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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Senator Richard Blumenthal; White House Ordered to Reinstate Press Pass; President Trump Comments on Mueller Probe; Washington Post: CIA Concludes Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Journalist Jamal Khashoggi's Assassination; Kim Jong-un Tests "Ultramodern" Weapon in New Threat. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 16, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So why did he spend days with his lawyers and months negotiating the terms of his responses?
Indictment revealed? A bungled court filing contains a bombshell, a reference to charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Is there a connection to the Russia investigation?
Freedom of the press. A judge sides with CNN, ordering the Trump administration to restore the press pass of our chief White House correspondent. We're going to talk about the ruling and the impact on news coverage of the president.
And Kim's ultra weapon. The North Korea leader returns to a more aggressive military stance, testing a new and mysterious high-tech weapon. Is Kim Jong-un trying to put pressure on President Trump?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
CNN has learned about a meeting today between President Trump and his lawyers to try to wrap up the process of answering Robert Mueller's questions about possible collusion with Russia.
The president claims he's been writing those responses all by himself and that it's been easy, even though he's been holed up with his legal team now for days and days.
The president downplaying the gravity of the moment and denying his obvious anger, as Mueller and his team move deeper and deeper into their endgame.
This hour, I will talk to Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a top Democrat. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, the president has spent a good chunk of this week working on those answers for Mueller.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he has.
The president has spent nearly every day here at the White House working with his lawyers on those written answers, which he said were easy, but that doesn't explain why it's taken him so long to answer them. He's been going at this for several months now. Or it does not explain why he's still calling this all a hoax, if he says those questions were easy?
But, Wolf, it does explain one thing. He said this. He believes this investigation is coming to an end. It probably explains why he's been on edge here all week at the White House.
ZELENY (voice-over): After railing against Robert Mueller for days and discrediting the Russia investigation for more than a year, President Trump confirming tonight he's finished answering this special counsel's questions.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They were my answers.
ZELENY: And he insisted he wrote the answers himself, not mentioning he spent at least three days this week huddled with this team of lawyers.
TRUMP: I write the answers. My lawyers don't write answers. I write answers. I was asked a series of questions. I have answered them very easily. Very easily.
ZELENY: Yet the president's mood all week and his tone today in the Oval Office suggested the questions may have been anything but easy.
Rudy Giuliani, one of his lawyers, telling "The Washington Post": "Some of Mueller 's questions were possible traps and unnecessary."
The president did not say why it's taken so long to answer questions about possible Russian collusion, but he assailed Mueller and his team's credibility.
TRUMP: I'm sure they're tricked up, because they like to catch people. You have to always be careful when you answer questions with people that probably have bad intentions.
ZELENY: He made clear today he's taking it very personally.
TRUMP: There should have never been a so-called investigation, which, in theory, it's not an investigation of me, but it's -- as far as I'm concerned, I like to take everything personally, because you do better that way.
ZELENY: His legal team is trying to determine whether any of the questions could put the president in legal jeopardy, even though he sought to diminish and discredit the investigation. TRUMP: The witch-hunt, as I call it, should never have taken place.
It continues to go on. I imagine it's ending now. From what I hear, it's ending, and I'm sure it will be just fine.
And you know why it's going to be just fine? Because there was no collusion.
ZELENY: But that, of course, will be determined by the outcome of Mueller's investigation.
As the president weighs a staff shakeup, one White House official described his mind-set like this: "In this administration, there are arsonists and there are firefighters. The president is looking to get rid of the firefighters. The more he does, the faster his administration is going to burn down."
George Conway, a prominent Republican lawyer and husband of the president's counselor, portrayed an administration in constant disarray. He declined to join the Justice Department last year.
GEORGE CONWAY, HUSBAND OF KELLYANNE CONWAY: I'm watching this thing, and, you know, and it's like the administration is like a shit show in a dumpster fire. And I'm like, I don't want to do that.
ZELENY: In the Oval Office today, while signing a cyber-security bill, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stood just over the president's shoulder.
