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Trump: We Need Saudis to Help Fight Terror & Deal with Iran; Beto O'Rourke References Trump's "Lyin' Ted" in Debate with Ted Cruz; Trump Says He's Not to Blame if GOP Loses House. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Fact checking the president there, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers voted against a couple of immigration bills.


SCIUTTO: Thanks very much.


And thanks for being with us today. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCUITTO: I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Baldwin starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Kate Baldwin.

We need Saudi Arabia. That is the latest word from President Trump and his latest on what he wants to hear and what matters when it comes to the investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, the "Washington Post" columnist. The president says that the king and crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and what they knew and know, is a, quote, "big factor in my eyes," says the president.

At the same time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is headed back from his talks with Turkish and Saudi leaders. Will he be bringing answers back with him? Stand by on that one. He did say that Saudis promised to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Here is what he said just this morning about the idea that his boss is giving the Saudis the benefit of the doubt.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE (voice-over): I keep hearing that we are giving them some benefit of the doubt. They are going to do an investigation. When the investigation comes out we will evaluate it. It's not about the benefit of the doubt. It's that it is reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete it so they get it right, so it is thorough and complete. That is what they have indicated that they need.


BOLDUAN: Stay close, because we are going to hear and could hear from the president two times this hour as he is holding events at the White House. We will keep a close eye on that and bring it to you when it comes.

Let's talk more about the mounting evidence against the Saudis.

CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is live in the Turkish capital of Ankara. She's joining me now.

Clarissa, where do things stand right now?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So where things stand right now, Kate, there has been a kind of inching forward of progress in the last couple of hours. Some Turkish investigators finally allowed access to the residents of the consul general. They had been allowed access on Monday to the consulate. They had been pushing forcefully or trying to lobby for access to the consul general's residents. That had been denied for some time. Now they are finally in there. They have a lot of forensics experts. They are going to be taking DNA samples. They're going to be looking closely to see if there's evidence of a cover up job the likes of which they confronted when they went into the consulate. There was a new coat of paint and they found toxic materials in the area.

We are also hearing more about the investigation itself, learning more about the operation, who was in charge of it? Three sources telling CNN that the man in charge of the operation, former military official, intelligence officer with very close ties to the inner circle of crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman . We are learning about the operatives, the Saudis who were on the ground, carrying out the operation. Again, one known to be close to the crown prince, a senior diplomatic, also a colonel in the intelligence services. Another a security personnel who has been seen alongside the crown prince on Saudi state television. All of this raising the question as to why there's such a willingness to wait and wait and not hold Saudi Arabia's feet to the fire in terms of demanding that this investigation be carried out transparently and quickly Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes. And this is again more than two weeks now since Khashoggi disappeared, not from just anywhere, not from just any building in Istanbul, from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. These are important details, important facts, as the Saudis say they still are looking for more time, and the president and secretary of state say they deserve that time.

Clarissa, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Let's get over to the White House. As we have been discussing, we could hear from the president a couple of times this hour. He is speaking out this morning.

Kaitlan Collins is there at the White House.

What are you hearing from the president this morning? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we are seeing a

change in tone from President Trump regarding all of this. When this first came about, President Trump expressed concern and warned of severe punishment if it is found that the Saudis are responsible for the death of the missing journalist. Now he seems to be changing his tone.

When he was asked, what is the punishment going to be for Saudi Arabia if they are found to be responsible for this, instead, he talked about why the United States needs the Saudis.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope we are going to be on the better side of the equation. We need Saudi Arabia in terms of the fight against all of the terrorism and everything that's happening in Iran and other places. But Iran has been the leader. Iran has been setback very big when I knocked out the Iran deal. It's a different country than it was.

I hope that the king and the crown prince didn't know about it. That is a big factor in my eyes. I hope they haven't. Mike Pompeo just left and went to Turkey. As you know, he is coming back late tonight. I'm seeing him either tonight or tomorrow and we'll find out.


