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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Warren vs. Trump; Saudis Preparing to Admit Journalist Was Killed. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 15, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: First time I have ever heard, "No no, no, I'm sorry, we just meant to torture him" used as an excuse.

THE LEAD starts right now.

So, breaking news, two sources now saying he was killed and the Saudis are getting ready to acknowledge that a U.S.-based journalist died in their custody during what they call an interrogation gone wrong. Will this force President Trump to take action against the Saudis?

President Trump mocking her as Pocahontas, but, today, possible 2020 Senator Elizabeth Warren claiming she has DNA proof of a Native American ancestor, but some critics are saying, hey, not so fast.

Plus, President Trump says he's not sure about manmade climate change, despite the consensus of scientists. Maybe if the EPA didn't keep getting rid of scientists, he would have a better idea of what's really going on.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news in the world lead and the disappearance of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Two sources now telling CNN that the Saudi government is preparing to admit that Khashoggi was indeed killed in their custody after he entered the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, almost two weeks ago and never came back out.

This news coming just hours after President Trump said he believed the Saudi king's denial of any knowledge of the disappearance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The king firmly denied any knowledge of it. He didn't really know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is bringing us this story. She's in Ankara, Turkey, with the new reporting.

Clarissa, so, am I to understand the Saudis are planning to claim, this was, A, rogue, and, B, a botched operation?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly what we're hearing from these two sources.

They have conducted this internal investigation into what happened in the consulate, and they are preparing to acknowledge that Jamal Khashoggi was indeed killed in the consulate in, as you said, a kind of botched operation, an interrogation went wrong.

The idea had been primarily to abduct him from Turkey, presumably to take him back to the kingdom. And what I'm hearing from these sources is that this operation was not carried out, according to the sources, with the proper level of clearance and transparency, that apparently some kind of a nod to the idea that potentially the crown prince, the king himself were not aware of this.

That will be a little bit difficult for some people to believe. Of course, this is a vertical power structure, Jake. The crown prince and the king know pretty much everything that goes on in the country. But these two sources saying to us that heads are going to roll, essentially, that disciplinary action will be taken against the people who killed Khashoggi, that it was never the intention.

More broadly speaking, though, one of our sources did caution that this is still kind of a work in motion, that Saudis could potentially still change the narrative, but this very much seems to be gelling with what we heard from President Trump earlier when he himself talked about this idea of rogue killers, Jake.

TAPPER: Rogue killers. Saudi Arabia not exactly known for free- thinking freelancers. Clarissa Ward, thanks so much.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is right now en route to Saudi Arabia on President Trump's orders to meet with members of the Saudi regime. This all comes as Turkish investigators were for the first time today given access to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi was last seen.

CNN's Alex Marquardt joins me now.

And, Alex, who is Secretary Pompeo expected to meet with?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, so far, all we know is that he plans to meet with the Saudi king, King Salman.

Both Salman and his son, the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, have of course denied any role in the killing of Khashoggi. And if the Saudis do put out that report that you were just talking about, that this operation was carried out without clearance from the top, or rogue killers, as President Trump said earlier, that is the line that Secretary Pompeo can expect to get.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT (voice-over): As the world grows increasingly convinced that a hit team was sent from Saudi Arabia to murder and dismember Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump is hedging his bets.

TRUMP: I just spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia, who denies any knowledge of what took place with regard to, as he said, his Saudi Arabian citizen.

MARQUARDT: The latest example in a long list of the president siding with the accused, rather than the accuser.

While sources tell CNN the Saudis are ready to admit he was killed, there is still no official response from Saudi Arabia about what happened to Khashoggi after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago.

President Trump floated a new theory of who could be behind it.

TRUMP: It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows? We're going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon.

[16:05:07]

MARQUARDT: A highly unlikely explanation for an alleged murder inside a Saudi government building.

But it comes as Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have forged a close bond with the Saudi king and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, and as the White House works to secure $110 billion in arms sales to the kingdom.

TRUMP: They're spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs, like jobs and others for this country.

MARQUARDT: Also today, Saudi Arabia agreeing to allow Turkish investigators inside the consulate. But before that could happen, CNN observed a team of cleaners entering the consulate with mops, buckets and other cleaning materials.

Up on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats are in lockstep, mulling sanctions and possible punishment for the Saudis.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The only two things that could have happened is, he's alive and somehow still in there, or he's dead and the Saudis are the ones who did it. There is no other explanation for it.

MARQUARDT: Senator Marco Rubio, among others, disagreeing with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's decision to still attend an economic conference hosted by the crown prince in Riyadh.

