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Trump Praises Congressman Who Body-Slammed a Reporter; New Report Suggests U.S. General Scott Miller Drew Firearm in Kandahar Attack; Turkey's Foreign Minister Says Turkey will Share Results of Khashoggi Probe with Entire World; Trump Waits for Khashoggi's Investigation Results; Trump Fine-Tunes Political Rallying Cry Ahead of Midterms. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 19, 2018 - 9:00   ET


[09:00:12] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.


President Trump this morning warning of severe consequences if Saudi leaders are tied to the journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder but this morning it is less clear what the president might consider severe or what kind of proof he would accept either way.

SCIUTTO: Turkish officials this morning are promising to release their findings to, quote, "the entire world" while the Saudis are vowing to investigate themselves by themselves. And the president just hours after calling the apparent torture killing of a Saudi dissident journalist bad, bad stuff, the president applauded a Republican office seeker's physical attack on a reporter who simply tried to ask him a question.

Here's the president in Montana, referring to GOP Congressman Greg Gianforte.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But Greg is smart. And by the way, never wrestle him. You understand that? Never.


TRUMP: Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind --


TRUMP: He is my guy.


HARLOW: All right. In case you forgot, and a lot has happened since May of last year, here's the audio recording of that now Congressman Gianforte attacking reporter Ben Jacobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BEN JACOBS, REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Yes, but there's not going to be time. I'm just curious about that right now.

REP. GREG GIANFORTE (R), MONTANA: OK, speak with Shane, please.

I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last time you came in here, you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.

JACOBS: Jesus --

GIANFORTE: Get the hell out of here. The last guy did that same thing. Are you with "The Guardian"?

JACOBS: Yes, and you just broke my glasses.


SCIUTTO: We should remind folks that until that tape came out they lied about that taking place.

HARLOW: Yes. And this on the week that we are still looking for answers and responsibility for a murdered journalist.

Let's bring in Abby Phillips, she joins us at the White House. So, you know, the question becomes, is the White House playing for time here on the Khashoggi issue and playing both sides in the interim?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, it certainly does seem that the White House is trying to slow walk this as much as they can. And we got a pretty clear indication of that yesterday when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came out, spoke to reporters after briefing the president and said, we're going to give the Saudis a couple of more days to figure this out.

But we're also learning a little bit more about what the president is being advised to do by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is very close to the crown prince and who has spoken to him several times over the last week or so. According to our sources Kushner has been advising the president to not make a hasty decision. He's saying don't necessarily give in very quickly to some of the pushing from Republican senators, for example, on Capitol Hill who are urging the president to act swiftly and forcefully.

Kushner is warning the president that there could be repercussions for condemning Saudi Arabia too forcefully. Repercussions, for example, on Iran and also warning the president that there are other allies that the United States has that are perhaps just as unsavory as Saudi Arabia.

Now this is all coming to light because we're trying to gain some insight into where the administration is actually going with this. There are some mixed signals being sent. Stephen Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, is not going to that conference that has been dubbed "Davos in the Desert," which a lot of people believe would be a sign that the administration was perhaps preparing to forcefully condemn Saudi Arabia but at the same time the rhetoric coming from President Trump and his key advisers is that they are not ready to jump to conclusions yet and they want to give the Saudis more time to investigate this matter.

Of course a lot of people are wondering how can the Saudis possibly investigate themselves and will we at the end of the day end up with a story that is perhaps one that lets the highest ranks of the Saudi government off the hook but doesn't get at the truth of the matter -- Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: A huge concern this morning.

Abby, thank you for the reporting from the White House.

Let's bring in our experts. CNN political commentators Margaret Hoover, Joe Lockhart, and also Scott Jennings.

Good morning to you all. You know, Margaret, you've worked in a Republican White House before, and, yes, the president is trying to rally his base. But saying this and going there, any guy who can do a body slam, he's my guy, that guy a reporter, the same week the civilized world is condemning the murder of a journalist. Why, why would the president do this?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The president gets out of Washington, D.C. to go rally up his base. A lot for the base and also a lot for him. Right? It takes him to a happy place where he can jab at the crowd and the crowd makes him feel good about himself.

This is what Republican contestants to President Trump in the primary said words matter because when the president of the United States says something in front of a rally in Missouri, Montana, that resonates and is heard and echoes to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

[09:05:01] And so dictators and despots around the world hear us saying, wait a second, maybe the thing we have in our First Amendment doesn't matter as much as we say it does, or maybe it's not real, and you know what, they all have laws on the books that don't matter either.

But we actually are a country by the rule of law. And you can imagine many of the Trump supporters who were there, if it were in, you know, Colorado, maybe some of my family would have been there, think, he doesn't really mean it. Right? This is part of this theater of the president. This is part of the bully pulpit.

