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Trump Once Again Questions U.S. Intelligence Conclusions; Trump Blasts Admiral Who Ordered Bin Laden Raid; Senate Democrats Sue to Block Trump Attorney General Appointment. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 19, 2018 - 15:00   ET



DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Brooke, just like you said, you can imagine, the past few weeks have been so difficult for his family and friends and really the whole community there north of Charlotte, not knowing what's going on, then getting this news and not having the answers.

The school that he taught at canceled classes on Friday because of the news. And, in Davidson, they lowered the flag to half-staff to honor him and his memory, but really just so difficult for that community there.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I know people who knew the family.


BALDWIN: And they had been looking for him. They had wanted help, and now to find out that he is gone like this is just -- it's awful.

Diane, thank you for the update, and just thinking of his family back in North Carolina. Appreciate it.

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me this afternoon.

We have got a lot to cover.

A major legal offensive is now in play against President Trump's new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker. These three Democratic senators just sued. They contend Whitaker's appointment is unconstitutional because it denies them their duties as senators.

They have not been able to question Whitaker as part of any kind of confirmation process. They are Senators Blumenthal, Whitehouse and Hirono.

And they're all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which, as you know, is the panel that questions and confirms presidential appointees.

And Whitaker, as this deputy A.G., skipped that whole process entirely. The lawsuit lists out multiple problems with Whitaker, including his public criticisms of the Russia investigation. And that's just the latest in a string of lawsuits challenging Whitaker's appointment.

So let's go straight to CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, who was special assistant to Robert Mueller over at the Department of Justice.

So, Michael, do these senators, these Democratic senators, have a case?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they have a case.

I don't know if they have a winning case. The heart of the matter is this, that under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, the Senate is allowed to give advice and consent for principal officers. The attorney general is a principal officer. And so these senators say that when Whitaker was put in this temporary position, they were denied their right of advice and consent, violation of the Constitution, they get to go to court, get a declaratory judgment that the appointment was wrong, an injunction from him serving that position.

The Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department issued an opinion that said, well, but if it's only a temporary appointment, then the Senate doesn't get that advice and consent. Under special circumstances, you can have a temporary appointment, and that the president met those temporary appointment conditions and, therefore, it's lawful.

That's the heart of the lawsuit, and a judge is going to have to require them to present their arguments for him to make a decision or her to make a decision.

BALDWIN: Here is what Trump said about Matt Whitaker over the weekend on FOX News.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Did before you appointed him that he had that record and was so critical of Robert Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not know that. I did not know he took views on the Mueller investigation as such.


BALDWIN: Do you believe him?

ZELDIN: No, honestly, I don't, because all of the reporting here is that Matt Whitaker, who I appeared on this network with on many occasions, and is a nice guy personally, was interviewing essentially for a position in the Trump administration, and that he was quite outspoken in his attacks on the Mueller investigation, both on air and in writing for a column.

That's what got him the position in with Sessions as his chief of staff to begin with. So it really strains credulity to think that the president was completely oblivious to that and then made this appointment of a person who he said in another press conference, I didn't really know him and that he was Sessions' guy.

It just doesn't really ring true.

BALDWIN: These -- in addition -- yes.

In addition, these senators, these Democratic senators, are concerned about the information going between Matt Whitaker, as deputy A.G., and to the White House, citing a report that Whitaker was -- quote, unquote -- "the White House's eyes and ears" within the Department of Justice and that they are worried that policies regarding White House and Justice Department contact are being violated.

So, A, is that a valid concern? B, who would have control over Whitaker if he had too much communication with the White House?


ZELDIN: As to the last, it's Whitaker himself. He's got to exercise discretion in what he does.

With respect to the DOJ-White House communications policies about ongoing matters, that is supposed to be limited to the attorney general or deputy attorney general and the White House counsel. But when you are overseeing an investigation of the White House itself, it would seem to me that there should be no communications between the attorney general's office and the White House Counsel's Office.

All of this stuff, Brooke, really does, therefore, reach the -- for me the conclusion that Whitaker, whether he's appointed lawfully or not, should, using solid discretion, recuse himself from the Mueller investigation.


I know it's a word the president hates, but for the appearance of conflict, for the appearance that he is not an honest broker in respect to this investigation because of his prior statements, independent of how the lawsuit comes out, he should recuse himself, so we have confidence that whatever happens is not undertaken for bad political purposes.

