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President Trump Promises Punishment if Saudi Arabian Government Found Responsible for Death of Journalist; Florida Residents Begin to Assess Damage from Hurricane Michael; Justice Department Filing Raises Questions about Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's Testimony Before House Committees; President Trump Meets in Oval Office with America Pastor Released from Turkish Prison. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired October 13, 2018 - 14:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:35] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone. Thanks so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

American pastor Andrew Brunson is back on U.S. soil and preparing to meet with the president. Brunson, you'll see in this photograph right here, in the middle, touched down at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland a short time ago. The Presbyterian pastor was charged with being a spy and trying to overthrow Turkey's government, but a Turkish court chose to release him well ahead of schedule. CNN's Sarah Westwood is at the White House and joins us with more. So Sarah, a pretty big turnaround by the Turkish court. How did we get to this point, and has he already made it to the White House?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fred, this has been something that the Trump administration has spent months trying to accomplish, that's convincing the Turkish government to release this pastor who has been held in detention for more than two years. The Trump administration had seemed close in the past weeks to securing Brunson's release in July. Trump threatened additional sanctions against Turkish leaders. He ratcheted up tariffs on steel and aluminum exports. And the economic pressures that Trump had put on Turkey was starting to cause the Turkish currency to plummet. It was starting to cause such major economic disruption that sources tell CNN the Turkish government recognized how serious the situation was, and finally moved to release Brunson.

Now, last night at his rally in Ohio, we saw President Trump touting the release of this pastor as a win for his administration. Brunson is due to meet with Trump in the Oval Office just moments from there, so we're likely to see the president continue this victory lap on securing the pastor's release, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then what do you suppose that meeting is going to be like? Have you been told anything about what is planned? Is it strictly a meet and greet, is there lunch, what?

WESTWOOD: They will be meeting in the Oval Office. There will be cameras present, so we will have an opportunity to hear from both the pastor and the president. There will be an opportunity to pose a question to the president. And one unanswered question about this whole situation is what kind of concessions, if any, the president made to secure Brunson's relief. We don't know if those tariffs on steel and aluminum, for example, will be lowered now that Brunson has come back to the United States. So those are some things that the administration still has to answer, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Sara Westwood at the White House, thanks so much. Of course, when that meeting happens, we will try to inform you as much as we learn about it.

A mystery surrounding a missing Saudi journalist deepens. President Trump now vowing severe punishment if Saudi Arabia murdered "Washington Post" contributor Jamal Khashoggi. International outrage is growing as leaders are demanding answers from Saudi Arabia.

Here is what we know right now. At the beginning of the month, Khashoggi was in Istanbul, Turkey, ready to go to the Saudi consulate to get documents allowing him to get married. On October 2nd, Khashoggi left his phone with his fiance when he went to the consulate and went inside, but never returned, never came out.

That same day, Turkish authorities believe several Saudi men arrived in Istanbul just hours before Khashoggi entered the consulate, and they believe they were connected to his disappearance and possible murder. So far, there has been very little reaction coming from the White House. But now President Trump is speaking out about the journalist's possible murder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist, the Saudi journalist, was he murdered by the Saudis? And did the prince give the order to kill him?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody knows yet, but we will probably be able to find out. It is being investigated. It is being looked at very, very strongly. And we would be very upset and angry if that were the case. As of this moment, they deny, and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jared, your son-in-law, got on the phone and asked the prince. Did he deny it?

TRUMP: They deny it. They deny it every way you can imagine. In the not too distant future, I think we'll know an answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are your options? Let's say they did. What are your options? Would you consider imposing sanctions as a bipartisan group of senators have proposed?

TRUMP: It depends on what the sanctions are. I will give you an example. They are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it. China wanted it. We wanted it. We got it. And we got all of it. Every bit of it.

[14:05:02] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So would you cut that off?

TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you what I don't want to do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all of these companies, I don't want to hurt jobs, I don't want to lose an order like that. And you know what, there are other ways of punishing, to use a word that is a pretty harsh word, but it is true.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell everybody what is at stake here. This is --

TRUMP: Well, there is a lot at stake. There is a lot at stake, and maybe especially so because this man was a reporter. There is something -- you'll be surprised to hear me say that. There is something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that were the case. So we are going to have to see. We are going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joining me now from Istanbul where Khashoggi disappeared. And what is being said now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Fred, getting to the bottom of it, as the president said, is in the Turkish, in the minds of Turkish officials here reliant on completing an investigation. And a key part of that investigation is getting inside the consulate, because they believe that they've got, and they have shared with intelligence agencies, their allies around the world, evidence, audio/visual evidence from inside the consulate that they say clearly demonstrates that Khashoggi was brutally assaulted, that he was tortured, and that he was killed.

