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Trump's Call to Troops; Trump Suggests Closing Border; Trump on Saudi Involvement in Killing. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 22, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: As we go along because eventually we're trying to outdo one another and trying to one-up one another and trying to get in one -- in each other's heads. And so, yes, this is the start of it.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And you can watch it on "Bleacher Report" live in Pay Per View. That's tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 Eastern.

Well, thank you so much for joining me on this Thanksgiving. I hope everyone enjoys the day. INSIDE POLITICS with Nia-Malika Henderson starts right now.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special holiday edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson in for John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

Today the president turning a morning conference calls with troops serving into overseas into a marathon speech and a broadside against the courts. The president touted a military mission on the border that's invited legal and operational scrutiny. On the phone with troops, he likened the mission against the Taliban and ISIS to the mission to repel a migrant caravan winding towards the southern border.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Keep them away from our shores. And that's why we're doing the strong borders. You probably see over the news what's happening on our southern border.

Large numbers of people and, in many cases we have no idea who they are, and in many cases they're not good people. They're bad people. But large numbers of people are forming at our border and I don't have to even ask you. I know what you want to do. You want to make sure that you know who we're letting in and we're not letting in anybody essentially because we want to be very, very careful. So, you're right, you're doing it over there, we're doing it over here.


HENDERSON: The president also says that the old, broken wall is now a very powerful border wrapped with barbed wire plus thanks to the 5,000 plus troops deployed near Mexico. But the president said Congress needs to give him more wall money and suggested he's willing to shut down the government next month if he doesn't get it. The president also took the occasion a time to give thanks to those who choose to wear the uniform to again attack the courts he sees as an impediment to his immigration agenda.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We get a lot of bad court decisions from the Ninth Circuit, which has become a -- a big thorn in our side. It's a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services, when they tell you how to protect your border.

It's a shame. It's a shame. It's a disgrace, frankly. And essentially they're legislating.


HENDERSON: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is near Mar-a-Lago traveling with the president.

Happy Thanksgiving, Jeff, and thanks for being here.

Jeff, was that part of the script? What we heard from the president this morning, was that what the White House expected going in?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nia, good day and Happy Thanksgiving to you.

That certainly was not part of the script going in, but there really was no script going in. This was the president who was, you know, just doing a routine phone conversation, a phone call, with members of the armed services. And then it went a bit off the rails because he politicized it and largely talked about things he has been talking about for the last several days or so but in a very different venue. Indeed, as you said, you know, putting specific service members on the spot.

But, Nia, I was struck by something else. The fact that the president again contradicted his own intelligence community, the CIA, and essentially said that, you know, yes, they may have certain feelings on the brutal murder of the "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but, you know, they hadn't come to a conclusion. In fact, that's not true. In fact, as we and others have been reporting, the CIA has come to at least an initial conclusion, you know, that the Saudi crown prince had knowledge of the murder in advance. So the president also went on to say that he believes that the Saudi crown prince feels just as badly as anyone does about this and he said the world may be to blame for this.

So, Nia, when you parse those sentences and unpack them a bit, a very extraordinary statement from the president to essentially disagree with his intel community. But, Nia, so many other headlines during a very long, unscripted, unplugged moment, you could say, from Mar-a- Lago.


HENDERSON: And, Jeff, you're going to stay with us and we're going to get to some of those headlines you talked about.

Joining us to share their reporting and their insights, we've got Catherine Lucey with "The Associated Press," "Bloomberg's" Margaret Talev, and Ron Brownstein with "The Atlantic."


First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to you guys.



HENDERSON: In this phone call, really an extraordinary and unexpected message for the troops there. It very much, Margaret, did turn into a political stump speech in many ways.

TALEV: Yes. I mean, on the one hand, this is not like a -- the normal way that presidents spend Thanksgiving addressing troops. On the other hand, we've seen threads of this since the beginning of the Trump administration. You'll remember on his first full day in office he actually went to the CIA Memorial Wall --

LUCY: Yes.

