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Turks Appear to Begin Search of Saudi Consul Residence; Suspect in Khashoggi Incident Closely Connected to Saudi Prince; Mueller to Deliver Key Findings on Probe After Midterms. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Some people are getting a first look now at their destroyed homes deciding if they want to stay and rebuild or give up. About 1,200 people in the state are still in shelters.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Investigators in Turkey appear to have just begun the next step in the Jamal Khashoggi case. A long awaited search for the residence of the Saudi consul-general in Istanbul beginning. Five white vans pulled up there moments ago more than a day after Turks tried to get inside but were refused.

The Saudi consulate is where Khashoggi was last seen alive 15 days ago. And a lengthy search there on Monday reportedly turned out DNA as well as fresh paint.

HARLOW: Wow. Significant. All of this comes as a source -- multiple sources tell us here at CNN that a high-ranking Saudi intelligence official, one who supposedly has close ties to the crown prince, organized a mission to interrogate Khashoggi and potentially kidnap him and bring him back to Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left the region this morning having briefed the Turkish president on the promises he says he won in Riyadh, won for the meeting with King Salman and the crown prince for a timely investigation.

Back in Washington, President Trump is complaining that the Saudi royals are being found, quote, "guilty until proven innocent" in Khashoggi's disappearance and apparent murder.

Let's start our coverage this hour with our senior diplomatic editor Nic Robertson who joins us from Istanbul.

So, I mean, two big threads here. First of all, the increasing information pointing to the Saudis in line with then the president's increasing defense of the Saudis.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. And I think the way that that is being felt here in Turkey is that perhaps President Trump is a little out of step. I'm not sure if that was communicated to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he met with the president -- with the Turkish President Erdogan and the foreign minister here earlier on today. Certainly when I was talking to a government official last night they were concerned about the way the United States might respond to whatever Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heard in Turkey in -- I'm sorry, in Saudi Arabia.

And what he did hear was that statement from Saudi officials saying -- from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman saying that they were committed to a transparent investigation. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying it was important to give them time but important that they did that and that they work to allow this thorough transparent investigation.

As you say, in the past 15 minutes here, the Saudi consul-general's house has now beginning to be searched by Turkish investigation. A comprehensive crime scene investigation is how Turkish officials are describing it here. However their experience when going into the consulate the night before last behind me was one that revealed to them at least that Saudi Arabia is not giving that transparent and complete cooperation because many things inside the consulate were painted over.

And indeed last night when they tried to get into the consul-general's house last night to search the house, search his vehicles, they were unable to do that for a number of reasons. Again, not getting the cooperation from the Saudis that they were expecting in part because the consul-general had fled the country.

HARLOW: Right.

ROBERTSON: To the point about the operation that Turkish authorities here say was a murder operation, a hit squad sent from Saudi Arabia. Again not clear from the sources there and certainly for the Turkish officials here. They would find it hard to believe that anything could have happened here without the say so of Mohammed bin Salman.

SCIUTTO: You also want to look at a crime scene moments after, not two weeks after.

HARLOW: Two weeks.

SCIUTTO: The alleged crime took place.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Nic Robertson, thank you very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: We have some news just into CNN. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landing in Brussels on his way back to the U.S. from Turkey. And Saudi Arabia has just made comments to reporters there. Let's have a listen.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Short stay in Ankara. Had a good constructive conversation with President Erdogan. The fact that Pastor Brunson has now made his way back to the United States I think opens up lots of opportunities. We talked about a half a dozen topics. We talked about Iran. We have Iran sanctions taking place on November 4th. And we are working with the Turks to make sure that we get to the right place. They buy Iranian crude oil. We'd like them to buy less. And there are a handful of issues around that that we have working groups engaged in. And I think we made a little bit of progress on that this morning as well.

[10:05:01] We talked about the work that we're doing together in Syria. And I think Ambassador Jeffrey had a chance to talk with you all about that. So I won't spend a lot of time on that but President Erdogan is fully engaged in insuring that Idlib Province remains inside the agreement that he struck. And we are hopeful that that will remain the case, as well.

We talked about the Khashoggi incident, as well. He made clear that the Saudis had cooperated with the investigation that the Turks are engaged in and that they are going to share information that they learn with the Saudis, as well. There have been a couple of delays, but they seemed pretty confident that the Saudis would do have permit them to do the things that they needed to do to complete their thorough and complete investigation, as well.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) related thinking, are you ready to make those?

POMPEO: So we'll have a decision on that shortly. But there were -- some of the sanctions that were put in place were directly connected to Pastor Brunson. And there's a logic to now in removing those as well. But no final decisions were made. I need to talk to the president.