RUBIO: I don't think he should go. I don't think any of our government officials should be going and pretending as it's business as usual until we know exactly what's happened here. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And, Jake, even if Secretary Mnuchin does end up going, it would be highly embarrassing for MBS to host that conference with some of its biggest names not attending.

The list of executives that is not going reads like a who's who of the business world, the CEOs of J.P. Chase, MasterCard and Uber, along with media companies like "The New York Times" and CNN.

So it remains to be seen whether MBS can really convince the business world that he was not involved in this -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks.

Let's talk about this with my experts.

Jen Psaki, you worked for the Obama White House. What you know of Saudi Arabia, is it possible that there were rogue operators, 15 of them, that fly into Turkey and interrogates and then, whether it's accident or not, kill this person? Is it possible that would happen without the king or the crown prince knowing about it?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. Highly unlikely. Highly unlikely that the king or the crown prince wouldn't know about the operation, highly unlikely that two planes would have flown in without them knowing about the operation.

And, remember, this all happened in the embassy. So it's not as if it was happening in another country or a hotel or another location. You know, I think the Saudis have not been the best -- not had the best record on human rights for decades, as you alluded to. That is certainly the case.

Past presidents or past administrations have done slightly more to hold them accountable, raise issues when they come up in meetings. But this has always been a difficult issue in their relationship, given the military-to-military sales.

I would say this president has done -- taken a step farther they by really giving them license to let -- be abusive of the centers and of reporters. They know that and I think they certainly knew that he wouldn't be vocally outspoken about this issue if they were to move forward with whether it was rendition or obviously more than that.

TAPPER: Let me ask a question. If it comes out that the Saudis do, do what CNN is reporting they're preparing to do, acknowledge that they killed Khashoggi, but they say it's an accident and they say it was rogue operators, does President Trump then accept their explanation and move on? Or is he going to be forced by Congress to do more?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, obviously, there was some talk last week of the Magnitsky Act being implemented and the president having to do...

TAPPER: That would be an investigation.

URBAN: And say we're going to have sanctions against a country or not. And then you heard some on the Hill say, look, sanctions forestalling these arms sales then really puts us -- it hamstrings us further down the road, because then we can't hold back spare parts and further technical assistance, so we lose all leverage at that point.

So it is a difficult tight rope to -- tightrope to walk here. But, look, it's hard to believe, right, that all of this is kind of hard to believe. This gentleman walks in the front door, CCTV everywhere. If the Saudi intelligence agency didn't know that, and they thought they were just going to eliminate this guy from the face of the earth with nobody knowing, they're pretty ham-handed.

And so the narrative that he was killed during an intense interrogation situation, and then nobody knew what to do, who knows if that's the case. But that may be the theme we're going to hear here. And they -- you know, some high-level intelligence officer and the Saudi kingdom is then put forth as a scapegoat. And they kind of move forward.

That may be the case. And the world may be forced to accept that, because they're not going to find out the truth. The folks who are going in there, the Turkish forensic scientists, are going to find very little by way of any evidence, is my guess.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Amanda, I want to get your reaction, because President Trump this morning floated the idea that maybe it was some rogue operators, the king denies it.

[16:10:03]

TAPPER: Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat of Connecticut, obviously very critical of President Trump, on the Foreign Relations Committee tweeted in response -- quote -- "Been hearing the ridiculous rogue killers theory was where the Saudis would go with this. Absolutely extraordinary. They were able to enlist the president of the United States as their P.R. agent to float it."

Do you agree?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, this whole idea that this was an accident is bogus.

Accidents don't require planning. We know that Jamal went to the consulate. He was told to return at a certain date. When people go into interrogation, they usually don't bring bone saws to dispose of a body. That requires planning.

This was all reported by "The Washington Post," according to what Turkish authorities told them. We also know that it is likely that he recorded this on his Apple Watch. We can know what happened. We can find out where he is.

The fact that people are just attributing this to this rogue thing that went wrong, no, this is very discoverable, as it should be.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: But don't forget, it's being put forward by the Turks.

TAPPER: Yes.

URBAN: Who are sworn enemies of the Saudis.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: It is true that we have two operators here that you can't really rely on anything they're saying, but we know he disappeared.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: And they did release the pastor too, which the Turks are also taking advantage of the moment.

TAPPER: Joe, I want to get your response.

The Saudis are obviously, it looks like, going to deny responsibility. I want you to take a listen to what President Trump said he told the king this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I did say, this is very important. The world is watching. The world is talking. And this is very important to get to the bottom of it. And I think he understands that very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you think he understands that very well, King Salman? I don't know how much King Salman understands at all. But do you think MBS, let's say, the crown prince, do you think he understands what's going on?

