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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump: Saudis Account of Khashoggi's Death is "Worst Cover-Up Ever"; Anthony Scaramucci Calls Trump a Liar; Trump Middle Class Tax Cut Promise Sets Off GOP Scramble; Trump Admits No Proof of His Caravan Claim; Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 24, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:04] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello from New York. A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We are 13 days until you the voters hit the polls. And the president is digging in on his midterm strategy, which is pretty simply go big on fear and short on facts.

Case in point, the president now admitting he has, quote, in his words, "no proof" when it comes to his claims that a migrant caravan is filled with dangerous criminals and, quote, "unknown Middle Easterners."

But think facts will get in the way of a narrative that he and some Republicans have used to rev up the base? Think again.

SCIUTTO: Also today, the president will meet with U.S. officials returning from Saudi Arabia and Turkey to learn more about the investigation into murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This as the Saudi crown prince is set to speak amid mounting allegations against him and his government. We are on top of that story.

Plus, move over Jeff Sessions. The Fed chairman taking another round of attacks from the president saying that Jerome Powell, quote, "almost looks happy" he's raising interest rates.

We have a lot to get to this morning. First let's get to CNN's Abby Phillip who is at the White House this morning.

Abby, what is on the president's mind as he wakes up this morning?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Jim. President Trump is spending a lot more time on the campaign trail these days. But in the process, he's also making a lot of new and in many cases unsubstantiated claims.

First in the recent days he's promised a big tax cut to middle class Americans, but the White House is saying there are no plans to do that any time soon. And then he on the caravan has seized on this issue that he believes is really going to be potent for Republicans this November. He's claimed, though, that there are members of ISIS or terrorist groups in this caravan.

Yesterday, reporters asked the president what proof do you have of this, and here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no proof of anything. There is no proof of anything. But they could very well be. They don't have to necessarily be in that group. But certainly you have people coming up through the southern border from the Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: And even Vice President Mike Pence is adding to that, claiming that Venezuela and perhaps Democratic groups are organizing and financing this caravan. Again, the White House has presented no evidence to support those claims either.

Meanwhile, President Trump is getting a lot of attention for his claim in a recent rally that he is now a nationalist, a term that has been associated with, you know, racial fear-mongering, perhaps white nationalist groups in the past. He acknowledged that's not something that politicians typically are willing to call themselves. But he is not really offering much explanation about what he means by that term.

Also later today he's back on the campaign trail as you can imagine heading out to Wisconsin for Scott Walker, who is running for governor in that state -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Well, he may want to take a look at the history books on the meaning of nationalism.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Abby Phillips, thanks very much.

HARLOW: A very salient point.

All right. Let's go now to the migrant caravan. We'll take you there live. Our colleague and correspondent Patrick Oppmann is traveling with them as they leave the town of Huixtla, Mexico.

Patrick, look, the president yesterday finally admitted, in his words, no proof of there are these unknown Middle Easterners or criminal groups traveling among this caravan. But the Department of Homeland Security is still putting out numbers there and trying to double down on this unfounded claim.

What are the migrants telling you about why they are traveling north and what they plan to do if they reach the border?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as to why they are traveling north, it is economic reasons. It is to be reunited with family. It's to escape the gang violence that has absolutely ravaged much of Central America. These people are not gang members, by and large. They are victims of the gang warfare that is going on. They say that there is something called a war tax that they have been forced to pay. It can even be a few dollars. We're talking with people who seem to have nothing and yet they say

the gangs in countries like Honduras still shake them down. So we are now on the road north with them today. People here are trying to get a ride. Mexicans have been stopping and picking them up. They have been filling cars. And there have been thousands of people that we've seen on the road. And one of the reasons we are very certain that there are no Middle Easterners among this group is that, you know, this is live TV. We get ahead of the group. They pass us by.

We get ahead of them again. We do this throughout the day. We have done this for three or four days now. So I have seen this group from beginning, and pass me by again and again and again. Thousands of people and they are Hondurans, they are Salvadorans, there are some Nicaraguans, there are some Guatemalans. But nobody from the Middle East. They're just not part of that group.

And I think it's hard to imagine that anybody who is not absolutely desperate would undergo this ordeal of walking hundreds and hundreds of miles to a very uncertain future when they get to the U.S. and they do not know how they will be received.

[09:05:02] SCIUTTO: And the administration even backing up that claim of Middle Easterners in that caravan.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Patrick Oppmann, thanks very much.

Let's bring in now Errol Louis, Patrick Healy.