HARLOW: All right. So you've just been listening to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking to reporters there on a stopover in Brussels on his way back from meeting with the Turkish president and also the king and crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

One of the things that stood out to me most there, Jim, is that he said that the Turks relayed to him, Erdogan, President Erdogan relayed to him that he was confident at this point that the Saudis would let them do a thorough investigation of Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Interesting he said that Erdogan had made it clear the Saudis were cooperating in the investigation, although he did cite a couple of delays. I mean, obvious delays.

HARLOW: Weeks of delays.

SCIUTTO: Weeks of delays. They've been trying to get into that consulate and the consul-general's residence for some time. Just getting in now according to our reporters on the ground. He did call it a good constructive conversation with the Turkish leader.

Let's bring in now Sam Kiley, he's CNN senior international correspondent. He is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. What do we know about one of the pieces of evidence that's emerged

over the last 24 hours and that is that one of the suspects in Khashoggi's alleged murder is someone in the Saudi intelligence services with ties to the crown prince.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at least one of these people of interest as the Turks have called them is a gentleman known as Colonel -- beg your pardon, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb. He is believed to be a colonel in the Saudi intelligence. He was first secretary and an intelligence officer in London. He is listed in the 2007 London Index of Diplomats. And he's also known to be very closely associated with the crown prince often seen alongside him.

Indeed there are reports that he is a very senior member of the crown prince's staff or bodyguard. The -- we have no evidence at all against him. This is all coming from the Turks who are saying that he is certainly a person of interest. What I have been able to confirm with Saudi officials is that they do accept that he was on that trip into Istanbul -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: Sam Kiley, thank you for the reporting from Riyadh, as well.

Let's talk about all of this with now Ambassador Gary Grappo, former deputy mission chief in Saudi Arabia, former U.S. ambassador to Oman.

SCIUTTO: Also a distinguished fellow at the Corbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.

Thank you very much, Ambassador, for taking the time. You served overseas on multiple science including in Saudi Arabia, in the region. Of course the U.S. has had shared interest with Saudi Arabia for decades.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: For security interests and economic interests, and yet at times has disagreed and publicly expressed those disagreements. I mean, is there anything that prevents this president from condemning an alleged murder of a journalist while maintaining a security relationship with Saudi Arabia?

GARY GRAPPO, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY MISSION CHIEF IN SAUDI ARABIA: Well, you're correct. We have indeed had a very, very long relationship, approaching 75 years, with the government of Saudi Arabia. It's probably one of the oldest relationships that Saudi Arabia has. And it's been a relationship very much important to both sides. But we have criticized Saudi Arabia in the past on certain policies or behavior. All you have to do is open up the State Department's human rights report and it's a long litany of problems that they have in their human rights record.

Nevertheless, we have been able to maintain a strong relationship with them because we have shared interests. I want to point out, these are not shared values, as for example we share with the NATO allies. But it's those shared interests that have kept us together. [10:10:01] HARLOW: But what happened to our interests, our values,

and vice versa? Right? I mean, you know, if you were working with the Trump administration on this, what would your advice be on this front?

GRAPPO: Well, this is the classic clash between our interest and our values. And we've heard some of the members of our Congress speak very well towards those values. And here we have a really contemptuous act of barbarism committed against an innocent citizen of Saudi Arabia, also a very well known journalist. And this crosses so many red lines when it comes to American values.

And our governments starting with the president should be speaking out publicly and condemning this act. And not just asking, but demanding for full accountability. Now this will put our interest at jeopardy. And this is why it requires very careful diplomacy, because we need to maintain this relationship. It's important to American interests and it's certainly important to Saudi interests. So this is a delicate balancing act requiring considerable diplomatic finesse.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Let me ask you this, Ambassador, because folks will say that a president's public comments matter, that when a U.S. president holds even allies to account for, for instance violations of human rights, that that matters then you might hear others say, well, does it really? Listen, you know, all is fair in love and war, et cetera. But you've been in these countries. You've sat across from the leaders of these countries.

When they are called out publicly by arguably the most powerful leader in the world, does that influence their behavior?

GRAPPO: Well, first, I will say, and this especially applies to Saudi Arabia, we are far more likely to get what we want from the Saudis through direct diplomacy, face-to-face diplomacy as opposed to conducting say as we do in our domestic politics some of this out in the open. The Saudis shun that. They don't like it. We saw the instance some months ago when the Canadians tried that and it ended up very poorly for both sides.

So this requires various sort of face-to-face diplomacy. But the president and the secretary of state have to be very clear about what we want. Insisting on full accountability and getting some kind of assurance from the Saudis may not be enough. We may have to ask for more. We are hearing about these forensic investigations that Turkey is conducting which are fine. They need to be done. And hopefully we will have access to the results of those.