So central to getting to the bottom of it, for Turkish authorities, is getting inside the consulate. And right now we know they are talking with Saudi officials to try to achieve that. The Saudis said they were very grateful that the Turkish authorities were going to work with them on this issue. But we have literally in the past couple of hours heard from the Turkish foreign minister who is in the U.K. and probably trying to bolster support for Turkey there right now, the Turkish foreign minister has said that the Saudis are not cooperating the way they should be to allow this investigation to go forward.

So to get to the bottom of it, Turkey so far has been putting pressure by drip-feeding information about what happened here, drip-feeding it in the local media here. But the nuclear option for them, we are told, and I spoke with a government official earlier, would be to release what they claim is an audio recording of what happened inside. They say they don't want to do that. However, to get the answers that President Trump wants, it is going to have to be, it seems, a forensic investigation in that building that Saudi Arabia doesn't seem yet prepared to allow anyone to do, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so, Nic, how could, you know, in other ways, how could, I guess, Turkey have some leverage here? If not releasing more tapes, how could Turkey get the upper hand here, Or even potentially retaliate against any resistance coming from Saudi Arabia's cooperation?

ROBERTSON: Well, a spokesman for President Erdogan's political party here has warned that there will be very strong consequences if they get to the bottom of it and find, as they believe, that the Saudis are culpable. So that leverage comes from being very public, in a way, by drip-feeding information and putting pressure on Saudi Arabia, and sharing with allies the intelligence that they believe that they have, which they say is evidence of his murder.

So if that evidence is convincing for, let's say, their partners in the CIA, or with MI-6 in the U.K., or in France or in Germany, then that is the sort of pressure that they can bring to bear on their friends and partners around the world, to put pressure on Saudi Arabia. So that is where the pressure points lie. And the longer that Saudi officials don't let Turkish investigators into this building, the stronger that pressure will become, because the evidence so far is that Turkish authorities are prepared to continue to drip- feed information to create that pressure.

WHITFIELD: Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

Joining me right now, David Rohde, who was kidnapped by the Taliban back in 2008 while working for "The New York Times." He escaped a few months later. David, good to see you. So this really does come close to home for you, in terms of a working journalist overseas and being met with threats. And what thoughts come to mind for you? As we read that Khashoggi's fiance, what her account was, that he didn't feel he would be welcomed back in Saudi Arabia and knew that what he was doing as a reporter was dangerous. So what comes to mind as you hear about this kind of reporting and reflecting on your own experience, being held against your will, before you escaped?

DAVID ROHDE, KIDNAPPED BY TALIBAN IN 2008: If the worst case scenario is true and he was murdered, the blame lies entirely with the Saudi government. It is outrageous that he would enter the consulate to try to get a wedding license and possibly be abducted, and if he was murdered, it is just abhorrent.

[14:10:05] I just feel for him and his family. He's never been accused of doing anything untoward. He was simply a dissident living outside of Saudi Arabia, and if the crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered this, it is an astonishing violation of diplomatic norms, journalistic norms. And there is pressure on the Trump administration to do something about this.

WHITFIELD: And what do you suppose are the parameters of what the Trump administration can do? You heard in the "60 Minutes" interview, the president says if then there would be severe punishment, but he also said, and reminded that he's got some business deals that were significant with Saudi Arabia, and he doesn't want to talk to Boeing and tell them that those deals would be off as a result. So what are the parameters for the U.S.?

ROHDE: I think there's far more that the president can do. He has personal business with the Saudis. He has talked about these defense contracts. But I feel like the president has mocked the prime minister of Canada about dairy subsidies, mocked Angela Merkel in Germany. He savaged these longtime American allies, yet he is holding back on an authoritarian regime, Saudi Arabia, luring a journalist into their consulate and potentially murdering him.

And in the end, it is all about money, and that is what the Saudis expect, that international norms don't matter any longer, that essentially the United States will turn a blind eye because they want money, and that's just a very dangerous sentiment that plays into lots of stereotypes against Americans in the Middle East, frankly even fundamentalist groups who say, look, the Saudis can buy off the Americans. So it is a critical moment to do the right thing.

