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New Revelations Emerge About Ivanka Trump's Private E-Mail Use; Trump Signals No Punishment for Saudi Crown Prince Over Khashoggi Murder. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired November 20, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.
Here is the breaking news. Moments ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo showed he supports President Trump's explosive and astonishing statement about the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump's words signaled that the president will not be taking strong action against Saudi Arabia, even though his own intelligence officials, according to sources, have concluded that the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the murder of "The Washington Post" columnist.
Let me just read for you a portion of the president's statement.
"The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an enemy of the state and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that -- this is an unacceptable and horrible crime.
"King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event -- maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"
What is just as astonishing here, in addition to what I just read for you, is that the president released this statement before he received the full CIA report on Khashoggi's murder that is expected to arrive at the White House today.
So, let's begin this hour with CNN's senior international correspondent, Sam Kiley, there in Abu Dhabi for us.
And, Sam, what is the message this statement from the White House is sending to leaders in the region where you are?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's take the Iranians, since they were put at the top of Mr. Trump's interesting missive that was put out earlier on today with "America first" as its headline.
Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, has tweeted in response to this.
Let me read it to you in full, Brooke, because I think it really will sum up the view of that part of the Middle East.
He says: "Mr. Trump bizarrely devotes the first paragraph of his shameful statement on Saudi atrocities to accuse Iran of every sort of malfeasance he can think of. Perhaps we're also responsible for the California fires because we didn't help rake the forest, just like the Fins do."
Now, a somewhat sarcastic response from a government that is actually involved in destabilizing operations in Syria, in South Lebanon, and is backing the Houthis, of course, who are locked in a war against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
Nonetheless, I think that really sums up the kind of Shia response in this region. From the Sunni perspective, Saudi Arabia, Brooke, is seen as very much the center of the Sunni world. At least that's what it's trying to position itself as, obviously in rivalry with neighboring Turkey -- or nearby Turkey.
But, at the same time, this is not a region that sets a great deal of store when it comes to government-level attitudes by human rights. The issue here really is, as far as the Sunni world is concerned -- I'm in the United Arab Emirates -- they are in lockstep with the Saudis, with their colleagues right across the region, in what they perceive to be heading off the threat posed by the Iranians.
And, therefore, they will be delighted by Donald Trump statement, not least because, as you pointed out in the intro there, Brooke, he's made this point ahead of whatever the assessment is going to be published, if it is indeed published eventually, from the CIA as to whether or not Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, knew about it.
And by saying, so maybe he did, maybe he didn't, and ending that remark with an exclamation mark, he's almost delivering it as an irrelevant punchline in some kind of vaudevillian performance, rather than addressing it as a matter of realpolitik.
But, in the background here, it is realpolitik that comes into play. It's not just about arms sales, Brooke. It's also about intensely close intelligence relationship between the United States, United Kingdom and the Saudis especially. The Saudis have switched fire from allowing -- or at least conniving in the backing of extremist groups into trying to lead the campaign against the sorts of extremist groups that Mr. Trump tried to associate Mr. Khashoggi with by alluding to the notion that he may or may not have been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
That is an organization that's not banned in the U.S., not banned in Europe, but is banned in the authoritarian and monarchic nations of much of the Middle East -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Sure. And the way he dangled that in the middle of the statement was a dangerous move to make maybe Americans, certain Americans feel frightened that he would look like this would-be terrorist, just dangling there from president of the United States, Sam Kiley, there from Abu Dhabi.
Back here at home, we heard from the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, a bit ago showing his support of the president's choice to side with Saudi Arabia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So, it's a mean, nasty world out there, the Middle East in particular. There are important American interests to keep the American people safe.
So, as the president said today, the United States will continue to have a relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The United States took a very strong response. We have sanctioned 17 individuals in connection with that investigation.
We are -- we are at the same time committed to making sure that we place America's national security interests and all the actions that take place in the context of doing the right thing to make sure that America continues to thrive and grow.