HARLOW: Yes.

GRAPPO: But we ought to be also asking for an autopsy of the remains of this very fine journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

HARLOW: If anyone knew -- if anyone -- no one has said where the body is. I mean, that is a key issue in all of this, and that forensic investigation. When you have a literal coat of fresh paint inside the consulate, that's a big problem. Appreciate you being here. Thanks, Ambassador.

GRAPPO: It's a pleasure.

HARLOW: So the midterms less than three weeks away. The president says do not blame him if Republicans lose the House.

SCIUTTO: Plus a mysterious polio-like illness is spreading across the country. Striking mostly very young children. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he'll explain. He'll be here to tell us what's going on.

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[10:17:50] SCIUTTO: Bloomberg News is reporting this morning that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is ready to deliver key findings on the Russia probe soon after the midterm elections are over.

Kara Scannell has more.

Kara, this on both lines of investigation, obstruction of justice and possible collusion?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are reporting that Rod Rosenstein, the acting attorney general, who's overseeing the investigation has been pressuring Robert Mueller's team to wrap up their investigation as soon as possible. We've always known that the midterms were sort of this quiet period where we wouldn't expect any public activity by Mueller's team. And now what we're understanding and our own reporting is that they are getting closer to wrapping up this investigation.

Now according to the statute when Robert Mueller is finished with the investigation he will then provide a report to Rod Rosenstein or prepare indictments which could be, of course, under seal of it could be made public at this time but it's at the conclusion that he will make this report to Rosenstein which will include his prosecutorial decisions, why he decided to bring charges against on some instances as also the instances where he chose not to prosecute.

So it sounds like it really is up to the special counsel's office how they create this report. But it sounds like it will be a very large report that would encompass both aspects of this. And that would happen when he finished this investigation.

Now of course there is generally a sense of urgency around this because the fate of Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein has always kind of been influx. The relationship with the president has gone back and forth. And so you can see that Rod Rosenstein would want him to wrap it up as soon as possible so this carries forward with that there being any interference or any changes in the oversight of the special counsel's investigation -- Jim, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Kara Scannell, two big questions there. One, what will be in the report. Two, what will we learn from that report, will it be public.

Thanks very much.

HARLOW: Right. And will he issue the report to Congress and then not prepare indictments? Or will he attempt to indict a sitting president, and will (INAUDIBLE) on the courts.

All right. Joining us now senior political analyst, former president adviser to four presidents, David Gergen, also CNN Political Commentator, former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, Amanda Carpenter.

Good morning to you both. And, David Gergen, just to tie a bow on this reporting that Kara Scannell just went through from Bloomberg.

[10:20:02] What strikes me most is their reporting that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein has made clear that he wants Mueller to wrap this up soon after he had the plane ride with the president that made everything chummy, I suppose, a week or so ago. What does that indicate to you?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It indicates to me he's still not certain what's going to happen after the midterms whether Jeff Sessions are going to be fired, whether he may be fired. And he doesn't want to compromise the investigation. And like Mueller, he wants to tell Mueller, look, there are going to be pressures. Nobody knows which way this is going to go. The president is so fickle. How can you predict for certain what he's going to do? Whether he's going to try to quash this.

It has been really notable for me that in this quiet period we've had where Mueller has been, you know, keeping below the radar screen, it -- Donald Trump's numbers have been going up. His approval ratings have been going up.

HARLOW: Forty-one percent now which is, you know, on line with some previous presidents at this time.

GERGEN: Well, that's right. But one assumes if the Mueller report is, you know, a blockbuster, negative, that you go back down again. We're going to be on a roller coaster I think after this is over. We've all known after the midterms it's like this gigantic, you know, stop sign in the middle of everything where we've all just sort of stop waiting for the midterms. But politics are going to get very interesting and possibly very rough and very controversial.

SCIUTTO: Amanda Carpenter, the president's comments and handling so far of the disappearance, alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi, last night Trump took it a step many did not expect criticizing the rush to judgment by comparing it to the Brett Kavanaugh case. He said the following, "Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned."

I mean, you can point out dozens of differences between this case and that including the fact that the U.S. has intelligence on the disappearance here. It was two weeks ago the Turks, a NATO ally, had evidence that they've gathered here. Why is the president resisting calling out Saudi Arabia for this as other Republicans have?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I don't know. His lens on this is completely wrong. And I think what is most concerning about his comments is that he wants to shift away the blame. He is not focused on the right questions. Where is Jamal? Where is he? What happened to him? Why when he talks about this issue does he not express one iota of concern for the family, for sons who lost their father, for a fiance who lost someone she was about to marry?

