Return to Transcripts main page


Footage of Saudis Using Body Double to Cover Up Murder; Kushner Still in "Fact-Finding" Phase about Khashoggi Killing; Could Trump's High Approval Rating Spell Trouble for Democrats in Midterms. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 22, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Lauren Fox, thanks very much.

Thanks to you for joining me today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" starts right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan on this Monday.

Could be the smoking gun in a murder mystery that is getting less mysterious by the day. This is a new CNN exclusive we're talking about. Stunning footage which appears to show the Saudis sent a body double to Istanbul to pose as "Washington Post" Columnist Jamal Khashoggi to throw off investigators and help cover up a plot to kill him. The Saudis claim Khashoggi's death was not intentional. Turkish officials however are convinced this is part of an elaborate cover-up for a premeditated murder.

CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, broke the story and joins us now live in Istanbul.

Clarissa, what are you learning?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Erica, we have to talk you through this video because it really is extraordinary. And if you heard it described and didn't see it for yourself, you might not actually believe it.

Essentially, what the Turkish officials believe here is that the Saudis sent a man called Mustafa al Madani, 57-year-old. He's sent along with the 15 operatives. But he obviously, a couple decades older than the others. He was sent along. He arrived at the consulate behind me at 11:03 in the morning. He's wearing a plaid shirt, wearing blue jeans. Then around lunch time, we see Jamal Khashoggi enter the consulate. He is wearing dark jeans, jacket, a shirt underneath with a black T-shirt underneath the button-down shirt. Fast forward, we know Jamal Khashoggi was killed quite soon after he entered the consulate. We see coming out the back door of the consulate, the back exit, his fiancee was waiting in the front, but he came out the back exit, this body double dressed in Jamal Khashoggi's clothes. I don't know if you can see, if you have the two images up against each other. You can see same glasses, same beard, same clothing. All of it looks the same, with the exception of the hair. Not much you can do about that. And also with the exception of the shoes. We can only assume that Jamal Khashoggi's shoes did not fit the double. The double then walks over, takes a cab. Goes to Sultan Mosque, which is one of the main Istanbul tourist attractions. A lot of crowds there. He has an accomplice with him carrying a plastic bag. The two of them disappear into a bathroom. When they reemerge, al Madani is wearing his own clothes again, the plaid shirt, the blue jeans. Still carrying the plastic bag. They have tea. At that point, another surveillance camera captures them on television. Suddenly, he's cleanly shaven. The fake beard has been ditched. Then, the sort of piece de resistance is a shot of the two men apparently dumping the plastic bag in a dumpster. Turkish senior official telling us that investigators believe it was Jamal Khashoggi's clothing that was in the bag. They dumped the bag. They go back to their hotel. They take a taxi. And they go to Istanbul's Airport and take a commercial flight back to Saudi Arabia.

So truly, Erica, I have to say, extraordinary footage, and leaving the Turkish officials we have spoken to here in no doubt this was premeditated murder -- Erica?

HILL: What's fascinating, though, is this video is now emerging. As you point out, the Turks are convinced it was premeditated. This was not released initially after he disappeared. Why is that?

WARD: So that, we spent a lot of time asking ourselves that very question. I think there's two components. Firstly, the fact that the Saudis started out with this brazen lie that they peddled for days, that he walked out of the consulate unharmed. We can only assume their confidence in that lie was because they had staged this elaborate decoy with the body double. Now, it's possible they said their cameras didn't work. It's possible they were simply waiting for Turkish authorities to see the image of the decoy or the body double on their surveillance cameras. It's also possible, though, that the Saudis understood quite quickly the jig was up and Turkish authorities were onto them because Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee was waiting in front of the consulate, entirely possible they had not banked on that. She then sounded the alarm. Turkish intelligence officials then ran to the airport, searched one of the private jets taking some of the 15 operatives back to Saudi Arabia. All of this might have given them the sense that their cover had already been blown. And therefore, affected their decision to release any video. But it's something of a mystery, Erica, in a story that continues to get more and more bizarre and unbelievable by the day.

HILL: That is putting it mildly.

Clarissa Ward, with the latest for us. Thank you.

President Trump has said he is skeptical of the Saudi explanation of Khashoggi's death, telling the "Washington Post," there obviously has been deception and lies and that the Saudi stories have been all over the place. Yet, at the same time, he said Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is a strong person with very good control.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House. Abby, we just heard from Jared Kushner, who is under a lot of scrutiny

for his relationship with the Saudi crown prince. How is he defining that relationship? What did he have to say?

