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Marco Rubio: There isn't Enough Money in the World to Buy Back Our Credibility on Human Rights; Pompeo Meets with Saudi King Crown Prince Over Khashoggi; Trump Allies Launch Ads Painting Dems as "Angry Mob"; Stocks Set for Higher Open as Earnings Roll in; Interview with Senator Ben Cardin. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 16, 2018 - 9:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Pompeo also met with the Saudi crown prince who many suspect of sealing Khashoggi's fate but who, like the other Saudis involved here, was all smiles with the visiting American.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right. We know optics are very, very important and what was said by the State Department and what was not said in the read-out of this meeting. We will get into all of this.

And this all comes as sources tell CNN the Saudis soon will announce that Khashoggi was indeed killed at the Turkish consulate in a botched interrogation, that he was a Saudi royal insider, we know, turned dissident journalist who also reported in this country for the "Washington Post."

Turkish investigators this morning who searched the consulate yesterday are now searching the home of the consul-general. Turkey's president says they are looking for, quote, "toxic material," among other things.

Let's go to our Sam Kiley who joins us in Riyadh this morning.

So you're there. The secretary of state is there. What we're hearing is that this meeting with the Saudi king, with King Salman, took 15 minutes. And the read-out from the State Department leaves a lot out. But it does thank the Saudis for their partnership with the United States, Sam. Perplexing given all of the allegations here.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's a very awkward trip indeed for the U.S. secretary of State. He's coming into an environment in which he wants to be able to keep the close association between his country and this kingdom going. And no doubt the personal relationships that exist between members of the Trump administration and in particular the son of the king here, Mohammed bin Salman, who is the real force in the land.

Now just as he was meeting with the crown prince, Mr. Mike Pompeo again, a very convivial meeting. It lasted 30 to 40 minutes. And there was a brief moment I think which is very revealing which I'd like to read to you, which had just been sent by a pool reporter on the ground. Just a brief exchange in which Mohammed bin Laden says, "We are really strong and old allies, so we face our challenges together, the past, the day of, tomorrow." And Pompeo replies, absolutely.

The no sign there, therefore, at least in public, of any real American anger. Perhaps a little bit of concern expressed in the desire to see an open and rapid conclusion to the investigation. But no sign whatsoever that the Americans have come into read the Riot Act. Much less I think -- much more likely, though, is to try to agree to some kind of narrative in the future, which would allow both nations to try to put this unsavory incident behind them and perhaps for those reasons Donald Trump used the word that he thought maybe these were rogue killers, perhaps paving the way for the Saudi establishment to wriggle out of it.

HARLOW: Sam Kiley, very important reporting and context for us in Riyadh this morning. Thank you.

Let's get the latest on this investigation that is taking place in Turkey. Our Clarissa Ward is in the Turkish capital of Ankara.

I mean, Clarissa, what is the reaction from the Turkish government to finally being able to search the consulate and then seeing what is a very apparently warm meeting that we're seeing between the secretary of State and King Salman, and the rhetoric from the White House on this?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Poppy, because yesterday Turkish authorities were very quiet, very buttoned up. There were no more leaks coming out. There seemed to be a spirit of positivity around this joint working force. They had access to the consulate. They spent most of the night in there with the prosecutor's team, with forensics teams.

And yet today, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is spending time with the royal family in Riyadh, we're hearing a slight shift again potentially from President Erdogan, just drip feeding some little elements, some little morsels of information to reporters, talking, as you mentioned in the introduction to this segment, about the potential presence of toxic materials, talking also about how it appears that some parts of the consulate had been painted over, essentially seemingly describing a kind of hasty cover-up job by the Saudis.

One has to ask one's self, why is President Erdogan choosing to share these revelations with the press right now? He says that investigators will be going back to the consulate. They're also searching the home of the consul-general, as you said. But I think more broadly speaking there is growing pressure from Turkey for Saudi Arabia to come out once and for all to offer an explanation for what happened and to show its absolute commitment to allowing for this investigation, which the Turkish authorities feel very strongly has to take place in an impartial way as soon as possible -- Poppy.

[09:05:10] HARLOW: Well, yes. I mean it's been over two weeks now. And we saw the cleaning crew going into the consulate yesterday before those forensic investigators were allowed inside, raising all sorts of questions as to what they can really find out. Clarissa, thank you for the reporting. Jim?