And when we do that, the world is better off for it too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: With me now, CNN political analyst Julie Hirschfeld Davis, congressional correspondent for "The New York Times." Also with us, CNN global affairs analyst Aaron David Miller, vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.
So, welcome to both of you.
And, Julie, let's just cut through it. I mean, it seems like, when you hear the president, when you read the statement, when you hear from Secretary Pompeo, essentially, is what they're saying, we don't really care what happened with Khashoggi, we're siding with the Saudis?
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Essentially, yes.
I mean, I think this was a preemptive statement. We're told that it was -- that Trump dictated the statement, that it came right from him. And with that phrase, maybe he knew and maybe he didn't, exclamation point, I think the president makes it pretty clear here -- and I think this is the objective of the statement -- that it doesn't matter to him whether the crown prince knew about this in advance, maybe even whether he directed it or whether he didn't. And so if we ever do find out what the United States intelligence
assessment is -- we already know what the Turkish authorities think about this episode -- if we ever are to find out that the assessment is that MBS did order this killing, which we understand that that is the assessment that they have, if that ever becomes public, the president can point back to the statement and say, well, I already said that it doesn't matter to me, that the relationship, that the security considerations that go into that relationship are important enough that it outweighs any of that.
And by casting aspersions on Jamal Khashoggi, he's also made it clear that he is sort of buying the line that the Saudi government has pushed about him in the past, and in a way, as you suggested earlier, kind of giving himself a way of having an excuse for saying that this one killing is not worth flushing the relationship down the drain.
BALDWIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Aaron, let me just remind everyone, because the president was asked about Khashoggi on Sunday with Chris Wallace over on FOX, right? The question was, had he listened to the tape that Turkish officials say they have of the gruesome murder of this -- of this journalist? So this is what the president said:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have the tape. I don't want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So, Aaron David Miller, he won't listen to the tape.
And I have talked to a number of people, some of whom worked with Jamal Khashoggi, who say, you know what, it doesn't necessarily matter that he that he listens to the tape. What matters is how he reacts to the intelligence agencies' assessment that MBS absolutely had a role in Khashoggi's murder.
And I'm curious what you make of the timing, that the president issues this statement before he even sees the full assessment from his own intelligence agencies.
AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, you don't listen to the Turkish audio. You don't read and digest the agency's assessment and the analysis and interpretation on which it's based.
You basically -- and Julie's right. You preemptively have a mind-set that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is too big to fail. I visited Saudi Arabia, the president would say. It was my first foreign trip abroad, which is virtually unprecedented for any American president.
Usually, they go to Canada or Mexico. He's made Saudi Arabia, I think, in an act of magical thinking, the centerpiece of American strategy in the Middle East.
And, as a consequence, this relationship has nothing to do with U.S. values. It's totally transactional and focused on what the Saudis can do for us.
The reality, Brooke, is that would be -- that might be able to get by with that assessment if, in fact, the Saudis were actually promoting U.S. interests. This isn't just a question of values, which are extremely important. The murder of Khashoggi was the most recent act in a series of impulsive and reckless policies by MBS, kidnapping the Lebanese prime minister, complete with hostage video, boycotting Qatar, which has only enabled the Iranians to cement their ties with Doha.
MBS' war in Yemen, which has enlarged the area of Iranian room for maneuver, not contracted it. So, the real question is, is Saudi Arabia an ally of the United States?
MILLER: I would argue to you that it's a security partner. It doesn't share common American values. And, frankly, I'm not entirely persuaded that it shares a lot of American interests.
BALDWIN: But isn't it about -- I mean, the way Pompeo talked about Iran, the fact that Iran was mentioned in the second line of this entire statement, is it -- does this White House see Iran sort of as the boogeyman of the Middle East, and that Saudi Arabia can help them with their Iran problem?
