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Turkish Source Saudi Body Double Left Consulate; Trump: U.S. Will Continue to Build Up Arsenal Until People Come to Their Senses; British Prime Minister Theresa May Says Brexit Deal Is "95 Percent Settled."'; World's Longest Sea Bridge Opens. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired October 23, 2018 - 00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The naked truth: Turkey's president is beholding all the cards and of his first public statement about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

He's Lyin' Ted no more. President Trump praises his now good friend Senator Ted Cruz at a get out the vote rally in Houston.

And the world's largest sea bridge officially open over troubled waters between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm John Vause and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

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VAUSE: In just a few hours, Turkey's president will address parliament on the Jamal Khashoggi case and a spokesman says there will be nothing new. Already a Turkish source has revealed one of the 15 Saudi operatives who came to Istanbul was a body double for Khashoggi.

Surveillance video obtained by CNN shows a man on the right posing as Khashoggi, who's on the left. The man is seen leaving the consulate wearing Khashoggi's clothes the day the journalist vanished.

A forensics team will search a car belonging to the Saudi consulate that was found in an Istanbul parking lot and the U.S. president Donald Trump has expressed new skepticism in the Saudis' shifting explanations for what happened to Khashoggi and said he's waiting for more details.

Sources out of CIA director is actually now traveling to Turkey. CNN's Nic Robertson is in Istanbul with us now live with the very latest.

Nic, it is hard not to notice the timing of Erdogan's speech, having around the same time as the Saudis kick off their future investment initiative at Davos in the desert. That's a event which is meant to bring in some investors to help Mohammed bin Salman's plans for a post-oil economy.

Meantime, everyone will be waiting to see what Erdogan has to say.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, it's something of a cloud on the horizon for the Saudis this morning, John. And I think there is no coincidence in the timing. Erdogan has said that nothing will remain hidden. That's not quite clear if that is a statement of intent about his speech today or a statement of intent going forward.

They described a spokesman for the party described the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi as a violently planned, very complicated murder that the Saudis are trying to cover up.

So what will President Erdogan uncover that he knows?

There have been so many leaks in the Turkish media over the past three weeks. It would seem that he has allotted his disposal but the key elements that people continue to believe, that Turkish authorities may have at their disposal, is a recording of the events in the consulate that night, which appears to have triggered their very, very rapid reaction.

But for the Saudis beginning this investment conference that is absolutely depleted in terms of numbers of top CEOs, although many CEOs have sent underlings, to this investment forum, this so-called Davos in the desert. It is it is a cloud and they do not know what is going to come down from that cloud when Erdogan speaks in about five or six hours -- John.

VAUSE: There's been this theory that while we haven't ha a lot of official statements coming from the official side, the Turkish government, is because Erdogan has been trying to move this for all it's worth, maybe get some investment from the Saudis because the Turkish economy is hurting.

Of late, it's in serious trouble. If he does reveal the naked truth about Khashoggi's murder, would that be a sign that he failed to reach some behind-the-scenes deal with the Saudis and now all bets are off?

I think we have some problems there with Nic's audio unfortunately. We'll probably speak to Nic next hour. A lot to get to with this story involving what Turkish president Erdogan has to say to parliament in the coming hours. We'll have all the details live on CNN.

There was a time when Saudi relations with other countries were cautious and conservative. Conflicts were resolved not by confrontation but by payoffs and bribes in an aim to preserve the status quo.

But since June last year when Mohammed bin Salman effectively became the de facto ruler, the kingdom has taken a radically different approach. Earlier this year Saudi Arabia went DEFCON-1 in diplomatic terms over this mildly critical tweet from Canada's foreign minister, which raised concern for a prison blogger and his sister. The Saudis expelled the Canadian ambassador, recalled their own from Ottawa, suspended flights to Toronto, ordered thousands of Saudi students to leave Canadian universities.

