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INSIDE POLITICS

Saudis Will Allow Turkish Team into Consulate; Trump Speaks with Saudi King; Trump Asked about Poisonings; Warren Claims Heritage. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 15, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Always good to talk with you. Thank you.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Sure.

HILL: Thanks so much for being with us today. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Erica.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump is in Florida this hour, landing a short time ago, now on a helicopter tour to assess the cleanup and rebuilding required because of Hurricane Michael's punch to the panhandle.

Plus, the secretary of state making an emergency trip to Saudi Arabia. The president says he wants the facts, yet he also suggests maybe rogue actors, not the Saudi government, kidnapped and killed Jamal Khashoggi.

And Elizabeth Warren releases a DNA test suggesting Native American ancestry and she demands now that the president pay a bet that she could never prove it. He did make that bet, but don't hold your breath.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Who cares? Who cares?

QUESTION: Mr. President, you said you'd pay one million to charity.

TRUMP: I didn't say that. I -- you'd better read it again.

I hope she's running for president because I think she'd be very easy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back to politics a bit later.

But two big stories happening this hour. President Trump and the first lady, as we noted, arriving in Florida just moments ago to get a close-up look at the damage from Hurricane Michael. They'll be in Georgia as well later this afternoon.

The president also making major news as he left the White House, announcing that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with Saudi's King Salman. Pompeo just boarded his plane for that last second hastily arranged trip. It's all amid allegations the Saudis are responsible for the disappearance of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. The president said he spoke with the king this morning and he says the king firmly denied any involvement.

(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 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)

KING: Meanwhile, a Turkish diplomatic source telling CNN, a forensic team from Turkey now has Saudi permission to search the consulate where Khashoggi was last seen.

Our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, live outside of that consulate.

Nic, fast moving developments. Number one, the president throwing out the possibility of rogue killers. And your reporting on the scene there about finally, perhaps finally, a Turkish team getting inside.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure, John.

Look, it was a week ago when the Saudis first said that the Turks could get their investigators inside. The Turkish foreign ministry, over the weekend, said it had to be at that level of the forensic teams getting all access to all areas of the building. We're known all along Turkish authorities believe -- they understand which rooms, which areas inside that consulate behind me they want to get into.

Minutes after it was announced earlier today that the Saudis were finally going to let them -- actually those investigators get in the building, quite amazingly a group of cleaners we witnessed at the door here, the front door behind me, again, being allowed into the building. They had mops. They had buckets. They had cleaning rags. And that came literally minutes after it was announced that the Turkish investigators would get access. In the last couple of hours, we've seen a big Saudi delegation go inside the building. Now we're waiting for those Turkish investigators.

Turkish police arrived here in the last half an hour. They've moved us all back. They've put up a new security cordon around here. So we're expecting them to go through that door just over there in the coming minutes.

However, I would temper that with saying again that we've heard this before, that they were going to get in, and it hasn't happened. But this should, for the Turkish authorities, give them the information that backs up their long running claims now that Khashoggi was murdered shortly after going in there almost two weeks ago.

John.

KING: Nic Robertson on the scene for us. Perhaps -- perhaps an important day. We'll keep an eye on that and keep in touch with Nic. Appreciate the live reporting from Istanbul.

With me here in Washington to share their reporting and their insights, Catharine Lucey with "The Associated Press," the former State Department spokesman, Admiral John Kirby, CNN's Manu Raju, and "Politico's" Eliana Johnson.

Admiral, I want to start with you.

Who knows what they're there for, but the video of a cleaning crew showing up within an hour or so of the forensic team showing up, what is that about? And then the president, the president, is it responsible for the president of the United States to get off the phone with the Saudi king and essentially mimic what he was told in that call? Could be rogue actors. Could be Putin. Could be China. Could be a 300 pound guy in his basement.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes.

KING: I'm serious. I don't want to make light of this because of what happened.

KIRBY: A couple -- no, no.

KING: For the president of the United States to say that.

KIRBY: Yes, no, totally inappropriate.

But let's go back to your first question. The cleaning crew, who knows what they're there for. Could be the weekly cleaning crew. The Saudis have had plenty of time since last week to do away with any evidence or clean up any crime scene. So I'm not too concerned about that. It's just bad optics.

