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Trump on Whether Crown Prince Lied, We May Never Know; Israeli P.M. Calls on Coalition to Hold Government Together; Economic Forum Ends Without A Joint Communique. Aired 12m-1a ET

Aired November 19, 2018 - 00:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead this hour: U.S. president Trump says we may never know if the Saudi crown prince was telling him the truth about his involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Plus ready for a ceasefire in Yemen, a Houthi rebel leader says they will halt their attacks if the Saudi coalition is serious about peace.

ALLEN (voice-over): Also this hour, a grim search continues in California as hundreds of people remain missing. We speak with the mayor of one of the town's hit hardest by the wildfires.

VANIER (voice-over): Thank you, everyone. for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier.

ALLEN (voice-over): I'm Natalie Allen and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


VANIER: So U.S. president Donald Trump says he doesn't know if the Saudi crown prince lied to him when he claimed he wasn't involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, despite evidence to the contrary. Here is what Mr. Trump said to FOX News on Sunday.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: 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.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's right. That's right and still 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. You know, who can really know. But I can say this, he's got many people now that say, he had no knowledge.


VANIER: The Saudis have changed their story multiple times since Khashoggi disappeared from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul just last month. The latest narrative is that he was tied up, injected with a deadly dose of a sedative and then dismembered.

ALLEN: The Saudis have always denied crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved. But sources say the CIA believes he personally ordered the murder.

The U.S. government has yet to reach a final conclusion. Mr. Trump says he will get a full report on Tuesday; he has already been briefed on some of the evidence, including an audio recording of part of the murder though Trump says he doesn't actually plan on listening to it.


TRUMP: I don't want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape. But I've been fully --


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

TRUMP: Because it's a suffering tape, it's a terrible tape. I've 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 --


WALLACE: And what happened?

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


VANIER: And the Khashoggi murder has put the Trump administration in a difficult position. Saudi Arabia is a key partner for its Middle East policy.

ALLEN: Earlier CNN spoke with Brian Hook, senior policy advisor to the U.S. secretary of state, who said the U.S. will continue to work with Saudi Arabia as it gathers all the facts.


BRIAN HOOK, SENIOR POLICY ADVISER TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE: The reports that the United States has reached a conclusion about the death of Jamal Khashoggi are inaccurate, we are still gathering the facts. And so, we have taken some actions against suspects. We've imposed sanctions and visa sanctions on them. But we are still gathering facts. We are determined to hold those accountable, who were responsible for the death of Jamal. And while we are doing that, we will maintain our strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia.


ALLEN: Now Khashoggi's death could be having an impact on the war in Yemen. A Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthis there. Now a Houthi leader says his fighters are ready for a ceasefire. After the Khashoggi murder, Riyadh's allies might force it to accept.

Saudi-backed forces still control much of Yemen but the Houthis are still in the strategic port of Hudaydah and, of course, in the capital of Sanaa. Top U.S. officials said there needed to be a truce within 30 days. CNN is in Abu Dhabi. A report on the peace offer.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just under three weeks ago, the United States and the United Kingdom, joined voices with the United Nations to call, or renew their calls and demands for a ceasefire within 30 days in the Yemen.

There has been a dialing down in the violence and just in the last few hours, there has been a statement published by the leader of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who are clinging on to the port city of Hudaydah, who are in control some 25 to 30 percent of the country more generally.

That statement said in part that they are prepared, this is the Houthi rebels to end their drone attacks --


KILEY: -- and their use of long-range missiles as a sign of goodwill. And there was an offer of goodwill that came from the Saudi-led coalition side, which about a week ago, agreed to allow the medical evacuation of about 50 wounded Houthi rebels as a precondition to meeting.

There are meetings hoped for to be held sometime over the next couple of weeks somewhere in Sweden. But this is a major breakthrough in a conflict that really has run into the sand for the Saudi-led coalition, which is trying to battle the Houthi rebels and above all, to try to make sure that Iran does not get a foothold in that strategically important part of the Arabian Gulf that controls access to the Red Sea.

At the same time, of course, the Iranians as insisting that they are backing their Shia brethren, the Houthis in their efforts to prevent an annihilation, if you like, of the Houthi rebellion.

But, this after many, many years of bloodshed, some tens of thousands of people injured, thousands wounded and 400,000 children according to the United Nations, Children's fond on the verge of starvation. Offers a slim, glimmer of help just of hope, just as the United Kingdom who was expected to sponsor a demand at the U.N. Security Council.

