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Saudis Changing Story on Journalist's Death; Trump Tours Disaster Zone, Backs Up Saudi Account of Murder. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 15, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

[17:00:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Abduction gone wrong? Sources say the Saudis are preparing to change their story and will acknowledge that U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in what the Saudis will claim was an interrogation gone wrong, one they'll say was meant to result in his abduction.

Still missing. President Trump tours the Florida disaster zone, saying the devastation is very tough to witness, as rescue teams comb through the rubble, searching for people still listed as missing.

Defending dictators. President Trump says he trusts North Korea's Kim Jong-un and says if Russia's Vladimir Putin assassinates people, at least he doesn't do it in the U.S. Is the president hurting America by defending strong-arm leaders abroad?

And deal on the art. It's being compared to the dormitory favorite of dogs playing poker, but this White House painting features a collection of presidents from Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt to Trump sitting around a table drinking and laughing. So what's the deal with this piece of art?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Sources tell CNN the Saudis are preparing a report that will claim the death of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, resulted from an interrogation gone wrong, one that was allegedly supposed to lead to his abduction from Turkey.

Khashoggi went missing during a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, nearly two weeks ago. Turkey reportedly has evidence he was killed there, and Turkish investigators today search the consulate.

Earlier, before heading off to tour the hurricane disaster zones, President Trump touted the Saudi king's denial of any connection to Khashoggi's death and speculated that, quote, "rogue killers" were responsible.

I'll speak with Senator Bill Nelson. And our correspondents and specialists, they are standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with the breaking news. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us.

Jim, this is a stunning twist. What are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And really, a stunning turn-around, Wolf, from repeated vehement Saudi denials. But now sources telling as first reported by our colleagues, Clarissa Ward and Tim Lister, that Khashoggi, the Saudis prepared to release a report that says that Khashoggi was, indeed, killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in Istanbul, but that this was a mistake. That it was meant to be just -- if you can call it that -- an interrogation, an abduction of Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, but something went wrong during the interrogation. That there was no high-level approval for this killing, and that people will be held responsible for it.

So perhaps Saudi officials granting that the evidence shows that this killing did take place there, but providing some separation between senior leadership, crucially, of course, including the crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman, to say that it was lower-level people who made this mistake, Wolf, and that they will be held responsible.

BLITZER: Turkey has said it has evidence this was a premeditated murder. Saudi Arabia originally denied the allegation. Is this just a cover story?

SCIUTTO: Listen, remember, our reporting is that U.S. intelligence, as well, showed that there were intercepts prior to his detention, of Saudi officials talking about abducting him, which led some to believe that there was premeditation. If not for a killing, at least for his abduction, interrogation, et cetera, which raises the possibility that this was not entirely a mistake. There was some planning that went into this.

Those denials, as you said, have been many, and they've been repeated. And keep in mind, it was only today that Turkish investigators two weeks later, after Khashoggi's disappearance, that those investigators were allowed to go into that consulate in Istanbul.

And CNN noticed -- and I believe we have film of this -- we noticed a cleaning crew entering -- what appeared to be a cleaning crew entering the consulate before those Turkish investigators. There's the cleaning crew there before they were allowed to go in.

So that's certainly a lot of time between the alleged incident some two weeks before those Turkish investigators were allowed inside.

BLITZER: Earlier today, Jim, President Trump repeatedly touted the Saudi king's denials during their phone conversation. How will this admission now impact the overall U.S./Saudi relationship?

SCIUTTO: It's interesting. When we were on the air this morning, as the president was repeating those denials, and it was reminiscent of the president repeating Vladimir Putin's denials of meddling in the 2016 election, saying not only that the Saudis denied this, but that they did so firmly. The president repeating that word, "firmly," saying it was a firm denial from the Saudi king, King Salman, that he spoke to, that this happened.

[17:05:15] So hours later, to have CNN's reporting that the Saudi's prepared to admit at least some culpability here, that's quite a turn- around.

Although I should note that the president also repeated this line that appears to be part of the explanation here, that this was a rogue operation. Not approved from on high, but there were lower-level people who botched, in effect, again, only an interrogation and an abduction, and that's when the death occurred.

