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Trump on Khashoggi's Killing; White House Turkey Pardon Ceremony. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 20, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:03] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


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

And we begin with breaking news.

An explosive declaration from the White House. Quote, the world is a very dangerous place, exclamation point. This is part of the explanation for the president's muted reaction to the Saudi Arabia sanctioned murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The president admits that the killing was terrible, but he also says, quote, 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.

I want to bring in CNN's senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown. She is at the White House.

This is -- it's stunning, this statement.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITEHOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is stunning on a number of levels, Brianna, particularly the fact that the president hasn't even received the report from his intelligence community. That report is supposed to be handed over today, the assessment from the CIA, according to our reporting, that the crown prince directed the murder of the "Washington Post" reporter, Jamal Khashoggi. So even before the president sees this report today, Brianna, he sends out this extraordinary statement backing Saudi Arabia.

Now, he had said over the last several days that Saudi Arabia is an extraordinary ally, but essentially what he is saying in this statement is that it doesn't matter if the crown prince had any involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. As you said, maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Those are the exact words from this statement.

The president saying, well, it doesn't really matter because Saudi Arabia is such an important ally. He talks about the arms deal that Saudi Arabia was involved with. This arms deal, $110 billion over 10 years. It was struck last year. Well, so far, only $14.5 billion out of the 110 have actually been -- have actually gone through. So that is important to note.

Also the president talks about Saudi Arabia being glad to withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. Now, it's important to impact this. First of all, there's no indication exactly that the Iranians are on the ground. The Houthis, the rebel forces, are backed by the Iranians. And it's important to note just recently the Houthis agreed to stop missile and drone strikes on Saudi coalition targets in Yemen and Saudi Arabia has yet to make any concessions. And so that is also important to point out here.

But this is just extraordinary and really a slap in the face, Brianna, to the intelligence community. The president making this declaration, standing by Saudi Arabia, before he even reviews the assessment from the CIA here at the White House today.


KEILAR: Pamela, stand by with this breaking news.

I want to go ahead and bring in CNN's senior international correspondent Sam Kiley. He is live for us from Abu Dhabi.

How is the region going to respond to this, Sam?

SAM KILEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends which bit of the region you're talking about, Brianna. I have to say that here in the United Arab Emirates, which is a hand in glove with Saudi Arabia, the crown prince here is very close to the crown prince in Saudi Arabia, this will be treated not only I think with some degree of private relief, but with public endorsement because that is the position of the Sunni alliance, if you like, that has reigned against what they perceive to be the threat coming from Iran.

From the region's perspective, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, whilst unfortunate and ugly, is trumped very emphatically by the strategic imperative as they see it, which is to stand full square against the threat that they believe Iran poses, not just in Syria, but, of course, with their backing of the Houthi rebels in the Yemen and with Hezbollah active, not just in Syria but also in south Lebanon. What's one of the ironic side effects of that arrangement is a growing rapprochement (ph) with Israel. But -- and Israel has also been very reluctant, indeed, to criticize the Saudis over the death of "The Washington Post" columnist for exactly the same reasons.

Outside of this region, though, this is a catastrophic blow to the reputation, not only of Donald Trump's administration, but also a sense that there will not be there for any kind of justice and people will be looking very (INAUDIBLE) at the relationship that is emerging now between Donald Trump and their most -- his most seasoned intelligence advisers, Brianna.

[13:05:00] KEILAR: All right, Sam, thank you so much for that. Also stand by for us there in Abu Dhabi.

Here with me now in Washington, CNN's senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt, and CNN political director David Chalian. Alex, I want to, first off, let's just, again, emphasize how stunning

this is --


KEILAR: Because you have seen other -- I can't think of a situation that is exactly analogous to what we've seen with Jamal Khashoggi. This is extraordinary circumstance with this journalist being killed.


KEILAR: But when I think of other administrations dealing with allies who have done bad things, they sort of thread a needle. This is not threading a needle.


KEILAR: This is coming out, undercutting his own intelligence community and basically saying, I don't care. Also, here are some conspiracy theories and a bunch of stuff that isn't necessarily true.