On the president, yes, I don't think this is a very smart move on his part. Number one, he's the first person in authority, that I can remember, who actually has confirmed the death of Jamal Khashoggi. I mean this is the first time I've heard anybody say that he's actually dead.

[12:05:06] And then what you can also see in his comments are the beginnings of a narrative through this.

KING: Right.

KIRBY: That they're working with the Saudis and the Turks on this idea that it was perhaps maybe an interview gone awry or a detention gone awry and it was an accidental death. I think you're beginning to see how they're going to try to stitch their way through this.

KING: Stitch their way through it. And if you carry that through, then the Saudis saying, we sent in this team. We were trying to interview him. One or two people got out of hand. We'll take care of that. Let's move on, right?

KIRBY: Right.

KING: Let's move on. And the president has been reluctant -- he says I'm not going to cut off arms sales. He says there will be a tough response to this thing. But if you read the president's body language and the president's history, he doesn't care much about human rights. If it doesn't happen here in the United States, he tries to wash his hands of it quickly. Is this -- is the White House now potentially complicit in this, let's find a soft landing?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, certainly what we've heard from the president repeatedly since last week is -- is a lot of concern about halting this proposed arms sale. He has been very careful about criticism. He is publicly repeating, you know, this -- these statements from the Saudis.

And we should remember, too, I mean this is a relationship he is invested in. It was a -- his first foreign trip, he went over there with a lot of fanfare. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has built relationships there. And so we are seeing him -- he is clearly trying to approach this with caution. We are not seeing him pull away from this relationship.

KING: Right. Let's also be clear, this is a regime that for decades -- and in the case of this crown prince who really runs the show for a couple of years now -- has a very authoritarian structure. They have secret police forces. They have people to do this. The idea that there could be rogue actors within a Saudi consulate that is heavily guarded for a team that came in -- forgive me, but I'm sorry.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no. I mean this is -- that's exactly the point. I mean people who had seen the classified intelligence, Republicans and Democratic members of Congress, came away last week with the conclusion that the Saudis were behind what appears to be a murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It is very clear to them.

The president today making it clear that he does not necessarily believe that. He believes the, quote, strong denials from Saudi. And also made the point repeatedly in his statements of calling Khashoggi a Saudi citizen. Well, he is, but he's also a resident of the United States, applying for permanent residency in the United States, but seeming to distance the United States from this episode. And this is not just the first time the president seems to have taken denies at face value. He's done that repeatedly for other strong men, as well as Vladimir Putin.

KING: And the question is, I want to get to the Putin -- the history of this, just to put into the context of, this is not the first time, in a minute. But the question is, the secretary of state's on his way. We know at

times, on Russia for example, Mike Pompeo is tougher, more hawkish, than the president. More of a stand up for American values on the world stage person than Donald Trump has been as president. So there's that. We need to watch the secretary of state and see how he comes out of these meetings.

And then there's this, members of the United States Congress, Democrats and Republicans, saying, Mr. President, you better get tough or we'll force you to get tough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I believe the Trump administration will do something. The president has said that. But if he doesn't, Congress will. That I can tell you.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: You know, we shouldn't be negotiating those things based on, you know, gosh, is that $100 billion arms sale or a $25 billion arms sale.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: If that's the basic standard and if they get tough with us we back off, that doesn't sound like Mr. Trump, does it? It shouldn't sound like America.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, I do think that we need to have a whole series of sanctions and everything ready to go for this. We've got to be able to find out, and at this point not assume that he has been murdered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is rare, especially three weeks before an election, but rare any time in Washington to have Democrats and Republicans completely unified on Capitol Hill, especially those that have seen the intelligence that, Mr. President, get there or we'll push you there.

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": Yes, I don't think the Saudis expected this event to turn into a serious international issue, which it has. And I think the key thing to watch within the Trump administration is whether a cleavage develops between the president and his advisers. The president is responding on this precisely as he did to questions of whether the Russians hacked the elections, which was, he takes Vladimir Putin's strong denials at face value. And that was treated laughably. And it was pretty noteworthy that his administration actually has been tough on Russia. It will be interesting to see whether his administration treats Saudi Arabia the same way, regardless of what the president himself says, which is not to say that the president's parodying of the Saudi king's denials don't matter. They do. But it will be interesting to see if his administration responds strongly despite what he says.

