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Judge Dismisses Stormy Daniels' Defamation Suit Against Trump; U.S. Taking Part in War Games with Ukraine; Interview With Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly; Saudis Preparing to Admit Journalist Was Killed; Hurricane Michael's Aftermath. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 15, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Show of solidarity. The United States is ramping up its military support for Ukraine and provoking Vladimir Putin along the way. And now Russia is accusing the U.S. of crossing a line and encouraging bloodshed.

And genetic mollification. After the president mocked Elizabeth Warren, calling for Pocahontas, the senator has her DNA tested to confirm her Native American roots. Did she also confirm her hopes of running against Mr. Trump in 2020?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, the Saudi government apparently is on the brink of changing its story about the fate of a journalist whose disappearance has escalated tensions with the United States.

CNN has learned that the Saudis are preparing to admit that Jamal Khashoggi was, in fact, killed, claiming he died during an interrogation that went wrong. This just hours after President Trump seemed to buy the Saudi king's denial of any involvement in or knowledge of the Khashoggi fate.

Also breaking right now, the death toll from Hurricane Michael just rose to 19 as Mr. Trump is wrapping up his tour of the disaster area.

This hour, I will talk with Congressman Gerry Connolly, who represents the Virginia district where Khashoggi lived. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward. She is joining us live from Turkey.

Clarissa, you broke the story on this report being prepared by the Saudis. What are they planning to admit?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, what we're learning essentially is that this report, which we know the Saudis have been working on for some time, what they have called essentially an internal investigation, that when it will be released, it will contain, according to these two sources, an admission that Jamal Khashoggi was, indeed, killed while he was in custody in the Saudi Consulate.

They will be framing it essentially as a botched operation, as an interrogation gone wrong, as an attempted abduction from Turkey potentially -- or presumably, I should say, to Saudi Arabia with horrible and unintended, they will insist, consequences.

They are also likely to say that the men who carried out the operation did not do so with the correct level of clearance and transparency, and also that there will likely be repercussions, that there will be disciplinary action taken against these men.

One of our sources did, however, caution that the report hasn't been issued yet. It is still possible that Saudi Arabia will change the narrative. It will not be, of course, as you know, the first time that we have seen the narrative change since Khashoggi disappeared, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Clarissa, Saudi Arabia originally denied all of the allegations. Is this just a cover story now in the works?

WARD: Well, certainly, there are a lot of people who are going to see it that way, and notwithstanding whether or not it is a cover story, some serious questions remain.

Who ordered this? Is it acceptable -- even if it wasn't the intention to kill him, is it acceptable that he should be interrogated, that he should be potentially beaten, that he should have been -- that there should have been an attempted rendition to take him to Saudi territory?

Who would have known about this? Who is in a position of authority to sign off on such a thing? There's no sense really that just because the Saudis offer this narrative, that this story will go away, Wolf. There are a lot of people with a lot of questions about how it was that this really happened.

BLITZER: Earlier today, as you know, Clarissa, the president -- President Trump touted the Saudi king's denials. How will this admission, if it emerges in the coming hours, impact the overall U.S.- Saudi relationship?

WARD: Well, it was an interesting thing because, at the same time, Wolf, as he apparently said, oh, King Salman told me he knows absolutely nothing about it, he then went on to almost break news himself by referring to rogue killers.

It was unclear exactly what he meant by that, where he got that idea from, who was even talking about killers when it hadn't yet been confirmed that Khashoggi had died in Saudi custody.

But, certainly, as you say, this puts a real spotlight on the relationship, a very cozy, tight relationship, particularly the relationship between Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

After this, a lot of people will be asking if it is an appropriate relationship to continue, given the gravity of the nature of what we're hearing has happened.


BLITZER: All right, good reporting, Clarissa. Thank you very much.

Now to President Trump and his response to Saudi Arabia's evolving story about Khashoggi's disappearance.

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

Jim, the president talked briefly about this Khashoggi case once again tonight as he was wrapping up his visit to the hurricane disaster area in Florida and Georgia.

