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Pompeo: Saudis "Need More Time for Investigation"; New Details Emerge in Missing Journalist Case; Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein Speaks Out in Rare Interview; Mueller Working on Russia Probe Quietly Behind the Scenes. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 18, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Critics would argue that administrations prior to this, including the Obama administration, arguably gave Saudi Arabia too much of a pass on some things when it comes to human rights.

We'll keep following this, the breaking news, we'll pass it on.

Thanks for joining us.

I'm Poppy Harlow.


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

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

The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking out just moments ago after wrapping a meeting with the president to discuss what is now the most critical test to date for the Trump presidency, how to respond to the disappearance and suspected murder of "Washington Post" columnist, Jamal Khashoggi. Pompeo saying just moments ago, we need to give them a little more time to investigate. I want you to listen to this.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that so that we, too, have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that. At which point we can make decisions about how or if the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr. Khashoggi.


BOLDUAN: So wait and see, Pompeo says.

We do know that the evidence is mounting that Jamal Khashoggi is dead. That he was killed by the Saudis and that the crown prince himself was involved. That is a lot of the reporting surrounding this, and there's a lot more. With that, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing the president to act, warning that if he doesn't, they will. So once again, all eyes are on the White House and what the president may say or tweet next. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

Kaitlan, what is the next move for the White House right now? I was pretty surprised that Mike Pompeo came out to talk to reporters on such a sensitive issue.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The delay continues, Kate. That's essentially what he told us when he came out and spoke for about three minutes to reporters and didn't even take three questions from reporters there to talk about what happened when he went to Saudi Arabia and Turkey where he was supposed to be briefed on all of this. And White House officials have been waiting on his return for him to brief President Trump before they could make a decision going forward. That's what we have heard for days. What we heard from Pompeo was essentially no decision has been made and he advised President Trump to give the Saudis a few more days to continue their investigation so they can learn all the facts.

Critics are going to say they're giving them a few more days to continue to come up with their cover story about this because they believe the intelligence points to responsibility for the Saudis for the disappearance of and possible murder of this journalist.

Now, Kate, he came out and defended himself against criticism, Kate, that we have heard of Pompeo, that he was too smiley when he was meeting with the Saudi crown prince in Riyadh in recent days and photos of him smiling, his spokesman smiling which raises question about what he was over there to do. He said he made clear to them the United States finds this really important, very concerning, that they wanted to get to the bottom of this. He did shield himself from some criticism, but he didn't offer a lot of new information on what it was that he briefed President Trump on. Any facts, whether or not he's confirmed this reporter is dead or alive. Nothing of that kind of sort, Kate.

And also nothing on whether or not the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is still going to Riyadh for that investment summit. All eyes have been on him as we have seen executives continue to drop out of this in light of all this scrutiny of this full-blown diplomatic crisis, but he didn't answer whether or not the treasury secretary, who is scheduled to leave pretty soon now, is still going to go and make that stop, Kate.

Essentially, what we got from there was no new information from the secretary of state despite the fact he was the one who went there, was on the ground hearing these Saudi denials, hearing the Turkish accusations, and he's the one who just briefed President Trump. We didn't get any new information from that -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, Kaitlan, a lot of moving parts. Stick close to the camera.

I'll come back to you in a little bit. I appreciate it.

This all come as new evidence is emerging showing the exact movements of the Saudis that are believed to be involved in Khashoggi's disappearance and possible murder. That officer -- and also about the officer closely tied to the Saudi crown prince.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is joining me live outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul with this.

Ben, remind our viewers who this is and what we see in the new images that are now being released.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, these are four CCTV images published in a Turkish daily. They show a man who is a colonel in the Saudi intelligence, a man who we have seen has traveled with crown prince Mohammad bin Salman to the United States, to the United Kingdom, and he's part of his elite security guard. And he is shown in this CCTV television footage at 9:55 a.m. on the 2nd of October, the day when the "Washington Post" columnist entered this consulate, the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen again. Now, then, we see another CCTV picture of the colonel leaving the consulate at 4:53 p.m. That's about three and a half hours after Jamal Khashoggi entered the consulate. And clearly, this is a man with very close connections with the Saudi crown prince. Essentially at the scene of the crime. And what we're seeing is more and more threads going directly from whatever happened in this building behind me to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia -- Kate?