KING: Right. And it's a great point. And, again, I want to get to the context because you saw a piece -- you see the president here. He gets off the phone with the Saudi king. He says, it could be rogue killers. You make a key point, he used the word killers. He used the word killers as if he had received on that phone call at least word that --

KIRBY: Confirmation.

KING: Confirmation that we're not going to get surprised here. That this is the sad plot that we thought it was.

KIRBY: Right.

KING: And then, number two, we'll see what the secretary of state says. But listen to the president here. He was just asked -- you talked about the election interference -- how long it took the president of the United States to get him to the place where he'd say, yes, Russia did it, I've seen the evidence.

[12:10:01] Lesley Stahl also asked him about the Russian use of nerve agents, poisonings, assassinations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESLEY STAHL, CORRESPONDENT, "60 MINUTES": Do you agree that Vladimir Putin is involved in assassinations, in poisonings --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. Why -- but why not -- they shouldn't do it. This is a terrible thing. Instead --

TRUMP: Of course they shouldn't do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But I rely on them. It's not in our country. Of course they couldn't do it. But he kind of shrugs like --

KIRBY: Like it's not a big deal.

KING: Yes.

KIRBY: Yes, of course he assassinates, well, who wouldn't, right?

KING: Yes.

KIRBY: I mean it's very cavalier.

KING: That's the scary part, the who wouldn't.

KIRBY: That's right.

KING: Is this -- is this somehow admiring these strong men because they have this ability? KIRBY: I don't know if it's admiring about assassinations, but he

certainly admires strong men with people with sort of dictatorial tendencies and the ability to sort of control their governments in ways that he can't control this one.

But, look, it goes right back to his U.N. speech a couple of weeks ago, John, where he talked about this nationalistic sovereignty. Basically, we're not going to tell you how to live. You don't tell us how to live. And that's kind of the theme here for him.

LUCEY: Yes, it's also --

JOHNSON: Yes, he is -- he is not Ronald Reagan.

KING: Right.

JOHNSON: He is not somebody who says we are a shining city on a hill and who views American alliances and American democratic values as a tool in the arsenal with which to beat other countries over the head. That's pretty clear.

KIRBY: But also that it's in our national interest.

JOHNSON: Exactly. Exactly.

KIRBY: Both security and stability and democracy overseas, it actually helps keep us safer.

JOHNSON: Yes. Exactly.

LUCEY: He also sees his individual relationships with these leaders as significant.

KING: Right.

LUCEY: I mean he, in that interview, talked about Putin. He talked about Kim Jong-un. So he -- he sort of separates out his one on ones, his encounters with these leaders from U.S. (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: Yes, he --

KING: And yet -- and yet put it to an objective test. Put it to an objective test. What has Kim Jong-un done on the nuclear front? Zip. What has Vladimir Putin done in places like Syria? Zip. What have the Saudis done for Middle East peace in Yemen? And now this. Zip. That's what I would say. But we shall see.

Up next, the DNA results are in. Did the president just lose a million dollar bet to Senator Elizabeth Warren?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you're an Indian, you know?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:28] KING: President Trump can keep calling her Pocahontas if he wants, but Elizabeth Warren says she now has proof she's at least part Native American. The Massachusetts senator and likely Democratic presidential hopeful rolled out a new campaign-style video today pointing to a DNA analysis done by a Stanford genetics professor. It shows, while she's mainly of European heritage, she likely had a Native American ancestor between six and 10 generations ago. Distant, yes, but, she says, decisive. Is it enough to end all the Pocahontas folk-ahontas (ph) mocking before 2020?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Some people have questioned my heritage and family history. Maybe they do it to insult me. Maybe they do it to distract for the kinds of changes I'm fighting for and the kind of change I'm trying to bring to Washington. The family they built, the story they lived, will always be etched on my heart. And no one, not even the president of the United States, will ever take it away from me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Jonathan Martin from "The New York Times" joins our conversation.

