Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Frustration with Saudis Grows over Khashoggi Fallout; Trump Scaremongering with Immigrant Caravan More than 1000 Miles from Border; Trump Vows Middle-Income Tax Cut That No One Knows About; Trump Again Warns of Non-Existent Voter Fraud; Turkey's President: Journalist Killed in "Ferocious Manner"; Bolton Meeting with Putin on Ending Nuclear Treaty. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good luck.

Thanks so much for joining me today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

New developments this morning in what the world knows about the death of "Washington Post" columnist, Jamal Khashoggi. And new reporting on what President Trump thinks about the story Saudi Arabia is trying to tell. A story that still doesn't add up. Where the Saudis say it was a rogue operation, Turkey's president today called it a premeditated and ferocious murder. Now, what about the president?

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House with that.

Kaitlan, what are you hearing this morning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we're told President Trump is growing increasingly frustrated with the fallout related to Jamal Khashoggi's death. He's been complaining in recent days about the blanket coverage that's been on cable television, the negative coverage he feels is portraying him badly and complaining that the Saudis have put him in this position. He's been telling people, Kate, that he feels he's done so much for them, he feels betrayed by them because of this. After he made Riyadh his first destination as his first foreign trip as president, he's got this big arms deal he's been talking about that he doesn't want to be affected by all this. But he's not buying the Saudis' account, more and more each day, because he's being told by advisers that what they're saying happened to Jamal Khashoggi when he walked into the Saudi consulate three weeks ago and never walked out just doesn't add up. We're seeing President Trump become increasingly frustrated by this, increasingly skeptical of their stories as we saw him say on the South Lawn yesterday.

And Kate, one more thing. He doesn't like that he and Jared Kushner are being portrayed as being overly cozy with the Saudis, with the crown prince, with the king. And that is something he's been complaining about as well.

But Kate, here's the twist. Aides have been telling the president this isn't a big deal, this isn't going to be an issue that resonates with his base, and they're confident it's not going to affect Republicans, their chances when voters go to the polls in just two weeks from now for the midterm elections. And instead, they're telling the president to focus on this issue of the caravan of migrants that are heading for the U.S. southern border. That is something they think is a winning issue for them politically. They think it can help them in the midterms. And they're telling the president and advising him to focus on that and not as much on Jamal Khashoggi and the fallout that is coming from that. They're saying you're seeing this play out on your television, but it's not resonating with your voters across the nation. And that's likely why, Kate, we have seen the president, the number of rallies he's been doing, he's not been mentioning Jamal Khashoggi as well. Instead, he's been focusing on this caravan instead.

BOLDUAN: Aren't these two things, they're not mutually exclusive. The president can hold Saudi Arabia accountable, right, Kaitlan, for what is looking more and more likely murdering a journalist at the consulate, and also still care about the concern of illegal immigration at the border.

COLLINS: That's right. And that's what critics are going to say. He's the president, he should still say something about this. Just because it's not going to be something that can potentially hurt Republicans in the midterms. What critics are likely going to respond to the new reporting is that the president should still be frustrated by this anyway, he should still be upset by it anyway. We know he's sent the CIA Director Gina Haspel to Turkey. She's there right now reviewing their evidence. And Vice President Mike Pence said this isn't going to go without an American response during that interview at the "Washington Post" just now.

But what we're seeing is aides are trying to convince the president that just because you're seeing this on TV constantly doesn't mean it's something that is affecting Americans across the nation. That's their view.

BOLDUAN: In the end, no matter how frustrated he is with any coverage of it, what the response is coming from the White House is really the end game here and what really matters.

Thanks, Kaitlan. I really appreciate it.

So we're are, as Kaitlan is talking about the focus on campaigning, we're two weeks from the election, and we're in a fact-free zone. President Trump campaigning like it's 2016 all over again, where fear is driving his political message and the truth goes by the wayside. Case in point, the migrant caravan in southern Mexico. Still more than 1,000 miles from the U.S. border, but you wouldn't get that sense by listening to the president right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In that caravan, you have some very bad people. You have some very bad people. And we can't let that happen to our country.

You're going to find M.S.-13. You're going to find Middle Easterners. You're going to find everything. And guess what, we're not allowing them in our country.


BOLDUAN: Proof of that, though, none so far. But Vice President Mike Pence backed up the president moments ago.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people advancing toward our border.