[11:05:22] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is the first time we have heard anything from Jared Kushner about this situation. Despite his relationship with MbS that has been in some ways at the center of this whole controversy, now Kushner is declining -- he denies he is in any way sort of at the center of the president's Middle East policy on this. But he did say that he did speak to MbS, and he told the crown prince that transparency is of the essence here.

But when he was asked by Van Jones in this interview about some of these varying accounts from the Saudis and how they really kind of veer from what we know based on Clarissa's reporting and others, Kushner really declined to criticize the Saudis at all, and instead, he emphasized the long-standing relationship with the United States. Listen.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: We're more in the fact-finding phase, and we're obviously getting as many facts as we can from the different places. And then we'll determine which facts are credible, and then after that, the president and the secretary of state will make a determination as to what we deem to be credible and what actions we think we should take. I'll also say that we have to be able to work with our allies. And Saudi Arabia has been, I think, a very strong ally in terms of pushing back against Iran's aggression, which is funding a lot of terror in the region, whether it's the Houthis in Yemen or Hezbollah or Hamas. We have a lot of terrorism in the region. The Middle East is a rough place. It's been a rough place for a very long time. And we have to be able to pursue our strategic objectives and we also have to deal with obviously what seems to be a terrible situation.


PHILLIP: And the message here from Jared Kushner is wait and see.

But meanwhile, the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, is heading to Saudi Arabia for an anti-terror conference. This is a trip to Saudi Arabia despite the fact that Mnuchin pulled out of an economic conference that a lot of other business leaders and corporations have pulled out of. But this anti-terror conference is going forward as planned and Mnuchin will be there -- Erica?

HILL: All right, Abby Phillip with the latest for us from the White House. Thank you.

Joining us, "Washington Post" White House reporter and CNN political analyst, Josh Dawsey, who spoke to President Trump over the weekend about this case. Also with us, CNN global affairs analyst, Max Boot.

Good to have both of you with us. Josh, based on your conversation with President Trump, and even what we just heard from Jared Kushner, it's clear on the part of the president that he doesn't want the crown prince to be involved. In fact, he said that to you. But do you have a sense there's anything, anything that would change something for the president here?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to say. The president delineated pretty extensively to me on Saturday night that he was not convinced that the crown prince was involved. He was saying it's possible the crown prince knew it was going to be a kidnapping, an interrogation, but he has no proof that the crown prince was involved in any sort of killing or ordering of it. He was pretty explicit about that. He also praised the crown prince, saying he was a strong leader. He studied other alternatives in the country. He thinks the crown prince is the best for the country. Says he truly loves his country, also saying there's been lies and deception by the Saudis. I pressed the president pretty extensively on the changing stories, them saying that he had actually left the embassy. The bone saw, the various factors that have been implausible, and the president conceded that their stories were not necessarily on the level but also made it clear that he wants the current regime to stay in power and supports the status quo in Saudi Arabia.

HILL: So when we look at it through that lens, we just heard from Jared Kushner, Max, saying we have to be able to work with our allies. He said we have to deal with this terrible situation. Can you on the one hand, let's say, punish the Saudis while still preserving that relationship?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Of course, you can punish the Saudis. Remember, MbS, crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, is not the same thing as the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has existed for more than 80 years without MbS being in charge. One of the cardinal mistakes that the Trump administration has made here, and they have made so many, is that they have overly personalized this relationship. They have placed all of their chips on MbS. They have created a very personal relationship between two young men who frankly don't know that much, don't really know what they're doing. Jared Kushner and MbS, and that in turn is endangering the larger Saudi/U.S. relationship. It's imperative to rescue the relationship from the clutches of Jared Kushner and MbS and realize their long-term interests. And Saudi Arabia has not always acted as brutally and recklessly as MbS acted. The Trump administration still needs to put the pressure on to bring Jamal Khashoggi's murders to justice. I think -- I suspect MbS is deeply implicated in this horrible crime. But again, you can get rid of -- Saudi Arabia can get rid of MbS to preserve the relationship, and that would be their smartest play right now.

[11:10:27] HILL: Do you think they would actually do that, though, Max?

BOOT: There's a lot of princes who would love to do that. MbS in his rise to the top has stabbed a lot of princes in the back, and a lot of the princes including more experienced individuals would be happy to stab him in the back in turn. The question is, is his father, king Salman, the decision maker, does he have the mental capacity to understand what is going on? Does he get independent reporting on what is going on? Does he understand how much damage his son is doing to his country? Those are the questions.

