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Trump Administration Sending Mixed Messages on Saudi Claims Regarding Journalist's Murder; Muller Examining Roger Stone-WikiLeaks links; Surveillance Captures Saudi Body Double Posing as Murdered Journalist. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 22, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

[17:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Frustration and conspiracy. President Trump speaking moments ago, saying he's not satisfied with the Saudi explanation for the brutal murder of the journalist. And he's doubling down on a conspiracy theory suggesting terrorists have slipped into a migrant caravan making its way toward the U.S.

Targeting Roger Stone. CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking at whether longtime Trump advisor Roger Stone had additional WikiLeaks back channels and whether Stone shared information about e-mails stolen by Russia with members of Trump's presidential campaign.

Bad disguise. CNN has exclusively obtained stunning surveillance footage allegedly showing a Saudi operative leaving the consulate where Jamal Khashoggi died wearing the dead man's clothes in an apparent effort to cover up the killing of "The Washington Post" columnist.

And terminating the treaty. President Trump vows the U.S. will build up its arsenal after announcing plans to withdraw from a key nuclear arms reduction treaty signed with the Soviet Union decades ago. Is it the start of a new arms race?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump is expressing frustration with Saudi explanations of the death of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Leaving Washington just a little while ago for a rally in Houston, Mr. Trump said he's not satisfied with what he's heard. The president also repeated his unfounded claim that there are, quote, "unknown Middle Easterners" among a group of migrants heading from Central America toward the United States.

We'll talk about that and more with Congresswoman Jackie Speier of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's go to our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president seems to be taking a little tougher stance on the Khashoggi killing, even as members of his administration are delivering, shall we say, mixed messages.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You remember last week, when the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, cancelled an appearance at a Saudi investment conference amid all this criticism, this concern over what role they played in the death of Jamal Khashoggi.

But it turns out that today, the Saudis have informed us, via this photo on Twitter, that Mnuchin did still meet with the Saudi crown prince. He still continued with his trip to the Middle East. And though he's been posting photos in Israel and in Jordan, he didn't post a photo meeting with MBS today. We only found out about this, because the Saudi government posted this photo.

We've asked if he discussed the killing of Jamal Khashoggi with the crown prince, and they haven't immediately responded. But Wolf, what it's showing is that, even as President Trump is growing frustrated with the Saudi denials and the Saudi claims, some members of his administration are still maintaining close ties with the Saudis.


COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump skeptical tonight over shifting Saudi accounts about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who walked into the Saudi consulate 20 days ago and never walked out.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am not satisfied with what I've heard.

COLLINS: The president telling reporters today he's spoken to the Saudi crown prince but suggesting he won't accept their request for another month to investigate Khashoggi's murder.

TRUMP: That's a long time. There's no reason for that.

COLLINS: While appearing doubtful of Saudi claims, Trump still not willing to sacrifice the Saudi arms deal, even after one of his biggest allies in Congress, Senator Rand Paul, called for ending it, arguing that sanctions won't be enough.

TRUMP: I agree with Rand on a lot of things. I don't want to lose all of that investment that's being made in our country. I don't want to lose a million jobs. I don't want to lose $110 billion in terms of investment.

COLLINS: Earlier in the day, in an exclusive interview with CNN, the president's son-in-law and senior advisor refusing to say if he believes the Saudis are telling the truth about Khashoggi.

JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP'S SON-IN-LAW AND SENIOR ADVISOR: I'd say that right now in this administration, we're more in the fact-finding phase.

COLLINS: Jared Kushner's close relationship with the Saudi crown prince has come under intense scrutiny amid questions about the prince's suspected role in Khashoggi's death.

But today, Kushner stressed the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

KUSHNER: We have to be able to work with our allies, and Saudi Arabia has been, I think, a very strong ally.

COLLINS: Trump leaving Washington tonight for a rally in Texas as a caravan of thousands of Central American migrants heads for the southern border. Attempting to stoke fears over the caravan, while blaming it on Democrats, Trump claimed without evidence today that criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are included. When later asked about that claim, Trump said this.

