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Saudis Preparing to Admit Journalist Was Killed; Hurricane Michael Aftermath; Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 15, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Come on over here. Come.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When the storm hit, the police, the first- responders and myself and our city manager, we were in the city hall and police annex.

And it you will see, if we walk that far, everything just collapsed around us. And it lasted 55 minutes. (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: That's what it seems like to me. It seemed almost like a giant tornado, a really wide tornado.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not quite as big as Irma, but it was big.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was huge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE) bounced (OFF-MIKE)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More powerful (OFF-MIKE) Category 5.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And at midnight, I got on like the live Facebook page and started talking to people.

TRUMP: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I said, you still have time (OFF-MIKE) get in your car and drive 150 miles north or west. (OFF-MIKE) had no casualties in this town. And it's amazing. It's amazing.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, hold right here. Right here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold right here. Hold right here, guys. Hold on. Hold on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Midway through the tour there in Florida, the president says, it's very, very tough to see the devastation up close.

People needing help displayed the sign for the president and it reads, "Make Mexico Beach great again."

There is a desperate need for food and water and to get those resources to survivors, many of whom are still trapped inside homes and unable to get out.

Search-and-rescue teams are frantically searching for the missing and possible victims likely trapped underneath all the rubble. At least 18 people have died across multiple states.

Scott McLean is live this afternoon in Mexico Beach for us.

And, Scott, just talking to folks down there the last couple of days, a lot of people who chose to ride it out say they still haven't seen their neighbors. And now we're hearing -- what number are you hearing, 30 people still unaccounted for where you are?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's absolutely right, Brooke. But we have a little bit of context around that number right now.

So, these search-and-rescue crews, they have been going through, doing an initial search, then a more detailed search after that. Now they're on sort of their last search and it involves those cadaver dogs. At last count, there were up to 30, maybe 35 people who are still unaccounted for, though that doesn't necessarily mean that they believe that they're going to find 30 bodies. They just haven't been able to find those people.

They figure that a lot of people have left. I just spoke to one man. He's rode out every single storm that's hit this area or even come close to it. He's only evacuated one time before. And he planned to stay for this one as well, except at the very last moment when it was upgraded from a Category 3 to a Category 4, he thought, well, maybe we should get out of here.

So, he actually ended up going about 50 miles inland to Marianna, Florida. The problem is, he didn't go far enough. His trailer that he brought with him with a lot of his belongings ended up getting knocked over. His truck ended up getting damaged.

And now he's coming back to a home that's very badly flooded. Now, as for the search going on right now, they're about 90 percent finished. And, Brooke, just behind me, you can see those urban search-and-rescue crews, those people in the blue pants and the gray shirts. They are combing through this area.

My colleagues have seen them using dogs at points, but they are really doing the last search to try to see if there's anybody buried under that rubble. Obviously, they are hoping that they can find people elsewhere. One of the ways that they have been doing that is go along the main street, go to the area where they're handing out food, talk to people there, get their names, match it up with their list, and try to whittle them down, that list, to as few people as possible, hoping, obviously, that they don't find any more bodies.

BALDWIN: Such a tight-knit community. We are thinking about them in Mexico Beach. Scott McLean, stay on that for us. Thank you very much.

Meantime, as forensic teams are searching the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was last seen 13 days ago, CNN is now reporting that the Saudi government considered delaying a major business conference, as business and media companies are dropping out.

So, Cristina Alesci is on this for us.

And, Cristina, they're considering delaying it?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're considering it. Or they did consider it at one point. We're not quite sure of the status of the conference right now.

Look, a lot of the bigger banks, the investors on Wall Street were actually hoping that they would delay it, so that they wouldn't have to come out so publicly and say...

BALDWIN: We're not going.

ALESCI: We're not going. Right?

And one of my sources told me, the Saudis can't be tone-deaf. They have got to know if they go forward with this conference, the story will be, no one showed up. And that's not going to be a great headline for Saudi either.

So I think this is still a fluid situation. I think we might see even more people pulling out. All through the day today, I was on the phone. Hour by hour, more people are saying, we're not going.