All best described not so much as an overreaction but more like bringing a gun to a knife fight. In the past --

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VAUSE: -- 12 months, the Saudis have detained the visiting prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Harare, and tried to force him to resign.

France and the U.S. intervened to secure Harare's release. Ties with Qatar were cut, imposing a diplomatic and trade blockade. There have been high-level spats in Germany and Sweden as well.

And then there is the Saudi-led military offensive on Houthi rebels in Yemen, a quagmire largely seen as the creation of the crown prince, the man they refer to as MBS.

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For more, we're joined now by CNN's global affairs analyst, Aaron David Miller. He's also a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and he spent two decades at the U.S. State Department, advising and formulating Middle East for both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state.

That's quite a few challenges you've had there, Aaron. Very pleased to have you with us.

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Always a pleasure, John.

VAUSE: Ok. What's the play here by MBS?

Because for a brief time, he was seen as this great reformer, a modern leader who had rescued the kingdom, set it on the road to modernity and reform. Clearly he is anything but.

MILLER: I mean I think that to a large degree people were stunned by what MBS, Mohammed bin Salman appeared to represent. Because the traditional Saudi leadership -- the Obama administration may have coined the phrase leading from behind.

But the fact is that is always how the Saudis operated for decades. At home driven by consensus and a desire not to alienate various branches in the Saudi royal family; abroad, being very risk-averse, cautious, conservative, rarely getting out ahead of other states, who were militarily more powerful.

And you have, I think a demonstration of the fact that an individual can have a tremendous influence on molding the course of a nation's foreign policy.

And with the appointment of Mohammed bin Salman as the crown prince and the new (INAUDIBLE) of his rivals, he began a series of polices that were anything but risk-averse. You referred to several of them, John. They were risk-ready in the extreme.

And I think many people, many journalists, certainly many in the Trump administration, Jared Kushner perhaps foremost among them, identified Mohammed bin Salman as a catalyst for change and saw an inflection point where Saudi Arabia was determined to break out.

Break out in playing a more forward role in containing Iran. Break out in containing Iranian influence at Yemen by waging a disastrous war. And breaking out in response to the rise of Iran and Sunni jihadis in creating a relationship with Israel -- I think people got carried away with the degree of magical thinking which blinded them to the policies that the crown prince was also pursuing.

Furious repression at home, the so-called shakedown at the Ritz- Carlton. Saudi Arabia executed 137 people in 2017, largely for tribe- related offenses. And I think that's the image that accompanied this conception of MBS as a modernizing monarch.

VAUSE: So there's been this working theory out there that essentially, you know, MBS has been emboldened by an indulgent U.S. president. But you know, the war in Yemen started in April, 2015 long before Donald Trump, you know, won the presidency.

And you know, western governments have always been sort of indulgent of, you know, Saudi Arabia in the past years for, you know, oil or selling weapons.

So is this just coming down to the ideology and the personality of one person deciding that the kingdom needed to change direction in a very major way?

MILL: Well, that was part of it, John. But you're correct in identifying the desire and the targets of several administrations. Ever since FDR met Abdulaziz ibn Saud at Great Bitter Lake on his return from the Yalta, various presidents have been enamored by Saudi Kings.

Not just enamored, we actually had and still do maintain -- good reasons of the American national interest to maintain relationships with Saudi Arabia.

The Obama administration facilitated, enabled the Saudi air campaign in Yemen. But what's happened is the special relationship with Saudi Arabia, John, has become exclusive.

Never, having worked for Republican and Democratic administrations, most of which quashed and placated the Saudis to a large degree, have I seen any administration since the beginning of this relationship provide to a Saudi king and crown prince the kind of latitude, flexibility, benefit of the doubt on a range --

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MILLER: -- of policies which were clearly disastrous. And I think that's the anomaly here. The fact is we have hitched our wagon to an impulsive, reckless leader who could literally, literally remain king, once the accession occurs, of Saudi Arabia for 50 years.