What did he say?


President Trump was talking about this mystery, a mystery that perhaps is on its way to getting solved after taking a look at the storm damage left behind after Hurricane Michael. Before his trip, as Clarissa was saying, the president was speculating 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, as we saw earlier today, and the king denied his government killed the journalist. The president said he is aware of the reports that Khashoggi may have died during a botched interrogation and that he is now looking into it.


ACOSTA (voice-over): After talking up denials from Saudi Arabia that the kingdom had nothing to do with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump now says he will look into reports that the Saudi journalist was killed during an interrogation gone wrong.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to have to see what they say, and we're working very close with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey, and they're working together to figure out what happened. I heard that report, but nobody knows if it is an official report. So far, it is just the rumor, the rumor of reporting.

ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, the president said he was developing some theories that rogue killers were to blame. That revelation came right after a phone call with Saudi Arabia's King Salman.

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.

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

QUESTION: 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 is a distinction he made last week as well.

TRUMP: Well, we have -- it is not our country. It is in Turkey, and it is 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 has 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.

QUESTION: You said you would pay one million dollars to charity.

TRUMP: I didn't say that. You better read it again.

ACOSTA: The president added, he hopes it is Warren he faces in 2020.

TRUMP: She will destroy the country. She will 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 is 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 predecessor's.

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


ACOSTA: The president still has more questions to answer about Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr. Trump has embraced the Saudis as close allies, a relationship that promises to continue to come under close scrutiny, Wolf. And when you consider the fact that the president earlier today was echoing these denials from King Salman, it raises the question whether or not the king was lying to the president of the United States or whether the king himself was in the dark -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting from the White House, thank you.

Joining us now, Congressman Gerry Connolly. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. He represents, by the way, the Virginia district where Jamal Khashoggi lived.

Thanks so much, Congressman, for joining us.


BLITZER: As you know, one Turkish official had told CNN this was a premeditated murder. "The New York Times" reported that the perpetrators actually brought a bone saw into the consulate to cut up and dispose of the body.


So why are the Saudis now suggesting that they're going to be releasing a report saying this was an interrogation that simply went horribly wrong?

CONNOLLY: Well, first of all, obviously, our hearts go out to Mr. Khashoggi and his family and his fiancee for this terrible tragedy.

Obviously, the answer to that question is, this is all the beginning of both a cover-up and separating the crown prince from the action, because the blowback has been profound. I think the Saudis and the crown prince grossly underestimated the kind of international program that followed this action.

And so, after almost two weeks, the Saudis are finally admitting what the Turks and U.S. intelligence certainly knew, which was that Mr. Khashoggi never left the consulate after entering it and was murdered and dismembered on the premises.

Now, for Mr. Trump today to say, well, maybe it was rogue elements simply is disingenuous. He is briefed every day by our intelligence community. He gets the highest intelligence brief anyone can get. He certainly was made aware of the fact that we knew this was what happened.

And for him to sort of play along with the Saudis that, well, they deny it, maybe it was just rogue elements, nice try. Not true. And he knows it.

BLITZER: How plausible would it be, from your perspective -- you're on the Foreign Affairs Committee -- that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no role, had no knowledge of what was taking place at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul?

CONNOLLY: Zero chance.

Turkish intelligence has already let it be known that they have intercepts, we have intercepts that this was plotted and involved personally the crown prince.

BLITZER: It is one thing for the crown prince to be aware of it, to orchestrate it, to authorize it, but do you think King Salman himself, his father, who is old, that he was involved in this as well?

CONNOLLY: I can't imagine the crown prince would operate without informing the boss, the king of Saudi Arabia, and certainly by now the king of Saudi Arabia is fully aware of the international reaction and the damage this has done, and has been briefed by the crown prince and other Saudi officials about what happened, how it happened, and what the reaction has been.

BLITZER: So, when the president said after his phone conversation with King Salman that, you know, maybe rogue killers were responsible, his words, rogue killers, what is your reaction?

