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Mueller Working on Russia Probe Quietly Behind the Scenes; Secret Meetings Over FBI Renovation Projects; Mnuchin Will Not Attend Saudi Conference Next Week; Rumors of Possible Torture, Dismemberment, Murder of Journalist; New Jersey Midterms Not Looking Good for Democrats; Beto O'Rourke Trails Ted Cruz in Texas. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired October 18, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: 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?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a little abrupt. That's partly because Donald Trump ran out there and announced his replacement while Don McGahn was still in the building. A bit awkward.


MURRAY: And, yes, there's not a lot of love lost at this point between President Trump and Don McGahn. They did have about a 20- minute farewell meeting yesterday before he decided to leave the White House, but McGahn is someone who has threatened to quit on a number of occasions. He and the president have had a rocky relationship. But he felt like he was accomplishing a lot in his job at the White House in shepherding two Supreme Court nominees to be justices as well as remaking the court system by naming judges to these lower courts. I think he wanted to stick it out as long as he could, but both sides acknowledged now was the time to move on -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: As long as he could became shorter.

Good to see you, Sara.

MURRAY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Just in for us, new details about the fight of the future home of the FBI and what role the president played in it, including a secret meeting in the Oval Office about the renovation projects of the FBI.

CNN politics reporter, Lauren Fox, is in Washington right now. She's joining me now with more details on this.

Lauren, remind viewers what this is all about. And also, these new details of what you're learning now. LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. New documents show

that President Donald Trump was more instrumental than previously known in scrapping plans to move the FBI headquarters out of Washington to the D.C. suburbs. That's according to newly obtained staff e-mails. Now, the decision to rebuild FBI headquarters in D.C. could have financial benefits for Trump, whose hotel is located just blocks away. And he wouldn't face any potential competition from developers buying the old FBI buildings.

The documents obtained by House Democrats show that staff openly discussed President Trump's role after an Oval Office meeting in January between Trump, GSA administrator, Emily Murphy, and other officials about the future of the FBI building. A previous inspector general's report accused Murphy of not being forthcoming about the White House meeting in testimony to Congress earlier this year. As staff attempted to finalize the plan to keep the FBI headquarters in D.C. and put it in writing, one GSA staffer wrote, quote, "Ideally, I think it would first recap the Oval meeting with what POTUS directed everyone to do. Then ask Emily to execute POTUS' order." Another internal e-mail said that GSA was going to, quote, "Hold our ground on funding source and that it is a new demolition, new construction per the president's instructions."

The documents obtained by House Democrats are a preview of the kind of oversight that Democrats might escalate if they win the House majority in November. House Democrats are deeply concerned about potential conflicts of interest that the president might have in his business dealings. CNN has reached out to the White House, and we're awaiting a response -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, Lauren, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

We have breaking news coming in just now. We have breaking news coming in about Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary. It has been a big question, there's been a Saudi investment conference that is next week, and a very big question of what he is going to do. Is he going to attend, as multiple business leaders have been pulling out of this conference?

Are we going to the White House?

All right. Let's get over to the White House and get over to Kaitlan Collins who has more information on that.

Sorry, Kaitlan, a little traffic confusion. Give me the breaking news.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We have gotten the answer we have been waiting all week to hear, whether or not Mnuchin is going to go. He just tweeted the treasury secretary saying he met with President Trump, he met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and they have decided together he's not going to attend the investment summit in Riyadh, a big thing for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, saying he will no longer being going. This is the question, Kate, that essentially everyone has been waiting to hear, whether or not he was still going to move forward because they thought it would signal really largely how the administration, it would indicate how they're going to respond to the disappearance of this journalist. And really, he said he was in earlier days this week, he was going to wait to meet with Pompeo to see what he had to say after he got back from visiting Riyadh and visiting Turkey to make a decision. And we know he's not going to be attending that summit anymore.

That's the same summit where we have seen several top executives drop out in light of the scrutiny over this full-blown diplomatic crisis related to the disappearance of this journalist. And as the Saudis are going to continue to investigate, the treasury secretary has decided it's not worth it for him to go. Kate, if he had gone there, there likely would have been a lot of backlash because they thought it would have signaled essentially the United States is fine with him continuing to go to this. They weighed and struggled the decision because they thought it's a lot easier for some private company executive to decide not to go, but with the United States treasury secretary deciding not to go, it would send a bigger message. They struggled with the decision, but, Kate, they have come to the decision he's not going to attend. Whether or not what that means for the rest of the White House's response to this and the disappearance of this journalist, we'll have to wait and see.