VAUSE: Mohammed bin Salman was pretty ruthless in securing power and that's led to the suggestion that, you know, that success has given him an ill-founded confidence when it comes to dealing with foreign policy. There's not much though for the, you know, what if factor -- what if this doesn't go to plan which it seems so far as more often the case than not.

MILLER: I think that's right. I mean the killing of Jamal Khashoggi is not -- obviously on the Saudis but I don't think there's any doubt that the Trump administration taking a certain role in persuading the Crown Prince that almost anything he could do would somehow be dismissed or the Americans would give them -- give them the benefit of the doubt.

And together with the lack of an internal opposition, house arrest of Muhammad bin Nayef, the neutralization of the other key power centers. And with his father as king, as someone said to me the other day, Mohammed bin Salman is number one and he's number two.

The true test of (INAUDIBLE), John, is only going to come when King Salman passes from the scene. And the cover of that legitimacy is removed and Mohammed bin Salman is going to have to operate on his own, I think it will only be then that we will begin to see the true impact of these Saudi policies that have so embarrassed so many particularly the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

VAUSE: Ok. Aaron, thank you so much. Good insights and we appreciate you. Your years of experience there in the -- you know, formalize those opinions. It's very valuable. Thank you.

MILLER: John, thank you.

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VAUSE: There's nothing unusual about political rivals trading insults and blows during hard-fought elections but like so many things Trumpian in 2016, the level of animosity, mutual disdain and just plain nastiness between then presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, it was off the charts.

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TRUMP: L-Y-I-N', Lyin' Ted.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE, TEXAS: Was the man cut -- cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist.

TRUMP: He's a nasty guy, nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him.

CRUZ: Donald does one of four things. He yells, he screams, he curses or insults.

TRUMP: I think he's crazy. I -- honestly. I think he's crazy.

CRUZ: Donald, you're a sniveling coward and leave Heidi the hell alone.

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VAUSE: In political terms, it was the equivalent of two tarantulas fighting in a ball. But what happens when the tarantulas suddenly need each other for their own political survival?

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TRUMP: In just 15 days, the people of Texas are going to re-elect a man who has become a really good friend of mine. You know we had our little difficulties. And then, it ended and I'll tell you what, nobody has helped me more with your tax cuts, with your regulation. With all of the things that we are doing including military and our vets, then, Senator Ted Cruz, nobody.

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VAUSE: And that was Donald Trump, just a few hours ago. Campaigning in Houston for Ted Cruz. He's locked in a surprisingly tight race to hold his Texas Senate seat.

And keep in mind, this very public pledge from Cruz two years ago when he refused to publicly support Trump at the Republican National Convention.

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CRUZ: If you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I'm going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say, "Thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father."

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VAUSE: Give away. But Cruz needs an energized Republican base, a victory and no one rallies the base better than Donald Trump. Political analyst Michael Genovese, he wrote the book on how Trump governs. He's also a president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University and he is with us from Los Angeles.

So, Michael, it's good to see you.

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's good to see you, John.

VAUSE: You know, interesting times. You know, we have a situation. Cruz needs Trump to be re-elected, Trump needs Cruz to win so that Republican maintain control of the Senate. Is that where we're at? This is -- it suggests that simple. It's all about political survival or is there more to this?

GENOVESE: Oh, it was a beautiful love fest. And the question is, how did they go from monumental hatred to this bizarre bromance? And you've got it right under the hit and now in the (INAUDIBLE), it's about their interest, their mutual interest.

Cruz is in a tough race.

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GENOVESE: He did not expect a tough race. No Democrat has won a statewide election in Texas since 1994. Right now Ted Cruz is ahead by 5 to 6 percentage points. Donald Trump is there to ensure his election, rile up the base, you saw him tonight, really screaming.

He went on script impassioning and powerfully embracing the -- someone he hated a few months ago and riling up the base. And it worked very effectively, I think, tonight.