CONNOLLY: So 15 high-level Saudi military and intelligence officials, including an autopsy expert, and somebody with a bone saw, went into that consulate. We know it was premeditated in terms of detaining and abducting Mr. Khashoggi, and all of that circumstantial evidence suggests this was plotted, planned, premeditated, and with murder in mind.

BLITZER: But do you think they wanted to kill him or they simply wanted to kidnap him and bring him back to Saudi Arabia?

CONNOLLY: Why would you have an autopsy expert as part of that team if that's what they wanted to do? And why would you have a bone saw? Who goes into a consulate with a bone saw? No, I think it is very clear that they got caught is what happened. BLITZER: So, this notion of this was simply a rendition or a

kidnapping or an interrogation run amok, you don't buy that at all?

CONNOLLY: I don't.

BLITZER: Their intention from your perspective was they were going to get this guy into the Saudi Consulate and execute him?

CONNOLLY: And eliminate him. That was the plan. And I think the crown prince grossly miscalculated the reaction that ensued, and this is going to have lasting damage in the Saudi relationship with the Western world, but I think it also has catastrophic damage, Wolf, to the foreign policy of the Trump administration.

They put all of their eggs in the Saudi basket in the Middle East and now it has blown up in their face.

BLITZER: Because the Turks are the ones who released so much of this information over the past nearly two weeks. They have been releasing, releasing, releasing, and now all of a sudden the Saudis announced they have got a joint investigation under way with the Turks.

I see a smile emerging on your face.

CONNOLLY: Well, the Turks have sort of played both games. They have been the source of what has now turned out to be accurate information, even though it seemed almost fantastical, meaning they would kill him and dismember him, you know, on the premises.

But, apparently, that is what happened. On the other hand, President Erdogan wants to be able to maintain some kind of working relationship with the Saudi king and the crown prince, so he has plausible deniability by saying, no, no, we're happy to work together.

But I think that is a bit of a fiction, too.

BLITZER: Because clearly the president doesn't want this to impact the overall U.S. strategic cooperation, arms sales, for example, to Saudi Arabia.

CONNOLLY: Yes, the president has clearly shown his values, that that sort of, if I can say, trumps everything.


But a cold-blooded murder of a very moderate dissenter -- he had never called for the overthrow of the royal family, just talked about reforms that would be reasonable to most of us certainly in the United States -- and he gave his life for that.

BLITZER: Have you ever met Jamal Khashoggi?

CONNOLLY: I did. I have met him.

BLITZER: Tell us about your meeting with him. I know he lived in your district. CONNOLLY: It was only on one occasion at an event about a year or so

ago, and a very mild-mannered gentleman, and, you know, a very articulate critic, but balanced.

He also praised reforms by the crown prince. But, apparently, the criticism was just simply too much for the royal family, or at least for the crown prince.

BLITZER: At one point, you know, he worked with the Saudi Embassy here in Washington.

CONNOLLY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: When Prince Turki was the Saudi ambassador to the United States, former head of Saudi intelligence. He was a senior media adviser to Prince Turki, so he wasn't always strictly a journalist.


And, you know, he was a well-known figure here in Washington and in Saudi Arabia and, indeed, much of the Middle East region, and was considered a very thoughtful commentator. This is -- I think his murder was designed to have an extreme chilling effect.

The message is, my reach is far and I won't tolerate even that kind of moderate dissent. Imagine what I would do for more radical or extreme dissent.

BLITZER: Congressman Connolly, thanks so much for joining us.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Gerry Connolly of Virginia.

Just ahead, more on the Saudis apparently poised to admit a missing journalist is dead and to portray it all as simply an accident. Will President Trump accept that story?

And we will also get a live update from ground zero of Hurricane Michael and the disaster there, the death toll climbing even higher tonight.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news, sources telling CNN the Saudis are now preparing to admit that the missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed.

We're told they will claim he died in an interrogation that simply went wrong.

Also breaking this hour, the new death toll from Hurricane Michael. It is up to 19.