[17:05:06] TRUMP: If you go into the middle and look, you're going to find MS-13. You're going to find Middle Easterners. You're going to find everything.

COLLINS: But a senior counterterrorism official telling CNN, "We do not see any evidence that ISIS or other terrorist groups are trying to infiltrate the southern U.S. border."

All this as the national security advisor, John Bolton, is in Russia, meeting with top officials after President Trump announced over the weekend that the U.S. will withdraw from the INF, a nuclear arms control treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.

Trump says he's now prepared to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the arms deal?

TRUMP: Once people come to their senses, we will build it up. I'm terminating the agreement.

COLLINS: Asked if he's threatening Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump left it at this.

TRUMP: It's a threat to whoever you want, and it includes China. And it includes Russia, and it includes anybody else who wants to play that game.


COLLINS: Now Wolf, some Republicans on Capitol Hill like Senator Bob Corker, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said they hope President Trump won't actually withdraw from this agreement, that he's essentially just doing this to get a better deal. But when President Trump was asked today if he's doing this for leverage, he didn't answer, but he did say he's going to be terminating it soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, thank you. Kaitlan Collins over at the White House.

There's also breaking news in the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, Russia investigation and his focus on longtime Trump advisor Roger Stone.

Let's go to our political correspondent, Sara Murray, who's working the story for us. Sara, I understand you're getting some new information from your sources?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We're learning that the special counsel's team has been investigating whether Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Trump, shared information with members of Trump's campaign that he believed was coming from WikiLeaks.

Now, we spoke to sources who said audio has been turned over to the special's counsel team that has Roger Stone talking about how he was regularly in contact with Donald Trump early in the 2016 presidential campaign. And then later, after there were a number of these WikiLeaks document dumps, there are communications in which Stone suggests that perhaps he should get some kind of credit for coordinating with WikiLeaks.

Now, both Roger Stone and his attorney today are denying that he passed anything on to then-candidate Trump. In a statement, Roger Stone said, "I never discussed WikiLeaks stuff with Trump and would never have said I should get credit for coordinating with WikiLeaks, since I did no such thing."

An attorney for President Trump declined to comment, but in an A.P. interview recently, President Trump said he didn't even really know what WikiLeaks was until he started seeing this stuff coming out from them.

BLITZER: Sara, what are you learning about the investigation into Stone's back channels to WikiLeaks?

MURRAY: Well, the other interesting thing about the Stone investigation, is he has not been contacted by Mueller's team, but a number of his associates have.

And we're learning that in these interviews, in this questioning, they're trying to determine whether Randy Credico, who is a New York radio show host and comedian, was actually the back channel that Stone claimed he was.

And sources are telling us that prosecutors seem a little bit skeptical, that they've called in other witnesses, including Jerome Corsi, who is a right-wing journalist and somewhat of a conspiracy theorist, and questioned him about his conversations with WikiLeaks, about his conversations with Roger Stone, indicating that they, you know, at least believe that he may have been another back channel of Stone's.

Now, of course his attorney declined to comment but previously said to us a few months ago that his client had no contact with WikiLeaks, no direct contact with Julian Assange. But it tells you, Wolf, that prosecutors are trying to determine exactly what Roger Stone's links to WikiLeaks may have been and that they don't necessarily believe that he shared the entire story with them.

BLITZER: We'll see what they come up with. All right. Sara, thank you. Sara Murray reporting.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California is joining us. She's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. Do you think Roger Stone will be indicted?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well I don't know, like everyone else. He struck me as a bit of a carnival barker when he testified before the Intelligence Committee. I think he was not forthcoming before the committee. I think that the subpoena that was never issued for documentation and direct messaging was something of a hole in that whole report that was done by the Intelligence Committee. That's why I think that we need to go deeper into his activities.

BLITZER: Well, do you think he lied to you before your committee, committed perjury?

SPEIER: I think he probably did lie to us, yes.

BLITZER: And so you suspect that maybe that's what Mueller is going after him, on conspiracy to commit perjury or perjury?

SPEIER: Well, certainly, Special Counsel Mueller has much more information than we ever had. He also has the ability to subpoena much of the information we sought but never received, because the Republicans refused to cooperate with us. So I know that whatever he has is much more significant than what we had.