HILL: Those are important questions.

It's interesting, to Josh, in your piece, there's talk about folks in the White House who would really like to see Jared Kushner sidelined even more, especially when it comes to this.

He was asked by Van Jones about his relationship with MbS, and also his advice to him. I think we have that sound, if we could play it.


VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "THE VAN JONES SHOW": What kind of advice have you given MbS in this whole situation?

KUSHNER: Just to be transparent. To be fully transparent. The world is watching. This is a very, very serious accusation. And a very serious situation. And to make sure you're transparent and to take this very seriously.

JONES: How do you respond to that? How did he respond to that counsel?

KUSHNER: We'll see. I mean, I know that the secretary of state had good meetings over there, and we'll see.


HILL: So, Josh, Jared Kushner acknowledging that dialogue there, that he did give him some advice. That is clearly not what folks in the White House want to be happening.

DAWSEY: Well, Jared Kushner had been the primarily point of contact to crown prince Mohammad bin Salman since the early days of the administration. He orchestrated the president's first foreign trip, which was to Saudi Arabia, and raised some eyebrows. And Jared Kushner had taken over that relationship, had a number of phone calls, meetings, messages with MbS. And that concerned a number of folks in the White House. They said the national security apparatus was not looped in. Rex Tillerson, the first secretary of state, was frustrated with how Jared Kushner was handling the relationship, and this week, you have not seen Jared Kushner in the forefront as much as in the past when it came to the Saudi relationship. Mike Pompeo went over to Saudi Arabia. You see him taking the most questions at the podium. You see him briefing the president. That was a relationship that Jared Kushner, particularly in the Tillerson era, had taken full control over. That seems to have changed now.

HILL: Really quickly, very tight on time, but you mentioned there's a deliberate effort to sideline Kushner. Can you tell us who in the White House is pushing for that?

DAWSEY: There's a general sense in the White House he should not be at the forefront here. You have Bolton, you have Pompeo, others in the national security apparatus who are back at the forefront now, and that was not the same case a few months ago when there were different national security advisers, different secretary of state. You do not see the public role for him that you did in the past. In the Saudi relationship.

HILL: Josh, Max, always good to speak with you. Thank you.

Coming up, President Trump's approval rating reaching a record high. Could it spell trouble for Democrats now that we're 15 days away from the midterms?



[11:17:53] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs.

This November, vote for jobs, not mobs.


HILL: President Trump using one of his new campaign lines there against Democrats, who are leading in polling on generic ballots. But a new poll shows 50 percent of those polled want Democrats to control Congress. And 47 percent want Republicans to keep control, 41 percent there. The president's numbers are seeing a spike. And 47 percent of those polled approve of the way the president handles his job. In campaign appearances, the president says he's not on the ballot, but let's be honest, he's on the ballot. If he's right, the Democrats, could they be in more trouble with the election than they think at this point?

Joining us, Kevin Madden, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, and CNN political commentator and former manager for Hillary for America, Robby Mook.

Good to have both of you here.

As we look at this, Robby, for all this talk of the blue wave, as we know we have heard, Republicans do seem to have momentum today. So where do Democrats need to be focusing with 15 days to go, Robby?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, these are the highest numbers we have seen for the president so far. Some polls have shown it lower, but that aside, there are all the indications here of a very good year for Democrats. They are leading on the generic ballot, as you said. By the way, by the same amount the Democrats won the popular vote in 2006 when we picked up 31 seats in the House, which would be enough to win the majority here. Huge gender gap, leading by 25 with women. Historic number of Republican retirements. The list goes on and on. This is shaping up to be a good year. I think the important thing for everybody to pay attention to is there are really two elections going on here. One is in the House of Representatives whereas I said we have very good prospects. We need to work hard. We can't take it for granted, but it's a good map for us. A lot of governorships, these are really good races. I think we're going to pick up a number of governorships. I wouldn't be surprised if we get the majority of governors in the country coming out of the elections. The Senate is different. It's a ruby red map. So after election day, there's going to be something for everybody to point to here. And say that they won. But I would argue that the House map and the gubernatorial map, that is much more representative of the country as a whole, and Democrats are going to do very well there.

[11:20:17] HILL: That is a rather diplomatic answer in many ways. But interesting to see all of the things you're pointing out as you head into the final two weeks.