And if you remember correctly, in that interview of the president by Chris Wallace on FOX on Sunday, what he said about Whitaker was that Whitaker has good political instincts. He's a -- he knows politics. He didn't say his law. He didn't say he has good legal instincts. He said he has no politics.

And that to me again raised the red flag that he was there for bad political purposes.

BALDWIN: Well, he seemed to like him enough to want him as a deputy A.G. and says he wasn't aware of his criticism, but as you well point out through a sort of TV tryout, it was out there for everyone to see.

Michael Zeldin...


BALDWIN: Yes? Yes, Michael Zeldin.


ZELDIN: The other thing I was just going to say, the last thing, is that you do have a deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and a statute that says, when there's a vacancy, that deputy should take over.


BALDWIN: I hear you. I hear you.

ZELDIN: So, it makes it hard to believe that this was not done for bad purpose.

BALDWIN: Michael Zeldin, thank you for your opinion there.

The president's claims on Whitaker just part of a wild 48 hours. Here are other headlines, and then we will walk you through all of them.

He also insulted an admiral, the man who took down Osama bin Laden. The president regrets not visiting Arlington National Cemetery when he says he was busy making calls. He vows to visit troops in the war zone. And he says Republicans losing the House is because his name wasn't on the ballot.

The president says the U.S. should rake like Finland to prevent fires, something Finland disputes. And then he says he hates doing it, but he gives himself an A-plus as president.

And finally, but perhaps most urgently, he once again questions the U.S. intelligence community, this time over the murder of a journalist. A senior U.S. official and another source say the CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the hit on U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in early October.

But the president won't yet blame the prince.


WALLACE: A month ago, you said you had spoken with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and that he had told you directly that he had no knowledge of this.

TRUMP: That's right. That's right, and stills says that.

WALLACE: But we now know that some of the people closest to him, some of his closest advisers, were part of this.

Question, did MBS lie to you, sir?

TRUMP: I don't -- I don't know. Who can really know? But I can say this. He's got many people now that say he had no knowledge.


BALDWIN: And this is not the only time the president has questioned the findings of his own intelligence community.

So, for more on that, let me go to CNN's Chris Cillizza, our politics reporter and editor at large.

And, Chris Cillizza, why wouldn't you take the CIA's word on this?


The answer simply is because Mohammed bin Salman -- I'm going to refer to them as MBS because I want to make the segment short, not too long. But MBS told him, I didn't do this.

Now, the CIA, part of the U.S. government, has concluded, as you mentioned, Brooke, he not only had a hand in this, he personally ordered this killing of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

So if it was a one-off, it would be troubling enough. But, as you point out, it's not a one-off.

I want to play -- this is a clip from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin talking about Russian interference in the 2016 election. I will come back and I give you some context. Let's play that.


TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.


CILLIZZA: OK, so, on the one hand, we have the unanimous conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Vladimir -- that Russia, I should say -- Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

On the other hand, we have Vladimir Putin's very strong insistence that he didn't do that. Donald Trump, for whatever reason, equates those two. And, again, that's not the only other example we have.

Michael Flynn, former national security adviser, one of Donald Trump's biggest conduits on the campaign trail, there was concern about whether Michael Flynn had told the whole truth relating to his ties to Russia even before Donald Trump named him national security adviser.

Here's a little bit of the then acting Attorney General Sally Yates telling Anderson Cooper what she relayed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you agree there was no legal issue with Flynn's underlying behavior?


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't know how the White House reached the conclusion that there was no legal issue.

It certainly wasn't from my discussion with them.

COOPER: Do you think Michael Flynn should have been fired?

YATES: Whether he's fired or not is a decision for the president the United States to make, but it doesn't seem like that's a person who should be sitting in the national security adviser position.


CILLIZZA: Now, just for a little more context there, we know, because Sally Yates told us, that Sally Yates told then White House counsel Don McGahn about their concerns.

You would assume that that got relayed to the president in some way, shape or form, and yet he was not -- he, Flynn, was not removed as national security adviser until it was demonstrated to Donald Trump that Flynn had not told the truth about his ties and links to Russia to Vice President Mike Pence.

