Return to Transcripts main page


Blocking Trump's Acting AG; CIA's Chilling Conclusion; Trump Slams McRaven; FaceBook Under Fire; Pelosi for Speaker. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 19, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Time tomorrow. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great day.


I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

And underway right now, the president claims he didn't know that the man he just put in charge of Robert Mueller wasn't a fan of Robert Mueller and now Democrats sue.

Pressure mounts on the president as the CIA comes to a chilling conclusion, yet another presidential attack on a military man. Why he's now insulting the admiral who led the takedown of Osama bin Laden.

And as the flames keep burning, the list of people still unaccounted for grows longer and the urgent search to find them.

On Capitol Hill, a new legal challenge to block Matt Whitaker from serving as acting attorney general. Three Democratic senators argue that the appointment is unconstitutional.

Let's go now to CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.

Tell us what's in this lawsuit.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, those three Democratic senators, Dick Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said -- filing this lawsuit in U.S. district court, in the District of Columbia, saying this is an unconstitutional appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general under the Constitution's appointment clause which requires the Senate to confirm high level appointees. Now, they are saying that this should be essentially nullified, this appointment. And this comes after the Maryland attorney general last week challenged the appointment of Matt Whitaker himself, saying he should be replaced by Rod Rosenstein, who is the deputy attorney general, and, of course, who's overseeing the Mueller investigation before Whitaker was named as acting attorney general, the day after the election, and after the president pushed out Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

Now, Brianna, the Justice Department has issued its own justification. A 20-page memo saying that this was actually a legal appointment under the Vacancies Reform Act. So expect this fight to play out in court and also we'll see what happens to the Whitaker appointment ultimately as Republicans on Capitol Hill are asking -- or are expecting a more permanent solution, including the Judiciary Committee -- incoming Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, who does not think that Whitaker will serve longer than he is right now as acting attorney general.


KEILAR: That may be very telling.

Manu, thank you so much.

President Trump declining to listen to an audio recording that captured part of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and signaled that he may accept the Saudi explanation that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman did not directly order the killing despite a senior official telling CNN that the CIA assessment concludes the exact opposite.

CNN's senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown joining me now on this story.

You've heard Donald Trump say that Saudi Arabia is a spectacular ally. Do you think that this full intelligence report, which we're expecting to be release tomorrow, could change his mind?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears not just based on what the president has said publicly, what he said in this interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News, where he seemed to be downplaying the importance and whatever findings there are in this report. He said to Chris Wallace, we may never know. Will anybody really know, all right? Will anybody ever really know?

So the president appears to be digging in, not accepting the crown prince's involvement in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. This as the CIA has assessed that he directed the murder of Khashoggi, according to a senior official.

And so the question is, Brianna, why is the president so willing to accept the crown prince's denial? Well, he has made it very clear that Saudi Arabia is an important ally in the Middle East, when it comes to Iran, as well as weapons deals. So that appears to be really influencing the president in terms of how he is reacting to this.

He also said that he has no plans to listen to the audio recording of Jamal Khashoggi's murder inside the Saudi Arabia consulate. He said it's a terrible tape, a suffering tape. He doesn't need to listen to it.

Now, tomorrow, he is expected to get an update on what the intelligence community believes happened and Saudi Arabia's role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. But it's unclear, Brianna, in what form this report will be, whether it will be released to the public. So, some unanswered questions on that front today. Brianna.

KEILAR: Pamela Brown at the White House.

Now, President Trump going to war now with a highly decorated former military leader. The president taking a swipe at this man, retired Admiral William McRaven. Admiral McRaven, among other things, led the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. But he's been critical of President Trump for calling the media the enemy of the people. Listen to the president.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": McRaven, retired admiral, Navy SEAL, 37 years, and former head of U.S. special operations --


WALLACE: Special operations command --

TRUMP: Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Who led the operations, command of 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 life.

[13:05:03] TRUMP: OK. He's a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer and, frankly --

WALLACE: He's a Navy SEAL, 37 years.

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


KEILAR: Joining us now, we have James Clapper. He's the former director of National Intelligence under President Obama.