[15:05:07]

David Petraeus, who works for an investment firm now, is no longer attending. And I think we're going to see a steady stream of this. The question is, do the Saudis press ahead?

The really interesting story line here, though, is that as the U.S. becomes less independent on Saudi oil -- we are still independent on Saudi oil, but as the U.S. becomes less dependent on Saudi oil, it almost feels like Wall Street is becoming more dependent on Saudi money.

BALDWIN: Interesting. ALESCI: And you had a lot of money flowing from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund into Wall Street over the years. So these people could be vocally saying, we -- vocally showing their opposition to how Saudi has handled this, but will they return the money that have gotten from Saudi Arabia?

That, I'm hearing, is very unlikely to happen. For example, one of the biggest investors on the Street, Blackstone, has $20 billion from Saudi Arabia. It's very unlikely -- Blackstone is not attending the conference anymore, but it's very unlikely that it will hand that money back to Saudi.

BALDWIN: The conference, I was asking you a second ago, right around the corner, end of October, and though the administration is still planning on attending, yes?

ALESCI: As far as we know, yes. But I was on the phone with administration officials all weekend, and they are very much playing this, you know, day by day, hour by hour.

At the end of the day, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin still plans to attend.

BALDWIN: OK.

ALESCI: But it's always couched as, we will see what information comes out.

Administration officials I talked to said they anticipate some information coming out this week that will help them make a call, but we don't know what that information is.

BALDWIN: OK. We will stand by for that. In the meantime, Cristina Alesci, thank you very much.

The president did offer an alternate theory as to what happened to "The Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The theory came up as President Trump told reporters several times today that the Saudi king -- quote -- "firmly denied" any involvement in the case of Khashoggi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: King Salman is not the only autocrat getting softer treatment by President Trump.

Here was Trump's responses when asked about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESLEY STAHL, CBS NEWS: This is a guy you love?

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

STAHL: I know, but why do you love that guy?

TRUMP: Look, look. I -- I -- I like -- I get along with him, okay?

STAHL: But you love him.

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

STAHL: No, it's like an embrace.

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

STAHL: He's a bad guy.

TRUMP: Look. Let it be whatever it is. I get along with him really well. I have a good energy with him. I have a good chemistry with him. Look at the horrible threats that were made. No more threats. No more threats.

STAHL: Do you agree that Vladimir Putin is involved in assassinations? In poisonings?

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

STAHL: Probably?

TRUMP: But I rely on them, it's not in our country.

STAHL: Why not -- they shouldn't do it. This is a terrible thing.

TRUMP: Of course they shouldn't do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: We are now getting breaking news on this story.

According to two sources, the Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge Jamal Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong.

Let's go straight to our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, who's there in Istanbul.

Arwa, tell me exactly what the Saudis are preparing to admit.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, very scant details at this stage, Brooke.

And one of those two sources is cautioning that this report is still being prepared, that things could end up changing.

According to the other source, this report is most likely going to conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and transparency and that those involved will be held responsible. Of course, the backdrop of all of this is coming just as Turkish investigators, the forensics team, was allowed inside the Saudi consulate.

They are still indoors. Their vans are still parked outside. Those involved, who are they? Well, throughout our reporting of all of this, the Turks have always been saying that there are 15 Saudis nationals who are persons of interest who arrived in country the same day that Jamal Khashoggi did go missing.

If the Saudis do, in fact, come out with this statement, this could be their way of distancing themselves from what happened.

[15:10:01]

And then, of course, what we don't know is what sort of burden of responsibility, whether or not individuals within the consulate itself will also be among those that Saudi Arabia decides to end up holding responsible.

There had been prior to the announcement of this some speculation -- and we heard President Trump speculating about this as well -- that perhaps there would be this narrative of rogue elements who did carry out this killing without the authority, necessarily, of the uppermost echelons of the Saudi government.

But this has been a story that has had so many different twists and turns. One really needs to actually wait and see what it is, what kind of statement it is that the Saudis do end up coming out, Brooke.

BALDWIN: But if they are prepared to say what we're reporting, that they will acknowledge his death was the result of this interrogation gone wrong, then how does that square with the denials that our president has gotten from the king and also from Prince -- from MBS?