SCIUTTO: We're joined now by Senator Ben Cardin, he's a Democrat from the state of Maryland and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for taking the time with us this morning.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Jim, it's good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: So first question, according to CNN's reporting, the Saudis are preparing to admit that Khashoggi died in their consulate, although they're going to say it appears it was rogue. Officials acting and without the support of the Saudi leadership.

Do you find that explanation credible?

CARDIN: No, I don't. And I find they're changing the story line all the time. They started with the complete denial. Now we're hearing that it was an interrogation gone bad. But yet they had sent a team in ahead of time that included forensic individuals that could dismember a body. They haven't talked about where the body is and how it got out of the embassy.

There is a lot of questions out there and their explanation does not appear to be one that is very believable.

SCIUTTO: Well, what's interesting about this explanation is that even this story grants that the official Saudi plan was to abduct Khashoggi, a journalist, someone who lived here in the U.S. and is accused of no crime, yet the president has repeated, in effect, this idea yesterday saying, well, it appears that it was a rogue operation.

Is that in itself, a plan to abduct a Saudi jury in a consulate abroad, is that an action that the U.S. should condone?

CARDIN: Absolutely not. This is a journalist that contributes to the "Washington Post," who has privileges here in the United States. The world is looking at the U.S. for leadership. Our foreign policy strength is in that it's embedded in our principles and our values. And the president needs to reinforce that. And the Trump administration over and over again has divorced our foreign policy from our values. And we get into trouble, and the world suffers when we do that.

SCIUTTO: Your Republican colleague, Marco Rubio, was on our air just a few moments ago. And he said the following about possible bipartisan Senate action. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I can tell you that a separate branch of government that I belong to, the Senate and the Congress, I believe will act in a bipartisan way. And this is going to alter the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Quite strong words there, alter the relationship for the foreseeable future. Have you had conversations with your Republican colleagues about specific actions to take against Saudi Arabia, including, for instance, the possibility of blocking the arms sales that the president has spoken so enthusiastically about?

CARDIN: I have. I have talked to Senator Graham, I've talked to Senator Corker. We've had conversation with Senator Rubio. I think what Senator Rubio said expresses the views of Democrats and Republicans senators, that there's going to be consequences. And we're going to take action. We're an independent branch of government. We've shown that before in our relationship with Russia. We've shown it with North Korea, and we'll show it here with Saudi Arabia.

What we want the president to do is not only take action. We want his language to be very clear that America will not tolerate this type of behavior. And the problem we find is that President Trump, in his language with our adversaries as well as our strategic partners, gives the impression that America will give a pass when they violate basic international human rights. And Congress will act. I'm convinced of that. We'll take action.

SCIUTTO: There has been a pattern here. You have Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally who appears to have conducted an extraterritorial killing here. You have Russia which poisoned with a chemical weapon a former spy on the streets of the U.K.

Do you believe that the president's words here embolden countries like that for actions such as this?

CARDIN: I think the United States acts first by the language the president uses to uphold our basic principles and President Trump has not done that. He's -- certainly in his meetings with Mr. Putin has given Mr. Putin the impression that America will not take action against Mr. Putin's human rights violations. We see that by the way that he's embraced Kim Jong-un of North Korea who is a horrible human rights violator. And now with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

So the president's language gives oxygen to that type of behavior and America needs to act through the voice of our president and also by our actions in regards to the relationship between our countries.

[09:10:09] SCIUTTO: In 2015 you introduced the Global Magnitsky Act. For our viewers who might not be aware this was something originally targeted at Russian officials who violate human rights but the idea of being here you could use similar measures against people from other countries, you know, presumably including Saudi Arabia. You have a possibility here where Saudi Arabia names some lower level consulate officials, blames them, say they acted without senior leadership approval. They could be targeted for this.

But the fact is U.S. intelligence is that senior Saudi leadership at least OK'd the abduction of Khashoggi. Would you support using the Magnitsky Act to target the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, if there is evidence here, to your satisfaction, that he OK'd this?

CARDIN: The Magnitsky sanctions are surgical. They go against individuals. I have already joined with my colleagues, with Democrats and Republicans, urging the administration to investigate and use the Magnitsky sanctions. It is not up to the Saudis to determine who those sanctions apply to. It's up to us. And if our investigation shows that certain individuals were responsible for this tragedy and the Saudis don't take action, then they should be considered for the sanctions that would deny them the use of our banking system and the right for a visa to visit America.

So I don't think we should prejudge who should be on that list, but it's our investigation, not theirs.