[11:05:19] COLLINS: So you see there, Kate, President Trump doesn't answer the question of what the punishment is going to be if they are found to have been responsible for this or have authorized it. He is saying he hopes the king and crown prince weren't aware of what was going to happen. But we also know that President Trump is drawing a direct line between this and the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, saying in an interview with the Associated Press yesterday, here we go again with the "guilty until proven innocent," despite mounting evidence that they did know about it, and it is unlikely that they were unaware that it is possible.

But, Kate, we do know that President Trump said, when the secretary of state gets back from his trips to Riyadh and to Turkey, he is going to brief President Trump on what he found. But judging from comments from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they are waiting for the investigation to come out and they do not seem to be pointing any fingers at the Saudis just yet -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, thanks so much.

That evolution of the president's tone on this in the past two weeks is an important one.

Joining me now to discuss this is CNN global affairs analyst, Aaron David Miller, and CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen.

Thank you both for being here.

Aaron, what Kaitlan was hitting on there, what we heard from the president this morning, that at if, whether or not the king and the crown prince knew about it was a big factor in his eyes, do you think it should be a big factor in his eyes? Should it be a big factor in how the U.S. responds?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It is a factor. Should it be determinative? Look, Saudi Arabia -- something terrible happened to Jamal Khashoggi in that Saudi consulate. It was either a rendition that went bad or a premeditated, willful assassination of, to the Saudis, a very constructive and plugged-in critic. Does it matter whether or not Saudi Arabia killed Jamal or whether the crown prince and the king knew about it? It matters to some degree, for sure. And the notion that the Saudi investigation, if left to its own devices, is going to be transparent timely and comprehensive strikes me as straining the bounds of credulity to the breaking point. They probably will conclude that this was an operation without the foreknowledge or orchestration of the crown prince, certainly without the knowledge of the king perhaps. That is going to be the glide path for getting out of this. I do not believe --


BOLDUAN: So you are saying that no matter what the truth is, that is the cover story and the out.

MILLER: That's the way it looks. The out is determined by an administration. We placated the Saudis for years. I watched this. Never have I seen the degree of latitude and freedom of action given by an administration to a leader who is impulsive, reckless and, frankly, Kate, pursuing interests that undermine both American values and American interests.

BOLDUAN: Peter, on the most basic level, if it was a botched interrogation, why do the Saudis ever say that Khashoggi walked out of that consulate alive that same day? These facts do not lineup even in the slightest, even with the most-wild imagination.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: They don't, Kate. I agree with Aaron completely. I think what we will find, there will be a Saudi narrative, yes, that this was led by a senior Saudi intelligence official who set up this operation, assembled his own team, and did this outside the chain of command. Something went badly wrong in the consulate. This official then kind of covered it up, which helps to explain why the Saudis are so late in the game in terms of coming up with an alternative explanation. And that will be their position. It's plausibly deniable enough, I think, for the Trump administration to say, yes, Mohammad bin Salman didn't know about it. Now, I leave it to the viewers to decide if they accept that. But I think that is what we are headed towards.

BOLDUAN: Aaron, do you accept -- would you accept that in that situation? If that becomes the narrative, do you accept that if we are talking about level of senior Saudi official that could have been involved here, as folks are starting to be identified, do you see that as -- do you see that as possible, as plausible? And what you know of the crown prince and the structure and how things are run there? [11:10:06] MILLER: MbS is Saudi Arabia. The notion that an

individual close to the crown prince or not would undertake an operation so politically risky, so volatile, pregnant with such extraordinary consequences for Saudi Arabia's credibility, its image, its relationship with the United States, you have to be willfully obtuse or complicit in order to accept that kind of conclusion. If this were an independent investigation run by a team of forensic experts and specialists who were to determine to weigh all of the evidence, who had the benefit of chatter, of U.S. intel to try to conclude what the Saudis were saying about this before the operation -- you have half a dozen security agencies and intel agencies monitoring what happened in Istanbul -- then perhaps it would be credible. Under these circumstances, I can't imagine. It boggles the mind that anybody would believe that, in fact, what the Saudis are going to report bears any resemblance to what transpired.

