Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Forced to Change Tune on Journalist's Death?; Early Voting Begins in Several States. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 22, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He's far more likely to visit red states filled with loyal admirers, rather than running the risk of firing up Democrats or independent voters in swing states.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): A map of his travels shows where he is and isn't welcome, like deep-red Montana, where he staged three rallies to try and defeat Democratic Senator Jon Tester in a race even most Republicans see as no easy task.

Yet he's all that steering clear of Florida, holding no big rallies so far this fall . Governor Rick Scott, who's locked in a tight race to unseat Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, has asked Trump to stay away, a GOP official told CNN.

His itinerary is far different than on his victory tour after the 2016 election, as he thanked voters in places he turned from blue to red. Statewide GOP candidates are trailing in most of those new Trump states, like Pennsylvania and Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

But Republicans are likely to keep control the Senate because of the blessing of geography, from red state races like Tennessee, where a Trump visit linger long after he leaves because of TV ads blasting the Democratic candidate.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bill whatever the hell his name is, this guy will 100 percent vote against us every single time.

ZELENY: Across the country, the president appears in nearly 20 percent of all political ads. So far this year, at least $55 million has been spent on pro-Trump ads and $61 million on anti-Trump ads in the top 100 House and Senate races.

The midterm election campaign has solidified Trump as the undisputable leader of the Republican Party. Even old rivals, like Ted Cruz, have long embraced him and now depend on Trump to fire up this coalition.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I think it energizes people. I think it's going to help drive turnout and this election is a turnout election. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So we are going to see Senator Cruz on a stage with President Trump. It will be, of course, not the first time they have met.

They actually buried that hatchet during a private dinner in the White House shortly after he was elected. But, Jake, I asked Senator Cruz last night at a campaign event here if there's any bad blood between the two. He said, look, we have to work together.

But there's another reason he knows that, because he needs Trump supporters to win reelection. But, Jake, as for the increasing optimism for the House, one White House official I talked to today said the president believes he and he alone can perhaps overturn the trajectory of that blue Democratic wave. We will find out in 15 days -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jeff Zeleny in Texas.

And just a reminder to the experts here and the folks at home. It's not just President Trump having attacked Senator Cruz himself. He also threatened to -- quote -- "spill the beans" on Cruz's wife, Heidi. He retweeted an unflattering photograph of Heidi juxtaposed with his wife, Melania.

And he suggested, of course, that Cruz's father may have been involved in the Kennedy assassination, which, of course, he was not.

S.E. Cupp, does it surprise you that you have this Trump campaigning for Cruz and Cruz embracing it?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, it's comical to watch. But I want to make a serious point.

The great emasculation of Trump one-time enemies turned supporters is, I think, a bigger picture, telling a bigger story of the great emasculation of the Republican Party in general by Trump.

To see Ted Cruz -- Chris Christie was the first, Rand Paul -- turn tail and adore a person that you know fundamentally they don't trust, they dislike, they disagree with him, so obsequiously, is really upsetting, disturbing, troubling.

But it's evidenced in policy too. I mean, to see Rand Paul get up and talk about trusting Russia, to see Steve Scalise, a person you know, I know respects deeply, give an excuse for Trump's Gianforte's comments praising him for body-slamming a reporter, this is symblematic -- symbolic, I'm sorry, of how Trump has completely emasculated the Republican Party both in rhetoric and in policy.

TAPPER: What do you think?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's an achievement for a complete outsider and insurgent to be able to take over a party, and remake it and win an election and govern. So I don't like any of it, but it just -- we sometimes kind of get caught up in like the tweet of the day and all the nonsense and crazy stuff that he does. Just from a purely clinical point of view, to have Ted Cruz crawling on his belly begging for Trump to save him from Beto, I mean, this whole thing is something that really should have just been in the fever swamp of Trump's imagination about himself.

But he's actually pulling it off.

TAPPER: So listen to this, because Paula Faris from ABC asked Ted Cruz if President Trump was his friend. And it was a very interesting answer. Take a listen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAULA FARIS, ABC NEWS: Is he your friend? Is he your foe? How do you describe the relationship?

CRUZ: He's the president. And he's the president. I work with the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's pretty telling.

[16:35:00]

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, it's not telling at all, because what we know is, Ted Cruz doesn't have friends.

(LAUGHTER)

HOOVER: In all seriousness, I mean, we can all sort of joke about the least liked senator in the United States Senate.

But the truth is, to piggyback on the serious point that S.E. made, is that the Republican Party has become Trump's party. This notion that the modern American conservative movement gave the principles by which the Republican Party organized its policies and its candidates and its elections is totally bogus and overtaken by events.