Listen, Errol Louis, fear, as a political weapon, it's not new. Just look back to Willy Horton. I mean, there are dozens of examples. But the president's particular combination is to combine fear or to stoke the fear based on really blatant falsehoods. For instance, adding, you know, sort of this fear of Middle Eastern terrorists somehow mixed into this caravan here. What are your concerns about that strategy?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, my concern is that fear, like many other kind of drugs, has to be administered in ever increasing dosage for it to take effect, right? So you start with fear. You start with this sort of made-up story about a caravan that's over a thousand miles from the U.S. border. That doesn't seem to be working. So you have to sprinkle in some insinuations about terrorists being mixed in among these starving and desperate people who are over a thousand miles away on foot.

You know, sooner or later, they'll start adding more components to it because the point is not any kind of factual concern about what might actually occur. The point is to stir up the base and to sort of make them think that what the midterm elections are about is somehow stopping this scary horde of people who are again over a thousand miles away.

HARLOW: OK. Here's the thing, Patrick. I have been gone for the last few days. I was in Arizona. Let me give you two examples of what I heard in Arizona. My Uber driver on Monday in Arizona talked to me about the midterms and he said, do you know that ISIS is crossing the border right now with this caravan? OK. That's what he said to me.

A "New York Times" piece, fascinating piece in your paper, talked about a woman, 75-year-old Carol Shields, a Republican in northern Minnesota, my home state, who said she is concerned that these migrant gangs will take over their lake homes in northern Minnesota. What is stopping them, she tells the "Times." We have a lot of people that live on the lakes in the summer. When they come back in the spring, their houses will be occupied.

OK. These are voters, and they are buying this, and the president's poll numbers are going up.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And this is exactly Trump's strategy. If you talk about things in as much of an alarmist way as possible without even giving any kind of evidence, it filters down. When other cable news networks are carrying this and sort of like pushing forward conspiracy theories, people get on the internet and they start Googling things and reading it, fear builds. It builds and builds. And we've seen this usually in other countries more than the United States where leaders are stoking it constantly.

It was my reporter who was out in Minnesota who got that quote from the woman, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes.

HEALY: And I -- you know, I talked to the reporter and said, well, what's the basis of her thinking, like the notion that these migrants who are now, you know, a thousand miles, 44 days it seems even from trying to reach the border are going to make their way to Minnesota to break into lake houses?

HARLOW: Right.

HEALY: I mean, it's so sort of extraordinary. But again you bring factual thinking to this discussion. And it's not where President Trump and other Republicans are. They are just really kind of like fanning the flames of this fear of the other. And we saw Trump do it with such effect in 2016, Poppy. I mean, that's the thing. He knows the well that he's going back to here and he believes it works for him.

HARLOW: It worked -- it did work, yes.

SCIUTTO: I mean, it's real fake news, right?

HARLOW: There we go.

SCIUTTO: It is actual manufactured falsehoods.

Another worrisome phenomenon with this, Errol Louis, is that you have the instruments of government retroactively trying to back up some of the president's claims. Yesterday you had the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security say that, yes, citizens of countries, and I'm reading the tweet here, outside Central America including the Middle East are currently traveling through Mexico towards the U.S.

Now that's not what the president said. The president said that this caravan has unknown Middle Easterners in their -- and even the president backed off that. But you have DHS saying well, there are some other Middle Easterners there. No evidence to say that those Middle Easterners are threats or terrorists but just people from the Middle East. In effect, backing up a false claim or partly backing up a false claim.

Does that concern you, Errol Louis, when you have --

LOUIS: It does. It does.

SCIUTTO: -- other parts of the government, you know, in effect fuelling this as well?

LOUIS: Yes. Normally it's the clean-up squad at the White House, especially in the communications shop that has to try and retroactively maybe try and fit a couple of facts to some fanciful tweet or statement that's been made from the Oval Office.

When you start getting serious organs of government involved in that same clean-up effort, there's going to be first of all a lot of waste and a lot of confusion. You know, it is a fool's errand in fact to try and sort of put some facts to a statement from the president that he himself retracted the next day.

[09:10:04] In this case. It's a complete waste of time. On the other hand, this is all going to be over on November 6th. I think what -- what I would expect to see happen is that people will believe some of this stuff. When people are afraid of immigrants, it doesn't matter whether they are a thousand miles away, whether they are a thousand miles from the border, you know, and that they're up in Minnesota. People think that they're going to drop out of the sky and take over their lake house.

On the other hand, something that's a lot scarier and a lot of more real is losing one's health insurance. If we can, collectively, not just the Democrats but also the news media, help focus people's attention on what actually matters.

HARLOW: Yes.

LOUIS: You know, we're in the choice season. Your insurance next year is going to be determined in the next few weeks. That's something people should really be talking about right now.