VAUSE: But how does the base go from accepting the word of Donald Trump's as Lyin' Ted, he is the worst person on the planet and everything else and he said to now, he's a good guy without anything demonstrable in between to prove it?

GENOVESE: I think to the base, Donald Trump is the Pied Piper and they follow him anywhere. When he sings his tune, they respond, you saw tonight. It was like a campaign rally from two years ago. "Lock her up, lock her up." We're still trying to lock up Hillary Clinton.

And you see "build the wall" and Trump looks for enemies, finds enemies, feeds those enemies to people who feel that something is wrong with America. Now it is the caravan or it's the Democratic socialist mob.

Donald Trump does a great job of riling up anger. He is a resentment collector and he is -- no one has been better at that than I think George Wallace -- since George Wallace. So he is really is in his element in a -- in a rally like this.

VAUSE: You know, Cruz isn't the only Republican in the Senate, but the only Republican senator who will put the past in the past with Senator Rand Paul, who also ran for president. He once described Trump as a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag.

You know, two years after that, he was comparing Trump favorably to Ronald Reagan. Then, of course, there's Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator, he described candidate Trump as a jackass and said he shouldn't be commander in chief. And now, Lindsey Graham is one of Trump's biggest supporters as president.

It always -- in some ways, it seems to prove that this is Trump's Republican Party. The lawmakers who want to get re-elected, if they are in a tough race, they have to kiss the ring.

GENOVESE: And if you had any doubt about that, just look to today when Bolton went to the Soviet -- to the Russians and said, "I'm sorry, the Ronald Reagan IMF treaty is out the window."

This is now not Ronald Reagan's Republican Party. It is completely Donald Trump's Republican Party, lock, stock and barrel, good and bad.

And so, you know the old praise, politics makes strange bedfellows. But it's rare to see such almost mind-bogglingly bizarre strange bedfellows as you saw it tonight with Cruz and with Trump.

VAUSE: And another part of that which is -- which is mind-boggling strange, Trump said he had no regrets about everything he said about Ted Cruz from his father -- you know, being allegedly involved to the assassination of JFK -- you know, to insulting -- you know how Ted Cruz's wife looks, her appearance.

But also, what is especially difficult to explain is how Ted Cruz, a man with Cuban heritage, is willing to stand on stage with a man who just hours earlier was vilifying thousands of immigrants heading north from -- you know, the central part -- from Central America rather to the U.S. border. Many fleeing violence and poverty.

And Donald Trump is intent on politicizing this issue -- you know, just a couple of weeks before the midterm elections. And he's doing so with no shortage of half-truths and outright lies.

GENOVESE: Well, I think Trump said when he was asked, "Do you have any regrets?" He said, "No. it all worked out for me."

VAUSE: Yes.

GENOVESE: So, for Trump, it's all about winning. We've talked about this before, he's a very transactional figure. And for both Trump and Cruz, it's, no, "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."

We have mutual interest. And that's happening with a lot of the man in the Senate that you've mentioned who were either Never Trumpers or anti-Trump, who've all of a sudden jumped into bed with Trump.

Why?

It's in their interest too. They know that Trump controls a huge chunk of the Republican Party. He is popular in the party and while his popularity nationally is known were over really 40 percent, the party belongs to Donald Trump.

VAUSE: You know and that part of the Republican Party which supports Donald Trump hates foreign aid and the president made a threat -- you know, earlier on Monday to cut financial assistance to the countries -- of three countries. That most of these immigrants are coming from. This is what he said, listen to this.

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TRUMP: It's a horrible thing. And it's a lot bigger than 5,000 people and we got to stop them at the border. And unfortunately, you look at the countries, they have not done their job. Unfortunately, they have not done their job. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, they paid a lot of money. Every year we give them foreign aid and they did nothing for us. Nothing. They did nothing for us. So, we give them tremendous amounts of money. You know what it is, you cover it all the time. Hundreds of --

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TRUMP: -- millions of dollars, they like a lot of others do nothing for our country.

