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Turkish Agents Knew Within Hours of Khashoggi's Disappearance That He Was Likely Dead; Trumps GOP Allies Fueling Khashoggi Smear Campaign; Trump Praises Congressman Who Body Slammed Reporter; Ex USA Gymnastics Boss Asked FBI To Protect His Image. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired October 19, 2018 - 15:30   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: New details today in the investigation into the disappearance and suspected murder of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi. CNN has learned Turkish officials suspected within hours of Khashoggi's disappearance that he had likely been killed. Turkish intelligence officers raced to the Istanbul airport where a private Saudi plane was waiting to take off to try to find out whether Khashoggi had been abducted or his body had been taken out of the country or they were trying to take it out. But they said they found nothing suspicious.

Now President Trump has said he is waiting for results of three different investigations into Khashoggi's disappearance. And "The Washington Post" reports today some Trump allies are mounting a smear campaign to try to discredit Khashoggi. One that we've seen play out already in some conservative media. Watch this.


JON MILLER, WH CORRESPONDENT, @CRTV: Khashoggi hadn't been a journalist in years. He was a radical activist. We know he had ties to the radical Islamist groups. They're not reporting that. We know he made calls for violence against Israel. We know he was dedicated to transforming Saudi Arabia into a more regressive state and maybe that's why he didn't come out of that consulate.

HARRIS FAULKNER, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: Now some things have come out. We're just reporting the facts. We don't, Lisa, we don't have to fall down one way or the other on this. But Khashoggi was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's iffy, Harris, to say he was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.


CABRERA: Joining us now, CNN's Alex Marquardt. And Alex, tell us more about this now reported attack on Khashoggi's character.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, this campaign hasn't been very loud so far but it certainly is picking up steam on the right. At least on Capitol Hill very few members of Congress are coming out and criticizing Khashoggi because of the groundswell of support that he has gotten on both sides of the aisle and the condemnation of Saudi Arabia.

But "The Washington Post" is reporting that several GOP members of Congress have been trading articles from right-wing news sites that have been highlighting the associations between Khashoggi and the Muslim Brotherhood, his associations with Osama bin Laden. And one GOP congressman, Florida representative, Matt Gates, actually just tweeted a short time ago calling Khashoggi an anti-Israel, 9/11 justifying apologist for the Muslim Brotherhood. He advocated a pro- democracy Islamist ideology. Becoming popular with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He did not deserve to die. This mainstream media portrayal of him does whitewash some important context that informs what we do next.

Ana, let's just put some context around that. We know that Khashoggi did have some Association with the Muslim Brotherhood out of University.

[15:35:00] Friends say that he went to some meetings before he stopped. "The New York Times" actually after Khashoggi was allegedly murdered spoke to some Muslim brothers who said that they thought Khashoggi continued to be with them, while others friends and experts say that he had adopted a much more secular, progressive, liberal stance. All this hasn't stopped a lot of conservative commentators from picking up this baton. Don Jr., the son of the President, retweeted someone on Twitter who wrote that Khashoggi had been tooling around with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Another conservative outlet founded by the radio host Mark Levin called Khashoggi a longtime friend of terrorists. We should also note that Khashoggi had been to Afghanistan to interview Osama bin Laden. Khashoggi was photographed carrying an AK-47. Any journalist worth their salt would have jumped to interview bin Laden in Afghanistan at the time. So really most of these folks are supporters of the president were clearly coming to his defense because of all the criticism he has gotten for his soft line on Saudi Arabia, Ana.

CABRERA: Alex, thank you. President Trump said he wants any audio and video evidence connected to the Khashoggi case, quote, if it exists. Joining us now, David Priess, former intelligence officer and author of "The President's Book of Secrets." Do you think the Trump administration has been forthcoming of what they know?

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER INTELLIGENCE OFFICER AND AUTHOR OF "THE PRESIDENT'S BOOK OF SECRETS": I don't think so. And I think that's actually a good thing. Because to the extent the intelligence that they have collected on this, if they did collect such intelligence in a real time manner, if you reveal that now, you give up some of those sources. Those same sources might be very valuable, whether it's human collection, information coming from spies or whether it's technical communications intelligence, picking up on conversations.