She's running for re-election in Massachusetts. She's clearly not worried about that one iota and she's doing some 2020 business here.

I just want to read you, and then jump in, this is from David Axelrod, of course the strategist who was part of the Obama two winning presidential campaigns, pretty extraordinary video to surface even before you enter the race. It says, one, she's 100 percent running. Two, she thinks this Pocahontas crap is a potential problem. Three, she wants to dispose of it now lest she be birtherized. The risk I'm sure she considered. This elevates it.

I agree with all of that.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I think the assumption here is that you just can't pretend like these kinds of attacks don't matter. There's no such thing as being high minded in politics anymore. I think that the sort of -- the instructive lesson for Democrats on that front, John, was with John Kerry in 2004. I think they learned their lesson after that.

Look at President Obama. He never took the birther attack seriously, for good reason. He still released his birth certificate because I think the lesson here is that people in this day and age of a fractured media, with intense polarization, people are willing to believe charges, no matter how silly on the face they may sound. So if you're Warren, you don't have a choice but to say, well, this is preposterous. The president of the United States is giving me a sort of cartoon nickname. You can't afford to do that in this environment. You've got to aggressively and preemptively push back. And that's what she's doing with this ad (ph).

RAJU: You can't afford to do it also in a potential Democratic primary. Not necessarily because her opponents would use the Pocahontas line against her, but because the big question is going to be about electability (INAUDIBLE).

MARTIN: Can you survive?

RAJU: Can you survive this vicious battle with President Trump?

MARTIN: Right.

RAJU: And now she has something to push back on. Now, Republicans aren't going to accept this. They say it does not prove really that she is a, quote, Indian, as the way the president put it. But, nevertheless, she's got something to point to when those Democratic primary voters ask her that real question, how are you going to respond?

KING: And I think you're right about the Democratic primaries, but I wouldn't be so sure. He didn't put TV ads up, but Al Gore was the first person to mention Willie Horton back in 1988 against Michael Dukakis, long before the Republicans put it on television.

The question is the timing. The question is timing.

Here's another member of the Obama team, Jim Masina (ph), who was part of the campaigns, worked in the Obama administration saying, OK, I probably would agree with you 1,000 percent about the times, and you have to do this, but why now? Argue the substance all you want, but why 22 days before a crucial election where we must win House and Senate seats to save America. Why did @senatorwarren have to do her announcement now? Why can't Dems ever stay focused?

Fair question.

MARTIN: Dems in disarray I think as the hash tag goes.

[12:20:00] LUCEY: That's the question, but, I mean, she, obviously, wants to get out well in front of this and I think everyone at this table believes that 2020 begins the day after election. And she wants to do it before.

RAJU: You should -- why shouldn't she (ph) also do this also in 2012. Maybe she couldn't handle it back then when she was a Senate candidate for the first time. But soon after, because these questions continued to linger, instead in that campaign in particular she ran away from it.

I asked her about this last month, should you have address all these questions sooner? She said, well, I was a first time candidate. But, still, this is 2018.

LUCEY: I think we're in a moment where you're seeing a lot of sort of the 2020 prospects talk a lot about who is someone who can take the fight to Trump. MARTIN: Yes.

LUCEY: Who is going to be -- who's aggressive enough, who's tough enough?

KING: Right. Should they talk about that -- should that talk about November 7th or --

LUCEY: This gives her an opportunity to show that she's not backing down from his attacks.

MARTIN: Right.

JOHNSON: Though it is interesting to me, she is -- she's taking the fight to Trump in the same sort of credulous way that Hillary Clinton took the fight to Trump. And I question sort of how effective that will be. Her response to his mockery is to say, well, actually, I have a Native American ancestor between six and 10 generations back. I'm not sure how effective that will be either with her Democratic primary (INAUDIBLE). It certainly won't be effective with Trump or with Republican primary voters who --\

MARTIN: Yes.

