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Saudis Preparing to Admit Journalist was Killed; Hanging in White House a Painting of Trump with Other GOP Presidents. Aired 3:30- 4p ET

Aired October 15, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Is this finally the Saudis saying yes, we did this?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL 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. Jamal walked into the consulate, he did not walk out. Everyone knows something happened. And the narrative that's been taking shape is that, you know, he wasn't, you know, wasn't an assassination attempt. That was really what the Saudis kind of stuck to all along. They did say that they didn't know what happened to him.

But you kind of heard over the weekend, the President Trump leaning into the idea that Jamal was killed. Today, he's talking about rogue killers and our understanding now is that the Saudi are going to say, listen, this was a botched, kind of kidnapping attempt. We call it a rendition, when somebody is extra territorially abducted and taken to another, questioned for investigation. You know the U.S. has a long is history of that with black sites during the Bush administration. The U.S. has ended that practice, but it's still practiced in many countries around the world, and in particular, Saudi Arabia.

And the idea was that Jamal would be kidnapped from Saudi Arabia -- from Turkey, taken back home to Saudi Arabia, interrogated. I don't know what exactly the point was going to be at that point, maybe to be under house arrest or something, but that there was no intent to kill him. But this operation was by a rogue element of Saudi intelligence and went horribly wrong. And that this person did was not transparent about the operation and here we are, the Saudis now trying to do cleanup.

And you can also see these conversations taking place with the Turks. There's a narrative being constructed between the Turks and the Saudis. The United States is waiting for information, but from hearing from President Trump, it seems like they're going to go along with that story, as well.

BALDWIN: Elise, stand by. I want to go back to Turkey to our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward. Who is the one who has broken this story. And Clarissa, you tell me everything you know.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Essentially, Brooke, we're hearing from two sources. That we knew already that Saudi Arabia was working on this kind of internal investigation into what exactly happened at the consulate. Now we are hearing from these sources that Saudi Arabia is preparing a report in which they will acknowledge that Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate. That it was not intentional. That it was the result of essentially a botched operation, a botched interrogation that was likely supposed to end up in a kidnapping or an abduction to take him from Turkey, presumably back to Saudi Arabia.

We are hearing from the sources at this stage that this was not carried out with the proper clearance. This was not carried out with the proper transparency. Although, Brooke, it is certainly, fair to say there'll be plenty of people who will have difficulty swallowing that narrative, who will say that it's hard to believe that anything of this nature, of this sensitivity could possibly take place without those in power in Saudi Arabia, and namely, of course, the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, being privy to it on some level.

We are also hearing from these sources that it is expected that Saudi authorities will take disciplinary action against those who were involved with the operation. But one of the sources also did caution that at this stage, the report could still change. Saudi Arabia could change their attempt in how they want to frame this narrative. They are not entirely predictable when it comes to dealing with these things. And we have seen over the past week how the narrative has started to shift from an initial, we just want to know what happened to our citizen, to actually, some leaks even really seeming to come out not just from here in Turkey, but from President Trump himself, using that language today. "I think maybe it was the work of rogue killers," thereby confirming that Khashoggi was dead before that had been officially confirmed.

So, we may yet still see some changes in the official narrative from Saudi Arabia. But so far, the understanding that we have is that they are planning to present a report that indicates that this was, essentially, a tragic outcome of an operation that was carried out in a poor way, without the proper clearance and transparency -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: So, Clarissa, if one were to believe the Saudi and this narrative, that is forthcoming in this report, that this interrogation went wrong and they actually just meant to abduct him out of Turkey, isn't that also a problem? Like, don't they also need to explain why they were planning on abducting and interrogating this journalist?

[15:35:00] WARD: Well, I think there, Brooke, the devil will be in the detail, because I don't have confirmation of this yet, but one could speculate that possibly they will say that they had no knowledge of this. That this operation was the work of a kind of rogue intelligence officer, as you heard Elise saying there. That they will really try to distance themselves from it, and that they will try to enforce that by taking disciplinary action against the men who are involved with it.

Now, again, there will be a lot of skepticism about that narrative. Because the fact that you had these two jets arriving from Saudi Arabia, 15 citizens onboard and with the way the vertical power structure works in Saudi Arabia, very difficult for many people to buy into the idea that something like this could take place without their being knowledge of it at the highest echelons.

It's also possible that Saudi Arabia will cop to it in full. Will say, yes, we were aware of this operation. It was just supposed to be an interrogation. The fundamental thing that we should expect or we are anticipating is the idea that they say, this wasn't supposed to happen like this. This wasn't done in the proper way. And disciplinary action will be taken as a result.

BALDWIN: OK. Clarissa Ward, the one breaking all of this news here on Jamal Khashoggi, thank you so much, Clarissa. Quick break. We are going to talk to a former CIA and also a forensics expert on all of this, next.


BALDWIN: Let's bring in now former CIA operative, Bob Baer, and forensics specialist, Karen Smith, retired detective for the Jacksonville sheriff's office in Florida. She has conducted 500 death investigations and we wanted to talk to you today, because we knew that those Turks, the investigators were inside the Saudi consulate. Finally allowed in 13 days later to do their own investigating. But Bob, I want to go to you first. You've been watching our coverage. You know the news. You've dealt with the Saudis. What do you think?