That's the same stuff that's really useful right now to figure out what the players are doing, if there's a coverup, what kind of coverup is going on. If it's not a coverup, what are they doing to investigate it beyond papering over the whole idea. That information is really useful. In theory Congressional oversight committees on the intelligence committees are going to be saying let's get some briefings on this from the intelligence community and find out what some of this intelligence was and what it is. But there's going to be tension between what is most useful to put out publicly and what is most useful to keep inside so we don't burn those sources.

CABRERA: I mean, what happened to Khashoggi, this mystery could be solved by the audio and video that the Turks say they have that reportedly indicates Khashoggi was tortured and murdered. But as far as we know, the U.S. administration hasn't seen or heard it. Why haven't they?

PRIESS: We have a lot of claims here, Ana. We have claims from the Turks coming mostly through unofficial sources or secondhand reporting, but some claims from the Turks about things like that, some details about who moved when and what they knew at the time. We've got information coming from the Saudis that sounds different. And we don't know who to believe here because everybody has an interest in this. Former CIA Director Mike Hayden said it really well on Chris Cuomo the other night when he said information coming into the intelligence community from sources or from countries who have an interest in the stake of the policy that comes out of it, often that intelligence is labeled this information may be intended to influence as well as inform. The information we're getting is not coming from unbiased sources. It's coming from players in this drama and they're trying to set their narrative now so that as this goes forward, their best interests are taken into account.

CABRERA: Everyone needs to keep that in mind as we do get results from these investigations that are being conducted by the Turks and the Saudis. Thank you so much, David Priess, we appreciate your expertise.

Up next, President Trump praises a Congressional candidate who body slammed a reporter and the crowd goes wild. We'll discuss what that says about our politics today next.


CABRERA: During a campaign stop in Montana, the President praised a Congressman for body slamming a journalist. Trump joked about Republican representative him assaulting a reporter during his Congressional campaign in 2017. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I heard that he body slammed a reporter. Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of --


CABRERA: Now, remember these comments couple -- come as journalist Jamal Khashoggi is fresh in the mind of all after his suspicious disappearance. I want to talk more about this with host of CNN's Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter. We are talking about assault, Brian, you heard the crowd there. Why is this a laughing matter?

[14:45:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: This is tribalism in action. And I was more struck by the laughs and the cheers of the crowd then even by the president's rhetoric. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for the President to talk about the President in hateful, dehumanizing ways but it's always notable to hear members in the audience cheering for or laughing along with it. It really is tribalism in action. It shows there is a real subset of Trump supporters who believe what he says about the media. The President loves the press, loves talking to the press, answering questions.

Look, the president loves the press, he loves talking to the press, he loves answering questions, he loves using the cameras to his affect but he wants his fans to hate the press. And this is a continuation of that. And I am glad he used the word assault because it is worth remembering that this Congressman did accept, he did plead guilty, he acknowledged it was a crime. He apologized. People forget why it happened in the first place. Ben Jacobs of "The Guardian" walked in and tried to get an answer to a question about health care. Ben Jacobs was trying to get answers about a really important --

CABRERA: And the reaction we know what followed he was assaulted. And was body slammed as the president pointed out. Quickly, Brian, this was over a year ago. We also have a tweet from Jim Acosta who was at the rally and he saw someone look at him and go like this. Where are we today. Where are we now. Have we gotten better or worse?

STELTER: I think gradually getting worse. There's very little sign that it's becoming a safer climate for journalists and others. Look I think the reality is On the President's favorite channel, Fox News, almost all the stories are about political violence on the left. If you turn on left-wing stations, you'll hear about political violence on the right. There are problems on both sides. I don't want to make a sound like there is an equivalence. But there are problems on both sides. Only on the right do you have a President encouraging violence or encouraging, supporting or laughing about it. That is a fundamental problem.