And, you know, it's worth noting that you were in The Situation Room that night. You watched all of this go down under the direction of Admiral McRaven. We can see you there in the picture, this infamous picture, in the top right corner.

What's your reaction to the president attacking the admiral?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I thought it was, you know, kind of typical, unfortunately, of President Trump.

Bill McRaven is a national hero. His performance in orchestrating the actual attack was masterful. And I think the country owes him all as well a great debt for his leadership and his lifetime of service.

So I was, you know, I'm very disappointed, but not surprised.

KEILAR: You seem disappointed, but resigned certainly as you -- as you were describing this.

The president then tweeted again and he doubled down on what he was saying. He made it -- well, he also tweeted that this should have happened. He said that President Clinton famously missed his shot, meaning that it should have happened sooner. And then he also seemed to reference there, and I pointed him out in my book, bin Laden, just before the attack. He seems to indicate that he foretold the -- he foretold 9/11. What's your reaction to that tweet?

CLAPPER: Yes. Well, that's news to me.

I think that what this really is, is whether than -- it's a misplaced criticism of Bill McRaven. It's really a slam at the intelligence community, who was responsible for tracking down Osama bin Laden. And it reflects, I think, his complete ignorance about what that took. It took patience and perseverance over a period of years from the intelligence community, principally the Central Intelligence Agency. So I think that was really more of an indictment, although he may not have realized it, against the intelligence community rather than Bill McRaven leading JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command.

KEILAR: I do want to ask you about Saudi Arabia because, speaking of the CIA, it has this assessment, and we're waiting for the official report, the official findings, but it has assessed that the crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, did know that he was involved in this decision to kill "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. But you hear President Trump indicating that he takes the crown prince at his denials, at his word on that, and that he seems to really be casting doubt on what his own intelligence community is telling him.

CLAPPER: Well, first, I need to make a point here that someone leaked this report. You know, it may have been someone in the intelligence community or may not have been. But I do need to make that point.

But assuming it's valid, and I think it certainly comports with anyone who has an modicum of understanding about how things operate in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia that it's just completely infeasible to me at least that an operation like this, as complex as it was, mounted in another country to kill somebody, would not have gone down without the knowledge, acquiescence and I believe direction of Mohammad bin Salman. So the president, in this case, using his very elastic, evidentiary bar, is going to raise the bar very, very high.

It does concern me though that apparently he's willing to accept the words of autocrats, like Putin and now Mohammad bin Salman, over what his own intelligence community says, which I think overtime he does so at his peril and the peril of the nation.

KEILAR: The fact is Saudi Arabia is an American ally. And as the former DNI, you're aware of collecting intelligence, knowing things that cast U.S. allies in a very poor light. Saudi Arabia has a terrible human rights record, for instance.

But that said, is there a better way for the president to navigate this with maintaining an alliance, but also being serious about what's really going on here? CLAPPER: Well, I think there is. I mean if you buy the notion that

Mohammad bin Salman is synonymous with Saudi Arabia, I guess that's, you know, we're kind of stuck with him. But I don't believe that's necessarily true and I believe we can maintain a relationship over the long-term with Saudi Arabia, which everybody knows is quite important. But, at the same time, I think there needs to be unequivocal condemnation of what obviously happened here.

KEILAR: Director Clapper, thank you so much. Really appreciate you being with us today.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Brianna, for having me.

KEILAR: The president now claims that he did not know Matt Whitaker's views about Robert Mueller before putting him in charge of the Russia probe oversight. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar will join me next.

[13:10:07] Plus, I'll speak live with the Republican who says he may vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker. What's that about?

And the county that Ronald Reagan said good Republicans go to die in has now turned blue. How the blue wave just got bigger.


KEILAR: This is a pretty sight here. Moments ago, President Trump and the first lady welcoming this year's Christmas tree to the White House. This is a Frazier fir. It was grown in North Carolina and it is going to be displayed in the Blue Room.

Let's get back now to the legal battle that is brewing in Washington.

[13:15:01] Three Democratic senators have filed the lawsuit challenging the appointment of Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. This complaint says his appointment violates the Constitution because Whitaker was not confirmed by the Senate.

