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High Stakes in Mississippi Senate Runoff; Trump Expecting Tuesday Report on Khashoggi Killing; Trump Hints Cabinet Changes Could Be Coming. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired November 19, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The Republican is ahead in the polls but Republicans are a little bit nervous about this race. Mike Espy served in the Clinton administration. A lot of Democratic firepower coming in including Senator Kamala Harris of California was there weekend. Mike Espy making the case, I appreciate all the national help but trying to reassure Mississippi voters, I'm not a liberal.


MIKE ESPY (D), MISSISSIPPI SENATE CANDIDATE: Mississippi is not California and Mississippi is not Massachusetts. And Kamala knows that. I'm lucky enough and blessed to be a member of the U.S. Senate.

We may not always vote alike similarly and she knows that and I know that as well. But there are common core values that we believe in.


KING: It's a fascinating race. And again, on paper, Republicans should win this. If you look at Senator Smith -- Hyde-Smith on Election Day plus Chris McDaniel the other Republican, but the president is going for two rallies. I talked to Republicans the other day, this private polling shows her up about five points. That's a lead but it's not what Republicans should have in Mississippi.


TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Yes, Democrats are looking at Alabama and saying, you know, we have pulled this off in the last year where we were able to pull together the Obama coalition plus where we had a large number of minority voters and a number of Republicans who crossed over because the Republican candidate was seen as toxic. Now Cindy Hyde-Smith had made statements in the last couple of weeks that have turned off a number of voter voters, talking about being willing to attend a public hanging. She says that were made in just, but it has turned off a large number of voters and Democrats see this as an opportunity to potentially capitalize on that, sneak in with an election where you are able to motivate your base. There are about 38 percent of the voter electorate in Mississippi is African-American, have high turnout among the base and bring over some cross over voters, they could pull an upset like they did in Alabama.

KING: Yes, the idea that public hanging can be said in just, let's wish to put that on the list with Hitler jokes. Just no. Just no.

But it's a key point, you mentioned the Alabama race, that's what Democrats say, you know what, we have done this. Can we do it again? We don't know.

But let's just look, if you look at the exit poll in the Alabama Senate race, and remember the person was invested in that one as well. You see that that's Roy Moore, the Republican. Younger voters turned out, African-Americans turned out and they voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate. That is the challenge in Mississippi. Can you get that turnout and you -- that's why you see the stars of the party going in to try to help.

And Mike Espy saying thank you, but just let me be clear, I know folks are a little more conservative here I Mississippi than they are in California.

COLLINS: Yes. And I don't know if Alabama is exactly an example for this because it was such a bad candidate in that race that -- but even Doug Jones still won by a margin that was smaller than the number of write in votes. So even that one with someone who have been accused of molesting teenagers, that was still such a sensitive race. And I think that's -- we're seeing really similar circumstances here. Obviously not accusations like what Roy Moore was facing, but she is facing -- she did make these comments, it is a very sensitive race, it is a sensitive time in America to make a comment like that. And he could be the first black senator for the state since the Civil War.

That's a big deal. There are so many things are that at stake here. And that's why I think those remarks are really getting such backlash that maybe they wouldn't always in Mississippi.

But we're seeing her campaign trying to turn it around and kind of take the Donald Trump approach of, well, you can't even have a sense of humor in America anymore. That's the defense.

So it's a question of whether that kind of defense will appeal to those same voters that voted for President Trump who said they don't want to live in a politically correct nation. I think that's a big factor that it's going to come down to in Mississippi.

KING: I feel pretty safe going in the record that I'm all for a sense of humor, but not about public hangings --

COLLINS: Exactly.

KING: -- or about whether young people should vote.

Here's the -- all the proof you need that the Republicans are a little bit nervous. They're putting money into the race as well. Cindy Hyde-Smith is their candidate, she has said some controversial things. So new money going into a T.V. ad that features the candidate, right?

Nope. It features the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm Cindy Hyde- Smith and I approved this message.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Democrats get control, they will raise your taxes, flood your streets with criminal aliens, weaken our military, outlaw private health insurance and replace freedom with socialism.


KING: They don't trust her to get to the finish line. They think they need the president.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: They do. And, I mean, it's a risk for both of them really because -- I mean, we've heard President Trump try to spin the election results in the last, you know, week or 10 days from the midterms and say that he wasn't on the ballot and it wasn't his fault wherever he campaigned. You know, the Republicans did better which is not actually true. But there will be no mistaking what the result is here if she wins. It's very likely because that play that featured him front and center worked and if she loses, it will be very likely maybe because that's not enough.

Now, where I think we see them doing is trying to double down on a strategy that worked to some degree for them on the Senate side of these races in this cycle which is to say, you know, you use the anti- immigration message, you really doubled down on some of the divisive rhetoric, talking about socialism and the like and that that will drive up the turnout among the conservative base that you need to win in a race like that.