And that event is Donald Trump.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: Period, full stop.

The emasculation S.E. points to, I mean, the headline right now is beautiful Ted. This is not necessarily going to benefit him in the Lone Star State. This is the Gorgeous George.

TAPPER: You think he's trying to damn him with faint praise, kind of, or...

AVLON: This is not exactly the man, strong Ted. What did Cornyn run as, like Big John?

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: This ain't that. This is beautiful Ted because he's been nice and obsequious to me.

But the hidden note here is that actually Donald Trump is underwater in Texas. He only has 49 percent approval rating. Ted Cruz should not be in a serious fight for the Senate seat. That he is spending money, the Republican Party is spending money, that Trump is being deployed there, he's being asked not to come compete in -- campaign in Florida, key swing state, two major statewide races, he's at 39 percent in Arizona.

So Trump really solidifies the base. He has completed a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. There are -- this is a major crisis of faith for those folks who came up with the conservative catechism and thought it was a party of ideas. Guess what? Not so much.

But he is not an asset in national or statewide races necessarily.

TAPPER: So listen to this, because earlier Dana Bash asked Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi about whether or not Democrats can take the House. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: If the election were held today, the Democrats would handily win the House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree?

CUPP: No.

I have been saying for weeks I will not be surprised if Republicans keep the House and win the Senate?

TAPPER: Why?

CUPP: Because every time I say -- there was a silent majority we didn't see in 2016, and I think it's still exists. Kavanaugh wakened it a bit. Someone says, well, the polls aren't saying.

Yes, that's why it's silent. That's why it's silent, because there are still a lot of people who I don't think feel comfortable talking about how angry they are, and how Kavanaugh motivates them. And they saw themselves in Kavanaugh and he was put on trial.

I think you are going to hear from those people not a day before the elections.

TAPPER: All right.

We have to take a quick break. From giving them a pass to I'm not satisfied, President Trump's slight change of tone on Saudi Arabia's role in the murder of a "Washington Post" journalist, that's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:55]

TAPPER: We have breaking news, breaking news in our world lead.

President Trump just moments ago saying he is not satisfied with the Saudi-led investigation into the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis themselves.

This all comes as it appears a body double was used by the Saudis to try to help cover up the brutal killing. Surveillance video exclusively obtained by CNN shows a different man dressed in what appear to be Khashoggi's clothes and wearing what appears to be a fake beard as he leaves the Saudi consulate on the very day that he Khashoggi disappeared.

CNN's Alex Marquardt joins me now.

And, Alex, the president said that the U.S. has intelligence folks on the ground in Turkey and Saudi Arabia and he expects more answers in the next two days?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: As soon as tonight or tomorrow morning, he said, Jake, saying he will get more answers about Khashoggi's murder.

There has been a slight shift, as you mentioned, in his tone over the past few days, going from calling the Saudi explanation of this alleged murder credible -- that was on Friday -- now over the weekend. And today he's making clear that he isn't just taking the Saudis at their word. He is talking up the U.S. role in these investigations, talking about intelligence officials who are working in both Turkey and in Saudi Arabia to get those answers he's demanded.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Doubt growing in the president's mind, he said, today after speaking with the Saudi crown prince about their version of the events surrounding Jamal Khashoggi's death.

TRUMP: I spoke to the crown prince. I am not satisfied with what I heard.

MARQUARDT: An about-face from Friday, when the Saudi said they needed a month to investigate. And the president said he believed the Saudi explanation that this was an interrogation that went wrong.

QUESTION: Do you consider it credible, their explanation for...

TRUMP: I do. I do. I mean, it's -- again, it's early. We haven't finished our review or investigation. MARQUARDT: The tougher line from the president comes as the plot to

murder "The Washington Post" journalist is being revealed to be more sinister than originally thought.

This is Khashoggi going into the consulate just after 1:00 p.m. the day he was killed. Then in this surveillance video exclusively obtained by CNN's Clarissa Ward, evidence that Saudi Arabia hoped to trick the world into believing this was the slain journalist leaving the consulate, a man wearing Khashoggi's clothes, his glasses, a beard and with the same body type, except this isn't Khashoggi.

This is Mustafa al-Madani, one of the 15 Saudis who flew in for the Khashoggi operation, arriving with an accomplice two hours before Khashoggi.

Then the look-alike leaving the consulate, posing as Khashoggi. A major difference, easy to spot, the shoes. Madani, posing as Khashoggi, and his accomplice then melt into Istanbul's busy streets, visiting one of the main mosques before going into a bathroom. The double then reemerging in his own clothes.

