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Saudis Send $100M for Syria Stabilization Same Day as Pompeo Visit; Paul Ryan: "Money Spigot" being Opened by the Left; Two Americans Wounded in Kandahar Palace Firefight; Pompeo Speaks after Meeting with Trump on Khashoggi. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 18, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, that's true. Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important in a number of areas, but the fact is, this assassination, this attack on press freedom, the fact that this was an assassination of someone who lived in the United States and worked for "The Washington Post," and the fact that there seems to be a recording of what happened to him, I think makes it very hard to ignore.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hard to sweep under the rug. If I can, Ron, ask you about the midterms, because they are rapidly approaching. You might have noticed. The -- you heard Paul Ryan warning Republicans of a green wave of Democratic money coming in, portraying it as coastal money trying to influence the interior of the country when in fact there's a lot of grassroots money going as well. Give us your state of play in this race, the various Republican lines of attack, who comes out on top?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, first of all, I mean the amount of money that Democratic candidates are raising in the House is truly unprecedented, outraising incumbents, two, three to one in key races all over the country. For example here in Southern California in Orange County, it is astounding the advantage the Democratic challengers have against Republican incumbents. And this really is the fulfillment of the vision of presidential candidates like Howard Dean and Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders about mass small dollar fund-raising through the Internet being applied to congressional races.

Money is not everything in congressional races. The underlying partisan natures of the districts are obviously critical, and the elections are becoming more parliamentary. We see them moving in both directions at once. The places on the periphery of the Democratic target list that were in more Republican pro-Trump areas, those are kind of - many of those are falling away and getting tougher.

On the other hand, as the president has polarized this around cultural issues and the Kavanaugh confirmation did so as well. The Republican in the Hill is getting even steeper in those inner suburban areas, white collar areas that are the corps of the Democratic opportunity in the House. And my guess is you're going to see an election that widens the trench between increasingly blue metro America and still dominantly red non-metro America and we're going to come out of this feeling very much like we're looking at two Americas that are glaring at each other across a widening chasm that Trump in many ways tries to widen at every chance.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Susan to you, on that note about enthusiasm and what is exciting voters most 19 days out from the midterms. For some liberals, for some Democrats, it really is, you know, if we retake the House, the move to potentially impeach the president. Joe Biden, former vice president, potential 2020 candidate, said to CBS in an interview this morning, look, be careful, Democrats. Don't move to do that right now. Wait for the report to come out. What do you make of that?

PAGE: Well, I think the energy in the Democratic Party is clearly on the left, and there's lot of energy behind the idea of impeaching President Trump. But Joe Biden has a long memory with this. Remember what happened when Republicans impeached President Clinton? In that subsequent midterm election, he actually gained votes in the House against all historical, most historical precedent. So there is, I think Democrats, you see Nancy Pelosi among them, proceeding with some caution. But the pent-up anger in the Democratic Party and the place that fueled this huge grassroots movement, including on money, does want to see investigations at the least and perhaps also impeachment.

HARLOW: OK. Thanks both.

SCIUTTO: It's going to be Interesting couple years. Ron Brownstein, Susan Page, thanks so much.

HARLOW: No question about that. We're following a developing story also this morning out of Afghanistan. A close call for U.S. commander there, following a deadly attack. We'll have the new details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:38:16] SCUITTO: We're learning more now about a deadly shooting in Afghanistan inside the Kandahar Palace, several senior officials including Americans there, the gunfire erupting just moments after a meeting between the U.S. commander of all forces in Afghanistan and a top Afghan police chief. Thankfully, the U.S. commander uninjured. However, we're learning that the police chief was killed, two American service members also injured in the shooting.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins us now with the details. Do we know the circumstances of this attack now, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a startling breach of security, frankly. Inside the Kandahar Palace where the governor holds key, very secure, very heavily fortified meetings where the top U.S. commander Scott Miller was clearly involved in a substantial gathering with major local Afghan officials.

