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Saudis to Permit Search of Consulate; Trump Takes Questions Before Leaving for Florida; Trump's Call with Saudi King; Warren Releases DNA and Video. Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired October 15, 2018 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That is remarkable, Nic, to see those cleaning crews go in there, at the very least an alleged crime scene, to go in there before investigators are allowed to do all of this.
Before you go, the Saudi media on a campaign here calling this potential rumors, fake news, et cetera, warning against that.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. You know, I think the mood in Saudi Arabia right now, and amongst its allies, is to rally behind the leadership, rally behind the country. The lines appear to be drawn. They're saying that they weren't involved in this murder and that any allegations of such are unfounded allegations and are warning people about using those kinds of allegations.
You know, it does seem that the two countries, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are still poles (ph) apart on this. But this warning in the media in Saudi Arabia, not to inflame a situation by erroneous tweets is symptomatic, it would seem to me at least, to what Jamal Khashoggi was trying to stand up and wave a red flag about when he disappeared after he went into the consulate.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, notable to hear the Saudis use the term fake news as well.
SCIUTTO: Of course, a favorite term of President Trump.
Nic Robertson, in Turkey, thanks very much.
We're going to speak now to Ambassador Robert Jordan. He was the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Bush administration. He's also author of the book "Desert Diplomat."
Ambassador, thank you for taking the time. I had the privilege of meeting you in Saudi Arabia in the months after 9/11.
ROBERT JORDAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: Indeed.
SCIUTTO: So it's nice to speak again.
JORDAN: Thank you. SCIUTTO: You have described this time between the U.S./Saudi Arabia as the worst time in U.S./Saudi relations since 9/11. Of course, you know, a time when the U.S. became aware that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.
SCIUTTO: Why is -- why is this such a crisis in your view?
JORDAN: Jim, this is a crisis because we are struggling to find any plausible explanation for what happened to Jamal Khashoggi other than that he was murdered in that consulate. He was a U.S. resident, an employee of a respected U.S. newspaper.
The Saudis' denials come on the heels, of course, of their performance at the Ritz Carlton last November when so many hundreds of people were incarcerated, some of whom apparently were tortured.
We have this also on the heels of a disastrous war in Yemen and a lot of other conduct by the Saudis that I think we have to find questionable.
And so we are on a downward spiral right now and the Saudi's denials, the Saudis' refusals to allow access to the consulate, this fiasco of seeing this cleaning crew this morning coming in, all of this suggests that the Saudis are not shooting straight with us.
And let me give you an example, Jim. Right after 9/11, I arrived as ambassador and I went to the governor of Riyadh, prince Salman, who is now the king, and I asked him, how could it be that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. And you know what he told me. He said, no, there were no Saudis. This was Israelis who did this. So even Secretary Pompeo will get some kind of a line from this king right now and I think --
SCIUTTO: Ambassador, hold on one moment. The president's about to speak.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With Pastor Brunson. Some of you were there. And he had a fantastic weekend. He's back home. And we love the fact that he's pack home. He's with his family. And he's a very happy man.
He left Turkey. He is extremely thrilled. And, as I said, really yesterday more than ever that we want to thank Turkey, we want to thank President Erdogan.
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. I've asked -- and he firmly denied that. I've asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to immediately get on a plane, go to Saudi Arabia, go to other places if necessary, which he probably will, but with regard to this, go to Turkey if necessary.
The king told me that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are working hand in hand, very closely, on getting to the bottom of what happened. So we'll see what happens.
But Mike Pompeo -- excuse me, Mike Pompeo is leaving literally within an hour or so. He's heading to Saudi Arabia. We are going to leave nothing uncovered.
With that being said, 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 these 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.
[09:35:06] TRUMP: What?
QUESTION: When he told you that (INAUDIBLE)?
TRUMP: All I can do is report what he told me. And he told me in a very firm way that they had no knowledge of it. He said it very strongly.
TRUMP: Well, that was not part of the deal. We had no deal with Turkey. We don't make deals -- any deals for hostages or prisoners. But I will tell you that I feel much differently about Turkey today than I felt about them two days ago. I have a very good feeling toward Turkey. Two days ago, I did not. So that helps.
TRUMP: I don't know. We're going to try getting to the bottom of it. I can only tell you that his denial to me, it was just one very, you know, relatively fast phone call, probably lasted 20 minutes. His denial to me could not have been stronger, that he had no knowledge, and it sounded like he, and also the crowned prince, had no knowledge.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you have any --
TRUMP: We didn't talk about that. We didn't talk about that. 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. He did say very strongly that he's dealing with Turkey, that they've come to an agreement, that they're investigating it together, and I think that's a good thing.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what is your reaction to Senator Elizabeth Warren releasing the results of her DNA test?