That was the ostensible reason for the firing. So three separate occasions, intelligence from the United States, Brooke, clearly points to a conclusion. Donald Trump chooses -- and I'm using that word carefully -- chooses to draw another conclusion, despite what his intelligence community, what the acting attorney general, what the CIA is saying.

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

CILLIZZA: It's baffling.

BALDWIN: Which is key to know this history as we go into tomorrow, when this final report is supposed to drop from the CIA on all of this regarding Khashoggi.

Chris Cillizza, thank you so much.

I want to stay on this and just for a different perspective on Khashoggi's murder and what the U.S. should be asking the Saudi royal family and others, by the way, in key positions right here in the U.S.

I have with me now Fred Hiatt, who is the editorial page editor of "The Washington Post." He worked with Jamal Khashoggi.

So, Fred, thank you so much for being with me.

I mean, obviously, your -- the headline of your piece caught our eyes, because you say at every turn, MBS, the president of the United States, Republicans in Washington should be asked similar questions.

You tell me what those questions are and why.


Thanks for having me on.

Well, the first question should be, why would you bring a bone saw to a kidnapping? And the reason I say that is, the Saudis have reverted to this preposterous explanation, which is so unbelievable that even they had to abandon it a couple of weeks ago.

You remember their first version, after Jamal disappeared, was that he had left the embassy half-an-hour after walking in, or the consulate, and they had no idea where he was, and they were as concerned about it as anybody.

That, they couldn't sustain for more than a few days. So then they said, oh, yes, he died in the consulate, but it was an accident. There was a fight, we didn't mean to.

That was so preposterous, based on all the evidence that the Turks have provided, including to the United States and to others in the world, that they said, they admitted -- the chief prosecutor in Saudi Arabia said, yes, it was a premeditated murder.

But now they're back to saying, oh, no, we just sent some people to the consulate to invite him back to Saudi Arabia, and there was a fight and things went bad.

Well, if so, why would you send a forensic expert with a bone saw? It's just ridiculous. And the fact that the president is willing to swallow this so far, and on behalf of the United States, is really damaging to the country and to the rule of law, and I would say to the kind of world that we want to live in.

BALDWIN: And we have all heard about how Turkish officials somehow had this audio of what happened, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And the president in this interview over the weekend says he doesn't need to listen to the tape. This is what he said:


TRUMP: We have the tape. I don't want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape.

WALLACE: Why don't you want to hear it, sir?

TRUMP: Because it's a suffering tape. It's a terrible tape. I have been fully briefed on it. There's no reason for me to hear it. In fact, I said to the people, should I? They said, you really shouldn't. There's no reason.

I know exactly -- I know everything that went on the tape without having to...

WALLACE: And what happened?

TRUMP: It was very violent, very vicious and terrible.


BALDWIN: Fred, do you think he should?

HIATT: I don't care whether he listens to the tape or not.

What I care is whether he pays attention to the clear evidence and acts on it. We have said from the beginning, this was a murder, this was an atrocious crime. Somebody has to be held -- we need to find out who is responsible, and then hold those people to account.

Now the CIA has concluded who is responsible, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Are we going to pretend that didn't happen, or is the United States government going to take steps to show that it doesn't approve of an allied government luring one of its own citizens from Northern Virginia into what's supposed to be a safe space, the sanctuary of it of a consulate, and then deliberately murdering him and dismembering his body/


BALDWIN: And if they don't? And if they don't?

HIATT: Well, if they don't, it's a threat to freedom of speech and freedom of expression everywhere.

I would hope the Congress would step up. There are a lot of senators who -- and members of the House -- who said early on, this is unacceptable. If it turns out that the crown prince was responsible, we can't go back to business as usual.

Well, they can do something about it. First of all, they could call Gina Haspel, the head of the CIA, and say, what did you hear on that tape? Why did you come to this conclusion? And then they could take steps. There could be sanctions. There could be arms cut off. There are a lot of things Congress could do if the administration is unwilling to act.

BALDWIN: Fred Hiatt, thank you very much.

HIATT: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

We have much more ahead here.

President Trump's insults against retired Admiral Bill McRaven, the man in charge of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. We will talk live with Peter Bergen, who once interviewed bin Laden. Hear why he calls the president's comments about the raid preposterous.

