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Trump Resorts to Lies and Fears Ahead of Midterm Elections; President Erdogan Disputes Claims Khashoggi's Death an Accident. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:05] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

This morning, Turkey's president calls journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death a pre-planned ferocious murder. That's a complete rejection of the Saudi claim that the death was an accident, a rogue operation.

CIA director Gina Haspel, she is in Turkey today. A source telling CNN she is there to address the investigation into Khashoggi's death.

Also happening this hour. A showdown face-to-face in Moscow. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton meeting with the Russian president Vladimir Putin. This after President Trump says that he wants to withdraw from a key Reagan era nuclear weapons treaty. This is all happening just two weeks before the midterms here. As early voting is already under way and the president is returning to a familiar 2016 playbook. Fewer facts, a lot more fear.

Will it work again? Joining us now to fact check some of those claims, CNN White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, over there at the White House this morning.

So, Kaitlan, let's start with this new tax cut that the president is promising that seemed to surprise members of his own party.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly did, especially Republican leaders who were referring comments on this back to the White House. And we asked the president about this yesterday as he was leaving the White House to go to that rally in Texas. This is what he had to say about what his plan is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. 10 percent tax cut.


COLLINS: So you see there, the president is talking about this plan. He says it's going to be put in next year, but yesterday, we were asking him about the logistics of this and how this would even be possible. He said he wants to introduce a resolution next week and then have them vote on it after the midterm elections. But of course, Jim, as you know, that would be essentially setting themselves up for a fight. They're going to be dealing with funding for the border wall at that point and trying to get this passed during that lame duck period after the midterm elections would be pretty tough -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: The president also continuing to insist that there's a massive voter fraud problem in the country. This after, of course, the president soon after his election started a commission, the commission didn't find much. So he's back to that same message.

COLLINS: They didn't find much and they actually disbanded after they were widely criticized for those efforts because, of course, this seems to be something that the president is using as a messaging when actually voter fraud is not something that's found. This is -- the president had to say this last night about how he thinks that there are people voting illegally.


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


COLLINS: Now that just goes against common knowledge, Jim, which is that there's actually not widespread voter fraud, even though the president continues to push that, continues to say that. And you can guarantee he's going to continue to bring it up, especially if Democrats take over the House. That seems to be a messaging tool that he tries to use. As you see there, headlines, four cases of illegal voter fraud confirmed in 2016. Just four, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Another consistent message this president in the final days before the midterms is the caravan of migrants coming north, though they still are several thousand miles away at this point. How has he been using that as a campaign issue?

COLLINS: Well, he has been using it and he thinks it's really effective, and aides have been telling him that the caravan is actually a pretty good messaging tool for them two weeks ahead of the midterms, but what the president is saying about this caravan is not always accurate, sometimes not even close. This is what he said about who is involved in this caravan yesterday.


TRUMP: Go into the middle of the caravan, take your cameras and search. OK.


TRUMP: No, no, t Take your -- John, take your camera, go into the middle and search. You're going to find MS-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.


COLLINS: Now, Jim, that answer there was in response to a claim the president made that there are criminals and unknown Middle Easterners, that's a quote from the president, involved in this caravan of migrants that are making their way up to the U.S.-Mexico border. Something that just isn't true. A counterterrorism official telling my colleague Jessica Schneider that there's no evidence there are any kind of terrorist groups, ISIS, anything like that, that are trying to infiltrate the U.S. southern border.

But when Sarah Sanders was asked how does the president have credible evidence that there are Middle Easterners involved in this caravan, she said absolutely he does and then cited a statistics saying there are 10 known or attempted efforts by terrorists to enter the country.

Now, Jim, the president didn't say there are terrorists in this caravan. He said there are Middle Easterners. But Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, putting those two together when asked about it yesterday.

[10:05:02] SCIUTTO: Kaitlan Collins, at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining me now, Marc Short, he's a CNN political commentator. Former director of Legislative Affairs at the White House. We do want to mention that Marc signed a non-disparagement agreement when he worked for the Trump campaign.