SCIUTTO: Could it include, in your view, at the end if there's evidence to your satisfaction the crown prince of Saudi Arabia?

CARDIN: I don't think we should exclude anyone from the investigation, but I don't think we should prejudge the investigation.

SCIUTTO: Senator Ben Cardin, thanks very much.

HARLOW: I mean, that's really fascinating. He's saying Congress will act.

SCIUTTO: Right.

HARLOW: A Republican joining us a little bit later. They would need a veto-proof majority vote. We'll see.

SCIUTTO: And we've seen them, they had a veto-proof majority on Russian sanctions.

HARLOW: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: 98-2 I think the vote was.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Which tied the president's hands, although notably on that the president didn't act with great speed on that.

HARLOW: There was no speed into it. Right.

SCIUTTO: There was some foot-dragging, et cetera. Yes.

HARLOW: That's true.

All right. Again, a Republican will join us a little bit later. We'll address that with him as well.

Ahead for us, Saudi Arabia feeling the backlash this morning from CEOs. Top business leaders speaking with dollars, pulling out of this high profile investment conference scheduled in Riyadh next week. But will there be any real lasting financial fallout?

SCIUTTO: And he represents a low-lying district in the state of Florida. So what does Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo have to say about the president casting repeated doubts on manmade climate change? It's an issue that could determine Curbelo's political survival and he'll join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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. And we lose our credibility and our moral standing to criticize Putin for murdering people, Assad for murdering people, Maduro in Venezuela for murdering people.

We can't say anything about that if we allow Saudi Arabia to do it and all we do is a diplomatic slap on the risk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Our moral credibility at stake? That from Republican Senator Marco Rubio as he vowed that Congress will take action if Saudi Arabia is found responsible for the murder of a "Washington Post" journalist.

HARLOW: And so far, the president has not weighed in on this today, but we are getting these images out of Riyadh of the meeting of King Salman and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And a read-out of what was said and what wasn't said.

Our political and national security analyst David Sanger joins us and political commentator Errol Louis. So we just heard Ben Cardin tell Jim; Democrat on Foreign Relations Committee Congress will act and you heard Marco Rubio saying Congress will act and Lindsey Graham said on "Fox & Friends", "Congress will -- what did he say? Sanction the hell --

SCIUTTO: He said I will sanction the hell out --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Of them, his words, yes --

HARLOW: So David Sanger, will they really?

DAVID SANGER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, they may try, and I'm certain that they will get some through. But the fact of the matter is, the president's got enormous latitude here. And usually can suspend all kinds of sanctions for national security reasons.

And the president as you've seen has been willing to define national security in the broadest of possible ways. What's the president already said? He's already said that he wanted to protect the arms deal because of jobs in the United States.

He is certainly going to want to protect oil flows, particularly at a time that we're in conflict or growing conflict with Iran. So it's hard for me right now to understand what other than symbolic actions they may take against the Saudis. In fact, at this point, the Treasury Secretary is still going to the conference in a week.

SCIUTTO: Right, I mean, they could, Errol Louis, could they not? One, the Senate can block. In fact, the Saudi arms deal is stopped by Bob Menendez now as a ranking member on the relevant committee, it's blocked now and with bipartisan support, you could -- the Senate could overtime block the arms deal, they could also sanction individual Saudis under the global Magnitsky Act.

ERROL LOUIS, JOURNALIST: Yes and no. Let's keep in mind that 110 billion arms deal that the president talked about turns out that something like less than 15 percent of that has actually been transacted so far. So we --

HARLOW: Don't know what was really going to happen. And I suppose Congress could sort of throw some stones in the path if they really wanted to. But it's unclear how big of a deal that was in the first place. And then I guess, secondly, when it comes to the Magnitsky Act, what they really have the power to do on the congressional side is to order a report from the executive.

But David is exactly right. The president has all kinds of discretion to implement it, suspend it, delay it. And so targeted sanctions at individuals which we know is effective actually at putting pressure on a regime is not something we can expect to happen overnight.

[09:20:00] HARLOW: Let me read you, David Sanger, the opinion of Leon Panetta; the former Defense Secretary and CIA Director under President Obama. He says in part, "I have a sense that they" -- being the White House, "put all of their chips on the hopes that the Saudis would be able to help the United States, not only in dealing with the challenges of terrorism, but also in dealing with peace in the Middle East."

Part of the obviously thought process here for the Trump administration is and should be, you know, what would this mean to us to blow up their relationship with Saudi Arabia as it pertains to Iran or as it pertains to any sort of Middle East peace deal, right?