HARLOW: On that issue of health care, which does rank as the -- you know, one of the top issues, whether it's the economy or health care for voters, Patrick, the president just tweeted again this morning and he keeps saying that, you know, he and all Republicans will protect pre-existing conditions and the Democrats will do away with them. Just fact-check that for everyone this morning because what the Department of Justice is doing in trying to claim that the individual mandate is unconstitutional would, correct me if I'm wrong, completely upend pre-existing condition protection. HEALY: Right. That is correct. And the president isn't dealing

with, you know, the details here. What he's seeing is races that Republicans very much want and kind of need to win. Not just in places like Arizona and Nevada but also in Missouri. You know, Claire McCaskill has completely gone all-in in her Senate race on health care and preexisting condition.

HARLOW: Right.

HEALY: I mean, she's sort of renamed her campaign tour right now around health care. And President Trump is looking at people like Josh Holly in -- in Missouri and trying to make kind of the argument again that Republicans are so focused on preexisting conditions.

But, you know, we can't forget, Poppy, like, you know, it was just about a year ago when Republicans were going back again and again to Congress to try to either eliminate the Affordable Care Act or dilute it as much as possible so you're getting this, you know, really attempted sort of revisionist history where Republicans are basically saying we are the party that has been defending or wants to sort of champion your preexisting health care. But, you know, as you have cited, the evidence goes to contrary.

HARLOW: Right. It's sort of a fact be damned 13 days away from this election.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: But the impact is long lasting beyond that.

Guys, thank you. Errol Louis, Patrick Healy, we appreciate it.

Also this morning, the president calls the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi the worst cover-up in history. One hour from now, we will hear from the Saudi crown prince who will speak publicly for the first time in the wake of all of this.

Also the president knows that the Fed is an independent institution, independent of any political influence. That is not stopping him for a second, though, in attacking the man he hired to lead it. Why? For doing his job, for raising interest rates.

SCIUTTO: And a virus outbreak kills seven children at a New Jersey rehab center. What happened?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] HARLOW: All right, welcome back. For the first time since journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into that Saudi Consulate in the Istanbul on October 2nd and was never seen again, we will hear today in less than an hour from the very powerful Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman is set to speak at a Q&A panel at Riyadh's investment conference in the next hour.

Of course, this is the conference that was so controversial that so many U.S. CEOs pulled out of. The kingdom's story about Khashoggi's disappearance and murder has been constantly changing.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: And he'll have a smaller audience there.

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: A Turkish state media reporting that Saudi officials refused last week to let Turkish police search a well. This at the Saudi consular residence as police are trying to find Khashoggi's remains. Remember, they still haven't found a body. President Trump will be briefed today by U.S. investigators who have just returned from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Cnn's Nic Robertson joins us now live from Istanbul. So Nic, the investigation continuing there, but not getting -- the Turks not getting the help that they want from the Saudis.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure, that's been one of the holes in the Saudi narrative all along. They insisted they have been giving full cooperation by Turkish authorities, but yet again we're letting another detail about when their investigators, Turkish investigators went into the consular general's house.

Remember, they actually stole the day to get in there, when they finally got in, we're learning now that they weren't allowed by the Saudi officials there to look in the consular general's well in his garden. And it's not clear to us, I have to say, why we haven't seen Turkish investigators redoubling their efforts and going back.

President Erdogan yesterday really appealing over the heads of any other Saudi officials directly to the king, calling for more information about the body that had allegedly been handed over to collaborators here in Turkey. He said who are these collaborators? You know, how come we don't have more information about the body?

So are we seeing a new lead develop there? That's not clear. President Trump is being very clear in his position that he thinks this whole story by the Saudi officials just doesn't add up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly and the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups because whoever thought of that idea I think is in big trouble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: So State Department identifying 21 people, they say are involved from the foreign ministry, from the royal court which is significant and for the intelligence agencies in Saudi Arabia. They've had their visas revoked, so their Treasury Department is looking at placing additional sanctions on them, perhaps controlling some of their accounts in the United States.

[09:20:00] And as for what we may hear from the Crown Prince, this, of course, is a panel where he will be exposed to the questions of the moderator of that panel. But don't hold your breath because a Saudi panel has royals on it, and a setting in Saudi Arabia, the moderator there is not going to be able to ask a single question that doesn't get passed by the Saudi royal court.

I've seen it happen in places, so I think what we may learn from the Crown Prince today may be quite thin on the details that the world at the moment is demanding.