[17:10:06] BLITZER: Have you actually seen evidence, Congresswoman, suggesting that Stone was an intermediary between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks? Because that's a significant problem if it's true.

SPEIER: I have seen some evidence to suggest that he was communicating with WikiLeaks.

BLITZER: But was he communicating on behalf of the Trump campaign?

SPEIER: I -- well, I can't say that right at this moment because, again, we don't have access to the direct messages.

BLITZER: As you know, Roger Stone was a longtime business associate, a partner, of the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who's now cooperating with the special counsel as part of a plea agreement. Do you believe Manafort is providing valuable information about Roger Stone to Mueller's team?

SPEIER: I think the fact that he has made multiple visits to the Mueller investigation, has spent countless hours there, would suggest that he is a treasure trove of information for the special counsel.

BLITZER: What do you believe comes next for the special counsel's investigation, specifically in two weeks after the midterm elections?

SPEIER: I think that he will probably come out with at least phase one of his report, and we will begin to see how much information he really has. He's always been way ahead of everyone else that has looked into the meddling, the interference. We shouldn't be saying meddling. It was bald-faced interference in our election that was as much a cyber war as you can imagine. And if they were using bullets, we would be returning fire, which we have not done.

BLITZER: But do you think he'll wrap up the investigation before the end of the year?

SPEIER: I don't know if he's going to wrap it up. I wouldn't be surprised if he is going to break this up into, you know, one or two reports.

There is so much that he has uncovered already. I mean, he has 34 indictments. He's had eight guilty pleas and one conviction so far. This is a remarkable production of evidence and efforts to succeed in a process that typically takes much more time. So he has moved very quickly.

BLITZER: Yes. By all accounts, Mueller and his team, they know so much more than any of us know. We probably don't even have a clue on a lot of the stuff that they know right now.

Very quickly, I want to turn to some mixed messages we're hearing right now from the Trump administration on the murder of the U.S.- based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

The president today indicated he's not satisfied with Saudi Arabia's explanation of the killing, that he's not happy with their request to conduct a month-long investigation right now. He says that's too long.

But his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, today stressed the importance of the relationship with Saudi Arabia. The president did, as well, and says he personally urged the crown prince to be more transparent.

Is the Trump administration, do you believe, providing clarity on this matter?

SPEIER: Absolutely not. They have been all over the map. He shows great confidence in the Saudi Arabian crown prince. And I, and most Americans, recognize that he was behind this effort, that this was a concerted effort, that there were troll farms in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere trying to bring down Khashoggi online, and that they had every intention to do exactly what they did when he entered that consulate office.

I am embarrassed by the lack of clarity. I'm embarrassed that we have our allies around the world that have stopped shipment of arms that have stopped any kind of engagement, that are calling back their ambassadors. And yet, we sit here and start talking about the long- term relationship.

This ally is an ally of convenience and should be an ally of convenience. We're interested in Saudi Arabia because of their oil. We're not nearly as interested in their oil (ph). We need to remember that 15 out of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi Arabian. And they play a very dirty game, and we're seeing it play out right now.

BLITZER: Bin Laden was a Saudi, too, as you know.

I don't know if you've seen this. Some amazing reporting by our Clarissa Ward in Turkey about a body double that showed up, an elderly guy who shows up at the consulate there, the Saudi consulate. And he -- when he's leaving, he's wearing Jamal Khashoggi's clothes. He looks like him. He's got a fake beard.

It looks like they sent this guy in there in advance, hoping that when he left, people would assume that's Jamal Khashoggi leaving. But something went wrong from the Saudi perspective. Maybe they got wind that the Turks were onto them.

What's your reaction to the fact that they sent a guy in there as a body double, presumably knowing that Jamal Jamal Khashoggi himself would never leave, but this guy would leave. People would think that that is Jamal Khashoggi.

SPEIER: You know, it shows the sinister aspect of this act. It also shows that this was very premeditated.

