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Mueller May Announce New Indictments After Midterms; Trump Still Defending Saudi Take on Journalist's Killing. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 17, 2018 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. In full swing. CNN learns the Mueller investigation's quiet period may be the quiet before the storm. The special counsel's team is going full tilt, with indictments expected soon after the November midterm election and a report expected in December. How the White House is gearing up for a fight.

[17:00:27] Not walking away. President Trump vows the U.S. won't walk away from Saudi Arabia, despite grisly new accounts of the alleged murder of a U.S.-based journalist, and new evidence suggesting the involvement of loyalists close to the crown prince.

Cohen it alone. He was at Donald Trump's side for years, once boasting that he'd take a bullet for his boss. But former Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, is now going it alone, cooperating with investigators and, according to a source, ready to campaign for Democrats.

And Putin's military upgrade. CNN obtains exclusive new satellite images of what looks like an effort by Russia's Vladimir Putin to upgrade a key military base as the U.S. military flexes its muscles showing how it would defend European allies.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been keeping radio silence ahead of the midterm elections, but sources now say his investigators, they are pushing ahead, with more indictments likely right after the November vote and a report to follow.

And the president is also getting ready, naming a new White House counsel to help lead the fight against Mueller's report, and against any new investigations that may be launched if Democrats take the House of Representatives.

I'll speak with Congressman Denny Heck of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they are standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with our justice correspondent, Evan Perez. Evan, you have breaking details on the Mueller investigation. What's the very latest? EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The

Mueller investigators have been anything but quiet in the past month, even though, obviously, because of the November elections, the special counsel has not done anything public in the past -- during this past month.

Among the things that have been happening behind the scenes is -- is Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the Trump campaign, has been into the special counsel now as many as nine times. Nine times, giving dozens of hours of interviews to the special counsel team as part of his cooperation deal after -- after pleading guilty to the special counsel charges last month.

Also behind the scenes, Michael Cohen has been providing hours of testimony to the Mueller team, as well as prosecutors from the southern district of New York.

And also behind the scenes, talks have intensified between the special counsel and the president's lawyers. As you know, Wolf, they have now received questions from the special counsel, from the investigators; and those lawyers, the president's lawyers, are now going through, trying to provide written answers to the questions that have now been received from the Mueller team.

And also, another part of this investigation, which has to do with Roger Stone, we know that as many as nine people associated with Roger Stone have now been -- have now received subpoenas as part of the investigation. We know that at least a couple of those people have been having talks with the special counsel to provide information as part of this investigation. A lot going on behind the scenes.

BLITZER: Yes, it's very widespread, I must say. So what do you expect from Mueller right after the November midterms? Only less than three weeks away.

PEREZ: Right. We expect that right after the -- we will see activity pick up, and that includes expected indictments that the special counsel's team has been working on. That, we expect, is going to happen very quickly after the -- after the November elections.

And then, Wolf, what the expectation is in the legal circle, certainly among the president's lawyers, is the possibility that a report, whatever report Mueller has produced, will go up to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, sometime perhaps in December. Of course, the time line here is everyone's guess. Mueller is not saying anything publicly. We know that, because of these negotiations that have been going on behind the scenes, that it is possible this time line will slip even further.

BLITZER: And we know the president told the Associated Press yesterday that he has a new White House counsel coming in, Pat Cipollone, to replace Don McGahn. What difference is that going to make?

PEREZ: Well, what this does, it signals, at least, internally to the Trump team, they're getting ready, Wolf, for what is going to be a knockdown, drag-out fight with the Democrats.

They expect, obviously, that the Democrats will take control of one of the houses of Congress, perhaps the House of Representatives in the November election. And so what they expect is that the Democrats are going to launch a whole raft of new investigations of the executive branch.

And, of course, they're going to start fighting for access to whatever Mueller has found. Keep in mind that the Mueller -- Mueller's findings only go to Rod Rosenstein. They don't necessarily automatically go to Congress.

[17:05:15] So if the Democrats have control of the House of Representatives, they will have to perhaps launch a legal fight to be able to get -- to certain findings. That, the Trump team believes, are protected by executive privilege.