MARQUARDT: Right. There's a tremendous amount to unpack in this, not just in terms of the substance, but also in terms of the style. This could be titled giving Saudi Arabia a pass. And if you look at the very first line and the very last line, it completely sums it up. He starts talking, in the beginning, about the country of Iran, and then talks, at the end, about America first.

So it's clear that the importance, the priority for this White House, for this president, is entirely on financial and strategic national security interests, and not about the morals of a foreigner who was killed in a foreign country. They're essentially saying that the money is more important here than the morals. The president highlights repeatedly the arms deals that Saudi has struck with the United States. Pamela Brown there mentioning that it's a $110 billion deal, but only $14.5 billion have so far come through.

This is a classic statement from President Trump. It has a number of elements that we've seen before.

KEILAR: It's almost like a tweet, in a way, but not a --

MARQUARDT: But in a much longer form. It's two pages.

KEILAR: I mean this -- to be clear, this is a -- this is an actual statement coming out and it almost feels like he stole the typewriter, typed it out and sent it out without an edit.

MARQUARDT: But, I mean, Brianna, you know you've -- we've heard this all before. You know, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny. So he's highlighting the fact that they have repeatedly denied this. He calls Khashoggi -- or he says that Saudi has called Khashoggi an enemy of the state and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood but doesn't really give any evidence of that.

KEILAR: Well, fact check -- and fact check that for us. MARQUARDT: All right. So early on, when Khashoggi was in university,

he showed sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood and, from what we understand, he went to several Muslim Brotherhood meetings. He was a supporter of their brand of political Islam. And then over the decades he became much more progressive. He distanced himself from the Muslim Brotherhood. And, at the time of his passing, friends and family have said that there was absolutely zero indication that he was at all affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, let alone still a member.


David, when you look at this, and we talked about the idea of threading the needle with an ally --


KEILAR: Sam said this -- this statement is going to be a catastrophic blow to the reputation of the Trump administration when it comes to a lot of countries in the region, and yet here he is going full bore with this exoneration in a way of Saudi Arabia. He didn't need to go this far, did he?

CHALIAN: Well, certainly not. I mean I know he labeled this statement America first. And as Alex noted, the very last sentence is very simply it is called America first. But it seems like it's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman first. It seems that that -- Saudi Arabia first is what it seems is going on here in many ways. And I think that the president gives indications in here, whether he's talking about oil or money for an arms deal as to why he thinks Saudi Arabia should not come in for any scorn here.

This is -- this is an abdication of his responsibility as the global leader that he is. There's little doubt about that. And I think in this statement also, he makes quite clear, Brianna, that he understands, this is not going to be the last word on this. He anticipates the United States Congress getting involved in this. We know, we've heard from the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, in the last several days that this -- he sort of put the White House on notice. Well, this is not going to pass the muster of the United States Senate.

So I would imagine you're going to hear from people on both sides of the aisle rather quickly, if not outright just completely slam this statement, express real concern about the way forward here. This is not any form of American diplomacy that we've seen in the modern era.

KEILAR: The -- the -- go on, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Well, we shouldn't lose sight of that point. I mean this is -- this has been a remarkable moment when you look at Capitol Hill. Democrats and Republicans, to your point, in lock step saying that Saudi Arabia, and particularly Mohammad bin Salman, need to be held responsible. You have this sort of throwaway line from the president here. I understand they're members of Congress who would like to go in a different direction. [13:10:02] It's more than a different direction. Bob Corker yesterday

saying that if the report from the White House does not include the name of Mohammad bin Salman as one of the guilty parties, that they will pursue more pressure. And they've invoked the Magnitsky Act, which is incredible when you think about the -- that was -- that was first implemented and came to be because of Russia, which is an adversary. Saudi Arabia is arguably the closest ally in the Middle East, except for possibly Israel, and they're talking about Magnitsky sanctions against not just Saudis but against the crown prince. So, David --

CHALIAN: And as Pam Brown pointed out, this did not wait for that report that you're talking --

MARQUARDT: Right. Exactly.

CHALIAN: He did not even wait for the report. He was getting out ahead of the report.

