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Trump and Pompeo Meet as Khashoggi Crisis Engulfs White House; New Images Show Saudi Officer in Istanbul on Day of Khashoggi Disappearance; Two Americans Wounded in Kandahar Palace Firefight; WSJ: Rosenstein Says Mueller Probe is "Appropriate and Independent"; Democrats Struggle in Must-Win Senate Races; Wall Street Set to Open Lower After Fed Hints at Higher Rates; Trump Hits Campaign Trail, Heads to Montana for the Third Time in 3 Months. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired October 18, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Less than three days after sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a fact-finding mission to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey, President Trump is about to hear the results. Mike Pompeo due in the Oval Office in the next hour amid continued denials from the Saudis and ever more detailed accusations from the Turks regarding the fate of Jamal Khashoggi.
The president insists, and I quote, "I want to find out what happened." And he predicts we will probably know by the end of the week.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Already we know that Pompeo wasn't just finding facts. He was delivering messages and apparently firm ones. Sources tell our Jamie Gangel that the secretary told the Saudi crown prince point blank that he had to, quote, "own the Khashoggi situation," and his own standings as future king depends on it. That's far different from anything Pompeo or the president have ever said in public in the last 16 days.
This morning we also want you to hear from Khashoggi himself. The last column that the Saudi dissident journalist wrote for the "Washington Post" has just been published, and it is about press freedom in the region.
We will bring it to you in its entirety this hour. But first let's go to the White House. We begin with our Abby Phillip.
Abby, good morning, and two critical questions for you. What did the Secretary of State Pompeo learn? And what will the president do about it?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Poppy. At this meeting that Mike Pompeo will have with President Trump in the White House in about an hour is really important because Pompeo is coming back, having been on the ground there, having delivered what our sources are saying is a stern message to the Saudi royals about how to handle this situation. But the first thing that we have learned from Pompeo himself is that there was not very much discussion of the facts while he was on the ground. There was a message delivered to the Saudis that they need to complete
this investigation as quickly as possible over the next few days and that, as you pointed out, they need to own this investigation. According to our sources, you know, Pompeo was basically telling the crown prince that his future at king -- as king is at stake here based on how they deal with this situation, whether or not they were involved in this episode, whether or not they knew about what happened.
Pompeo basically said they need to figure out how to resolve this situation. Otherwise, President Trump may not be able to withstand global pressure to punish the Saudis for their involvement in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.
SCIUTTO: You wonder if we asked him directly, where is Jamal Khashoggi's body? You know, very simple question here.
On the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, a whole host of business leaders and other officials have already announced they will no longer take part in a Saudi investor conference coming up. Mnuchin has delayed that decision but we expect an answer today?
PHILLIP: According to Mnuchin he wants to decide by today. And in part, he's also waiting on what he hears back from Pompeo once he's back in Washington in the White House compound debriefing all of these officials. It will be his decision to go or to not go based on whether or not there is a sense that this is a situation that the administration thinks that they can ride out.
Now Mnuchin has, up until this point, been preparing to go, even as all of these world leaders, these business leaders and these corporations and media organizations have pulled out of this conference. And he's getting a little bit of backing. There's been at least one Republican senator saying maybe he should still go. But again Pompeo's briefings this morning will be critical to all of this and it will tell us about where this administration thinks this is all going based on whether he decides to go to that conference.
HARLOW: Right. Right. Senator Orrin Hatch saying, you know, he should still go. And yet you have Republican Senator Bob Corker also questioning and saying, look, the intel we're getting from the administration on this is really getting cut short. So what do those all signify within the same party?
Let's get straight to Clarissa Ward. She's in Turkey. Specifically in Ankara this morning.
And Clarissa, good morning to you. The Turkish media has released some significant photos just now. What do they show?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. So Turkish media releasing four surveillance footage photographs. Still images of surveillance video footage that purports to show one of the infamous 15 Saudi operatives on the day of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. Now the first photograph appears to show the man arriving at the consulate at about 9:55 a.m. Then we see him again at 4:53 p.m. outside the residence of the consul-general.
Important for our viewers to remember that the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi is expected to have taken place or believed to have taken place sometime in the hours before that second photograph was taken. The third image shows the operative going back to his hotel, the Movenpick Hotel, and checking out. He had originally checked in to stay for three days, but then checked out early.
[09:05:04] And the fourth image shows him arriving around 6:00 p.m. at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport. We know that shortly after that he got on to one of the two jets that went back to Riyadh.