We expect, by the way, that Cipollone is going to take over in the next couple weeks. I'm told, by the way, Wolf, that Cipollone was a bit surprised that the announcement came as it did in the president's interview with the Associated Press. This was something that was perhaps going to come down in another couple of weeks. Don McGahn is still inside the White House. So this was going to be a rollout.

But as often happens unscripted in this Trump presidency, this was done in an Associated Press interview yesterday.

BLITZER: it's really quiet before the storm. It's going to be very lively right after the midterms. Thanks very much for that excellent reporting, Evan Perez.

We're going to stay on top of all the breaking news. I want to turn to another major story that's unfolding today. As Turkish investigators in hazmat suits searched the Saudi counsel general's residence for evidence of the likely murder of a U.S.-based journalist. And as sources connect a top Saudi intelligence figure directly to this case, President Trump is soft-pedaling the Saudi role in the apparent killing.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. What's the latest over there, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, even with the growing and grisly evidence of Saudi Arabia's suspected involvement, the president is taking a wait-and-see approach. Not waiting for U.S. intelligence, but waiting for Saudi Arabia to conduct an investigation of itself.

Now, the president was talking more about the business relationship today in the Oval Office, not talking specifically about that brutal murder. Wolf, it's raising questions if his America-first policy still includes U.S. moral leadership.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump denying tonight the U.S. is trying to help Saudi Arabia cover up its alleged involvement in the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, not at all. No, I just want to find out what's happening.

ZELENY: Despite mounting evidence of the Saudi kingdom's hand in the disappearance and suspected dismembering of the "Washington Post" columnist two weeks ago in Istanbul, the president still taking a wait-and-see approach. Even as he touts the importance of the U.S./Saudi relationship.

TRUMP: Saudi Arabia has been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East. I want to find out what happened, where is the fault, and we will probably know that by the end of the week.

ZELENY: In the Oval Office today, the absence of U.S. moral leadership on clear display. The president would not say why the U.S. is waiting for a Saudi investigation, rather than relying on U.S. intelligence.

TRUMP: Well, he wasn't a citizen of this country, for one thing. And we're going to determine that. And you don't know whether or not we have, do you?

ZELENY (on camera): Well, I --

TRUMP: No, but do you know whether or not we've sent the FBI?

ZELENY: Have you sent the FBI?

TRUMP: I'm not going to tell you.



TRUMP: Why would I tell you?

ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is returning to Washington after a fact-finding mission to Saudi Arabia in Turkey.

Talking to reporters in Istanbul, he defended the U.S. decision to give Saudi leaders time and space.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's not about benefit of the doubt. It's that it's reasonable -- it's reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete it so they get it right. So that it's thorough and complete.

ZELENY: As the diplomatic and political crisis steepens for the White House, a growing chorus of Republicans saying the president is not doing enough.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I don't think he fell through a hole in the space/time continuum. I think he's dead. And I think the Saudis killed him. With the exception of Israel, I trust every country in the Middle East as much as I trust gas station sushi.

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: I hope he's listening to all of that information, not just the arguments coming from Saudi officials.

ZELENY: Since choosing Saudi Arabia last year as the site of his first foreign trip as president, Trump has worked to forge a strong rapport with the kingdom, showing little, if any, skepticism of Saudi leaders.

TRUMP: I hope that the king and the crown prince didn't know about it. That's a big factor in my eyes. And I hope they haven't.

ZELENY: That interview with FOX Business today only the latest in the president's media blitz, doing a crush of appearances 20 days before the midterm elections. He's placing himself at the center of the conversation.

But when asked whether he will own some of the blame if Republicans lose control of Congress, he told the Associated Press, no.


ZELENY: So the secretary of state is coming back to Washington, and he is scheduled to brief the president likely tomorrow on what he found. Unclear what type of briefing that will be, though, because the secretary of state said there simply he was not offered any facts on the ground there.

But the president is scheduled to meet with him tomorrow.

Also tomorrow is a decision from the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin,, if he will attend the business conference next week in Saudi Arabia that so many CEOs have pulled out of because of this whole matter. Mnuchin said he'll make a decision by tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what that decision is. All right. Jeff, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Denny Heck. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.