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VAUSE: OK, as we often do, let's fact check with the president is saying about. "You know, hundreds of millions of dollars going to these countries." That is not true. You can see the numbers there. Honduras, $65 million for fiscal year 2019. Guatemala, almost $70 million. El Salvador, just over $45 million.

But -- you know, Michael, that's not the point. You know the decision to allocate foreign aid is not made on who does what for the U.S. and how much leverage that will give Washington over a particular country.

GENOVESE: Plus Donald Trump likes to deal with symptoms because he can then use those to manipulate those symbols, to energize his base. He is not trying to deal with the root causes.

Every year, you're going to see caravans and they might get bigger and bigger if the root causes in the home countries don't improve. If they -- if they can't control the violence, the gang warfare, they can't get economic rebuilding and get jobs in those countries, people are going to want to come here.

So, Trump uses that as a political game takes these poor people. You see the children -- women with children, families and as the president says and Middle Easterners are in the group.

And he manipulates the symbols and rather than deal with the root causes and try to solve the problem, it's the symptoms that bring out the anger in his tribe. And the Trump tribe loves to find people to point fingers at, this is just another example of that.

VAUSE: Yes and there's also you this whole -- we're out of time, but there's this whole transactional nature that we see from the president whereas foreign aid is a whole lot more than we give you this and we get this back.

I mean, there's a whole lot more to it than that. And you did touch on that. But, Michael, as always, it is great to see you. Thank you so much.

GENOVESE: Great to see you. Thank you, John.

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VAUSE: We'll take a short break here. When we come back, Theresa May on brink or maybe not. We'll have the very latest from London as the British prime minister claims that Brexit deal, 95 percent done. But what does that actually mean anyway?

Also ahead why some say a bridge that stretches 55 kilometers could actually pull Hong Kong closer into mainland China's grasp.

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VAUSE: Britain's prime minister says 95 percent of the Brexit deal to leave the European Union is done. But as she faced Parliament on Monday, Theresa May admitted the Irish border is --

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VAUSE: -- still a considerable sticking point -- an understatement, to say the least.

CNN's European affairs commentator Dominic Thomas joins us now from Los Angeles.

Dom, good to see you, mate.

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Right. Hi, John.

VAUSE: OK, let's listen to Theresa May talking about all this great progress which has been made on this Brexit deal with the E.U. Here she is.

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THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: Taking all of this together, 95 percent of the withdrawal agreement and it's protocols are now settled.

There is one real sticking point left but a considerable one which is how we guarantee that in the unlikely event our future relationship is not in place by the end of the implementation period. There is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

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VAUSE: OK, we'll get to the actual substance of that last 5 percent in a moment, but the European Union has made it perfectly clear nothing is agreed until everything is agreed so the prime minister there standing up and saying Parliament is 95 percent done.

It's been like General Montgomery in 1944 insisting that his disastrous Operation Market Garden, which was intended to bring it earlier into the war in Europe, was, you know, naive as it was successful. It's totally meaningless.

THOMAS: Completely meaningless. John, my favorite football team usually plays well for 95 percent of the match but they usually end up losing two-nil, three-nil, four-nil. The logic makes no sense. In fact I'm not even sure there was anything really new in the speech.

You know, you basically end up with the same kind of situation. You know, there are three or four sort of solutions. You know, one of them is the wise one. You just remain in the European Union, the other one you leave and you know, you don't get your cake and eat it. You leave with the consequences.

And the customs union, single market, you would wonder why would you even want to bother leaving. And then, of course, the whole question of the -- of the Irish border. You know, we keep talking about this.

Let's not forget that it was England and Wales that voted to leave the European Union, not the Northern Irish or the Scottish. And the longer this goes on, the more attractive it may become to that part of the United Kingdom to actually think about joining up with the Republic of Ireland and staying in the European Union. This is really where we are. Nothing new from last week.

VAUSE: And as for you know, the last 5 percent which is unresolved -- and it has been this way for months and as you say, there is nothing on the horizon which indicates that there is a solution to be found.

