cases, literally the roadway has just completely disappeared into the ocean.

I mean, what you are looking at, that was once a thriving community, and it is completely flat. It is completely gone, and entire areas are like that near town. We were up near the public beach here a little while ago, and that is exactly the same way.

All of those apartment complexes and condominiums right by the pier are completely gone and washed up on to 98, boats and everything. It is just going to take a massive effort to get Mexico beach back up and going. Joe?

BLITZER: I'm glad you got there, Miguel. I'm glad you shared those names. There are going some people who are going to be relieved but God knows how many others are still waiting for the news. We're going to have much more on this story coming up.

There's other important news we're following tonight. A U.S. official now tells CNN that the United States is working on the assumption that a missing Saudi journalist was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee tells CNN there's no question -- direct quote -- no question in his mind that the Saudis were behind the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a resident of the United States and a contributor to "The Washington Post."

This as CNN has learned about U.S. intercepts of discussions among Saudi officials that seem oh so incriminating.

Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is joining us.

Elise, you were all over the story of these intercepts.


Well, U.S. has intercepts of Saudi officials in recent months talking about a plan to try and lure Jamal Khashoggi back to the -- to Saudi Arabia, perhaps to detain him, perhaps to kill him. It's really unclear what the plans were, but certainly, this is all, you know, very concerning in light of what might have happened to him at the consulate and as our colleague, Barbara Starr, is reporting, U.S. officials do believe now the working assumption is that Jamal was killed in the embassy, and so those intercepts are part of a larger issue.

Look, Saudi officials have been very concerned, Wolf, on Jamal's writings, very critical of the kingdom for the last year, they were trying to bring him back into the fold, talking about giving him a job in the government, perhaps setting him up in a think tank. He really could write his own ticket. He said, no, I really feel this is my calling. I need to continue to speak out.

Really, he was seen more of a threat come September when the "Washington Post" started printing his articles in Arabic and that's when it seems that this plot was hatched. The timing is very unclear, but to try and lure him back to Saudi Arabia. The suspicion is that he would not fly home. He was concerned for his safety, and now this consulate, what might have happened there seems this may be a fallback plan to get him.

BLITZER: And it comes at a time when the U.S., when the Trump administration has embraced the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, 33 years old and that puts the U.S. in an awkward position right now in responding to all of this.

LABOTT: Wolf, they're really walking a tightrope here. You know, the U.S., President Trump himself, Jared Kushner, so far in front on seeing Mohamed bin Salman, this young ruler as the future of Saudi Arabia and really the lynchpin Saudi of the U.S. relationship in the Gulf.

But in the face, Wolf, of this mounting evidence, and you've heard President Trump come out and say it looks like the Saudis are involved. I don't think the president would come out so far if he wasn't -- didn't see some evidence that perhaps -- and you heard from Bob Corker, that the Saudis are involved.

But I will say, at the same time, Wolf, for the president to say I think the Saudis did it but I really don't think I can help those arms sales, it's too much -- it's too important to the U.S. economy, that's also very concerning that the U.S. would so blatantly disregard American values of human right in that way.

BLITZER: Yes, the president says if the U.S. doesn't sell those weapons to Saudi Arabia, China or Russia or someone else will, and creates jobs. His point, creates jobs here in the United States.

Elise, I want you to stand by.

I want to talk a little bit more about this major development. The former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dennis Horak, is joining us right now from Toronto.

[18:55:01] Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us.

How should the United States and allies like Canada, for example, respond to the disappearance, the apparent murder of this Saudi journalist?


It's shocking. It's surprising. It's tragic. It's -- I believe it's true. We don't know -- obviously, we don't have the firm evidence but all signs point to it.

It's difficult to respond. The Saudis are going their own way in a lot of respects. The space, the political space in Saudi Arabia is shrinking. The reform program covers a lot of positives, but on the political space, it's shrinking and this is taking it into a darker turn.

How you respond is something I think that all the governments have to consider what their best options will be. Sanctions have been discussed, I heard earlier in the program. I'm not sure they would be overly effective in dealing with this particular case, but again, it's the sort of thing we've seen dissidents before. We've seen arrests before of people who are vocal on the political space, and the Saudis are going their own way on this.

So it's hard to say what would be effective in changing track. They want to close that political space for Saudis.

BLITZER: I want to point out to our viewers, Mr. Ambassador. It wasn't that long ago the Saudis kicked you out of Saudi Arabia. You were for, what, three years the career diplomat. You served as the Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

They were angry. Apparently, the crown prince was angry about a tweet from the -- your foreign ministry about some human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, and then they didn't only kick you out but they did a lot of other things, including punishing Canada, removing Canadian -- Saudi students from Canada among other things.

HORAK: That's right. That's right. It was just this past August. It was a tweet.

It was a serious overreaction on the part of the Saudis. If they were concerned about it, the normal course of events would be to call the ambassador in and have some discussions about it and perhaps lodge a formal complaint. To react like they did over a tweet, I think, is reflective of the kind of impulsiveness we're seeing out of the regime at this point.

And this incident with Jamal Khashoggi is again another I think illustration of how sensitive they are to certain criticisms, whether it's via governments, via a tweet or by journalists. It's unusual. They've had dissidents writing about Saudi Arabia for decades.

And to take this kind of action against Jamal Khashoggi as a result of writings that he had is, again, it's a serious overreaction, much more serious, obviously, than what happened with me and what happened with us. But certainly, they've tried to punish Canada because of a tweet, perhaps as an example to others, this is what happens if you criticize us openly, because I think everyone agrees it was a serious overreaction.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think of the crown prince, the young crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman? Do you believe he would be the one who would order, if, in fact, these reports are true, the execution of this Saudi journalist?

HORAK: It's hard to say. The Saudi decision making processes are very, very opaque. That being said, it's hard to see anything really that's happening in Saudi Arabia these days from even minor things to obviously to very large things like this would be, that is not going through the royal court. Whether it's the crown prince himself or the people around him, it's hard to say and again, trying to track how that decision making process works in Saudi Arabia is difficult, but a lot of things are being -- virtually everything is being funneled through the royal court these days.

BLITZER: What do you think of president Trump's decision, his announcement that no matter what happens, no matter what the conclusion of the U.S. investigation, the United States will continue selling lots of weapons to Saudi Arabia?

HORAK: I'm no longer a Canadian diplomat, but I am a bit reluctant to comment on what American policies should or shouldn't be. I'm sure a lot of people will be upset that they're putting -- that the president is putting jobs and arms sales and money ahead of principle here. But again, it's not for me to say.

BLITZER: What kind of a relationship does Saudi Arabia have with Canada right now?

HORAK: It's a very difficult one. We didn't have a very in depth and detailed -- very deep relationship beforehand, which I think was part of the problem. But certainly right now, it's on ice.

I've been a bit out of the loop for the past couple weeks since I retired, but it's going to be hard to build back up for sure. It's -- they're angry. They've taken a lot of steps.

They've drawn a line in the sand on the tweet, again, overreacting. But nonetheless, that's what it is. And it will be difficult to patch back up.

They've done it with other countries that have had problems with them, Germany and Sweden, for example, both had issues with Saudi Arabia. Those relationships were built back up, but it takes time and it's going to take a lot of effort.

BLITZER: Dennis Horak, the former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, thanks so much for joining us.

HORAK: Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.