JOHNSON: I mean I think the question was not whether she had any Native American ancestry, but whether that amount of ancestry was enough for her to claim to be a Native American in certain (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And she did in "The Boston Globe" story today, where they laid this out, she provided the DNA test to them first. You're right, in that story, they do note -- they do note, during her academic career as a law professor, she said her ethnicity changed from white to Native American at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She had her ethnicity changed. Where she taught from 1997 to 1995. And at Harvard University Law, where she was a tenured faculty member.

Now, "The Globe" saying there's no evidence she ever benefitted from affirmative action --

RAJU: Right.

KING: But that she did proactively put this in her profile.

JOHNSON: My point was just -- Trump is going to have a field day with this.

MARTIN: Right.

JOHNSON: And so that's why I question the future effectiveness of this response.

MARTIN: And I think folks on the right and left, by the way, are both raising what you just mentioned, John --

KING: Right. MARTIN: To say, you know, why did you do that.

I think Eliana makes a good point, that this is not going to stop Trump from sort of whaling away on this front. I just think, in Warren's mind, she had no choice but to do the DNA test. Because if you didn't do it, that would be the issue, right? Well, the Obama -- you go to a test, you know? Why won't you offer that? And that would be the kind of nagging, nagging line.

JOHNSON: She's going to be portrayed as a phone either way.

MARTIN: Nagging question.

KING: Well, just, because we go, just to the point, the president's going to pay that bet. He did make that bet. He did make that bet. He is not going to pay that bet. But he does relish confrontation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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'd 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARTIN: With that being said.

RAJU: I don't want -- I don't want to say bad things about her?

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Let me say bad things about her.

LUCEY: He can't wait for the 2020 Democratic field to get going.

KING: He wants -- he wants 2018 to be over probably as much as Elizabeth Warren to move on.

JOHNSON: Absolutely.

KING: There is an election three weeks from tomorrow.

And to that point, up next, 22 days to go. A look at each party's biggest wins and worries as they battle -- yes, there's an election this year -- for control of Congress.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:02] KING: Welcome back.

Twenty-two days now until Election Day. It will be a midterm referendum on the Trump presidency. The headline poll numbers are favorable to the Democrats, but there are some nuggets of hope for Republicans and some worry signs for both parties.

Let's walk through some of the big numbers. On the choice for Congress, Democrats head into the final three weeks with a big edge. In this new "Washington Post"/ABC poll, 53 percent of Americans say they're going to vote Democrat when they go to vote for their local congressional race, 42 percent Republican. If that edge holds up on Election Day, Democrats are most likely to take back the House, keeps them in play when it comes to the Senate.

If you're the Republicans, though, in this poll, you're plus seven. A seven-point advantage on the economy. Can they make the case in the final three weeks, sway some of those races? Twenty percent of voters say the economy's a top issue. This is one nugget of hope in an otherwise pretty bad poll for Republicans. Can they sell the economy?

What are they worried about, though? The Republicans are getting crushed in the city, it's not a huge surprise there, losing in the suburbs, where the president is particularly toxic, and winning, but by nine points in rural areas. Can the Republicans put together a coalition when you're hurting in the cities and hurting in the suburbs? That's a big question, a big worry for the Republicans, especially in a lot of these House races.

Democrats are winning independent voters. They like that, 52 percent to 38 percent. They'd like that margin to be a little bit bigger. Midterm elections tend to break. If there's a wave, it's when independents go one way. Keep an eye on that.

Here's a question, though, do they have the intensity to come out? Are you an absolutely certain voter? Seventy-six percent of all registered voters say yes to that question. Independent voters down a little bit. Non-white voters down too. Younger voters, key to the Democratic coalition, down some here. So if you're the Democrats, you have to turn out young voters, you have to try to turn out African-Americans and Latinos. And listen here to this conversation my colleague Alisyn Camerota had with some independent voter who voted for Trump. They've turned sour on him. Democrats need more of the people like this and they need them to vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SYDNEY COHAN, INDEPENDENT VOTER: The divisiveness in this country right now and the rhetoric coming from the president is a daily exhausting thing.

[12:30:01] RAHUL BLOKHRA, INDEPENDENT VOTER: He's not very focused. He's not very sincere to whatever he decides to do. Things change fast. A good example is, you know, with the Putin and with Russia.