He doesn't seem to have that empathetic approach. And that's so bizarre to me. And I don't think we're going to get the right answer. And frankly, it's really uncomfortable that we have to rely on information coming from the Turks. You know, I think what they've said is pretty specific so I'm inclined to believe it. But at the same time why is the U.S. government not searching for those answers?

HARLOW: Well, to your point, Amanda, the Turks also do not have a stellar record or anywhere near a stellar record on, you know, the protection of the free press and standing up for journalists and independents and speaking out against current governments. You know, to that point.

Amanda, let me ask you about a different topic. And that is particularly as a Republican woman who has advised Republican politicians before. The president's consistent and continued attacks on women and their appearance, and what he did yesterday calling a woman a horse face, Stormy Daniels. When asked by the Associated Press about it, he said, quote -- it was asked if it was appropriate to comment and insult on a woman's appearance, he said, quote, "You can take it anyway you want."

I mean, for candidates 20 days out from the midterms, Republican candidates right now tying themselves to Trump, tying themselves to this misogyny, as well?

CARPENTER: Listen, I don't think any Republican candidate worth their salt would say that's an appropriate comment to make. At the same time this is all baked into the cake. Nothing gets worse than what he said on the "Access Hollywood" tapes. And so I think any Republican candidate can go to a camera and say I wish he wouldn't have said that and kind of move on.

And let's be honest. Trump is playing us. He is playing all of this by -- every time there is bad news he throws out a crazy tweet.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CARPENTER: And I don't know. I'm just -- I'm jaded to it by now and I'm ready to move the conversation to something else because it is really kind of old news.

SCIUTTO: Agree. David Gergen, it sounds like you want --

GERGEN: Well, does it ever occur to you that Trump is sort of wearing an invisible coat that has on it, I really don't care? Do you? I mean, he treats everything the same way in terms of when people come at him. He's always -- I don't care what you really think. I'm going to go on because I'm such a wonderful, wonderful man.

And I think people are getting really tired of it. I think it's very repetitive. Almost as if -- he's insulted publicly almost as many women now as have the number of women who've accused him of sexual misconduct against him.

SCIUTTO: Right.

GERGEN: It's a close race between the insults and misconduct.

[10:25:02] SCIUTTO: Although, to this point, the president hasn't paid a clear political price. Right? I mean, of course there will be a test in the midterms. We will see. But his base which is not insignificant does not waiver.

CARPENTER: Can I make a quick point on this? Because I think, you know, the news that happened last night.

HARLOW: Yes.

GERGEN: Please, please.

CARPENTER: With the Cruz and Beto O'Rourke debate was really fascinating to me. It's fascinating because everyone decries the horrible insults that Donald Trump levies at people. And so the Democrats who allegedly have a rising star who is supposed to be the next, you know, great southern hope, his tactic is to recycle Donald Trump's attacks on Ted Cruz? Like is that what the country is looking for?

SCIUTTO: You're talking about "Lyin' Ted."

HARLOW: "Lyin' Ted."

CARPENTER: Yes. Which Beto O'Rourke launched into the debate. And so I think everyone is sick of it. But we're not going to move on. I completely agree Donald Trump has ceded the moral high ground in American politics. But it doesn't seem anyone is really interested in reclaiming it. And that's a big problem for everybody.

HARLOW: It's an interesting point. And one argument that I have heard made on the right is that a misstep that they believe Democrats are making in this is chasing the shiny object too far, meaning whatever wild comment the president makes, offensive comments the president the makes.

GERGEN: I agree.

HARLOW: The left, Democrats, can run after it so far that they're missing the issues that are most important to the voters.

GERGEN: I agree. I thought the Democrats made a mistake, for example, in putting a lot of people yelling into the Kavanaugh hearings. It made it seem like they were trying to make a joke of it and create chaos. And I think that's exactly what the Democrats need to avoid. But I must tell you, I don't think that all of these comments by the

president, all the insults, all the misogyny and all the way dismissing women is actually going to work over time. Well, let's wait and see what happens in the suburbs in these midterms. You know a lot of professional women and you know how people feel about this. They are angry about it. And by two years from now the economy may not be this way. This is -- we've got a long road ahead here before we can make conclusions.

SCIUTTO: We've already seen a lot of provisional elections since then.

GERGEN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Motivated women voters. And clearly they're motivated in this election and they're motivated it appears from polling to vote for Democrats.

HARLOW: Thank you both. Nice to have you. We appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Thanks, David and Amanda.

The death toll continuing to climb in the wake of Hurricane Michael. We're going to give you an update on the recovery efforts. Just look at those pictures there. There is so much work to do.

HARLOW: Wow.

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