Marc, thanks very much for taking the time this morning. So I just want to go through some of the president's claims. Let's start with one that you heard on camera. They vote anyway in California. Illegal immigrants. He says they do it all the time. There's no basis in fact for that. Why does the president repeat that claim?

MARC SHORT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I wish we could get more focused on just looking at where there is in fact clear fraud and trying to tackle that. So we can argue that it's wrong to say it's widespread because it's more limited, but at the same time, we should be focused on making sure there's none. And that should be our goal. In many cases --


SCIUTTO: But the president, Marc, to be fair, you know this is a consistent message. The moment he arrived in office, he started a commission. He claimed millions, millions without basis, his commission found no evidence of that. I'll just cite "Washington Post" report, 135 million votes in the 2016 election, four accounts of voter fraud. Loyola Law School found 31 instances of attempted voter fraud from 2000 to 2014. So the facts contradict the president.

SHORT: I think it's fair, Jim, to suggest that it's not as widespread. But I also think you go back to that Voter Integrity Commission, and the reality was that it was disbanded because many of the state attorney generals would not be willing to comply with it and did not share voter registration data. So when you say --


SHORT: -- it was disbanded because of lack of evidence, in many cases it's because they weren't given cooperation from the state voter records.

SCIUTTO: Because the states -- because the states have no evidence of voter fraud. And some of them, many of them were Republican officials. So it wasn't a partisan issue even there. I'm just curious, listen, you worked a long time in public service here. By making this claim, the president gives support to other efforts that are -- that look like frankly malign efforts to disenfranchise people. You have a case going on in Georgia now. You have a case with Native American voters. Does that not concern you?

SHORT: Sure, you know, we shouldn't be looking to disenfranchise anybody, Jim. That's reality, and the right to vote is the most -- one of the most sacred rights we have in this country. And we should be protecting it for everybody. We should be encouraging everybody who can legally vote to get out and vote. Undeniable.

SCIUTTO: Fair. OK. Fair enough. We agree on that.


SCIUTTO: I mean, here's the question. This is just the ultimate curiosity. The president, as these midterms approach, he has issues. He has successes to run on. Job figures are fantastic. The stock market is having some trouble today, but the stock market has been strong. A tax cut that the president often touts. So if you have those positive messages, why is he reverting to claims that are unfounded, whether it's about fraud or members of ISIS being in this caravan? Why does he feel the necessity to do that?

SHORT: Well, I don't -- I don't know if there is necessarily a strategy to say let's stoke concern here, but let me -- let's address the caravan for a second because you're right. I think there is a lot to run on records. But I think in some cases, Republican voters get complacent and say well, that's all been accomplished, that's great. What is the concern we have facing our country now? And I do think immigration is a serious concern. I do think border security is. And I think the caravan is an image that most Americans can see on their television screen and say, you know, what is the policy right now?

And Jim, we're talking about facts and concerned about the president's in some cases looseness with the facts, but did you know that there were 94,000 Central Americans apprehended at the southern border last year? Do you know how many are still in this country? It's 99 percent. Because the laws we have on catch and release require our law enforcement officials to release them into the interior of the country, and more than 90 percent of them are never, ever sent back home.

In fact, the number that are apprehended in the United States alone, the number that are apprehended in 48 hours is the number that get returned in the entire country within the course of the year.

SCIUTTO: Well, then why --

SHORT: Whereas everybody else gets allowed back in.

SCIUTTO: But why -- Republicans control both Houses of Congress.

SHORT: You're right, Jim.

SCIUTTO: You have majorities in both the last two years. And the fact -- the president will often say Democrats block legislation to address these issues, but the fact is both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have voted against multiple attempts to address this. So whose responsibility is it? You have a Republican president, Republican Senate, Republican House.

SHORT: I think it's fair to say that both parties have failed on it. It's one of the reasons the American people elected Donald Trump to become president was to fix it. But let's keep in mind, in the Senate we still need 60 votes to pass anything. So when we were trying to find and actually offered a pathway to citizenship for DACA participants in exchange for border security, we couldn't get the necessary number of Democrat votes to get to 60 votes, Jim.