[12:35:03] But I think Toluse was right. The Democrats are really banking on the fact that their base is going to be just as ginned up and turnout just as much in reaction to that and backlash against that. And I think that's the big risk here obviously.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: These races are always problematic with turnout. You're coming right after a holiday, it's going to slip through in some people's mind. However, if you want to motivate African-American turnout, there's probably no better way than to talk about public hanging Mississippi, right? (INAUDIBLE) because those remarks were just so out of balance and she's made some other remarks about suppressing the vote.

She's really not an incumbent in some ways, having run down there. And if the Republicans manage to lose Senate seats in Alabama and Mississippi in one year, they're probably going to need to be some real intro inspection in the way they handle these races.

KING: You can buy thumbs for the majority leader in that happens again to him.

Up next for us, why California's governor says he didn't push the president too far on climate change when they toured the wildfire devastation together over the weekend. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:29] KING: Topping our political radar today, CNN has learned Arizona's governor being asked by national Republican power houses to name Congresswoman Martha McSally to fill the rest of the late Senator John McCain's term. John Kyle is serving in that seat now but plans to leave after the year-end lame duck congressional session. McSally just lost a race for the state's other Senate seat, but CNN was told the majority leader Mitch McConnell and other powerful GOP forcer telling Governor Doug Ducey they see McSally is the best choice to finish the McCain term and then seek a full (INAUDIBLE). That will be in 2022.

The midterm dust finally settling in Florida and the election supervisor in Broward County won't be back come 2020. Brenda Snipes is resigning after facing fresh criticisms over the recounts in her jurisdiction. Republicans won the two biggest races that dragged on past-election day. Ron DeSantis now will be Florida's next governor, he'll succeed Rick Scott who won his Senate race against the Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Both Republicans giving credit to President Trump.


RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA GOVERNOR-ELECT: Well, he did two big rallies in Florida down the stretch, one in southwest Florida and in northwest Florida. And I think if you look at the type of turnout we were able to generate, I think a lot of his voters he was able to activate and bring them out.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA SENATE-ELECT: I'm appreciative of the president. We've done a lot of good things down the last two years together. So I look forward to working with the president to get good things done for our state.


KING: To California now where the wildfire death toll stands at 80 statewide including 77 from the camp fire that destroyed more than 10,000 homes. President Trump toured some of the devastation father south over the weekend accompanied by federal and state officials, including the Democratic Governor Jerry Brown. Now the president says the disaster hasn't changed his view that forest management is the main culprit. Governor Brown says that conclusion ignores science.


GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: In fact, I have read specifically peer reviewed scientific articles that say that the amount of land burnt in California over the last 15 years has doubled because of climate change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you make that case to President Trump?

BROWN: I certainly raised it, but I didn't feel that that was where we needed to go. We need the money. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Up next, President Trump will soon have a report on his desk about who's responsible for the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The question is, will he accept what it says?


[12:47:03] KING: Welcome back.

The Jamal Khashoggi murder poses a major test for the president this week. And his critics are worried he's refusing to face the truth. The president says Khashoggi's murder, quote, should never have happened and that he will get a definitive report this week, likely on Tuesday, tomorrow. But he continues to side with the Saudi crown prince on the question of ultimate responsibility.


TRUMP: He told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that I would say maybe five times at different points --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But what if he's lying.

TRUMP: -- as recently as a few daus ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you just live with it because you need him?

TRUMP: Well, will anybody really know, all right. Will anybody really know.


KING: That interview aired Sunday, yesterday, but was taped on Friday. On Saturday, the president deflected reports that the CIA has already concluded the crown prince personally ordered the killing. The president says that conclusion is premature.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The CIA assessed that MBS was behind it.

TRUMP: They're haven't assessed anything yet. It was still a very premature report but, that's possible. In the meantime, we're doing things to some people that we know for a fact were involved. And we're being very tough on a lot of people.


KING: Critics see a presidential effort to give the crown prince a pass despite the evidence. This is from Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, an expert on the region telling the New York Times, quote, he's showing that they're desperate. They're now staring at the fact that they're not going to able to deny Mohammed bin Salman's culpability. How will the president handle this? I mean, when you see him in that interview, will anybody really know, will anybody really know, essentially again laying out there that even if the CIA comes to me and says here's the definitive proof, we have no doubt that he may say I have doubt.

DAVIS: I mean, I think that's what (INAUDIBLE) what you are indeed seeing is that the president is going to sort of play out this idea of plausible deniability. How can we ever really know for sure and we know from the past that this president is not shy about disputing the conclusions of his intelligence community. If they conclude something that he doesn't agree with, he will just say he doesn't agree with it.

And in this case -- I mean, we heard about this horrible recording that the Turkish intelligence services have that they have shared I think fairly widely certainly with United States intelligence services, and the president said in that interview over the weekend that he didn't want to listen to it. But what probably is not on that tape is the voice of MBS saying please kill this man. And absent that, I think it's very possible we will continue to hear the president say we can't be sure he was involved. We can't be sure he was the one who carried this out.

KING: And he says, the crown prince told me about five times as recently as the other day. But listen, this is again a fascinating question me about how Republicans act in this post-election environment. Listen to Senator Lindsey Graham here, usually (INAUDIBLE) a tough defender of this president, he says, come on, you cannot believe this man.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you know anything about Saudi Arabia and anything about MBS, the fact that he didn't know about it is impossible for me to believe.