She has repeatedly drawn the president's ire, but has yet to dismiss her, officials said, because he's still searching for a replacement. Asked whether he was agitated, considering his Twitter tirade about Mueller on Thursday, the president said this:
TRUMP: I'm not agitated. It's a hoax. I'm extremely happy. I'm very happy with almost all of my Cabinet. And, you know, changes are made because they're always made, especially after midterms.
ZELENY: In the East Room today, as he honored Elvis, baseball Hall of Fame legend Babe Ruth, Justice Antonin Scalia, and others with the nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, the president had this to say to the late justice's wife:
TRUMP: His wife, Maureen, who's become a great friend of my family, myself, and their nine children, Ann, Gene, John, Catherine, Mary Clare, Paul, Matthew, Christopher, and Meg. You were very busy. Wow.
TRUMP: Wow. I always knew I liked him.
ZELENY: So, this week is winding up here at the White House with a staff shakeup still in the works. But we are told the president is looking for a replacement for some
key positions and Cabinet secretaries perhaps before he removes anyone.
Now, Wolf, the president is traveling to California tomorrow to get a firsthand look at those deadly wildfires. Of course, this comes after he blasted California officials earlier in the week and threatened to withhold funding, but his tone there has softened considerably, as the death toll has risen, now at least 65 dead and some 600 potentially missing.
So, Wolf, the president traveling to California tomorrow. Of course, everything here at the White House will still be waiting for him -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly will be.
All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you.
Let's get some more in all of this from our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
Evan, today, the president said a Mueller's questions were not very difficult. If they're that easy to answer, why has it taken so long?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think these questions, I think he does -- he is capturing, I think, what he and his lawyers believe, which is that these are not very complicated questions.
The problem is that when you answer them, you have -- you have to do so with the knowledge of what Robert Mueller has in his investigation, and they don't know everything Robert Mueller has.
I think, as Pam Brown reported earlier today, there's some hiccups about whether or not they want to answer questions regarding the transition. Now, that's a curious development, because, early on, one of the things that the president's lawyers did was to demarcate the place where they were going to draw the line, which was the inauguration.
Everything before, they thought they thought was fair game for Mueller to ask about. Anything after the inauguration, they said was not.
So if they're drawing a new line, if they're moving the goalposts, so to speak, I think that's going to be an interesting new wrinkle in the negotiation with Robert Mueller's team.
BLITZER: As you heard, the president says he wrote the answers, he personally wrote all the answers to the questions submitted by Mueller, not his lawyers.
Potentially, could that be problematic for him?
PEREZ: Well, it certainly means that he can't blame his lawyers if anything goes wrong. Look, when the president finishes the take-home test, as I call it,
when they do submit this in the coming days, he's going to have to attest to those answers. So he best be very involved in making sure these the correct answers, these are his answers.
But we know behind the scenes, Wolf, his lawyers have been working on this. We know that he met with the lawyers before the midterms. There were a couple of sessions before the midterms. And now this week, he's been very intensely focused on this. This is going to be his answers in the end.
BLITZER: Let me turn to another rather fascinating twist that we just got on the -- the whole Mueller probe.
The WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, as you know, he may be facing criminal charges. We learned this, criminal charges by the Justice Department, because of a clerical error made by the Justice Department.
Is potentially all this related to the Russia investigation?
PEREZ: Potentially, it is. And, look, thank goodness for the eagle eyes of Seamus Hughes, who's a professor at George Washington University, who, while we were watching a football game last night, Wolf, he was reading some of these filings in the Eastern District of Virginia and found is unrelated case where someone apparently cut and paste a couple of paragraphs and plopped them into this unrelated case.
And it has something to do with Julian Assange. And as best we can figure out, this means that somewhere under seal our charges against Julian Assange. You remember, we reported on this program, actually, that the Justice Department had prepared those charges against Julian Assange.
What this means is that there are some charges sitting there, again, sealed by a judge. We do not know whether they have anything to do with the Russia investigation. Certainly, there's a lot of other considerations that the Justice Department and the FBI have looked at with regard to Julian Assange.
But really what this means, Wolf, is that there's a lot more to what's been going on behind the scenes with regard to WikiLeaks and so on that we just do not know yet about.
