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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Virginia Senator Mark Warner; Trump Reiterates Saudi Denials on Missing Journalist; Trump Throws More Insults at Stormy Daniels. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired October 16, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All smiles in front of the cameras from the Trump administration today, as we found out gruesome new details about the butchering of a journalist.
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Trump seemingly standing by the Saudi king's denial in the disappearance of a "Washington Post" journalist, as the secretary of state smiles for the cameras with those who allegedly ordered the slaughter.
From holding hands to selling arms, if you're wondering why Washington can't quit the Saudis, follow the money.
Plus, about that woman problem. President Trump tweeting a cheap shot at Stormy Daniels, going right to his familiar playbook of attacking a woman's appearance. Does, well, she started it work between a president and a porn star?
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with our world lead. Despite mass skepticism in world capitals and on Capitol Hill, President Trump seemed to take the Saudi regime at its word again, tweeting -- quote -- "Just spoke with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate. He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the call and told me that he has already started and will rapidly start a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly."
Then, in an interview this afternoon, the president once again standing by Saudi denials and lending credibility to their calls for an investigation into what Democrats and Republicans say the Saudis likely ordered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It depends whether or not the king or the crown prince knew about it, in my opinion, number one, what happened, but whether or not they knew about it. If they knew about it, that would be bad. (END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: But the president does not seem to think that they knew about it.
A senior national security adviser to the president told CNN that Trump's response to the apparent murder and dismemberment of a "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi -- quote -- "may be the most controversial decision of his presidency."
The relationship between the two world powers is at a major crossroads. Dispatched by the president to meet with the Saudis, Pompeo was all smiles before the cameras today while meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, whom today has been defended by the president and his administration.
This all comes as we await a report from the Saudi regime that two sources tell CNN will admit Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate in Istanbul by Saudis. That report, which is still being drafted, may claim that the death happened during a botched interrogation carried out by individuals who supposedly did not have the clearance to conduct the operation.
We have the story covered from right here in Washington all the way to the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
Let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon first.
Barbara, Secretary Pompeo was in the air for half-a-day for two meetings that were pretty brief.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Brief indeed, Jake.
Now, supposedly, in his meeting with the crown prince, the two men agreed to a transparent investigation. And you are right. There are a lot of skeptics about whether that is even possible.
STARR (voice-over): On the last-minute mission to find out if Saudi Arabia ordered the killing of a "Washington Post" journalist, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was all smiles and seemingly jovial as he greeted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man increasingly suspected of masterminding the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.
Both men playing the diplomatic card.
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I thank you for hosting on such short notice.
STARR: Pompeo held a brief first meeting with the elderly King Salman, and then the crown prince, the de facto ruler of the kingdom. Pompeo flew over 12 hours for less than one hour of discussions. The State Department called the meetings direct and candid. GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: In
private, he has got to impose the reality on the kingdom's leadership that this is an incredibly serious issue.
STARR: The president now tweeting he spoke with the crown prince, who denied any knowledge of the killing. Trump taking his word that "he has already started and will rapidly expand a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly."
How President Trump holds Saudi Arabia accountable may be the most consequential decision of his presidency, a senior adviser to the president tells CNN.
The vice president seeming to understand that.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's important that the world know the truth. If, in fact, Mr. Khashoggi was murdered, we need to know who was responsible. We need to hold those responsible.
STARR: But, so far, Mr. Trump is not willing to directly point the finger at Saudi leaders, wanting not to give up what he claims will be a $110 billion U.S. arms deal.
TRUMP: That hurts our workers. That hurts our factories. That hurts all of our companies. You're talking about 500,000 jobs.
STARR: Republicans disagree.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: There isn't enough money in the world to purchase back our credibility on human rights and the way nations should conduct themselves.
STARR: Back at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where Khashoggi was last seen, Turkish investigators searched the compound for nine hours, looking into clues that toxic materials were there and painted over in the two weeks since Khashoggi disappeared.
STARR: And, tomorrow, Mike Pompeo is scheduled to be in Turkey for meetings with officials there to try and learn more about what happened in that country -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much.
CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is on the ground in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
And, Sam, even if President Trump believes the denials, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are not buying it. Is there any concern in Saudi Arabia about possible U.S. government retaliation?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is inevitably, Jake.
There are two major concerns. There is the place of Saudi Arabia in the wider world. Possible retaliation from the United States could easily take the form of restricting access to ammunition supplies for the war into Yemen, which in any case is controversial and highly unpopular, even among the population here, Jake.
