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CIA Concludes Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Jamal Khashoggi's Death; California Wildfire Survivors Face Long Road to Recovery; Trump Answers Written Questions from Special Counsel; "Yellow Vests" Demand President Macron Lower Fuel Prices; U.K. Prime Minister May Moves Quickly to Fill Vacant Cabinet Posts. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired November 17, 2018 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Sources say the CIA has concluded what many had suspected all along, that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did it burn down or didn't it burn down?

And we just don't know.

VANIER (voice-over): Families displaced by the California wildfires are left wondering what is next. This as the number of the names on the list of those missing spikes to over 1,000.


VANIER (voice-over): And protesters in yellow vests prepare to cause traffic chaos in France, all in the name of rising fuel prices and fuel taxes.

We're live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta. I'm Cyril Vanier. It is great to have you with us.


VANIER: There it is. The CIA determined that the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That's according to a senior U.S. official. This conclusion is partly based on a phone call that the CIA analyzed, where the prince's brother urged Khashoggi to go the consulate in Istanbul, telling him he would be safe.

Khalid bin Salman denies making that call and the Saudi government has shifted its story several times since Khashoggi disappeared from the consulate last month. However, they've been consistent on one key point: that the crown prince was not involved.

Joining me from Abu Dhabi is CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley.

Sam, the crown prince's brother is now being thrust into the middle of all of this due to this reporting.

How is he reacting?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He has reacted with an absolutely flat denial and a challenge to the CIA to publish their evidence. Not a surprising position taken by the Saudis who notwithstanding the steady drip feed of leaks coming Turkish intelligence but pieced together the Turkish version of events that, as far as they're concerned -- and this is a position shared by Western officials now publicly through leaks but nonetheless directly sources, not only by CNN but by "The Washington Post" and others.

CIA now pointing the finger directly at Mohammed bin Salman. He was the older brother of Prince Khalid, the ambassador to Washington, D.C. Prince Khalid left D.C. shortly after the disappearance of Khashoggi.

Now the CIA saying that they believe he made a phone call to Khashoggi, encouraging him to go to a meeting and he would be safe at that meeting inside the Istanbul embassy. And he made that call -- this is a critical bit -- at the behest of his older brother, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

That as I say, the Saudis have denied. They managed to put up a firewall really in their narrative between -- which separates Mohammed bin Salman and his members of most senior staff from any blame associated with this killing, which now the Saudis do accept at least was premeditated.

VANIER: Since we will talk about Khalid, the crown prince's brother, a little bit more over the next few days, what do we need to know about him?

KILEY: Unlike his older brother, he has quite a lot of education in the United States. He was at Georgetown University. He is also a fighter pilot and was involved in operations against the Islamic State and other actual warfighting operations, one of those royals a bit like the British, who likes to get involved in actual war.

But this has placed him close to not only military officials in the United States but also very much at the center of the Western relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, which goes through Washington.

He's not however -- and this is the interesting thing coming out of Washington -- expected to return to the position as ambassador to Washington.

VANIER: All right. Sam Kiley, live from Abu Dhabi. Thank you.

Joining me is CNN intelligence and security analyst and former CIA operative Bob Baer.

Bob, is there -- do you have a reason to doubt the CIA's conclusion when they conclude that Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: I have no doubt at all. I'll start with the way Saudi Arabia is run.

Mohammed bin Salman is a despot, in complete control of the intelligence services and the foreign ministry and everything.


BAER: And I know the Saudis very well, I've worked with them. There's no such thing as a rogue operation. I knew it as soon as I heard the details, that 18 Saudis didn't fly to Istanbul to kill a critic. It wouldn't happen.

But once you take all of the intercepts and the audio from inside the consulate and the pictures, I mean, the Turks did a nice job, framing up -- not framing up but putting the details to show.

Then you have the calls back to Riyadh, to the boss, "The deed is done." It was all very clear. I think the CIA at this point has probably other intercepts from Saudi Arabia, inside the royal family and the rest, butt they'll never make it public. But they have come to a conclusion, that is remarkable and important.

VANIER: You talk about the intercepts. The CIA reportedly listened to a phone call by Khalid bin Salman. He is the crown prince's brother and Khalid bin Salman called Jamal Khashoggi, said he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and it would be safe.

Now Khalid bin Salman is daring the U.S. to make their evidence public.

Would that ever get released?

BAER: No, we do not have to release it. What kind of intercept was it?