[11:05:37] BOLDUAN: Ben, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Joining me to discuss, David Sanger is here, a CNN political and national security analyst and national security correspondent for "the New York Times," Josh Rogin, is a CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist, and Kim Dozier, CNN global affairs analyst and "Daily Beast" contributor.

David, we're on our way up to the studio together when Mike Pompeo came out to speak to reporters. What did you think of his remarks? Give them more time. What did you make of that?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Clearly, his message was you guys have to clean this up quickly. We know why. In part because the pressure is building here, and in part because the administration is now a little over two weeks away from their big sanctions on Iran, in which Saudi Arabia is going to have to play a key role and may well be enriched as they pump the oil the U.S.Is trying to cut out from Iran. They have to get it out of the way quickly. Where I thought Mr. Pompeo tried to make a good case about, you know, he wasn't there for a joyful visit despite the smiles, he's a serious guy. He was out, I think, delivering a pretty tough message. That said, there are two flaws in this. The first is the Saudis have basically said give us more time to investigate ourselves. They had more than two weeks right now. This allegedly happened in the office of their consul general, it appears to be where the murder took place, if the reporter we and others have done is accurate. In which case, they should have a pretty good set of facts right now. The question is, are they using the next 72 hours to find a way to go distance the crown prince from this, to perhaps arrest and maybe send to justice some of those they want to put on the blame, and their difficulty is every time they turn around, the Turks are releasing more photographs, more evidence talking about more tapes that would actually make this a harder case for the Saudis to take their way through.

BOLDUAN: You lay it out so, so perfectly.

And, Josh, with all of this coming in, we are at the point of wondering, how do the Saudis explain this away with credibility. As Ben Wedeman is laying out, the CCTV images and David is laying out it's not like this happened in just some building somewhere. This happened in the Saudi consulate.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. The "Washington Post" reported this morning that the U.S. and Saudi governments are searching for, quote/unquote, "mutually agreement explanation." That's another way of saying cover-up story which is another way of saying a lie. The Saudi government based on its own behavior and statements in the last two weeks doesn't have any credibility. That's why the idea they would be able to investigate themselves is laughable on its face. I'm also skeptical of the confidence that the Turkish investigation, the other investigation that Secretary of State Pompeo mentioned, can get to the bottom of the problem either because as we have also reported, the Turks and Saudis are engaged in a negotiation over concessions that the Saudis might give to Ankara in order to bury some of this most damaging evidence. What does that lead to? The "Washington Post" editorial board has called publicly for an international independent investigation. That seems to me to be the only real hope of finding out exactly what happened to Jamal in a way that we can have all confidence in. The other thing is that the U.S. government has the option of releasing the information that it has about this, which is a lot. And if they want to gif the Saudis are couple more days, fine, but at some point, we're going to have to have a real accounting, and you know, we can't accept the O.J. defense, that like, Mohammad bin Salman is going to find the real killer.

BOLDUAN: I don't want, Kim, the "Washington Post" reporting to get lost in the shuffle of what we heard from Mike Pompeo because it was important. The wording from the "Washington Post" this morning is that the administration and the Saudi royal family are, quote, "searching for a mutually agreement explanation." Not just for nothing. They're searching for a mutually agreeable explanation to explain the death of Jamal Khashoggi that wouldn't involve the crown prince. They're reporting that they're working together to come up with a cover story for a suspected murder.

You have been reporting on this. What could that cover story be?