[11:35:20] BOLDUAN: Absolutely right.

Kaitlan, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

Much more on this after a break.


[11:40:02] BOLDUAN: What exactly happened to Jamal Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul more than two weeks ago? The burning question still not answered but reports tell a grisly story of possible torture, dismemberment and murder.

Josh Campbell is joining me outside the consulate where Khashoggi entered and disappeared. Josh, a senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI supervisory special agent.

Josh, there's been a lot of activity there overnight and yesterday. What exactly do we know, though, about what happened inside the consulate on October 2nd?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, we're here outside the Saudi consulate, which is the alleged scene of the crime. CNN has been reporting based on information from Turkish officials that behind me, inside the facility, the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was reportedly tortured, dismembered, and killed in the facility behind me. Overnight, you'll recall there was reporting where we were standing at the residence of the Saudi consul general. That became of interest because CCTV of the day he went missing shows vehicles moving to the residence. Officers were processing throughout the night, they spent about nine hours with forensic teams. We have yet to get a read out on what they found. But obviously, there's a lot of information that's damning that has been coming to light, things we have been reporting to include the members of this alleged 15-member hit team. CNN has obtained passports for seven of the individuals. One in

particular, and this is raising a lot of eyebrows. Was an individual linked to the Saudi Ministry of Medicine. There was a 2014 news article that came out from a London newspaper that actually indicated this individual was actually boasting in 2014 about a new capability that the Saudis had. That was the ability to move a mobile forensic crime scene processing center to the area where an individual was found deceased in order to quickly do an autopsy, find out what the cause of death was. The reason that caused eyebrows is if a 15-member hit team came here for the purpose of conducting an interrogation, why would you send someone who had that expertise? A lot of questions remaining. We're yet to get a full read out, but we're keeping an eye on that -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Hearing from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his meetings in Riyadh that they want to give the Saudis a few more days to figure out what they found or to figure out their story.

Josh, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

Joining me now is Bob Baer, CNN intelligence and security analyst and a former CIA operative.

Bob, as Josh laid out, if this team of 15 that came from Saudi Arabia, if this included senior Saudi intelligence officers, if they were just there to interrogate him, what would they have done?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE & SECURITY ANALYST: I doubt that they were there, Kate, to interrogate him. What they would do normally is grab the guy, put him on an airplane as fast as they can, and take him back to Riyadh and interrogate him there. I think the case for premeditated murder is getting better by the day. Everything the Turks have said, they have backed up with evidence, with photographs, with cleaning up the scene. This whole story about cutting him up while he was still alive, putting earphones. I mean, the Turks know what they're doing. And this frankly is a slow roast of Saudi Arabia. And possibly Trump as well. I mean, they do have political motivations. Now, the question is whether they have the tape or not, and that's being a key piece of evidence. But I just don't see this as an interrogation gone bad. Interrogators are in Riyadh. They could have done all the interrogation they wanted. The whole point of the rendition is to do it quickly and get the person out and not wait around to question them.

BOLDUAN: That is a real question. And I want to get your perspective on that. If it was a botched interrogation, how does something like this go so wrong? Especially if it's a -- if this involves senior intelligence officers?

BAER: Well, if it was a botched interrogation, a man of that age, if you hit him hard enough a couple times, he could die of a heart attack. I have seen that happen over and over again in the Middle East. Where they're overaggressive and they die during the interrogation. But that's not what the Turks have said what happened.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And as you were talking about, Turkish officials told CNN that his body was dismembered -- just horrible to even talk about. Dismembered after he was killed. Bob, why would they ever be done? I don't understand.

BAER: Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince, runs all the security services. He runs the military, the economy. He's an autocrat. It is known to be particularly cruel, and this could be a message to the rank and file. This is what happens to you. You know, it's psychopathic, no question about it. And there's a big question of whether this had been filmed and sent back to the kingdom for Mohammad bin Salman. That's something else the Turks could answer.

[11:45:10] BOLDUAN: Well, again, no definitive answers yet, but a lot of mounting evidence all pointing one direction and not another at the moment.

Bob, thank you. I appreciate it.

BAER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the new battle brewing for Democrats in a historically blue state. How one heated Senate fight could dash any hopes of a blue wave. That's next.


[11:49:56] BOLDUAN: We are less than two weeks away from the big game. Midterms, 2018. If Democrats have hope of taking back the Senate, they not only need to pick up red seats, they need to hold on to the ones they've already got. That brings us to New Jersey, where a traditionally blue state is making Democrats a little more nervous, maybe a lot more nervous this morning.