Of course, you know, an interrogation and abduction of a journalist in a foreign country is no small thing, either. But that appears to be the explanation that the Saudis are approaching now with this report, if it is finalized.

BLITZER: Let's see if it is. All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

This extraordinary turn of events comes as President Trump tours the hurricane disaster areas today after first defending the Saudi comments on the journalist's death.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president was just asked about CNN's new reporting. What did he say?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump was taking a look at the damage left behind after Hurricane Michael.

Before his trip, as you were just mentioning, the president was speculating that perhaps rogue killers were behind the disappearance of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The president made that comment after speaking to Saudi Arabia's King Salman, who denied that his government killed the journalist.

But the president just a few moments ago, Wolf, as you were saying, said he's aware of these reports, including from CNN, that Khashoggi may have died during a botched interrogation. The president saying he's going to look into it.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Hours before Saudi Arabian sources conceded journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have been killed during an interrogation gone wrong, President Trump said he was already developing some theories that rogue killers were to blame. That revelation came right after a phone call with Saudi Arabia's King Salman.

DONALD TRUMP (R), 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.

ACOSTA: The president didn't explain how these suspected rogue killers would have made their way into the Saudi consulate in Turkey. But local investigators believe operatives tied to the kingdom in Riyadh murdered Khashoggi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who else would it be besides Saudi Arabia?

TRUMP: I don't know. We're going to try getting to the bottom of it.

ACOSTA: The president also appears to be focused on Khashoggi's Saudi citizenship, taking note of that again with reporters.

TRUMP: 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.

ACOSTA: It's a distinction he made last week, as well.

TRUMP: Well, we have -- it's not our country. It's in Turkey. And it's not a citizen, as I understand it.

ACOSTA: The president's critics question whether Mr. Trump is falling into a familiar pattern: trusting blanket denials a little too quickly, whether they're from Vladimir Putin --

TRUMP: I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

ACOSTA: -- or Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Trump: He denies it. Look, he denies it.

SEN ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I want to tell you a story.

ACOSTA: One person the president refuses to believe is Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who revealed DNA testing that appears to prove her Native American heritage.

TRUMP: Pocahontas.

ACOSTA: That was in response to name-calling from the president, who's referred to Warren as Pocahontas. Over the summer, the president dared Warren to put her DNA to the test.

TRUMP: And we will say, I will give you $1 million to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you're an Indian.

ACOSTA: Asked whether he would pay up, the president denied he had made the offer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said you would pay $1 million to charity --

TRUMP: I didn't say that. No. You'd better read it again.

ACOSTA: The president added he hopes it's Warren he faces in 2020.

TRUMP: She'll destroy the country. She'll make our country into Venezuela.

ACOSTA: Later in the day, the president traveled to areas in Florida and Georgia that were devastated by Hurricane Michael.

TRUMP: To see this personally, it's very tough. Very, very tough. Total -- total devastation.

ACOSTA: Handing out supplies to residents, the president claimed his administration's storm response has already outperformed its predecessors.

TRUMP: We are doing more than anybody would have ever done.


ACOSTA: Now, after this trip to view storm damage, the president will turn his attention to the upcoming midterm elections once again, with rallies planned for the end of this week.

Even today, the president seemed to have the midterms on his mind as he repeatedly praised the Florida governor, Rick Scott, who is out to topple the incumbent Florida senator, Bill Nelson. But the president still has many more questions to answer, Wolf, about Jamal Khashoggi. Mr. Trump has embraced the Saudis as close allies, and that is a relationship that promises to come under continued scrutiny this week, especially, Wolf, if the Saudi government actually admits it had a role in the death of Jamal Khashoggi -- Wolf. [17:10:13] BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that. Jim

Acosta reporting.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.


Blitzer: I want to get your thoughts on the rescue and recovery effort under way in your home state of Florida right now. But first, let me get right to the breaking news on this Saudi journalist apparently murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

What do you make of this new explanation the Saudis are apparently preparing?