A demand for a resolution calling for a ceasefire and putting pressure particularly on the Saudis for that. And that would come on the eve of the publication expected from the United States on what the United States government believes happened to Jamal Khashoggi, "The Washington Post" correspondent who was murdered inside the consulate of the Saudi kingdom in Istanbul. Those two issues have been tightly connected now for many weeks because it is seen really that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi which is now accepted as a premeditated killing by the Saudis was effectively the straw that has broken the camel's back in terms of particularly congressional support for the very, very bloody and humanitarianly disastrous campaign that has unfolded over the last few years in the Yemen -- Sam Kiley, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


ALLEN: We focus now on the Mueller investigation. Trump says it's unlikely he will sit down for an interview about Russian collusion in the presidential election. Here is what he told FOX News Sunday.


WALLACE: You are submitting written answers --


WALLACE: -- to the special counsel about the issue of collusion but not on obstruction of justice?

TRUMP: Well, there was no obstruction of justice.

WALLACE: I -- I'm -- let me -- if i may, sir, just ask --

TRUMP: I think they'd probably agree with me.

WALLACE: If I may ask the question --

TRUMP: And all you have to do is look at Article II.

WALLACE: Is that your final position, that there's going to be no sit-down interview and nothing written or in person on obstruction?

TRUMP: I would say probably. Probably. I mean, I can change my mind, but probably. I think we've--

WALLACE: No interview?

TRUMP: I think we've wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is probably, we're finished.


VANIER: And this comes amid criticism of Mr. Trump's appointment of acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, who has been critical of the Russia investigation. Here is the president now on Whitaker's oversight of the special counsel. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: If Whitaker decides in any way to limit or curtail the Mueller investigation, are you OK with that?

TRUMP: Look he -- it's going to be up to him. I think he's very well aware politically. I think he's astute politically. He's a very smart person. A very respected person. He's going to do what's right. I really believe he's going to do what's right.

WALLACE: But you won't overrule him if he decides to curtail --

TRUMP: I would not get involved.


VANIER: All right, let's get more on all of this. Larry Sabato joins us now, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Larry, it sounds like Trump's strategy is to take the oxygen out of this investigation. Don't answer any further questions, don't do a sit-down interview with Mueller.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: He certainly doesn't want to do a sit-down interview with Mueller though he has claimed otherwise for a long time. One reason he doesn't want to do it is his lawyers don't are don't want him to do.

And I think deep down Donald Trump realizes that he would be in a trap. And he frequently contradicts himself. Surely even he recognizes that and that's poison for an investigation like Mueller's.

VANIER: At the end of that clip that we played, you hear Trump say we are nearing the end of this, it's almost the end of this investigation, although he usually refers to the investigation as a witch hunt. Reportedly he already thought about a year ago it was going to end soon. And, of course, it hasn't.

SABATO: His lawyers or at least some of them -- I think of Rudy Giuliani, I am sure others -- tell him --


SABATO: -- to mollify him that the investigation is almost over and they'll mention Thanksgiving, which is too late for that, or Christmas or, you know, President's Day. It just doesn't matter except that it tends to calm Donald Trump down for a bit until he becomes agitated again.

But the investigation will be over when Bob Mueller decides that he's thoroughly investigated the subject with which he was charged and not a minute sooner.

VANIER: And do we have any idea on the timeline? It was reported recently that Bob Mueller had begun to write his conclusions, his report. But that doesn't mean that the investigation is over, he could just begin to write it and the continue his investigation as he looks into other parts of it.

SABATO: Of course. He has no legal deadline. You know, my guess is, given the way Bob Mueller has approached many tasks in his career, that probably we are closer to the end than we are to the beginning. And we may be very close to the end; we wouldn't know it because there have been no significant leaks from his operation.

But in a way, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. We have already seen a lot of court actions, a lot of convictions, a lot of charges, that's what is really important and it will continue to be the most important thing.

VANIER: Trump says he's going to be laissez-faire on the investigation, that it's all up to his acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, do you believe that?

SABATO: You know, it's one of those old things where, if you believe that one, I've got a bridge in the Brooklyn area I want to sell you real cheap.

Obviously Whitaker, who is not exactly the most qualified person to be the acting attorney general and has some conflicts of interest, it's pretty clear that he is there because Trump and others believe that he will know what to do.

And knowing what to do in terms of the Mueller investigation may mean at some point trying to shut it down; though I will tell you, if anything like that happens, if anything like that happens, it's going to be Nixon and the Saturday night massacre from 1973 all over again. And maybe worse.