And then on top of that, talking of the domestic population, there is a strong sense that, if this incident did happen, and many people don't believe that it did, but if the evidence comes out that it did happen, that that is a national shame, and that will put pressure internally on MBS, Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, to -- and those around him to try to somehow restructure the whole Saudi royal family and the ruling elements that at the moment have been really heavily concentrated in his hands over the last couple of years, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Sam Kiley in Riyadh, thank you so much.
Joining me now is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Vice Chairman Mark Warner from Virginia.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: President Trump just tweeted that he spoke with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and that the Saudis deny any involvement, any knowledge of the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi and that the Saudis are vowing a full investigation.
Do you trust the Saudis on this?
WARNER: I don't think I trust the Saudis on this, because I don't think they have been very forthcoming.
I also want to make sure that we get whatever evidence that the Turkish government may have. I think there needs to be a full-fledged international investigation. And it appears to me that the Saudi story, even in the last 24 hours, has been changing, to where they may be acknowledging that the journalist, Khashoggi, was murdered, but somehow presenting the notion that it was rogue elements.
I mean, come on, Jake. This is actually not some dark room or off some dark, deserted road. This is inside the Saudi Consulate, and 15 individuals coming over from Saudi Arabia for what at least appears to be one task only, and that was the elimination of Mr. Khashoggi.
TAPPER: So you're the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Have you seen intelligence about this, and if so, what can you tell us about it?
WARNER: I'm not going to speak to any of the classified information that I may have seen. I do know that I think our government is gathering that information, and we will be briefed appropriately.
But this is clearly a case where it appears -- and I think a lot of us had hopes that MBS, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, might be moving towards liberalizing his nation, allowing more rights of women. But we have seen now a repeated pattern, not only in terms of Mr. Khashoggi, but earlier, just this past year, where MBS basically imprisoned hundreds of his relatives to extract payments from them, where they held hostage the Lebanese prime minister, even stories about MBS kind of restraining his mother in a basement.
There seems to be, unfortunately, a pattern here that is reminiscent of the old authoritarian Saudi governments.
TAPPER: So I want to get to MBS in a second. But let's talk for a second, if we can, about the meeting between Secretary of State Pompeo and the leadership of Saudi Arabia.
They seemed to be all smiles in front of the camera. Are you confident that behind the scenes Secretary Pompeo delivered a tough message on behalf of President Trump in the U.S.?
WARNER: Well, I'm not going to criticize Secretary Pompeo for the public footage.
I do wonder what appears to have been only with the king at least a 10- or 15-minute meeting, whether he fully represented the extent -- maybe this president doesn't feel, but I can assure you that broadly based bipartisan feeling here in the Senate is if this journalist, who had been living in Virginia, in my state, was murdered in this heinous way inside the Saudi Consulate, there needs to be consequences, because our government -- this is more than an economic deal, which is the way the president seems to reduce any of these, into some kind of monetary exchange.
You know, our government has stood for a free press. We have stood for human rights. This president hasn't been willing to voice those kind of feelings, but clearly there's a broad base of bipartisan senators who will try to hold the Saudi government accountable, if this all proves to be the case.
TAPPER: A Turkish official told CNN today that Khashoggi's body was chopped up. Is that true? And how much stock do you put in reports from the Turks?
WARNER: Well, Jake, we have heard, again, published reports that the Turks may have either audio or visual -- videos.
I'm not aware whether that is true or not. But there have been public reports. I would hope that if the Turkish government did have that kind of evidence, that in an appropriate way they would make that -- present that to the international community, obviously including our government.
TAPPER: This administration has embraced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, as he's known. And, as you note, he's gone after critics, he's gone after internal dissidents.
Take a listen to your colleague Republican Senator Lindsey Graham earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The MBS figure is to me toxic. He can never be a world leader on the world stage. This is in our face. I feel personally offended. They have nothing but contempt for us. This guy has got to go.
Saudi Arabia, if you're listening, there are a lot of good people you can choose, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Senator Warren, do you agree, MBS has got to go?
WARNER: First of all, I think we need to get all of the facts out before we reach a final conclusion.
But the behavior of the Saudi officials does not inspire any confidence. If the Turks have this evidence, it ought to be brought forward.
But what I would also hope from my Republican colleagues an indication that the president of the United States, who speaks up for our values, which is respect for a free press, which is respect for human rights, needs to be willing to speak out more strongly than he has.