NELSON: Well, it sounds like they've concocted a cover story. Nothing has changed. He was lured into the embassy. They even admit they were going to abduct him, and he ends up being killed. And they admit that.

So it seems that they're just trying to lessen the impact. But there should be some severe consequences if this is, in fact, what happened. This is a U.S. --

BLITZER: What do you mean by -- what do you mean by severe consequences?

NELSON: Well, to be determined. Let's see what the final story is. But this was a person who was a resident in the U.S. He has an American family of U.S. citizens, and he was employed by a major newspaper. We cannot allow our citizen families and their relatives to be treated this way.

BLITZER: Why do you think it's taken the Saudis so long, nearly two weeks, to come up with this new admission?

NELSON: Isn't it true that when people take a long time, they're usually trying to figure out something? That's the human nature, and I think that's what we're seeing here.

BLITZER: You believe the Saudis -- the king specifically used President Trump to promote their new so-called rogue killer theory?

NELSON: I don't know about that, Wolf. I have been in the little Panhandle towns, trying to help out the people. So I don't know what's been said and the nuances of this.

BLITZER: Well, I'm going to get to Florida in a second. But you think this is going to have an overall impact on the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia?

NELSON: If it's true, of course it is.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on. Let's talk about the latest efforts, the recovery efforts in Florida. You did a -- you did a tour of some of the damage in the Panhandle today. Tell us what you saw, how bad is it still?

NELSON: I've been there for the last week and, Wolf, ended up today in the little towns of Blountstown and Apalachicola. People are hurting.

Yesterday I was the first in to Tyndall Air Force Base, and it is demolished. The older buildings are history. The newer buildings withstood the storm, but there's some severe repairs. The commander had to evacuate 11,000 personnel within a 20-hour period of time. And -- and most of those base housing homes are damaged beyond repair.

Right now, the commander is trying to get it safe enough so that the families can come back and try to claim some of their possessions.

But I do believe that Tyndall will be rebuilt. It will be a modern Air Force Base of the future. And the reason it won't be shut down, is it a critical mission right there next to the Gulf Testing and Training Range, which is the largest testing range for the U.S. military in the world.

BLITZER: Were all the U.S. Air Force -- aircraft evacuated, flown out in advance? NELSON: No. And I'm not allowed to give you the number that

remained, but there will be varying degrees of damage. Some of the hangars were severely damaged. We'll have to see about the F-22s, the T-38s and the F-16s that were there. It will be up to the experts to determine how much damage and the repairs.

BLITZER: Why didn't they fly those planes out?

NELSON: Because they were in various stages of maintenance. And therefore, they were not flyable.

Remember, the commander didn't have much time. He gave the order to evacuate Monday at 5 o'clock. The entire base, 11,000 people and dependents, were evacuated and the gates shut at 3 p.m. the next day on Tuesday, just before the storm arrived.

[17:15:18] BLITZER: Are people in the Panhandle getting all the help they need right now from the state, from local government, from the federal government?

NELSON: All of the governments are trying, but Wolf, people are hurting. They need food; they need water. We got several alerts that water distribution, food distribution, was occurring.

But this is a very rural area. People are spread out over every place. And it's not devastated like the pictures that you've been seeing of Mexico Beach, which really was leveled with a wall of water and wind.

But all in these rural areas, so many trees. Trees have fallen on people's homes. The power lines are all down. They are estimating -- I heard one emergency manager and an electric company say that it's going to be a month and a half before they will have electricity in some parts.

And yet on the eastern side of the storm in Apalachicola today, they have restored almost all of the power in that rural county, Franklin County.

As you go west, where the storm hit -- and by the way, the eye was right over Tyndall Air Force Base, which is just east of Panama City. As you go further west, that's where you get all of the damage out into the woods and the rural areas.

BLITZER: All right.

NELSON: And people are hurting.

BLITZER: And our hearts go out to them. And I'm sure whatever can be done is being done. Let's hope for the best.

Senator Nelson, thanks so much for joining us.

NELSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: I should also note, by the way, we invited the Florida governor, Rick Scott, to join us. He was traveling with the president, couldn't do it today. Hopefully, he'll be able to join us soon.