[17:10:05] Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. I want to quickly begin with the new reporting you just heard from our own Evan Perez, our justice correspondent. Does the public silence from the special counsel's team right now tell you anything about this investigation, where it's heading?

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: No, because he's been silent all along. Although I would -- I would acknowledge, however, Wolf, that it's conceivable that he already has an indictment under seal, and he's just waiting until the midterms have come and gone.

We're all going to find this out together. Bob Mueller has conducted this investigation with the utmost in professionalism from the beginning. He's not discontinuing that track now. We'll all find out together. BLITZER: You know, there has been several -- a lot of indictments and

convictions. What's left, do you believe, Congressman, for Mueller and his team?

HECK: Well, as I have said repeatedly, with you, Wolf, I believe more indictments are coming. It's -- it defies credibility. It certainly strains it, to think that he has had plea deals with the president's personal lawyer, the president's campaign manager. He's granted immunity to the CFO of the Trump Organization. He spent dozens and dozens of hours in interviews with those three interviews. It defies credibility that he is not going to come up with additional indictments. More people are going to go to jail than have been named thus far. Of that I am confident.

BLITZER: With Michael Cohen, it doesn't look like there's a former deal or anything, although he is cooperating, right?

HECK: He is. And, in fact, that's what the 50 hours is all about. He's invested a lot of time, Director Mueller has invested a lot of time in extracting the truth from Mr. Cohen.

BLITZER: Do you expect additional indictments any time soon against U.S. citizens?

HECK: Yes.

BLITZER: You want to name names?

HECK: No. Well, I don't have names or I would give them to you.

But the fact of the matter is, this is obviously something that is going beyond the names of the people that have already been indicted or have already reached plea deals, or they wouldn't have invested all this time in interviewing them.

So yes, I believe there will be additional indictments. I believe additional people will be going to jail. And I believe it is as a consequence of the intensive interviews he's doing with the people who have reached plea deals with Director Mueller.

BLITZER: At some point, though, we could see a final report, at least a version of a final report from the special counsel, and sources say that could come as early as December. He would submit that report to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Rosenstein would then have to decide what to do with it.

Do you worry, though, that Mueller is feeling pressured right now to wrap up his investigation prematurely?

HECK: I have never lost one wink of sleep worrying about how Bob Mueller is going to respond to pressure. He's got a steel backbone.

Remember, Wolf, this is a decorated Marine from the Vietnam-era conflict who has an entire career of noteworthy accomplishments. He's prosecuted Russian mobsters and organized criminals for his entire career. And he's done it unflinchingly and unblinkingly. So I don't -- I don't worry whatsoever that he's going to be feeling

any pressure to do anything other than that which he thinks is right under the law.

BLITZER: As you know, under the Republican majority, your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, has shut down its investigation. If the Democrats take the majority in the midterm elections, do you think the House Intelligence Committee will reopen the investigation?

HECK: Well, I'm trying not to think too far past 20 days and five- plus hours from now, Wolf. But it will depend on what the outcome of the election is. And it will depend on who would be chairing the committee at that time.

And I also think, most importantly, it will depend on what Bob Mueller's report is, if he makes it known shortly after the election.

I mean, it's possible he issues it on November 7. It could already be written. We just don't know.

But I think there are an awful lot of people who are going to put a lot of trust in his work product, because of the care that has gone into developing his work thus far.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the latest news. Very disturbing news on the missing U.S.-based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, apparently murdered inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Do you think the United States needs to get ahold of this reported recording that Turkish officials have in order to come -- come to a specific conclusion about what happened inside the consulate?

HECK: So I kind of feel like it's almost like opposite day at the White House. The more the evidence mounts that something of a heinous nature was conducted, the stronger their defense of the Saudi Arabian kingdom there is.

No, look. I've got a simple message, frankly, for the Saudis. You can take your oil and shove it, because human rights aren't for sale. If you want to be a member of the community of civilized nations, then you need to begin behaving in that way. And they simply are not.

The fact of the matter is, Wolf, they cannot answer the simple question. Mr. Khashoggi went in, he didn't come out. So where is he?

BLITZER: Well, do you think Congress will take specific action if President Trump decides to ignore all this?