The supporters of Trump often, as well all know, don't take him as literally, as many others ought to. And this is not something that one can joke about.


HOOVER: When you swear an oath to defend the First Amendment which include freedom of the press.

SCIUTTO: Foreign leaders when confronted with inconvenient information repeat the fake news line all the time as well. HARLOW: That's a very important point.

SCIUTTO: Scott Jennings, as you know, this is not the first time the president has done this. This has become a regular feature of his rallies, directing ire at reporters present, the horrible people in the back of the room, and for our colleagues who were there in those rallies, they get shouted at, they get threatened.


SCIUTTO: They have to have police -- security guards with them when they go to the bathroom.

Where is a Republican lawmaker, not an outgoing one, but one who is sitting and therefore has something to risk? Where's the Republican lawmaker who's challenging the public directly on these kinds of attacks?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I have heard several Republican lawmakers say they don't necessarily approve of these tactics. In fact, I'm sure Gianforte in this particular case last night was probably embarrassed by this. I mean, this was an ugly episode at the end of his campaign. I'm sure he regrets it. In fact I seem to recall him apologizing for having done it after the whole thing was over with.

SCIUTTO: After the tape came out because initially he lied about it, you'll remember. But when the tape came out and proved --


SCIUTTO: -- that he attacked, it was only then that he apologized.

JENNINGS: Yes. He was forced to apologize. And this is an embarrassing moment for him that I'm sure he wishes had never happened and I'm sure he doesn't want to relive in the way that they're going to relive now for the next 24 hours because of what happened at the rally.

Look, I don't like it. I don't approve of it. I don't like it when people incite violence or bad feelings toward other human beings. Reporters don't deserve this kind of treatment. I think all presidents have a healthy, you know, amount of disagreements with the media. But I don't like it when we take it a step further to try to incite angry feelings or violence against people, especially in light of the fact that we had this international incident going on.

So I understand it's part of the shtick, I understand it's part of who he is, but there is something larger going on right now and it's not a good idea for the White House to project this message. So --


JENNINGS: I hope we can leave that in Montana and not do that again.

HARLOW: Joe Lockhart, to you, switching gears a bit here to what the president was trying to do last night. And that is to, you know, hold on to both chambers of Congress in 18 days in the midterms, the message is so clear from him. He laid it out. I mean, he said this -- you know, this is a campaign of caravans and rule of law, et cetera. And what seems to stick is what he said last night. Democrats create mobs. Republicans create jobs.

That's a very clear message. And we don't hear a very clear rallying cry from Democrats 18 days out. Does that concern you?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't agree with the premise of the question. I think if you go around and look and see what Democrats are doing in their ads, it's health care, health care, and health care. And you've got the president saying, I'll protect pre-existing conditions, while his own Justice Department is suing to take away pre-existing conditions protection. So I think the Democrats do have a message. It's -- you know, it is critical of Trump and it is health care is the single most important driver to economic anxiety in this country.

Now the president does himself a huge disservice, though, last night when he talks about mobs. Let's look at the mobs. The Democratic mobs started from women coming forward and telling their stories, very personal and difficult stories, about sexual assault. The mob that cheered Trump on was talking about a guy who's committed a crime. You know, Republicans are all into this now, innocent until proven guilty.

You have to (INAUDIBLE) now. Even after you are proven guilty, you know, you're somehow a victim. Congressman Gianforte is a victim and the reporter deserved it. I think the mobs are what you see out there. And I think Margaret said something really important. She said it makes the president feel good.

Well, the president's job is not to go out and make himself feel good. It's to make the country strong.

SCIUTTO: It caught our attention, Nikki Haley did her turn at Al Smith dinner last night. Of course very close on the heels of her departure as --


SCIUTTO: -- secretary or ambassador, rather, to the U.N. Listen to what she had to stay about the state of our politics now.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: In America, our political opponents are not evil. In North Korea where American student Otto Warmbier was tortured to death, that was evil. In the last two years, I have seen true evil.


SCIUTTO: Margaret, the fact is her departure did catch the White House off guard. [09:10:03] In fact the president wanted her to stay longer, at least

through the midterms here. Do you see in those comments a deliberate effort by Haley to put distance between herself and the president?

HOOVER: She has always spoken clearly and not been afraid to say things that often go against what the president is saying. I don't know if you'll recall that she often -- she said earlier in the administration about the president's accusers that they should be heard. So she -- Nikki Haley is the person that I see when I look at the Republican future that has the brightest hope for the Republican future. And that's what you saw in those remarks last night. And that's what I think you see as sort of a new generation of Republicans that hope for a better and more aspiring leadership in Nikki Haley.