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: A big question is how hard of the questions are U.S. officials asking in private --

HARLOW: To the Saudis --

SCIUTTO: And we don't know that yet. Nic Robertson, thanks very much. We are of course closing in on the midterm elections -- what is it? Twelve days -- 12 days away --

HARLOW: Thirteen --

SCIUTTO: Thirteen days and President Trump is stoking fears and lies. So what's the best way for Democrats to fight back?

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: When he goes to a rally like that, you know, there is a level of embellishment there because he's playing to the crowd. He's playing for the laughs, and he -- you know, I mean, that's been his persona, it's been his style.

And by the way, you can't really argue with the success of it. We both know that he's telling lies, OK? So if you want me to say he's a liar, I'm happy to say he's a liar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Thirteen days from the midterms and that was the president's former communications director Anthony Scaramucci just calling the president a liar. But you know what? In the face of forgetting the facts completely, the president's poll numbers are going up. They are rising. How do Democrats combat that?

I'm joined now by one Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. It's nice to have you, good morning to you, sir. I mean, this caravan rhetoric and these unknown middle easterners in the caravan, the president himself yesterday admitted there is no truth. But he has not paid a political price for telling lies. He didn't pay them in the 2016 election, it does not appear he is paying it now.

His poll numbers are going up, this plays well among voters, some of his base. How do Democrats fight that 13 days away from the midterms?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: First, Poppy, it's good to be with you. I think Americans expect their president to tell the truth. So I think there is a price the president is paying when people know that he is lying. He's not telling the truth, that he invents facts, that he exaggerates issues.

Whether it has to do with who is in the caravan or whether it has to do with the facts of job numbers or tax relief, the president has habitual habit of not telling the truth. And I think that is of concern to the American people. We expect to --

HARLOW: But senator, what's the -- respectfully, what's the price? I mean, you look at these poll numbers, they're up.

CARDIN: Well, I think it's energized a group of people that are going to be participating in the midterms that have not participated in the past. We call it a --

HARLOW: OK --

CARDIN: Blue wave. I think you're going to see that. I think you're going to see election results a week from Tuesday that will reflect that.

HARLOW: You know, it's not just the president here having an issue with facts. He has a big issue with them. But during an interview with me on our show just last week, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas passed along a totally unfounded conspiracy theory that he said Jared Kushner had -- he heard reported delivered a hit list of people to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman that included the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

He later walked that back. But you know, given what former Vice President Joe Biden said last night, we have to choose truth over lies. Is this any way to win an election from either party?

CARDIN: Well, as you pointed out, he walked back his statements. And of course he's not --

HARLOW: After a lot of pressure. And he said it on this show without any facts.

CARDIN: But he -- and I don't condone that at all. That's wrong. But he's not the leader of the free world. He's not the person that is looked upon by Democratic leaders around the world for leadership and protecting their Democratic institutions or promoting universal values.

The president in the manner in which he's conducting himself as president, not being truthful, is damaging not just America, but he's damaging our values globally.

HARLOW: What about the tax cuts, the middle class, the 10 percent tax that the president has promised that is news to a lot of people in Congress? Do you support it? Do you think that this country can afford it with the -- with the deficit in 2019, headed towards a trillion dollars, and would you vote for it? CARDIN: Of course we don't know what it is. I don't think the

president knows what it is right now. He said he's going to introduce it next week. Well, Congress is not in session, so he's not introducing it next week. He's clearly making this announcement in an effort to try to influence the midterm elections.

It's terribly irresponsible to talk about tax cuts when we have these huge deficits and how we're going to pay for it. He doesn't talk about that at all, the first tax bill that the president promoted that was enacted will not only cost $1.5 trillion in additional debt, it's going to be more than that if we make those provisions permanent.

HARLOW: So --

CARDIN: So now he says adding on top of that to the debt of our children --

HARLOW: Right --

CARDIN: And grandchildren to have pay.

HARLOW: Yes, I do remember a time, not that long ago when, you know, Republicans really cared a lot about their deficits. It sounds like you wouldn't vote, yes for that. Let's move on here --

CARDIN: I don't know -- there's nothing there to vote for. There's nothing -- he hasn't -- there's no proposals. Let's take a look at the proposal first.

HARLOW: All right, fair, look, when it comes to caravan, the president said yesterday, he's considering military options to stop it if you will. Is that a good use of the U.S. military?

CARDIN: I don't believe so, and quite frankly, as I said yesterday, the president should be looking for ways of providing the needs for these individuals before they hit our borders. That's one of the reasons why we have a foreign aid program in Central --

HARLOW: Right --

CARDIN: America, to try to improve the lifestyles for those who have a legitimate solemn claims. There should be a way that they can present those claims and know that they'll be presented fairly when they reach the border.

END