Now, the police chief who died, General Abdul Raziq, he is young. He's pretty notorious, accused of frankly unethical conduct to some degree, but a massive power broker in that vitally important southern Kandahar region. It's unclear exactly how this incident played out. It appears to be Afghan on Afghan. That's parlance for one Afghan soldier or official turning his gun upon other Afghans.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility. They often do. We don't quite know who carried out the attack just yet. But they say that General Miller was also the target as well as the other General Raziq. But it's a startling situation frankly. Now 17 years into the war, to have a meeting like this violated. It's a massive security breach. I have to say though, when it comes to these attacks by Afghans on Afghans, there is very little that can be done. The Taliban have been shown themselves able to infiltrate it seems here the most secure parts of the Afghan security bubble.

The Key issue here though, General Miller appears to have been out of the way when this attack occurred or at least injured by it.

[10:40:03] There were two citizens from the United States who were injured, unclear exactly what their role are. We're days away though from vital Afghan parliamentary elections, record violence, record numbers of Afghan soldiers and civilians being killed and near record American bombs being dropped on the country. The war is reaching its peak. And an instance like this just shows you exactly where it's going. Poppy?

HARLOW: And exactly the risk, Nick, that Americans are putting themselves in continually there, 17 years in.

SCIUTTO: Every day.

HARLOW: Every day.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely every day.

HARLOW: Nick, important reporting. Thank you so much.

Also this, new satellite photos obtained exclusively by CNN show Russia ramping up its military presence along the Baltic Sea. The U.S. military says it is preparing just in case any NATO ally needs protection. Our Fred Pleitgen has more from onboard a U.S. war ship just off the Atlantic coast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (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.

COL. DEREK HUSSINGER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: When we get our guns situated, put the tripod down, set the gun up, and you know, stable platform.

PLEITGEN: The exercise also a deterrent, as the north Atlantic region becomes more contested. PLEITGEN (on camera): With this exercise, the U.S. and its allies are practicing their response in case a friendly nation gets attacked. On the adversary in this exercise is fictitious, but it comes as a time when growing tensions with the U.S. and Russia.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): As the Marines raced 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 image sat 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 air field.

PLEITGEN (on camera): 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 G. FOGGO, COMMANDER OF U.S. NAVAL FORCES EUROPE-AFRICA: They're putting a lot in their modern weapon systems, anti-cruise ship missiles, radars, the S-300 and S-400 in there.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): 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.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, aboard the USS Iwo Jima in the Atlantic Ocean.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Alarming developments along the coast there.

Michael Cohen's transformation from ally to adversary of the president, what exactly does he know?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:47:35] SCIUTTO: President Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, met with state and federal authorities investigating President Trump's family business and his charity.

HARLOW: This is just the latest move by Cohen in what is an extraordinary transformation from someone who used to be the president's self-proclaimed fixer to someone who now just keeps seemingly creating issues for the president.

Our national politics reporter MJ Lee has a fascinating deep dive into it. She joins us now. So, not only all of that, but we also learned this week from his attorney that he registered as a Democrat, and that he is talking to the New York A.G.'s office, which is significant because of the case the A.G. has against the Trump Foundation.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That right and just so remarkable because this is an entirely different Michael Cohen than even from a few months ago. This is a man, of course, who made his name by being Donald Trump's fixer, being the guy who would do anything to really keep him out of trouble, but then ever since he started falling into legal trouble a few months ago, that relationship quickly deteriorated.

And take a look at this timeline. It was in April that the FBI raided Michael Cohen's home, office, and hotel room. And then by June, we heard the president saying that Michael Cohen was no longer his lawyer. And then of course, in August, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts, including for campaign finance violations related to work that he did for Donald Trump. And then over the last week, we saw Michael Cohen saying that he had changed his registration to Democrat. Saying that he wanted to campaign against the president and also we know that he is continuing to meet with investigators.

And it's important to note that that animosity is going both ways. Just a reminder of what the president told the "Associated Press" just earlier this week. He said that Michael Cohen was not in trouble for what he did for me. That actually is a false statement. He said that Michael Cohen was a very low-level public relations person. And that Cohen wants to try to get a lighter sentence for what he did.

That last part is very much true. That is what Michael Cohen is interested in right now. He wants to try to get a lighter sentence. He wants to protect his family, and clearly, he has decided that one way to do that is to continue talking to investigators and tell them as much as he can about Donald Trump.

SCIUTTO: When he pled guilty on August 21st, he implicated, as you said, the president in the crime, said he directed him to do this. As he's talking to prosecutors now about the president's personal businesses, private sector businesses, is the implication that he's discussing potential crimes by the president as well?

