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Trump Claims Saudi Journalist May Be a Victim of "Rogue Killers"; Trump and First Lady Tour Storm Devastation in Florida; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 15, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:26] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I'm Jim Sciutto.

President Trump is on his way to Florida this hour to see the devastation from and federal response to Hurricane Michael. And as we heard just moments ago, he stopped on his way out to weigh in on the mystery surrounding the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Some really remarkable comments from this president.

HARLOW: Right. He said he spoke with the Saudi king this morning who is in the president's words, quote, "firmly denying any role in Khashoggi's fate." He also said he is sending the secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, today to meet with the king in person. Listen.


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 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.

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.


HARLOW: Let's bring in CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby, and our political analyst Molly Ball.

Thank you both for being here and good morning.

Admiral Kirby, to you, what is the danger of U.S. president coming out like the president just did moments ago and saying all I can do is tell you what he, the king of Saudi Arabia, told me. And essentially in so many words saying to the American people, just take him at face value.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, well, I think you hit the nail on the head there, Poppy. That's exactly the problem is, I mean, he's talking about wanting an open, credible investigation and he's leap-frogging in front of that and saying well, the king said it didn't happen so it must not have happened rather than working the process and compelling. And he has leverage to compel the Saudis to fully cooperate and to be transparent and credible throughout his investigative process so that he can get to an end where we can all know the truth.

SCIUTTO: John Kirby, we just had the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Bush administration, which is notable because that of course was in the months after 9/11, and he told us on the air moments ago --

KIRBY: Right. Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- that the same -- this same king told him after 9/11 that the 9/11 attacks were an Israeli plot. Why do the American people -- why should the president believe King Salman's denial here when of course he's got skin in this game, as it were? He's an interested party.

KIRBY: He shouldn't, and I hope he's not. And I hope that's why he's sending Mike Pompeo over there to get to the ground truth and to get the facts and to get the Saudis to fully cooperate and tell us what they know.

Look, I don't know about King Salman or what he knew and didn't know. I mean I think it's conceivable that he probably didn't know what was going on at the consulate in Istanbul. That I can -- I can reconcile myself with that. That said, it's highly unlikely I think that something like this could happen, certainly if it was premeditated, and nobody in the royal family would have any knowledge of this.

HARLOW: Well --

KIRBY: It's just not the way their government works.

HARLOW: And especially given the U.S. interests that showed at a minimum that there was discussion about capturing Khashoggi, right.

KIRBY: Right.

HARLOW: And bringing him back there.

KIRBY: Exactly.

HARLOW: Molly Ball, to you, this ties into the bigger picture that we saw, the Trump doctrine laid out bare for us in that interview on "60 Minutes" with Lesley Stahl last night. Let's take a moment and listen to where she pressed him on Vladimir Putin and Russia.


LESLEY STAHL, CBS' "60 MINUTES": Do you agree that Vladimir Putin is involved in assassinations, in poisonings?

TRUMP: Probably he is, yes. 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 why not, they shouldn't do it, this is a terrible thing? Instead --

TRUMP: Of course they shouldn't do it.


HARLOW: What is most significant about what the president has taught us with his own words, both in that answer and in this morning just now?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, this is a major test of the president's doctrine, as you said, the Trump doctrine. I think dictators and rulers all over the world are watching how America responds to this. It wouldn't be the first time that we basically -- that this president sort of coddled a dictator and allowed them to get away with all kinds of things and certainly he wouldn't be the first president to do that either, but I think this is going to be a major milestone in there's going to be a lot of pressure, including from within the administration to take a harder line, and we're going to see where the president comes down, you know, in that brief remark that he gave this morning.

He didn't say that he believes the Saudis. He simply reported what they said. He hasn't yet come down in terms -- he may be creeping up to it, but he hasn't yet come down and said where -- what he believes happened and what ought to be done about it. So this is going to be a test for that.

SCIUTTO: John Kirby, so the president says it didn't happen in our country.

[10:05:01] One, is that a signal to Russia that as long as you don't do it on the streets of Washington, you can kill whoever you like? And two, what does that say to the Brits? I speak in the British diplomats, spoken to them repeatedly, who are alarmed, concerned by the idea that Russia felt OK committing murder, attempted murder on their soil with a chemical weapon. What does it say to the British?

KIRBY: I think we've already committed to the British, this administration, that we don't really care that much because, I mean, even since the incident first happened, the United States' indignation hasn't been very high. There hasn't been any repercussions for Putin or Russia as a result of it. So I think we've already sent the message to Putin that this kind of thing is OK. And I do worry about that.

And you don't have to look any further, Jim, than his speech at the U.N. a couple of weeks ago where he talked about a nationalistic sovereignty, basically, we're not going to tell you how to live. You don't get involved in what we're doing and that's -- and everything is going to be fine. Missing the point that the United States leadership on the global stage does matter. And we should be holding other governments accountable for these kinds of acts so that we can promote better security and stability around the world.

HARLOW: Molly, looking overall at the president and the politics of this, right, ahead of the midterms, is this helpful to other Republican candidates, especially in some of those most, you know, dangerous districts for them, to hear him talking like this, to hear him saying we're going to get to the bottom of it, but you know, all I can do is tell you what the Saudi king said to me or basically brushing off the acts of Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un?