BOLDUAN: Officials with the Department of Homeland Security tell me they have arrested criminals and immigrants from Middle Eastern countries before coming over the border, but the data I have seen and anyone has seen to this point has nothing to do with this caravan this time. That's why everyone keeps asking these questions of the administration. Where are they seeing this? Where is the proof?

[11:05:11] CNN's Bill Weir has been traveling with the caravan on its slow, dangerous journey north. He joined me from southern Mexico near the border of Guatemala.

President Trump said to bring your cameras to the caravan and find out what's going on. So, Bill, what have you found? What are people telling you?

BILL WEIR, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can walk through here. We're in Huixtla where people are going to spend the day actually honoring one of their caravan members who fell off a truck and perished yesterday. A bit of respect there.

But we have been playing spot the Middle Easterner for a couple days now and have yet to turn up any. You know, these are folks from mostly Honduras, fleeing both political and criminal violence there. And now, as they gain strength, a lot of folks, you know, from Guatemala and now in Mexico are seeing this as an opportunity to follow a dream north. So there's strength in numbers, they say. But, yes, we all know the dog whistle implied in the Middle Easterner line. And you know, not to argue with Vice President Mike Pence, he may believe what he says, but what seems inconceivable is some terrorist would fly to the very southern tip of Mexico and then walk for a couple months through the searing heat when they can just fly to the United States the way the 9/11 hijackers did.

So you know, I think politics, this fearmongering, sort of fomenting the terror of the stranger is as old as politics itself -- Kate? BOLDUAN: And part of that is the immediacy of a crisis, if you will.

We're two weeks from an election, and DHS says their estimation in looking back at past data and how other caravans have gone, Bill, it could be four weeks before the caravan makes it to the border. Can you put it in perspective for how far away you all are?

WEIR: Right, so just to give you perspective, they hit the bridge on Friday. And then there was the big standoff there. We're now 50 miles inside of the Mexican border. And the closest border point, entry point, would be Brownsville, Texas.

Watch yourself, watch yourself, there's a line there.

But the further would be Tijuana, California, Tijuana, Mexico, on the California border. That's like 2,000, more than 2,000 miles. And the caravan, we guess, will probably hit Mexico City and then start to disperse. Some people want to go to California. Some people want to go to Arizona. Some people want to go to Texas. The majority will present themselves at an immigration center and apply for asylum as refugees. They have to pass the interview test, which is a credible fear question. Are you really running from somebody? Did your husband really get murdered? And those who are economic migrants will be processed. Many will be sent back all the way home. And then they have to decide whether to try again.

But this has been going on for generations, Kate. In the '60s and '70s, research shows that 80 percent of this kind of migration was seasonal and circular. People, typically, you would, we all would as human beings, if you want to make a little money to improve your lot in life, you then want to go home. When the INS hardened the border in the '80s, the unintended consequence is people got stuck inside and couldn't come and go the way they would there as well.

But again, if the minimum wage in Canada was $100 an hour, how many of us would be swimming across the river from, you know, Detroit to Windsor, and that's the argument I'm hearing now. I have pointed out, you're breaking the law, and this looks scary, it looks like anarchy. But many, you know, they don't have the luxury of weighing American politics into a decision when it's like they're running from a burning building -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And also, you pointed out perfectly, problems with immigration law and how the border is handled, left and right, from Capitol Hill, Democrat, Republican, they agree that immigration law needs to be reformed, but that required bipartisanship and compromise, and there's no way in any figment of anyone's imagination that's happening now, and that's why we're seeing what we're seeing.

WEIR: Absolutely. When people talk about a guest worker program, they're describing the way it used to be. Let them come, pick a crop of lettuce, and let them come home. You don't let them vote, don't let them collect welfare, you don't let their kids into school. That's the argument over that. But this is the result of a broken immigration system. I think both parties can agree on that.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Bill. I really appreciate it. Thanks so much. Joining me right now is former Republican Congressman David Jolly.

David, so you have -- you have the president -- you have what we're talking about, the caravan, and you have fact-challenged assertions coming from the president when it comes to the caravan.

You also have fact-challenged assertions when it comes to the what the president is talking about on a lot of other issues right now when it comes to things he cares about talking about in the last two weeks of the campaign, including a new tax plan he's talking about.