Were they reading diplomatic communications?

Was it from microwave and the rest of it?

There's no way they'll give that up. That's National Security Agency. And neither is the CIA. And we're not taking this to court anyhow so it doesn't matter. I think the fact that the CIA has come to a firm decision is enough.

VANIER: Just as a byproduct of this, it's interesting for a layman because you get some insight into how the CIA works. This makes it official that the U.S. were eavesdropping on the communications of the crown prince's brother, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

Should we just assume that all ambassadors' phones are tapped and that their communications are intercepted?

BAER: Oh, absolutely. I think we have to assume communications in Riyadh are tapped as well. There's a lot of ways into phone calls, through fiberoptics and the rest. When you use a telephone, there's no secrets.

VANIER: The CIA also believes reportedly that this is not going to derail bin Salman's ascension to the throne. So I feel we're getting multiple answers in this report here. The CIA thinks MBS will remain in power. If they're right, it is about damage control, both for MBS and the allies, the U.S.

BAER: The problem is normally the royal family would step in and remove MBS because this is really out of line for the Saudi royal family. This is not what the Saudis do, is kill critics, especially "Washington Post" columnists.

The question is, who has got the ear of the king?

And I think there's an agreement that it is Mohammed bin Salman. There are other sons that will see the king and grandchildren and other people and a couple of advisors but right now, King Salman, I'm told is not the old King Salman. He's partially suffering from dementia. He's been gaslit by Mohammed bin Salman.

Mohammed bin Salman can just lie to him and the king won't do anything. I think that's the sentiment as of today inside the royal family.

VANIER: Certainly there's a lot of noise out of Saudi Arabia and across multiple reports that the current king doesn't necessarily have the wherewithal to change the way the country is headed. Hence that explains why MBS has his hands on all the levers of power.

Bob Baer, thank you so much for joining us.

BAER: Thank you.

VANIER: Wildfires in California are already the worst in state history. They just won't let up. The death toll has climbed to 74. That number could rise as there's more than a thousand names on a list of missing persons.

For the survivors, nothing but misery. The U.S. president Donald Trump is to meet with them in the coming hours. CNN's Kaylee Hartung looks at their road to recovery.


KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The smoke from the Camp Fire lingers. Survivors on the ground face a bleak picture. This makeshift campground in a Walmart parking lot is near the remnants of the town of Paradise. Many have lost everything.

These survivors are just trying to catch their breath in the smoky air, looking for answers to the question, what is next?


Or did it not burn down?

And we just don't know. And it is hard to try to figure out your game plan when you don't know your game plan.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Anna Goodnight (ph) and her husband, William, rushed out of their home. They were only able to grab medication and some important documents.

GOODNIGHT (PH): We saw everything burning down as we were leaving off the hill. That was scary enough.


HARTUNG (voice-over): They have no idea if their home is still standing, they're just glad they made it out alive.

GOODNIGHT (PH): I hope there's some closure for the families that have lost family because we've been hearing so many horror stories. But I'm sure it is going to get worse before it gets better.

CRYSTAL STIRRUP (PH), CALIFORNIA FIRE SURVIVOR: We're living. There's a lot of people that didn't make it.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Crystal Stirrup (ph) survived Hurricanes Andrew and Irma in Florida. She and her four young children were planning to make Paradise their new home.

HARTUNG: This was the start of the next chapter of your life, putting a down payment on an apartment in Paradise.

STIRRUP (PH): Yes, I thought I was going to -- you know, we was all happy, excited when they had actually called us and told us to come next week. It was supposed to be the time we were coming in but everything is gone and I don't know what's next. I'm just winging it.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Despite facing her own long road to recovery, Crystal has been visiting the people at the camp, offering to help however she can.

STIRRUP (PH): I can't do anything but one day at a time. It is out of my hands. Stay praying, stay asking the Lord to cover us or just cover them. Make sure they have a safe place to land in all of their situations.

HARTUNG: The number of missing persons continues to fluctuate. Authorities say it is so difficult to pinpoint the exact number because so many people have been displaced. Paradise, California, is a town of a population of more than 25,000 people.

Authorities say that some people could have evacuated to areas where cellphone service is unreliable. Others could have evacuated and not reached out to family members. So some may not know that people are looking for them.