So that is one of the president's frustrations as well when you hear him talk about the filibuster and needing to eliminate it. It's his concern that right now I need -- he needs to go get about 10 Democrat votes in order to get the border security elements accomplished.

[10:10:08] SCIUTTO: Marc Short, it's always good to have you on.

SHORT: Thanks, Jim. Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: We'll talk again.

True or not, President Trump is playing to his base with several new promises. Will they work to get the voters to the polls?

Joining me now to discuss this, CNN Political Analyst. Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Jackie Kucinich. Two of the smartest people I know in Washington.

So tell me, what the heck is going on, Julia?


SCIUTTO: I mean --


SCIUTTO: Listen. Politicians have made, you know, questionable claims for years and years. The thing about the president is that he goes out. He just shares outright falsehoods. So I mean, you just heard it there, was talking with Marc about it, that the people are voting all the time, illegal immigrants in California. That's frankly not true. JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's true, and I mean,

what we do always see in the run-up to a competitive election is a resurgence of this theme of fear. And trying to get people angry, trying to get them geared up so that they actually get out of their houses, either early vote or go on election day and cast a ballot. That's not new. But it is the case that the president is using in these rallies, on his Twitter feed, in his public statements, demonstrable falsehoods and lies to try to do that.

And, you know, I think it's very difficult when he is flooding the zone with so many -- I mean, you just went through a few of them. We have his unfounded claims on the caravan. These allegations about illegal voting. You know, this made-up tax cut that somehow is going to materialize in the next 10 or 12 days or maybe right after the election, which none of the other people in his party or even in the White House think are -- is likely to happen.

But the question is really, you know, there's only a few -- there's about a week and a couple of days until the election. Voters don't really have the ability to see through some of these mistruths. And he is banking on the fact that people will get excited. They will get angry. They will get motivated, and hearing these things, and I think for a lot of Republican candidates who are struggling to hold on to their seats in competitive races, that's their best hope of getting people out to save their butts.

SCIUTTO: I watch my Facebook feed sometimes and I got a lot of family in the south. Those issues are red, the MS-13, the ISIS fears about the caravan, even though we asked a senior counterterrorism official, are there, you know, terror suspects in this? We do not see any evidence that ISIS or other Sunni terrorist groups are trying to infiltrate the southern U.S. border.

KUCINICH: That's right.

SCIUTTO: That's from a Trump-run agency, right? Run by a Trump appointee.

KUCINICH: Right, and the -- you know, the intelligence community says that Russia interfered in the election. Trump doesn't care.


KUCINICH: I think what we're looking at is back to basics for the Trump campaign. I mean, I'm old enough to remember when Hillary Clinton was on death's door and didn't have the stamina to be president. She's still alive, just so we're clear. So this is something that has worked for Trump in the past, and he's hoping that it's going to work going into the midterms. And what's interesting, usually during a midterm election, and Julie and I have been through several of them, as have you, it's usually all politics are local.

You hear that over and over again. Well, this year, Trump is really trying to nationalize it saying --

SCIUTTO: He said that. He said -- KUCINICH: He said --

SCIUTTO: Look at my name on the ballot.

KUCINICH: All politics are me is what he's saying and hoping that works. And right now, we're seeing the -- that Republicans are getting more excited to vote. It started during Kavanaugh. And it is helping these Republicans that may be in districts that maybe leaned a little more red. They're seeing more momentum now.

Now Democrats have more money. They already had a lot of enthusiasm. We'll see how it plays out down the stretch here because Julie is right, there isn't a lot of time for voters to check these claims that the president is making.

SCIUTTO: Right. You know, it's interesting. The claim about this middle-class tax cut, it seems to acknowledge a vulnerability, right, because the corporate tax cut was largely, you know, 90 percent of the cut went to corporations. Smaller for folks in the middle class, working people. That by coming up with this idea, even without basis, the president seems to be understanding that the tax cut doesn't play well for him.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Right, I mean, there's always been this dichotomy with Donald Trump where he is, you know, a billionaire businessman who pushed the big corporate tax cut that went almost entirely to wealthy people, billing himself in his rallies into his base as the president for the common man. Well, if you look at the numbers, and clearly Republicans are seeing this in races around the country, the tax cut that was frankly the president's biggest legislative achievement last year, maybe his single legislative achievement, is not activating people to want to show up for Republicans this year.


HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: And so what they need to do is say to people, no, no, we've got something for you, too, if you're a middle-class taxpayer, if you're an ordinary person.


HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Who didn't see any benefit from that tax cut, we've got you as well. He's been campaigning on the notion that, you know, the tax cuts generated this huge economic growth that will help everybody, but if you're not feeling it in your pocketbook, you're not feeling it in your pocketbook and they know that.


SCIUTTO: Yes, you can't make up that math.

KUCINICH: And if it doesn't get signed (INAUDIBLE) Congress.

SCIUTTO: And you can't make up that math.

So, Jackie, when you speak to Democrats and Republicans. KUCINICH: Right.

[10:15:01] SCIUTTO: Do -- let's start with the Democrats. Do you sense some new fear here that perhaps the House is slipping away?

KUCINICH: To speak to Democrats is to talk to nervous people. I mean, at this point. I don't think anyone is taking anything for granted. Nor should they. There's a lot of time left. I mean, there's a short amount of time left but there's also a lot of time left. So I don't know that they think the House is slipping away. But of course, they're nervous. Republicans are a little more optimistic that maybe it won't be as bad. It's a slight -- it's a very slight chance they hold the House but it --

SCIUTTO: Narrow path? Are you going to say narrow path?

KUCINICH: I'm not going to say narrow path, but it's not impossible. And so you're saying there's a chance.

SCIUTTO: No question, and that's different from where you were just even a couple of weeks ago, crucially before Kavanaugh, right?


SCIUTTO: They both -- both parties were reading it.

KUCINICH: Well, and if you're talking about Senate Republicans, they are much more confident.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. No question.

Jackie and Julie, thanks very much, as always.

Still to come, a ferocious murder. Those are the words from Turkey's president regarding the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We have new details on that investigation.

Plus, the president's National Security Adviser, John Bolton, meeting as we speak with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. All this after President Trump has vowed to pull out of a key nuclear weapons treaty.


[10:20:53] SCIUTTO: New in this morning. Saudi Arabia state media is reporting that Saudi King Salman and the crown prince, bin Salman have personally met with and expressed their condolences to the family of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Meanwhile, Turkey's President Erdogan is rejecting the Saudis' claim that Khashoggi's death was an accident. He calls it a preplanned ferocious murder.

Joining me now, Clarissa Ward. She is CNN chief international correspondent. She's live in Istanbul.

So continuing this sort of drip, drip this morning of evidence that the Turks are releasing of this crime. CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right,

Jim. There were really two key new pieces of information that were buried in President Erdogan's speech that seemed to move the picture forward a little bit of what we know happened to Jamal Khashoggi. The first part is he talked about three people, a team from the consulate, not clear -- apparently they're not the 15 Saudi operatives who arrived on the day Khashoggi was first disappeared.

This team from the consulate, the day before Khashoggi went missing, were reportedly involved in some kind of a reconnaissance mission, some kind of a reconnaissance operation in a couple of forests on the outskirts of Istanbul, Belgrade and Yalova forests, these have also been areas that have been sort of a point of some focus with Turkish authorities as they go about trying to discover where the body of Jamal Khashoggi may be.

President Erdogan did not say what exactly this reconnaissance mission -- what exactly it was for. But still, an interesting detail that we hadn't heard before. The second thing he mentioned, which is also very significant, was that they believe now Turkish authorities, that the Saudi authorities in the consulate behind me had disconnected the surveillance cameras from the hard drive.

