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Mueller Investigates Roger Stone; Interview With Washington Congressman Adam Smith; Trump Pushes Immigration Fears Ahead of Midterms; Trump Stands By Unsupported Claim that "Unknown Middle Easterners" Are in Migrant Caravan Heading to U.S. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 22, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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?
Stone's shifting story. We're learning more about the special counsel's scrutiny of longtime Trump ally Roger Stone and how it figures in the collusion investigation. What might Stone have learned from WikiLeaks? And did he share it with the Trump campaign?
And Russian suspect speaks. An accountant charged by the U.S. with election interference is talking publicly right now about allegations that she helped get President Trump elected. Can her comments be believed?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
President Trump suggests he doubts the apparent lies being told by the Saudis, even as he spreads false information himself. Tonight, Mr. Trump says he spoke to the Saudi crown prince and he's not satisfied with what he's heard about the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, this as CNN exposes stunning new evidence of a cover-up, a video that appears to show a Khashoggi body double leaving the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on the day he died.
Also breaking, the president is insisting once again without any evidence that unknown Middle Easterners, as well as criminals, are in a caravan of migrants heading toward the U.S. border with Mexico.
I will get reaction from the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, the president took multiple questions from reporters today. Update our viewers.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, Wolf.
The president there seeming a little fed up with what the Saudis have been saying in their shifting narrative on what happened in the investigation of Jamal Khashoggi's death. But there's also questions being raised about whether or not the Trump administration, who still have those close ties to the Saudis, with now new photos of the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, meeting with the Saudi crown prince today, despite that not being on his schedule and despite him pulling out of a Saudi investment conference last week, amid growing criticism about the United States still having a presence there.
Now, he didn't go to that conference. But the Saudi government put a photo today on Twitter -- that's how we found out about this meeting -- of him having a sit-down with the crown prince known as MBS.
Now, Wolf, his spokesman says that they did discuss the investigation into Jamal Khashoggi's death. But he doesn't go on to say what exactly they discussed or if Mnuchin pressed him on those questions.
So, Wolf, we are still seeing some Trump administration officials maintain those close relationships with the Saudis, even as President Trump is growing more and more frustrated with what's happening.
COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump skeptical tonight over shifting Saudi accounts of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who walked into the Saudi Consulate 20 days ago and never walked out.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am not satisfied with what I have 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 is 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 adviser refusing to say if he believes the Saudis are telling the truth about Khashoggi.
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I would say that right now, as an 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.
Trump told "The Washington Post": "They're two young guys. Jared doesn't know him well or anything. They're just two young people. They are the same age. They like each other, I believe."
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 only offered this:
TRUMP: Take your camera. Go into the middle and search. You're going to find MS-13. You're going to find Middle Eastern. You're going to find everything.
And guess what? We're not allowing them in our country.
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 adviser, 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.
TRUMP: Until 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 that wants to play that game.
COLLINS: Now, Wolf, Sarah Sanders just met with reporters briefly out here on the North Lawn of the White House.
And she was asked if the president has credible evidence that there are Middle Easterners in this caravan making its way to the southern border. She said, "Absolutely." And I'm quoting or now: "We have 10 individuals suspected or known terrorist that try to enter our country every day." Now, Wolf in the president's tweet, he didn't say there were terrorists in the caravan. He said there were Middle Easterners.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, thank you very much. Kaitlan Collins reporting for us.
Now to the breaking news in the Russia investigation. We have new information about the special counsel's focus on longtime Trump ally Roger Stone.
Our political correspondent, Sara Murray, has been digging into this story for us.
Sara, what are you learning?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're learning that special counsel Robert Mueller's team is still looking into this question of whether anyone in Trump's orbit may have colluded with the Russians.
And a key to that is longtime Trump ally Roger Stone. Investigators are looking at whether he shared information with Trump's presidential campaign that he believes came from WikiLeaks.
MURRAY (voice-over): Special counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing whether longtime Trump ally Roger Stone shared information he believed was from WikiLeaks with members of Trump's presidential campaign.
