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Footage of Saudis Using Body Double To Cover Up Murder; Trump Says There's Deception and Lies In Saudi Arabian Story; Early Voting Opens in Florida as Poll Shows Democrats Leading; New NBC and Wall Street Journal has President Trump's Approval Rating Reaching an All- Time High; Bolton Kicks Off Talks with Russia Over Nuclear Treaty; Migrant Caravan March North Through Mexico Towards U.S. Border. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired October 22, 2018 - 9:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.
The president facing two very big foreign policy tests this morning and this week. First, a shocking cover-up. CNN now has exclusive surveillance video showing that the Saudis used a body double in an apparent attempt to cover up the murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The actor can be seen wearing what appeared to Khashoggi's clothes after the journalist was last seen.
The stunning video in just a moment.
Also today National Security Adviser John Bolton is in Russia for tense talks after President Trump vowed to pull out of a decades-old nuclear weapons treaty with Russia. One Russian official said that this could be a very dangerous step.
We are on it this morning.
Let's begin, though, with CNN's exclusive reporting. Chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is in Istanbul.
Clarissa, you know, you look at -- you look at these pictures here and it seems to provide pretty convincing evidence this was no rogue operation but a planned one, a premeditated one.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. And it's ironic that this comes the day after the Saudi Foreign minister told FOX News that this was a rogue operation, that the killing was unintentional, that this was a mistake. Turkish officials here are telling us, no, this was premeditated murder. They say the Saudis flew in a body double to pose as Jamal Khashoggi leaving the consulate to cover up the killing. And now CNN, as you said, has obtained exclusive surveillance footage.
This is part of the investigation that the government is carrying out and it appears to support that argument. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WARD (voice-over): At first glance, this man could almost pass for Jamal Khashoggi. And that's the idea. These are the last-known images of Khashoggi alive, moments before he entered the Saudi consulate. Take a look. Same clothes, same glasses and beard, similar age and physique. Everything except the shoes.
But a senior Turkish official tells CNN that the man on the left is a body double, one of 15 Saudi operatives sent to kill Khashoggi and then cover it up. His name is Mustafa al-Madani. Surveillance cameras capture him arriving at the consulate in a plaid shirt and jeans at 11:03 with an accomplice. Two hours later, Khashoggi arrives. He was killed inside shortly afterwards.
(On camera): While Khashoggi's fiancee waited in the front entrance, we're told al-Madani came out through this back exit. Disturbingly he appears to have been wearing the actual clothing of the murdered journalist. The intent Turkish investigators say was to perpetuate the lie that Jamal Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed.
(Voice-over): The apparent double and his companion take a taxi to Sultan Ahmet Mosque. It's one of Istanbul's main tourist attractions and an easy place to get lost in a crowd. The men head to the bathroom. The accomplice carries a plastic bag. When they emerge, al-Madani is wearing his own clothes again.
(On camera): And just like that Jamal Khashoggi had disappeared forever, or so the Saudis would have had the world believe. Little do they know Turkish authorities would quickly uncover the cover-up.
(Voice-over): From their next stop at a nearby restaurant where al- Madani appears to have ditched his fake beard to a dumpster where the men finally dump the plastic bag. The senior official says investigators believe it likely contained Khashoggi's clothes. As they head back to their hotel, the pair appear visibly relaxed. Their mission is complete.
WARD: Now this does appear to give us a better understanding, Jim, of why exactly the Saudis were sort of brazenly peddling this lie for first several days if not the first week that Jamal Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed but it also raises the question of why the Saudis didn't initially reveal or share their own surveillance footage. It may have been that they were waiting for the Turks to reveal surveillance footage or it may have been that they knew pretty early on that their cover-up had been uncovered.
Obviously when Turkish authorities boarded that private jet bound back to Riyadh and searched the entire plane, it was becoming clear to them that the jig was up. But still a lot more questions, the Saudi narrative ever changing and Turkish officials growing more and more frustrated about the obfuscation -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Listen, galling on a lot of levels including just the sloppiness, it appears.
Clarissa Ward, thanks so much.
For the first time, harder stance, somewhat, from President Trump on Saudi Arabia, telling "The Washington Post" that the Saudis' stories have included, in his words, deception and lies.
[09:05:03] That is a noticeable shift this weekend after just Friday when the President Trump said that he believed the explanation, as the Saudis have claimed, of a fistfight gone wrong. But in the same interview, Trump praised Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, calling him a strong person with very good control.
CNN's Abby Philip is live at the White House.