Now what's interesting about this, aside from the fact that Turkish officials are clearly sort of putting together a coherent timeline of each of these operative's movements, is who the man in the photographs is. The man is a man called Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb. He is colonel in the intelligence services, he is a former diplomat and, surprise, surprise, he is also known to be close to these circles of Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince.
He has been photographed on multiple occasions with Mohammed bin Salman, including traveling overseas. All of this again simply challenging the Saudi narrative that the crown prince could possibly not have known about this -- Poppy and Jim.
HARLOW: OK. All very important reporting this morning. Clarissa, thank you for all of that.
SCIUTTO: We're joined now by Jerry Feierstein. He's a former deputy assistant secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to Yemen, long experienced in the region.
Ambassador, thanks very much for taking the time this morning.
JERRY FEIERSTEIN, SENIOR FELLOW, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: Pleasure.
SCIUTTO: You heard that CNN's reporting is that in that private meeting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was very direct in a way that the president has not been with the Saudi crown prince saying that the Saudis must own this. Otherwise, the U.S. will deal with it.
I just wonder this. From the Saudi perspective in your experience, whose words are truly influential, the secretary of State's or the president's in public? Who are they likely to be listening to here for signals as to how the U.S. is going to respond?
FEIERSTEIN: Well, the Saudis are a very sophisticated in their understanding of the way the U.S. system works, who has the ear of the president, who can speak authoritatively for the United States. Obviously, the president's words directly are going to carry the most weight. If they know that the secretary is speaking directly on behalf of the president, that's important. But if it comes down to a distinction between the two, they are going to listen most carefully to what the president has to say. SCIUTTO: Yes.
HARLOW: Given the fact that you are the former U.S. ambassador to Yemen and given the atrocity that continues in Yemen and the bombardment and the killing of innocent children in Yemen at the hands of the Saudi-led coalition, and the fact that the U.S. reauthorized the sale of U.S.-made weapons to Saudi even in the wake of that bus attack, do you believe that the calculation of the Saudi government at this point is, well, we were essentially given a pass then, so we'll get a pass now?
FEIERSTEIN: Well, that could very well be the case. You don't know, really, what's going on inside the minds of the Saudi leadership. But the issue with Jamal Khashoggi, I think, would be a very different matter if it were only about Jamal Khashoggi. But, in fact, it is, as you say, it's an accumulation of things over time. The war in Yemen being a very major part of the frustration and anger that many people in Washington feel about the Saudi record and Mohammed bin Salman's record.
SCIUTTO: There's been a lot of framing of this issue, of this dilemma for the president as sort of a binary choice, right? You either criticize the Saudis here and entirely cut off the relationship or you keep the relationship going on the many issues that you have shared interests, counterterrorism being one of them.
But in your many years as a diplomat, I imagine there were circumstances where you chastised allies for behavior, activities that the U.S. did not approve of, while maintaining the relationship. I mean, the question is, is it mutually exclusive?
SCIUTTO: Can the president say we won't stand for this, but maintain a working relationship with Saudi Arabia?
FEIERSTEIN: Oh, absolutely. And the other part of that, of course, is that generally speaking quiet diplomacy is more effective than public statements. If indeed Secretary Mike Pompeo delivered the kind of strong message that the administration is now saying they delivered, that's going to carry more weight than sweets or other kinds of public statements. So when you are dealing particularly in the Middle East, particularly given the sensitivities that many people have there about public criticisms, a strong private message is going to carry more authority, more significance for them and probably would get a better response from them.
The problem that the administration has is that the president, through his public statements, has cast doubt, particularly here in Washington, about whether or not those serious, strong messages were actually delivered.
[09:10:04] HARLOW: But when you talk about strong messages, there is perhaps no stronger one for the personal interest of the crown prince than what the secretary of State delivered yesterday, which was, you know, get a handle on this. Own this or your future as king is at stake.
Our question to you is, does the U.S. actually have the power to block Mohammed bin Salman's ascension to king?
FEIERSTEIN: No, of course not. This is a matter that's going to be decided inside the family. And one has to assume that there are conversations going on quietly among some of the senior princes about whether or not they are on the right track, whether or not Mohammed bin Salman is leading Saudi Arabia into a very dark corner where it's going to be damaging to Saudi Arabia's reputation and its ability to carry the kind of weight internationally that the Saudis clearly believe that they're ready to take on.
So this is going to be something that's going to play out, and it's got to be more than just a conversation with Mohammed bin Salman. King Salman is still the king of Saudi Arabia. He's still the ultimate decision maker. He's already replaced two crown princes. The question is whether or not a decision will be made that he needs to make a third move.