WHITFIELD: Is it worrisome that just listening to that small portion of the president alluded to his importance, where he places some importance on money, on what will come, the benefits that will come from these financial deals? But his initial response earlier in the week, versus what is being said on this "60 Minutes," now he does seem to be showing some real concern for the journalist as well.

ROHDE: I just think on a base level, and I want to be respectful of the president, but the rule of law, basic standards, are more important than any amount of money. And it's just astonishing and very dangerous that an American president is like oh, we'll let this murder go away because of some financial transaction.

And again, he savages other European and long-time American allies, and then he goes soft on these authoritarian leaders. So this is a real test for the Trump administration. I hope the president will do the right thing. But this is just extraordinary and totally unacceptable if he was abducted or murdered.

WHITFIELD: David Rohde, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

ROHDE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Still ahead, devastation on the Florida panhandle, 17 dead, hundreds of thousands still without power across several states. We will take you to the recovery efforts, live, next.

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[14:17:30] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. The head of FEMA is expected to tour hurricane damage in the hard-hit Florida panhandle soon and provide an update on rescue and recovery efforts. This as we are getting a stunning firsthand look of hurricane Michael making landfall.

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(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, this is pretty dramatic. These images coming into CNN now, showing the force of the hurricane as it slammed into Mexico Beach, Florida, and the power of that 155 mile-an-hour wind. The death toll now standing at 17 across four states. Nearly 900,000 homes and businesses in seven states are still without power. And in parts of the Florida panhandle, it might be months before power is back on. For the very latest now, let's go to CNN's Martin Savidge in Mexico Beach, Florida. So Martin, what are you seeing from people there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is another difficult day of recovery efforts. It is under way, Fredricka. In fact, we can show you right now by our drone what is happening, literally just a couple dozen feet away from our position here. But we are going to keep a respectful distance.

They are using a cadaver dog. This is in also association with the search and recovery teams that are out there that come from all across the country to aid in this effort. And it is not just buildings they have to go through but what remains of the homes. And there was a report that there was a couple that actually stayed behind in a beachfront property, and they have not been heard from or at least have not been accounted. So this is why they have been focusing on this specific area. They have the dog that has been brought in, and then they are also searching on foot.

But you can also see just a tremendous amount of debris. If we can bring it back to where I am, I will show you another angle of this. You can see all the destruction in the background. They have been through a lot of these buildings. It is this stuff that they are working their way through. This is clearly somebody's, I don't know, deck, dock, porch, whatever. There is debris like this all over. It is huge, certainly too big for anybody to lift. So this has to be searched as well. Somebody actually just a few minutes ago crawling under here and checking it out.

And time and time again, they've got all sorts of walls that have come down. They've got just huge, large pieces of debris. It isn't a matter of lifting a mattress or lifting a piece of plywood. There is a real massive amount of structures that are just destroyed and any one of them could hold, unfortunately, a victim.

[14:20:13] They know that they had about 286 people that did not leave. That number could have fluctuated. Some people at the last minute might have fled. And what they are doing is trying to work against that list now. Where did those people live? And are they still there?

But the problem has been the communication chaos, the debris, just the whole general destruction has been so massive that you really can't find people. Even if you go to what used to be their home. So when they search, they leave marks like this. This is a piece of paper that has the date and it's got the time it was searched, and zero-zero means, of course, that nothing was found here. And then they move on. This effort is going to go through at least day to day. Maybe longer. And the city says until it is done, there is no way they can start allowing residents back. So for now residents are being told don't come. It's just not the right time as they work on what is still a grim task. One body found yesterday. A few more to be found today. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. Martin Savidge, thank you so much from Mexico Beach, Florida.

And meantime, we're just moments away from an historic meeting at the Oval Office. President Trump inviting pastor Andrew Brunson, who was just released from Turkish custody, for a one-on-one in the White House. We'll have the latest information for you as it happens coming up.