VANIER: Yes. Matthew Whitaker, we know, is no friend of this Russia investigation. We also know that he's expressed himself in the past, before he was in his current position, that there were other ways to shut off the oxygen from this investigation, such, for instance, as shutting off the funding.

Now there was an interesting question during that FOX interview about the president's tone and general attitude. Listen to this.


WALLACE: One thing they say is, why do you have to be so divisive, why don't you bring more to bring the country together?

TRUMP: I think if I was very different we wouldn't have got what we had to get. We got the biggest tax cuts in history. We got ANWR approved. If I was more moderate in that sense, I don't think I would have done half of the things I was able to get completed.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: This is very much an end justifies the means argument. Donald Trump saying I have to go full throttle if I want to win my political battles.

As a political analyst, what do you make of that?

SABATO: You can go full throttle in lots of different ways it doesn't mean you have to drop all civility. Other presidents have accomplished at least as much or more with different methods and approaches. People forget, he has been successful on part of his agenda because the Republicans were in control of both houses.

That's the fundamental difference between Trump and some other presidents, who haven't had that benefit.

VANIER: All right. Larry Sabato, thank you so much for joining us, thanks.

SABATO: Thank you, Cyril.

ALLEN: We turn next to California. Historic wildfires have left entire cities in ruins, including the hardest-hit town of Paradise. We'll speak with the mayor about how people are coping, coming next.






VANIER: The deadly wildfires in California have now killed at least 80 people since they broke out last week. And with hundreds still missing, sadly, that toll could rise even further. A vigil was held Sunday in Chico, California, to honor the victims.

ALLEN: So far the flames have devoured an area larger than Singapore and Taipei combined. The so-called Camp Fire in the north is about 60 percent contained while the Woolsey Fire in the south is almost 90 percent contained.

President Trump surveyed the damage Saturday and promised his support.


ALLEN: Joining us now on the phone from Chico, California, is the mayor of Paradise, California, Jody Jones.

Mayor Jones, I want to begin by sending our condolences for the lives lost and the loss of your town. I can't imagine how you're coping but you've just attended a vigil. Can you tell us a little about it?

MAYOR JODY JONES, PARADISE CALIFORNIA: Well, the vigil was for people. It was to remember the people that we have lost here in Paradise and for people to grieve their own losses and just to be together as a community.

ALLEN: Was it healing?

JONES: Yes I would say cathartic.

ALLEN: Yes, I can't imagine because vigils usually are. You walked with President Trump also recently through the devastation. You've been concerned he's been critical the Forest Service, concerned that state and federal government may not work together on this. There is acrimony there. What did the president say? Was he reassuring?

JONES: He was very reassuring. He was gracious and kind and warm. And he said to me, we have to help these people. These are my people, meaning, that we're all Americans, we're all in this together. And I watched as he chatted with the governor and the governor-elect. They came in on Marine One with him. They all are committed to helping us and --


JONES: -- working together and I was just very encouraged.

ALLEN: What are the immediate needs for people who survived but who have go home?

JONES: Well, housing is a big problem. There's just not enough housing for everyone in Butte County. And so people are having to go far away to find places to stay in the short term. So that is a big need right now.

ALLEN: And how would you assess the support though that you're getting, Mayor. How would you assess? There's always heroes in this. People that just show up to do good deeds, to lend a helping hand.

JONES: I would say I'm just amazed by it. The outpouring of support from communities surrounding us and far away and also the work that FEMA is doing. And they showed up on Saturday, the fire happened on Thursday and they've been working 24/7 ever since, doing everything that they can to help us so I am grateful.

ALLEN: And how are you coping as a mayor of this town? How are you getting support? Is it from acts like that that you're seeing around you?

JONES: It's from that, it's from the people of Paradise who are determined to be strong and rebuild and it's also from my faith in Jesus Christ. I went to church after the vigil and that gave me strength to go on for another week.

ALLEN: I also want to ask you about the criticism that your city government has received, the evacuation order that first came in was reportedly only for the eastern part of the town, it took an hour for the next alert and there's also been reports that there weren't any warnings but by local radio, or T.V., or sirens. Is that accurate? JONES: I don't know how accurate it is. I got a text on my phone at 8:31 to immediately evacuate. I do live sort of on the east side not on the far eastern side but I don't know how accurate it is. But I can tell you that fire came in so fast. There was it -- wasn't that that notifications were delayed, it was that there was no time to give them.

ALLEN: Is there anything that could have been done though? Is there anything that should have been done in retrospect?