A source familiar with the matter tells CNN Mueller's team has been provided with recordings of Stone claiming he talked to Trump regularly early in the 2016 campaign. After various document dumps from WikiLeaks. Stone claimed in separate communications that he should get credit for coordinating with the group, a source said.
The questions about whether Stone shared information with the Trump campaign are a strong indication Mueller is still actively investigating the possibility that someone close to Trump colluded with the Russians.
Both Stone and his lawyer denied he shared anything with Trump. "I never discussed WikiLeaks stuff with Trump and would never have said I should get credit for coordinating with WikiLeaks, since I didn't no such things," Stone told CNN.
Investigators are also examining whether Stone's back channel to WikiLeaks extended beyond New York radio host Randy Credico, who Stone has previously credited as his connection to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Credico, who is open about his friendship with Assange, has denied funneling information back and forth to Assange on Stone's behalf.
RANDY CREDICO, ROGER STONE ASSOCIATE: I definitely was not a back channel to Julian Assange, if there was even a back channel to Julian Assange.
MURRAY: In radio interviews that were provided to the special counsel, Stone offered no sign that Credico was his go-between.
CREDICO: And then later on you speak and you say that you had a back channel to WikiLeaks.
ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Yes, I described it as back channel. I think in another interview I may have said intermediary.
MURRAY: Stone has come under scrutiny for his contact with Guccifer 2.0 and his 2016 comments that appeared to suggest he had prior knowledge of material from WikiLeaks before it was released publicly.
STONE: I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation. But there's no telling what the October surprise may be.
MURRAY: Investigators have also questioned right-wing journalist and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi about his communications with WikiLeaks and Stone, a source says.
The interest in Corsi indicates Mueller's team is trying to determine whether Stone had other go-betweens with WikiLeaks. "The Washington Post" first reported the special counsel's interest in Corsi as a possible intermediary. Corsi's attorney declined to comment.
Back in September, the attorney told CNN that his client was never in touch with WikiLeaks or its founder, Assange.
For Stone's part, he maintains that Credico was his principal intermediary with Assange, adding: "I had no advanced knowledge of the source or content of the material WikiLeaks would ultimately release."
Stone has also said he believes Mueller could bring charges against him as a pressure tactic.
STONE: Robert Mueller and his partisan team of prosecutors seek to railroad me and frame me for some bogus offense, in an attempt to silence me and to force me to testify against the president.
MURRAY: Now, prosecutors may also find themselves facing yet another possibility, that Stone never had a legitimate back channel to WikiLeaks.
As for the special counsel's office, they declined to comment -- back to you.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you, Sara Murray reporting.
Joining us now, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
And if Roger Stone did know in advance about the release of Hillary Clinton's e-mails, does that rise to the level of collusion, in your view?
REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: Well, it possibly rises -- and conspiracy is the actual crime.
It quite possibly right rises that level. And keep in mind, that that's what we're trying to figure out here. Was their coordination between people in the Trump campaign and the Russians, with the Russian effort to hack e-mails, and otherwise influence our election?
Look, it is conclusively proven at this point that the Russians tried to interfere in our election. Those were the indictments that Robert Mueller handed down against Russian officials doing that.
And then there's evidence, like what we just heard, about connections between people like Roger Stone and some other people in the Trump campaign with either WikiLeaks or the Russians who have been now indicted for trying to influence that campaign.
And it sure seemed like it at the time. Roger Stone and a number of other people talked about their connections, about being able to anticipate what e-mails were going to be released about -- well, John Podesta was mentioned as his e-mails were going to come out next, and then they did.
So there's considerable evidence of a connection there. And I think that's what special counsel Mueller is trying to determine. If he does, then that shows a conspiracy.
Now, at this point, there's no evidence that President Trump himself knew about this, but there is considerable evidence that people high up in his campaign did. And then, of course, there have been all of the efforts of President Trump to try to stop this investigation all along the way, which could rise to the level of obstruction.