CNN's Martin Savidge in the hard-hit area of Mexico Beach and the Florida Panhandle.

Martin, this new victim was, what, found dead where you are in Mexico Beach?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Wolf. It now brings the death toll in Mexico Beach to two.

This victim was found this afternoon in the debris field. There is a massive debris field. In fact, if you take a look just from the overhead drone shot, you can see how much debris there is.

This discovery was made by one of the task force. There are several of them that have been sweeping through the community. They have done at least three sweeps through Mexico Beach. They have gone through all of the structures. But now it is coming down to this massive debris field that really is proving to be a challenge, both for humans and the dogs that are being used.

They changed tactics, and the way they changed the tactics, number one, the first sweeps they went through, they were using dogs that could sniff out live scents, meaning people who were still trapped and alive. Now, sadly, they have switched to using cadaver dogs, and it was a cadaver dog that made this hit this afternoon.

They're not saying if it is a male or female and, again, no identification, but we are being told one of the dogs has a third hit. It is not confirmation of a third victim in this community, but it could be a strong indicator.

The other way they have changed tactics, Wolf, is that they have been going back to the addresses of people they know stayed. And if those people haven't been heard from by now, five days in, it is an indicator of a problem. So they have been sending the cadaver dogs into those neighborhoods where they know people stayed and have not been seen or heard from since, and tragically that tactic is turning up results -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tragically, indeed.

Are the people living in the devastated areas getting the food and water they need?

SAVIDGE: In Mexico Beach, they are. But there aren't that many people here.

In other parts of the region, and it is a massive area, there are reports of long lines for people waiting for the basics of food, water and ice. The help is coming in. The problem is the need is tremendous, Wolf.

And that's what people are running up against five days in. Also, tomorrow, the first people will be allowed to return into Mexico Beach. However, they can't come back to live. They're only allowed to come in for a day, retrieve what they can and leave.

This town, city officials say, cannot support the people that once lived here, at least not now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A horrible situation.

All right, Martin, thank you, Martin Savidge reporting for us.

Just ahead: Are the Saudis manipulating President Trump with their changing story about missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the theory about -- quote -- "rogue killers"?

And the president, he says he doesn't care that Senator Elizabeth Warren now has DNA proof of her Native American ancestry. Will voters care if and when she runs for president?



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, sources now telling CNN that Saudi Arabia is preparing a report acknowledging that the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, during an interrogation gone wrong.

Previously, the Saudis claimed that Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi royals, had left the consulate.

Let's get some more from our correspondents and our analysts.

And, Gloria Borger, this new version of what the Saudis apparently are going to be announcing is totally different from the earlier version.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One-eighty. Yes, totally 180. He left the consulate, he was alive. Oops. Now he -- you know, now he -- he died, but it was some rogue operation.

I mean, I think the reason the president sent Pompeo over there is to try and get some straight answers. Gerry Connolly completely disbelieves this and said, you know, this is not true, and we don't know the intelligence that he is looking at. But if there is video, I'm assuming the intelligence has it.

And so you need to get to the bottom of this, because this is kind of ridiculous. And there was a flat denial: "Nobody -- we didn't know about it; nobody involved." I also am skeptical about that.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But isn't the real story here nepotism? Isn't the real story that President Trump has turned over this incredibly important relationship to his incompetent and unqualified son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has invested the American relationship with MBS, the prince there, who turns out to be just as bad and authoritarian as the Saudis have always been.

You know, the president has -- has bought into this program. Why? Why is Jared Kushner in charge of this? And how much could he mess it up?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, David, listen to the president right after his phone conversation with King Salman of Saudi Arabia. He walked out to reporters and said this.


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: What do you think?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A couple of things. First of all, it's possible the king didn't know everything that the crown prince knew or the crown prince didn't know everything, but I have my own degree of skepticism, as well.

The other thing is that the president has gone out of his way in a number of interviews to point out that this isn't an American citizen. OK, but he is a "Washington Post" colleague of mine, and he's a journalist. And he's a person, and the United States is supposed to, at least in theory, stand for something.