Joining us right now is our senior political writer and analyst, Harry Enten.

Let's talk about New Jersey. What is going on in this race?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER & ANALYST: Yesterday was a Quinnipiac University poll that had Menendez just ahead. He's at 51 percent compared to Bob Hugin's 44 percent. This is surprising given that Donald Trump lost this state by double digits, given that bob Menendez won by 20 points in 2012 but it was the corruption trial, Menendez was either found not guilty or there was a hung jury on some count bus it clearly had an impact. My forecast has him slated to win by only nine percentage points, that isn't that great. Why is he not doing as well as we might think? Look at the favorable ratings. Right now Menendez in that Quinnipiac University poll was at a 36 percent favorable rating to unfavorable at 52 percent. That makes him much less liked than Bob Hugin who is a 39 percent favorable rating.

BOLDUAN: But does that matter at small look at the 2016 model. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were -- they were both unliked, if you will.


ENTEN: The two least-liked candidates of all time.

BOLDUAN: Is that no longer a measure?

ENTEN: I think it's a measure in so far is that Menendez's favorable rating is so low it's holding him back but if you look at the Monmouth poll that came out as we've been on the air, most voters in the state of New Jersey are making up their mind not on how they feel about Menendez but how they feel about Donald Trump. And Donald Trump is still unliked in the state of New Jersey.

BOLDUAN: So it has nothing to do with his favorability and all to do with Donald Trump's favorability?

ENTEN: It has nothing to do with bob Menendez, it's the "D" next to his name and the "R" next to Donald Trump's name.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. I don't think if that's good or bad for Menendez.

ENTEN: He'll probably win. The forecast has him winning by nine.

BOLDUAN: Ends justify the means in politics.

ENTEN: Yes. Yes.

BOLDUAN: Unfortunately.

The president is heading to Montana. I think this is his third time to campaign this cycle. He's campaigning against Jon Tester?

ENTEN: He has spite given what Tester did to Ronny Jackson who he wanted to run.


ENTEN: Right. Right. We have Jon Tester winning by six. I should point out there hasn't been a lot of public polling in this race. If you talk to Republican strategists, they say the race is significantly closer.

BOLDUAN: So Trump could have an impact?

ENTEN: Trump could have an impact. We'll see.

BOLDUAN: Stand by to stand by.

Thank you, Harry.

ENTEN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much.

Coming up for us, Beto O'Rourke has tons of cash but he doesn't have a ton of time. The Texas Democrat is trailing in his bid to bounce Senator Ted Cruz out of office. Will a new strategy step in? What is the new strategy? That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:57:46] BOLDUAN: It's one of the hottest races in the midterms. Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke is trying to unseat Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz. O'Rourke has raised a record amount of cash but polls show he's still trailing, close but not close enough. Tonight, his closing argument. CNN hosts a town hall meeting with O'Rourke and an important note on that, CNN invited Senator Ted Cruz multiple times to appear tonight as well but he declined.

Let's go there. CNN's Mark Preston is in McAllen, Texas, a live look where the town hall will be held tonight at 7:00 eastern.

Mark, what are you looking for tonight?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A couple of things. This is a border town. When we talk about the problem of illegal immigration and we talk about the problem of NAFTA, this is the heart of it here where we stand. And we'll see Beto O'Rourke try to make his case not only to Texan bus to the nation. He's somebody as you know and I know and our viewers are starting to learn, he has come on fast in the closing months of this campaign and we'll see President Trump come here to help shore up support for Ted Cruz. We'll see tonight if Beto O'Rourke can talk about being conciliatory. At the same time, can he reach out and have his liberal base energized heading into the election.

BOLDUAN: Talk about the cash. What do you think about the fact that he raised $38 million in the third quarter and what if he loses after that?

PRESTON: Yes, $30 million in three months, astronomical amount of money. People think that Beto O'Rourke is looking beyond this selection, he's looking perhaps at running for president, looking at perhaps running for governor down the road. The fact is, though, Beto O'Rourke has showed how much energy we've seen in the Democratic Party when they're looking at new leaders. Beto O'Rourke one of these young guys they're investing in. We're seeing television ads and digital ads in Texas. A lot at stake, Kate, in McAllen, Texas.

BOLDUAN: How many times are we going to hear Lyin' Ted tonight?

PRESTON: Certainly, more than once. Probably not more than 100.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for sticking your neck out.

Great to see you, Mark. It will be awesome. Appreciate it.

It all happens tonight. CNN's Dana Bash moderates the Texas Senate town hall. That's live at 7:00 eastern on CNN.

Thanks so much for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts now.