BLITZER: Do you expect an indictment of Stone?
SMITH: Oh, gosh, it's really hard to predict, because the one thing apart Robert Mueller's investigation is, he keeps it close to the vest. You don't see a lot of leaks coming out of his investigation.
So, it's hard to know exactly what to expect. But when you look at the progression, as he's worked his way through high-ranking officials, either in the Trump campaign or close to Trump, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and others, it is not unreasonable to expect that that is the next step.
BLITZER: We have now seen the first charges of Russian interference in the upcoming midterm elections. But, today, the national security adviser to the president, John Bolten, told the Russians he doesn't think their cyber-warfare had any effect on the 2016 election. Do you think that's an appropriate message to be sending, in light of
this ongoing threat?
SMITH: No, I do not. And that's one of the more stupefying aspects of this.
That seems to be the only thing that our president cares about, is making it clear that nothing the Russians did influenced the election.
There are multiple things wrong with that, the biggest of which is, Donald Trump won. He is the president. He should not be trying to defend the legitimacy of his presidency. It is legitimate. By our Constitution, he's the president.
He should be trying to defend the country that we have elected him to defend to protect us against the Russians, not focus on how it may impact him personally. Second of all, it defies all logic to think that, if the Russians did everything that we know that they did, in terms of hacking into these e-mail systems, releasing embarrassing e- mails at timely -- in a timely manner, spreading false stories all across Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms, it defies all logic to think that had no influence on an election that was decided by such a close margin.
Obviously, what the Russians did had an impact on the outcome that clearly benefited President Trump. But, again, that's beside the point. He wants. He's the president.
What we need him to do now is to stop the Russians from continuing to do this. We need him to be the president, not the partisan trying to defend himself and defend the legitimacy of his presidency, which, quite frankly, is not in question. He's got the job.
I personally would just like him to start doing it.
BLITZER: The director of national intelligence is now warning about influence campaigns by Russia, China, Iran, and others.
You say, that's irresponsible. What are your concerns about this recent joint statement that was released?
SMITH: Well, I think the biggest concern is, again, are they doing it to try to protect the country, or more like it sounds, which is, don't look at the Russians, please don't pay so much attention to the Russians? Let's -- look at the Chinese. Look at -- look somewhere else.
And, look, from the intel reports I have seen, and from what I have been able to look at, Russia is the country that is engaging in this activity, as we know, not just in the U.S., but throughout Europe. Russia wants to subvert and undermine democracy, because they believe in authoritarian forms of government, and they believe whatever is good for the U.S. and the West is bad for them.
[18:15:01] They're playing a zero sum game. And nobody is more engaged and trying to interfere in democracies and elections than the Russians. There isn't as much evidence of those other groups trying to have that type of comprehensive, sophisticated influence.
So to focus attention over there is to distract from what is rather obviously the biggest threat, which is Russia. So, I wish they would stay focused on protecting us from what Russia has clearly done, instead of the more speculative discussions about what China has done.
And China has done a whole lot of stuff on intellectual property and a bunch of other areas. There's not much evidence that they have done much in terms of trying to influence our elections. The Russians are the ones who seemed to be very interested in having Donald Trump win the presidency.
BLITZER: President Trump today said he's terminating a key nuclear arms agreement with Russia, because Russia has been violating the treaty.
Do you think that's the right decision?
SMITH: Well, I think the biggest problem with that decision is, he did it without consulting with our NATO allies at all.
And these short-range nuclear weapons threaten our allies in Eastern and Western Europe a lot more than they threaten us. And our allies don't want us to terminate that treaty.
Now, you can get into a debate about whether or not our allies are correct in that, but since they are the ones who are threatened, we should be consulting with them, which leads us to a broader, more troubling aspect of the way President Trump has approached foreign policy.
He has a go-it-alone approach. And I think, in the big, complicated world that we face, with the complex set of threats that we face as a country, we need allies, we need friends, we need people to work together. And certainly NATO should be at the top of that list.