DAMON: Well, I think it is going to raise a lot of questions.

It's going to raise the question of, well, if this is going to be your conclusion, why are you coming out with this 13 days later? Surely, there must have been some sort of intelligence-gathering information that came your way throughout the entire process, because, if you will remember, the Saudis, up until this very point, when we got this information, when CNN got this information from these two sources, had been saying that Jamal Khashoggi left the consulate the day that he arrived.

That doesn't necessarily square with this. But it most certainly would not be the first time over the course of the last 13 days that information was contradictory, did not necessarily make full sense. It would seem, from this statement, from the little bit of information

we have from these two sources, that this allows the Saudi king, it allows MBS to say, we had nothing to do with this. And that is pretty much what King Salman did tell President Trump, That he had no information, that MBS had no information as to what was going on.

It seems, according to these two sources, that it was an interrogation gone wrong, or perhaps they were intending to try to take him, smuggle him out of the country. But, again, we are going to have to wait and see.

BALDWIN: Sure.

DAMON: This has been a story, a tragedy that has been fraught with all sorts of, as I was saying, different competing narratives at times and all sorts of twists and turns.

BALDWIN: But to your point, Arwa, that this is 13 days after he walked in and no one ever saw him walk out. And you have been standing there in Istanbul reporting on these forensic teams, these Turks who have been inside the Saudi Consulate.

And I'm wondering, do you know if that has anything to do with the timing of this potential Saudi statement?

DAMON: It most certainly would appear on the surface as if it does. One also has to look back at what happened over the last 24 hours.

You know, Sunday morning, there was some pretty harsh rhetoric that came out from the Saudi government that was in response to President Trump saying that, if it did turn out that the Saudi government was involved, there would be severe repercussions.

The Saudis then came out and said that they would respond even more to a greater level. You then had that op-ed by the general manager of Al-Arabiya that they then distanced themselves from, but that basically threatened the U.S. economy, threatened to jack up oil prices.

(CROSSTALK)

DAMON: You have all sorts of statements then coming out from D.C. trying to sort of do damage control, it would have seemed, late yesterday, saying that, you know, they have nothing to do with these statements made by Al-Arabiya's general manager.

And then today, we have this flurry of activity where finally the investigators, the Turkish forensic team was allowed on the grounds, into the consulate. We don't know exactly if they're going to have access to all of the rooms they want to have access to, and now, of course, this information coming out from these two sources.

BALDWIN: This is huge, huge news. Arwa Damon, thank you so much. We're not going to go too far from you.

Again, if you're just joining us, this is what we have here at CNN. According to two sources, the Saudis are preparing this report that will acknowledge Jamal Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation gone wrong, one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey.

We have experts standing by to analyze what this means. Stay with me. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:55]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: We have been following the story of missing "Washington Post" opinion columnist Jamal Khashoggi now for 13 days.

You have seen the surveillance video. You saw him walking inside that Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, left his fiancee, never to return. And the question has been, what happened to him?

So, now we have news from two sources that the Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge Jamal Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong, one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey.

It goes on, one source says the report will likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and without transparency and that those involved will be held responsible.

Obviously, this goes against any of these denials we have been hearing from King Salman, according to President Trump, and also from the prince from MBS.

Let's analyze all of this, as this is pretty, pretty huge. This just dropped on us this afternoon.

With me now, CNN national security analyst Mark Mazzetti, who is also the Washington investigative correspondent for "The New York Times," also Hagar Chemali, former spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and for the Treasury Department.

[15:20:04]

So, welcome to both of you.

And, Mark, let me just start to you first on your reaction to this forthcoming report from the Saudis.

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it's actually not surprising that this story is evolving this way.

As you said, there have been flat denials in the beginning that they knew the whereabouts, they knew his fate. And now the story has evolved to, they weren't trying to kill him, this group was not trying to kill him, but it was an interrogation gone bad and, at the very least, it was not blessed from the top. I mean, the Saudi strategy now from the beginning and continues to be

to protect Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at all costs, to make sure that he is not tied to that. And it seems that this is the direction it's going in, where they will perhaps even have to blame possibly people of some significance in Saudi Arabia, but to insist on the fact that the crown prince and those immediately around him did not order this.