MILLER: Yes, there's no question that Iran is viewed as the greatest threat to the fulcrum of Western civilization, that the Obama administration was wrong to pursue even a flawed, but functional arms control agreement in the Iran nuclear agreement.
And the president was determined during his first year to basically reset the two relationships that he believed the Obama administration has undermined, the relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and the relationship with Saudi Arabia.
And, as a consequence, you have a situation in which Saudi Arabia -- and, again, no one is arguing that we ought to destroy or fundamentally change the nature of the relationship.
MILLER: Saudi Arabia is important. We got to re-inject some balance, some leverage, and some reciprocity into this relationship.
So, bottom line, MBS, his most -- literally, his most significant foreign policy achievement, in my judgment, has been the bamboozling of Donald Trump. And I think this statement, frankly, reflects the fact that the president is determined, no matter what the Saudis do, to maintain this relationship.
BALDWIN: So, will Congress be bamboozled?
I mean, Julie, if this president isn't going to do anything, will Congress?
HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, I mean, I think there's good reason to think that they will.
And it was interesting in the last paragraph of the statement he said something along the lines of, if others disagree with me -- and by that, he obviously means Congress -- then they can go their own way.
Well, what that would look like is something that actually would stand in his way. And he sort of -- he sort of presents it as, we will agree to disagree on this. I think this is OK with me. If others disagree, then they are free to have their own opinion.
If the Republican Congress -- if the Republicans on Capitol Hill, rather, some of the Republicans in the Senate, like Lindsey Graham, who is a close ally of President Trump right now, continue to harbor the concerns that they do about this episode, and think that stronger action is needed, more sanctions are needed, and targeting MBS himself in some way, then they have the means to try to force that kind of action.
And you could see, if you can get bipartisan support for an effort like that, some legislation landing on the president's desk, where he would have to choose whether or not he was willing to veto something like that, and they could get be in a veto override fight.
I mean, Congress could ratchet this up, and I think there's ample evidence that there are Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill that want to do that.
Julie Davis and Aaron David Miller, thank you very much for the conversation there.
MILLER: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Another controversy at the White House today, Ivanka Trump criticized for using a personal e-mail address for government business. Sound familiar?
This all came to light as part of a lawsuit from a watchdog group. And we will talk to the man leading that effort.
Also ahead, breaking news, the CDC advising all Americans, shouldn't eat romaine lettuce.
Whoops. I just had a salad today.
This just two days before Thanksgiving. Hear why.
And the Dow right now plunging more than 600 points. Hear why Amazon, Apple, Facebook are driving down the markets.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: The words White House and private e-mails in the same sentence again, not Hillary Clinton, this time, Ivanka Trump.
The president's daughter has committed this violation that her own father was fixated with as he ran for president. Remember those chants at those rallies?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: She should never have been allowed to run for the presidency, based on what she did with e-mails.
She doesn't even remember whether or not she was instructed on how to use e-mails. Were you instructed on how to use? I can't remember.
She deleted the e-mails. She has to go to jail.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Yes, there are key differences between Hillary Clinton and Ivanka Trump's e-mail use as.
For Ivanka Trump's defense, "I don't know." Sound familiar? Only, this time, President Trump has not said a single word. His daughter's use of private e-mail for government business came to light after an ethics watchdog group, American Oversight, sued for public records.
And now the first daughter's e-mails will be part of this probe led by House Democrats into whether she actually violated the law.
So, with me, Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight.
So, Austin, welcome to you, sir.
And you tell me what you guys have found in these e-mails.
AUSTIN EVERS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN OVERSIGHT: So we discovered at American Oversight was that Ivanka Trump used personal e-mail in 2017.
We actually made that public a year ago. What we're just learning now, thanks to investigative reporting, is that the extent of her use was very large. She was -- quote -- "the worst offender in the White House," and she claimed to have no idea what the rules were with respect to personal e-mail.
So what we're learning is that this is an administration and a family that acts like it's above the law, like it doesn't the rules don't apply to it. And I feel like we're on day one of a new investigation.