Anna Goodnight (ph), who you just heard me speak with, says she's afraid to look at that list because she's afraid that she will see names on it she knows. Authorities ask, if you do look at the list, if you see someone's name on it who is safe, please let them know, otherwise they will continue to try to account for everyone that they believe to be missing -- Kaylee Hartung, CNN, Chico, California.


VANIER: Kaylee has brought us those really emotional stories of distress and recovery, which is barely starting.



VANIER: Under penalty of law, the U.S. president said he answered questions from special counsel Robert Mueller and he answered them himself without his lawyers.

Plus protesters across France want the government to do something about the cost of fuel and they're willing to take over the roads to do it. We'll have more on that next. Stay with us.




VANIER: A key milestone in the Russia probe. President Trump said he's answered written questions from Robert Mueller. Those questions about possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Trump also said that he wrote the answers, not his lawyers. Our Kaitlan Collins reports from the White House.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 24 hours of Twitter silence about the Russia investigation, President Trump addressing it out loud today from the Oval Office.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There should have never been any Mueller investigation.

COLLINS: Announcing he's finished the written answers to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller and even penned them himself.

TRUMP: I write the answers. My lawyers don't write answers. I write answers.

COLLINS: Trump met with his legal team nearly every day this week and despite his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, raising concerns about some of the questions...

TRUMP: No collusion.

COLLINS: -- Trump said he hasn't submitted them yet, but doesn't have any problems.

TRUMP: But they're not very difficult questions. COLLINS: The president insisting he's not bothered by the Russia investigation, despite writing in all caps the day before that it is a witch hunt like no other in American history and has gone absolutely nuts.

TRUMP: I like to take everything personally, because you do better that way.

COLLINS: Trump suggesting investigators from the special counsel's office were setting him up to perjure himself.

TRUMP: Gee, was the weather sunny or was it rainy?

He said it may have been a good day. It was rainy. Therefore, he told a lie. He perjured himself.

COLLINS: The back and forth with the special counsel coming as the president is weighing shaking up his own staff. Today, when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, standing over his shoulder, he said he's not done making changes yet.

TRUMP: 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.

COLLINS: Sources say Trump has decided to remove Nielsen from her post, but he hasn't picked a replacement yet and there are questions in Washington about who wants to work in a White House engulfed in chaos.

Now as the president continues to search for more people to bring into his administration while he's considering getting rid of some, we have learned from sources that the Florida attorney general Pam Bondi is scheduled to meet with Trump while he's in Florida next week for his Thanksgiving vacation, someone whose name has been floated for not only the attorney general post --


COLLINS: -- but also for Kirstjen Nielsen's job over at the Department of Homeland Security.

While all this is going on, a senior administration official made a stunning remark to Jake Tapper earlier today, saying that there are people in this administration who are arsonists and people in this administration who are firefighters.

And they said -- and I'm quoting this senior administration official now -- "The president is looking to get rid of the firefighters. The more he does, the faster his administration is going to burn down" -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


VANIER: Also in Washington, also at the White House, CNN's Jim Acosta is back in the White House press corps. On Friday a judge ruled that the Trump administration must return his press credentials pending a full legal resolution of CNN's lawsuit.

CNN launched an important case after the White House revoked Acosta's pass last week following a heated exchange with the president. Mr. Trump said the ruling is not a big deal. My colleague, CNN's chief White House correspondent, welcomed the interim decision.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I just want to say something very briefly and that is I want to thank all of my colleagues in the press who supported us this week. And I want to thank the judge for the decision he made today. And let's go back to work.


VANIER: Major roadways across France could be shut down this weekend and that's because protesters across the country are planning to block them. You can see them already. They're demanding French president Emmanuel Macron do something to lower the price of fuel.

They call themselves Yellow Vests, part of the reflective gear that they're required to keep in their cars in case of emergency. CNN European affairs commentator, Dominic Thomas, is with us in the French capital.

Dominic, is this only -- I know this is the official reason for the protest.

Is this only about the price of fuel and fuel tax or is this also about the president, Emmanuel Macron?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Cyril, the two are inextricably linked. Of course, people are upset about the fuel prices. This is an opportunity to -- to launch a -- a national demonstration; interestingly enough, one that has been launched through social media, not through the traditional powers of the trade unions.

But, of course, it is also an opportunity to indicate profound dissatisfaction with the ways in which Emmanuel Macron's reform measures are working out, now almost two years into his presidency. This is really a kind of barometer of where things stand on the French political landscape.

VANIER: Macron had promised an economic revival for France during his campaign.