You shouldn't be unilaterally withdrawing from this treaty -- well, it's a treaty between us and Russia. But you shouldn't unilaterally make that decision, without consulting the key allies in NATO who are so impacted by it.
And this really gives Russia free hand. If we're the ones who have terminated the treaty, they can claim that they weren't violating it, because it's very difficult to prove, and say, look, the U.S. killed the treaty, so, therefore, we don't have to abide by it.
And that's what hurts our allies. So I wish we would work more closely with our NATO allies on how best to confront Russia on all of these issues.
BLITZER: Fair point.
All right, Congressman Adam Smith, thank you very much for joining us.
SMITH: Thank you. Appreciate it, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we're going to have more on the Russia investigation, as Robert Mueller drills down on Roger Stone's contacts with WikiLeaks. Is there evidence of collusion?
And as President Trump threatens a new nuclear arms race, Kremlin officials are now making threats of their own, as Mr. Trump's national security adviser meets with Russian officials. We're going to go live to Moscow for a report.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, President Trump is ramping up threats of a new nuclear arms race with Russia and with China as well. He's promising to build up America's nuclear arsenal and withdraw from a historic arms control treaty with Russia.
Our national -- his national security adviser, I should say, John Bolton, is in Moscow right now, where Kremlin officials are demanding an explanation and making threats of their own.
Our senior national correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, and is joining us live from Moscow right now.
Fred, John Bolton is talking about the Russians, talking with the Russians about nuclear weapons. He's also talking to them about election interference.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes, that's exactly what he's saying, Wolf.
John Bolton gave an interview tonight to Russian radio. And in that interview, he said he talked to his counterparts and he told them that he believed that their election meddling didn't make much of a difference in the U.S. presidential election, but that it had sowed so much distrust between the U.S. and Russia in the United States that it's now very difficult for these two countries to work together.
And speaking of election meddling, of course, Wolf, on Friday, for the first time, a Russian woman was invited in the U.S. not just for meddling in the 2016 election, but also apparently trying to do so in the 2018 midterms as well.
Well, that woman or someone claiming to be that woman tonight went on Russian TV and explained herself and mocked the allegations. Here's what we saw.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): American officials are saying it is I who elected U.S. President Donald Trump for the Americans. They are also saying that I will elect the U.S. lawmakers for the Americans in November 2018.
What can I say? I'm just a Russian woman. I have been working my whole life. I know how to do accounting. I know how to operate a collective fish farm, and I know how to raise children. I know a lot of things, but I don't know English, alas.
So I was shocked to hear that me, just a simple Russian accountant, elected a U.S. president, instead of Americans, and will soon elect their lawmakers. I was amazed. But then my heart filled with pride. Turns out that a simple Russian woman like me can help the citizens of a superpower to elect their president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: So, there you have it, Wolf, that woman explaining her side of the story.
But, of course, the main reason why John Bolton is here in Moscow is to explain President Trump's decision that he wants to get out of the INF Treaty. And, certainly, the Russians not taking that well at all, and indeed threatening retaliation.
Here's what they said.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Are the U.S. and Russia headed for a new nuclear arms race? Moscow saying it could happen after President Trump announced over the weekend the U.S. will exit the INF Treaty.
TRUMP: I'm terminating the agreement because they violated the agreement. I'm terminating the agreement.
PLEITGEN: A frosty welcome for National Security Adviser John Bolton in Moscow today.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanding an explanation and warning Russia will retaliate.
SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Any action in this area will be met with counteraction. Strategic stability can only be achieved on the basis of parity.
PLEITGEN: INF stands for Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces. The treaty was signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev and led to the withdrawal of 2,700 nukes from Europe.
But the U.S. says Russia has been violating the deal, deploying new medium-range nuclear-capable missiles close to NATO territory.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Maybe this is just a move to say, look, if we don't -- if you don't straighten up, we're moving out of this.
And I hope that's the case. I hope we're going to be able to figure out a way to stay within the treaty.