BLITZER: Yes. And we know probably only a tiny, tiny percentage of what Mueller and his team are up to right now. And I suspect that is what making the president as nervous as he is as well.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Evan Perez, reporting.
Joining us now, Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
And how significant is this development involving Julian Assange of WikiLeaks? Do you believe it's connected to the Mueller investigation?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: It almost certainly is connected, Wolf, to the Mueller investigation.
The charges against Julian Assange are very much probably like the ones against the Russian intelligence operatives and others whom Robert Mueller and the special counsel's office has already charged, the Espionage Act, defrauding the government, a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,all connected to the hacking into the DNC files and other potential acts against the Democratic campaign, linked to possibly the Trump campaign.
So, they could be very important to the special counsel investigation of Trump collusion with the Russian interference in our election.
BLITZER: Had you heard anything specifically about Julian Assange facing criminal charges?
BLUMENTHAL: There were rumors and reports.
And, obviously, he faced criminal charges in connection with violations of the laws in Sweden relating to his sexual misconduct, but none of these specifics about the sealed indictment.
And your point and Evan Perez's point about our knowing just the very tip of the iceberg as to what the special counsel knows is very, very well taken and significant.
Robert Mueller is three or four steps ahead of any of us, whether it's the Assange indictment or the other potential charges that could be forthcoming. There are rumors and reports about those charges after this quiet period. And the questions themselves that have been put to president.
The president, quite rightly, feels that the walls are closing in because he asked to answer these questions with a precision and accuracy that don't apply if he's just making broad statements on the White House lawn or even in the press room.
BLITZER: The president says he personally wrote the answers to the written questions submitted by Robert Mueller and his team. And he said -- and I'm quoting the president now -- "They're not very difficult questions."
What does that tell you?
BLUMENTHAL: His calling the answers easy tells me that it's either a false bravado or self-delusion or simple deception.
And all of it is dangerous to the president's case, because he has to take these questions very seriously. And there are reports, very significantly, that there's a larger set of questions relating to the post-inaugural period, as you pointed out earlier in the show, which he has declined to answer so far.
That report is, for example, in today's "Washington Post" article on the answers. So there is a whole new area of questioning. I would be very surprised if Donald Trump did the answers to these questions. I would be very unsurprised if there are not more questions put to him that he so far has not yet answered.
BLITZER: Yes, the president and his lawyers apparently don't want to answer any questions, certainly not after the inauguration, but even during the transition, after he was elected.
Is the president, in your opinion, facing serious legal jeopardy right now?
BLUMENTHAL: He is facing very serious legal jeopardy. There is prima facie a plausible case of obstruction of justice against him. There are elements of evidence on each of the critical factors that have to be proved in court.
And one of those key factors, intent, is shown by his ongoing misconduct in, for example, his potentially involving himself in either the firing of the special counsel, if that's what Matt Whitaker does, his acting attorney general, or the strangling and stifling of that investigation, which is why we are taking action in Congress to forestall any action that would stop or stymie the special counsel investigation.
BLITZER: The president also said today that he's hearing that the Mueller investigation is wrapping up.
How concerned are you, Senator, that Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general, will be the one deciding what to do with Mueller's final report?
BLUMENTHAL: I'm deeply concerned, Wolf, because Matt Whitaker has indicated a clear hostility to the special counsel investigation. In fact, he called it at one point a hoax, echoing the president himself.
He has provided a road map, in effect, to how the special counsel investigation can be dealt a death by 1,000 cuts, cuts in authority, cuts in funding, and a refusal to issue or approve indictments. And that kind of, in effect, slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre is a danger that I have raised.
And the legislation that I have talked about proposing would in fact require full disclosure and transparency of all the evidence, all of the findings, if there is any effort to stifle or stymie this investigation.
BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, just ahead: a new glimpse into the chaos within the Trump administration from Kellyanne Conway's husband. Stand by. You're going to hear his rather colorful comparison of the White House to a dumpster fire with powerful fuels.
Also coming up: A federal judge orders the administration to reinstate our chief White House correspondent's press pass. We're going to talk about the new ruling in CNN's favor and what it means for freedom of the press.
BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is responding to a federal judge's ruling that the Trump administration was wrong to revoke the press pass of our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Mr. Trump says new rules and regulations on the -- quote -- "decorum" of the news media are now being drafted. The White House has restored Acosta's access, in compliance with this federal court order.
Let's get some more from our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.
Jessica, you were there, you were in the courtroom. How consequential is this judge's ruling?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the judge giving CNN and Jim Acosta an immediate, yet initial win. This is just round one in a lawsuit that could continue here.
But, for now, the judge sided with CNN, issuing that emergency order that the White House must reinstate Acosta's hard pass. That's something the White House did earlier today.
Now, Judge Timothy Kelly, he was appointed by President Trump. He's been on the federal bench for just about a year, but he did come down against several of the government's arguments, even indicating that if the White House decides to move forward and fight CNN's lawsuit even further, the judge said that CNN would likely prevail in the case.
Now, the judge also criticized the way the White House went about taking away Jim Acosta's hard pass, saying that it was -- quote -- "shrouded in mystery," especially since the Justice Department lawyers who argue this case on Wednesday, they couldn't even conclusively tell the judge who ordered it, whether it was the president or the press team.
And the judge also questioned why the White House gave some of those shifting explanations. And he even noted that Sarah Sanders' initial claim, that Acosta had inappropriately touched a White House intern, the judge said that was likely untrue and partly based on evidence of questionable accuracy.
The judge there seeming to reference that video clip that Sarah Sanders tweeted out last week. But the judge was very specific. He did say this was a narrow ruling and that he said he was not deciding that broader First Amendment question that was raised in this case.
Of course, those issues could actually get taken up if the case moves forward. There are hearings scheduled next week to determine how this will proceed. But the Justice Department just issued a statement here. And they put it this way.
They said: "We look forward to continuing to defend the White House's lawful actions here."
So it does seem, Wolf, that the White House will press forward with this, and maybe go further, not be satisfied by today's ruling -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The president reacted by saying that White House officials will just leave if they don't want to answer questions from reporters.
What's the White House plan going for?
As for the lawsuit, the question is, will the White House continue to fight? It seems like they will with this recent Department of Justice statement. The president, meanwhile, though, he's pledging to create these rules of decorum for future press conferences. He talked today how he'd maybe set a limit on how many questions reporters can ask, how he would stop reporters from making statements.
And he did say that if reporters don't comply with those rules in the future, the president has promised to throw them out. The president also indicated that this might not be the last court fight we could see in this matter.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If they don't listen to the rules and regulations, we will end up back in court and we will win. But, more importantly, we will just leave, and then you won't be very happy, because we do get good ratings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: So, the president promising to set maybe new rules at those press conferences.
But what about in the courtroom? What happens after this initial victory for CNN and Jim Acosta? Well, the lead lawyer in this case for CNN, Ted Boutrous, he said the network is open to a settlement that would avoid further legal proceedings.
But, at the same time, Wolf, the legal team is ready to go forward and litigate to protect First Amendment rights for all journalists -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jessica Schneider reporting, thank you very much.
And joining us now, Ted Boutrous. He's the attorney representing CNN.
Congratulations on this initial victory. Thanks so much for joining us.
Explain, Ted, what the judge specifically ruled on today.
TED BOUTROUS, ATTORNEY FOR CNN: What the judge ruled today was based on our request for a temporary restraining order. So it's a first step, but it's extremely important.
The judge ruled that Mr. Acosta's press credentials, his hard pass, needed to be given back to him immediately, today, and said that there's a First Amendment right of access to the White House, a liberty interest. That's protected by the Due Process Clause, and it's not permissible to deprive someone of that liberty interest without due process and procedures.
That wasn't done here. So the court ordered that the press pass be given back immediately. So we're cheering the First Amendment and the Fifth Amendment today.
BLITZER: Both important amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as we know.
BOUTROUS: They're very important.
BLITZER: And so the judge said Jim Acosta has to get his hard pass, as it's called, back immediately.
I want you to elaborate the message this sends out.