You know, it's interesting, Abby, as you hear those words, those are words that the president has bestowed on other strong men, Putin included, you know, admiring the grip that they have, Kim Jong-un, et cetera, even in the face of the evidence of what we've seen here.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. Even in the face of all that you just saw and heard from Clarissa a few moments ago, President Trump seems only to be begrudgingly acknowledging some of the problems with the Saudi Arabian story and he's heaping on praise on the crown prince saying that he loves his country and he's not convinced that he might have had something to do with it.
President Trump started out this weekend, on Friday afternoon, after the Saudis put up this explanation, saying that he thought it was a good start. He praised them for doing it very quickly and he said that there would be more information to come but that he was satisfied with that explanation. Well, it took another today for President Trump to be pressed on some of the discrepancies, some of the more obvious discrepancies in their story that many in Washington including Republican members of Congress say it's really hard to believe.
And he told "The Washington Post" that he believed that story was full of lies and deception but he's also said this about why he hopes that the crown prince was not involved in Khashoggi's murder. He said, "I would love it if he wasn't responsible. I think it's a very important ally for us, especially when you have Iran doing so many bad things in the world. It's a good counterbalance to the world. Iran, they're as evil as it gets."
So there, Jim, you see President Trump making it very clear that he views Saudi Arabia as a really important counterbalance in the Middle East. He's not willing to abandon them just yet. But the evidence continues to mount and the world is waiting to find out what the White House is going to do about this story and whether Saudi Arabia will be punished at all -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: We've been waiting for almost three weeks now. Abby Phillip, at the White House.
Here with me now, Robert Ford. He's former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Algeria, David Rohde, CNN global affairs analyst, years of covering the region. Ambassador Ford, if I could begin with you. Looking at CNN's
exclusive reporting here, these images supplied by Turkish officials here, in your view, does this provide convincing evidence that this was a premeditated plan rather than a rogue operation, as the Saudis have been claiming?
ROBERT FORD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: I'm not a police investigator, but there are certainly big questions that the Saudi Arabian government has yet to answer. The idea that Jamal Khashoggi -- and I knew Jamal personally -- would pick a fight with 15 security men is ludicrous. And then there's the question of the saw that was taken in the operation and other details that are emerging. I think the Saudis have a huge credibility problem.
SCIUTTO: The Saudi story this weekend coming from the foreign minister who had previously served as Washington ambassador to the U.S., he called his death a tremendous mistake. Listen to how he explained it, David, and then I want you to respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI ARABIA FOREIGN MINISTER: The crown prince denied this. The crown prince was not aware of this. Even the senior leadership of our intelligence service was not aware of this. This was an operation that was a rogue operation. This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had. They made a mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate and they tried to cover up for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Now let's set aside for the moment that the best case here the Saudis, in effect, granting that this was just a plan to abduct him, which you might say is bad in its own right but this idea that this was rogue, knowing the power of the Saudi royal family and specifically of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is it credible to imagine a team of 15 intelligence officers going rogue, in effect?
DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I personally don't think it is. You know, the crown prince has sort of centralized power ruthlessly. And if this is true, it was a rogue operation, there's a broader question here. The president, you know, as Abby mentioned, talked about Saudi Arabia as a key and effective ally in the region. If Khashoggi was murdered, if this was a rogue operation, it's astonishingly amateurish.
How could their elite intelligence service carry out such an incredible plot in the middle of Turkey? You know, how could they think they would get away with it? So I question the effectiveness of Saudi Arabia. Ambassador Ford, you know, knows more.
[09:10:01] Saudi Arabia is a key ally in terms of providing oil but Saudi intelligence promised for years they would control, buy off Osama bin Laden. They failed to do that. They were going to play a critical role in Syria in terms of arming the opposition there. They weren't effective there. So I question this broader emphasis on Saudi Arabia as an effective ally in the region. I mean, this was again a very sloppy and amateurish operation from the Saudis.
SCIUTTO: Well, what does this say, Ambassador Ford, about U.S. dependence on Saudi Arabia? Because the U.S. has doubled down in effect on the Saudi leadership, on Jared Kushner's attempt at a Mideast peace plan, on building a regional alliance against Iran. The U.S. has looked the other way when the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen has led to numerous civilian deaths, including this horrible bombing of children on a bus just a few weeks ago.
What does this say about U.S. judgment in the region to, as Fareed Zakaria said this weekend, essentially subcontract American foreign policy to the Saudis?
FORD: Saudi foreign policy has really changed during the 35 years I've been working and watching in the Middle East. The Saudis used to be very careful in foreign policy. They didn't start adventures. They worked behind the scenes to build Arab consensus and then work with Western governments in a close way.