Let me play you what the president is saying about this.


[11:10:26] TRUMP: We're going to be putting in a 10 percent tax cut for middle-income families. It's going to be put in next year.


TRUMP: We're putting in next week the 10 percent reduction in middle- income taxes. Right? Next week. OK.


BOLDUAN: When it comes to a tax plan, the facts are really simple on this one. Congress is out. No lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, at this moment knows what this plan is. So what do you call this at this point? A misleading campaign promise or a figment of his imagination?

DAVID JOLLY, (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN: No, you call it a lie. This is the president of the United States lying not just to his supporters but to the American people, recognizing that the tax plan has not given them the political boost going into November that they need. It's also why he's now focused on the caravan, because he knows the currency he can sell with fear. Listen, when he talks about people who might have untoward intentions in the crowd, and he focuses in on that, that necessarily suggests we wouldn't have a vetting process to get through the backgrounds of some of these people. We know that's not the case. We have a vetting process. He's ramping up a cycle of fear like we saw a term or two ago when the issue was Syria and refugees and Republicans suggested there's no way Syrian refugees could be safe. The facts don't support the Republican position on this. Nor does the moral question. This is one of the great moral questions of our time. What do we do with those who are trying to immigrate here, to migrate here for their own safety and security? Jeb Bush, four years ago, said it was an act of love to try to bring your family to economic freedom and prosperity, and the Republican Party rejected Jeb Bush's approach, and instead embraced the fear Donald Trump sold. That's the reality of today's GOP.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, on both of these fronts, as you lay out, it matters factually that we lay these things out. Does it matter, though, politically? There's the disconnect.

JOLLY: No, because you have a leader who has chosen to sell a false set of facts, to evoke fear. The contrast between -- listen, I was not an Obama supporter. As a Republican member of Congress, I tried to work with him. But the contrast between Barack Obama deciding politically to sell hope and with President Trump selling fear, each are very powerful. And at some point, we get to judge the integrity of our leaders who decide which currency they want to inject upon the American people.

BOLDUAN: Everyone says you don't get out to vote to say thank you. You get out to vote because you're angry. It's like a demoralizing, depressing thought to have, though, even though it rings true still.

Here is another -- let's talk about challenged facts. This one drives me bananas because we have been fact-checking it since the inauguration. The president returning to the oldie but the goody about voter fraud. Listen to this.


TRUMP:: They want to demand to vote. They want to be able to vote. They want to be able to vote.


TRUMP: Oh, don't worry about it.

They want to be able to vote. The illegals. By the way, I hate to tell you, you go to California, they vote anyway. They vote anyway. They're not supposed to. And every time I say it, the fake news says, oh, they said -- I got so many people voting illegally in this country, it's a disgrace. OK, it's a disgrace.


TRUMP: Voter I.D., folks. Voter I.D..


BOLDUAN: He constantly warned of rampant voter fraud in 2016. He claimed three to five million illegal votes happened in 2016, that's why he lost the popular vote. He even put together a commission after the election to find voter fraud. The vice president co-chaired that. That disbanded. They found zero, zilch. Nothing, nada. Rampant voter fraud it is --


JOLLY: It doesn't exist.


BOLDUAN: It doesn't exist. It doesn't exist. If it did, we would all be screaming from the rooftops about it because no one wants voter fraud. It's the craziest thing to think everyone wants voter fraud.

JOLLY: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Why is this part of an election strategy? I guess I have answered my own question, because he thinks it worked in 2016.

JOLLY: Voting should be as easy and accessible as it can be secure. In today's environment, we can open up voting and make it easier, but Republicans have chosen to make it harder. The notion of voter suppression to try to protect a majority that Republicans hold because the voting demographics and cultural demographics are getting away from the Republican Party today.

It is hard, though, not to overlook the fact that voter suppression disproportionately targets people of color. The president knows that. When the president talks about everything from the caravan to voter suppression, he's trying to evoke very dark elements within the Republican Party that, as children, we are taught to learn ourselves away from. And you cannot overlook the fact that we are also talking about voter suppression targeting, of course, Democratic, largely Democratic voters, but also people of color.