Did that materialize?

THOMAS: Well, the big problem is that Macron is facing -- and he's realizing this now as he is moving well into the presidency -- is that when he came to power, he came to power thanks to a movement. He does not have a political party as such with deep -- sort of position in French society and represented in local councils, departments, mayoral offices and so on. And the French system moves very slowly. The process of getting

things through parliament, decrees and of change actually coming out and having demonstrable deliverables takes a very long time.

Having said that, some of the measures that he has put into place that concern, tax cuts on the corporations and the super wealthy have come into place. This has further exacerbated tensions between those that are struggling in French society and the super elite that he is seen as really representing.

So of course the rising cost of oil prices, of gas prices, petrol prices and so on has disproportionately impacted a section of the population that feels left behind by this presidency, a presidency that many supported, that many welcomed, the kind of change. But the change has not translated into the pocketbooks of the average French person.

VANIER: By the way, Dominic, as we speak, we see live pictures of the Yellow Vests blocking roads in France. For anybody unfamiliar with French protests, you see the car block?

That's the exact point of the protest. Inflict some pain on people who use the roads and just people in general and try and block the country to make that statement.

Dominic, protests in France, frequent. We've seen pictures like these before. Some are successful and they force the government to change course or change a policy. Others not.

How do you predict that?

How does that work?

THOMAS: Emmanuel Macron certainly has been unrelenting when it has come to trying to move forward and implement his measures. In fact, many would argue he's very disconnected from the voice of the people. He's not a very good listener. He has his ideas and he wants to go about implementing them.

The interesting thing here is this is a national demonstration. This is going to take place not just in the main city, capital of Paris, but in all of --


THOMAS: -- the areas in what we may call the provinces, in the areas that have been so impacted by the question of rising oil prices.

These are the areas in which the public infrastructure and transports and others develop when people rely on their vehicles to get around. Now of course, the French system relies on testing. The litmus test is when policies or decrees or changes are being enacted to see whether or not people will take to the street and there's a mechanism for doing this.

In this particular case, the national nature of it and the amount of people that we're potentially going to see involved in this, the ways in which this is impacting so many people in French society, is likely to resonate with the French president. He'll have to take this seriously.

VANIER: Absolutely. The French president, the French presidency is only a few hundred meters away from where you are. No doubt Macron is sitting there and all of the information about everything that is going to happen today in France is going to be fed up to him.

How many people are protesting?

How much paralysis is there?

And that's going to influence his decision-making.

Dominic Thomas reporting to us live from our Paris bureau, thank you so much.

British prime minister Theresa May is wasting no time rebuilding her fractured cabinet after the disastrous rollout of her Brexit plan. The terms of that agreement cost her two cabinet secretaries and five other officials. It was an embarrassing setback by any measure. CNN's Bianca Nobilo reports from London.


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A quieter, darker Westminster at the end of a tumultuous week. MPs have gone home to their constituencies to test the mood of their voters. So has the prime minister, after another round in her unusual media blitz.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: If there's no deal, I have said that E.U. citizens living here in the U.K. will continue to have their rights protected. I would expect other countries in the E.U. to do the same for U.K. citizens living in their country.


NOBILO (voice-over): After a week of resignations of being mauled in the Commons, Theresa May's mood is an Elsonian (ph) England expects, resilient, brilliantly determined. She appears to have stanched the bleeding with senior ministers rallying to her side Friday.

LIAM FOX, BRITISH INTERNATIONAL TRADE SECRETARY: For people, the greatest price that could be paid would be to have no Brexit at all. I think that would be a betrayal of the British people.

NOBILO (voice-over): Reinforcing the ranks, the prime minister has named a new Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, and brought another loyalist, Amber Rudd, back into the cabinet. But the rumbling among the hardcore Brexiteers on the Conservative backbenches threatens to mutate into revolt.

The ink still drying on letters calling for a vote of no confidence. NOBILO: And they cannot overlook that she doesn't have the numbers to

pass her Brexit deal through the House of Commons. Dissent in the chamber has only grown louder as has the voices of protesters calling for a second referendum.

NOBILO (voice-over): The future of the prime minister and the complex Brexit deal unveiled this week is shrouded in uncertainty, as the clock ticks down to B-Day, March 29th, 2019 -- Bianca Nobilo, CNN, London.


VANIER: Thank you for watching. I'm Cyril Vanier. Stay with CNN.