BOUTROUS: This ruling sends a very strong message, because to have a ruling so quickly -- one of our arguments was that every day that Mr. Acosta didn't have his press credentials and couldn't cover the White House was an irreparable First Amendment injury.
And the judge took that very seriously. So it's very rare to have something happen this quickly. And the fact that the court so unequivocally said that what the White House had done did not comport with due process, or likely did not, because it's not -- we haven't finished the case yet, and that immediate relief was required, says the White House can't violate the rights of reporters and journalists and news organizations.
It can't throw people out arbitrarily. And that's an important message for our country and for our democracy.
BLITZER: It certainly is.
Let me read the statement the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, released -- quote -- "Today, the court made clear there is no absolute First Amendment right to access the White House. In response to the court, we will temporarily reinstate the reporter's hard pass. We will also further develop rules and processes to ensure fair and orderly press conferences in the future. There must be decorum at the White House."
So how do you respond to that statement?
BOUTROUS: I respond to it a couple ways.
First, I think it is good if they're going to develop some standards. That's something we think would be a good thing.
But the first part, Ms. Sanders is distorting the court's ruling. The court ruled specifically that there is a First Amendment right of access to the White House, because the White House has opened its doors, created the areas where reporters can go. It's a vital part of our democracy to be able to cover it.
So that's a distortion of the court's ruling. But one of the other things of court ruled today was that Ms. Sanders' initial statements about why they were revoking Mr. Acosta's press credentials was likely untrue and based on the information questionable accuracy,
That's when she disseminated this doctored videotape and claimed something else happened at the press conference that just didn't.
BLITZER: And her statement seems to suggest that they see the judge's ruling differently than you see it.
BOUTROUS: I think, when folks see the written transcript, they will agree with me and not her.
BLITZER: So, where does all this go from here? What's next in this lawsuit?
BOUTROUS: The next step, we owe the court a report on Monday about what next steps in briefing, what's called the preliminary injunction. That's the next step. A temporary restraining order can only last two weeks.
So we're going to come up with a briefing schedule, and then a hearing date for the preliminary injunction. The government will be able to respond more fully. They only had a day-and-a-half to respond. So they will get to put more briefing in, and they could try to put some evidence in. They didn't put any evidence in.
So, we're going to go through that. And we may have a hearing again in a couple of weeks.
BLITZER: So there's still more work that needs to be done?
BOUTROUS: There's still more work to be done.
And Mr. Acosta is going to be covering the news. And we're just going to going to try to make this a permanent victory. But we're very happy today. It's an important day for our constitutional system. BLITZER: Thanks so much, Ted Boutrous, for joining us.
BOUTROUS: Thank you so much for having me.
BLITZER: And just ahead, more on the president's latest huddle with his lawyers, as he tries to get his final answers to Robert Mueller on the question of collusion.
Will the special counsel find the president's responses believable and buy his claim that he wrote all the answers by himself?
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news on President Trump answering to Robert Mueller on the Russia investigation. CNN has learn about yet another meeting today between the president and his lawyers so they can wrap up the process of responding to the special counsel's written questions. The president insisting today that he wrote the answers himself; he said it was easy, did it easily. Those are the president's words. Let's bring in our analysts and Jeffrey Toobin. He said they're not very difficult questions, very easy but it's taken him days and days and they've been going through this process for weeks and months.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Months, yes. Well look I think as usual, the president is responding to what he's read in the news media. Rudy Giuliani yesterday told "The Washington Post" that the process is complicated, that there are some questions that raise issues and they may object to some. And the President, I think correctly thought that the better spin to put on this was the whole thing was easy. I didn't have any problem with these questions, I answered them. I did it all myself; didn't need my lawyers. You know where the truth is in all this beats the heck out of me but that's why he's saying what he's saying.
BLITZER: Because as Jeffrey and Jackie points out, yesterday, Giuliani his personal lawyer said these questions create more issues for us legally than others, some of these questions that Mueller submitted.
JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": Particularly when you're talking about obstruction of justice questions, which is why his lawyers are going through these with a fine tooth comb. They don't want the president to write something that might get him in further legal jeopardy. That's why they're not doing the questions face-to-face in part because the president has a tendency to elaborate. So, yes, his lawyers are writing those questions.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Elaborate; I like that word. Elaborate. Is that what the president does? I think according to many people what he does is lie and I think that maybe is a bigger problem than elaborating.