TRUMP: No, I have no -- who --
QUESTION: Are you going to donate $1 million --
TRUMP: Who cares? Who cares? QUESTION: Mr. President, you said you would donate $1 million to the
TRUMP: I didn't say that. I didn't -- you better read it again.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what --
TRUMP: Say it?
I'm sorry, you have a helicopter roaring in the background. Go ahead.
TRUMP: No, not a theory, but the denial was very strong. It wasn't like there was a question in his mind. The denial was very, very strong.
TRUMP: I hope she's running for president because I think she'd be very easy. I hope that she is running. I do not think she would be difficult at all. She'll destroy the country. She'll make our country into Venezuela.
With that being said, I don't want to say bad things about her because I hope she would be one of the people that would get through the process. It's going to be a long process for the Democrats.
QUESTION: To Sears going bankrupt? What is your reaction to Sears going bankrupt?
TRUMP: It's a shame. So Sears Roebuck, when I was growing up, was the big deal. And it's very sad what happened. Very, very sad. When you look at that whole filing that they did last night, to me it's very sad. Somebody that is of my generation, Sears Roebuck was a big deal. So it's very sad to see.
TRUMP: And I will say, with that -- with that being said, I would imagine some of those great sites that Sears has, they really have some great sites, will be put to good use. It will be a lot -- a lot of jobs. Sears has been dying for many years. It's been, obviously, improperly run for many years and it's a shame.
TRUMP: I'm not taking anything off the table. No, we're going to try and find out. I'm just explaining --
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE). TRUMP: No, no. Look, I'm just explaining very easily, I think, what was told to me a half an hour ago. And the denial was not only a denial, it was a very firm denial. So we will check it all out. We'll get to the bottom of it, OK?
TRUMP: No, North Korea's coming along very well. Relationships are very good. I think a lot of good things will happen. It's complicated. You know, we've done things in three or four months that nobody's done in 70 years. But I think North Korea's coming along very well.
I'll see you -- I'll see you in Florida. Thank you.
TRUMP: And she did a great job on television the other night. And I didn't do so bad either, but she did a great job on television.
Thank you, everybody.
SCIUTTO: Just heard the president there, departing for Florida, to survey hurricane damage.
And some remarkable words from him. One, saying that he's spoken to the Saudi leader and that the Saudi leader, and the president repeated this a number of times, firmly denies involvement in Jamal Khashoggi's killing, and the president citing that as evidence, apparently, the firmness of the denial, recalling his comments about Vladimir Putin's firm denials about interference in the U.S. election. That, of course, despite U.S. intelligence to the contrary. The president also saying there before he walked away that things with North Korea coming along very well.
[09:40:23] I want to bring back Ambassador Robert Jordan. He was ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Bush administration just after 9/11.
Ambassador, as you listened to the president's comments there, accepting, in effect, at face value Saudi denials of involvement, does that signal to Saudi Arabia and to others that the president is giving them a pass on this?
JORDAN: Well, I think you have to worry about that. But, let's remember, this is the same King Salman who told me right after 9/11 that the 9/11 attacks were an Israeli plot. And he said that firmly. Did I believe that? Of course not. So I don't think you can go in with wide-eyed acceptance of anything some of these world leaders say.
It's also, by the way, quite possible that King Salman didn't know about this. It was in the hands of his son, the crown prince. But, nonetheless, I think we've got to have a thorough investigation. The Saudi delay of 13 days has made it all the harder to find forensic evidence, I suspect. The cleaning crews have made it harder. But you have to look at the pattern and you have to look at the circumstances of the 15 hitmen coming, the two private airplanes and be able to draw some conclusions with what we can find.
SCIUTTO: I mean it's remarkable. It's why we speak to folks like you, ambassador, that experience matters here. The idea that the Saudi king told you after 9/11 it was an Israeli plot. Something worth noting.
I want to ask you this because you, of course, in that role, you've dealt with U.S. businesses. You do a lot of work in Saudi Arabia, whether it's oil companies buying Saudi oil or defense contractors selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. The president has taken weapons sales off the table in effect. But yet he says there will be severe punishment if he concludes that Saudi Arabia is responsible for this. What penalty do you believe would conceivably change Saudi behavior, that would have bite here, that would have teeth to have an effect?