KEILAR: He's undercutting it. That's right. Exactly.

MARQUARDT: We have not heard the last of it from Capitol Hill. You're absolutely right. They're going to come -- they're going to come on strong and threaten not just to impose sanctions, but to derail these arms deals as well.

KEILAR: All right, you guys, stay with me. We have much more breaking news ahead. The president out with a stunning statement saying that he is siding with Saudi Arabia, undercutting a report from his own intelligence community where we were expecting that it would be -- really be not sympathetic to Saudi Arabia.

And we are looking there at live pictures from the White House. We 'll be monitoring this. We'll be right back.


[13:15:29] KEILAR: We are more on our breaking news, what is just an astonishing statement from President Trump, the likes of which we have not seen before. What it basically says is that before he's even seen the final report on the killing of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, he is already comfortable discounting it, saying that maybe Saudi Arabia's royal family ordered the murder and maybe they didn't, but either way he states very plainly that the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia is bigger than the murder of just one man.

Here with me now we have Florida Congressman Francis Rooney. He's a Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Sir, what do you think about this statement?

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think it's a very unfortunate circumstance all around. The murder of this fellow in Turkey is, to me, analogous to some of the things that President Putin has done around the world and that Chavez and Maduro have done around the world. And I think that we have an act called the Magnitsky Act that provides for brings sanctions to bear on people that do commit murders like this.

KEILAR: So I'm -- there -- you -- you are saying it there, that this kind of behavior is like what we see in dictatorships around the world. And so we're seeing this statement from the president saying, you know what, I really don't have any problem with that. What concerns does that raise to you?

ROONEY: Well, I think we have to have a problem with the commission of a murder by a -- and deal with whoever has direct responsibility for it.

KEILAR: What does this say to other -- what does this say to dictators around the world when they see the president responding like this?

ROONEY: Well, maybe the president will have time to clarify his comments and to study the intelligence report that I think he's about to get.

KEILAR: No, I mean, sir, with all due respect, congressman, this is a -- this isn't a tweet. This is an official White House statement for immediate release. This is a written White House statement.


KEILAR: I mean it's two pages.


KEILAR: I don't know what he's going to clarify. He goes --

ROONEY: I didn't know. Yes.

KEILAR: He goes into quite length about this.

ROONEY: Yes, I don't think we have any choice but to take this very seriously and apply the Magnitsky Act. We can't look like weak to the rest of the world and we can't look like we'll do one thing to President Putin and another thing to an ally who commits the same kind of crime.

KEILAR: How does Congress go about doing that when they obviously don't have the support of the president on it?

ROONEY: Well, it would put him in a situation of having to sign or not sign a bill that the House and Senate passed. You know, we've passed sanctions for the Magnitsky Act itself, as well as sanctions on Iran, you know, on Venezuela in the past year.

KEILAR: All right, congressman, if you'll just stay with us for a moment. The president is actually about to take the podium at the White House. We're going to go ahead and listen in there at this Rose Garden event. It's actually the turkey pardon. I mean, you can't make this up, happening at this moment.

Let's listen.


Good afternoon, everyone. A very special day at the White House. We are thrilled to be joined today by our great first lady, Melania. On behalf of the entire Trump family, I want to wish all Americans a very, very happy Thanksgiving.


At this time of the year, we reflect on all of the many blessings in our lives. We're also very glad to be joined by the chairman of the National Turkey Federation, Jeff Sveen, along with his wife, Marcia (ph), his father, John (ph), his sons, Andrew, Peter and Samuel, and their very beautiful families.

Thank you very much for being here. Thank you. Thank you.


Jeff, thank you.

Thanksgiving is a time of great American traditions, and today we continue a very special one when a lucky turkey gets a presidential pardon.

That turkey is so lucky. I've never seen such a beautiful turkey.

It has been stated that President Abraham Lincoln, honest Abe, was the first president to grant such a pardon, after his son Tad befriended the Christmas turkey and implored his father, "Please, Dad. Please save it."

And this grant tradition I am pleased to announce that today's lucky bird and guest of honor is named Peas, along with his alternate, named Carrots. The children will understand that.