I want to bring in Senator Amy Klobuchar. She's a Democrat from Minnesota. She's also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and she's joining us now from Minneapolis.

You -- you're not one of the three senators, we should say.


Yes, thanks for being with us.

You're not one of these three senators, just to be clear, but what do you think about this lawsuit?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I'm supportive of their efforts, but I first wanted to congratulate you on your new show. It's great.

KEILAR: Thank you.

KLOBUCHAR: And I am excited to be on, especially with that holiday music as that segue. But then we went right to the lawsuit. So --

KEILAR: That's right.

KLOBUCHAR: I actually am supportive of what they're doing. And you see two similar cases up -- one in Maryland, a case, and another one heading their way out to the Supreme Court. And basically the argument is that, first of all, for this -- such a high-ranking official as the attorney general, the Senate is supposed to advise and consent under the Constitution. The second argument is that the president used this vacancy statute as a reason that he could put in someone who I don't consider qualified for this job. And, in fact, there's a more specific law that should apply, and that's a succession statute that basically says, well, you go next to Rod Rosenstein because he's the deputy.

And I think the answer for why this -- Mr. Whitaker is not qualified for this job is pretty obvious. He's someone that said Marbury versus Madison is not a case that should be respected. That's pretty damning to put someone in that job. And then, secondly, you look at all of the ways he's tried to undercut this investigation with his public comments.

KEILAR: Well -- and let me ask you about that, because President Trump says that he did not know that Whitaker criticized Mueller before he appointed him. Let's listen to this.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Did you know 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.

WALLACE: And when you found that out?

TRUMP: I don't think it had any effect. If you look at those statements, those statements they can -- they really can be viewed either way. But I don't think it will have any impact.

WALLACE: Well, he says there's no collusion.

TRUMP: Chris, I'll tell you what --

WALLACE: He says -- he says we can -- you can starve the investigation.

TRUMP: Well, I mean, he's right. What do you do when a person's right? There is no collusion. He happened to be right.


KEILAR: Do you buy that, that he did not know what Whitaker had said?

KLOBUCHAR: I actually don't. Of course I don't know exactly what happened. But this doesn't make sense to me that they wouldn't fill him in on things Whitaker said, which he said publicly on your network, right, and wrote about them. And he said that this investigation was close to crossing a red line. He put out the idea that you should starve the investigation of money as a way of curtailing it. And then he actually said that there was no evidence that connected Russia to the Trump campaign.

At the same time you have indictments against multiple people, including the campaign chair, in part because of the work he had done in Ukraine with Russia, including the former national security adviser, including Papadopoulos. I mean all those connections are clear.

And this is really a national security issue. We have to get to the bottom of what happened. So, in part, we learn from it, so we make sure this doesn't happen again in the next election.

But you simply have to allow the rule of law to go forward. And that's what concerns me about the president's statements. And maybe with that nice Christmas tree coming in there, he'll get the -- a little Christmas spirit and start -- stop calling it a witch hunt and allow Robert Mueller to do his job.

But short of that, I think we're going to have to intervene and make sure that Mueller is protected.

KEILAR: As I mentioned before, you're on the Judiciary Committee as we sort of turn to a different subject here, talking about FaceBook. You questioned Mark Zuckerberg in that high-profile hearing about FaceBook's role in disseminating disinformation from Russia during the 2016 election. "The New York Times" is reporting that the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, asked fellow Democrats to go easy on FaceBook in that hearing. Did you get any pressure from him?

KLOBUCHAR: No, I didn't. And, in fact, I think that he knows, and a lot of people know, that I've been standing up for privacy rights and specifically to get that Honest Ads Acts passed, which says that you've got to have disclosure and disclaimers for ads so you know where the money came from and you know who's paying for those ads. And, actually, at that hearing, Zuckerberg pledged to support that bill and they had been opposing it and didn't want it to cover issue ads in the past.

And when I look at the arc of this thing, one of the things that really bothers me out of is that FaceBook was hiring a partisan opposition research firm to spread information about its critics. And that's why I did a letter on that this week with some other senators and led that letter because that just can't happen.