[11:15:10] BOLDUAN: Let me play you one more thing from a different person, Senator Jeff Flake. He talked kind of about all this yesterday during the Citizen by CNN Conference. In addition to the chants of "lock her up" and mocking Christine Blasey Ford, the thing that the president says that whips the crowd up. Here's what he said about it.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R), ARIZONA: To me now, it's just gone so far beyond. You're not expecting the president to pivot any more. But what is troubling is to look behind him and see the reaction of people to what he says. And that's what's more troubling to me now, is who believes this. And he does it, I think, because it still works. It still riles people up. It divides us horribly.


BOLDUAN: Because it still works, because it still riles people up. If it still works, how do you make it not work?

JOLLY: You need voices to speak in opposition, and voices of leadership to speak in opposition. What I would add to what Senator Flake said is the fact that Republican leaders all fell in line. We lost voices of principle within the Republican Party.

Kate, I recently left the Republican Party, and it was based on a number of realizations. But one of those realizations was, as somebody who has been labeled a Never Trumper myself, I don't believe now any longer you can be Never Trump and be Republican. Because what has happened is what Trump brought to the party has been so embraced that this is a Republican Party issue now. It's no longer just a Donald Trump issue. It is a Republican Party issue because Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and Mike Pence and every single leader who we used to think brought certain principles to the party resigned those principles over at the altar of Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: We'll continue this conversation. How about that, Congressman? We'll try to do that.

JOLLY: Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for coming in.

Coming up for us, Turkey's president promised to reveal the naked truth on what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, but did he deliver?

Plus, have you ever grabbed someone by the collar, shoved him toward a wall at work? No? Sounds slightly unusual, maybe? Maybe not so much at the White House. Ask Chief of Staff John Kelly. Details on the fight that boiled over and why. That's ahead.


[11:21:41] BOLDUAN: The president of Turkey promised the naked truth on what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. President Erdogan speaking out this morning, disputing Saudi Arabia's claim that the journalist was killed accidentally during a fist fight. He called it instead a ferocious murder.

Joining me now is chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward.

Clarissa, did Erdogan lay out the evidence that Turkey has collected?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think he laid out, Kate, a couple key points that we hadn't yet heard. But he certainly didn't present a full picture. And in fact, he even issued a list of sort of demanding questions to Saudi authorities.

Let's start with what he revealed. He revealed a couple interesting things. Number one, according to President Erdogan, a team from the Saudi consulate went to the Belgrade Forest on the outskirts of Istanbul on the day before Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in some kind of reconnaissance mission. This is interesting because we know those forests have been an area of interest for Turkish investigators. Not clear exactly what this consulate team was doing there, what the reconnaissance mission entailed exactly, but certainly an interesting development.

Number two, according to the president, he said that the Saudi consulate behind me had disconnected their surveillance cameras from the hard drive. That is interesting because it speaks to this idea on the day that Jamal Khashoggi went missing, when they claim he had left the consulate unharmed, they also said they couldn't provide video evidence of that because their cameras had malfunctioned and were not recording. Well, now it appears they weren't malfunctioning per se, but, yes, indeed, were not recording. Again, that speaks to this idea of some kind of premeditation.

But there was still a lot of holes in the narrative. And the main question, I think, Kate, is, where is the body of Jamal Khashoggi. And to this end, we heard President Erdogan issue a sort off a5r stream of fiery questions. Who ordered this? Why did these men gather in Istanbul? Where is the body? And most importantly, who is the local collaborator? You might remember that Saudi officials are saying they don't know where the body is because the team handed it over to a local collaborator who then disposed of it. They don't know where he disposed of it. President Erdogan drilling down on that, asking them to provide a full account of who this collaborator is. So far, no indication that Saudi authorities intend to share that information, if, indeed, they do have it, Kate.

And today, of course, Davos in the Desert, a much-boycotted investment conference, went off. We're hearing reports that the prince, Mohammad bin Salman, even received an ovation as he arrived at the event.

So no sense just yet that the Saudis are ready to give Erdogan and Turkish authorities the full cooperation that they're demanding -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Or that they're paying any price.

Clarissa, thank you so much.

Now to Russia, where national security adviser, John Bolton, is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin today. He's laying out President Trump's intention to withdraw from a 30-year-old nuclear weapons treaty, a Cold War treaty.

CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is there following this.

Fred, you talked to Bolton. What did he tell you?