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[14:26:00] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Pressure is growing on Saudi Arabia to provide answers over the fate of "Washington Post" contributor Jamal Khashoggi who has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, for 11 days now. President Trump is now vowing severe punishment if Saudi Arabia murdered Khashoggi. International outrage is growing. Several high-profile sponsors and speakers are pulling out of a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia for later this month, including Uber, CNN, "The New York Times," and Bloomberg. Some are seeing this as a major test for the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi was an outspoken critic of the Saudi leader. Here is CNN's Becky Anderson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to congratulate you on everything. Thank you very much.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mohamed bin Salman's rise to power in Saudi Arabia has been nothing short of meteoric, pushing major change in the kingdom and making a name for himself on the world stage, all in his first year as crown prince. He spearheaded a package of reforms dubbed Saudi Vision 2030 that aimed to ween the economy of its dependence on oil while opening up society. Reforms like lifting the ban on women driving and allowing them into sports stadiums, the reopening of cinemas, and calls for a return to more moderate Islam.

In late 2017, young prince launched a major crackdown on what he said was widespread corruption in the country. Top businessmen, government officials, and even Saudi royals arrested overnight, accused of stealing billions of dollars and held at a luxury hotel turned makeshift prison. Most of the accused were eventually released, but the swift move stunned global investors looking to take advantage of the kingdom's economic opening.

And only weeks away from women being allowed to drive, a number of leading women's rights activists were arrested in a coordinated campaign, accused of having ties with foreign embassies.

And the crown prince's record on the foreign policy front has been mixed. Fueled by his desire to push back against regional rival Iran, he has led the war in Yemen against Houthi rebels who Saudi considers terrorists, worsening what the U.N. says is the world's most humanitarian crisis. Riyadh was also key to forcing Lebanon's prime minister, a close Saudi ally, to resign from his post during a trip to the kingdom in an effort to limit the Shia group Hezbollah's influence in Lebanon. But the plan backfired when Saad Hariri rescinded his resignation after returning to Beirut.

And then there is the feud with Qatar, now in its second year. While it has succeeded in isolating a regional rival, the embargo has divided Arab Gulf states. But with ties to the Trump White House and his close ties to regional allies like the UAE, Mohamed bin Salman has cultivated powerful relationship, even before becoming king. The question now is, what impact will this latest scandal have?

Becky Anderson, CNN, Istanbul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Let's talk about this now. We bring in Dr. Qanta Ahmed. She has practiced medicine in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and wrote a book about her experiences there called "In the Land of Invisible Women." Dr. Ahmed, great to see you.

DR. QANTA AHMED, AUTHOR, "IN THE LAND OF INVISIBLE WOMEN": Great to be back.

WHITFIELD: So help us have a better understand. Why would Khashoggi be a target of Saudi Arabia and even tell his fiance that he probably would never be able to return home to Saudi Arabia?

AHMED: He has been a thorn in the side of Saudi establishment, to some degree, for decades. He was an established, or he is an established and very sophisticated journalist. He was also hugely connected into the labyrinthine echelons of power within the Saudi royal family. Decades ago, he was a paid-up member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was in dialogue with Usama bin Laden.

[14:30:00] He went with the Afghani Mujahedin and actually took on their cause quite passionately until later he revised his views. But he had very powerful patronage as a Saudi journalist. He was patronized by Prince Turki al Faisal who was the head of Saudi intelligence for decades. And then Prince Alwaleed bin Talal who, as you know, a hugely influential Saudi investor and a great friend to the United States.

So he had this patronage and this protection while he performed criticisms. And it is very likely that he knew that he was a target. One of the most baffling things about this incident, Fredricka, is that a journalist of his stature and sophistication would dare to go inside a Saudi consulate, though I agree with David Rhode, astonishing somebody could be assassinated in there if that emerges to be true.

WHITFIELD: His fiance reports that she was outside. So maybe there was a sense of feeling protected, someone knows where I am, and maybe that is why potentially he felts like there wasn't great risk?

AHMED: I think it is a bit more sinister than that. He had an initial meeting that he was very worried about and told to come back five days later, which, if events unfolded the way they appeared to be, would have given time to assemble a kill team to do the act. And that is why on the second visit he may have let his guard down. But there are many things that are most puzzling. One of the things

that troubles me, would this crown prince, which, by the way, the same media that is mourning Khashoggi in its columns today here in the United States, has elevated as a phony reformer. Let's hope that that mirage has fallen away. The same columnists that are mourning him, empowered this crown prince, would he want his tactics to be seen in this way, rather than send in their equivalent of the Seal team six that would have done this covertly?