And the crown prince appears to have a very thin skin. That's why we've had so many beheadings in that country in the last year. And why they probably thought that they could just behead him, because they thought they were on Saudi soil; and that no one would make a sound. Because no one has really spoken up about their human rights violations going on in their country over the last few years and certainly not our president or this administration.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thanks so much for joining us.

SPEIER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. There's more breaking news ahead, including what sources are now telling us about the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, focus on longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone.

Plus, a Saudi operative caught on camera posing as a body double for the slain journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. It's a CNN exclusive.


[17:20:45] BLITZER: Now a CNN exclusive: stunning surveillance video that appears to show the extreme measures taken by Saudi officials to try to cover up the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is in Istanbul for us, where the "Washington Post" columnist was killed inside the Saudi consulate. Clarissa, the Saudis allegedly used a body double to make it look like Khashoggi walked out of the consulate alive. Tell our viewers what you've learned.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is really mind-blowing stuff. It's hard to fathom. If it was in a movie, you would say it was unrealistic. But nonetheless, this is what Turkish officials are telling us.

They have no doubt, they say, that this was a premedicated murder and that the Saudis sent a body double to pose as Jamal Khashoggi to leave the consulate, to make it look like Khashoggi had left unharmed. All part of a cover-up. And they have shared with us government -- investigative surveillance footage that appears to show just that. Check it out.


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 front of the consulate, 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 double left the consulate unharmed.

(voice-over): The apparent double and his companion take a taxi to Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It's 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 has disappeared forever, or so the Saudis would have had the world believe. Little did they know Turkish authorities would quickly uncover the cover-up.

(voice-over): Their next stop at a nearby restaurant, where al-Madani appears to have ditched his fake beard. Then 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, we spoke to a Saudi source close to the palace and asked him about this body double. He would neither confirm nor deny. But he did say emphatically that the Saudis main that this killing was not intentional. But with all the evidence that appears to be mounting, Wolf, that is a harder claim to make.

And tomorrow, we expect to hear from the Turkish president, Erdogan, who says that he plans q to reveal the full truth, Wolf. We don't know exactly what he's going to say, but certainly still a lot more questions.

BLITZER: The fact that they sent this body double over there, Clarissa, knowing they were going to murder Jamal Khashoggi and that this guy would pretend to be him leaving, that seems to suggest the death was not an accident in some sort of fistfight. This was deliberate murder.

WARD: That's what it seems to suggest. Again, the Saudi sources that we're talking to say, no, that's not necessarily true. It may have been the intention to rendition him, to abscond with him to some sort of a safe house, try to take him back to Saudi Arabia. You might still want to use a body double in that scenario, to create the illusion that he was not in your custody.

But all of this is becoming increasingly farfetched, Wolf, particularly because the Saudi story keeps on changing. The Saudi officials are saying, listen, give us an account, and Khashoggi was brutally murdered in this building behind me, still no sense of where his body may be, Wolf.

[17:25:14] BLITZER: All right, Clarissa. World-class reporting. Thank you so much for that excellent, excellent work. We really are grateful. Our viewers are, as well.

Coming up: a mixed message from the Trump administration, what exactly is the Trump team's position?

Plus, we're going to have more on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's focus on a longtime Trump adviser. How would the president react to a potential Roger Stone indictment?


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following multiple Trump stories right now, including the Trump team's mixed messages to Saudi Arabia. Leaving the White House earlier this afternoon, President Trump said he's not satisfied with what he's heard from the Saudis about the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Earlier, the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, told CNN's Van Jones the administration is still fact finding, that it's important to maintain the U.S.-Saudi alliance.

[17:30:40] Let's talk about all of this and more with our experts and our analysts. And David Chalian, so we're hearing these mixed messages from the administration on Saudi Arabia. What exactly is their position?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Wolf, I don't begrudge anyone for being a little bit confused here. It's been a bit all over the place, and it has sort of evolved and backtracked at different times.

But as you just pointed out, there's no better description of a mixed message than literally in the same day two different messages coming out. The president saying that he's not satisfied with the explanation, while it seemed that his senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was still in sort of the time-buying phase for the MBS and the Saudis to complete a fact-finding mission, while urging him, of course, to be transparent. But to complete a fact-finding mission is different than coming up with the judgment that what they've done up to date is still unsatisfactory.