BALL: You know, it depends on the Republican. Obviously you've got different Republicans running in very different environments. But in those Republicans that are in marginal districts, swing districts, swing states, purple states, they know that this election is first and foremost a referendum on the president. Even though he's not on the ballot, even though he has very little to do with some of these contests, the more he's in the frame, the more he reminds people how much they either like or don't like him.

And given that the president is unpopular overall, particularly in these swing areas, the more he's in the frame, the more he's stirring up controversy, the more he's sort of hogging the spotlight, the more I think those Republicans sort of cringe and wish he would find something else to do for a few weeks.

SCIUTTO: Molly Ball, Admiral Kirby, thanks very much.

Still ahead, Turkish and Saudi officials meeting as the investigation into the disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi ramps up. We will have a live update on that investigation ahead.

Plus, Hurricane Michael leaves parts of Florida in ruins and survivors scrambling for just the basics, food and water. Now some residents have resorted to looting.

HARLOW: And a CNN exclusive. One-on-one with Dr. Priscilla Chan. Her $61 billion initiative with her husband, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to secure what they call a future for everyone.


HARLOW: You and Mark have committed how much of your wealth to this?




[10:12:25] HARLOW: All right. New this morning, President Trump says he has spoken to Saudi King Salman over the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and that the king, quote, "firmly denies any knowledge of it." Also the president has said that he is sending his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today to speak with the king.

SCIUTTO: Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia says that it will allow the Turkey to search the consulate where the Turks say Khashoggi was tortured and killed nearly two weeks ago.

Joining us now is Clarissa Ward, CNN chief international correspondent. She's in Ankara, the capital of Turkey.

So a search today, two weeks after the alleged killing and after a cleaning crew went in today, what is the -- what is the usefulness of the search in the Turks' view?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the big question. I mean, certainly, it's being framed as a step forward, as a concession from the Saudis. The Turks have been pushing hard for this from day one. The Saudis initially said yes, of course, please be our guest. Then they appeared to roll back on that. Now finally allowing prosecutors and a forensics team in, though they haven't arrived yet.

And as you pointed out, Jim, the sight of that cleaning crew walking into the Istanbul consulate, unclear exactly what their role was or whether someone potentially just has a very good sense of humor, but certainly fair to say that imminently, it is expected that Turkish team of investigators could arrive at the consulate.

Meanwhile, the Saudis saying that they officially will be finishing up their own internal investigation into what happened to Khashoggi, and potentially we're hearing a clue from President Trump there about what they might try to shape the official narrative as being. He talked before about potentially rogue killers being to blame. Certainly, one source that I have spoken to says yes, it may be that they tried to categorize this as some kind of a rogue operation or potentially more likely as a botched operation. Without transparency and without the proper clearance -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: Clarissa, before you go, I mean, what is the messaging that you're hearing from the Saudi government directly through Saudi media? Right? Some of the terms that I have heard they're using fake news.

WARD: Well, they have made it very clear that fake news is indeed a criminal offense. There's been something of a campaign on Twitter warning people and Saudi citizens particularly that they can actually go to jail or face a hefty fine for peddling in what they call fake news. They're very clear on the fact on the one hand that they have nothing to do with this, but on the other hand, it appears that maybe they're trying to recast the narrative a bit, reshape it in a way that will allow for partial culpability but also with just enough wiggle room to gracefully get through this, although at this stage, Poppy, that seems like it might be quite a tough call.

[10:15:11] HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: And who else uses the term fake news?

HARLOW: Well, exactly.

SCIUTTO: And how many foreign authoritarian leaders have now repeated that term?

Clarissa Ward, in Ankara, thanks very much.

Let's discuss with Colonel Cedric Leighton, he's CNN military analyst, also served a number of times in Saudi Arabia.

Listen, so much to digest here with this story. I just wonder, I want your reaction as a former uniformed member of the U.S. Military, who served in the region, how does the region take the message? How does the world, how do U.S. allies take the message when a U.S. president appears to excuse or at least accept the denial of what's alleged here, the murder of a journalist, a Saudi journalist?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Jim, it's a green light for them. They see this, if you're a regional power that is engaged in similar acts, such as going after your dissidents, you will see that as a green light from the president of the United States to do what you feel you need to do in order to minimize the effect of a dissident.

And what happened in the case of Jamal Khashoggi is very clear. You know, no matter what his actual fate is, that something happened that allowed for the Saudis not only to exercise their power, but if you're, you know, sitting in Qatar, if you're sitting in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, you get a green light that you can actually go in and take care of your dissidents as well if the president of the United States is not taking a firm stand.

HARLOW: You have been deployed to Saudi Arabia several times, and I'd like your take on an opinion piece in "The Washington Post" that Jim pointed out to me over the weekend. And it begs the question, because it's not just this "Davos in the Desert" conference, right, that a lot of entities are pulling out of, but the Treasury secretary still going to. It's about, you know, whether American citizens and former members of the military who get paid as lobbyists and for their advice to the Saudi government, will they continue to do it?