THOMAS: No, absolutely nothing. It's the same old, John. We've gone through discussions around a soft Brexit, a hard Brexit, you know, a blind Brexit, a backstop. And there's the backstop to the backstop.

You know, it just keeps going on and on and on, which is really why there's absolutely no reason why extending the transition beyond the 18 months would really come up with any other solution. And in many ways what we're looking at here you know, is a real kind of broader metaphor for the greater political impasse we see in the United Kingdom today.

VAUSE: So with that in mind, here's the British prime minister in Parliament trying to sort of rally the country or like at the very least her party trying to keep the opposition at bay building to some good old nationalism and some patriotism. This is what she said.

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MAY: Serving our national interest will demand that we hold our nerves through these last stages of the negotiations the hardest part of all. It will mean not giving in to those who want to stop Brexit with a politician's vote. Politicians telling the people they got it wrong the first time and should try again.

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VAUSE: You know, I just want to win that actually be the hardest part of all, for the politicians to actually kill this thing off and in some ways that would actually be the best thing to do at this point.

THOMAS: Right. And you know, right from the very beginning, the whole question of appealing to nationalist tendencies and so on, this is where David Cameron, you know, takes the blame with this overture to United Kingdom Independence Party that has been defined by the question you know, of nationalism and so on too. I think actually just going back to the weekend, the three-quarters of a million people that march asking for a people's vote for really a voice on a referendum on the final deal was so absolutely indicative of the political crisis that we face now in the United Kingdom is that Theresa May has refused to allow for a people's vote and the Labour Party goes along with her saying we must respect the initial Brexit vote, we're going to stick with that and are not providing a platform or a space for any kind of real opposition to Theresa May's model.

And so the people that are seeking to either vote on this, how to say on it or even further remain in the European Union have absolutely nowhere to go politically and feel incredibly underrepresented.

VAUSE: Very quickly, we're almost out of time. The prime minister in Parliament urged her colleagues to be more judicious, more thoughtful in the words and the language they use during this debate. Here's what she said.

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MAY: I think it is incumbent on all of us in public to be careful about the language we use. We passion -- there were passionate beliefs and passionate views that are held on these subject and other subjects. But whatever the subject is, we should all be careful about our language.

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VAUSE: Yes, that's in response to some reports in the weekend press when she talked about her walking to a kill zone, she faces assassination, she should take her own news to remain, that kind of stuff. You know, that is indicative of where the Tories are right now.

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THOMAS: Not just the Tories, the Labor Party as well. Complete divisions on both sides of the political spectrum, between a more centers branch and a more extreme branch too.

Both political parties have been engaging and attacking the centers from within, civility, without being too nostalgic, is a thing of the past, both in the United States and across the Atlantic.

And this is the way in which these political leaders, you know, have been behaving. And it's very hard to see where this goes. What leadership change would represent and who on earth would take over and be able to build and rebuild these bridges between these different factions, within both sides of the political spectrum. This is not just a Conservative Party issue.

VAUSE: Worse job in the world right now to be Prime Minister of the U.K., I recon, Dominic, as always, thank you.

THOMAS: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: We'll take a short break. When we come back, the world's longest sea bridge is opening after $20 billion and (INAUDIBLE) linking Hong Kong and Macau to mainland China. But there are fears it could also be chipping away at Hong Kong's endowments.

VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody, I'm John Vause. Let's have an update now on our top stories. CNN has obtained surveillance footage, showing a man on (INAUDIBLE) leaving the Saudi Consulate, the same day Jamal Khashoggi, on the left, vanished.

A Turkey source says the man is one of 15 Saudi operatives who came to Istanbul, and as a body double for Khashoggi. He was seen (INAUDIBLE) around Istanbul, wearing what appeared to be Khashoggi's clothes.