Their mission, they might have thought, as they smiled, was complete. But Turkish cameras were watching, now exposing this dark and questionable attempt at a cover-up.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not only was his hair wrong, his shoes were wrong. He left with somebody who is identified with the consulate. He didn't enter with somebody identified with the consulate. And then they traveled around together. That -- that's just really sloppy tradecraft.

MARQUARDT: As the world piles the pressure on Saudi Arabia, the U.S. is willing to hear them out, Jared Kushner today saying the White House is focused on strategic objectives and is in the fact-finding phase. But he called on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman whose ties to the murder are still being questioned to investigate what happened seriously.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The world is watching. This is a very, very serious accusation in a very serious situation, and to make sure you're transparent, and to and to take this very seriously.

MARQUARDT: Kushner there with a warning for his friend, the Crown Prince, but he and the rest of the White House, Jake, have stopped well short of saying the prince had any involvement. And that's while fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill are adamant that nothing like this could happen without the Crown Prince's knowledge. Senator Rand Paul just today calling it laughable to think that MBS didn't have a hand in this. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks so much. Van Jones is back. I want to bring in Phil Mudd. And Phil, let me start with you. We should note that you did work on behalf of the Saudi interior ministry after leaving government years ago. Obviously, you don't work for them right now. What do you make, Phil, of the President three weeks later now saying he's not satisfied with the Saudi investigation.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, on Friday we had the President saying that the announcement of the Saudis that they are responsible and also the announcement that the Crown Prince was heading an investigation in this, the President saying that was a big step forward. We only have two questions here. The questions aren't about what happened. We know that somebody was murdered in that consulate. The Saudis have admitted. The question were -- the questions are what was the intent going in there.

I want to see things like interviews with the 15 people who went there. And then the biggest question, who authorized them. My bottom-line, Jake, is the President by saying that he accepted this first step from the Saudis Friday that the Crown Prince would run the investigation guarantees that we will never get an answer about what the Crown Prince's involvement was. He's not going to investigate himself in Saudi Arabia, we'll never here.

TAPPER: And Van, you sat down with the President's son in law Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner and here's what he said about the claims being made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Do you see anything that it seems deceptive?

KUSHNER: I see things that are deceptive every day. I see them in the Middle East, I see them in Washington and so again I think that we have our eyes wide open.

(END VIDEO CLIP)'

TAPPER: What do you make of that response? It wasn't -- it wasn't specific to what you were asking.

JONES: Yes, well, I think that my interpretation, like I spent seven minutes trying to get to an answer out of a you know, 30-minute interview. My interpretation is that whatever the facts reveal, ultimately the relationship with Saudi Arabia is not going to change and that was -- you cut through all the nonsense. I asked him. I said jeez, you know, do you -- do you believe this story because he's going to wait for the evidence. I said, well, do you trust them to investigate themselves? Well, we have other means of getting the evidence. Well, I mean, but he wouldn't say what I think people wanted him to say which was this is wrong and it is going to change our relationship. That's -- that was not forthcoming today.

TAPPER: Phil, a couple things out of a foreign desk today. First of all, take a look at this. It's the Saudi foreign ministry tweeting out a picture of Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin who is right now in Saudi Arabia meeting with the Crown Prince and reportedly touting the strategic relationship. But I also want to ask you about the scoop that CNN had earlier today about this body double, this person dressed up and what it looked like Khashoggi's clothing, wearing a fake beard, what do you make of that? MUDD: Really frustrating. I didn't draw a conclusion that this

individual was involved in the murder. The biggest question I had if this person is part of a larger team is only a question you could get at with the real investigation. We will not have an investigation. That is a question of intent. Did that person walk in there as part of a broader plan that says once we murder the Saudi journalist we're going to have a body double walk out to try to portray to the Turks that the journalist Khashoggi is still alive?

I had a question you could only resolve with interviews of those people in that Saudi team. Did you intend when you walked in that consulate to walk out with a body double because that would tell me clearly you then intended to walk in and murder somebody, you didn't -- you didn't walk in with an -- resulting in an accident from a confrontation with the journalists who resisted. I had a question about intent we'll never see. Did they want to do that from the outset, walk out of the consulate like that?

TAPPER: Yes. And also, of course, they brought a bone saw on a forensic specialist with them. Van, take a look at what the President told The Washington Post this weekend about Kushner's relationship with the Crown Prince. He said they're two young guys. Jared doesn't know him well or anything. They're just two young people. They're the same age, they like each other. That's kind of an odd way to describe one of the most powerful people in his administration and the most powerful person in Saudi Arabia.