JORDAN: Well, I think there's a range of sanctions. First of all, I think the private sector can play a big role here. This conference scheduled for Riyadh next week is likely to turn out to be a disaster. People like Jamie Dimon backing out, I certainly hope Schwartzman and Dina Powell and others also back out. I think it's important for the Saudi to understand that their prestige on the international scene is at stake here, and that's very important to them.
Number two, I think we've got all sorts of repair parts, consulting and things of that nature with regard to many of our military programs with the Saudis that can be put on hold. If the U.S. and the Brits, for example, deny further spare parts and midair refueling to the Saudis, their air force will be grounded in about two days. So we don't have to have $110 billion of new contracts in order to have leverage over the Saudis and they would be desperate to receive assistance from us.
SCIUTTO: Interesting, Marco Rubio made that their point. He said that arms deals are, in effect, because of those long term relationships, spare parts, et cetera, support, they're a means of exerting influence with allies and partners, et cetera.
SCIUTTO: A final point, if I can, for you, because you mentioned boycotting this conference, this Davos in the desert, as it's being called, this week.
SCIUTTO: And a lot of folks are pulling out. But let's be frank, that's just a conference. You know, when it comes to cold, hard cash, will U.S. firms that make a lot of money in Saudi Arabia, including as part of the crown prince's new plan to diversify beyond oil, will they actually sacrifice profits for principle here?
JORDAN: Well, I think it's not merely profits for principle. I think they also have a reputational damage that they're putting at risk here. So I think their board of directors and their shareholders are going to have a say in this. They need to be sure that they're doing business with the right people. If they wanted to have massive, lucrative contracts with North Korea, I don't think their shareholders and directors would stand for it. And this may be cascading down into some kind of a similar situation.
SCIUTTO: Ambassador Robert Jordan, thanks very much for sharing your expertise and experience.
JORDAN: Thank you. Thank you.
HARLOW: That was a fascinating interview, and his experience in Saudi Arabia after 9/11 --
SCIUTTO: The same king denying Saudi --
HARLOW: King Salman said to him, it was not us, when 15 of the hijackers were indeed --
SCIUTTO: Yes, the Israelis (INAUDIBLE).
HARLOW: Exactly. An important voice to have, let's bring back in our political analyst as well, Ryan Lizza and A.B. Stoddard are here.
So, Ryan, I mean in the same breath practically the president said we're going to leave nothing uncovered, but all I can do is tell you what the Saudi king told me. That is not all you can do. The president often opines on what he thinks beyond what someone has said.
How dangerous is that? Because it is almost verbatim what he has said about Vladimir Putin and election meddling. Well ,the president -- well, Putin said he didn't do it.
[09:45:06] RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, rogue killers is the new 400-pound person sitting on their --
HARLOW: In their basement.
LIZZA: In their basement.
And I think we all had the same reaction to your interview with the ambassador, who reminded -- or I didn't even know this -- that the Saudi king, after 9/11, just made something up, just lied.
Now, imagine George W. Bush went out on to the White House lawn after he was informed of what the Saudi king said and said, oh, I just heard from the Saudi king and it was -- this was an Israeli plot, right?
LIZZA: I mean imagine how astonished we would all be.
And, of course, why did the Saudi king do that? Well, he may have known at the time that some of the names of the hijackers, 15 of them were Saudi nationals, of course. So I think most presidents, when they're faced with a murder like
this, what they talk about first are American values, the importance of international law, why America cares about someone like this being murdered, right? That's what most American presidents would normally do. President Trump views --
SCIUTTO: Not most American presidents. American presidents of Republican or Democratic Party --
LIZZA: All modern presidents.
SCIUTTO: Would make that statement.
LIZZA: But he -- but Trump views American values as a hindrance to what we want to do on the world stage. He thinks that China and Russia and these other countries, they don't care about democracy and human rights and it allows them to act -- to act on the world stage in a way that -- where these values don't get involved. Whereas American presidents, they're constantly talking about human rights and democracy and these kinds of things and that it doesn't allow us to do what we want. That's his view of the world, that the world is a kind of jungle and real politic is the only way and that these kinds of things are a nuisance.
HARLOW: A.B., it seems to be pretty clear here that the president thinks that if he upsets Saudi Arabia enough that he won't get, a, those, you know, arms purchases, but arguably, much more importantly, their help in a Middle East peace deal, if one is achievable, on Iran. I mean it seems like he is weighing here the cost of calling out Saudi Arabia more directly.
