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Trump: Saudi Kings Denies Khashoggi Involvement & Could be "Rogue Killers"; Trump Siding with World Leaders over Intelligence; Rubio: Strong Congressional Response Against Saudis if Trump Administration Doesn't Act; Elizabeth Warren Releases Video of DNA Results; A Look at Hard-Hit Mexico Beach as Trump & First Lady Plan Florida Visit. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 15, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:02] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Kate Bolduan.

For the second time in less than a month, President Trump set to survey damage from a major hurricane. Minutes from now, he and the first lady will arrive in the Florida panhandle where they will see first-hand the destruction left by Hurricane Michael. And it is wide reaching, extensive. In fact, it's tough to describe in words. First responders, relief workers, survivors trying to move forward. But there's so much to be done before they can get to that point. In many areas, there's still limited phone service, if any, no power, no water. Michael is blamed for at least 18 deaths. And in Mexico Beach, Florida, the town now known as ground zero, 30 people remain unaccounted for. The Trumps will also visit parts of Georgia hit hard by the storm.

Separately, concern is growing over relations with Saudi Arabia. Dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul nearly two weeks ago. And speculation is rampant. His disappearance is linked to the criticism of the ruling Saudi family.

This morning, President Trump said King Salman assured him he has no idea what happened. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The denial was very strong. It wasn't like there was a question in his mind. The denial was very, very strong.


HILL: The president adding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way to Saudi Arabia right now.

Let's go straight to CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House.

Abby, what else did we hear from the president this morning?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erica. President Trump this morning is presenting an alternative theory for what might have happened to Jamal Khashoggi. The president saying today after his phone call with the Saudi Arabian king, he heard a strong denial. He said that repeatedly in this gaggle with reporters as he was preparing to leave for Florida.

But this is what's causing a lot of people to raise their eyebrows. He said there might have been rogue actors responsible for what happened to Khashoggi.


TRUMP: The king firmly denied any knowledge of it. He didn't really know, maybe -- I don't want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe it could have been rogue killers. Who knows? We're going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon. But his was a flat denial.


PHILLIP: The president this morning also repeated Salman's denial but also said and pointed out that Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen. That's something that has become more important, in part, because President Trump has suggested that, because Khashoggi was not an American citizen, that there might be a different standard for what might have happened to him. So he's really putting some attention on that issue, even as he's getting a lot of questions, both in his "60 Minutes" interview last night, and from critics about whether or not he's doing enough to stand up for the issue of human rights on the global stage.

As we wait for word on what will happen as Pompeo heads over to Saudi Arabia, this is the question for the White House today: What are they willing to do to find out what happened here, and potentially to punish the Saudis for it.

HILL: Oh, so many questions.

Joining me now -- Abby, thank you.

Joining me now, CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston, CNN national security analyst, Sam Vinograd, and CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

Sam, I want to start with you.

The president saying he takes the Saudi king at his word. Should anyone take the Saudi king at his word?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think putting the president on the phone with the king was a massive mistake. Typically, you do these calls so the president of the United States can deliver a message. In this case, it sounds like the president was in listening mode. He kept repeating talking points that King Salman gave him. That it was not Saudi Arabia that perpetrated this crime, that he firmly denied it. What was the president's message to the king about human rights, about freedom of the press, and about the need to have a credible investigation? We didn't hear that. Of course, the king of Saudi Arabia is going to deny this, just like the kingdom has done in other instances historically, just like Vladimir Putin does on election meddling and other issues. I would like to know what President Trump's message was to King Salman and what Secretary Pompeo's message is going to be when he visits the kingdom I believe tomorrow.

HILL: As we're watching for that, you bring up such an interesting point about him also taking Vladimir Putin at his word.

He was asked specifically last night, he talked to Leslie Stahl, and in many ways, we heard him talking again about siding with these leaders over his own intelligence. Take a listen.


LESLIE STAHL, CORRESPONDENT, "60 Minutes": Do you agree that Vladimir Putin is involved in assassinations, in poisonings?

TRUMP: Probably he is, yes. Probably, I mean, I don't --


STAHL: Probably?

TRUMP: Probably, but I rely on them. It's not in our country.

STAHL: OK. But is it true they haven't gotten rid of a single weapon and they may actually be building more missiles --


TRUMP: They want to, and I will tell you that they're closing up sites ---


STAHL: Is what I said true that they haven't?