[11:09:54] KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I have been on the receiving end of some of those stories. One version that has been put to me by several people familiar with the matter is that the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had only improved interrogation of the Saudi journalist in the consulate. But that a rogue general took it too far, had wanted to impress his boss and bring Khashoggi back. And that the rendition went sour and that now they're trying to figure out who to hold responsible. An alternate version I have been told is essentially the crown prince knew and approved of an assassination of Khashoggi. And that now different name said are being thrown out, including a few presented to us at the daily beast, trying to say that this is the person and that the crown prince's hands are clean of this. Some of the things that U.S. official said are suggesting is that the king do something to clip Mohammad bin Salman's wings in the future, like perhaps present another deputy crown prince to remind him that his power is not all reaching.

BOLDUAN: David, you also mentioned all of this drip, drip, drip coming out from Turkish officials that the Saudis can't just get past. More keeps coming out every day. And the latest is these images of at least one of the 15 Saudis that came in and left same day, into Turkey. What are you hearing about who these people are that committed this?

SANGER: Well, the first thing you're hearing is, by and large, with a few exceptions, they were not Saudi intelligence professionals. And you can see this by the amount of digital dust they left. I mean, they come in, they're photographed. It seems like they walked by every CCTV camera that the Turks have between the airport and the consulate. That is not the mark of professionals. And had professionals actually been sent out to do a rendition, my guess, is you wouldn't have seen them coming in and you wouldn't have seen them leaving and you wouldn't hear these reports of Mr. Khashoggi being killed and all these gruesome accounts of how this all happened. So it suggests that this was done more by loyalists than by people who are professional at doing this. And that is, itself, a sign perhaps that the crown prince wanted people close to him.

It's also straining credulity that people that loyal to the crown prince would go that far beyond his instructions.


BOLDUAN: What his orders would have been.

SANGER: Let's say for a moment he did just order a rendition, that they would do that and think they could be forgiven. Maybe they just didn't anticipate. None of the Saudis anticipated what the reaction might be.

BOLDUAN: That may be the key, that the Saudis underestimated what the reaction would be in all this.

SANGER: They live in a bubble in which they're not thinking this is a very public figure with a column in the "Washington Post." and you know, people in the United States were not about to just let this one walk by.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Josh.

ROGIN: Kate, I think there's a good reason the Saudis thought there wouldn't be a big reaction. Because the Trump administration has signaled since it came in office that it's deprioritizing human rights. That has consequences that we're seeing now, and we're often presented with this false choice. We can't abandon the Saudis but we can't endorse their horrendousness. There's a middle ground, called having a fact-based alliance, and I think that's what we have sacrificed over the last years and it's not too late. We still have a chance to return to an American-Saudi alliance that's based on mutual respect, the rule of law and accountability and let's hope our administration realizes that.

BOLDUAN: And the word from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this morning is we'll get to those facts, they'll reach that conclusion giving the Saudis a few more days to get the story together. And then we'll see after that. Exactly, this is the definition of we'll see.

Guys, thank you very, very much.

I do want to let Jamal have the final say on this topic. Today, the "Washington Post" published his final column today. A column he wrote just before he went missing. It's about the importance of a free press in the Arab world. He details attacks on fellow journalists and then he says this, in part, "These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence. As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate."

Jamal Khashoggi hasn't been seen since October 2nd. He should have the final say on this.

Kim, David, Josh, thanks guys. Appreciate it.

SANGER: Thank you.

[11:14:51] Coming up for us, he was reporting on the -- he was reportedly on the outs. Now he's speaking out in a rare interview. The man overseeing the Russia probe defends the investigation the president calls a witch hunt. We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: The man at the center of the Russia investigation, the man overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the man who also was reported to be heading out the door a few weeks ago after reports he proposed secretly recording conversations with the president, that man is now talking. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in a rare interview with the "Wall Street Journal," Rosenstein defending the Russia investigation, telling the "Journal" this, "I committed I would insure the investigation was appropriate and independent and reached the right result. Whatever it may be. I believe I have been faithful to that."

Sadie Gurman joins me now from Washington.

Thanks for coming in.


[11:20:06] BOLDUAN: I was not only struck by that comment by Rosenstein but also how he seems to address almost directly conservatives and Republican criticism of the probe head on. Let me read that for our viewers, that part, "People are entitled to be frustrated. I can accept that, but at the end of the day, the public will have confidence that the cases we brought were warranted by the evidence. And that it was an appropriate use of resources."