BALDWIN: Let me read what Ivanka Trump's attorney is saying in part.
"To address misinformation being peddled about Ms. Trump's personal e-mail, she did not create a private server in her house or office. There was never classified information transmitted. The account was never transferred or housed at Trump Organization. No e-mails were ever deleted. And the e-mails have been retained in the official count, in conformity with records preservation laws and rules."
So my question, having read that, is this. Aside from, Austin, the hypocrisy of all of this, if nothing is really there in Ivanka Trump's e-mails, why should it matter? What is your group trying to achieve?
EVERS: So I think there's two things.
First and foremost, Ivanka Trump's personal lawyer does not work for the American people. He works for her. And so I think it is fair, given a record of lawlessness and impunity, to ask a more neutral or independent arbiter to decide what is true here, not a paid criminal defense lawyer.
Number two, I think we need to let the facts decide whether there's a there there.
Her lawyer says there's no classified information. That is a dead ringer for what Hillary Clinton said in March 2015. It turns out, when you asked national security professionals to review those, under the glare of making them potentially public, they decided they were classified.
I'm not sure Ivanka Trump's lawyer is in a position to make that call.
And I will give you one example. The executive order on classified information makes it clear that if information that would affect national security or foreign affairs can be classified. Don't you think our friends and adversaries would like to know what Ivanka Trump thought of the Japanese president or the head of China or any other foreign leader that she may have encountered?
Those are personal candid opinions, maybe shared with White House officials, maybe shared with friends and family, that are likely classified. We don't know what's in her e-mails yet. No one else's looked at them but her lawyer.
And I think Congress is going to step in and investigate. And, heck, we're going to go to court very soon to keep investigating ourselves.
BALDWIN: And, lastly, just on the sake of being fair, it's my understanding American Oversight did not exist in the era of investigation of Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server.
If it had, would you have investigated her?
EVERS: Our M.O. is to let the documents speak for themselves. We did launch in 2017, and we have made use of the federal the Freedom of Information Act to draw out evidence of this administration's corruption, but it's their corruption.
So let's see where the investigation goes. And I can commit that we will let the facts lead, and we won't engage in campaign-style hysteria or hyperbole, the way Ivanka's father has.
That doesn't mean that Ivanka is out of the woods. It just means that the facts the facts are going to lead.
BALDWIN: Austin Evers, thank you very much.
EVERS: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Ivanka Trump isn't the only White House official under scrutiny for using private e-mail.
Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman.
And, Tom, who else is in the same position?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, a lot of people who arguably should not be, because if your in Donald Trump's White House, you have to know he just pounded Hillary Clinton over this very issue.
So, of course, Ivanka Trump is who we're talking about now. Last year, a lot of them were talked about. Jared Kushner, her husband, was raised on the same issue. Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist no longer with the White House, he was questioned about his use of private e-mail while dealing with official business to some degree.
Stephen Miller, an adviser, same questions raised. Gary Cohn, an economic adviser, same questions raised. Reince Priebus, former chief of staff, he's gone now. He's gone now.
But, nonetheless, look at this. This is a half-dozen people in this White House, Brooke, who in some way have been put under the microscope for using private e-mail to conduct government business under a president who based a real cornerstone of his campaign on saying, you just should never do that because it circumvents record- keeping, it circumvents the law, it raises doubts about what you're doing.
Now, whether he's right about all of that with Hillary Clinton or it's right about any of these people, there are fair arguments to make. If you're doing government business, in the name of the government, many voters would say, why don't you just use a government system for all of that and save your private e-mail for your conversation with people about private matters?
BALDWIN: Tom, thank you very much.
Speaking of, we are just getting word the president is speaking with reporters before he takes off for his Mar-a-Lago Thanksgiving holiday. And we are told he talks about his astonishing statement on Saudi Arabia and he talks about his daughter Ivanka Trump's new firestorm.