And, quite honestly, this is more than an economic transaction between our arm sales and the Saudis. Listen, the Saudis are an important partner in many ways in a very dangerous neighborhood. But this kind of behavior should not be allowed on the international scene.
TAPPER: Sources tell CNN that Saudi Arabia is preparing to say that Khashoggi was killed during a botched interrogation and the whole operation was carried out by individuals without the clearance to do so.
What are the odds, what's the percentage that this happened with Saudi King Salman or MBS not knowing about it or not authorizing it?
WARNER: Well, Jake, we have seen visual evidence and the Turks have reported 15 Saudi agents flying in to Istanbul, going to the consulate, which, is my understanding, plenty of Saudi diplomats are there, and then coming out and within a 24-hour period leaving the country.
Again, that's a large group of individuals coming in. This was not some dark alley. This was inside the Saudi Consulate. It's strains any credibility that somehow the leadership of the Saudi regime, which is so authoritarian, wouldn't have knowledge of these actions.
TAPPER: Senator Mark Warner, vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, thanks for your time, sir.
WARNER: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: Oil, bombs, billions -- how Saudi Arabia shapes U.S. policy, and may be able to get away with murder. That's next.
And throwing slime on executive time. While President Trump faces a tremendous decision on Saudi Arabia, he decides to call Stormy Daniels a -- quote -- "horseface" on Twitter. And Stormy isn't staying silent either.
Stay with us.
[16:17:42] TAPPER: In our money lead, President Trump is now trying to distance himself from any financial ties to Saudi Arabia, tweeting today, quote: For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia or Russia, for that matter. Any suggestion that I have is just more fake news of which there is plenty.
You'll notice the specific language there. The president said he has no financial interest in Saudi Arabia, which, of course, does not mean he doesn't have Saudi financial interests in the United States, which he bragged about on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saudi Arabia and I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Of course, the U.S. looking the other way for Saudi human rights abuses long predated the murder of Khashoggi or President Trump. If you're wondering why Saudi Arabia has been able to get away with it for so long, well, just follow the money.
TAPPER (voice-over): Mr. President, you may not have financial interests in Saudi Arabia, but you certainly have them with Saudi Arabia. In fact, financially driven friendships have fueled Saudis influence in Washington for decades, lining pockets of Republicans and Democrats alike from K Street to Capitol Hill and beyond.
BEN FREEMAN, CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL POLICY: They have lobbyists that will contact your member of Congress on the Hill. They have public relations firms that will contact big media outlets on their behalf. So wherever they need influence, they have it.
TAPPER: Abby Asher Shapiro from the Committee to Protect Journalists named names, tweeting out foreign agent registration records from former Reagan official HP Goldfield from a former staffer for Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and even from Norm Coleman, a former Republican senator from Minnesota turned lobbyist, among others.
And just before Donald Trump visited the kingdom on his first foreign trip as president last year, the Saudi government hired three U.S. lobbying firms near the White House, one made up of former Trump advisers, receiving annual compensation of $5.4 million, according to federal records.
FREEMAN: One of those goals is to make sure that arms sales keep flowing from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia. Another is to make sure that the U.S. turns a blind eye to a lot of civilian casualties being experienced in the war in Yemen. Other issues include domestic human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.
[16:20:01] They want U.S. policymakers to turn a blind eye to.
TAPPER: Of course, it's not just the government. It's the president's private businesses, as well.
TRUMP: Saudi Arabia and I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me, they spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.
TAPPER: Now relationships with one of the world's largest oil suppliers are being put to the test. As, sources say, the regime prepares to acknowledge "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was killed in Turkey. Saudi officials will continue, of course, to come to the United States and they have plenty of places to stay. The Saudi government purchased the 45th floor of Trump Tower back in 2001 for $4.5 million.
Although more recently, Saudi lobbying firms spent more than a quarter million dollars at the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The road to the White House, after all, is familiar territory for the royal family.
FREEMAN: We found in our research that the Saudis do a great job of hiring lobbyists who make campaign contributions to people who can get things done they need to get done. In fact, we found several instances where lobbyists made campaign contributions to folks on the exact same day they were contacted by a Saudi lobbyist.
TAPPER: Let's talk about it with my experts.
And, Mona, let me start with you, because this doesn't take into account the lobbying from the defense contractors who sell arms to countries like the Saudis. But it really is remarkable how wired they have this town.