So there -- there's no doubt that the messages are mixed coming out of the White House today alone.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. You know, Rebecca Berg, is the president trying to wait out the clock, hoping that the firestorm over Khashoggi's killing will eventually die down?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, Wolf, there has been some element of stalling from the administration. The president saying today that there is this ongoing fact-finding effort. Jared Kushner saying, as well, that they are still waiting for the full picture here.

The question, though, is what is the motive of the administration, of the president in waiting to reach a conclusion and carry out any actions in response to Saudi Arabia's actions?

Certainly, there could be a sincere effort here to try to get the full picture before they take any action, to not act rashly. But the concern, I think, among some of the people in government, including Republicans in Congress who want there to be some consequences for Saudi Arabia -- sanctions, blowing up our arms deal with them, any of these menu of options. Their concern is going to be that the administration is waiting, because they don't want to make those tough decisions and potentially upset our relationship with Saudi Arabia. So that's the question, really, at this stage, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Ron Brownstein, the president has touted arms deals with the Saudis as a major reason to maintain a good relationship, but he has this habit, as you know, of wildly exaggerating the number of jobs those jobs create. That number keeps on getting bigger and bigger. And listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're talking about over 40,000 jobs.

It's 450,000 jobs.

It's 500,000 jobs.

Six hundred thousand jobs, maybe more than that.

We're talking got over a million jobs.


BLITZER: Why does he lean so heavily on these inflated numbers, and why do they keep going up and up and up?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think it's -- we're at the point where we have to look at all this as a feature not a bug of Trump's political strategy. I don't know if there was a memo written somewhere that, you know, someday Bob Woodward or someone will find.

But clearly, he sees value in saying things that are easily disprovable, as a way of seeing, A, how far can he push his supporters; and B, trying to cause everyone, to question, you know, the truth of anything that they hear.

I mean, these numbers today on Saudi Arabia are hardly the most outrageous things he has said just today, that they're rioting in California over sanctuary cities, that ISIS is trying to infiltrate the Central American caravan. Or that he's committed to protecting people with preexisting conditions on the same day as the administration puts out new regulations that could further undermine their coverage. All of this, Wolf, I think, is -- and literally, thousands more by now are part of an effort to cause, I think, a significant portion of the electorate to doubt anything they hear, except what they hear from him. And it works for a piece, and it has a price for a piece.

BLITZER: It certainly does.

CHALIAN: And it's been -- right, Ron, it's been his playbook since long before he was president.


CHALIAN: I mean, he talks about hyperbole back in "The Art of the Deal." There's no doubt that this is a strategic element of what he's putting together here. And I think it's just been part of what he's done as a businessman and now in politics.

BLITZER: That's a good point. You know, Laura, let me -- Laura Jarrett is with us, as well.

[17:35:04] Laura, let's get your reaction to this latest reporting we're getting from our own Sara Murray: that the special counsel's team is increasingly focusing in on Trump ally Roger Stone and whether or not Stone was an intermediary between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.

What does this mean as far as the Mueller investigation is concerned?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think this is one of the biggest unanswered questions to date in this Mueller probe. Will Stone be indicted and if so, what for?

If in, fact he was actually having some sort of back channel with WikiLeaks, knowingly helping out someone who was hacking private information, that's a big deal. He could be charged with aiding and abetting a conspiracy against the United States.

But of course, the bigger question is was he acting on behalf of the Trump campaign? Did anyone in the Trump campaign know about it? Of course, everyone under the sun denies it, as well as Roger Stone.

But the challenge for investigators is Roger Stone is a pretty colorful character. He brags a lot online. He has said a lot on radio shows. And so they have to try to separate how much out of this was braggadocious nature of Roger Stone, versus an actual real conspiracy, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a good point, as well.

All right. Everybody stand by. As he left the White House this afternoon, President Trump again tried to stoke fears about the thousands of migrants heading through Mexico toward the U.S. border. He also says he's terminating a Reagan-era nuclear arms deal with Russia. How will this affect his chummy relationship with Vladimir Putin?