But the question become as Marco Rubio clearly outlined, where do you value human rights in that, right? What message are you going to send at the potential expense of those other things? How do you waive that if you're in the Trump administration right now?

SANGER: Well, my guess is you weigh this in a way that simply makes this problem try to go away. And that's, I think, part of what the Pompeo trip is about, to tell the Saudis that they need to go deal with this and deal with it at least forthrightly enough that the issue gets off of the front pages and that we're not discussing it all the time on television and every place else. And I think to do that, he's got to make a convincing case that a lot

of the long-term Saudi plan here is in jeopardy. But I'm not sure the Saudis believe it. I think the Saudis look at American policy, realize that President Trump has put his chips on two countries, Saudi Arabia and Israel, whose interests are certainly aligned when it comes to Iran --

HARLOW: Right --

SANGER: In particular. And that in the end that their belief is that President Trump doesn't have any place to go.

SCIUTTO: Well, usually, it's not that different from the calculation that the North Korean leader is making as to how hard he will be pushed by this president or in fact Vladimir Putin --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: On issues. Like they say -- Errol Louis, I want to ask you this because we are three weeks away today from the midterm elections. Is this an issue that the president's cozy relationship with Putin, with Kim, with Mohammad Bin Salman even in the midst of these accusations, is that a voting issue for many Americans? Does it motivate Democrats? Does it whittle away a Trump support among Republicans?

LOUIS: It's a great question, and the answer is that it can be. There is compelling polling by Democracy Watch, showing that in something upwards of 90 percent of Americans agree with the statement that while we can't solve the world's problems, it's up to us to step in where we can and to be a clear moral voice when it comes to things like abuse and imprisonment and violations of human rights and genocide.

So clearly, people care about this issue a lot. The question is, district by district, state by state, will candidates actually choose to pick this up as an issue and run on it?

And one would hope that they will. Not just for narrow partisan purposes, not even for the reasons that Senator Rubio talked about, you know, as far as moral standing to then go after some other country that seems to be a problem somewhere in the world.

But really just because it's right, I think that's really where the American people are. The question is always when it comes to campaigns and candidates is whether or not they're going to choose to go where the people want to lead them.

SCIUTTO: Yes, just because it's right, it'd be nice if that carried weight --

HARLOW: Important --

SCIUTTO: Right?

HARLOW: Yes, that's an important measure. SCIUTTO: We'll see, David Sanger, Errol Louis, thanks very much as

always. Today, the president's allies launching new hats, painting Democrats as the mob and as extremists. Will this tactic resonate three weeks before the midterm?

HARLOW: But first, before the opening bell on Wall Street, let's take a look at Futures pointing to a slightly higher open after stocks failed to rebound much yesterday from last week's route.

Investors today taking in a slew of corporate earnings, we'll keep an eye on the market for you.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I need your help this election day, November 6th, to stop the radical Democrat mob in their quest for power. The radical Democrats have turned into an angry mob. You don't hand matches to an arsonist and you don't give power to an angry left-wing mob, and that's what the Democrats have become.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Just three weeks to go to the day before the midterms. Starting today, the president's allies are really tripling down on that message, the angry mob battle cry, political battle cry. They're launching a major ad campaign in the key battle ground states, hoping to paint Democrats as radical extremists and push Republicans to the polls to stop them.

Joining us now, Harry Enten; Cnn senior political writer and analyst. So Harry, the key question is does that work with the base, but more crucially, does it work with independents?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER: Well, I think that this is a prime example of something in political science called negative partisanship. And that is, you're not voting for something, you're voting against something.

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

ENTEN: And so Republicans need to be enthusiastic in order to win this midterm, at least, stop the Democrats from winning seats. And I think that this is aimed at that.

HARLOW: But isn't that what we saw in 2016, so much of the vote was that, right? It was a voting against something. You have Mark Water; former spokesperson for Vice President Mike Pence saying just in the last 24 hours, "these kinds of messages are going to have as much impact, he says, in the middle as they are on the right. And that's what they're trying to do, the middle.

ENTEN: Yes, I think, you know, look, usually midterm elections are referendums on the president of the United States, and the president has a low approval rating. So what do you do in that situation? You try and bring the other side down as well.

But I'm just not sure that type of strategy necessarily works in a midterm election because historically speaking, voters have not voted about how they feel about the opposition party, they vote upon how they feel about the president's party.