SCIUTTO: Ambassador Feierstein, thanks very much for taking the time.
HARLOW: Thank you.
HARLOW: Unlikely upsets, we are closing in on the midterms. 19 days away. But the Democrats' chances of taking over the Senate looking lousy this morning. Harry Enten joins us with his forecast.
Also quiet? Not really. Just because we're not hearing much about the Mueller probe doesn't mean the special counsel isn't very, very busy. We have the latest on that.
SCIUTTO: And Jamal Khashoggi in his own words. The "Washington Post" publishes his final piece submitted just the day before he disappeared. We're going to read his final words in their entirety.
[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: This just in to Cnn out of Afghanistan. Two Americans wounded in cross-fire in an attack near Kandahar, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan was there. Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Do we know about his safety?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jim. Well, we are learning from the Pentagon just now that General Scott Miller was in this immediate vicinity when this fire-fight broke out. U.S. officials are saying General Miller is uninjured. But it is extraordinary that we are standing here and saying the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the head of the NATO military operation in Afghanistan was in the immediate vicinity of an area where a fire- fight broke out and two Americans were wounded in that cross fire.
General Miller remains uninjured at this hour, according to Pentagon officials. What had happened is General Miller had gone to Kandahar to meet with local and provincial Afghan officials, we are told that meeting was over. They were leaving when a fire-fight broke out between Afghans. Afghan on Afghan. No indication at this point that the Taliban were involved.
And that fire-fight, Afghan on Afghan led to two American service members being wounded and a few minutes of frantic concern that General Miller might have also been injured. He is not -- this is a guy who moves around the battlefield regularly, and today was a good example. He goes out there and he meets the local forces, he meets local Afghans, no indication he's going to stop doing that. Jim.
SCIUTTO: Alarmingly, close call for the commander there. And listen, 17 years after the invasion, still a very --
STARR: Yes --
SCIUTTO: Dangerous place, Barbara Starr, thanks very much.
POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Let's remind you how many lives are still always on the line every day. All right, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defending the special counsel Russia probe, telling the "Wall Street Journal" in a very rare interview, he rarely does these, that the probe is both, quote, "appropriate and independent".
So what's the president going to say about those comments?
SCIUTTO: Rosenstein's relationship with the president has been dicey at best recently. Last month, the "New York Times" reported that he suggested secretly recording President Trump, discussed as well trying to remove him from office.
Joining us now Sara Murray; Cnn political correspondent. This was quite a public comment -- public defense really for the deputy Attorney General to take the Mueller probe especially as we get into what may be the final stretch.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, absolutely. And of course, it comes as President Trump has called this a witch-hunt, he really said it was a tremendous waste of time that he's trying to figure out whether to answer written questions, whether to sit for an interview with Mueller team.
Obviously, Rod Rosenstein taking a starkly different tone. I want to read you another thing he said to the "Wall Street Journal". He said "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." So he continues to go on and defend this. The interesting thing though is you know, Robert Mueller is going to pull together some kind of report, he's going to hand it over to Rod Rosenstein, it's going to explain why they decided to prosecute the things they did.
Why they decided to decline to prosecute the things that they passed on, but who knows if the American public is ever going to see that?
HARLOW: Robert Mueller's team has been a bit quiet. I mean, frankly, he would like it to always be quiet. He never does any interviews, but it's been quiet, but really busy over the last two months, what can you tell us?
MURRAY: It has been really busy behind the scenes. You know, Paul Manafort is now a cooperating witness. He and his team have met with the Mueller investigators on nine separate occasions. We also know that Michael Cohen is cooperating with Mueller's team. We know that there's court activity going on.
[09:20:00] And there continues to be a grand jury that's convening, that Mueller's team continues to talk to witnesses in various cases. And they're also engaging with President Trump's legal team, they're holding conference calls, trying to figure out how the president is going to answer their questions. And so there is plenty going on behind the scenes and we expect that there will be more going on in public once it get passed the mid-term. Back to you, Poppy --
HARLOW: OK, Sara, great reporting as always, thank you very much. Let's talk about all of this with Rich Lowry; Cnn political commentator and editor of the "National Review".
So nice to have you Rich, thanks for joining us this morning.
RICH LOWRY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Thanks for having me.
HARLOW: The key words here, "independent, appropriate use of resources". So you juxtapose that with what the president says, a "witch-hunt". How will the president take this from Rod Rosenstein, and why do you think he gave this rare interview now?