BOLDUAN: Peter, should there be skepticism of Turkey here and the information that they have been putting out? Because I almost have to say almost all of the details have been coming in kind of a drip-drip fashion, selective handing out of some details from Turkey, from Turkish officials. Do you think there should be skepticism on Turkey here?

BERGEN: Turkey is in a difficult position, Kate. The Turkish Lira just lost 40 percent of the value in the last several months. They are in dire need of a Saudi investment. All the leaks coming out are from sources, they're not coming from the Turks or Turkish officials in a public way. They are trying to have it both ways. Clearly, there's a tape or several tapes. The tapes will speak for themselves. I think they are likely to come out. I think they will not be easy to dismiss.

BOLDUAN: I think you probably right.

Aaron, when do you think the clock runs out, if you will? How long do Saudis have until they have run out the clock on being able to come up with an explanation?

MILLER: Well, timely, transparent and the other "T" that --

BOLDUAN: Maybe it was complete.

MILLER: No, there are three "T"s.


BOLDUAN: I don't spell well.

MILLER: That Mike Pompeo identified. If it is going to be all those things, it ought to take a fair amount of time. But the reality is, it is the Saudi consulate, it's Saudi security people involved. You know, will it clear the midterms? Maybe. But again, Kate, the timing is less important to me than the actual consequences of the investigation. And what the administration plans to do even with the Saudi cover story. The global Magnitsky Act has been triggered by Congress, 120 days the administration has to undertake its own investigation to determine what the Saudi role was. If it's determinative, it's not required to impose sanctions but it has the option to sanction. And then there's Congress. Congress can do a great deal in terms of affecting the nature of the relationship through legislation.

BOLDUAN: Aaron, Peter, thanks so much. I really appreciate your time.

BERGEN: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, Democratic Senate challenger, Beto O'Rourke, stealing a page from the Donald Trump play book. And Ted Cruz hitting right back. Details on that important Senate race ahead.

Soon we are going to hear from President Trump as he is holding multiple meetings at the White House this hour. Will he address again the growing controversy over the missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi? Details coming up.


[11:18:39] BOLDUAN: All right. It is one of the hottest races this midterm cycle and it just took a term. And 2018 sounding like 2016 right now. Democrat Beto O'Rourke in a debate with Republican Senator Ted Cruz using the Republican President Donald Trump to hit the Republican Senator. Watch.


BETO O'ROURKE, (D), TEXAS SENATE CANDIDATE: Senator Cruz is not going to be honest with you. He will make up positions and votes that I have never held or have ever taken. He is dishonest. That is why the president called him "Lyin' Ted" and it's why the nickname stuck, because it is true.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS: It is clear Congressman O'Rourke's pollsters have told him to come out on the attack. So if he wants to insult me and call me a liar that is fine. But as John Adams famously said, "Facts are stubborn things."


BOLDUAN: There are signs, in talking about going on the attack, that O'Rourke may need to be on the attack. Our latest poll has him down seven points with less than three weeks to go before Election Day.

Joining me right now, Alice Stewart, CNN political commentator and former Ted Cruz communications director during the 2016 election, and Joe Trippi, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist.

Great to see you guys.

Alice, I'm not sure if you had wonderful memories or horrible flashbacks. O'Rourke going on the attack calling Cruz a liar. Cruz saying essentially bring it on. What is happening in this race right now? [11:20:02] ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You hit the

nail on the head, Kate. I was going to say I was having flashbacks as I was watching that back to the 2016 campaign. It's not a surprise that he is resorting to name calling. That's fine. If you want to look at name calling, that's better than looking at the record. Here is a name for him, Bitter Beto. Outspending Ted Cruz three to one and down in many polls by almost 10 points. I would be pretty bitter about it, too. What we saw, I saw a real stark contrast. If you look at O'Rourke's record, he is someone that supports socialized medicine and government-funded late-term abortions. If you see him on the screen there, he is in front of oil fields in Texas and advocating for wind and solar power. Here is someone who is a great candidate probably for California and maybe New York, but not for Texas. I think that rang clear last night.