The winner of this vote was decided by a fair and open election conducted on the White House website. This was a fair election.

Unfortunately, Carrots refused to concede and demanded a recount, and we're still fighting with Carrots.


And I will tell you, we've come to a conclusion.

Carrots, I'm sorry to tell you the result did not change.


It's too bad for Carrots.

Peas and Carrots are the very first national Thanksgiving turkeys from the very great state of South Dakota. I love South Dakota. (APPLAUSE)

For this occasion, we are excited to be joined by governor-elect -- a real friend of ours -- Kristi Noem. Where's Kristi?

Kristi? Stand up, Kristi. Congratulations.


She just ran a very, very great race against a very capable opponent. And it was really something special. Congratulations, Kristi.

We're also happy to have Wyoming congresswoman -- friend of mine -- Liz Cheney here with us. And she just had a big victory also.


Thank you. That was a great -- that was a great victory.


They know what they're doing in Congress, Liz.

Peas and Carrots were raised by a wonderful farmer from Riverside, Hutterville Colony, and this is something that he's very proud of, Ruben Waldner. I want to just thank Ruben for having done a great job. Where's Ruben?

Ruben? Stand up, Ruben. Great job.


That's a good-looking turkey. Great job. Thank you very much.

Peas and Carrots were two out of a group of 50 exceptional turkeys raised for this event. And you can see that by looking at them. Together they are known as the Presidential Flock.

After their good fortune today, Peas and Carrots will both live out the rest of their days at Gobblers Rest on the campus of Virginia Tech -- good place -- where they will enjoy a beautiful private enclosure under the care of poultry science students and veterinarians.

In other words, they're going to be well taken care of at Virginia Tech.

However, it won't be entirely a rest. Even though Peas and Carrots have received a presidential pardon, I have warned them that House Democrats are likely to issue them both subpoenas.


Nonetheless, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I will be issuing both Peas and Carrots a presidential pardon. Unfortunately, I can't guarantee that your pardons won't be enjoined by the Ninth Circuit. Always happens; they guarantee it. All joking aside, this is a time for Americans to unite together in a spirit of love, understanding, unity and joy as one very proud American family.

Our nation is doing well. We are now at the beginning of a national period of Thanksgiving, and as we pause to give thanks for all of the blessings that we've been bestowed -- it really has been blessing after blessing after blessing -- we're all very thankful. And we also pray for those in need, especially our fellow citizens impacted by the devastating wildfires in California, where I just came back. I've never seen anything like it. Probably nobody has. All American hearts are joined with theirs.

We give thinks for the family, friends, neighbors and loved ones who enrich our lives, lift our spirits and fill our days with joy. And we give thanks to God, who continues to shed his almighty grace upon this magnificent land that we all love so very much.

We are truly blessed to be Americans. This is an incredible time for our country. Prosperity is soaring all across our land.

We are especially thankful for the men and women who protect our families and who protect our flag. As we gather together this week with those we love, we share our gratitude to all of those who spend this holiday very, very far from home serving in our military overseas. We send our eternal gratitude to the heroes who keep America safe, strong, proud, prosperous and free. And we ask God to always watch over these incredible, brave Americans as they faithfully defend our nation and as they defend our home.

Now it's time to grant Peas and Carrots the pardon they've been waiting for. They are extremely lucky birds.

Thank you, everyone. Have a very, very happy Thanksgiving. God bless you all and God bless America. Thank you very much. Thank you.


Thank you very much.


Peas, I hereby grant you a full pardon.



Thank you very much, everybody. Really great. Thank you. Thank you very much.


[13:25:58] KEILAR: And there you have it, President Trump pardoning the

Thanksgiving turkey. The annual tradition. Peas the name of this turkey. And just the most unusual dichotomy here as this comes on the heels of a statement that the president has put out essentially pardoning Saudi Arabia and the crown prince and the king there despite what his intel community is expected to put out in a report today that Saudi Arabia is behind, that these leaders of Saudi Arabia are behind the killing of a "Washington Post" journalist. This statement undercutting that intelligence report.

Stand by, we have Secretary of State Pompeo about to speak in just a moment.