[10:50:04] LEE: We obviously don't know what kind of conversations are happening behind closed doors but that's one good guess, right? And we know that there's a lot potentially that Michael Cohen could say about Donald Trump's business because he spent a lot of years working at the Trump organization. You all remember that long investigative piece from "The New York Times" from a few weeks ago. We know that if anybody knows about the skeletons that are in Donald Trump's closet, it's potentially Michael Cohen. He's eager to talk.

SCIUTTO: And the idea that he was a coffee boy, low level, is just -- it's ridiculous. He worked with him for more than a decade. He was deeply involved in many personal and public issues, right? I mean things like paying off, for instance, women who had affairs with Trump.

LEE: Sure, and this is a pattern that we have seen from the president. Whenever somebody is sort of no longer on the president's side, what he does is he attacks them and he sort of minimizes the role that they played in his work or his campaign. We saw him do this with Paul Manafort, who was his campaign chairman.

HARLOW: MJ, fascinating reporting.

SCIUTTO: MJ thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you. You can read it all on CNN.com.

All right, let's hop over to breaking news at the White House. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about to walk out any moment and brief reporters, you'll see this live, on his conversation with the president on the disappearance of the journalist -

SCIUTTO: There's the door open -

HARLOW: -- Jamal Khashoggi. So, here is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, just returning from Riyadh and Turkey and just meeting with the president.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I had a chance to brief the president on the travels I returned to last evening where I traveled both to Riyadh and Ankara. Had a chance to talk with in Riyadh with the king, with the crown prince, the foreign minister, all of the United States counterparts there. We made clear to them that we take this matter with respect to Mr. Khashoggi very seriously. They made clear to me that they too understand the serious nature of the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi. They also assured me that they will conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all of the facts surrounding Mr. Khashoggi and they'll do so in a timely fashion.

This report itself will be transparent for everyone to see, to ask questions about, and to acquire with respect to it, and 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. I think it's important for us all to remember, too, we have a long, since 1932, a long strategic relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They continue to be an important counterterrorism partner. They have custody of the two holy sites. They're an important strategic alliance of the United States. We need to be mindful of that as well.

When I traveled and met with President Erdogan, he talked to me about the incident. He told me that they were conducting their own investigation. We had a chance to meet with some of the team involved with that. He assured me that they would share their results with the Saudis as well. So we do believe that between these two efforts, a complete picture will emerge for what actually transpired here, and we're working towards that. We're looking forward to that wrapping up quickly and we expect it will be done in that way. Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why should Saudi Arabia be trusted to conduct a fair and impartial investigation when they're accused of the disappearance and apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

POMPEO: We're all going to get to see the work. We're all going to get to see the response that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes with this. When we see that, we'll get a chance to determine -- all of us will get to make a determination with respect to the credibility and the work that went into that. Whether it's truly accurate, fair, transparent in the very way that they made a personal commitment to me, and the crown prince also made a personal commitment to the president when he spoke to him, I believe it was the night before last.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There are a lot of stories out there right now about what happened.

POMPEO: There are lots of stories out there about what has happened. We just are going to allow the process to move forward. Allow the facts to unfold. And as they unfold, as we make a determination for ourselves about what happened there based on the facts presented to us, then the United States will determine what the appropriate response might be. Thank you all for your time today.

SCIUTTO: You heard Secretary of State Mike Pompeo there after briefing the president, a couple headlines. One saying that the U.S. takes this matter very seriously, says he was assured by the Saudis, that they take it very seriously.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Interesting, he says that he advised the president the U.S. should give the Saudis a few more days to conduct their investigation. We're joined now by Kaitlan Collins who has been at the White House there. So something of a balancing act there, I suppose, saying -- making clear that the White House takes this seriously, but still providing an opening to the Saudis to come to their own conclusion.

[10:55:01] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He seems to be giving himself some cover because we know that Pompeo has been pretty criticized over the last 24, 48 hours since he went to Riyadh and met with the crown prince and the king and he was seen smiling in those photos. He said there that he told them that the United States takes this matter very seriously. But what we didn't see was what President Trump thought of the briefing that he got from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They briefed -- Mike Pompeo briefed him and then he came out to talk to reporters briefly there for a few minutes, only taking, I think, one question, maybe two at the most, there from reporters. So, not shedding a lot of light on what it was he learned during that trip to Saudi Arabia and the trip to Turkey as well.