[17:15:04] HECK: I do. And I think there are a couple, or three, actions that should immediately be taken.

First of all, I encourage in the strongest terms possible for Secretary Mnuchin to decide to pull out of the investment conference. To do otherwise is to reward them for this unacceptable behavior.

Secondly, I think it's time that the president sent to the U.S. Senate a nominee for ambassador to Saudi Arabia, because the truth of the matter is, dealing with these things, communicating to them, is made much more possible when you have high-ranking diplomats on the ground to express our displeasure and help them see the error of their ways.

And thirdly, the action that I think Congress will take is not to approve any more arms sales to the Saudis.

Now, there's a good case to be made for not approving them, because of how they were used in the civil war in Yemen and how civilians, including children, have been murdered as a consequence of the arms and bombs that we sold to the Saudis. But above and beyond that, in this instance, I think we ought to stop those arm sales, and I think that's what Congress would do at the next opportunity.

BLITZER: Congressman Denny Heck, thanks for joining us.

HECK: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Up next, Robert Mueller is keeping quiet, at least right now, but his investigators, they are pushing ahead, continuing to interview key witnesses. What bombshells could this special counsel drop right after the November midterm elections?

And there are grisly new accounts of the alleged murder of the U.S.- based journalist. Is the Trump administration giving the Saudis a free pass?


[17:20:52] BLITZER: Our breaking news. CNN is learning new details about special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Even though there's been very little ahead of the midterms, new indictments are expected shortly after the November election; and a report may be coming out as early as in December.

Let's discuss the implications with our experts and our analysts.

Laura Jarrett, you cover the Justice Department for us. So specifically, what are you learning? What might be -- what should we anticipate coming after the midterm elections?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I don't think that the special counsel's team is meeting with Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer, for fun. He's meeting with these people for hours, we're learning. He's sitting down with Paul Manafort nine times since his guilty plea and his -- he's cooperating, for all intents and purposes.

So I think it's fair to assume that the special counsel's office has been working on a report building towards this moment for a long time. He's not going to have to start from scratch. And so if we see it in December, it will be a product of leaving no stone unturned.

BLITZER: He's getting cooperation from others. Allen Weisselberg for 40 years has worked for the Trump Organization, the chief financial officer. They're getting a lot of cooperation right now. PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's what makes this

difficult. You're getting more cooperators. You mentioned one. I would add in Cohen, who's been around for a while, and Manafort.

But add in another piece, and that is the documentation, for example, from the Cohen raids. I realize that's a while ago, but if you're talking about decades of information, I agree with Laura. The prosecutors, including Mueller, are not going to go into that potential courtroom with any document they can't explain.

So in addition to what happened during the campaign, you've got a document from three years ago, and you've got to sit in front of somebody and say, "What does this mean? What is this transaction all about?" So you don't have then a defense attorney who says, "I've got something here that I can use." There's a lot of detail here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Susan, do you think Mueller is preparing new indictments?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So we rarely know what the special counsel's office has in store for sure. The biggest indictments out of the special counsel's office have come as pretty big surprises.

That said, if we look at the progression of indictments here, the first set was indicting Russians for conduct that occurred in Russia. The second set was indicting Russians for conduct that occurred within the United States.

The next leap -- the next logical step would be thinking about indicting U.S. citizens for activities within the United States. Certainly, the last set of indictments, these Russian military officers. While no U.S. citizens were indicted in that particular charge, they did describe, potentially, criminal conduct by unnamed Americans.

So I do think that the best guess here is that there are more shoes to drop.

MUDD: Just one quick moment. That's only half the bombshell here. I mean, the really interesting part of this is, in addition to the typical prosecutorial side of this, as you reported in the opening, you were talking about a potential report, a draft report, a narrative, if you will, from Mueller going over to Rod Rosenstein.

Let me play this out in Washington. Rosenstein gets the narrative that says not only this is what we found that might violate the law. This is my picture of what happened during the investigation. The Congress, I bet, is going to turn around and say, "We want to see that." And the Congress is going to lead. There is going to be some dirt in there. So in addition to the indictments, I really want to see what's in that narrative report. It will be ugly.