TRUMP: Nobody really knows. People are saying that.


TRUMP: I have actually said that. And --


[11:05:13] STAHL: That they're still building missiles, more missiles?

TRUMP: We really don't know, Leslie. We really don't know.


HILL: It raises the question, Elise, as to whether the Trump doctrine is trust but don't verify. ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you see, what

happens is there are kind of parallel governments going on, right? The president is talking to these leaders, whether it's the Saudi king or Kim Jong-Un or Vladimir Putin, and then you have the big government, which is his cabinet and national security adviser, secretary of state, Defense Secretary Mattis, doing the leg work and trying to build a policy around that. So it's very true there wasn't much substance on this conversation with King Salman, but that's all going behind the scenes. There are hard and uncomfortable conversations being held. You saw the Turks talking to the Saudis. There's a kind of deal, obviously, being made to, you know, have a narrative being formed. And Secretary of State Pompeo is the one that's going to go out and deliver that tough message. I think we have come to expect from this president that he doesn't like confrontation, that he's not going to berate countries or leaders. You know, he likes to do that on Twitter. But certainly not in a conversation. And I think that you're going to hear these kinds of things about what the Saudis need to do and the punishment coming from the advisers around the president, not from the president himself. Ultimately, it's his decision, but you won't hear him until that all comes out, is the way I read it.

HILL: We're also hearing it, I should point out, from members of Congress, vowing they want to see action, that they would take action themselves. In fact, here's Senator Marco Rubio on "STATE OF THE UNION" this weekend.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), TEXAS: I believe the Trump administration will do something. The president said that. But if he doesn't, Congress will. That I can tell you. With 100 percent certainty, with almost full unanimity, across the board, Republicans and Democrats, there will be a very strong congressional response if, in fact, Saudis lured him into their consulate, murdered him, cut up his body, and disposed of it. There's going to be a very strong congressional response.


HILL: We hear there from Marco Rubio, there will be a bipartisan, very strong bipartisan congressional response.

But, Mark, what could that be at this point if we see where the president is at?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Honestly, I don't necessarily know because I'm not sure that Marco Rubio necessarily knows. He did mention also in the interview on CNN it could be the Magnitsky Act, which would perhaps allow sanctions on individuals of the Saudi family, if they were to be found guilty or complicit in this luring in of the journalist and murdering him. But I don't even know if that would work. There's been a lot of talk about freezing arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The defense industry will lose their mind if that occurs. You might also have a lot of diplomats who might say, what are you doing, this is our foothold here in the Middle East. And our two other colleagues can speak to that with great knowledge. The fact is, this is an extremely complicated situation. And in some ways, it was good that President Trump didn't necessarily come out and say, as Elise said, what the end sanctions are going to be or what the United States actions are going to be. But for him to come out right now and also as we have all been noting, to really just mouth the Saudi official line is kind of ludicrous, and just really not the position for the president of the United States to take or to be in.

HILL: Well, an interesting shift after what we saw in the "60 Minutes" interview where the president said there would be severe punishment if it was determined there was Saudi involvement. But then we heard not only is he touting the strong denial from the king a short time ago this morning but also saying it would have been, in his words, "rogue killers," who could be responsible here, Sam, floating a new narrative. And I'm not really sure where that comes from.

VINOGRAD: I would guess it probably comes from the Saudis who are trying to probably peddle other conspiracy theories out there. If rogue killers penetrated the Saudi consulate, then the Saudis have bigger problems than we had previously known.

One thing I want to point out. It's been two weeks since his disappearance. We have an entire Intelligence Community here in the United States and we have intelligence partners all around the world who I imagine have put together an assessment of what we know to this point. It will continue to develop over time. So before the president's call today, I'm sure he saw the assessment. I'm sure he has some understanding at least of what's happened, as does Secretary Pompeo. So he didn't go into this call blind.

And I agree with Elise that he's not going to deliver a harsh message, unfortunately, to the king at this time. But regardless of what the State Department does and Congress does, if the president undercuts those assumptions, undercuts those repercussions, that weakens them. We have seen that in Russia.

HILL: Elise, I know you want to jump in on that, especially with the comment about, quote, "rogue killers."