So part of this is does the crown prince want to know, this is what we will do, our arm is this far, we can reach you around the globe, or is it something that has been bungled and now viewers, myself included, are understanding this is how governments operate. Governments do assassinate an inconvenient individual.

WHITFIELD: So there has been a statement that was released and they deny it that they wouldn't have any involvement here, but now there is a pretty sizable investigation, and lots of inferences are made that the government has something to do with his disappearance. And now the president of the United States is also in a pickle, right, even though he has said on "60 Minutes" that there will be severe punishment, it has already been established that there is a great business relationship that has been forged between the U.S., the Trump administration, and Saudi Arabia.

So help us understand how this further complicates things. I mean, who could forget that incredible rollout in Saudi Arabia last year. It looked like the Saudi Arabian government was rolling out something very special for almost like American royalty. So how does that further complicate what the U.S. does or doesn't do in its handling of a "Washington Post" columnist's disappearance?

AHMED: I agree. The United States has enormous investments in Saudi Arabia, and vice-versa. Saudi Arabia is in the top ten trading partners with the United States. And the United States is the number one foreign investor in the kingdom. So stakes are much higher than a single $110 billion deal. That magnificent visit that President Trump undertook saw the signing of $400 million of deals.

WHITFIELD: Just to reiterate, he doesn't want to have to make a call to disappoint Boeing or Lockheed Martin.

AHMED: I agree. Fredricka, with this, I am in lockstep with the president. I would not want to hurt U.S. interests, and if we have any intention of trying to influence reform in Saudi Arabia, that is not through disengagement. That is through engagement.

WHITFIELD: But at the same time, we are talking about someone who might have been murdered.

AHMED: I agree. Remember, 66 other journalists have been murdered this year alone around the world. We saw our own American citizen, Daniel Pearl, decapitated. We saw James Foley and many American journalists murdered, and none of them have triggered this outrage. So there is a special dimension to this. If I was able to, I would tell -- WHITFIELD: I do recall the outrage for Daniel Pearl, particularly.

AHMED: But not to the point of ending billions of dollars of business with a recipient of U.S. aid, Pakistan. And unlike recipients of U.S. aid, Egypt, or Israel, or Pakistan, Saudi Arabia buys American arms and defense deals with Saudi currency, not with USA aid. So it is much more complex.

WHITFIELD: It is very complex.

AHMED: I would say the president now, and the United States is in a remarkably position of leverage, and I would actually extract an extremely high cost of this action. Certainly, the president and the king will be discussing, is Mohamed bin Salman fit to be the monarch? It seems not. And that may be a message that is communicated. And Mohamed bin Salman seems to be acting out of a position of fear and insecurity because he has rounded up all of his rivals. So that's one thing.

[14:35:02] And the other thing is, the U.S. has great power, not only in defense. We should be stipulating, if you want $110 million of arms deal, you must buy our system support, you must buy our defense contractors' expertise and our maintenance, and we would like Saudi Arabia to send all its intelligence here in universities, in the United States. We want to train all of your future generations of intellectuals. There is many things that we could demand in this circumstance.

WHITFIELD: Fantastic. All right, that was very comprehensive, Dr. Qanta Ahmed, that's why I always love talking to you. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

AHMED: Thank you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Meantime, we are moments away from a historic meeting at the Oval Office. President Trump inviting Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was just released from Turkish custody, for a one-on-one in the White House to take place momentarily. We will have that information and perhaps even pictures for you as soon as it happens coming up.

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WHITFIELD: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is being accused of misleading members of Congress. Earlier this year, Ross said he had nothing to do with adding a new question about citizenship to the U.S. census. He said it was the Justice Department who requested it, not the White House. But it now appears former Trump adviser Steve Bannon played a role. So did Ross lie? CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju has more from Capitol Hill.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A new filing from the Justice Department, raising serious questions about Wilbur Ross's testimony before two House committees earlier this year when Wilbur Ross said it was not him or the White House that was involved with initiating discussions about a citizenship question on the 2020 census, suggesting it was the Justice Department instead. Now this new Justice Department filing suggests otherwise. It says that actually, it was the former White House adviser, Steve Bannon, who had called Wilbur Ross and urged him to talk to the Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, about adding a citizenship question to that census.

Now, earlier this year when Ross was asked at a Congressional hearing by a Democratic congresswoman whether or not he was aware about whether or not the White House was involved, anyone at the White House was involved, he said he didn't know. He also said it was the Justice Department that began discussions over this topic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GRACE MENG, (D) NEW YORK: Has the president or anyone in the White House discussed with you or anyone on your team about adding this citizenship question?

WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: I'm not aware of any such. We have had a request, as everyone is aware, from the Department of Justice to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, in the aftermath of this revelation, Democrats jumping all over this, including the top Democrat on the house oversight committee, who issued a statement, going after Wilbur Ross, and the --

WHITFIELD: We are going to interrupt Manu's report there. First images right now of Pastor Andrew Brunson, with the president. Let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A little bit earlier from a Turkish prison to the White House in 24 hours. That's not bad.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And I want to start by saying that Norine was unbelievable, she was calling and calling. She definitely loves you, let me put it that way. But she was calling and she wanted you out, and she was not playing game, right? And we have very proud of you, Norine. Thank you very much.

And you are very, very special to all of us. And we have some of our great leaders right here, you know Jane, you know Cindy, you know Rich, you know Tom, you know Patrick, you know Mark, and all of these people, and right back here, a whole group of people, they fought so hard for you. They wanted you out.

And again, we have been negotiating long and hard. We do not pay ransom in this country, at least any longer. We won't pay ransom. Otherwise you have big problems and lots of things will happen. Lots of bad things will happen. But I still, I want to thank President Erdogan. We have been dealing, and we actually, until this, we had a very good relationship. I was actually very surprised that we didn't work this out a couple of months ago. But it started in a different administration, and they were not going to work out anything. And we took it over, we inherited it, and we have, I think, at this moment, gotten 19 different people out of various countries that were being held.

Chairman Kim was really great to us. I think that started the relationship that we have now in North Korea, with three hostages, as you know. Egypt, we had Aya. Aya was, they said, a spy. She was sentenced to 25 years. They told President Obama we will not let her out under any circumstances. And they told me she will be in the Oval Office in 24 hours. We all know that, and you guys worked on that one, too. And many others, many others.

And so I just want to congratulate you, because you have galvanized this country. I mean, you just take a look at this, there is so much interest, and it is your faith, it is your strength, what you've done, gone through. I know what you've gone through. And I also know that a period of time ago, we were able to get you from prison to the house.

[14:45:12] And again, I do have to say, it is not an easy situation for Turkey, either. They had a lot of difficult situations going on, and I do want to thank President Erdogan for making this possible. You understand what I mean by that. It wasn't easy, and wasn't easy for him.

Most importantly, I want to congratulate you and your family. I would love to say a few words. You may want to thank all of these great leaders, because they were really calling me a lot. They called me too much. I said OK, I know, we're working on it, right? But they are terrific fans of yours. And right now, the whole world is a fan of yours. The whole world is your fan, and your family's fan. So maybe you could say a few words. Introduce your family. And it is a great honor to have you back home.

PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: Thank you, sir.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

BRUNSON: This is my daughter Jacqueline, my son Blaise, Jacqueline's husband Kevin, and my oldest son Jordan, and this is Neil, who is Norine's brother, and of course, Norine is my wife.

And we especially want to thank the administration. You really fought for us, unusually so. From the time you took office, I know that you have been engaged, and Secretary of State Pompeo also was very engaged and fought for us, and Vice President Pence, we are very grateful. Mr. Bolton. There are a number of people in the Senate, and I can't mention everyone, but I know that my Senator Tillis visited me in prison, so did Senator Shaheen and Senator Graham, and Senator Lankford who has been involved from the very beginning. So we are so grateful to so many people in Congress who stood with us and who prayed for us and who fought for us. So we want to thank you all very much.

TRUMP: And I do have to say, we did leave out many people in the Senate, many people in the house, you know that, Patrick, many people have been left out. And we just can't go through all of the names, but it was everybody that wanted this to happen. It was really everybody, the complete Senate.

I think we can probably say Richard, this was bipartisan, do you agree? This wasn't just Republican, right? But honestly, I think if there was ever a bipartisan event, this was it. And I do have to thank Vice President Pence. He is doing a terrific job. He felt very, very strongly about this. And Secretary of State Pompeo, I would say we spoke about this at least once a day. We thought we had it done two months ago. Sometimes it doesn't always work out. But I can only tell you, that is better than anybody else could have done, and we are so honored to have you. And anything final you would like to say? I know you're going to go relax and go home and celebrate and have a great life, right? I won't ask you whether or not you are going back to Turkey. I won't ask that question.