KUCINICH: We can play word games all day, but I was you know... BLITZER: Let's be precise. You know Ron Brownstein, the president says he hears this whole Mueller investigation could be wrapping up very soon. What do you make of that?
BROWNSTEIN: Well the first point is the one you made with Senator Blumenthal. We don't know. This investigation has been incredibly successful at keeping us all in the dark. Logically you would say if you are up to interviewing, and Jeffrey could answer this better than me, if you're up to interviewing the principal in the case, then you must be getting logically you would say you were getting near the end. The big question I think is whether the president is making these pronouncements because of what - what he is hearing via his lawyers, you know from the Mueller team or whether he has kind of a sense that his acting attorney general is putting pressure on Mueller to wrap it up. Those are very different rationales and very different expectations of what those kind of comments would mean.
BLITZER: What do you think Jeffrey?
TOOBIN: Well I do think this is closer, much closer to the end than the beginning, but keep in mind, the White House has only agreed to answer questions about the parts of Mueller's investigation that deal with pre presidency, the president's dealings with Russia, if any, during the campaign. They are still at complete loggerheads about whether the president will answer any questions regarding things he did as president. The firing of Jim Comey, for example, the president's lawyers have said that's protected under article two of the Constitution and it remains to be seen whether Mueller will force - will issue a subpoena and force a card fight over that which could delay the whole thing for months.
BLITZER: You know Shawn, in the midst of all of this, we got an intriguing unexpected development today thanks to a justice department major blunder, we now have learned that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, he may be facing criminal charges. There may be sealed indictment right there and we know that potentially, there's a connection there to the Russia investigation.
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Potentially, but as you point out, Wolf, this is still a sealed indictment so it's unclear exactly what this indictment - the charge is and whether or not it has anything to do with Mueller. There are a couple of options here. On the one hand for a long time, the Justice Department has explored the idea of going after Julian Assange for his dumps of classified and sensitive information and they've not done that for obvious reasons because of freedom of the press issues or what have you.
But if there's a charge here against Julian Assange, this would necessarily have to do with the act of actually getting information to release. You know, if they are looking at not the fact that he put this information out but the fact that he may have been involved in some sort of hacking or some sort of computer fraud, then there is a case that can be made there and that would be potentially tied to the Mueller investigation. BLITZER: Mike Pompeo, Jackie, himself, when he was CIA director said
now he's Secretary of State said that WikiLeaks was basically a hostile intelligence arm of the Russians.
KUCINICH: Right. You know, now, he, I don't know that he's backed up on that. But he certainly hasn't been as brazen as he was or as forward as he was. I know Jeffrey can give me the better word, than he has in the past.
TOOBIN: Well I think it's a tough call. I mean the legal issue connected to the WikiLeaks is really hard. Because you know, we want to have a system where journalists can receive classified information, improperly obtained information and give it to our readers without being prosecuted. That's sort of how things have worked to date. Is that what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks has been doing? That's one way of describing it and if that's the way you describe it, we don't want that.
BLITZER: But the government - the government, Jeffrey says, WikiLeaks is a hostile arm of Russian intelligence, not a journalistic organization.
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, I understand that's what Secretary Pompeo said when he was CIA director, but just look at the facts. He received documents and then distributed them to the public. You know, if he's a bad person or if he has bad motives, that's not necessarily relevant to the legal questions. The legal question is, is he performing a journalistic function. I don't think these are settled issues. This is a very unusual situation. But I think it's a lot more complicated if we suggest it's simple.
TURNER: Before we get to the issue of whether - of him receiving documents and putting those documents out to the public, there's also the issue of how he received those documents and whether or not WikiLeaks was actively involved in stealing those documents and that raises another legal issue that he could be prosecuted for.
BLITZER: Everybody, Ron hold your thought for a moment. We've got a lot more coming up. Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with our analysts and we have more breaking news just coming in to "The Situation Room." "The Washington Post" is now reporting that the CIA has concluded that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered -- personally ordered the assassination and the killing of the Saudi journalist, the "The Washington Post" contributor, Jamal Khashoggi.