Up next, our breaking news. A stunning turn-around by the Saudis, who sources say are now preparing to admit that a U.S.-based journalist was killed in what they'll claim was an interrogation gone wrong.

And President Trump calls the devastation in Florida very tough to witness. We'll take you to the storm zone. Stay with us.


[17:21:58] BLITZER: President Trump got a first-hand look at the Florida disaster zone today, saying the devastation is very tough to witness. Rescuers are still searching for the missing in the rubble.

Let's go live to CNN's Scott McLean. He's in the devastated city of Mexico Beach.

Tell us about the search efforts underway right now, Scott.


We've got some very good news just in the last couple of hours. And that's that the number of people unaccounted for here in Mexico Beach has dropped substantially. At last word, it was 30 or 35 people they were still looking for. Now it is down to just three.

What we know from rescue workers is that they have gone through twice already. They're now on their third search of all of the debris and all of the destruction here. On this final search, he's using cadaver dogs. In fact, just a couple of minutes ago, crews went and searched this pile right here twice with two dogs, just to make sure that they had found anyone who was potentially under it.

The good news, with just three people unaccounted for, is that there's no risk or little risk of the death toll rising dramatically.

But there is a big challenge here in finding all of those people. Obviously, we know their addresses, but if you go there, you'll see something like this for many people. Obviously, no one is living in these uninhabitable areas.

Cell-phone service here is spotty, if it works at all. And so it has been a massive, massive challenge for people here.

I can also tell you, Wolf, that in Panama City, just down the coast here, a community also really, really struggling with the devastation there from those hurricane-force winds. They are still very much in search-and-rescue mode. They are looking for people who might be trapped and alive. They are, of course, expecting to find more dead.

They've got crews who have come in from all over the region to help with the effort. One of the crews I spoke with yesterday said that they found a man who had been on a ventilator, and when the power got knocked out, he ended up passing away. So they're finding stories like that.

And one more thing, Wolf. Keep in mind that these guys, these men and women, they're not staying at the Hilton. They're staying at tents set up in the mall parking lot to do their jobs. And so it's far from glamorous. And many of them, as well, especially the local firefighters and search-and-rescue crews, they're also dealing with damage to their own homes on top of, you know, their daily tasks.

BLITZER: Scott McLean on the scene for us. Thank you very much.

MCLEAN: Coming up, we're going to have more on this evening's other major breaking news. Sources now telling CNN, the Saudis are about to change their story on the missing journalist, but is it just a cover for what really happened?

And later, more on the political implications of Senator Elizabeth Warren's DNA test backing up her claims of Native American ancestry. And President Trump's reaction.


[17:29:24] BLITZER: Our breaking news. Two sources telling CN, the Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge that the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, that his death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong.

This morning, President Trump suggested, quote, "rogue killers" were responsible.

Let's get the insight from our experts and our analysts. And John Kirby, what do you make of this revised new Saudi explanation nearly two weeks after he disappeared, the journalist?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: I think it could be plausible. I mean, I think it's something that actually could have happened that way, which makes it all the more important that this investigation be allowed to proceed, transparently, and credibly. And that Pompeo goes over there with a firm desire to find out what happened.

It doesn't alleviate, if that's what happened, hard questions from being asked or from the relationship with Saudi Arabia from being modified or changed.

BLITZER: So basically, what you're saying is, the Saudi intention was to get this guy into the consulate, and then hold him there, interrogate him, and maybe then kidnap him and bring him to Saudi Arabia illegally?

KIRBY: Or it could be like a rendition thing, where they wanted to get him in there --

BLITZER: Rendition is a fancy word for kidnapping.

KIRBY: Well, right. To bring him back, but under government auspices, bring him back to Saudi Arabia. Maybe he put up a struggle; they weren't expecting that. It devolved into violence, and then he was killed. It is a plausible explanation. I mean, we won't know until the investigation is over.

Again, this makes it all the more important that the Saudis fully cooperate.

BLITZER: Because one of the, you know, explanations for why this doesn't necessarily ring true is because of the 15 Saudis who showed up that day and then quickly got out of town were some specialists in autopsies.