[11:25:08] FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I certainly talked to Bolton earlier today. I want to give you, Kate, the latest lines that I got a couple seconds ago coming directly out of that meeting between Vladimir Putin and John Bolton. This is coming to us via the Russian official news agency. And apparently, in that meeting, President Vladimir Putin told John Bolton that he was surprised by the very harsh line that the Russians are getting out of Washington, also apparently, said that he would like to meet President Trump once again. Apparently, to that, John Bolton answered that President Trump would be very happy to meet Vladimir Putin. But as you said, right now, the big thing here in town is the reaction to the U.S. wanting to pull out of the INF Treaty.

I did catch up with John Bolton earlier today, and I asked him whether or not the U.S. is really pulling out or whether there might be some wiggle room for negotiations and how the Russians are taking all this. Here's what he said.


PLEITGEN: The Russians been quite understanding for your reasoning when you explain it to them?

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, I think their preference as they have stated is we not withdraw, but I think we have given them reasons why we're going to do it. And they understand the reasons quite clearly, some of which I think they fully appreciate from their own strategic perspective. I think the president could not have been clearer, not just on

Saturday but yesterday as to what his decision is.


PLEITGEN: So there you have John Bolton earlier today. We're waiting for him here outside in central Moscow. He said he'll have a press conference later today after the meeting with Vladimir Putin. We'll keep you posted on what comes out of that as well -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Fred, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

Joining me right now, CNN national security analyst, former senior adviser to the Security Council under President Obama, Samantha Vinograd.

Sam, it's great to see you.

Let's talk about Erdogan, new details on Jamal Khashoggi. As Clarissa was revealing the new details he did reveal, the consulate went to a nearby forest, the consulate also disconnected its cameras on that day, still no word. They say the Saudis say they don't know. Turkey is saying, where is the body. The fact there's just no accounting for where Khashoggi's body is right now. Where is this all headed, when you add in the detail the president now is frustrated and how this is all being depicted and frustrated with the story that the Saudis are handing out? Where is this headed? It seems that it's just almost treading water at the moment.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it has to head somewhere because the president has a report due to Congress on the investigation in under four months. We have that timeline. Erdogan said what a lot of us are thinking, which is the Saudi investigation is a farce, and that their explanation for what happened is completely implausible. He also redefined the crime. He said it was a ferocious murder, which begs the question, what are the Turkish and Saudi investigators investigating together? Saudi Arabia has said this was not premeditated and Erdogan said it was and laid out evidence. There's a problem here. Erdogan uses his own law enforcement system and judiciary for personal and political means. Remember, he locked up Pastor Brunson on trumped up charges. We now have two countries, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, investigating potentially different crimes to try to figure out what happened when both have personal and political. And so the most important thing that happened today is that Gina Haspel went to Istanbul, or to Turkey, excuse me, to review intelligence because she's going to see what Turkey has to say, but she's also going to share what we know, which puts more pressure on everyone involved to have a thorough investigation.

BOLDUAN: And I actually wanted to get your take on what does that indicate from the U.S. side? Would she be going over there if she trusted the investigation would be done.

VINOGRAD: She might be. Turkey's an intelligence partner, so her going says we want to share what we know, we want to hear what you know. BOLDUAN: She's going to come back with something. She's going to

come back with more information or maybe answers.

VINOGRAD: That's a proper way to share intelligence, not through leaked tidbits about the investigation to the Turkish press. It should be going through intelligence channels.

BOLDUAN: About John Bolton meeting with Vladimir Putin right now, when the president says when it comes to the nuclear treaty that he's prepared to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal until other countries come to their senses, what does come to their senses mean?

VINOGRAD: I think Vladimir Putin would like nothing more than to get into a superlatives contest with President Trump over our nuclear arsenal. It's music to Vladimir Putin's ears. It helps him domestically and it also makes the president look so foolish. We are currently under a live attack by Russia. Russia spends less than 1 percent of its defense budget on its cyber warfare attacks against the United States. We're not talking about that during the visit. We're talking about a 30-year-old treaty. And it's unclear to me why the president is so fixated on our nuclear deterrent at this point rather than the live attack we're currently undergoing.

BOLDUAN: That's an important perspective about the attack under way right now.

Sam, it's great to see you.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks you so much.

[11:29:53] Coming up for us, the White House fight that required Secret Service intervention. Chief of Staff John Kelly getting into a heated argument with a former top Trump aide and grabbing him by the collar. Details ahead.