And that's really what White House officials have been waiting on, to see what Mike Pompeo was going to say so they knew how to respond. What we didn't get was any definitive answer on what they believe happened here, if they think the Saudis are responsible. Instead saying, as you pointed out Jim, he wants to give them a few more days and that's what he told President Trump, to let them work on this investigation. Now, critics are going to say they're giving them a few more days to work on their cover story here because the intelligence is increasingly pointed to the fact that people believe the Saudis are responsible for the disappearance of this journalist. Also, what we didn't learn is whether or not the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, is going to that investment summit in Riyadh.

Now, the pool reporters spotted Secretary Mnuchin in the White House right before Mike Pompeo came out and he asked if there was going to be any decision on whether or not he's still going because he's scheduled to leave tomorrow or Saturday, I believe, and he said a decision would be coming very soon. What we did not get from Pompeo was any kind of decision on that or any kind of information at all, really, there just from that. It was essentially saying what he's been saying for the past few days.

HARLOW: And what it sounds like, Kaitlan, if this investigation is going to take at least a few more days, Mnuchin is going to have to decide before that whether he's going to Riyadh or not, without knowing the conclusion of the reporting and that's an important time note there.

Stay with us. Admiral Kirby is with us as well. I thought it was significant that the Secretary of State made a point to note the important strategic relationship that the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia on everything, you know, from Iran to Syria, et cetera. But he didn't say that when it came to Turkey. He spent much less time talking, Admiral Kirby, about the meeting he had with President Erdogan and he didn't talk about the strategic relationship with our NATO ally, Turkey.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET), FORMER PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Yes. And I think actually Turkey has been one of the elements in this whole story that hasn't really gotten as much attention as it deserved. I mean they're a NATO ally. This happened on their soil in their country, and of course, they have been selectively leaking information out here and sort of playing an interesting game with the press in terms of what kind of stuff they're putting out there in the public sphere.

But Turkey is a major, major contributor to our efforts in Syria and throughout the Middle East. And I did expect to hear a little bit more from Pompeo about them and their participation, their cooperation, what we're getting out of them with respect to this investigation. But I do want to go back to something else that I didn't hear Pompeo talk about, and I haven't heard him really say anything about condemning what is apparent, obviously, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. I mean he's never really come out and just talked about the despicable act itself. Regardless of facts in the investigation and not being over, he's never really come out and staunchly said that this was absolutely an egregious act of violence.

SCIUTTO: And those words matter. They matter.

KIRBY: They do.

HARLOW: Nor has he demanded the body, where is the body? I haven't heard that publicly.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: -- which is a basic question because he was last seen walking into Saudi property.

KIRBY: The other thing is I have seen nothing from Pompeo that indicates to me and should give the American people any confidence that this investigation is really going to be credible. He talks about it being transparent, but essentially it seems to me that they're investigating themselves. And we know they don't have the same investigatory procedures and processes and transparency that we have in the United States, certainly that other allies and partners do. So that worries me a little bit as well.

SCIUTTO: Can the U.S. here -- and you have been in tough situations with U.S. allies before. Can they condemn the action and maintain the relationship?

KIRBY: Yes, absolutely. I mean, you know, relationships, particularly with allies and partners, the reason they're strong, the reason they're resilient is because you can disagree on specific events and incidents. We did that many times in the Obama administration. We were very tough with Saudi Arabia in particular about their human rights record, and yet still find ways to cooperate. Look at Russia. My goodness, we're not even allies at all, partners with Russia, but we found ways to cooperate on things like the counter-ISIS campaign and the civil war in Syria. And yet, we still, were very tough on them with Ukrainian Crimea.

So, yes, absolutely, it can survive, and Jim, it should survive. The alliance and partnership with Saudi Arabia and the region is vital. It is important, and President Trump is not wrong to want to try to find ways to preserve it and keep it moving forward. But that doesn't mean you can't be hard and very tough on them about this particular incident.

HARLOW: 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 off. Thanks for joining us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: I'm Jim Sciutto. "At This Hour" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.