One quick final point, Wolf. None of these explanations, whichever one turns out to be true, is good. Let's say it was a botched interrogation. That's not exculpatory. That -- that means that he was either questioned or tortured or something like that, if that, in fact, turns out to be the case. That's no better than a straight-up murder.

BORGER: This reminds me of the president saying, "Oh, Putin denied he hacked the election, too. OK, maybe he didn't do it." It's the same kind of response.

BLITZER: Sabrina, the president when he hears these denials from people he wants to believe, he says the denials were very firm, very strong.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": And it's not just that he is willing to take these denials at face value. This is also a president who, time and again, has dow played some of the brutality of dictators around the world. In fact, he's embraced those like Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin, and you've also seen that, of course, now with the Saudi kingdom.

And the problem with that is that it certainly gives off the sense that some of these regimes can get away with anything that they want, because they don't think that they are going to be held to account.

I think there is a real question now as to what, if anything, Congress will do. Now, they're not currently in session, but on a bipartisan basis, they have called for an investigation. And they have called for the administration to administer sanctions against anyone who might be complicit in this killing. But they did, of course, force the president's hand on Russia. Whether they're going to be able to do it with the Saudis, that remains to be seen.

TOOBIN: I have a prediction about what Congress will do.

BORGER: Nothing.

TOOBIN: Nothing.

BORGER: Yes. I mean, it's --

TOOBIN: They never take on the president, the Republican House, Republican Senate. You know, the -- they --

BORGER: The only one -- Lindsey Graham has been -- has been quite vocal on this.

TOOBIN: Oh, please, gosh. It's like the -- the --

BORGER: I'm just saying.

TOOBIN: It's like they're very concerned. You know, Bob Corker will be very concerned. Ben Sasse will be very concerned, and they will do jack.

BORGER: Well, we'll see.

BLITZER: For two weeks almost the Saudis saying, you know, he came into the embassy, he left, everything was good. They never released video or a picture of him leaving, but that's another story.

And now for them to say, "You know what? There was an interrogation, rogue killers, they killed him. Sorry about that." Is anybody really going to believe any of that?

TOOBIN: Well --

BORGER: The president.

TOOBIN: -- I'm saying, I mean is that an exculpatory explanation? I mean, the fact that they -- that they killed him during an interrogation? I mean, that's worse.

BORGER: Well, I think the big question is whether the king knew and the crown prince knew. And I have to assume that somebody with this degree of visibility, that -- that people up in the government knew, just like I assume Putin knew about the hacking of the election. I mean, these things don't just happen --

TOOBIN: But won't they just lie about what they knew?

BORGER: But there's got to be intelligence. I mean, the Turks don't want to let you know how they bug embassies, so we'll just have --

TOOBIN: Right. BLITZER: And remember, Sabrina, that the prime minister of Lebanon was forced to come to Saudi Arabia and deliver what, in effect, was a hostage videotape declaring the support for Saudi Arabia before they let him go. I have no idea how much money he had to leave behind.

[18:35:10] And remember all those hundreds of Saudi billionaires who were rounded up, held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, and forced to give away a few hundred billion dollars to the crown prince before they were allowed to leave. There is a history of this kind of stuff in recent months.

SIDDIQUI: There is certainly a history, and yet you had a charm offensive that everyone fell for when the crown prince, MBS, came here to Washington. They rolled out the red carpet.

Let's not also forget that Saudi Arabia was the country that the president chose for his maiden foreign trip when he took office, you know. Jeffrey already mentioned the close ties between Jared Kushner and MBS who, you know, he sees as some sort of kindred spirit. There are obviously also investments on the part of the Trump Organization in Saudi Arabia.

So again, I just don't think that you're going to necessarily see the response from this president that you would have seen in any previous administration. And that certainly will, of course, have broader implications for America's moral authority on the globe stage.

BLITZER: And Jeffrey, you don't anticipate any significant change in U.S./Saudi relations?