KIRBY: Well, again, all good questions. I agree. I mean, this is very suspicious. But I think they've got to cooperate.

And, again, I think it's really important, even if this is the case, that that doesn't mean the United States should be relieved of taking any action.

What I worry about here, Wolf, is that if this turns out to be true, that President Trump is going to use it as an excuse to go soft on Saudi Arabia. "Well, you know, they said they're going to take care of it. There's going to be repercussions. People are going to get punished, so I'm going to go easy on him."

BLITZER: You know, Chris, listen to how the president described his phone conversation earlier in the day with the Saudi king.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. 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.


BLITZER: So all of a sudden, he's talking about rogue killers, and now there's -- we're reporting that the Saudis are about to come up with an explanation involving rogue killers.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. Look, this is not the first time he's done something like this. I remind people after the summit with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump -- I mean, it's almost word for word, "He denies it. He denies it strongly."

Go back to the October 2016 debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. He suggests could have been Russia, could have been China, could have been a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed in New Jersey.

He has a strange double standard, where he -- he is willing to accept denials from certain people. Rob Porter, his former staff secretary, regarding the domestic abuse allegations of two women. Roy Moore in Alabama. Brett Kavanaugh. He used -- he, Donald Trump, used almost the same language repeatedly. "He denies it. He denies it very strongly."


CILLIZZA: Putin. And yet, this is also a president who has embraced conspiracy theories of, you know, "I was wiretapped by President Obama during the campaign. Ted Cruz's father may have been involved in the JFK assassination," where facts were run against that, and he's still not willing to say, "OK, it's not true."

So that's the hard thing. There's a very unpredictable level to how he approaches what he accepts as a denial and what he doesn't.

BLITZER: Rebecca Berg, did the president get played by the Saudis?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know yet, Wolf. Obviously, we don't have all of the information, as John Kirby noted.

But because of the president's track record, as Chris has just run through, there's some doubt about whether the president can assess with clear eyes all of the information he's being given, what he's being told by other world leaders who were involved, versus what he's hearing from our own intelligence services and the intelligence services of our allies.

There is some doubt because of what he said, for example, after he met with Vladimir Putin regarding potential hacking in the U.S. election, that the president can assess this credibly. And so we just don't know if he's being played, because of his track record.

CILLIZZA: Right. Firm denial. I mean -- I'm no diplomatic expert, but -- like John Kirby is, but I would say, would you expect the king to be like, "Well, OK. We did it. We spent two weeks saying we did -- but now that you call me, we definitely did."

I mean, there's a level of a willing suspension of belief, a naivete, bordering on -- you're sort of like -- Donald Trump is not this naive to think, Oh, he's denying it -- because he strongly denied it, that's something different than just denying it. And yet here we are.

BERG: And part of it --

KIRBY: Is it -- is it possible that the king himself didn't know about all the details?

CILLIZZA: Right, right, right.

[17:35:04] KIRBY: Yes. But is it possible that nobody in the Saudi government or the royal family had any knowledge of what was going on for the last week and a half? No. That's not the way that government is run.

BLITZER: Because -- what you're suggesting is that the crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman, may have orchestrated this plot without notifying his father, the rather old king?

KIRBY: I don't know. But it's not impossible that he had some role and hand in wanting to get Jamal back in some way and was involved in the operation to some degree.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Where have we seen recently plausible deniability with a father-son team about a meeting involving somebody who is critical of the administration? This is something that we've seen in the United States of America.

And if it were true two weeks ago, it stretches the imagination to say there was a mishap and a botched interrogation that people just discovered just today or yesterday, perhaps, or after a call with the president of the United States. It just -- it's hard for anyone to suspend all disbelief to this degree.

Having said that, the timing is very important, of course. There are people who are pulling out from different corporations and businesses about a meeting with the crown prince on this very issue. So it very much helps for the president of the United States to be behind a narrative, whether we know it's false or it's true. It's a narrative that's been crafted over a two-week period.

CILLIZZA: One other thing just about the rogue killer. You know, he says, "I don't want to -- I don't want to speak to his mind," talking about the king. But where did Donald Trump get that?