Plus, a bus driver from heaven -- this incredible story of a man who drove two dozen kids out of a wall of fire in California. CNN was there. As you can see, a number of them were reunited.

And, later, stunning new testimony in a trial of Mexican drug cartel leader El Chapo, one of his former associates detailing how the notorious gangster once murdered someone over a snubbed handshake.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: All right, we were waiting for that 3:00 Eastern deadline.

And now we know the White House is backing down in the fight over a press pass belonging to CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

With me now, our chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter.

And so what do you have?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: What we have here is a two-page letter from the White House that was sent over to Acosta a few minutes ago, and it confirms that his hard pass -- that's the pass that he uses every day enter the White House -- will be restored.

That means the White House is voluntarily granting access back to Acosta, whereas, back on Friday, it was a court that was forcing the White House to give his pass back temporarily. So we have been in the midst of this 14-day temporary restraining order. There's 11 more days remaining on it, as mandated by a judge.

There was some back and forth over the weekend, where it seemed the White House was once again threatening Acosta, saying that as soon as that temporary restraining order expires, you're going to be out of here again.

CNN went back to court this morning, asked the judge for another hearing. But the change here this, this backing down as of 3:00 p.m., is that the White House is saying in this letter that the pass will be restored voluntarily by the administration.

Now, there is, of course, a caveat. And I think that the White House wants to string this along, wants to make this a threat that looms over the entire White House press corps. The letter to Acosta says: "If you refuse to follow our new rules in the future, we will take action in accordance with the rules set forth above."

So what's the new rule? The new rule is, one question per reporter at a press conference. You get to ask one question aloud.

BALDWIN: Oh, wow.

STELTER: And -- quote -- "By the discretion of the president or White House officials taking questions, a follow-up may be permitted." So what they're trying to do is they're trying to establish some kind of ground rules within a press conference setting, so that nobody can act out of order.

Now, obviously, Brooke, we all remember the days of Sam Donaldson. We all remember the days of Dan Rather. Press conferences with follow-up questions have been going on for as long as there's been press conferences.



STELTER: But I think the Trump administration here is trying to control the situation, control the narrative, and limit the number of questions that get asked at these events.

So, for now, the news is Acosta's press pass is back, the White House is backing down. We don't know what's going to happen with the legal fight, but, presumably, there will be a settlement at this point.

Longer-term, though, we might end up back here in the future, because if the White House is really going to try to enforce these rules, there could be further issues weeks or months or years from now.

BALDWIN: Down the line.

Happy Thanksgiving.

STELTER: Yes, you too.

BALDWIN: No, it's what the end of the letter says.

STELTER: Oh, it does? You know what? I hadn't read the last line.



BALDWIN: After all of that.

STELTER: I guess, in the spirit of friendliness.

BALDWIN: Happy Thanksgiving.

STELTER: That's right.

BALDWIN: Brian Stelter, thank you very much.

Coming up next: President Trump blasts the retired admiral who was in charge of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, calling past military and leadership -- quote, unquote -- "fools."

We will talk to the man who wrote the book about the hunt for bin Laden next.



BALDWIN: President Trump ramping up his criticism of U.S. military and political leaders for not catching Osama bin Laden sooner.

In a "I told you so" tweet today, the president once again claiming bin Laden should have been captured long before the 2011 raid that ended with him dead, Trump calling past American leadership fools for giving Pakistan billions of dollars and not telling the U.S. that bin Laden was hiding there.

The retired admiral credited with leading the bin Laden raid also standing by his criticism of Trump, Admiral William McRaven calling the president's attacks on the media -- quote -- "the greatest threat to democracy" in his lifetime.

The president using those comments to attack the highly decorated former military leader.


WALLACE: Bill McRaven, Retired admiral, Navy SEAL, 37 years, former head of U.S. Special Operations...

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Special Operations.

TRUMP: Excuse me. Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Who led the operations, commanded the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy in his lifetime.

TRUMP: OK, he's a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer, and, frankly...

WALLACE: He was a Navy SEAL 37 years.

TRUMP: Wouldn't it have been nice if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner?


BALDWIN: Peter Bergen is with me, CNN national security analyst who wrote the book about the 10-year hunt for bin Laden. He also produced a 1997 CNN interview with bin Laden.

Peter Bergen, welcome.