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, not at all.

I think when you have the president saying the king told me they didn't do it, and I agree with him, we will never know, that's just -- you know, why don't the Chinese just pick up the phone and call the president and deny anything that he's ever accused them of?

Why doesn't the fat guy on the bed...

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI: Yes, call in and say, I wasn't one of the hackers? It's just -- this is -- he's not doing what he needs to do here.

TAPPER: What does he need to do? What do you think President Trump needs to do?

TRIPPI: I think what a lot of members in Congress are calling for him to do, which is to make it clear that we want to get to the bottom of it. We're not going to take their word for it. We want facts. And that we're not going to take that this was some kind of accident.

TAPPER: Are we ever going to get facts? You saw them sending in a cleaning crew two weeks after the date. I'm sure there have been a few cleaning crews in that consulate.

PSAKI: Well, look, thanks to reporting, we know a lot, a lot of what happened here, and we can kind of put together what likely happened here.

Will we get a report from the Turks? Probably, we won't. I think what President Trump has also been very clear about is that he doesn't really care about human rights issues. He cares about business relationships, he cares about selling military, you know, equipment to the Saudis.

What could he do? A lot of members of Congress are calling for things like sanctions. They call for a lot from both parties. We are very good at that in the United States. Rarely do we actually do anything. I doubt anything will actually happen.

But President Trump could put a little more specifics...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Listen, I think it's no -- it is one thing, you know, the president dispatched the secretary of state this morning.

TAPPER: He's on his way to Saudi Arabia right now.

URBAN: And before he lands, the Saudis come up with a story and have a story, because I assure you, when Secretary of State Pompeo lands and has to go talk to somebody, he wasn't coming back with, and going to shrug his shoulders.

PSAKI: But the reality is, they want it to go away. President Trump wants this to go away and continue the military relationship.

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI: The other reality is the president of the United States for over a year called the press enemies of the people. I'm sure that wasn't lost on the king or the crown prince.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Every stick around. We're going to keep talking about this.

In addition, he's mocked her as Pocahontas. What is President Trump saying today after Senator Elizabeth Warren says she has genetic proof of a Native American ancestor?

Plus, President Trump is now saying he knows more about NATO than James Mattis, you know, the former commander of NATO, James Mattis. Is another Cabinet exit on the way? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:02] TAPPER: Welcome back.

President Trump stunning the political world by seeming to believe denials from the prince of Saudi Arabia they had anything to do with the mysterious disappearance and likely murder of "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

Before departing the White House for Florida this morning, Mr. Trump even seemed to parrot the Saudi line, saying it could be, quote, rogue killers who carried out the brazen operation that took place within Turkish borders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 this could have been rogue killers. Who knows?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's seemingly credulous language that we've heard from the president before when someone he wants to get along with has been accused of something quite awful, such as whether Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Or whether his then staff secretary, Rob Porter, previously engaged in spousal abuse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He says he's innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So you'll have to talk to him about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Or whether a Senate candidate he endorsed once sexually assaulted teen girls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it. And by the way, he totally denies. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Or whether his campaign chair once engaged in financial crimes.

(BEGIN VIIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And on and on.

When it comes to the denials by the Saudis, however, Republican Senator Marco Rubio put it rather starkly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: So the only two things that could have happened is, he's alive and somehow still in there, or he's dead and the Saudis are the ones who did it. There's no other explanation for it, because if there was video of him leaving, they would have shown it by now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:20:03] TAPPER: Let's discuss with our experts.

So, President Trump, perhaps, is going to be given a hand where he came out and said it was rogue operators. And then the Saudis perhaps actually put that forward, and the rest of the world says, that's really hard to believe.

CARPENTER: It is. But is it also disturbing to watch, put the comments together this morning about rogue killers with Lesley Stahl's question of Trump about Putin killing the people in Skripal. He says, maybe rogue killers. Probably happened.

Isn't there a missing degree of empathy there? Like, we're talking about people that have been murdered. And he doesn't care to express any sympathy for the families?

TAPPER: In fact, we have that sound. Let's play that. This is President Trump when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin on "60 Minutes" by Lesley Stahl.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESLEY STAHL, "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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So it does seem to be important to him whether it happens in the United States or not.

CARPENTER: The thing that's odd and disconcerting is that he's shrugging it off. I mean, there is a pattern here. And I think people should take notice of the speech he gave in Saudi Arabia when he went on his first trip abroad there.

At the time, he was criticized because he broke with predecessors for not taking a stand on human rights. And he essentially went there at the Ritz-Carlton, where people were later imprisoned, and said, we're not going to lecture you, tell you what to do or how to live. And everybody took notice on that.