And it begs the question, a simple but important one, why do you work for a murderer? I mean, if it is proven that this killing was done at the hands or the knowledge of the Saudi government, how do Americans who make money working for Saudi Arabia, advising Saudi Arabia, answer that question?

LEIGHTON: Well, Poppy, that's really the fundamental question. And as that piece in "The Washington Post" pointed out, it is really a moral decision that you have to make.

I was involved in business arrangements throughout the Middle East from 2014 to 2016, and I was very careful not to get involved in any situation that might be questionable. And I pulled out of the region just because there were a lot of questionable dealings going on. And it was something that I did not want to engage in.

It was something that I didn't think was not only good for me personally but certainly not good morally in general. And that's the kind of thing that -- the kind of calculus that you have to make. The money is really not worth it if it's blood money. SCIUTTO: Bigger picture, and a national level, what language if

that's the right word would Saudi Arabia understand here? The president has already taken arms deals off the table. I can't imagine that the U.S. is considering stopping or curtailing purchase of Saudi oil. I mean, you have a concert -- conference, rather, in Saudi Arabia this week, but that doesn't -- that's just a meeting. It doesn't get to actual business deals.

What kind of sanction would change Saudi behavior or, you know, force Saudi accountability?

LEIGHTON: Well, unfortunately, Jim, the idea of pulling arms sales off the table, as the president has done, really limits our options. The kinds of things that they understand are the really forceful approach, the approach that basically says if you do this, you cannot have the spare parts that you need. You cannot have the training that you need. We will stop allowing your students to come to our universities.

That's the kind of thing that really does need to happen. Saudi Arabia has a plan just like some of the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, their Vision 2030, and Vision 2030 is basically designed to wean Saudi Arabia off of their oil economy. And if anything can be done to prevent them from behaving in this way, another aspect would be to really stymie the ability of Saudi Arabia to achieve its goals as set forth in Vision 2030, which is very important to the monarchy there.

HARLOW: OK. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you for being here. Important points, especially given your personal experience in the region. We appreciate it.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Ahead for us, dozens still unaccounted for in Florida days after Hurricane Michael lashed the panhandle. We will take you there.



SCIUTTO: In about an hour, the president and first lady will land in the Florida Panhandle to survey the damage done, just the horrible damage, by Hurricane Michael. Thousands of residents still without power there, still without homes, as you can see. Many of them lining up just to get water. Prepackaged meals. As many as 35 people still unaccounted for, just in the city of Mexico Beach. And you remember those pictures we aired last week from there. Took a direct hit from the storm.

[10:25:04] CNN correspondent Scott McLean joins us now live nearby in Panama City.

I have been speaking to CNN correspondents coming back from the ground there. And they describe it like a war zone in the wake of a bombing campaign. What are you seeing where you are? SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jim, it seems like such a

cliche in these disasters to describe something as if a bomb went off. But in this case, there really isn't a better descriptor than that. Case in point, this is a middle school. This is the gymnasium. And you can see, you know, the roof has been torn off, the brick walls have come down. There's debris strewn absolutely everywhere. And this is not an anomaly, either.

There are schools across this area that look similar to this. In fact, most of the schools in this area are badly damaged. That means that about 20,000 out of the 26,000 students who attend school here, they're going to be displaced. They're going to have to find somewhere else to go. And also, keep in mind, that many of their homes are damaged as well. So they're dealing with that on top of everything.

It is just a massive, massive disruption that they're dealing with. The noise that you hear is some of the heavy machinery that's starting on the cleanup process, trying to take down trees that have been damaged and tree limbs that are strewn about everywhere and get them out of the way. And the president will see that. Literally, you can look in any direction in this city and see some type of destruction, Jim.

We were just over at the shelter just a couple of blocks from here. They say that they have lots of food. They have lots of water there provided by FEMA. But it's not the most comfortable place to stay. And so a lot of people have instead opted to stay in their cars or even slept outside.

FEMA starting today is also accepting applications for transitional housing to try to get people out of the shelter. At last count, there were more than 1500 people still in shelters because their homes are simply too damaged.

If there is any good news is that yes, there are a lot of people without power, but one power company in this area says that -- in this county, excuse me, says that 90 percent of the power will be back on within the next seven to 10 days -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: You know, Scott, as we have been talking, we have been watching pictures of trucks just picking up the pieces, all that remains of people's homes. Each one of those is a person's home.

We appreciate you being there. Thanks for keeping us up to date.

HARLOW: Yes. Great reporting on the ground.

All right. Ahead for us, she's a daughter of refugees who grew up in low-income housing, landed at Harvard and is now spending $61 billion to give every kid an equal shot. We'll introduce you to Dr. Priscilla Chan. What she and her husband Mark Zuckerberg are betting can change the world.


HARLOW: Who's the boss in the office? Isn't she -- I mean, that's what she is every day. You only show up on Fridays, so I hear?

MARK ZUCKERBERG, FACEBOOK CEO: Yes. We work together on this.

CHAN: I taught him a lot of science. I don't think Mark knows this. Will someone explain it to him?