JONES: You know, the notification system where you get that text on your phone, it's an opt-in system. It's automatic for landlines but cell phones have to opt in. And so I think we probably could have done more to sign people up to get them to opt into that system so more people would have gotten that notice.

ALLEN: How are you dealing with that aspect of this story?

JONES: I don't quite know how to answer that. I think, once we get our town back up and running we will look at how we could do things differently. But today, we're just focused on surviving, trying to get through the process that needs to happen so our residents can go back in and look at their homes.

ALLEN: I totally understand that. And you talk about building back and people always want to build back you know their city after disaster. They've missed it and we've all learned how wonderful Paradise was. But how do you build back and assure people safety in this era of climate change and almost constant fire season in the state?

JONES: We're going to need to work through that. But one of the things that's really interesting is that a lot of the places, the homes that survive, they're the new homes that were built to new building standards and they're still standing. Lots of the buildings in Paradise were built in the '50s and '60s and my home was almost 30 years old, but the new homes that I would say have been built in the last eight years or so, they're all still there or most of them.

ALLEN: That's good to hear. It was very good to hear. Hopefully, you'll be able to build back with resilience. And we've heard so much about the town, we're all thinking of you. I really appreciate your time we know how difficult this might be. So Mayor Jones, thanks again for joining us, we appreciate it.


It was good to hear from the mayor.

She lost her house, family lost her house.



ALLEN: Israel's prime minister is fighting to avoid an early election, we'll have the latest on Mr. Netanyahu's cabinet crisis and what's at stake for him as we push on.


[00:30:00] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: I'm Cyril Vanier. Let's get you the headlines. The Houthi militant leader in Yemen says his forces are ready for a ceasefire if the Saudi-led coalition truly wants peace. Mohammed Ali al-Houthi says the Iran-backed militants should end missile and drone attacks. Top U.S. officials said last month, they wanted a ceasefire within 30 days.

ALLEN: U.S. President Trump indicated in an interview that we may never know, this is what the President says, if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was lying about his involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr. Trump also says he won't listen to a recording of part of the murder that he was briefed on, calling it violent and vicious.

VANIER: A vigil was held Sunday, in California, for the victims of the state's wildfires. At least 80 people have been killed, hundreds more still unaccounted for. The so-called Camp Fire in the North is now about 60 percent contained, while the Woolsey Fire in the South is almost 90 percent contained.

The Israeli government is still holding together, for now. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting off calls for an early election after a controversial ceasefire with Hamas.

ALLEN: His defense minister has resigned and the other cabinet members are threatening to leave now. CNN's Oren Liebermann has the latest for us from Jerusalem.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Amid the most serious coalition crisis since the last election, nearly four years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on his coalition partners to hold the government together.

In a prime time statement to the media Sunday night, Netanyahu said, we are in one of the most complicated security situations, and at a time like this, you don't take down a government, you don't go to elections, it's irresponsible.

Netanyahu has a bare minimum 61-seat coalition, following the resignation of right-wing Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and his Yisrael Beiteinu Party last week. Lieberman resigned because he was angry about a ceasefire with Hamas, which he called a capitulation to terror.

Netanyahu, once again, defended that ceasefire, saying it was done in consultation with Israel security establishment, adding that it couldn't reveal all of the information behind that decision. Images of Hamas, in Gaza, celebrating the ceasefire and the resignation of the defense minister have been a blow to Netanyahu.

For now, Netanyahu has said he would hold on to the defense portfolio for himself but even that may cause problems. Netanyahu's right wing education minister has demanded the defense portfolio or said he would withdraw from the government, which would force it to fall.

The education minister has a statement planned for Monday morning, so we'll see what that brings. Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.


ALLEN: Let's talk some Brexit now. Britain's Prime Minister is standing by her Brexit plan as she faces critical talks in Brussels, after days of political turmoil, including cabinet resignations and at least 21 letters of no confidence in her leadership, submitted by Conservative MPs, a defiant. Theresa May says she's not going to quit.


SOPHY RIDGE, HOST OF RIDGE ON SUNDAY: Have you ever thought, at any stage, about just giving up; what's the point of this?

THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: No, I haven't. And, of course, it's been a tough week. Actually, these negotiations have been tough right from the start, but they were always going to get even more difficult right towards the end, when we're coming to that conclusion.

But, what I think is, this isn't about me. It's actually about what's right for the people of this country. It's about what's in the national interest. That's what drives me.


VANIER: Later Monday, Mrs. May will try to convince British business leaders to back her Brexit plan and she will also be meeting with the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, in Brussels, later this week.