MONA CHAREN, CONSERVATIVE SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, the world is full of bad actors and sometimes you have to deal with them and that's the world we live in. But what isn't acceptable is an attempt to white wash what they are, an attempt to let them off the hook. And this case was so flagrant. To kill a U.S. resident, a contributor to the "Washington Post" in the consulate that way, it was a -- it was a reckless thing to do and it was something that cried out for a little bit of moral leadership and taking a stand by the president. And that's what's missing. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And, you know, their
hooks into Washington are not new, right? It's been going on a long time. So you ask yourself, what changed, what changed that made them feel they could do something this egregious and get away with it? And you have to kind of, you know, clearly point out, the change is we have a president who will not talk about human rights, who is utterly transactional in his view of every foreign policy relationship in every possible level.
And I think, you know, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they felt emboldened by the way Donald Trump has talked about the way nations behave in the world.
CHAREN: You also have a new crown prince.
BROWNSTEIN: You have a new crown price on the other end.
BROWNSTEIN: Who may be more reckless himself.
TAPPER: Two more lobbying firms announced they're stopping work on behalf of Saudi Arabia. CNN confirmed that the Glover Park Group, which is generally a Democratic consulting group, has stopped work for the Saudi embassy. The "Washington Post" reports that Republican- funded lobbying group BGR is following suit.
Is this -- are they just now waking up to what the Saudis are? Or what is -- they did not know that they -- were not human rights supporters?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, I think that's the problem with this, is that, yes, this is egregious. And I do think when there is an attack on a journalist, it also is a different kind of attack. It takes on a more political flavor in the sense that, you know, journalists are protecting us by their coverage in a particular -- this journalist was.
But the reality is, they're -- you know, they're abusing the people that live under them every single day. They do public executions, 47 people in one day. I mean, there is a lot of alarming things going on in that country. And so, it seems like until it gets on to the international stage, people can kind of look the other way and say, well, you know, we have to do business with them.
But, you know, the U.S. government has to do business with them. Business people don't have to do business with them.
TAPPER: PR firms have to do business.
POWERS: Yes, there's no -- I mean, we have to. I mean, we have a -- you know, air force base there. We do rely on them. There are some reasons to have a relationship with them.
But if you're a PR firm, you don't have to do this.
TAPPER: So the State Department after the meeting with Mike Pompeo -- with Saudi crown prince today put out a description of their conversations. The secretary welcomed Saudi Arabia's support of the Turkish authority's investigation. The secretary and the crown prince agreed on the importance of a thorough, transparent and timely investigation that provides answers.
OK. Thorough, transparent -- we know they have had cleaning crews and apparently painters go in. And timely, this took place two weeks ago.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, the "First 48" is a show that basically shows police officers trying to discover who the perpetrator is behind a crime -- a murderer in the first 48 hours. Now, we're in the first two weeks right now. It's almost blatant what we have seen the Saudis do. They sent a cleaning crew in, in front of cameras. It was basically -- they were flipping the middle finger at the world, saying we're going to do what we want to do.
But I do think, to add to what Ron had said earlier, the idea that president Trump hasn't acted in a way that he should. Look at what we have seen happen in the Philippines. Look at what we have seen happen in Turkey in and of itself. Look at what we have seen happen in Russia.
[16:25:00] And now, we have seen this journalist killed right now. I don't think we would see it to this level, certainly not this publicized, if Donald Trump didn't attack the media day in and day out.
CHAREN: Well, with all due respect, and I'm not shy about criticizing President Trump, and I don't approve of the way he sent signals that this kind of thing is okay. At the same time, he didn't create Duterte. He predated him.
The same thing with the other countries you mentioned, certainly Putin. So it's a little bit --
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. They feel, I think, they have more room to move. But look at his quote about Putin on "60 Minutes", he's not doing it here.
TAPPER: He's not doing it here.
BROWNSTEIN: As if that's okay.
TAPPER: Everybody, stick around. We got more to talk about.
President Trump, sadly, doing what President Trump does, insulting a woman's appearance. And the vicious attack on Stormy Daniels wasn't his only moment of Twitter rage today. Stay with us.
TAPPER: While the world waits to see whether President Trump will have a forceful response to the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis, President Trump has no problem taking on battles here at home, usually using some particularly ugly language. For instance, he took aim at porn star Stormy Daniels, to whom he paid hush money to keep quiet about their alleged extramarital relationship.
After a judge dismissed her defamation lawsuit, the president of the United States this afternoon called her, quote, "horseface".