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: I think it makes sense. I think they probably intended to kidnap him and fly him back to Saudi Arabia and disappear him and just claim that he'd gotten lost in Istanbul or whatever. Now the two planes, the number of people, these interrogations do go bad. I don't know if they had a doctor, but I've seen over and over again in the Middle East, people get so beat up that they die. And this makes total sense to me. What doesn't make sense to me is the President's claim that this was a rogue operation. You don't send two airplanes from Riyadh to Istanbul with a team like that without the approval of Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince.

BALDWIN: Two planes, 15 people, including one forensic expert. So, Karen, here's my question to you. How does this -- how -- you know, if you're the Turks right now, you're inside this consulate, what -- 13 days later, what can you find?

KAREN SMITH, FORENSIC SPECIALIST: You can find all kinds of things, Brooke, including blood evidence, trace evidence, hairs, fibers, evidence of a violent crime. That's what they're looking for. And they're going to use chemicals, they're going to use light sources, and they're going to use every possible forensic tool that they have at their availability to find out what happened, if they can. It's going to be a little bit of a test. I'm sure it's a very large place and I'm not even sure that they know exactly where they need to go to look. So, it's going to take a sweep and it's going to take every single skill that they have to try to find some evidence that a crime took place inside the consulate.

BALDWIN: If you find hair, if you find blood, that's proof that he was there. How does it proof that he was killed?

SMITH: That's a great question. You're looking for quantity of blood. If there was a large, violent crime and you have a copious amount of blood left behind at that crime scene, it's a good bet that somebody was either violently injured or died at that scene. And that's how we've always worked crime scenes. You not only look for the trace evidence, you look for copious amounts of blood. If we're dealing with a violent crime and they use luminal and the entire room lights up like a Christmas tree, it's normally evident to the forensic investigators, even if that scene has been cleaned up with bleach, we have ways of telling the difference between the bleach that would react with luminal and the blood that reacts with luminal. They will complete those tests and they will find out exactly -- hopefully, what happened to him.

Bob, you mentioned this the second ago, we saw the President leaving for Florida this morning. He mentioned this notion of a rogue killer as a possibility. And everybody kind of went, what is he referring to? I'm just curious what you made of his, you know, alternate theory in the wake of this news?

BAER: Well, I mean, that would be claiming that there's an alternate power structure in Saudi Arabia and there's not. Mohammad bin Salman purged the intelligence services. He purged the military, the national guard. There is one person in that country who could give an order like that, and that's the Crown Prince. Which of course presents a huge problem for U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia. Because, after all, this man was a contributor to "The Washington Post", there was an attack on the press, in a NATO country, there is no excuse for this. And I don't think the President's going to get away with it, claiming it was a rogue operation. Anybody with any sense is simply not going to believe it.

BALDWIN: Quickly, is it possible they can claim that NBS had no idea this was happening?

BAER: I think they will, but you know, here's the key, is the Turkish tapes and the intercepts that have been going on. But there was a concerted effort for NBS to get him back, as we know, from the intercepts, back to Saudi Arabia, and all arrows point to him.

[15:45:02] BALDWIN: Bob and Karen, thank you so much. A quick break. More on our special coverage after this.


BALDWIN: So back on this Jamal Khashoggi news. Our Hagar Chemali and Brian Stelter are still here with me. And we were talking in commercial break about how Secretary Pompeo got on that plane. Right. He was sent immediately over to Saudi Arabia, and should the plane turn around?

[15:50:00] HAGAR CHEMALI: FORMER SPOKESWOMAN, U.S. MISSION TO UNITED NATIONS: I would say yes. I mean, I would argue, yes. I'm curious to see how swiftly the administration responds to this type of news. I mean, the Saudis have yet to come out, but they should be prepared for it. And in that case, if I were President Trump or his adviser, I would say turn the plane around and let's prepare a sanctions package right away. Let's not wait for the end of the investigation they're doing and come out hard and fast.

BALDWIN: What do you think?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: For nearly two weeks, the Saudis denied knowing anything about this. In fact, there were claims early on that Jamal left the back entrance of the consulate. That he walked right out that day, never to be seen again. Obviously, that's not credible. So why would it have credibility now, if the Saudi government is going to say this was a rogue operation. Why would that be any more credible? And I think that's the question going forward. Why are they to be believed after denying this for two weeks? President Trump seemed to believe the denial, earlier today he seemed to be taking the denial seriously at least. Now all of a sudden, the Saudi government changing its tune, actually leaves President Trump in a tough situation, as well.

BALDWIN: Those are the last couple images the world saw of Jamal Khashoggi, entering -- on the grainy surveillance camera -- entering that Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, 13 days ago now. Quick break. We're back with more special coverage after this.


BALDWIN: President Trump obviously making headlines during the "60 minutes" interview. But one image getting a lot of attention today. This is the look we have, see on the wall, between Lesley Stahl and the President, on the wall there is this painting, which we're going to get to. But a couple of things stood out to us. First of all, one, the DirecTV remote on the table, which speaks to what we already know about the President's habits. The "New York Times" reported he spends 4 to 8 hours a day watching television.