This is the first we've heard of Donald Trump floating the idea of rogue killers. And he does so right after talking to the king.

The other thing is, let's follow this down its logical path. How did these rogue killers get into the Saudi embassy in Turkey? Again, like -- again, like, these are just logical inconsistencies that Donald Trump cannot not be aware of. He is smart enough to say, "Huh. Like, that would require a lot of things to happen that we suspect" -- and to John's point, how would the Saudi government not know about it?

KIRBY: Exactly. And I think what he's trying to do is stitch a narrative here where he can fight back on Congress, who obviously is going to want him to be really hard on Saudi Arabia.

BLITZER: So much at stake right now in the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which has been in business for decades and decades. Right now it's a tenuous moment indeed.

Everybody stand by. There's a lot more. Getting new information. The president speaking out right now about Senator Elizabeth Warren and her DNA test. We'll have that for you when we come back.


[17:42:02] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts and our experts. And Chris Cillizza, only moments ago, the president elaborated on his reaction to Senator Elizabeth Warren's DNA test, which showed she does have some Native American ancestry. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you owe her an apology?

TRUMP: No, I don't. Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the money that you --

TRUMP: I owe her? She owes the country an apology. What's her percentage? 1/1,000th?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have the exact number.

TRUMP: Tell me when you have the percentage, tell me what the percentage is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the money you told her you would --

TRUMP: You mean if she gets the nomination in the debate, where I was going to have her tested? I'll only do it if I can test her personally, OK? That will not be something I enjoy doing, either.


CILLIZZA: Well, I guess add DNA tester to his list of things he can do. I was not aware of that.

I actually think he has something of a point here. Elizabeth Warren comes out with this five-plus minute video, clearly designed to put to rest, quiet, not necessarily his attacks on her, calling her "Pocahontas" and that sort of thing, but to say to Democrats, No. 1, I'm prepared for this. No. 2, "I'm ready to fight back. There's not going to be a swiftboating of me like there was of John Kerry."

At the same time, the conclusion was, by this Stanford geneticist that is in the video, that it -- it's very, very probable -- I'm paraphrasing -- that she does have some Native American blood in her somewhere down the line to the point of 1/64th Native American, all the way to 1/1,024th. Make sure I get the math on that right.

I don't know if that necessarily convinces people. This will not solve her problem.

And everyone focuses on, oh, Trump, he's going to keep attacking her, and he will. Of course, he would have if it came out that she was full red-blooded Native American. He'll just do what he wants anyway.

I actually think this will be used against her by her Democratic opponents. Maybe not publicly. But the whisper campaign of "She's -- do we want to risk someone with this known problem that he has attacked and he has fixated on? Do we want to risk a nomination?"

BLITZER: Rebecca.

BERG: Well, it's clear that this is a problem, potentially, for Elizabeth Warren. There's no question that she wouldn't have done this, she wouldn't have taken this step, if her team and she had not calculated that politically this could be problematic for her. But it's not without risk. Absolutely.

And you know, one component of this is what is the response from Native American tribes to her identifying as Native American? The Cherokee nation issued a response today, saying that Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage. That doesn't help Elizabeth Warren when she's trying to portray herself as sympathetic to them and portray Donald Trump as someone who is using them and mocking them, really.

BLITZER: Very quickly. Your reaction. The president suggesting that the defense secretary, General Mattis, you know, really -- he knows more about NATO than Mattis knows about NATO. And, you know what? Mattis is probably a Democrat in any case.

KIRBY: I think he may actually believe he does know more about the alliance than Secretary Mattis. He doesn't. As a four-star general, Secretary Mattis was in charge of the transformation effort inside the alliance. He knows it very well.

But I think if Mattis was sitting here, he would tell you, Wolf, that he understands the President has larger equities. It's not his job to be smarter than the President or anything but to support the President's agenda. And I think that's where his head is.

And as for politics, I've known Secretary Mattis a long, long time. I don't think anybody can tell you which way he votes or how he votes.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Just very quickly, don't forget Donald Trump has said before, publicly, I know more than the generals. So, I mean, this -- to John's point, he said it, because he believes it. Doesn't mean it's true.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He does believe it. All right, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, there's new concern about President Trump's apparent willingness to believe what he's told by the Saudi king and other absolute dictators.