[11:10:06] LABOTT: I would say, on Sam's point, I think it's the opposite of that. You see these advisers around the president kind of weaken his denials when they kind of push these, you know, stronger lines. On the issue of the rogue killers, I think what we see is a narrative shaping up. Over the weekend, you heard President Trump say, oh, it looks like Jamal isn't here anymore, that he's died, unfortunately. And now you have heard that the Turks and the Saudis are working together. You heard a Saudi official tell me this morning that an internal investigation is under way, that King Salman ordered this prosecutorial internal investigation. And now if you start to connect the dots, you can see a picture that's emerging, that the Saudis are going to say that, you know, this is a mission that was horribly gone awry. Someone went rogue. I think we can see how this is shaping right now. It didn't come out of the clear blue. I think this has kind of been the discussions that have been happening behind the scenes all weekend. And now, if I had to predict, I would say this is where it's going to go. HILL: Elise, just to pick up on that point about the narrative

shaping up here, and obviously, the different messages coming from officials versus the president himself, but based on Secretary Pompeo going to Saudi Arabia, is this ultimately anything more than a photo op for the king, because who we're not talking about is Mohammad bin Salman.

LABOTT: I was going to say when you brought that up, I don't think it's just going to be a photo op with the king. I expect he'll meet the king, but the king is in poor health. We don't really know if he will end up meeting with the king. I think in addition to trying to find out what's going on with this investigation, I think what's more important that Secretary Pompeo will be doing is to sit this young crown prince down and give him a little bit, you know, of tough love. And say, look, you're the future of Saudi Arabia, we embraced you, we embraced what they call the 2020 vision for reform, economic and political reform and modernization of the country. You can't be off on these wild adventures whether it's killing civilians in Yemen, whether it's kidnapping the prime minister of Lebanon for a short period of time, whether it's rounding up members of the royal family at the Ritz-Carlton. You need to be a seasoned, sober leader that's taking his country into the future. I think that he needs someone to sit him down and have calmer heads prevail. I think that's what Secretary Pompeo is doing as much as he is trying to get answers to what happened to Jamal.

HILL: Elise Labott, Mark Preston, Sam Vinograd, appreciate it. Thank you all.

Up next, Senator Elizabeth Warren releasing a DNA test, sending a splashy new video out to supporters. Is it the unofficial start to her 2020 presidential campaign?

Plus, at any moment, we expect President Trump and the first lady to arrive in Florida where they'll tour hurricane damage. This, as rescue crews continue to search for more than 30 people still unaccounted for in Mexico Beach. We'll take you there live.



[11:17:31] SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Trump can say whatever he wants about me. But mocking Native Americans or anyone in order to get at me, that's not what America stands for. Some people have questioned my heritage and my family history. Maybe they do it to insult me. Maybe they do it to distract from the kinds of changes I'm fighting for and the kind of change I'm trying to bring to Washington.


HILL: That certainly feels like the unofficial start to a presidential run. Senator Elizabeth Warren releasing that campaign- style video and DNA test results to back up her claims of Native American heritage. The "Boston Globe" reporting those test results show a strong evidence of that ancestry. The Democratic Senator from Massachusetts has been a frequent target of President Trump who routinely mocks her as Pocahontas. Warren is working overtime ahead of the midterms. The "Washington Post" reporting she's backed more than 150 campaigns in all 50 states, across all 50 states.

If these were the first steps for a run in 2020, she could be facing an uphill battle. A new CNN poll shows the Senator in fourth place in a crowded list of likely Democratic nominees.

Joining me now, the reporter behind the "Boston Globe" story, Annie Linskey, and also with us, Matt Viser, who has been tracking Warren's midterm push for the "Washington Post."

Great to have both of you with us this morning.

Annie, Warren gave you these DNA test results, to the "Globe," then we also see this video that launches. Why now? What's the timing?

ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BOSTON GLOBE: Well, I think Warren, keep in mind, is still running for re-election in Massachusetts. And I think she's trying to put some of these issues about her Native American history and heritage to bed, you know, before the midterms end and before she takes that hard look that she said she's going to take at running for president.

HILL: Getting it out of the way, in essence.


HILL: Your reporting, Matt, details the length she has gone to shore up Democratic candidates, again, across the country. We're talking about involvement in all 50 states here. In many ways, taking over the more traditional role of the party itself. Matt, is it your understanding that this move is more about 2018 and the elections 22 days from now or is that more about 2020?