BLITZER: Especially, Bianna, if the Democrats take the majority in the House of Representatives and all of a sudden have subpoena power.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and the Democrats obviously have been salivating for this moment, if, in fact, that does take place.

But remember, you mentioned Rosenstein. Up until a few weeks ago, it looked like he may not be in the position that he currently is in. There were reports, obviously, that he was submitting his resignation and a lot of questions surrounding what that meant for Mueller and the Mueller investigation.

And I think what was said by Susan earlier is you just follow the path that you've gone from these indictments from the Russian troll farm, which you could arguably say -- and Putin did, as well -- that these were just patriotic citizens that he had nothing to do with; to members of the Russian GRU, which he clearly had oversight over; to now a lot of speculation as to whether any Americans will be indicted.

I think there have been a lot of surprises throughout this year with regards to a lot of issues. And when it comes to the Mueller investigation, he has been very tight-lipped, and not much has been leaked. He's been precise, and he's surprised all of us in a world where it's hard to surprise anyone at this point.

[17:25:02] BLITZER: And clearly, Laura, Mueller is not going to do what Comey did 10 or 11 days before the election; and now it's reopening some investigation or new indictments. He's going to be quiet.

JARRETT: Yes, I don't think we're in for an October or November surprise. I think everyone remembers that.

Obviously, Rod Rosenstein wrote the memo that slammed Comey for that, and Rod Rosenstein is Mueller's boss for this purpose.

BLITZER: What do you think, Susan, of this new White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, who's coming in? Apparently, he's got a new strategy. He probably is going to have to deal -- if all the polls are right, with a Democratic majority in the House, as well.

HENNESSEY: I do think that's going to dramatically change the job of the White House counsel, and let's be frank. It hasn't been a great job for Don McGahn to do, and so it's stepping into an enormously difficult role.

If the Democrats do, in fact, take control of the House, we are likely to see substantial momentum of not just on the Russia investigations and congressional investigation into that, but all kinds of sort of simmering scandals: scandals into waste, fraud and abuse, asking for things like the president's tax returns. And so I do think that the next White House counsel has his work cut out for him.

BLITZER: If Rosenstein -- go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: I was just going to say, don't forget all of the changes many are now anticipating for the White House to conduct, as well. The administration following the midterms, whether that's a new attorney general, whether that's a new defense secretary, a lot of shakeups rumored to be taking place, as well, from the White House's directives. So I think from both sides, you're going to see a lot of things taking place in the last few weeks of the year.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's a lot more news we're following. Coming up, there are major developments unfolding in the search -- in the search for what happened involving the Saudi journalist. We'll be right back.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our experts and our analysts. And Phil Mudd, walk us through your analysis of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S.-based Saudi journalist who walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and never walked out?

[17:31:34] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'm trying to look at this from the perspective of the Saudis. I worked there with the Saudis, the Saudi government in 2010, 2011. So let me give a sense of how I'd be studying this from the inside.

You've got the pieces of what he was doing beforehand. For example, on his laptop and on his phone. One of the things we haven't discussed, I'd like to see those to see if they were compromised by somebody who was watching him and watching his e-mail. Were the Saudis looking at that? I want to see whether we have intelligence from inside the consulate that's independent of the Turks.

The Turks keep talking about audio. I don't want to see a transcript, and I don't want to hear him talk about it. I want to see the audio, not only for the content, but to see how they acquired it.

A lot of other questions. I've talked about the aircraft. We can look at where that aircraft has been before, those two aircraft, who's registered to them.

Critical question. I'll end with this. You've got 15 people. We ought to know -- we have a big embassy in Saudi Arabia. We ought to know who they work for and whether that chain of command reports directly and how closely to the crown prince.

So forget about whether we have access to the tapes and what the crown prince told the president. There's a ton of stuff we can dig up here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clearly, the president wants definitive, high-level evidence, direct evidence, that the top officials -- the leaders of Saudi Arabia were directly involved in authorizing the murder of this journalist.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So there's no such -- no such thing as definitive proof in the intelligence community. They don't talk about slam dunks any more. They talk about high confidence.

That said, before taking consequential foreign policy actions, of course, we want to actually be sure. The issue here is not that Trump doesn't have enough evidence, though.