But I do think it is a part of his foreign policy. He's going to turn a blind eye to this, as long as he can continue to advance his political and business goals. That's the thread that runs through all of this.

TAPPER: David, it does seem to be that he thinks we can win or we can be good and stand up for human rights. But we can't do both.

URBAN: I think it's obviously a false choice. False narrative. You can do both. You can win at the same time.

I think when the president talks about not in our country, right, I think what he's trying to get at, you're not going to be able to have 100 percent certainty, because our FBI, our police, or anybody, you can't get down to it. Look, we're never going to know with any degree of certainty what happened in the consulate in Saudi Arabia. We're not going to know. I mean, something bad happened.

CARPENTER: If the iPhone tape comes out, we'll know.

URBAN: They're not going to -- I've listened to some intelligence experts.

CARPENTER: If we see the guy chopped up in body bags, we'll know.

URBAN: You're not going to find that.

CARPENTER: Why not? Maybe Jared can call his friend.

URBAN: It will be out there already if it was. So, there's not going to be a degree of certainty. So, I think that's the president is talking about. We know something very bad happened there.

And, you know, exactly what happened and transpired, you wouldn't know unless it occurred here in the United States and our experts could tell you.

TAPPER: So, take a listen to Lesley Stahl asking President Trump about Kim Jong-un and the fact that he said we fell in love. We fell in love. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STAHL: He presides over a cruel kingdom of repression, gulags, starvation, reports that he had his half brother assassinated, slave labor, public executions. This is a guy you love?

TRUMP: I know all these things. I mean, I'm not a baby. I know these things.

STAHL: Why do you love that guy?

TRUMP: Look -- look.

STAHL: Hmmm.

TRUMP: I like -- I get along with him, OK?

STAHL: But you said love him.

TRUMP: OK. That's just a figure of speech.

STAHL: No, it's like an embrace.

TRUMP: Well, let it be an embrace. Let it be whatever it is to get the job done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Let it be whatever it is to get the job done. He is saying, who cares what I say? I'm trying to eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat.

PSAKI: Well, we can put aside being disturbed about his love for a series of dictators, despots and basically horrible human beings. The fact is all of these people are manipulating him. Kim Jong-un is manipulating him, President Putin is manipulating him. They all want him to validate them, to the rest of the world. They want the United States to validate North Korea's efforts, even though they've really done nothing.

President Putin wants to return to the global community. President Trump is helping him do that. That is what is so sad and pathetic about this, is that he is being manipulated --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: -- everybody show the Russians. They are the largest NATO exercise going on now in Norway. The U.S. participated -- tip of the spear of this whole thing now. I'm pretty sure the Russians don't feel the U.S. is welcoming them with open arms right now, as we speak.

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But the other thing is, what did he just say in all of that --

URBAN: He wants results, Joe. It's what he's talking about. TRIPPI: -- that stops any dictator, that makes any dictator anywhere in the world think twice about doing more of it?

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: He said, I don't care what you say.

TRIPPI: Why do you think the Saudis thought they could get away with this?

URBAN: Do you think that's why?

TRIPPI: Yes, because normally the president of the United States or at least the United States steps in and says enough, and no. And they actually start to do something about it. This president never has.

PSAKI: This is --

TRIPPI: Joe, what president -- push the rewind tape. Show me a president in a U.S. history that stood at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and condemned the Saudis.

TAPPER: It's an excellent point.

[16:25:00] TRIPPI: Well, we --

TAPPER: Silence. Crickets.

TRIPPI: Tell me when the Saudis have murdered somebody in a Turkish facility.

URBAN: Saudis have murdered people every day in Riyadh.

TAPPER: But not in NATO member country.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: I think the point Joe is raising is really important.

URBAN: And my point is --

PSAKI: The Saudis and others have been more on their heels in the past, because they knew there would be a movement to act by presidents of the United States of both parties prior to President Trump.

URBAN: And this is the first time women are able to drive in Saudi Arabia, restrictions being lifted.

TAPPER: And women activists are thrown in prison.

URBAN: But this ruler is moving to the left as much as he can, helping Israel in the Middle East.

TAPPER: MBS, you're defending MBS now?

URBAN: I'm saying, in terms of who has been out there, who has been --

TAPPER: OK.

URBAN: -- more pro-Western.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

Senator Elizabeth Warren says she has the DNA proof to back up her claim of Native American ancestry. Are we witnessing day one of the Warren for president 2020 campaign? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead, and the strongest indication yet that Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has her sights set on the White House.

Amid criticisms from President Trump and others that she has misrepresented part of her biography, the Massachusetts senator released this campaign style video and a DNA test today.