Now, as Britain prepares to leave the European Union, Germany and France are urging European nations to come closer together. French President Emmanuel Macron, addressed to the German parliament on Sunday. He called on France and Germany to leave Europe, in fighting off anti-immigrant nationalist movements that are growing around the world.

ALLEN: Mr. Macron also joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a war memorial in Berlin, as part of the National Day of Remembrance. Both leaders are currently losing popularity and political strength, but they are expected to lay out plans for a joint Eurozone budget, hoping to finance investment in the region.

[00:35:14] Tension between the U.S. and China came to a head this weekend, at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Papua New Guinea. VANIER: For the first time in 25 years, the forum ended without a joint communique. A U.S. official says Chinese President Xi Jinping became frustrated with U.S. criticism of his country's trade policies.

ALLEN: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence says Washington will not back down from the trade war with China, until Beijing changes its ways.

VANIER: CNN's Ivan Watson joins us from Hong Kong. He's reporting on this for us. Ivan, how the U.S. and China -- the U.S. and China are in the middle of a trade war, and it feels like this apex summit, for both of them, was all about projecting strength.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And both leaders, Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who attended in lieu of President Trump, who did not attend, what is normally visited by U.S. president. They both gave speeches that contained very thinly veiled barbs at each other's governments. Let's take a listen to a sampling from both of these leaders.


XI JINPING, PRESIDENT OF CHINA (through translator): History tells to us to take the road of confrontation, whether it's in the form of a cold war, open war, or trade war, it will produce no winners.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Know that the United States offers a better option. We don't drown our partners in sea of debt. We don't coerce or compromise your independence. The United States deals openly and fairly. We do not offer constricting belt or a one-way road.


WATSON: Now, that's Pence, clearly taking aim at China's ambitious One Belt, One Road International Development Program, which is lavished money, in countries all around the world, as part of a huge infrastructure project, and that put Xi Jinping a little bit on the defensive, where he had to, in his speech, come out and say, hey, there is no hidden agenda to our One Belt, One Road program.

But clearly, you have two -- the two world's biggest economies, jockeying here, and as a result, what should have been a fairly straightforward process, which has been followed for the past 29 years, a joint communique at the end of this summit, that was not accomplished.

And the Canadian prime minister says it was because of competing interpretations or definitions of the future of international trade. A U.S. official spoke to CNN and tried to put an American spin on it, arguing that the Chinese objected to one sentence, which this official claimed was, "we agree to fight protectionism, including all unfair trade practices."

And claimed that this was all 20 countries versus China, on this one sentence, we are still waiting to get China's interpretation or reaction to that claim. But it basically broke down where you couldn't get a simple statement coming out of what in the past have been fairly straightforward diplomatic gatherings.

VANIER: There was another notable event or notable announcement, which was that Mike Pence announced the U.S. would develop a naval base in Papua New Guinea. Put this in context for us, why is that a strategic announcement?

WATSON: Right. Well, and that's going to be done in conjunction with Australia and the government of the Papua New Guinea. But clearly, you've got jockeying going on between the two world's largest economies in the Asia Pacific region. The U.S. has objected to China's claims to almost all of the South China Sea. It's program of building man-made islands and then militarizing them.

China has objected to U.S. so-called freedom of navigation operations, where the U.S. has sent war ships through that body of water and there have been near collisions between Chinese and U.S. naval ships. You have jockeying and competition going on in the disbursement of aid to small countries, island countries, to countries like Papua New Guinea, which are relatively poor.

China lavished aid on that government and Pence announced money to help electrify establish -- and electricity grid for 70 percent of that country's population. So, there is clearly competition now that's going on in the Asia Pacific region, military, economically, as well. Cyril.

VANIER: All right. Ivan Watson reporting on this from Hong Kong, we appreciate your insights, thank you.

ALLEN: And we'll be right back.


[00:40:00] VANIER: We want take you inside India's first elephant hospital. It opened up last week, south of New Delhi, look at this. Elephants are an endangered species and the hospital uses cutting edge technology, including wireless X-ray machines, ultrasound to treat them, injured, sick and aging elephants.

ALLEN: The non-profit behind the hospital is called Wildlife SOS. It rescues wild animals across the county there. Activists say elephants are revered in India, but of course, they can also be abused or hunted. So, leave the elephants alone, just so sweet.

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

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. "WORLD SPORT" starts right after the break. We'll see you in 20 minutes.


[00:45:00] (WORLD SPORT)