And that's really the stakes going on right now.

BALDWIN: Sure. So, precisely to your point, Hagar, the fact that they're going to try -- this is perhaps a way for the Saudis to bring cover for MBS, to maybe blame some pretty significant people and say that, OK, it wasn't intentional, interrogation gone wrong, really, we were planning to abduct.

Do you buy that?

HAGAR CHEMALI, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, U.S. MISSION TO UNITED NATIONS: No, it's too convenient.

I mean, first of all, they had been lying up until this point, right? MBS saying that the Saudis had nothing to do with this, that, oh, in fact, that he had left the consulate. So to now come out with this story to me reads as though they felt the pressure.

They felt perhaps the Turks coming in or maybe the U.S. intel honing in, and they wanted a way out to protect themselves, to ensure that maybe there is something left there for MBS to continue U.S.-Saudi relations or relations with any other country.

It's just too convenient to try and pawn it off on someone else. And, frankly, it's not surprising, the way governments in this region go.

BALDWIN: But 13 days later, and, as I was just talking to Arwa, who's standing there in Istanbul, as the Turks, as these investigators are bringing in this forensic team inside the Saudi Consulate, that's when Saudi drops that they're going to send this statement out saying, oh, killed, but essentially on accident.

CHEMALI: Right. Right.

I think perhaps they believe that if -- by assumption -- and I'm speculating a little bit on what the Saudis are thinking and what's going on through their mind, but if they're thinking that they couldn't keep up the lie that they had nothing to do with it and that Khashoggi actually left the embassy, and they came up with this plan that I think they think saves themselves and just ends up throwing a few of their employees under the bus, right, that they're going to take action against them, it's not exactly what they had intended.

And that if President Trump and the administration is thinking of sanctions, that, oh, you could just sanction those guys. They're kind of throwaway.

And I don't see how that actually could work. For example, on the sanctions front, if the administration...

BALDWIN: You worked at Treasury.

CHEMALI: Right.

And I remember, you know -- if I were there now, and I know that this is probably what they're doing, they're probably looking at potential targets that could have the most effective and credible response to some kind of sanctions action.

And it's not going to be on some throwaway employees. It's going to be on the heads of the agencies that ordered this attack, that oversaw it, that knew about it, people like the minister of interior, the minister of justice, perhaps the head of the intel agency, perhaps the ambassador at that post.

They're going to do something that is strong enough, but perhaps not target MBS himself. And there's precedent for this. They have done this before.

BALDWIN: Brian Stelter has just popped a microphone on.

And so are you talking to "The Washington Post"? How are they responding to this?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I'm thinking about a conversation I had with the editor there yesterday who said, until there's any confirmation of a death, if there's 1 percent chance he's alive, we are going to talk about Jamal in the present tense.

But obviously, with every passing day, with any proof of life, this outcome seemed more and more likely as time has gone on. And, frankly, I think it may give 1 percent of closure to some of his friends and family to finally have some sort of admission, some sort of confession from someone in the Saudi government.

But, as you all were just talking about it, if this is some sort of excuse, that it was a rogue operation, it makes you wonder about why President Trump was using the word rogue killers earlier today, given that that's where this is heading.

That's not going to be real closure. That's just going to be the beginning of this story. And, of course, Jamal has so many friends and advocates and colleagues who are going to insist on getting to the actual truth here, and not just the truth the Saudi government might want to present initially.

BALDWIN: Yes. Stay with me.

Mark, stay with me as well.

Quick break here, continuing on this breaking news here, waiting for some sort of information from the Saudis, who are slated to essentially say "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:29:36]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: All right, staying on this breaking news involving missing "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

I have got our State Department correspondent, Elise Labott, standing by with, you know, the news that the Saudis are preparing to acknowledge -- this is all very carefully couched -- preparing to acknowledge that Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation gone wrong.

Is this finally the Saudis saying, yes, we did this?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, I think they realize at this point, and just from talking to sources, that they're not going to come out of this looking like a rose.