[17:41:09] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts. And David Chalian, the president is on a midterm media blitz, as you know. He's trying to convince voters to turn out for Republicans, but doing so by actually lying and spreading some misinformation on several points. Let me give you a few examples, his latest false statements.

He claimed that the opioid bill passed with very little Democratic support. He says the Saudi arms deal, various arms deal would create up to a million jobs. He says that he would have a major new tax cut for the middle class ready before November -- not happening -- and that migrant caravan -- the migrant caravan heading through Mexico now up towards the U.S. is full of criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.

He's already -- he already has a good economy to run on, good jobs numbers. Why is he lying on so -- why is lying so important to his campaign strategy, David?

CHALIAN: Well, I mean, listen, this is nothing new for Donald Trump. I mean, this is not somebody who has operated in -- in the place of truth.

And he is indeed doing exactly what you're saying, Wolf. He is pressing all the buttons and pulling all the levers to make sure that the Republicans are as enthused about this midterm election as possible. I mean, I don't think any of these things that you listed do the trick as well as getting Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, which he did. And as you noted, with an economy that is doing quite well and where Republicans get the advantage from voters on which party can better deal with the economy.

So I think those two factors are contributing to his uptick in approval rating as the election is approaching, and the Republicans getting very enthusiastic.

I'll just note on your list there, the tax cut one, where he just over the weekend out of nowhere, decided to say that a tax cut was coming. The biggest evidence that there's no truth to that, is that when our team asked Speaker Ryan's office for reaction to that, they sent our reporters back to the White House for their explanation.

BLITZER: Yes. It's not happening. The House of Representatives isn't even in session.

You know, Rebecca Berg, it's not unusual for politicians, as all of us know, to lie. But the president doesn't seem to care when he's actually called out for lying. Why is that?

BERG: Wolf, I can't begin to psychoanalyze the president on this, but there are a few things at work here.

Obviously, the president has seen a certain level of success from exaggerating, from outright lying, not only in his political career, but also, as we've discussed, in his business career before that.

And so we're all humans. We all operate on incentives and disincentives, and the president hasn't really seen any disincentives when it comes to his lying or his hyperbole, and so he's continued on this track.

But one interesting thing I'd like to bring up is that the president doesn't need to lie. He actually has quite a lot of good economic news that he could be bragging about and without exaggerating at all. But he chooses to exaggerate nevertheless.

And it's really interesting, because I think it just shows what a facet of his personality this is. When he does actually have so much good he could be talking about, and he still feels the need to exaggerate, because hyperbole and Donald Trump, they go hand in hand.

BLITZER: Well, do you think, Ron Brownstein, he feels he can always get away with it?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I do, as we said in the last segment.

And I think, look, the president is now, clearly, unequivocally the axis around which this midterm campaign is spinning. And we are seeing, I think, and are likely to see on election day a very stark divergence.

I mean, you look at that "Wall Street Journal" poll that came out yesterday, got a lot of attention. Democrats in that preferred to control Congress by 70 points among African-Americans, by 40 points among Latinos, and by an unprecedented 19 points among college- educated whites.

On the other hand, white voters without a college education, Trump's base, are plus 25 on the Republicans. The gap between college and non-college whites is by far the biggest we have ever seen in a midterm election. And that really does point toward what could be a very unusual kind of result, one in which the president faces significant repudiation inside the suburban districts around all of the major metropolitan areas in the country, in Orange County and the suburbs of Minneapolis, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, in northern Virginia.

And on the other hand, Republicans still do quite well beyond that, and we are left with the exception, perhaps, of some of those places in the Midwest where Democrats are recovering among working-class Whites.

But, overall, it could be, simultaneously, a repudiation and a reconfirmation of the President and one that leaves us looking at a very stark divide in the country.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let me get Laura to weigh in. How do you see it, Laura?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Wolf, in my mind, it's just a dangerous circumstance when we don't have a shared set of facts, especially when it comes to national security. Think about the Mueller probe, for instance.

Eventually, the Special Counsel is going to put out a report. Yet every day for how long now, over a year, we've heard the President call this a witch-hunt.