[13:20:13] KEILAR: Do you think -- do you think they broke the law on that, senator? Do you think they -- that FaceBook broke the law on that? You sent the letter in basic -- you know, the question is, is this a campaign finance violation when they're hiring a firm to take on their critics. Did they break the law?

KLOBUCHAR: I -- they may have. I don't know. There's issues about securities violations with not disclosing some of the things they knew, and then there's also, of course, potentially finance issues, if they were spending corporate money and then that information was getting in the hands of people who were opposing candidates.

I mean you know company do all this kind of research and try to get involved in lobbying and spend tons of money all the time. But the question here to me, I hadn't heard of another company that was actually putting stuff out against elected officials, as we now know they did to members of the intelligence committee, to undermine them. And so that is going to be a very interesting question and that's why we asked the Justice Department to do something about it.

You know, this is -- a lot of good people work at this company. We are a leader when it comes to social media in the U.S. and we want to keep that going. But they're going to have to come to grips with the fact that we need some kind of regulation place, which Zuckerberg himself acknowledged, like the bill I've got with Senator Kennedy which says, you know, you've got to have a notice if there's a breech. You should be able to opt out of having your information be made public. You should be able to have more transparency. And that they simply just can't run this like the wild west when, in fact, they've got to -- we've -- they're hurting people. They're potentially breaking the law. And we have to put some rules in place. And I hope that in this coming year we'll do that.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about the killing of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi because -- at the hands of the Saudis, of course. It seems like a lot of your Republican colleagues believe that the crown prince gave the order to kill him. There's the -- an assessment by the CIA that says as much. The president remains skeptical. I wonder, if you were president, how would you thread this needle, confronting the leader of an important U.S. ally for what it seems very clearly a heinous act that he likely directed.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, to me, it appears there's not two sides to this, which he has said before and was implying in the interview or that you really don't know if you're going to get to the bottom of it. The reports now are that his own CIA has said that the crown prince was involved in this.

So the first thing you want to do is have a thorough investigation as grounds to look at additional sanctions. I agree with the sanctions that were put in place against the 17 Saudis, but then you have to look at the sanctions that we should see against the leader of this if, in fact, the crown prince was the one that ordered this execution.

Then you also have to look at our ultimate leverage, which is arm sales. And I have in the past, several times, voted against these arm sales, concerned about what was going on in Yemen, asking for it to stop. And so when people think we don't have some leverage, we have leverage and that is arm sales.

KEILAR: All right, Senator Amy Klobuchar, thanks so much for being with us.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, it was great to be on, Brianna. I look forward to many shows in the future. Thank you. KEILAR: All right, we'll see you again soon.

The president in a rare move admitting he made a mistake. And this one involves veterans.

Plus, Republican Congressman Tom Reed says he may back Nancy Pelosi in her bid for House speaker. What is that all about? He's going to join us live to explain.


[13:28:31] KEILAR: After making major gains in the midterms and taking control of the House of Representatives, Democrats are now battling each other over who should be their leader. Nancy Pelosi would seem to be the natural choice to return to be speaker of the House. She is currently the minority leader. She also led Democrats to big victories. And looks, though, like it's going to be a big fight when there is a vote after Thanksgiving.

Joining me now from Ithaca is New York Congressman Tom Reed. He is a Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. He's a member of the Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

And, sir, you have said that you would actually vote in favor of Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. I think that would be unexpected from a lot of people seeing that coming from a Republican. But, look, she does need votes. You and your colleagues want something in return, though. Tell me about that.


We in the Problem Solvers Caucus, about six months ago, put out a rule reform package of the House of Representatives because, Brianna, the House has become a top down driven organization controlled by essentially the speaker's office. And what we're asking is that the rules be reformed so that you reward bipartisan efforts, that you reward having the debate in the openness of a robust issue looking type of process. And I will just tell you, if the rule reforms are support by even a Nancy Pelosi, I am open to get the institution working for the American people. I am open to supporting Nancy Pelosi if she commits to these rule reforms to get the institution working for the people back home.

KEILAR: Which rule reforms?

[13:29:58] REED: So essentially the heart of what we're doing is, if you get to certain consensus points, if you get x number of co- sponsorships on legislation or on amendments -