Then there is the candy jar filled with red and pink star bursts. According to the house majority later, Kevin McCarthy, the President only likes to eat the cherry and strawberry flavors. And finally, the painting there on the wall of President Trump with former Republican Presidents Lincoln, Nixon, Reagan, others, playing cards. It was apparently a gift from California Congressman, Darrell Issa. And the artist joins me now. He is Andy Thomas. Andy, a pleasure to meet you. Welcome.

ANDY THOMAS, PAINTED PICTURE OF TRUMP IN GOP PRESIDENTS CLUB: Brooke, thank you. Thank you for having me on.

BALDWIN: So, I know you painted the Republican club, the table with the Republicans. You also have a separate painting of Democratic Presidents, as well. But give me a quick back story, Andy. Why did you paint this? What inspired you?

THOMAS: Well, the original painting was done in -- I did -- I've done three sets now.

[15:55:00] The first set was done in 2008 in the lead up to the election. And then we came up with another set that included Obama, President Obama. And so, with President Trump, we need to do another one. So, we call it just the Republican club and the Democratic club. BALDWIN: And Andy, did you have any idea that your painting was

hanging so prominently in the private residence?

THOMAS: No, I didn't -- I actually had gotten a call a couple of weeks ago from President Trump, and that was a real highlight. Darrell Issa was there, and so was Vice President Pence. And so that was quite a treat. But, you know, whether they actually hang the painting or not, we didn't know until last night.

BALDWIN: Well hang on, hang on. So, the President calls you up. What does President Trump say to you?

THOMAS: Well, I didn't think he was going to call. But he said that he had seen a lot of paintings of me, and most of them he didn't like. But that he liked what I had done. He's very -- he was very gracious and kind. And just everything -- very nice. Very nice.

BALDWIN: All right. So, he liked -- all right. So, he liked the painting of himself. And also, just so we get everybody's politics out. I read that you are an independent-mind Midwesterner. So, Andy, does that mean you voted for Democrats, you voted for Republicans?

THOMAS: You know, I have not registered any way. I have some political leanings. I hope it doesn't show in my paintings.

BALDWIN: OK. So, when you look at this painting with President Trump and these other Republican Presidents, it really does catch your eye. And I'm just wondering, what were the challenges in painting President Trump, and what were you hoping to capture about him?

THOMAS: Well, on all the Presidents, in every painting, I always try to make the Presidents look as nice as I can. I want them to still look like them, but I want to flatter them, if I can. I want them to be happy. So, I look for a good smile. President Trump was another challenge, because he's -- even though he tans, he's a fair -- has a fair complexion. And no deep recesses. And so, you know, he's a very subtle person to paint. And the face I painted on there is actually the second face. The first one I painted I was happy with, but it wasn't a real -- it wasn't the smile we usually see. So, I found a bunch of photographs with this particular smile, and I thought it seemed more appropriate.

BALDWIN: I'm wondering when the President called you up recently. Was there anything in particular about how you painted him that he really appreciated?

THOMAS: He just was effusive, really and just as kind as he could be. I have seen some paintings of him. He's a challenge to paint. You know, he has different looks and different profiles. So, all I know is, he said he liked what I had done. And that made me feel great.

BALDWIN: Now, Andy, there is a subtle or not so subtle feminist message in this painting, which I also found fascinating. We have got a spotlight on this female figure kind of blurry in the background. It's in both paintings. It's a woman.


BALDWIN: Tell me who she is.

THOMAS: In both cases, that kind of evolved, and I can tell you the story. But that would be, in this case, the first female Republican President walking over to take her place at the table. And same way with the Democratic painting. And I -- you know, I've heard people call it a feminist message. I'm far from -- I would be a big disappointment to feminists everywhere. But it's something that's going to happen. You know, it doesn't need to be advocated or anything. We're going to have a woman -- you know, 50 percent of our Presidents will be women, probably, from this time on.

BALDWIN: What makes you so sure?

THOMAS: Other countries are doing it and doing it well.

BALDWIN: So, it's about time we do it here. Well, there is a record number of women on the ballot this year, so we'll see. Baby steps. And maybe it will finally happen. Why was this so important? 30 seconds. Why was it so important to have that representation in your picture?

THOMAS: Well, the story was, I didn't want to have it all men. Just because it begins to look like a good 'ole boys club. I knew I wanted to put women in there. I started painting the woman in and I thought I'll just make her the woman walking over to the table and I looked at the painting as I was painting it, and I thought, wow, that would be pretty intimidating to walk up to that table of powerful people. But then I thought, my daughter would walk right up there. She's been doing it for 20 years in business. So, you know, I may be intimidated. My daughter wouldn't be. She would walk right over there.

BALDWIN: I love that your daughter would walk up to the table. There will be a woman who will walk up to that table. Andy Thomas, thank you so much for taking time with me. I appreciate you. I'm Brooke Baldwin. "THE LEAD" starts now.