It appears that his administration is not even seeking out the facts. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who went to Riyadh and Istanbul, has said that he did not discuss whether or not the journalist was alive or dead. The elemental question that he didn't discuss with the Saudis. Whenever he was in Istanbul, he did not ask to listen to this audio that Phil referenced from the Turks.

And so this has all the hallmarks of an administration that is in search of a narrative and not in search of the facts.

BLITZER: The president won't say whether the FBI is involved in this investigation. He keeps repeating over and over that Khashoggi is not a U.S. citizen. He's a legal U.S. resident. His kids may be U.S. citizens, but he's not a U.S. citizen. What does that say to you?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure, and it matters, because you need jurisdiction. The FBI can't just go traipsing into a foreign country without some grounds to do so. He needs to be either a U.S. citizen or be part of some protected class in which the U.S. might have some interest.

BLITZER: He's a legal resident with a green card in the United States. That's not enough?

JARRETT: That's not enough, unless he's part of some other protected class. But how do you know that unless you do an investigation into what happened?

And the FBI could have a role to play here. My understanding is he has a home here. The FBI could go to the home. The FBI could interview the fiancee. The FBI could try to figure out, as Phil pointed out, were his communications being monitored? Have they looked at his phone? Have they looked at his computer? The FBI has work to do here, if the White House wanted it to so.

MUDD: Time out, time out. The president gets two minutes in the penalty box for this one. This is not the right way to ask the question. It's fair to say, is it a U.S. person, and do we then investigate for legal reasons?

But how about, if you do a serious -- beginning of an investigation at the White House and say, I want to understand, just for foreign policy problems, foreign policy reasons, things like the forensics on his computer. Who does forensics in the United States? That would be the FBI or the National Security Agency. So he could ask the FBI for help without saying that this was a U.S. citizen.

BLITZER: Let me get Bianna's thoughts. Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Well, let's not forget there are also reports that U.S. intelligence may have intercepted intelligence from Saudis, suggesting that they, in fact, did want to possibly interrogate, kidnap, extradite and possibly even harm Khashoggi.

[17:35:11] You know, one of the big take-aways here is that, without that definitive proof and without -- some are calling for an independent investigation, you're having news and information leaked out on a daily basis, gruesome information, at that. You have the Saudis, which as somebody mentioned today, you know, the Saudis don't have a Bob Mueller.

So one can question how can the Saudis investigate themselves, and at the same time, a lot of reason to question Turkish motives, as well. So it sort of puts the U.S. in a box.

I do wonder what the purpose was for the secretary of state to make such a quick trip to both countries if, in fact, as Susan said earlier, he didn't seem to walk away with any more information than he had, at least that he's publicly shared, than he did before he went.

BLITZER: But Bianna, if you take a look at the regional situation, clearly Saudi Arabia, a big loser right now. Who are the winners right now, as a result of this uproar? The Turks, a rival of Saudi Arabia; the Iranians, a major rival of Saudi Arabia, enemy; Qatar, a major rival. All of these countries, they're looking at all of this, and they're applauding.

GOLODRYGA: And remember, we have the embargo coming up, as well, from the United States, the sanctions against the Iranian oil that a lot of people had been warning the U.S. about putting all your eggs in one basket with this Saudi leadership. Because, of course, U.S.'s foreign policy, in the president's, at least, eye has been focused on Iran and isolating Iran. That puts that in jeopardy, as well.

But as you mentioned, you've got other countries -- Qatar, wanting a piece of this action, stepping in. A lot of pressure on the Saudis. And they've got that big conference coming up, a big question as to whether the U.S. treasury secretary will still be attending. They said we're going to find out later on this week if he will, in fact, be going or not.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following. Clearly, the stakes are enormous right now.

We have some exclusive new CNN reporting coming up. We've just obtained new satellite photos revealing an alarming new military buildup by Russia's Vladimir Putin.

And CNN cameras have exclusive access as U.S. Marines take part in war games. Will this show of force discourage the Russian leader's alarming moves?