CABRERA: Brian Stelter god to have you with us. Don't forget about Brian's Reliable Sources show on Sunday 11 am eastern.

Up next, new accusations against the former head of USA Gymnastics charged with trying to obstruct the sex abuse investigation of Larry Nassar. Now "The New York Times" says he went as far as to ask the FBI help him protect the image of his organization.


CABRERA: A disturbing new report concerning the former head of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, is under arrest and accused of tampering with evidence linked to the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case. Now the "New York Times" is reporting that penny, quote, sought to cultivate a close relationship with federal investigators to protect the image of USA Gymnastics, going so far, according to "The Times," as to offer a job to one of the FBI agents. Nassar is serving a life sentence. He's in prison. The former USA Gymnastics team doctor was found guilty of sexually abusing hundreds of girls and young women. There's a lot to this new reporting. I am going to bring in CNN's Jean Casarez she has been following the Larry Nassar case from the beginning. Jean, let's begin with this FBI part of all of this. What are you learning?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's interesting. To go along with the "New York Times" reporting, it is strikingly similar to CNN's reporting. Earlier this year, I interviewed Gina Nickols, as well as her husband, Dr. John Nickols, in record to their daughter, Maggie Nickols, who was virtually the whistleblower in the Nassar scandal. She was the one that had told her teammates at the Karolyi Ranch what Nassar was doing to her. And that was overheard by her coach.

What happened was that Steve Penny, then President of USA Gymnastics, called Gina Nickols to say that, don't say anything to anyone, but we're going to go to law enforcement. Listen to Dr. John Nickols. He was privy to that conversation.


DR. JOHN NICKOLS, FATHER OF ABUSED DAUGHTER, MAGGIE: Well, the way it was presented to me was, he -- Penny gave the message that he's contacting the FBI and the FBI is undergoing this investigation. And that we're to be quiet so we don't interfere with this investigation.


CASAREZ: And for one year, they didn't hear anything from anyone. And then suddenly, one year later, Gina Nichols gets a call from the FBI.


GINA NICHOLS, MOTHER OF MAGGIE: I'm really glad that you're calling me now. But I said, I reported this a year ago. And why are you calling me now? Honestly, why has it taken this long? He said, I just got this assignment yesterday. And I said, oh, OK. So why didn't -- USA Gymnastics has said they already contacted FBI and Indianapolis months and months ago. I haven't heard one thing. He goes, all he said about that was, I have no idea what that is. I don't work in Indianapolis. I work in L.A. out of this FBI bureau.


CASAREZ: Now, we do have a response to all of this from Steve Penny's attorney, and she says, quote, this is absurd. Mr. Penny had no authority to offer anyone a position with U.S. Olympic Committee. Mr. Penny told Mr. Abbott that the security position would be open when the current head retired.

[15:55:00] And that Mr. Abbott, who he understood was retiring from the FBI, might be good for the position. The position did not open up until well over a year later. This was normal, ordinary networking. Any suggestion that Mr. Penny was attempting to influence the FBI investigation is false and defamatory. Ana?

CABRERA: Jean Casarez, thank you.

Back to our other breaking news. A Russian national being charged with trying to interfere in the 2018 midterms as part of a propaganda effort to hurt American democracy. Coming up, details on what CNN has just learned. Don't go away.


CABRERA: Welcome back. Time now to honor this week's CNN hero. Army veteran Chris Stout started a nonprofit to build tiny houses for homeless vets in Kansas City. And since then, he has helped more than 8,000 former service members.


CHRIS STOUT, VETERAN WHO BUILDS HOUSES FOR HOMELESS VETS: After starting to work with veterans, I realized there's a huge gap in services. If you've ever served, you know that if one of your fellow platoon guys, they need help, you help them. What we do here gives them an opportunity to kind of get stable, gives them a safe and secure place. And then fix what got them there in the first place.


CABRERA: The program will expand to Nashville, Tennessee, next year. If you want to find out more, go to I'm Ana Cabrera. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.