The last three, four years, especially since Mohammed bin Salman took the reins of day-to-day governance, they have been much more brash, they've been much more rash, reckless at times. The war in Yemen and the terrible humanitarian suffering that has caused indicates both a lack of concern and also, as David Rohde was just saying, an inability to carefully target.
The Americans need to rethink a bit how to work with the Saudi government that is not as careful, that is not as prudent as it used to be. Saudi Arabia is important for world energy supplies and for world energy prices, but I don't think we can work with them quite as smoothly as we had hoped.
SCIUTTO: Do you see, David, in the president's comments this weekend going further than he has in raising questions about the Saudi explanation? He has said that there's been deception, there have been lies. This in an interview with "The Washington Post."
Do you hear in those comments a shift in this administration's approach to this and, therefore, pressured by Congress perhaps, a shift in its handling of the Saudi relationship?
ROHDE: I -- you know, those comments were good, that the president was skeptical. He has tremendous influence over Saudi Arabia right now. But there's still this talk of them being a key ally. And I agree with Ambassador Ford. The administration should rethink its strategy. The president, you know, somewhat contradictory.
Bottom line, I don't think Saudi Arabia is some silver bullet that solves all of our problems in the Middle East. Just by backing them we can, you know, subcontract the whole region out to them, as Fareed Zakaria said. That needs to be rethought. There's serious questions about this crown prince and Saudi Arabia's ability. Will they stabilize the region or actually make it -- make it even worse?
SCIUTTO: Ambassador Ford, David Rohde, thanks very much. We're going to keep up the conversation. Coming up, time running out for candidates to make their case to
voters, as 15 days until the midterms. Where do things stand in key races? A lot of developments over the weekend, a lot of new numbers, and we're on it.
And President Trump's threats not stopping them. Thousands of migrants are marching toward the U.S. What happens next? We are there with them live.
Plus this could get very tense. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton is in Russia for high-stakes talks over the nuclear treaty. The president says he wants out. What does this mean for peace?
[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back, I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. Just two weeks to go until the midterms, we're going to be reminding you of that every day as we get closer. And this morning, early voting is already under way in the key battleground state of Florida. Just hours after a new polling showed the Democratic candidate there, Andrew Gillum, leading for the first time by double digits over his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis.
The two went head-to-head in a contentious debate hosted by Cnn. They sparred over everything from climate change to race to President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR ANDREW GILLUM, TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA: Donald Trump is weak, and he performs as all weak people do. They become bullies. And Mr. DeSantis is his acolyte. He's trying out to be the Trump apprentice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Trump apprentice. You remember that television show? But Gillum's attack comes as President Trump's own approval numbers reached 47 percent, this according to a new "Nbc News"-"Wall Street Journal" poll, that a new all-time high for this president, nearly two years into his presidency.
Joining me now to discuss, Cnn's senior political writer and analyst Harry Enten and Cnn political analyst in Washington Bureau Chief for the "Associated Press" Julie Pace. Harry, if I could begin with you, first of all, looking at this race, I mean, that's the biggest spread we've seen here, biggest lead for the Democratic challenger.
The president called last night's debate a victory for DeSantis. Does that debate help tighten that race and is that, with 12 points up, nearly two weeks to go, is that race done in your view?
HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICAL WRITER: Oh, I would say if the president said that Gillum had won that race, that would actually be news. I mean, look, I think that this poll is a little bit of an outlier, it could be correct, it's really the first high quality poll picking after the hurricane. My own forecast has Gillum winning this race but only by five points.
[09:20:00] I don't think the race is done, but I think it's pretty clear looking at the polling that Gillum is ahead, he has led in every single poll of this race since the primary. And I mean, it looks like he is on his way to being the first Democrat elected governor in Florida since 1994, and only the third African-American governor in this entire country in the modern era.
SCIUTTO: Yes, and you can imagine him being a national star if he does win that race. If I can just on the president's approval rating, 47 percent, the highest of his presidency. Is that part of a consistent trend in the president's numbers coming up and how does that play into the midterm elections?
ENTEN: Well, I would say that again, that's a little bit of an outlier. Certainly, his numbers are up over the last month, I think that the Kavanaugh hearing certainly helped his approval ratings rise a little bit. But if you look at the overall average of where the approval ratings are, it's still in the mid 40s, low to mid 40s and historically speaking, that lines up with the president's party doing particularly poorly in the midterm election, especially in the house where Democrats are still favored to take control.