Sadie, why do you think he's speaking out now?

GURMAN: Well, that's something you would have to ask him, but I think that, you know, he's pretty much the highest profile deputy attorney general we have had in recent memory. And so it's obviously a rare chance for him to sort of, you know, I think share his side of the story and sort of talk about the work at the Justice Department. There's a lot going on at the Justice Department right now. You know, including but not exclusively related to Mueller. And so I think this was a chance for him to sort of talk about that, but also to give the public assurances that they should be confident in whatever outcome the probe yields, you know, whatever that is.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Especially when it's always under withering criticism and under attack by the president at every turn.

Do you -- did you get the sense that Rosenstein speaking out and being open to even, you know, addressing the probe, that the probe is getting close to wrapping up?

GURMAN: You know, he offered no timetable for when the probe might wrap up. But I think he just sort of wanted to relay, you know, that he thinks it's been appropriately managed. He's the one overseeing it. He thinks the public should be aware that it is being done independently and fairly, and you know, they should be satisfied with the results already. It's yielded, you know, some cases and you know, exposed widespread evidence of Russian election meddling, so you know, I think he just kind of wanted to relay, you know, whatever he was able to at this point.

BOLDUAN: Of course, to whatever limits there. He's clearly aware of the criticism. He's clearly not shut off, not seeing what's happened in the press over the months of this probe. Who was he trying to send a message to, the public or the president or maybe a combination of both?

GURMAN: You know, I'm not sure who exactly he was talking to, but he basically said, I understand the frustration, I understand the speculation out there right now, and I, you know, accept the criticism, but I respectfully disagree.

BOLDUAN: One thing that you make clear in the piece is that he would not address this reporting that last year he floated the idea of wearing a wire to record the president in the aftermath of firing James Comey and also the reporting that he had discussed getting the cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment to remove Trump from office. He's denied this reporting, that reporting before. Did you get a sense of why he didn't want to discuss it this time?

GURMAN: Well, you know, he basically just said, look, I'm not going to talk about what the media has been reporting, but you know, obviously, this is something that members of Congress want to talk to him about. He wouldn't say whether there were currently any plans for him to speak to people on the Hill about this, but you know, I think basically he just, you know, said that the president, you know, knows that he's in the job, that he serves at his pleasure and he's going to continue to do the job as long as he's able to do it.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Regardless, always good to hear him in his own words.

Appreciate it. Congratulations on getting that. Thanks, Sadie.

GURMAN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the special counsel may not be making news right now, but behind the scenes, he's as busy as ever. CNN has new reporting Robert Mueller is showing no signs of slowing down. Stay with us.


[11:28:43] BOLDUAN: Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation for the past couple months may have largely stayed out of the headlines but that doesn't mean they stayed out of the courthouse. Former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his legal team have met with Mueller's team at least nine times in the last four weeks. Plus, Mueller has gathered a grand jury in Washington every week. And special counsel prosecutors have visited the courthouse in Washington almost daily in same time period. What does it all mean?

CNN political correspondent, Sara Murray, is in Washington with more details.

Sara, great to see you.

What more can you tell us about all of this? A lot of activity, but what does it mean?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLILTICAL CORRESPNDENT: What it means is Mueller is in this quiet period because the midterms are weeks away. He may not be doing a lot publicly, but there's a lot going on behind the scenes. As you pointed out, Manafort is now this cooperating witness. The special counsel's team has also met with Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal attorney. They're calling in witnesses related to their Roger Stone investigation, and what it means, according to sources who are familiar with this investigation, is they believe there could be a lot more activity once we get through the midterms and perhaps even more criminal indictments that are coming -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And also, a key figure, someone who has become somewhat of a key figure is White House counsel, Don McGahn. Sources are telling CNN yesterday was his last day at the White House. That seems earlier than everyone thought. What's it all about.

MURRAY: It was a little abrupt. That's partly because Donald Trump kind of ran out there and announced Don McGahn's replacement while Don McGahn was still in the buiding.