HARLOW: Scott Jennings, to you, is Nikki Haley the future of your party? Is she the first female president of the United States perhaps?

JENNINGS: Well, you know, three weeks is a lifetime in politics. Let alone four or eight or 12 years. I think Nikki Haley is one of the brightest bulbs in all of American politics, not just the Republican Party. She is respected, according to the polling, by people in both parties. She's done a fabulous job as a governor, as now a diplomat.

I think now that she's out of her diplomatic job, she can now go out and give speeches and say things that she was prohibited from doing in her diplomatic post. So I think you're going to see her become one of the biggest draws on the Republican speaking circuit. Candidates are going to want her at parties. She's going to be everywhere, not just for the next few months but I think going into 2020. If I were the Trump campaign, I would ask Nikki Haley to be my campaign chairman because she's going to be the best surrogate they could possibly have.

HARLOW: Remember when she said I don't get confused when they called her out?


HARLOW: She's not afraid to speak her mind.

SCIUTTO: Scott Jennings, in the great Louisville, Kentucky, my mom's hometown, Margaret Hoover, Joe Lockhart, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you all.

SCIUTTO: Turkey's Foreign minister says that Turkey will share the results of the Khashoggi investigation with the world. This after extensive searches of the Saudi consulate, the residence of the consul-general, vehicles as well. We will have the latest.

HARLOW: Plus, thousands of Honduras march to the U.S.-Mexico border to escape violence in their country. Now the president says without evidence this is all the fault of the Democrats. We'll fact check it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: This just in to CNN moments ago. We are learning more details about really an alarming attack in Afghanistan on Thursday. The head of the U.S. and NATO force in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller present for the attack, nearly injured or barely avoided that. Barbara Starr has the latest details. What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Jim. What we are now learning is General Scott Miller; the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan during that fire fight just yesterday drew his weapon when the gunfire started happening. This is an extraordinary event in its own that a four-star would be in a fire-fight location and would be forced, compelled to draw his weapon.

General Miller did not have to fire, his own security forces dealt with this attacker we are told very quickly in this compound in Kandahar where General Miller had been attending a meeting. General Miller also, we are told, making quite sure that all of the wounded were evacuated before he left and taking some of the wounded on his own helicopter as he left the scene.

But a four-star having to draw his own weapon is a very unusual event. I can't tell you that we remember readily when this has ever happened before. General Miller taking the same risks that his troops take, and today, he was back out on the streets in Kabul meeting people there. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, Barbara, do we know if he was a target of the attack? We know the Taliban claimed responsibility, but they often do when there are attacks like this. Does the U.S. military know yet?

STARR: At this point, they very strongly feel he was not. He was not at that point in the direct line of fire. The attacker, an Afghan, pointed the weapon initially directly at General Raziq; one of the top Afghan officials there at the time. By all accounts, it appears to have been an assassination of General Raziq.

But this was outside the compound, very close quarters, everyone moving very quickly, considerable danger. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Gosh, what a close call. Barbara Starr, thanks very much for the latest.

STARR: Sure.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: All right, new this morning. Turkey says it plans to share with the entire world the results of its investigation into the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This as Cnn has learned that Turkish officials suspected within hours of the journalist's disappearance, that he had likely been killed. Let's bring in our chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward, who joins us again this morning from Ankara.

It sounds like, Clarissa, Turk officials are becoming very close to having this report ready to release publicly. CLARISSA WARD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy.

They're not giving an exact time line, but the Justice Minister has said that the results of their investigation will be coming soon, whatever that means. There has been this tension from the get-go between the Turks and the Saudis, where the Turks have essentially been saying to the Saudis, either you confess or we will reveal.

And the longer it takes the Saudis to come up with their narrative, the more soon you can be sure you're going to hear more from the Turks. Now, Cnn has managed to put together a time line of that -- the evening, essentially, that Jamal Khashoggi went missing.

And what's interesting as you said is that it's become clear that Turkish officials knew very early on that he had likely been killed. After the fiancee sounded the alarm, she called a presidential adviser, he then alerted the sort of security services here who rushed to the airport.

They had likely already heard the tape. They rushed to the airport, disguised as airport workers, they got on that plane with half of the group of Saudis, that private jet that was bound for Riyadh. They searched the plane, they even asked the man who operates the x-ray machine that all the bags go through whether human body parts would have shown up on that x-ray machine.

[09:20:00] The x-ray worker said likely, yes, they would have, but all of this, giving you a sense that Turks knew very early on that Jamal Khashoggi had likely been killed. They still waited five days, five days, they gave the Saudis before they started to put their side of the story out on the table. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Wow, remarkable details. Clarissa, thank you very much reporting for us from Ankara this morning.