BRUNSON: We do love Turkey. We were there for 25 years and we love the Turkish people.

TRUMP: Great. That's very nice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We pray for their blessing, sincere.

TRUMP: That is very nice. And I know you do love the Turkish people. They are great people. I know that. They are great people.

BRUNSON: We would like to pray for you. We pray for you often as a family. My wife and I pray for you.

TRUMP: Thank you. Well I need it probably more than anybody in this room.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: So that would be very nice.

BRUNSON: We can pray for you right now?

TRUMP: Yes, thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, so I will do it from here.

BRUNSON: Lord God, I ask that you pour out your holy spirit on President Trump, that you give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all of the plans that we have for this country and for him. I ask that you give him wisdom and now to lead this country into righteousness. I ask that you give him perseverance and endurance and courage to stand for truth. I ask that you protect him, from slander from enemies, from those who would undermine. I ask that you make him a great blessing to this country. Fill him with your wisdom and strength and perseverance. And we bless him, may he be a great blessing to our country. In Jesus' name, we bless you. Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to say that the speed of the Lord will rest on the press president, the speed of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the lord. Amen.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Can I ask you one question? Who did you vote for?

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: I knew the answer. I knew the answer.

[14:50:00] BRUNSON: I would like to say I sent in an absentee ballot from prison.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: It is a little unfair. I knew the answer. I would never do that to myself. That could be too tough.

Listen, congratulations. Thank you. Great parents, and fantastic children. They were so with you. And it is an honor.

BRUNSON: Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. We appreciate it. Thank you. And again, to President Erdogan, thank you very much. To the people of Turkey, thank you very much. I think this will be a big step in our relationship. We have had a very harsh relationship over the past number of months because of what was happening, and I'm not going to blame fault, I am not going to say anything. I am just saying this is a tremendous step toward having the kind of relationship with Turkey, which can be a great relationship, that I know we are going to have. So thank you very much. And president, thank you very much.

Thank you, everybody. Does anybody have any questions?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could you talk about what your next plans are, what do you plan on doing now that you're back safely?

BRUNSON: We want to spend time with our children especially, and then take some time to pray and see what God wants for the next part of our lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you be will be to discuss what your treatment was like while you were over there? What was your experience in general while you were detained?

BRUNSON: I think we'll do that in the future. We will probably be doing some interviews. Right now we just want especially this is a time to thank the administration and people in government who supported us, and that is especially what we wanted to say, is our gratefulness, to say we love this country.

Last night we arrived in Germany on a plane that President Trump sent to take us from Turkey, and the Ambassador to Germany met us there at 1:30 in the morning, I couldn't believe it, and he had an American flag to give us that had flown over the embassy in Berlin. And I took it and I very naturally, I kissed it. I love this country. And we pray for this country.

TRUMP: Phil?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a question for you, sir. What do you think of the timing of pastor Brunson's release, and do you think the disappearance and possible murder of Jamal Khashoggi has anything to do with the timing?

TRUMP: The timing is a strict coincidence. It really is. I have heard a couple of people say, well, that is pretty tricky, could there be anything to it. No, actually, Phil, no. It is a total coincidence. It is interesting. A lot of things happening in a certain part of the world. You know that. You know what else is going on. There are probably things beyond that. But no, it is a strict coincidence, Phil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I know we're here to celebrate Pastor Brunson, but if I could follow-up on something that you said on "60 Minutes." You suggested, sir, that there could be serious repercussions for Saudi Arabia if the U.S. determines that they killed Jamal Khashoggi. What do you have in mind?

TRUMP: We will be sitting together with all of the folks here, and a lot more, and we will have to make a determination. I do think this, that I work very hard to get the order for the military's $110 billion. I believe it is the largest order ever made. It is 450,000 jobs. It is the best equipment in the world. But if they don't buy it from us, they are going to buy it from Russia, or they are going to buy it from China, or they are going to buy it from other countries. But Russia and China wanted it very badly. I got 100 percent, almost 100 percent of their order.

And I would, from the standpoint of jobs, economic development, a lot of other reasons, I would like to do something where we could maybe look at other things, I will tell the senators, because that's a tremendous order for our companies. It is a tremendous order for really from an economic development standpoint. You look at Texas, it has a big chunk of it. Almost all of our states are involved in that order. So I actually think we would be punishing ourselves if we did that. There are other things we can do that are very, very powerful, very strong. And we will do that.