[17:41:05] BLITZER: Tonight, we have exclusive new pictures of what appears to be an alarming new challenge to the United States and NATO from Russia's Vladimir Putin. The satellite pictures show a Russian military buildup in an important city on the Baltic Sea.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen. He's joining us from Iceland right now, where he's the only U.S. network correspondent to get a close-up look at NATO military drills involving thousands of U.S. Marines.

So Fred, what is Putin up to?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're talking about Kaliningrad, where these upgrades are happening, Wolf. That's Russia's enclave, right in the heart of NATO territory.

But the U.S., of course, not sitting back and conducting those large- scale drills here in the North Atlantic region. We witnessed them here in Iceland. Here's what we saw.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): The USS Iwo Jima off the coast of Iceland. In the hangar deck, Marines gearing up for an air assault, retaliation if there's an attack on a U.S. ally.

Corporal Derek Hussinger is part of the invasion force.

CPL. DEREK HUSSINGER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We get our guns situated, put the tripod down, set the gun up and then stable platform, you suppress and fire.

PLEITGEN: The exercise also a deterrent, as the North Atlantic region becomes more contested.

(on camera): With this exercise, the U.S. and its allies are practicing their response in case a friendly nation gets attacked. While the adversary in this exercise is fictitious, it comes at a time of growing tensions for the U.S. and Russia.

(voice-over): As the Marines race to the Icelandic coast, new evidence that Russia is beefing up its capabilities right in the heart of Europe.

CNN has exclusively obtained satellite images from the Israeli firm ImageSat International, seemingly showing massive construction work at Russia's bases in Kaliningrad; upgrading a nuclear storage facility there; adding new, bigger ammunition bunkers; and upgrading the military airfield.

Is Vladimir Putin building up his military in Kaliningrad? Russia's defense ministry didn't respond to CNN's request for information.

But the commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa tells me there's a pattern of Russia upgrading its capabilities in the region.

ADMIRAL JAMES FOGGO III, COMMANDER OF U.S. NAVAL FORCES, EUROPE- AFRICA: They're putting a lot of their modern weapon systems, anti- ship cruise missiles, radars, the Bastian (ph) system, the S-300 and S-400 in there.

PLEITGEN: Sending a message of strength to Moscow, the U.S. and its NATO allies are gearing up for an even bigger exercise in Norway.

FOGGO: If they want to challenge us, we will challenge them. We're not going to be intimidated by those systems that are out there.

PLEITGEN: And that challenge is now playing out in the North Atlantic region with an increasingly assertive Russia and the U.S. showing it won't back down.


PLEITGEN: Another lesson, Wolf, the U.S. says it's being very transparent about these military maneuvers, even inviting the Russians to observe some of them. The Russians nevertheless very critical, very angry about these maneuvers. As you can see the rhetoric between these adversaries continue to heat up, Wolf.

BLITZER: Significant developments indeed. Fred Pleitgen in Reykjavik, Iceland, for us. Thank you, Fred, very much.

We have more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Look at this: our cameras caught up with Michael Cohen coming out of an important meeting with prosecutors today. Is it yet another indication President Trump's one-time personal attorney and fixer has totally turned against his former boss? We have new information, more details, when we come back.


[17:45:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- Fred Pleitgen in Reykjavik, Iceland for us. Thank you, Fred, very much.

We have more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Look at this. Our cameras caught up with Michael Cohen coming out of an important meeting with prosecutors today.

Is this yet another indication that President Trump's one-time personal attorney and fixer has totally turned against his former boss? We have new information, more details, when we come back.


[17:50:04] BLITZER: We have more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Today, President Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, and his attorney met with a group of state and federal law enforcement officials.

People familiar with the meeting tell CNN the investigators are looking into President Trump's family business and charitable organization.

It's yet another major indication that Michael Cohen has completely turned against his former boss. CNN's Brian Todd is following the Cohen story for us.

Michael Cohen has clearly gone through quite a change.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. And we have new information tonight on how Cohen is prepared to move again on his former boss.

From being the man who would really have done anything for Donald Trump, even vowing to sacrifice his own life essentially, Michael Cohen tonight has made that 180-degree turn just about complete.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO DONALD TRUMP: The next question of the United States of America.


TODD (voice-over): For 12 years, Michael Cohen was the ultimate Trump loyalist, once vowing he'd take a bullet for his client.