[17:50:32] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Two sources are now telling CNN the Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge that journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong, even though President Trump says Saudi Arabia's king denies any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.

We are hearing from experts who say the President's statement to reporters this morning fits into a rather troubling pattern. CNN's Brian Todd has a closer look at what you might call the Trump doctrine.

Brian, what are your sources telling you?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're telling us that this pattern of President Trump cozying up to dictators, cutting them slack on their alleged human rights abuses is really starting to hurt America's stature on the world stage.

They say his failure to bring the hammer down on people like the Saudi royal family, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un is already starting to diminish America's power.


TODD (voice-over): President Trump is still swooning over his relationship with Kim Jong-un.

LESLEY STAHL, CBS NEWS HOST: Do you trust him?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do trust him. Yes, I trust him. That doesn't mean I can't be proven wrong, right?

STAHL: Why would you trust him?

TODD (voice-over): In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," the President noted that the North Korean strongman hasn't test-fired a missile or a nuclear warhead in several months, something he credits to his interaction with Kim.

TRUMP: And then we fell in love, OK?

TODD (voice-over): And Trump didn't seem bothered with Kim's track record on human rights.

STAHL: I want to read you his resume, OK?

TRUMP: Go ahead.

STAHL: He presides over a cruel kingdom of repression, gulags, starvation, reports that he had his half-brother assassinated, slave labor, public executions. This is a guy you love?

TRUMP: I know all of 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 have -- I like -- I get along with him, OK?

TODD (voice-over): Trump brushed back when pressed on Vladimir Putin and the fact that he hasn't said a harsh word about Putin in public, claiming he has been tough on the Russian president in private. Still, he cut Putin slack over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.

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

TRUMP: 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.


TODD (voice-over): Analysts say this is part of what could almost be called a Trump doctrine, blindly supporting dictators who've shown favor toward him.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": There's no doubt that the president wants to be as strong and as powerful and to wield that power as ruthlessly as the authoritarian leaders that he admires.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the President is at it again, giving wide latitude to Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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.

TODD (voice-over): The President has had a long-standing affection for the Saudi royal family, making his first-ever trip abroad as president to the kingdom, enjoying a sword dance and basking in a five-story image of himself on the side of a Trump Hotel in Riyadh.

Analysts say Trump's unwavering support for the Saudi royal family and other repressive regimes is hurting America.

AARON DAVID MILLER, VICE PRESIDENT FOR NEW INITIATIVES, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: Once we abandon that moral frame and we become a country of interests rather than just a country of values, I think we have already seen it, a diminution in the respect, the credibility, and, I would argue, in the end, the power.

TODD (voice-over): But regarding the Khashoggi incident, a Trump biographer takes it even further.

D'ANTONIO: Donald Trump has been going around for years calling the press the enemy of the people. There is blood on his hands when it comes to Khashoggi because he created the environment that encourages this kind of lawlessness.


TODD: So far, the White House has not responded to Michael D'Antonio's comments that the President might have blood on his hands over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.

Analysts continue to worry that by cutting so much slack to regimes like the Saudis, the North Koreans, and to Vladimir Putin, the President is also whittling away America's leverage over these countries, not only to get what the U.S. needs from them but to stop them from behaving so badly on the world stage, committing human rights abuses and even murder -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much. Good report. [17:55:00] Coming up, breaking news, just in to CNN. The death toll

from Hurricane Michael climbs again.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Saudi admission? After repeatedly denying any knowledge of a missing journalist's fate, sources tell CNN the Saudis are now preparing to confirm he was killed. But the story they're ready to tell is not easing concerns about a deadly cover-up.

Cries for help. As the President visits the hurricane disaster zone, some survivors are pleading for assistance. But tonight, Mr. Trump is declaring his administration is doing more for the victims than anyone else would have done.

[18:00:06] Show of solidarity. The United States is ramping up its military support for Ukraine and provoking Vladimir Putin along the way.