TOOBIN: No, the president and Jared Kushner are all in with MBS. They view Saudi Arabia as the major check against Iran in the area, which is a reasonable position to take.

But, you know, the complete embrace of Saudi Arabia that's gone on during the year and a half-plus of this administration is a dramatic departure. And look what you get. Look who you're embracing, these killers.

BORGER: What's interesting is you see businesses, big CEOs like Jamie Dimon, pulling out of the big conference that the Saudis are having and saying, "Look, we don't feel we can go until this is resolved."

And the president hinted today -- hinted -- that maybe Steve Mnuchin will not go. I mean, no firm decision has been made. It will be interesting to see whether or not the treasury secretary shows up.

BLITZER: Well, the Saudis might postpone the entire conference.

BORGER: Exactly. Well, that would --

BLITZER: So as to not be embarrassed, because when nobody important shows up, that would be pretty awkward.

BORGER: It would.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following just ahead.

What Elizabeth Warren's DNA test may tell us about the 2020 race for the White House.

Plus, President Trump with some of his most illustrious predecessors. We have details of the unusual portrait that is now hanging in the White House.


[18:42:10] BLITZER: President Trump is dismissing Democratic senator and possible presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren's DNA test. The president has mocked Senator Warren's claim of Native American heritage, calling her "Pocahontas," but the test results she released today shows strong evidence that she has some very, very distant Native American ancestry.

Let's discuss. And Gloria, let me play a portion of the video that Senator Warren released together with this DNA test.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: My daddy always said he fell head over heels in love with my mother the first time he saw her, but my daddy's parents, the Herrings, were bitterly opposed to their marrying, because my mother's family, the Reeds, was part Native American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And under this genome, we did find five segments of Native American ancestry with very high confidence, where we believe the error rate is less than one in 1,000.

WARREN: Now, the president likes to call my mom a liar. What do the facts say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The facts suggest that you absolutely have a Native American ancestor in your pedigree.


BLITZER: All right. So Gloria, what does this video tell you about her 2020 plans?

BORGER: It's here. She's running. I don't know why she had to do this today before the midterm elections. That's another story. The Democrats need to stay on their message, but when 23andMe arrives, I guess you just have to tell the world.

And she wanted to pick a fight with Donald Trump, which is probably good for Donald Trump and his base, but she's running. I mean, there's no doubt about it. She's released her tax returns, ten years of tax returns. You know, she's trying to get all of the housekeeping done before -- before any kind of announcement.

BLITZER: She's clearly running, as a whole bunch of other Democrats are clearly running. David Swerdlick, watch -- watch this clip of how the president responded.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She owes the country an apology. What's the percentage? One-1,000th?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the money that you told her you would donate?

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.


BLITZER: During the campaign he did say he would give a million dollars to the charity of her choice if she did take a DNA test.

SWERDLICK: Sure. So there is a debate to be had about the percentage of Native American ancestry she has, and that's fine; and we'll have it. I'm not someone who uses the term gaslighting. I'm going to use it here, Wolf.

The president was trying to gaslight people today. There's tape of him saying, "I'll give a million dollars to the charity of your choice if you take a DNA test," and now he's throwing all these conditions on it, post hoc. This is what President Trump does. He's going to keep doing it, but I just want to call it out for what it is because this is -- this is the definition of gaslighting: "I didn't say what I once said."

BLITZER: Some have already started making comparisons when he used to go after President Obama and the birther controversy. Finally, President Obama released his original birth certificate from the state of Hawaii, showing he was born in Hawaii, not in Kenya. The president -- president -- the then candidate, private citizen, Donald Trump, he still didn't believe it.

TOOBIN: No, it wasn't a birther controversy. It was a birther lie that began from day one, that was always a set of lies. This is a somewhat more complicated subject, but I think Elizabeth Warren is trying to get ahead of it and say, look, you want to call me Pocahontas, go ahead, I do have Native American blood. I told the story, it is a family tale that now has been confirmed.