PLEITGEN: Moscow denies it's breaching the INF and in turn blames America for violating it by developing missile defense technology.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The target missiles used in the U.S. to test the defense systems are identical intermediate-range ballistic missiles. They exist, and they are in use. Their production in the U.S. could be a sign that INF-prohibited technologies are in development.
PLEITGEN: Several of America's European allies say they're concerned about the Trump administration's move to can the deal, fearing, after decades of calm, nuclear weapons could surge once again.
PLEITGEN: So, there you have it, Wolf, a lot of concern among America's allies in Europe, other places as well, and, of course, a lot of anger here in Moscow.
And the tough meetings continue tomorrow for the national security adviser, John Bolton. He is meeting none other than Vladimir Putin himself. The Kremlin has already said Putin also wants him to exactly explain what the U.S. plans to do, how the U.S. plans to move forward -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us, thank you very much.
Just ahead: President Trump stokes fears about a caravan of migrants, riling up his base, with the midterms just days away. Are the scare tactics working?
Then we will have more on CNN's exclusive reporting on a video that appears to show the Saudis used a body double to try to cover up Jamal Khashoggi's death.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news. President Trump is refusing to back away from his unsubstantiated claims about the migrant caravan heading toward the U.S. border through Mexico. The president insisting once again that his words "unknown Middle Easterners" are mixed into the crowds as well as criminals.
Let's bring in our analysts. And Jeffrey, the president seems to think that immigration, specifically this caravan of migrants, is going to be a winning issue for Republicans in the midterms elections only about two weeks away. And he also says Middle Easterners are in that caravan. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Go into the middle of the caravan. Take your cameras and search. OK. Take your camera, go into the middle and search. You're going to find MS-13; you're going to find Middle Eastern; you're going to find everything. And guess what? We're not allowing them in our country. We want safety.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our reporters and producers who are covering this caravan, traveling with the caravan for days and days, they've gone in there. They've met no Middle Easterners.
What do you make of this dog-whistle fearmongering?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's dog-whistle fearmongering, but it's working. Look what we're covering. I mean, this is what the president is talking about.
But the absurdity of this story is underlined by let's look at the map about where these people are. I think we have a map. They are 1,100 miles from Brownsville, Texas. So the idea is we should all be terrified that this group is going to walk 1,100 miles with Middle Eastern terrorists, with MS-16 [SIC]. I mean, it's just completely preposterous.
And it's just an indication of, you know, how the president is ramping up the falsehoods, you know, as we get closer to the election. He's also talking about this -- the arm sales, lying completely about the number of jobs involved, the number of billion dollars involved. All of which we cover, because he's the president and he's saying it. But it's our job just to point out that none of this is true.
BLITZER: You know, Phil, a senior counterterrorism official tells CNN -- and I'm quoting now -- "We do not see any evidence that ISIS or other Sunni terrorist groups are trying to infiltrate the southern U.S. border." So that official knows what the president means when he says Middle Eastern. It's not only extremely offensive; it's also clearly untrue.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, that's true, but as Jeffrey said -- and I agree with him -- it works.
Look, this playbook came out from die one of this administration. Let's go back to North Korea. The president, after the United States has dealt for years with the North Korean missile and nuclear problem, says we've got Little Rocket Man and insists that we might face conflagration, war with North Korea unless he fixes it. He gets off the plane and says, "I'm the big guy in the room. I just met Kim Jong-un. I fixed it." Creates a problem, fixes it.
[18:35:05] In this case, if the president weren't talking about it, I don't think anybody would even know there's caravan. Instead, the president says, "There's a huge threat here. There's a bunch of terrorists here." Other people in government say no.
But what's going to happen is now the president is going to send people down, which we could have done without a single tweet, and he's going to say, like with North Korea, "I fixed it. I'm a tough guy."
That's what we've got here, Wolf. It's a playbook. BLITZER: You know, Abby, the -- does it seem like the closer we get
to election day, just a little bit more than two weeks from today, the wilder the president's claims get?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does seem that two things are happening here, Wolf.