BOLDUAN: The way you are describing him, he shouldn't be in the vicinity, let along seven points. He should be like not in the same ball field the way you are describing him. But that is where we are, Alice.

Joe, he is still amongst likely voters down seven points. At this point, do you believe -- should we dispel the myth that Texas would be turned blue?

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, the fact is -- the fact that we are talking about this race says that something is happening in Texas. Ted Cruz barely sitting around 50. Among likely voters that is true, he does have the polls showing Ted Cruz in the lead. What is really interesting is among all respondents in that poll, in the recent CNN poll, was you saw the president actually is upside down in fav, un-fav in Texas. It is ironic that the "Lyin' Ted" nickname is coming back to haunt Ted Cruz a little bit. The likely voters Cruz has a lead with, but it is disaffected voters, the ones that haven't voted often in the past, those voters are for Beto, and he is closing the gap. If they turn out, we could be in for a surprise in November. And the real issue here I think is, with Beto the $38 million that he raised in the last quarter, if that money is put into getting out that vote, he could actually surprise Cruz and Republicans and win this thing. And I think that energy is out there in Texas. You can feel it on the ground. I've been out there.

BOLDUAN: Alice, I got to ask you, because the president is going next week to campaign for Ted Cruz. I wonder, is he like -- would you say, in any universe, that Donald Trump would be the closer for Ted that Ted Cruz needs? I still can't get like -- I love the sound bytes so much. I cannot get over the fact or forget the fact of what these two men said about each other. I know you can't forget it, as well. Here is a refresher.


TRUMP: Lyin' Ted Cruz. The Bible held high. The Bible held high. You ever see a guy lie like this guy? He is "Lyin' Ted Cruz." He's no good, I'm telling you. He's Lyin' Ted Cruz. Lyin' Ted.

(CHEERING) TRUMP: Lies. Oh, he lies.

CRUZ: Donald, you're a sniveling coward.


BOLDUAN: But still I want you to campaign for me in Texas. How do voters overlook these brutal attacks?

STEWART: You look at what the stakes are in this race. It is so important for Texas and for people across the country, all voters. At the end of the day, it's voting your values and putting politics at the forefront. Look, that was a very difficult presidential campaign.


STEWART: It was dirty and brutal.


STEWART: Exactly. And at the end of the day, people say and do anything they can in many cases to win elections. After all is said and done, you rally behind the party's nominee and the party and you work together to make change. Ted has agreed, look, that was dirty and personal, but this is politics. You put the personal animosity and the hurt behind you for the good of the party. That's exactly what is going to happen here.


BOLDUAN: No words were truer spoken, Alice, when you say people say and do a lot of things to get elected. I think that basically sums it all up.

Joe, I want to get your last thought. Trump told the Associated Press in an interview that he is not to blame if Republicans lose in the midterm. He also says very explicitly that this election is about him and he wants it to be that way. Listen to this.


[11:25:00] TRUMP: Congress is on the ticket. I tried to tell my people that is the same thing as me in a sense. That is the same thing. Think of it as the same thing.


BOLDUAN: Which is it? Is it about him? If it is about him, can he be blameless if they lose?

TRIPPI: He is definitely going to hold himself blameless. You look at the energy, particularly with Democrats, Independents, and part of the problem that Republicans are having with suburban women, particularly even their own Republican women, is clearly caused by Donald Trump and the angst and sort of constant chaos and exhaustion he's generated. If that generates the higher turnout that I think we are going to see, then he is going to be responsible for a lot of what happens if Republicans lose the House. I don't know where the Senate is right now. That has been in flux. Republicans have been looking a little better there. But definitely the president is having an impact and you can't deny that. But he will.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you guys.

Exactly, but you know, it's just Wednesday.


BOLDUAN: Exactly.

Thanks, Alice.

Thanks, Joe. I appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: Tomorrow night a reminder for all of you, Dana Bash moderates the Texas town hall featuring Congressman Beto O'Rourke. That is live tomorrow night, 7:00 eastern, only on CNN.

Coming up for us, soon we will hear from President Trump as he holds multiple events at the White House this hour. Oh, what could he want to talk about today? We'll bring it to you.