More than 7,000 migrants continue to make their way on foot, through Mexico, towards the U.S. border. President Trump tweeted he has alerted border patrol and says it's a national emergency. He's also claiming without evidence or proof that (INAUDIBLE) the Middle East are in the migrant caravan.

He's also blaming Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for failing to stop people from coming to U.S. illegal -- illegally, rather. And he says those countries will face cuts in foreign U.S. foreign aid.

Donald Trump says he will continue to build up nuclear arsenal until "people come to their senses" (INAUDIBLE) announcement that Washington will pull out from a nuclear treaty with Russia. When asked if the statement was a threat to the Russian president, Donald Trump said it's a threat to whoever you want.

The longest sea bridge in the world, linking Hong Kong and Macau to Mainland China has been officially opened, amid the long overdue celebrations, so there are concerns this is a another attempt by Beijing to tighten its control over the semi-independent regions.

China's president, Xi Jinping, made the official announcement of 55- kilometer bridge will be opened for traffic, now, on Wednesday.

[00:35:10] CNN's Will Ripley is right there, in Hong Kong, you can see the bridge just behind it. Yes. Will, that ceremony, it was all, kind of, rushed, was it? Xi Jinping said about 10 words, and left.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. One sentence, basically, and they showed a little video. They didn't even really announce that a ceremony was going to happen, this morning, local time, until a couple of days ago, they said for security reasons, because Xi Jinping was there.

Look, you've lived and worked in China, John, you know that when Beijing does something, they rarely go small, but this, is big, even by a Chinese standard. It's now the sixth largest bridge in the world. Guess where the other five largest bridges are located? China.

It's the largest sea-crossing in the world. It had a bloated price tag, and you mentioned $20 billion. Hong Kong had to pay nearly half of that, and that has led to some criticism here, in this city, which is already gripped with widespread poverty and a major housing shortage.

A lot of people here felt the money could have been used better in other areas, considering the fact that private cars aren't even going to be allowed on here, without a special permit. It's basically shuttle buses that will bring people from Hong Kong to Macau, and the mainland city of (INAUDIBLE) cutting the travel time, in all fairness, from several hours, to just about a half an hour.

But, you know, it's basically going to be bringing a lot of Chinese tourists into the city, which already had about almost 60 million tourist visit, couple of years ago, that was the last statistic I saw, 20 million more than the U.K., which is significantly larger than Hong Kong.

There's also been criticism about the fact that seven construction workers were killed and 275 were injured. This bridge, which includes two artificial islands, you mentioned, you know, 55 kilometers, about 34 miles. It could actually kill off the local dolphin population, the endangered Chinese white dolphins.

So, conservationists are upset. Some, in Hong Kong, here, do view it as an economic opportunity, but others view it as yet another example of Beijing, kind of, encroaching on this semi-autonomous Chinese territory. There's less controversy over in Macau, the kind of gambling Mecca, which is more closely aligned with Beijing's ideology.

But here in Hong Kong, people will ideally -- many people, at least, would like to see a more Democratic system here. But clearly, things are going in the other direction, Hong Kong, moving closer and closer into the grip, if you will, of authoritarian China.

Again, some people view it as an economic opportunity, other people feel that their freedoms are just going to be restricted even further, and this bridge is kind of a symbol of that, for them, John?

VAUSE: OK. So, what you say is that there's plenty here for everyone to find something they don't like from the environmentalists to the labor groups, you know, to pro-democracy groups. Explain how this is seen as a symbolic, sort of, tightening the grip of Hong Kong, because in the last couple of weeks, there was a high speed rail link which was opened, which is sort of moving Hong Kong closer to the Mainland.

And then saw Chinese security, I guess, plays for the first time, you know, on Hong Kong, and that was seen also, as another move by Beijing.