SCIUTTO: All right, Julie Pace, you spent a lot of time in this White House. We know they're watching, we know the president is watching this race very closely. What is their feeling about where they stand right now? I mean, do they think they might pull off a surprising double, house and Senate?
JULIE PACE, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think certainly coming out of the Kavanaugh confirmation fight --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
PACE: There was much more optimism, certainly about the Senate side -- looked, coming out of Labor Day that the Democrats might actually have a chance at some of these really tough Senate races. That landscape has definitely pushed back toward the Republicans.
The house side is really interesting though. That is a map that is favorable to Democrats, but you do get a sense -- certainly from the president himself, and people that he is talking to, Republican political operatives and political advisors that they think that the GOP could sneak out a very narrow victory and maintain control of the house.
It would be extremely narrow, but Democrats are also worried that this -- all this talk about a blue wave, a pickup of 30, 40, 50 seats in the house has really put the party in a difficult position. It builds some overconfidence --
SCIUTTO: I see --
PACE: Into the system here --
SCIUTTO: Maybe a little expectations management, right? That if they take it back, but it's only, you know, 20, 30 seats, they will say, well, you know, the president would claim that as a victory.
PACE: Exactly --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
PACE: Even if it was just a couple of seats, which is probably more what we're looking like. This talk about a blue wave does seem to be a little bit overstated. But the president thinks that his ability to go out, travel this country, get his supporters who might not be motivated to vote for house or Senate candidates if he's not on the ballot, that --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
PACE: That is what would push Republicans over the edge.
SCIUTTO: Well, and there's no accident why the president is focusing on this immigrant caravan, right? I mean, that fits with his message in the past. Well, Harry, reality check that for us. You're watching these numbers on the midterm, particularly in the house, every day.
And I'm not going to make you a handicapper here, so you don't like to put posters here, but what does the bulk of the polling evidence show you about where the house is going to go in two weeks?
ENTEN: I think the bulk of it does show that Democrats will win control of that chamber. Remember, they need a net gain of 23. My current forecast has them getting a net gain of 31. But again, that is within the margin of error. So let's say the Democrats only gained 20 seats, that should not be seen as a big shocker, given all of the polling data that we see.
But if you were to make a best guess where we think things will ultimately end up, it's a 31-seat gain which gives them control. I don't know if you necessarily define that as a waive for me, a waive as if they take control of the chamber, and I think that's --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
ENTEN: Where we're heading at this time.
SCIUTTO: A yes, a waive is in the eyes of the beholder, I'm sure. Other big race we've been watching, Julie, is the Texas Senate race. And though the numbers have shown Ted Cruz pulling ahead of this national hero for some Democrats, Beto O'Rourke, you do have President Trump in Houston tonight.
He wouldn't be there unless he felt that he needed him would benefit from a boost despite their somewhat patchy history together.
PACE: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it's interesting to go back and look at these clips of what Trump and Cruz were saying about each other in the 2016 race.
SCIUTTO: Yes -- PACE: I think it's important that this rally was put on the calendar
several weeks ago when the state was looking a little bit tighter for Republicans, and Trump going in was seen as something of an insurance policy, a way to ensure that Republicans get out. I think if he had pulled back the rally, it could have actually had the opposite effect.
It could have made people feel like the Republicans felt they didn't need to show up for Ted Cruz, he has definitely pulled ahead on a lot of the polls. But he is going to need Republicans in this Republican- heavy state to show up to hold off --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
PACE: Beto O'Rourke.
SCIUTTO: But if the president remind him of Ted Cruz not endorsing him at the convention --
PACE: I think --
SCIUTTO: Remember that, remember that hamlet-like moment. Julie Pace, Harry Enten, thanks very much. You can find Harry's latest podcast "The Forecast" right now on iTunes, he breaks down the numbers even more there. President Trump's National Security adviser John Bolton meeting with Russians in Moscow this morning as we speak, just days after the president said that he would pull out of a landmark nuclear treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Why now?
[09:25:00] We're going to discuss, plus, giant crowds of migrants marching through Mexico right now towards the U.S. border. Part of a caravan closely watched by and tweeted about -- the Trump administration. We are live in Mexico as they head north.
SCIUTTO: Just 90 minutes from now, President Trump's National Security adviser John Bolton will meet with the Russian Foreign Minister in Moscow. This comes just days after the president made the surprise announcement that he is pulling out of a decade's old nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev eliminated thousands of missiles, with ranges of approximately 300 to 3,000 miles. A major concern for European allies, no doubt, who are well within the range of those types of missiles.