[16:50:00] JONES: Yes. You know, and I push Kushner about that. I said you know, it seems like you know, you just get down to it, you've got this sort of young American prince, you have this Saudi Arabian Prince and they're kind of piling around together coming up with schemes and dreams and it just turns out that the Saudi prince is somebody who murders dissidents. And that for some people makes you know you culpable for him feeling confident to do that kind of thing.

Jared said you know, he doesn't you know, pay attention to those kinds of criticisms and pivot it. I think that you know, this is one of those situations where because of the way that Jared leads, Jared is not a megaphone leader, he's a cellphone leader. He doesn't try to broadcast you know, his power. He doesn't try to get on television. He tries to form relationship love people. When it works out well, it works out really well. You know, some of the trade deals have worked out really well.

The situation he bet on somebody MBS and that person has turned out to be but looks like a very bad guy, we're going to have to see what happens now going forward. Does relationship stay intact? Do they replace, do they find somebody else to replace him? But they were very close-lipped about that today.

TAPPER: And Phil, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said over the weekend that the U.S. should effectively end its relationship with the Crown Prince who's a de facto leader of the country. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I cannot do business with the current leadership MBS. He's done to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Obviously this is one of the President's closest allies in the Senate. Quickly, what do you think the Trump Administration should do?

MUDD: That's not going to happen. From day one, this country has sacrificed values for partnerships. You look at the Filipinos back in the day, the Egyptians today. We might censure or sanction the Saudis but to think five years down the road, two years down the road, we don't have a critical relationship with them. We could talk about that. I don't think it's going to happen, Jake. They're too important to us. Let's face it.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd and Van Jones, thanks so much. And you can see the full interview with Jared Kushner on the "VAN JONES SHOW" this Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Demonstrating against a definition which could impact more than one million Americans, details of the possible Trump administration plan that brought these protestors to the White House today. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In the "NATIONAL LEAD" now, the #Won't Be Erased is trending right now on Twitter as protesters gathered outside the White House following a report in the New York Times that said that Trump Administration is trying to define transgender out of existence under federal law. A move that critics say could leave people open to discrimination in the workplace for housing, or healthcare, for identifying what the gender different the one assigned to them at birth. CNN's Rene Marsh is on the story for us. Rene, who's behind this move and why now?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Trump Administration is calling the Obama Administration's practice of allowing gender identity to define a person's gender too broad. Now, if the Administration is successful in changing the definition, this could affect a people in a major way in places like school bathrooms and locker rooms.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMERICAN CROWD: We will not be erased. We will not be erased. We will not be erased.

MARSH: Demonstrators descended on the White House today as the Department of Health and Human Services drafts proposal and lays out a plan to drastically limit the definition of gender. According to the New York Times, the proposal states sex means a person's status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.

MARA KEISLING, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CENTER FOR TRANSGENDER EQUALITY: People are scared and they are angry. MARSH: Activists argue the new definition ignores an estimated 1.4

million transgender Americans who identify as a gender other than the one they were born into.

KEISLING: That building right there is our White House. We are protected as transgender people by this laws they are trying to cut us out of and they cannot make the laws go away.

MARSH: The proposal still in its early stages would call on HHS as well as the Departments of Education, Justice, and Labor to enforce the new limited definition of gender. The move would roll back anti- discrimination protections for transgender people in federally funded programs. Activists say real-life consequences could mean a transgender person could have their insurance deny them coverage for transition-related care and more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's disgusting and makes me feel dehumanized. It makes feel like honestly like completely unrecognized as a person.

MARSH: The news has given rise to the #Won't Be Erased on social media. Chaz Bono, the transgender son of Sonny and Cher tweeted, "I can't begin to express the rage I feel toward an administration that is trying to redefine me out of existence. HHS would not comment on the memo but said it is complying with the law as it reviews the issue. Adding that " everyone deserves to be treated with respect."

The memo comes to light just two weeks from the crucial Midterm elections and is not the President's first move to roll back protections for the transgender community.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens.

MARSH: Despite promises during the 2016 campaign, the administration has tried to ban transgender people from the military and rescinded Obama era guidance that protected trans students right to use the bathroom that aligned with their gender identity, moves that please social conservatives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: While HHS says that it is following the law which states that discrimination in health care on the basis of sex is prohibited, but what the Trump Administration is looking to provide is what is sex and what is gender, what does that mean, and that's the linchpin of all of this, Jake. President Trump was asked about this today. He reiterated that the Administration is seriously looking at the issue, but he added that he's "protecting everyone." Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Rene Marsh, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.