RIPLEY: Yes. That rail actually opened up exactly one month ago today, and it was dubbed the Trojan Train, by one political commentator. But this is all part of a bigger plan by Beijing, to connect Hong Kong and Macau, and a number of cities in Mainland, 11 cities in total, what they're calling a Greater Bay Area, with some 68 million people. So, they eventually envisioned this entire area, quick easy movement from the Mainland to Hong Kong, to Macau, which they think will help just to continue to increase the physical presence of China, but also the economic power, and of course, China, very much prices its territories here, and the territories it claims even farther out in the South China Sea that are disputed by much of the world.

There's no doubt that this is a feat of modern engineering, 4-1/2 times more steel than San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. It's an impressive, breathtaking sight to look at, especially when you are flying over, or if you're on a boat, and you see just how large and massive this is.

But it certainly doesn't come like any big project I suppose, without also quite big criticism and concern by some.

VAUSE: I just have that (INAUDIBLE) theme song going around in my head, you know, the Road to Nowhere. Will, good to see you. Check in next hour.

We'll take a short break here on CNN NEWSROOM. When we come back, Hurricane Willa poised to spike the Pacific Coast of Mexico. An update on just how dangerous all of this could be.

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[00:40:00] VAUSE: Willa is on track, be one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit Mexico's Pacific Coast. And has weakened in recent hours, but still is expected to be dangerous, by the time it makes landfall on Tuesday. Storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves are forecast, so do heavy rainfalls, which creates potential for life-threatening landslides, as well as flash flooding.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us now with the very latest. Boy, is this going to ever end, to see one after the other?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: One after the other, absolutely. That's what I was going to say here. When it comes to these storms, John, of course, we're setting a record now, getting up there with the 10th major hurricane across this portion of the world, the Eastern Pacific, and the North Pacific Ocean, so certainly, have been active in this region.

And we're talking about a healthy Category 4, sitting across this region and, of course, it was not long ago, back in 2015, in fact, on the state in 2015, Hurricane Patricia made landfall, just a few hundred kilometers south through this region. Patricia, by the way, a little weather fact for you, the strongest hurricane or typhoon, based on wind speed, ever observed on Earth.

It had wind speeds of 346 kilometers per hour, as it was sitting there as a strong Category 5, weakened, upon approach. Willa, we think, will do the same here. Potentially, a strong Category 3 on landfall, but really critical on where this ends up.

As you know, across this region, high towards the population area, for a lot of visitors in Mazatlan, south towards Puerto Vallarta, the track makes a significant difference on who's going to be impacted by this.

I want to kind of give you a better perspective of the track of this, and then the official track from the National Hurricane Center, because as you go in for a closer look, this would be at 70 or 80 kilometers, south of Mazatlan.

There's a town of Escuinapa, population here, going to be around 30,000 people. But once you work your way a little further to the south, there, and you go, work your way inland, population drops rather sharply, and in fact, the community across this region also very much farming communities.

So, at least, if it does shift a little farther south, it avoids the hundreds of thousands that would be impacted by Mazatlan, in particular. But, we'll show you exactly how things will play out because we do have hurricane warnings in place, stretching from Puerto Vallarta, up towards Mazatlan. But, notice again, the area that's more sparsely populated.

At this point, looks to be area where the system will make landfall Tuesday afternoon and Tuesday night. It, kind of, shows you the population density areas in dark red, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, having the higher populations.

And the storm potentially going to be a Category 3 once again, upon landfall here, but that point, we'll see it weaken rather quickly. But, with that said, John, we'd have now 10 major hurricanes, only one shy, of an all-time record here for the Eastern Pacific of 11 major hurricanes from 2015, so activity, just about for everyone, right now, when it comes to tropical systems.

VAUSE: Yes. The coast of Mexico for Patricia, and everyone was bracing for this horrendously strong hurricane, and somehow, managed to thread this needle where it just went straight across and managed to miss pretty much everything.

JAVAHERI: it was sparsely populated. Yes. I actually hope for the same with this.

VAUSE: Yes. It was -- it was amazing. It was miraculous, really. P.J., thanks. Talk to you next hour. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Stay tuned. "WORLD SPORT" is up next.

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