Kevin, on the Republican side, we're seeing and hearing more from President Trump. We know his happy area is out there in an area where he's well loved. What do you think is breaking through at this point for Republicans? Is it Kavanaugh, is it President Trump simply being out there? Is it sort of this narrative that President Trump is weaving about the caravan of migrants?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's a confluence of all of those different elements. I think what's key about the president's approval rating is that it is an indication that Republicans are coming home. If you look at the headlines from even just two months ago, Erica, the Republican Party was listless and had a big enthusiasm gap. And while Robby is right, pointing out a lot of the elements that are factoring into Democrat enthusiasm, what we have seen now with these recent numbers, with the generic ballot and the president's standing is Republicans have narrowed the enthusiasm gap. I think the question that we're going to have on election day is where is that enthusiasm being applied? If it's in some of these suburban areas where as Robby pointed out we have a gender gap, where you have suburban women coming out, registering much more favorably for Democrats, we'll be able to maybe compete or win a couple seats Democrats had already put in the win column. That will minimize, I think, some of the losses that the party that is aligned with the incumbent in the White House usually has in midterm elections.

HILL: As we're looking at all of this, and even just touching on, Robby, some of what we're hearing from the president on the campaign trail, he's throwing out some wild lies, and downright misinformation as we're hearing when it comes to the caravan and jobs related to arms sales to Saudi Arabia. But we know historically speaking that going toe to toe with Donald Trump doesn't work. It tends to backfire. So what is the plan on the part of Democrats to counter some of that misinformation over the next two weeks?

MOOK: Well, you see Democrats out there, a number of the debates going on, Republicans are attempting to also distort information out there, comparing them to other elected officials, making up outright lies about their careers. They're speaking out on that. But I will say, I think Trump's strategy is limited. Again, this is where this comes down to two maps. I think he's doing everything he can to pull out the Republican base and some of those really red states. That might help them protect or pick up some Senate seats. But I don't think it's going to save them, as Kevin pointed out, in the suburban area that are so important for the House map and the gubernatorial map. We saw in the Virginia elections last year, those were really the first, quote/unquote, "elections we had since the presidential." Turnout was high. Ed Gillespie, the Republican, got more votes than anybody who had been governor before that, who had won that race before that. But the Democrat got so many more votes because that Democratic intensity was so high, and in fact, for the first time, we're seeing that likely voters, Democratic likely voters, that that turnout intensity is higher than ever before. That's a big deal for Democrats. So I think turnout is going to be incredibly high across the board. Trump is going to do everything he can to push it up with his base, but I think Democrats are going to have that advantage going in.

HILL: Just real quickly, before I let you go. I want to play you sound from over the weekend. People are fired up, outraged. The way it's manifesting has people on both sides of the aisle upset.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at this piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Pelosi right here. You don't belong here. Communist. Get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of here.


HILL: Nancy Pelosi being confronted. Mitch McConnell as well.

Kevin, I'll let you kick it off, but I would love to get an answer from both of you. How important is it for candidates and lawmakers to address this issue of civility moving forward? Kevin?

MADDEN: Well, very important because the key to successful policy is bringing together coalitions from across both aisles. And in order to do that, Mitch McConnell is going to need Democrat support, and if Nancy Pelosi were to become speaker, she's going to need some Republican support in order to get things done. They have to address it if they're hoping to be successful. But I think this just is a reflection of where we are two weeks away from an election day where both parties believe that juicing their bases is the path to victory. They're very focused on drawing a contrast with the other party. As a result, you see the most vocal based supporters showing up in public like this with demonstrations like that.

[11:25:10] HILL: Robby, I have 15 seconds or I'm in big trouble.

MOOK: I largely -- I'll be bipartisan. I agree with Kevin on this. I will say, our president has normalized this kind of behavior. As long as he's in office, it's going to be the norm, unfortunately.

HILL: Robby Mook, Kevin Madden, always a pleasure to speak with you both. Thank you.

MADDEN: Great to be with you.

MOOK: Thank you. HILL: I want to share more information. Nancy Pelosi just telling

our own Dana Bash, "If the election were held today, the Democrats would handily win the House," she said. "I can only speak in the present tense, though," she went on to say, "because you never know." She's speaking with Dana Bash right now at the citizen event here at CNN. We'll bring you anything else of importance that is said as it happened.

Stay with us. You're watching CNN.