[12:50:03] They're an important ally, but when it comes to the crown prince, he is irrational, he's unhinged, and I think he's done a lot of damage to the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. And I have no intention of working with him ever again.


KING: So if the president tries to stick to this, I don't have conclusive proof about the crown prince, therefore we'll sanction these guys over here, let's move ahead with the relationship. It's going to get a blow back.

COLLINS: Yes. Even Republicans have publicly disagreed with the president. Lindsey Graham pretty much summed it all up. He's really close with Trump and he's been out there for weeks now calling for them to take harsher measures against this with Rand Paul doing similar.

But if we think this report coming out tomorrow is going to change anything for President Trump, we're kidding ourselves. He keeps citing his denials, the crown prince's denials, and in that interview when he says, will we ever really know? That pretty much tells you everything you need to know even if this report has say we've assessed that he ordered this. It doesn't seem as if President Trump is going to take it seriously and that's not new. He's been signaling that for weeks now.

So I really don't think anything is going to change. And for President Trump, it seems to be good enough that the Saudi crown prince is denying this and he's seems that he's going to accept that.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, it's similar to the Russia situation where the intelligence community had a very high confidence assessment that Russia did meddle in the election and President Trump multiple times said, you know, the CIA and intelligence community has gotten it wrong before, these are the guys that got us into the Iraq War. And who can really ever know who did it whether it was Russia or China or some 400 pound man sitting up in New Jersey.

So we've seen the president do this in the past where if it's not convenient for him and for his political objectives, he casts aside the conclusions of the intelligence community and it's likely that that could happen again as well.

KING: On this, it'll be interesting with a new Democratic House and with Lindsey Graham in the Senate, Republicans are seemed that they're not going to blink here. We'll see as this one plays out.

Up next for us, the president hints there might be some high profile exits from his administration, but who?


[12:56:36] KING: President Trump is hinting a major staff shake-up and along the way dropping hints about his disappointments. Topping the list, the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. This at the Fox News Sunday when asked if Secretary Nielsen will keep her job.


TRUMP: There's a chance for everybody. I mean, that's what happens in government. You leave, you make a name, you go. The people that have left have done very well. The people that have left have done very well from my White House.

I like her very much, I respect her very much. I'd like her to be much tougher on the border. Much tougher, period.


KING: Much tougher, period. Hard to miss that hint. Hard to miss that hint. So if you did miss that hint Madam Secretary, on Twitter today, the president tweeting again about the caravan in Tijuana. And I'll just read this piece of it.

"The U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion." Well, who is he talking about there? HULSE: Well, he has troops down there so that he dispatched there. I think that obviously her head is on the chopping block and that she's going to go. They're going to bring somebody else.

I'm presuming they kind of want to wait until they get this money situation straightened out with how much is going to come through the appropriations on the wall. They don't want to cause more upheaval but, yes, the message is pretty clear.

KING: And again, he's the boss, he goes off to Mar-a-Lago, a lot of people think this will happen when he's at Mar-a-Lago or at least he'll ruminate about it more away from the official step.

That's Kirstjen Nielsen, her mentor is the chief of staff John Kelly. Again, same president, this is your boss remember, talking about should you stay or should you go.


TRUMP: We get along well. There are certain things I love what he does and there are certain things that I don't like that he does. That are his strength. It's not that he doesn't do -- you know, he works so hard, he's doing an excellent job in many ways. There are a couple of things where it's just not his strength. It's not his fault. It's not his strength.


TRUMP: But I haven't even thought about John in terms of this. But John at some point, he's going to want to move on. John will move on.


OLORUNNIPA: John will move on. Apparently the president is --

KING: I said that all the time, by the way.

OLORUNNIPA: The president said that Mr. Kelly would be on until 2020 and now he's sort of reneging on that a little bit. And when he says there are certain things that aren't his strength, and we heard people who've talked to the president, talked about how the president is not happy that John Kelly does not a political background, does not seem to have the political instinct that the president feels that he needs in order to get through 2020.

We saw what happened in the midterms and now they're worried about what might happened in 2020. That's why you hear the president talk about potential replacement for John Kelly, people who have much more political instincts and more of a political background. And when the president said it's not his strength that's what he's talking about.

KING: Is it wrong that he's -- it seems to be saying, why don't you go as opposed to I don't really like firing people so why don't you take the hint.

COLLINS: Well, he tries to (INAUDIBLE) his criticism sound. Typically, he lets go whenever he's criticizing someone. With John Kelly, you can still see how he's torn. He does have that respect for him because he was a marine and you see the president speaking about him in that way.

But, make no mistake about it. President Trump complains about John Kelly often, and it's often a day-to-day thing in the White House whether or not he's going to last or whether he's going to leave.

KING: And again, to that question of how do Republicans react in this environment, Chuck Grassley tweeting this morning, "The guy is an ex- marine, leave him alone, Mr. President." That from a prominent Republican on the Hill.

We'll watch one this play out. Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS today. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Brianna Keilar starts now.

Have a great day.