COHEN: I protect Mr. Trump. That's what it is.

TODD (voice-over): According to a friend, Cohen said he'd rather jump out of a building than turn on Donald Trump. Tonight, Trump may want to push Cohen out that window.

After the President's former lawyer turned on his old boss in court in August, he's now turning up the heat on him.


TODD (voice-over): A Democrat with knowledge telling CNN's M.J. Lee, Cohen is prepared to campaign against Trump and the Republicans in the midterm elections and in 2020, calling out what he considers to be lies from Trump.

How much might it anger Donald Trump?

MICHAEL KRANISH, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP REVEALED: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY OF THE 45TH PRESIDENT": Well, Donald Trump, when he is attacked, he has a way of attacking back or to diminish the person who is attacking him.

TODD (voice-over): Diminishing and attacking Cohen is exactly what Trump has done this week, telling the Associated Press his former lawyer lied in court and that he, quote, was a P.R. person who did small legal work.

Those who have chronicled Trump and Cohen say this is a complete 180 for Cohen, the man known for so long as Donald Trump's fixer, who would go to any length to hide Trump's alleged personal adventures from public view.

KRANISH: If he heard something bad was happening for Trump, he would try to go and fix it. If that meant a reporter is writing a story, he might call that reporter up and threaten them or curse them or try to convince them not to write the story in some way or other.

TODD (voice-over): One former Trump campaign official once said Cohen was a less cool version of Ray Donovan, Showtime's fictional Hollywood fixer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. Oh, Jesus, Ray!

TODD (voice-over): But in recent months, Cohen has made it clear he is no longer loyal to Trump.

When the President accused the FBI of breaking in and illegally raiding his office, Cohen made a point of saying the FBI had been extremely professional, courteous, and respectful.

In June, he used his resignation from the Republican National Committee to hit the President's policy of separating immigrant families, calling the policy, quote, heart-wrenching.

But it was his August guilty plea to felony campaign finance violations, including one stemming from his arrangement of a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump, that was seen as the ultimate turn of the screw.

That's because Cohen chose to stand up in court and say he arranged the payments at Trump's direction, even though Cohen did not have a cooperation agreement.

Trump has said he has done nothing wrong and denied the affairs. Since his court appearance, Cohen has sat for hours talking to investigators from the U.S. Attorney's Office and Robert Mueller's team.

KRANISH: There are clearly things that Michael Cohen knows that no one else knows.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Cohen is showing no signs of letting up from a public split that's dramatic and Machiavellian, even by Washington's standards, between two men who, analysts say, now have it in for each other.

GERGEN: Michael Cohen is a guy who's bringing a knife to the fight. That doesn't often happen with Donald Trump. Most people sort of just cave in and say to hell with it, but Cohen is really bitterly angry it's affected his whole life.


TODD: CNN's source says that, so far, Cohen has not had any meaningful conversations with Democratic leaders about hitting the campaign trail.

Analysts say it's not at all clear if any Democratic candidates are going to want Cohen to campaign for them because of all of his controversies and the fact that he could soon be serving jail time.

A spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee would not comment on the possibility of Michael Cohen campaigning for the Democrats, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Brian, Cohen now has some grudging support, I take it, from at least someone he once was an enemy of. Is that right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Stormy Daniels told Don Lemon that, for a long time, she did harbor ill will toward Michael Cohen, but she says now she forgives him.

Daniels says that, in the end, she believes Cohen did do the right thing in saying that she was not lying about the affair with Donald Trump and admitting that Trump had ordered him to give her that hush money.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.

Coming up, it may be the quiet before the storm for the Mueller investigation. The Special Counsel's team is pushing ahead with indictments and -- indictments possible after the November midterm election and a report likely by year's end.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Mueller's timeline. CNN has learned Robert Mueller's investigation has been cranking behind the scenes, even as it has been quiet publicly ahead of the midterms.

Tonight, new details about when new indictments may come and what witnesses he's been interviewing.

We need Saudi Arabia. President Trump defends what he calls a very important ally but denies the U.S. is trying to help Saudi Arabia cover up the suspected killing of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

[18:00:05] Leaker arrested.