Shawn, this story says the CIA assessment, the officials who prepared the assessment for the CIA director and the President of the United States have high confidence that it was personally ordered by the crown prince.
[18:45:09] TURNER: Right, Wolf. So, what that tells me is that the CIA has looked at not only human intelligence, but they've looked at samples. They've compared notes with other intelligence agencies and perhaps consulted with outside intelligence agencies and have gathered enough information to come to the conclusive fact that Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the killing of this journalist.
But this is something that a lot of us was the case and it's highly unusual for the CIA to make such a definitive assessment, but I think this seals the deal for everyone who kind of looked at the story that the Saudis have put forth and are putting together overtime. And we're thinking that this just doesn't smell right.
BLITZER: It's going to put enormous pressure on the president of the United States to do something about U.S.-Saudi relations right.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It will and it won't just be coming from externally outside of the country. It will be coming from Congress. We already had someone like Bob Corker, who's on his way out, that he thought MBS was -- it was getting closer and closer to him, but the White House has consistently tried to push this away from MBS because they really invested in that relationship. Just a couple of days ago, John Bolton said the tape that's out there apparently didn't implicate him. This obviously tells a very different story.
BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, what do you think?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as Jackie said, I mean, this is the last thing that the president wants to deal with, right? I mean, he has done everything he can to avoid imposing accountability on Saudi Arabia. It goes to the broader vision of foreign policy that's almost completely detached from any kind of connection to American values, not only with adversaries, but also with allies, as we saw again with the struggles and conflicts in Paris.
And you do see this as one area where there is a piece of the Republican Party that is willing to stand up. I mean, we just saw the Republicans lost the most seats in the House since Watergate largely because they would not confront or restrain President Trump in almost any front. But this is one where you can imagine a little more of a critical mess developing.
BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, we've heard from president and other administration officials that their sense this was a rogue operation. But if you believe the CIA assessment, as reported in "The Washington Post", it clearly was no rogue operation, the killing of Khashoggi.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It absolutely not, but you know, let's remember, the United States Senate is not just in Republican hands. It's in even more pro-Trump hands than it was before Election Day. That, you know, even the mild critics like Flake, like Corker, they're gone and Mitch McConnell is not going to let anything come up for a vote that Donald Trump is against, and especially when it comes to foreign policy.
So this is embarrassing. This is -- you know, it's a grotesque story. But is it going to constrain the president in remaining alive with MBS? I don't think so. TURNER: I think that's a critical point because everything this president has done up to this point when it comes to the intelligence community has been to side with those who are at odds with the intelligence community. This is a high confidence assessment. This is the intelligence community saying without a doubt that this happened.
And so, this is an opportunity for the president to say, look, I've got a committee that serves me and works to give me decision advantage. He can do the right thing here and side with the intelligence community. And, look, if there have to be some changes in this relationships, so be it.
BLITZER: The another new nugget in the story is that the crown prince's younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, who was until recently, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, personally assured Khashoggi that if he went to the consulate in Istanbul, he would be safe. Well, clearly, he was not. He has not come back to the United States, the Saudi ambassador.
We'll have much more on all of this. This is breaking news. We'll be right back.
[18:53:34] BLITZER: We're continuing to follow the breaking news on the killing of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. "The Washington Post" reporting that the CIA has come to the conclusion that the Saudi crown prince personally ordered his assassination.
Right now, we're also learning about another controversy involving the Saudi crown prince.
We're joined by our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski.
Michelle, you have some exclusive new reporting. What are you learning?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it has been nearly four years since the Saudis launched this intervention in Yemen, fighting against a rebel group called the Houthis. Where it stands right now, it is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world.
Thirteen million people at risk of starving to death. And since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis, the U.S. has pulled back some of the help it gives the Saudis in Yemen, but one might think at this point it would be a no brainer for countries that are in the U.N. Security Council to at the very latest put out a resolution calling for the cessation of hostilities in Yemen, to allow humanitarian aid to get in. But it has not been easy.