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: I think it's a two-for, but more geared toward 2020. Elizabeth Warren has spent a lot of time developing a grassroots network. She gets a lot of small dollar donations. But this is really about connecting her to a wider political network in states across the country, but also quite focused on the early primary states. She's dispatched staffers from her own network to those early states, like New Hampshire and Iowa and South Carolina, to start working in those states, which will be beneficial to her after the midterms if she announces that she's running for president. It's kind of about getting chips she can cash in later with a lot of those candidates around the country.

[11:20:29] HILL: Not just those early states. She has activity in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan.

Annie, President Trump was asked about the news about this DNA test, and he basically said, who cares? Although as we know, the president himself has cared for some time. In fact, here's a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Did you ever hear Pocahontas? Huh? It's Pocahontas, Elizabeth Warren.

Pocahontas. Pocahontas.


TRUMP: I've got more Indian blood in me than Pocahontas, and I have none.

Elizabeth Warren. Oh, I hope she runs. I hope she runs. Then we can finally get down to the fact as to whether or not she has Indian blood.

I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you're an Indian.


HILL: That pledge of a million dollars back in July. This morning, though, the president pushed back on that. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Who cares?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- one million dollars -


TRUMP: I didn't say that. You better read it again.


HILL: We didn't read it again. We played the tape. There it is.

Is there any sense, though, from your reporting, from your conversations with Elizabeth Warren, Annie, that any of the president's comments or even the comments in July about the million dollars, did any of that play into her decision to have this testing done and put those results out?

LINSKEY: Yes, sure. I think there's no question that President Trump's comments and his sort of continual goading of her on this issue, always calling her Pocahontas, requesting the DNA test, I think that absolutely played a huge role. I think that she was following the model here of Barack Obama who finally released this long-form birth certificate after then just businessman Trump was just haranguing him over it. So I think that what Elizabeth Warren is hoping to do is to get this out there. You know, there's going to be some attention around it for a few days. It will die down. And then as she thinks about running for president, she just will never really have to address the issue again. She can point back to the DNA test that she's taken and say, look, it's settled. HILL: Matt, the fact that she's trying to get ahead of it at this

point, what can we glean from that about how she may run her campaign if, in fact, she does announce a bid for 20?

VISER: I mean, I think if there's sort of an ongoing debate among Democrats over how aggressively they want to go at Trump and use his tactics. You can see through Elizabeth Warren's own Twitter feed this morning, where she is going after Trump. That she's telling him he needs to donate this money now to a cause among Native Americans that she's identified. So I think that you'll see her with a willingness to go right at him in a way that other Democrats may not. They want to have a different vision that's independent and separate from Trump. I think you're starting to see a little bit of how she may run her campaign. As well as the five or six-minute bio ad that she basically put up on Twitter this morning that is kind of a rollout of her own biography to a national audience that may not know her aside from the name calling back and forth.

HILL: Matt Viser and Annie Linskey, appreciate you both joining us. Thank you.

VISER: Thank you.

LINSKEY: Thank you.

[11:24:02] HILL: Any minute now, President Trump and the first lady will touch down in Florida. They plan to tour parts of the panhandle devastated by Hurricane Michael.

Plus, we're going to take you directly to hard-hit Mexico Beach, Florida, where, as of this morning, some 30 people remain unaccounted for.


HILL: Any moment now, President Trump and the first lady due to arrive in Florida. There you see them boarding to head down there just a short time ago. They're be touring damage from Hurricane Michael. The president tweeting this morning they will, quote, "Visit with FEMA, first responders and law enforcement. Maximum effort," he wrote, "is taking place. Everyone is working very hard. Worst hit in 50 years."

One of the worst hit areas of Florida's panhandle is Mexico Beach.

That's where we find CNN's Martin Savidge.

Martin, rescue and recovery workers have been on the scene. Where do we stand in terms of progress? The list of people unaccounted for on Mexico Beach is down to 30, maybe 35.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And it's important to stress that we're talking about unaccounted for as opposed to something that sounds more serious, which is missing. According to the city manager, 90 percent of this community has now been searched by those search and recovery teams. So they have made tremendous progress. But there's still a significant amount that has to be checked, and a lot of it is the really hard stuff to go through, the massive debris field as you know well, Erica.

Here's the problem. You're talking about a community that is called the forgotten coast. There are a lot of people who used to live here that were used to a lifestyle where they didn't have to account to anybody, primarily.