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": He's told us this, Poppy, for days, that this is all transactional, that this is sort of collateral damage on the way to a relationship he's put a lot of effort into, and so has his son-in-law. He thought things were going great. He has basically said that he is giving up on the idea of sanctions or canceling the weapons deal as leverage or punishment. And so what else is there left? We are looking -- we basically admitted we're in a weakened posture flat on the floor because we're giving up this leverage. We've refuse to punish.
I'm sure that conversation with the king went very well because the Saudis have gotten quite brazen. There are ways to sneak sanitation machines and cleansing products into a place to clean it up without having them come through the front door. And they got a whole bunch of Middle Eastern countries to come out yesterday in solidarity with them and they're playing hardball. I think Trump's letting them.
SCIUTTO: Yes, let's be frank about the idea of rogue killers. If the president were to accept that explanation at face value, this would be rogue killers inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey, Saudi diplomatic territory, who pulled this off and brought a body out possibly with no knowledge of anybody involved.
HARLOW: With no knowledge.
SCIUTTO: It's just --
LIZZA: It's absurd. And -- yes.
SCIUTTO: Difficult to find credible.
LIZZA: And just throw in -- and once these things are said by the president, they take on a life of their own.
LIZZA: And now there will be people who believe this as a possibility.
HARLOW: It strains credulity, no question, but, you know, politically, what does it look like for the president and he's calculating all of that. Thank you both very much.
Do you remember what the president said on camera, on tape, that he would pay $1 million to Senator Elizabeth Warren's charity of choice if she took a DNA test that proved her Native American history? Well, today, Senator Warren says, Mr. President, pay up.
[09:52:29] SCIUTTO: New this morning, a big announcement from senator and possible presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.
HARLOW: The Massachusetts Democrat has been dogged for years about her claims of having Native American heritage. Today, she released the results of a DNA test to "The Boston Globe."
Joining us now to discuss, CNN's senior political analyst Mark Preston.
Drum roll. Mark, the results say what?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the results say what you want them to say in many ways. If we're going to get right down to bare bone facts, a geneticist from Stanford University has told Elizabeth Warren that she does have some Native American blood in her. It seems to be very little. It's about six in 10 generations ago. But it certainly has opened a whole new can of worms as we look at this matchup between Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. And I think what we saw from today's video, today's announcement, it shows that Elizabeth Warren is absolutely running for president in 2020.
SCIUTTO: Mark, you know, I'm curious, is this a sign of the Trump era to some degree because -- because you might imagine that a U.S. senator and possible presidential candidate would ignore, or not dignify, you know often use that term, a claim such as this or an attack such as this. But, clearly, Elizabeth Warren felt the need to push back. PRESTON: Yes, no question. And you have to wonder why it took her this
long. This is a claim that has been around since 2012 that was in her Senate run against Scott Brown. But if you look at where we are right now, she released a video, she released results of this exam. Jim, we're in a time where I think that if you're a Democrat and you're looking at running in 2020, you really have to distinguish yourself and you have to kick over any rock and look for anything underneath that rock that may cause your problems in a primary. That may give a Democratic voter a decision to go with somebody else.
In this case, what we've seen Elizabeth Warren do three things today. One, she's trying to put this to rest this controversy. Two, she's clearly telegraphing that she is looking at running in 2020. If you look at the imagery of that video, it is very, very telling. And, three, she is clearly pitting herself against Donald Trump.
[09:55:04] HARLOW: She's also having a little bit of fun trolling the president this morning, Mark --
PRESTON: I know (ph).
HARLOW: Because he did say on July 5th at a rally in Montana that I'll give you a million dollars paid for by Trump to your favorite charity if you, Elizabeth Warren, take a DNA test. Well, she did. And now this morning she's calling him out on Twitter saying, here's the charity I want you to give it to, Mr. President.
PRESTON: Right. And he is saying, ah, don't listen to that. Go back and look at what I said and look at what I said. So this will be a good fight to see in the coming days.
HARLOW: Yes. I mean I just read what he said, but, you know, I guess it's a new day.
PRESTON: Crazy (ph).
HARLOW: We'll -- maybe saying something new there.
SCIUTTO: The facts.
HARLOW: There are the facts.
SCIUTTO: Occasionally, the facts matter.
SCIUTTO: Mark Preston, thanks very much.
President Trump on his way to the Florida panhandle, this as dozens of people still unaccounted for in the town hit hardest by Michael. Just look at those pictures these days later. The president is headed that way.