There has been resistance and worries over it. Now, we find out that the U.K. that's been putting together a resolution sent its foreign secretary over to Saudi Arabia this week. He brought a copy of the draft resolution with him and sat down face-to-face with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
One source tells us that's unusual, that normally for a discussion like this he would meet with somebody on his own level, but two sources tell us that the crown prince, quote, threw a fit over the resolution.
[18:55:06] Other sources are more diplomatic. They say he didn't like it. He has reservations but overall, it was a cordial discussion.
So, now, the U.K. secretary goes back, has discussions with allies like the U.S. and France to try to figure out what to put in this resolution, highlighting just how sensitive this is, how concerned Western allies still are about possibly hurting the relationship with such a key ally in the Middle East and that possibly having repercussions.
Today, Human Rights Watch said that the Saudis have way too much sway in the U.N. Security Council, so now this resolution that we expected to see come out this week, we likely won't see a draft until next week, but there are going to be a lot of eyes watching to see how tough the language, essentially rebuking the Saudis, is or is not, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Good reporting. Michelle, thank you very much.
Also tonight, North Korean state media says Kim Jong-un has personally overseen testing of a new high-tech weapon that appears to be a direct message to the United States as nuclear talks between the two countries have stalled.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, what do we know about this weapon and why North Korea is now boasting about it?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's the key question. Why are they doing that? And, Wolf, the unanswered question always is, what is Kim Jong-un really up to?
STARR (voice-over): North Korean state broadcasting announcing Kim Jong-un has personally supervised testing of what it is calling a new ultramodern weapon.
The only evidence so far? A photo of Kim with his commanders but no indication of when or where it was taken.
South Korean sources say it may have been long range artillery. The worry? Not the weapons test itself. Sources say it may not be that new. But why now for Kim?
REP. MIKE TURNER (R), ARMED SERVICES AND INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEES: It certainly shows a return to the militaristic stance of North Korea. It's certainly in contrast to his statements of seeking peace. STARR: A sign of that peace process, South Korean guard posts blown
up at the DMZ, a confidence building measure. U.S. intelligence still believes Kim wants a nuclear deal with President Trump in exchange for sanctions being lifted. But Kim is under pressure from his own elites not to give away the store to the U.S.
ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: He has to depend on the military, his security forces to stay in power, and those security forces and the military were never going to let him make a bad agreement.
STARR: Now, a possible concession from the White House, trying to find a way to ensure there will be another Trump-Kim summit. Vice President Mike Pence telling NBC news that a list of nuclear and missile sites must be discussed between the two leaders at the next meeting instead of insisting North Korea provide the information beforehand.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it will be absolutely imperative in this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons in question, identifying all the development sites.
STARR: Talks have stalled, discussions with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were cancelled earlier this month. It's a stark difference from the image President Trump painted just after the midterm elections.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're very happy how it's going with North Korea. We think it's going fine. We're in no rush.
STARR: North Korea also announced it's deporting an American man who entered a restricted border area and claimed to be CIA. South Korea believes it's the same man who was caught in similar circumstances last year and deported according to "The Associated Press".
STARR: And the Trump administration issuing a statement about that situation, and obviously very pleased that the North Koreans are not holding on to this man -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Kim Jong-un, Barbara, has been complaining about a lot of things, including U.S. military exercises. Does the U.S. take that seriously?
STARR: Well, you know, the big exercises had already been cancelled to try and stir movement towards diplomatic action to keep Kim happy, if you will. There's some small-scale exercises going on. He's complaining about those too.
The theory goes that he is trying to get as many concessions out of the U.S. as he can in order to keep those elites, those security forces and his military forces back home happy and keep himself in power. BLITZER: All right, Barbara, good reporting. Thank you to you as
Before we go, a very, very important programming note for our viewers. Please be sure to watch my special report, "Ted Turner: The Maverick Man," a profile of the founder of CNN as he celebrates -- getting ready to celebrate his 80th birthday.
Happy birthday, Ted. He's a great, great man. He did so much for all of us. We are grateful to him.
The program airs tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. Proud to have done this.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.