I think it is about the least important thing you can say about Elizabeth Warren's politics, but it obviously has gotten a lot of attention and she wants to get ahead of it.

BLITZER: How do you see it, Sabrina?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: Well, I think there's certainly two issues here, and would is this sort of ground work that Elizabeth Warren is laying out when it comes to a possible presidential bid, but when it comes to this feud she's had with President Trump, as everyone has pointed out, I don't think anything she says or does is going to stop the president from using the derogatory nickname that he had to kind of attack her, having talked about her Native American heritage.

But it is also worth noting "The Boston Globe" did a fairly comprehensive investigation and they did not find any received to support the notion that she benefitted from her claim of Native American ancestry.


BLITZER: It didn't help her necessarily.

BORGER: Get a job.

BLITZER: Get a job at various law schools around the country.

All right. Gloria, take a look at this painting hanging at the White House.

TOOBIN: Art critic, Gloria.


BLITZER: You can see --

BORGER: How thin the president looks.

BLITZER: You can see a bunch of guys there, sitting around enjoying -- clearly President Trump loves this painting.

BORGER: Well, he looks quite svelte. Everybody is looking at him. He is having a conversation with Abraham Lincoln, and everybody is smiling and laughing and he is the complete center of attention. What's not to like? Now it hangs in the White House instead of being on a jigsaw puzzle, right?

SIDDIQUI: And the artist, Andy Thomas, made a similar portrait depicting former Democratic presidents. None of those, of course, made their way to the White House, but this is a president who referred to the West Wing as a dump and has undergone renovations that include gold drapings and upholstery.

He does like to be the center of attention. He also has a map hanging that shows his winnings on the night of the 2016 election, so I don't think it is surprising this now has its place.

BLITZER: Let's get art expert Jeffrey Toobin into this discussion.

TOOBIN: It is superb. It is superb painting, I think. No, look, if he's happy, I'm happy. If he likes that painting, God Bless.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: My eyes go right to who I think is Calvin Coolidge over Teddy Roosevelt's shoulder and the look on his face says, this is not what I had in mind.


BLITZER: Guys, we got more news coming up. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.


[18:52:34] BLITZER: We're getting breaking news into THE SITUATION ROOM, a judge has just now dismissed Stormy Daniels defamation lawsuit against President Trump.

Jeffrey Toobin is here to explain this development.

Significant legal development.

TOOBIN: Big win for the president and his lawyers. Big loss for Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford, and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti. I believe Michael Avenatti has a tweet in response to this, what he said?

BLITZER: He says, the judges limited ruling, Daniels other claims against Trump and Cohen proceed unaffected. Trump's contrary claims are as deceptive as his claims about the inauguration attendance. We will appeal the dismissal of the defamation cause of action, and are confident in a reversal.

TOOBIN: Right, this relates to a tweet that the president made that was critical of Stormy Daniels, that -- she filed a libel suit, a defamation case against him for that. The part of the case has been thrown out, but the part of Stormy Daniels lawsuit against the president to be free of the agreement -- nondisclosure agreement is still pending, and so there are more legal fights pending between the president and Stormy Daniels.

But today relates to defamation, a complete win for the president, including a grant of attorneys fees to the president, which is a particular slap in the face towards Stormy Daniels and Mr. Avenatti.

BLITZER: So, Gloria, he's going to be pretty happy about this, the president?

BORGER: Well, yes, because he doesn't have to pay his attorney fees, Avenatti will have more time to run for president, maybe. But as he says, it's not over, because there is still -- the other nondisclosure agreement is still in contention and she wants to be free of that.

BLITZER: There are all sorts of other legal battles going on as well.

SWERDLICK: No, I do think that the NDA issue may end up being a bigger issue for the public at large. But I think at the end of day, right, everybody already ahs -- in the country, has an opinion about what happened or didn't happen between President Trump and Stormy Daniels.

TOOBIN: And Michael Avenatti really wants to depose President Trump.