Now, as of this moment, nobody knows what happened, as of this moment. We are looking into it very seriously. Turkey is looking into it at a very high level, at the highest level. And so is Saudi Arabia. They are going to get back, and they have been getting back, and I know Mike has been dealing with them, John has been dealing with them. But in terms of the order of 110 billion dollars, think of that, $110 billion, all they're going to do is give it to other countries, and I think that would be very foolish for our country. But there are other things that we can do that will be very severe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is an example of something you could do?

TRUMP: There are many things we could do. Would you like to speak up about that, James? Do you have any suggestions? There were many, many things. I don't know if you want to, I don't want to put you on the spot, but if you guys would like to tell them some of the many things we can do. There's a big list.

[14:55:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, there is a big list. Obviously, we have a longstanding partnership with Saudi Arabia in a lot of areas. My first preference though is not talk about what we would do. Let's find out what did happen first.

TRUMP: That's a very good idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the key thing is, his fiance is still waiting to be able to find out what happened, and there is a lot of speculation, but until we know, I would hate to take the next step on it. Just to be able to see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, will you meet with his fiance in the Oval Office?

TRUMP: Yes, I will. In fact, we have invited his fiance. We've invited her. She actually wrote a letter to myself and the first lady, and a beautiful letter. And we have invited her, and I believe they are working it out where she will be coming. I would love to her. Great news where it wouldn't even be necessary, but at this point, it's looking like, it is looking like he perhaps won't be, or isn't around, and that is very sad. I think we would have known by now. That was our first hope. Our first hope was that he was not killed. But maybe that is not looking, is not looking too good, right, from what we are hearing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot still to learn, Mr. President.

TRUMP: But there's a lot to learn. There really is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The others in prison in Turkey, the other U.S. citizens, three employees of U.S. consulate in Turkey. What happens --

TRUMP: We're working on that. As you speak, we are working on that. And by the way, and by the way, other people that are in prisons in other countries other than Turkey, we have other people that have been there for many years. We have done very well. We actually have at least 18, and the 18 were people that they said would never, ever be freed. And by the way, Pastor Brunson was one of them. We were talking before, how many years was it, you can say that the number you told me, it is a very scary number --

BRUNSON: They wanted 35 years for me.

TRUMP: They wanted him in jail for 35 years. So we have many people throughout the world, in other country, and we are working very hard. This group, all of this group, we are working very hard to take care of that situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there a red line in terms of Saudi behavior that would cause you to reconsider?

TRUMP: We are going to just see what happened. We have to see what happened. As James said, what is really best, let's determine what happened first. There is plenty of things we can do that are very tough. Let's see what happened first.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen the video or audio recordings?

TRUMP: I have not. Have you seen the video?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, I have not seen it.

TRUMP: I've heard, we have all heard about the audio, nobody has seen it yet. So we do want to see. It I guess it is a combination of seeing it and hearing it and maybe a lot can be -- yes, we are going to be seeing it very soon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President --

TRUMP: No, I haven't. I have spoken to him many times about this, but I haven't called him yet. I will be. I will be. And I will be also calling King Salman of Saudi Arabia, because I think it's appropriate for me to ask him what is going on. Probably tonight or tomorrow.

Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pastor Brunson, are you planning to stay in the U.S. now?

BRUNSON: For a time. We don't know what is ahead of us. I would like to say something. Someone asked before about other American prisoners in Turkey. And I know that from dealing with the consulate there, and they've been very involved with us, excellent consulate staff there, and Martin Bowman (ph) is here, they weren't only engaging for me but they are engaging for everyone there. So I know this just from talking with the consulate staff when they would come to visit me in prison, that they were involved very much in advocating for the other prisoners there.

TRUMP: And I have to say, with respect to Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, when you look at what is going on in Iran, and other places, it's really bad. It is really bad. There are a lot of bad things going on in that part of the world, and, frankly, in other parts of the world also. Any other questions?

(INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: They are tending not to take them out of our administration, and that's good. I like that. And I think I can tell you why, but I won't. But they tend not to take them out of our administration. And you know what? It is going to stay that way, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you have any --

TRUMP: What?

(INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: I did. I think she was fantastic. I thought the first lady was fantastic last night. I hope I do as well on "60 Minutes" tomorrow night. I doubt I will. But that's OK.