LOWRY: Well, one, it would be shocking if Rod Rosenstein didn't think this was appropriate and independent --
HARLOW: Right --
LOWRY: And above board since it's his creation. So I'm not sure why exactly he did this interview with the "Wall Street Journal", I'm sure the president is not particularly enamored with what he said. He is obviously in a much different place on this investigation.
And it remains to be seen whether Trump will move against Sessions and Rosenstein after the election or whether he feels though he has to wait until the end of the probe. And my understanding is that the White House expects the probe at least to stretch into the Spring, meaning, it will run over at least three of the four years of Trump's first term.
SCIUTTO: Interesting platform for the deputy Attorney General to choose to speak out. The "Wall Street Journal" of course owned by a friend of President Trump, supported President Trump, but also largely conservative readership here.
Setting aside the president's reaction there, because I don't think anybody expects him to convince the president that this is a probe that's in his interest or worthwhile. Is he making the case here to the president's supporters?
LOWRY: Well, I think he's defending his handy work and his reputation is caught up in this. And I don't think the question really is whether Bob Mueller is a, you know, a terrible man and, you know, biased himself. I think the question here that Rosenstein will have to answer to history eventually is could this have been handled by a special commission, some sort of independent commission that would have looked into the Russian meddling and then the crimes that were committed.
And Rosenstein is absolutely right, you know, and really should question, say, the Manafort prosecution. Manafort is clearly guilty of crimes, but whether that could have been handled by standard prosecutors without a special council.
And the answer to all of that depends a lot on whether there is some smoking gun that we don't know about yet that hasn't been evident. Now, obviously, Mueller was desperate to get Manafort's cooperation and the reporting is that Manafort is wholesomely cooperating, but we don't know what he's saying or what he is cooperating about.
HARLOW: The question becomes whenever the investigation is wrapped up, how widely is it shared, right? And is this going to be a report that Mueller hands over to Congress? Does that get released to the public? Obviously, we think of leak if not publicly released. But also is there an attempt to, you know, test the law here and indict a sitting president?
LOWRY: I would be shocked if that happened. I think Mueller is by the book and the Justice Department guidelines says you cannot indict a sitting president. So I think the question will be, does Mueller conceive himself of more as a traditional prosecutor?
And a traditional prosecutor speaks in the courtroom and through his indictments or does he consider himself as more of an independent counsel who had to give a report to Congress that sometimes was the precursor to an impeachment. So it depends a lot on what Mueller thinks, it depends a lot on what Rosenstein thinks.
And this will probably about -- you know, like everything else in this probe, there will be an enormous fight over this. And if Democrats hold the house, that will be another element of the struggle.
HARLOW: All right, Rich Lowry, nice to have you, thanks for coming in for us this morning.
SCIUTTO: Still ahead, do the math. It doesn't look good for Democrats, a must-win Senate races at least, why are they struggling there?
HARLOW: But first, a quick check on the market right ahead of the opening bell. Stocks look like they're going to open a little bit lower, futures pointing down this morning. The Fed hinted yesterday more interest rate hikes on the way as this economy is just on a roll. Well, we'll see what that means for the market and also how corporate profits weigh in.
[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
HARLOW: All right, President Trump hits the campaign trail again today. He begins a three-day swing to western states with key Senate races. First up, the president will pay a visit to Montana because he will make his pitch there against the Democrat Senator Jon Tester.
This race is personal for the president after a few months ago you remember, Tester publicly shared those allegations against the president's personal physician who was up to be VA secretary. Obviously, that was a failed bid, and the president points a lot to Tester because of that.
SCIUTTO: The president's push comes as Cnn's newest model shows dwindling prospects for Democrats to retake the Senate in November. Joining us now to discuss his predictions, all the data, Cnn political writer and analyst Harry Enten. So what are the key races here and why does it look bad for the Senate -- for the Democrats in the Senate?
HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICAL WRITER: Sure, so we'll take a look at the overall viewpoint which is my forecast right now suggests that Republicans will not only maintain control of the Senate, but will actually gain a seat. That's the best forecast. That means they control 52 seats in the next Senate, compared to 48 for the Democrats.
Now, why does it look that way? Remember, the Democrats are defending a lot of seats -- on the map, right, they control 26 out of the 35 seats, and a lot of those seats are in red states. But let's talk about some specific races, right? We can talk specifically about the State of Nevada, that's a state that Hillary Clinton won two years ago. It's a state that has a Republican Senator in Dean Heller.
But the recent polling from that state actually has Dean Heller ahead.