One, the president is willing to use whatever tools are in his arsenal to get his base riled up, whether it's fearmongering about ISIS criminals in the caravan, about immigrants in general; or about inflating job numbers that are associated with the Saudi deal.
But he's also realizing, I think, that once he puts these falsehoods out there, that's the first -- that's the first thing that most people are going to see. They're probably not going to see the fact check. And I think that he is banking on the idea that a lot of people are not going to see him being corrected with the truth here. And I think that three, two weeks before the election day, that's a bet that he's willing to take, that it's going to penetrate whatever his version of the truth is and not the real version of what's actually happening out there.
BLITZER: You know, David, the Trump administration also floating the idea now of narrowing the definition of gender to deny protections to transgender people. Is all this also designed simply to rally his base?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, Wolf, think about it. About a decade ago is when Congress repealed "Don't ask, don't tell." It's -- and only eight Republicans in the Senate voted for that repeal. Now it's hard to imagine something like that taking place, because now we've all come to understand that that was the right thing to do.
So here you have a situation where there's still a group out there further down the line that is able to be marginalized by this administration to appeal to particular interests within the president's base. And I think that's really what's going on here.
There is not a policy rationale behind this. This is not an issue that's a top of mind right now. It's all about pushing a narrow agenda that the president can go back to part of his base and say he kept a promise to go in their particular direction.
BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, we're going to talk about President Trump's ever-changing response to Jamal Khashoggi's killing as CNN exclusively reveals new video evidence pointing to a cover-up by the Saudis.
[18:42:20] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts, and President Trump's newest response to the killing of the Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.
Mr. Trump says he spoke with the Saudi crown prince, and he's not satisfied with what he heard.
Jeff, is the president trying to buy himself some time before he has to take any action?
TOOBIN: Well, you know, the president actually could be making an honest and decent argument here. He could be saying, "Look, you know, the Middle East is a dangerous place. The people are -- you know, don't operate by our rules. But we need Saudi Arabia as a check on Iran. We need Saudi Arabia, because they have dealings with Israel. And, you know, too bad." But instead, he's sort of making things up. He's inventing numbers in terms of how many jobs Saudi Arabia creates. And then, he's not dealing with reality in terms of what really went on with this terrible murder.
BLITZER: You know, David, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, senior advisor, he's taken charge of that U.S. relationship with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. Today he gave a rare interview to CNN's Van Jones. Watch what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN JONES, CNN HOST: What kind of advice did you give MBS in this whole situation?
JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP'S SON-IN-LAW AND SENIOR ADVISOR: Just to be transparent. To be fully transparent. The world is watching. This is a very serious accusation and a very serious situation; and to make sure you're transparent and to -- and to take this very seriously.
We're getting facts in from multiple places, and then once those facts come in, the secretary of state will work with our national security team to help us determine what we want to believe in and what we think is credible and what we think is not credible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So he said "what we want to believe." That's sort of telling, isn't it?
SWERDLICK: Yes, Wolf. I think it's sort of a credulous answer and, given what we know already from the reporting that's out about the -- what's happened to Jamal Khashoggi, it doesn't really square with what everybody knows and what common sense would tell you.
But I think the bigger problem for Kushner and for the administration is that they hugged so tight to the Saudis right at the beginning of the administration and given them the top item from their wish list, getting out of the Iran deal, that I think the Saudis have this sort of freedom to disregard what American public opinion is, because they've already gotten what they wanted from Jared Kushner and from President Trump.
TOOBIN: And if I could just add --
BLITZER: Go ahead. TOOBIN: -- one point. This is perhaps the worst legal system in the world: the Sharia law that's in effect in Saudi Arabia, with public beheadings, executions of political prisoners. The idea that that legal system and that political system is going to produce the truth, transparent or otherwise, is just absurd.
BLITZER: You know, Abby, one option here is for the U.S. to halt arm sales to Saudi Arabia while this investigation continues. Germany did so today. But President Trump says that will impact American jobs. Jeff just mentioned that as well.