TOOBIN: This doesn't affect the final decision about whether he'll get to depose President Trump, but it certainly doesn't help. BLITZER: It makes it a lot more difficult.

SIDDIQUI: It also doesn't change the fact that had it not been for the lawsuit brought by Stormy Daniels, you probably wouldn't have Michael Cohen go and implicate the president in a federal crime in a court of law.

[18:55:06] BLITZER: All right. Breaking news, we're going to stay on top of this story as well.

Other news we're following, President Trump is touting his support for Ukraine as it faces Russian aggression saying that he's sending weapons to Ukraine, while President Obama, quote, sent pillows and blankets. And now, the United States is taking part in exercises with Ukraine's military.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance. He's watching all of this unfold. He's in Moscow with an exclusive report.

Matthew, what's the reaction there to these war games?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Russians certainly are happier, and they're even less happy with what U.S. officials are telling me this evening, which is that Ukraine will be receiving more military aide from the United States over the months ahead, again, something that's going to really anger the Kremlin even further.

All this, of course, as the California National Guard have sent their warplanes to Ukraine for joint exercises with the Ukrainian air force in a bid to lift that country's military performance.


CHANCE (voice-over): This is the United States ramping up its military support for Ukraine. These clear sky exercises with the U.S. and Ukrainian warplanes flying wing to wing are meant as a show of solidarity. But with Ukraine fighting Russian-backed rebels in the country's east, it's also a potent message to Moscow.

MAJOR GENERAL DAVID BALDWIN, CALIFORNIA NATIONAL GUARD: As the Ukrainian security forces and their armed forces become more and more capable, it allows them to better defend the sovereignty of their country and deal with the problems they have internally.

CHANCE (on camera): Isn't that immensely provocative? Aren't you worried that could pour aviation fuel on the flames of the raging conflict here?

BALDWIN: We are demonstrating our resolve. And what we're doing here is certainly not as aggressive or controversial as supporting insurgents across some other country's international boundaries.

CHANCE (voice-over): But U.S. military support for Ukraine is evolving fast. In September, the country's president formally took delivery of two U.S. patrol boats to bolster Ukraine's depleted navy.

And more controversy, U.S. javelin anti-tank missiles are now in Ukrainian hands. They've not been used in battle yet, but Moscow says their deployment crosses a line and encourages bloodshed.

It's not just the sky that's clear, but the risk of escalation too.

(on camera): Well, these joint exercises are just the latest sign of the dramatic changes that have taken place in U.S. policy towards Ukraine. The old reservations about ramping up tensions with Moscow seem to have receded into the background while the new policy of training and arming Ukraine has really started to take off.

(voice-over): U.S. officials say their support is a response to Moscow's meddling. The U.S. embassy in Ukraine posting a link to these drone images earlier this month. They show military vehicles driving in and out of Ukraine from Russia, according to international monitors.

Moscow must stop providing deadly weapons under the cover of night to its proxies in eastern Ukraine the embassy said on Twitter. It is a diplomatic balancing act for the U.S. ambassador. Grappling with what critics say is confusion in the Trump administration towards Ukraine.

(on camera): On the one hand, you're arming the country as we discussed. On the other hand, President Trump has on occasion spoken about -- spoken in what's been described as a deferential way towards Russia and towards Vladimir Putin. Do you believe that America is sending mixed messages when it comes to Ukraine?

MARIE YOVANOVITCH, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Well, I look at our policy, I think our policy is getting, is a pretty good one towards Ukraine and is getting stronger. So, we are providing assistance as you described. And I think we're on the path to providing more assistance on the security side in this coming fiscal year.

CHANCE (voice-over): More assistance, more training, more weapons. The trumpeting, you could say, of a dangerous new era.


CHANCE: Well, Wolf, the Kremlin has been eyeing these latest U.S. exercises in Ukraine with some concern.

It's been stepping up its own military exercises, of course, in response. Vladimir Putin, Russia's leader, says it will meet what it calls western and U.S. aggressiveness with an assertive response -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting live from Moscow for us, good report, thank you very much.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.