This is interesting, Jim, because you know, yesterday we had this explosive report about the body double who was sent out the back of the consulate wearing Jamal Khashoggi's clothing. The question we were all asking ourselves was why wouldn't the Saudis have released that footage if they went to all that effort? Well, the reason they didn't release that footage, we now know, is because they had disconnected the cameras from the hard drive. That then also allowed them to peddle this lie that they continue to peddle that their cameras were not recording that day -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: A lot of signs, preplanning. Clarissa Ward, thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with Peter Bergen, national security analyst, longtime covering the Middle East, the Saudis, on your way to Turkey shortly.

As you look at this big picture, the new details today, disconnecting the cameras, the reporting yesterday. A body double flown in, you know, it appears, at least according to the Turks, to help provide a cover-up. It looks more and more like you have the evidence of a pre- planned operation here. How much longer can the U.S. say we're giving the Saudis more time?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the time is over. Because you know, the Saudi explanation is like colonel mustard did it in the library with a candlestick right now. I mean, and so, you know, what does that mean? I mean, what are the likely outcomes if the United States says, you know, essentially we're buying the Turkish view? Congress can only make pressure for sanctioning particular individuals.

The administration could also go along with that. But I doubt that the relationship will be in any way really impacted because, I mean, you know, they set the price of oil. They sit on the world's largest oil reserves. I mean, and it's not like they were sort of human rights activists, you know, before Mohammed bin Salman. You know, so, I don't see any really substantial changes.

I mean, one area, Jim, where they could -- the Congress could say, look, we're no longer going to support this war in Yemen. And our supporters, intelligence and also aerial were fueling for that jet fighters --

SCIUTTO: And weapons supply.

BERGEN: And weapons supply. So that, you know, would not be insignificant to them.

SCIUTTO: Meaning significant enough to potentially stop that war?

[10:25:04] BERGEN: It's on that border. And they have a, you know, pretty big military, but it would interfere with their ability to do the operations they're doing. But it wouldn't -- I don't think it would end it at all.

SCIUTTO: Now there are a lot of axes to grind in this story. The Turks, of course, they have their own issues with Mohammed bin Salman. I believe they even suspected he was behind a coup against Erdogan. You know, there's a lot of -- does that give you any doubt or pause about the Turks' version of this story?

BERGEN: Not really because, I mean, when you balance the two versions, the one that seems more plausible is the Turkish one because of all the information we already know. Now, you know, we still haven't -- no one has actually -- you know, there's video, audiotape hasn't come out in a public manner, but I mean, certainly the --


BERGEN: Certainly the Turks have been pretty masterful at leaking this thing out. I mean, we're now three weeks in. As you said, Jim, they're not -- they're aligned against the Saudis with Qatar. And they have no downside fir them to let it play out for, you know, a long time. And then sadly, I mean, the Saudis, PR lesson number one is get out in front of a bad story. Tell the bad story and let it go away. Because if the Saudis had come out, you know, on day three and sort of said, you know, basically, this is what happened, we wouldn't be sitting here talking about this nearly three weeks later.

SCIUTTO: Some stories are hard to get in front of it.


SCIUTTO: If it's the murder and dismemberment of a journalist.


BERGEN: But I mean, still, I mean, you know, bad stories don't get better over time. SCIUTTO: Is -- are the Trump administration's hands effectively tied

now? That even this president who is constantly emphasizing how important the partnership is, has to do something, not just to maintain his credibility with the American people, but to maintain his credibility with the Saudis to some degree?

BERGEN: Yes, I mean, if you look at the -- I mean, the analogy here is after the Skripal assassination attempt with the nerve agent in Britain, yes, the Trump administration did put some sanctions on Russia and expelled some diplomats, as did a lot of Western countries.

SCIUTTO: A unified response there among the Western alliance.

BERGEN: Yes. So you could imagine something like that. I mean, that doesn't change -- you know, it's not going to change. That kind of thing wouldn't change the entire relationship. But I think they're going to have to do more than just, you know, sort of say we don't believe this story.

SCIUTTO: Right. Right.

Peter Bergen, thanks as always for walking us through this, and we look forward to hearing what you hear after going to Turkey.

President Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton is in Moscow right now talking with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, face-to- face. Topic, new tensions over nuclear weapons and the U.S. departure from a key weapons treaty.