But the president can't seem to get the numbers straight how many jobs might be affected. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, 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.
Talking about over a million jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is this just the Trump playbook, Abby?
ABBY PHILIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, last week when President Trump jumped up to that 500,000 number, I asked the White House to explain where did he get this number from. What is that based off of.
There was no answer. To this day, the White House has still not answered where these numbers are coming from. And the very next day, President Trump then said that he thought it would be over a million jobs.
Look, these numbers, as far as I can tell, are completely made up. I mean, to begin with, the fact that Saudi Arabia hasn't even spent the vast majority of this money certainly indicates that these sort of promissory notes that may or may not materialize are not necessarily going to result in over a million jobs, especially considering that Congress is already planning on trying to step in here. I think that the president is way behind even his own party on this issue. The arms deal is the right line and in his mind he's trying to justify the fact that he doesn't want to let it go.
But it is becoming untenable, and in some ways I wonder if the inflation of these jobs is only going to make it more likely that people are going to say this isn't even true. This is sort of inflating Saudi Arabia role's in our economy unnecessarily and it might force the hand of Republicans in Congress to say we cannot give the Saudi Arabian government this much power over United States foreign policy especially when they would be as brazen as do something as the dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.
BLITZER: You know, Phil, our Clarissa Ward has been doing amazing reporting in Turkey. She got these exclusive images of the man Saudi Arabia apparently sent into that consulate to act as Kashoggi's body double. How embarrassing would it be if the U.S. bought this cover story in light of all of these details?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, we already bought it. You had Jared Kushner today talking about transparency.
What happened 72 hours ago? The president of the United States, after the Saudis say, yes, we kill the guy. The Saudis also say in the same statement, which the president supported as a big step forward, that the crown prince is going to lead the investigation in Saudi Arabia about what happened in Turkey.
Now, what is the only question in this case? The question that remains is, was the crown prince somehow responsible for or knowledgeable of this murder before it happened? The likelihood we'll get transparency in this if the crown prince runs the investigation is about the same as I quarterback an NFL team this Sunday. It's not going to happen.
So, when we sit there and talk about transparency and we want to know about things like that body double, we ought to assume that since the president already told the Saudis it's OK for the crown prince to run the investigation, we're never going to know what happened here, Wolf. Never.
BLITZER: You know, it's pretty amazing.
Jeff, let me get your thoughts on this body double aspect. They send in a body double. They send in apparently bone saw. They send in an autopsy specialist among these 15 individuals who were sent into the consulate.
What's your understanding?
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, every piece of evidence that's come out has suggested in clear terms this was a planned assassination. This wasn't a kidnapping. It wasn't a fistfight, which is the latest ridiculous Saudi explanation for what went on here. This was a planned murder, which was carried out.
Where is Khashoggi's body now? I don't -- nobody knows, but the Saudis won't tell us. I mean, this is -- it is quite clear what went on here. And as Phil said, the only question is whether MBS was knowledgeable or ordered it and since he's in charge of the investigation, we're never going to find that out.
BLITZER: Well, let me get Phil.
Phil, you worked in intelligence for a long time. How sophisticated of an operation was this?
MUDD: It doesn't look too sophisticated to me. Look, it falls apart. We have the first phone call between the president and the crown prince, and the president walked away, and say, hey, the crown prince kind of told me this didn't happen. Well, what the heck is he supposed to say? I forgot to tell you I ordered the murder of a citizen who writes for "The Washington Post"?
Then, within days, not only this story start falling apart, but we realize that the crown prince has to come out and say, well, I'm kind of sorry, my guys actually did it. And not only my guys, people who are immediately reporting to me in my office. And that's a great operation that falls apart within days. Not so much, Wolf. They screw this up.
PHILIP: Wolf, we shouldn't forget also --
BLITZER: Go ahead, Abby.
PHILIP: We shouldn't also forget why Jamal Khashoggi was a target here. He was a target because he was critical of the Saudi regime. And that's something that this White House is not talking much about. I think in some ways that's a huge gift to the Saudis in all of this.