If the American people do not believe that report when it comes out because, for whatever reason, a small portion at least of the population believes that that is unfounded and a hoax, how are we ever supposed to possibly combat interference in our elections in the future, Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, everybody stand by. We're going to have much more on the breaking news right after this.


[17:51:04] BLITZER: At the White House this afternoon, President Trump told reporters he's terminating a Reagan-era treaty that will build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal until, quote, people come to their senses.

Russia says President Vladimir Putin intends to meet with U.S. national security advisor John Bolton tomorrow to hear -- and I'm quoting now -- explanations on a great variety of topics.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, the President's recent words and actions appear to be straining his relationship with Putin.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. They could be doing that. And if so, this could be the first real sign that President Trump is souring on Vladimir Putin.

Despite the kind words both men have had for each other, Putin has continued to aggressively and secretly build his weapons arsenal and the President is under some pressure to stop it.


TODD (voice-over): Seemingly fed up with Vladimir Putin's aggressive military buildup, President Trump says he'll pull America out of a landmark nuclear weapons treaty with Russia.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia has not adhered to the agreement. It should have been done years ago.

TODD (voice-over): The deal called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or INF was signed 31 years ago by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. It forced the U.S. and the Soviet Union to eliminate ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could fly between 300 and 3,400 miles.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: It resulted in the destruction of literary thousands of missiles.

TODD (voice-over): But last year, the U.S. accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing and deploying a secret medium-range missile that can reach Europe.

GEN. PAUL SELVA, VICE CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO.

TODD (voice-over): The Kremlin denies it but analysts say that missile, the 9M729, gives Putin's forces a big advantage.

MICHAEL KOFMAN, SENIOR RESEARCH SCIENTIST, CNA: Such missiles can be difficult to track, difficult to shoot down, and can have fairly short notice in terms of flight time.

Cruise missiles, in particular, can use terrain-following features in order to mask their approach. Whereas, intermediate range ballistic missiles have very little notice from the time they're launched to the time they actually strike their target.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say it's part of a pattern of provocation. Earlier this year, Putin boasted of other advanced weapons he's developing from a supersonic ICBM capable of reaching the United States to an underwater nuclear-armed drone.

Analysts say Trump needed to do something, but what's not clear is if pulling out of that treaty will fracture what Trump considers his positive, personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. TRUMP: We have direct, open, deeply productive dialogue. It went

very well.

TODD (voice-over): But experts say Putin had only partial success getting what he wants from Trump. When Trump was elected, they say, Putin likely wanted to keep disrupting American politics and to get Trump to draw down sanctions on Russia.

JAMES GOLDGEIER, VISITING SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: He hasn't gotten relief from the sanctions. He hasn't really gotten anything positive from Donald Trump but he has gotten the disruption. And that disruption continues. And especially given the relationship between the U.S. and its allies over this and other issues, that disruption will continue to undermine the West's unity.

TODD (voice-over): Still, Kremlin watchers say the former KGB colonel will likely keep trying to manipulate the relationship.


reached the point of no return. That he has to keep probing, he has to keep seeking influence because he is really outside of the politics of the West at this point.


TODD: Analysts say Putin and his government may publicly balk at Trump pulling out of this treaty. But privately, they say, Putin is probably really happy that the U.S. is getting out of it. Now, they say, Putin is going to have an excuse to even more aggressively build up his weapons and to do it more openly than he has ever done it before, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very worrisome indeed. All right, Brian Todd reporting. Thank you very much.

The breaking news coming up next. The Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, drilling down on Roger Stone's WikiLeaks context. Did the longtime Trump adviser share information about e-mails stolen by Russia with members of the Trump presidential campaign?

[17:55:00] Plus, President Trump appears to be slightly toughening his stance on the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but are top members of his team sending mixed messages?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Not satisfied. President Trump distances himself from the Saudi explanation about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This as CNN exposes new evidence that a body double apparently was used to try to cover up Khashoggi's murder.

[18:00:01] Stoking the fire. Mr. Trump is making unproven claims about a caravan of immigrants, tweeting and repeating all sorts of misinformation as he hits the campaign trail. How far and how false is he willing to go to energize his base?