SCIUTTO: Let's discuss now with Rear Admiral John Kirby; he's Cnn military and diplomatic analyst, and Aaron David Miller; Cnn global affairs analyst, long experience as a diplomat in the region. Admiral Kirby, if I could begin with you, so Turkey within hours had this suspicion that he had been killed, possibly brutally.

Turkey is an ally, we have an enormous intelligence-sharing relationship with Turkey. U.S. intelligence is pretty good, last time I checked. If the Turks had an indication that early, is it likely that the U.S. also had evidence early of what happened to Khashoggi?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It's possible, Jim, that we would have even through our own means, perhaps, or maybe through Turkey. But we just won't know, you know, until the United States gets through evaluating what the Saudis are investigating and they come clean about what the knowledge is.

But I would have to say, though, just listening to the way Trump and Pompeo have talked, it doesn't appear to me that we had access to the same exact sort of intelligence, the detail that the Turks apparently had. HARLOW: Aaron, to you, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican, said

about Mohammad Bin Salman; the Crown Prince this week. He had this guy, meaning Khashoggi, murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it, I feel abused.

He went on to say that MBS can never be a world leader on the world stage. And there is talk about that. But realistically, the U.S. does not have power to oust, you know, Mohammad Bin Salman or to change whoever ascends to king there. And who would fill that void anyway? I mean, who would replace him that would be so different?

AARON DAVID MILLER, VICE PRESIDENT FOR NEW INITIATIVES, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: He's skillfully somewhat ruthlessly eliminated most of the major power centers that might challenge his authority, except one, and of course his father. And reality is --

HARLOW: Right --

MILLER: King Salman at some point will pass, and then whatever cover exists to keep MBS, Mohammad Bin Salman in check will be undermined. And then and only then, I think, will we see whatever internal reverberations there may be from this heroic act. And again, it's strange the bounds of cruelty to the breaking point.

I mean, only the willfully complicit or obtuse would conclude anything other than the fact that Mohammad Bin Salman had foreknowledge of this, perhaps more than foreknowledge, and approved and validated this operation. We will have to act as reluctant as the Trump administration appears to be, in response.

SCIUTTO: Admiral Kirby, the president told the "New York Times" that he doesn't know the Crown Prince that well. Which is -- which is often been the kiss of death for allies of the president when the president starts to distance himself from them.

Do you see signs here of this administration somewhat blatantly you might say, moving towards holding the Saudis to account for this?

KIRBY: I think what we're seeing interesting, I think you're seeing a strain out of Pompeo and a strain out of Trump that aren't exactly on the same page. But I do think what you're seeing Trump do is try to preserve his maneuver space depending on what these investigations come out with.

Look, we can pretty much expect, and Aaron is right, that the Saudi investigation is going to be a whitewash. But it will be really interesting to see if the Turks come out first with theirs because this is likely going to be much more critical.

And so if I'm Trump, I want to see both, I want to -- I want to preserve my decision space until I get them both. Then I think that's what he's doing. I think he's been very cagey on purpose so that he can preserve whatever maneuver space he has. Plus, he knows that Congress is going to push him if he doesn't do anything or doesn't do enough. HARLOW: Right, and the optics of that are not good if he's pushed

into something by Congress even if he was going to get to an end-point himself, that's --


KIRBY: Especially going into the midterms, that's right --

HARLOW: Sure, on that point, it was less than an hour after the news on our show we heard -- we heard Pompeo come out after the meeting with the president yesterday and give us a read out of what he and the president discussed.

And then it was less than an hour, Aaron, after that, that we were notified that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would no longer go to this investment summit in Riyadh. That is just an investment summit, but it's much more than that optically, right? What does it say to you, the timing of and the pulling out of Mnuchin from that.

MILLER: I think we waited for the Brits and the French to bail. But I do think John is right, that it does indicate that the Trump administration, perhaps even the president has reluctantly conceded the obvious. That, in fact, we're allied with an impulsive reckless leader who is undermining American interests and values.

[09:25:00] And he's creating some political space, I think, to distance himself once the Saudi report comes out. One additional point, you know, we got the Turkish investigation, you have the Saudi "investigation". The reality is, you want a -- you want a credible investigation, then U.S. launches its own investigation.

In fact, the global Magnitsky Act calls for the president, gives him 120 days to make a determination as to what exactly happened. And then if the Saudis are complicit to basically impose sanctions. So the most credible investigation of all is ours. And if we don't ask the right questions, guess what? We are not going to get the right answers.


HARLOW: Admiral John Kirby, Aaron David Miller, good to have you both, thanks for being with us on this story all week. We'll keep on it, of course. Ahead for us, politics, President Trump unloading last night on the Democrats, raising a new rallying cry 18 days up to the midterms, will it work?