They are not talking about the fact that as a journalist, he was probably targeted in this situation and silenced. And, you know, that can't really be undone. Even if President Trump decides to sanction the Saudis in some way, they have to start talking about that part of it, that's the reason why we're all talking about Jamal Khashoggi, because this is about human rights, it's about the freedom of the press.
It's about, you know, American values on the world stage. And that's definitely not something that this White House is interested in talking about at this moment.
TOOBIN: Can I just add one point?
That Congress is going to do nothing about this. You know, the Jeff Flake, Bob Corker chorus will say they're very concerned and Congress will do nothing. They never do anything as long as it's under Republican control.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody stand by. Just ahead, thousands of migrants are heading through Mexico toward the United States. CNN is there to get the real story on what the caravan is all about.
And President Trump makes some wild claims about who's marching toward the U.S. border and why.
[18:56:09] BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is doubling down on unsupported claims as scare tactics as a caravan of migrants heads closer to the U.S. border, marching north through Mexico. Mr. Trump insisting that unknown Middle Easterners, his words, unknown Middle Easterners are now in the crowds, as well as criminals, without offering any evidence.
Our Bill Weir has been following the caravan. He's on the scene for us tonight in Mexico.
Bill, give us an update on what's going on with this caravan. I see, you're walking with some of them.
BILL WEIR, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're walking with the group. We're headed with the group that, you know, some of the stronger young men who are out in front of the group. Women and children pushing strollers behind us. We're about, I want to say, 20 miles north. They're going to probably put 30 miles in today.
And just for the record, we have not seen any unidentified Middle Easterners. I saw a failed suicide attempt. A man jumped off the roof in desperation and his countrymen tried to rally him and say, even a life this hard is worth living. I saw a pregnant woman faint on the side of the road.
I've seen thousands examples of just pure human desperation, but all friendly, easy going, proud Hondurans, many of them, Guatemalans. The Mexican government says now thousands of Mexicans may be joining the caravan, seeing this as a point of opportunity. But to make -- put a hammer to the point I think Jeff Toobin made earlier, if you were a terrorist, why the hell would you fly to southern Mexico and walk 1,000 miles in this searing heat when you can just buy a ticket to JFK?
BLITZER: How long will it be before the caravan reaches the U.S./Mexico border?
WEIR: It all depends on whether, you know, you jump a freight train here or there, or you're able to catch a ride on the passing truck. The Mexican government has confirmed one death of a man who fell off that truck. So, it's a dangerous choice. But if they're averaging 20, 25 miles a day, you know, it could take them a month. It will be well past the midterm elections, by the way.
So, the idea that they're doing this to coincide somehow with the midterms is a bit silly. And what's interesting, they're fleeing, many of the Hondurans, the strongman president there, Juan Orlando Hernandez, who won a very disputed hotly contested election, very controversial, has become somewhat of a strongman cracking down on his enemies. And President Trump congratulated him, endorsed him in many ways.
So, these people who are fleeing one strongman that they see are willing to take their chances with another one who's threatening them at the other end of the journey, because that sort of is the level of the desperation they describe to me over and over.
BLITZER: Is there concern, Bill, among these people in the caravan, there are thousands of them, that their journey toward the U.S. is being used by the president, the president of the United States as a political football? WEIR: You know, those who are aware of what's happening, those lucky
enough to have a cell phone and understand what's going on, they acknowledge. But 99 percent of the time when I asked that question, they say, look, we're putting our faith in God. These people are not calculating this journey based on American elections, frankly.
And so, the idea that this is somehow coordinated or orchestrated, we asked many people about that, there are conspiracy theories that they've been paid to do this at this time, when it actually might work in the benefit of President Trump, if he turns these people into that symbol of fright and is now obviously trying to conflate both Middle Eastern terror and illegal immigration, and sort of a double racist sandwich.
BLITZER: Bill Weir, thanks so much. If you find some of those unknown Middle Easterners, let us know.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.