TALEV: To give a political speech, you know, diminish the press and critics and, you know, kind of taking an election victory lap. So, to some extent, this is like kind of the midterm 2.0 version of the same thing. We are seeing him since the election testing every major institution in America systematically. The media that's old news. The executive authority, congress, the courts.

[12:05:20] HENDERSON: The courts. And the Supreme Court.

TALEV: The military.

HENDERSON: The Ninth Circuit court as well. And we'll play here his harsh words for the Ninth Circuit.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chief Justice Roberts, John Roberts, has been speaking a little bit about it. And I think we -- and I have a lot of respect for him. I like him and I respect him. But I think we have to use some common sense. This Ninth Circuit, everybody knows it's totally out of control. And what they're doing, what they're saying, the opinions are very unfair to law enforcement, they're very unfair to our military and they're very unfair, most importantly, to the people of our country because I'm keeping them safe.


HENDERSON: And, Catherine, at some point he also suggested that he's going to ask Congress to change the court system because he's so unhappy with it.

LUCEY: Yes, I mean, to Margaret's point, this call is both sort of extraordinary and yet completely predictable. It is everything we have come to expect from the president. And this fight that he has picked with Supreme Court Justice Roberts, with the courts, is something that's been on his mind now and we have heard for him for days. So this is not a new thing. You know, when we see -- when we see him wake up with something on his mind, when he's been tweeting about something, the idea they're going to keep going in public is pretty standard. And he has picked fights with the judiciary since he was a candidate. So this is not -- this is not a new place for him to go in terms of, you know, his combat.

TALEV: But usually justice -- but usually the chief justice --

LUCEY: Does not weigh in.

TALEV: Does not weigh in.

HENDERSON: Which he did.

LUCEY: Yes, and that is notable that he felt the need to respond.


TALEV: That things had reached such a point.


And the other common theme here is all about immigration, right? This was key to his victory, key to his message in 2016 when he ran and so here he is again talking about the southern border.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we find that it's uncontrollable, Josh, if we find that it's -- it gets to a level where we are going to lose control or where our people are going to start getting hurt, we will close entry into the country for a period of time until we get it under control.

QUESTION: You mean the entire border between (ph) the country?

TRUMP: The whole border. I mean the whole border. We're going to either have a border or we're not. And when they lose control of the border on the Mexico side, we just close the border.


HENDERSON: So, Ron, there you hear the president threatening to shut down the border.


HENDERSON: I think at some point even during that press conference he said they had shut down the border. At some point he also talked about possibly shutting down the government over boarder funding. What did you make of his comments?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, appropriately enough for Thanksgiving, right, it was a multicourse meal that the president offered up this morning on many subjects.

But to me, Nia, the overriding headline of his performance was full steam ahead. Nothing has changed both in the tone and the substance of the message. I mean we are now probably heading towards Republicans losing 40 seats in the House with 4 percent unemployment, the most they have lost since Watergate in any single congressional election, and they lost those seats primarily in the places that are doing the best in the economy, largely because of a backlash against many of the ways President Trump has talked -- has approached the job, the way he talks about racially tinged issues and that roles of women and all of those kinds of questions among voters who usually vote Republican.

And what he basically, in white collar suburbs -- and what he basically signaled today was, nothing is going to change. He's going to continue, as Margaret said, to systematically attack institutions that he believes can limit or constrain his power. He is going to continue along the same polarizing messages, racially tinged messages, on issues like immigration and is going to continue to move forward as if -- as if this did not occur. And I have to wonder, you know, the Republicans that are left in swing districts or are looking at the 2020 map in the Senate, like Cory Gardner or Tom Tillis or even David Purdue in Georgia, they got a pretty clear signal today that the president is steaming down the same track that produced the result that they just got a few weeks ago.

HENDERSON: And, Jeff, the president did seem incredibly relaxed. He could have almost sat there the whole morning and taken questions. He seemed to be so eager in terms of talking with reporters there about these topics.

ZELENY: He definitely did, and that was, I think, one of the reasons, his surroundings. I mean there's no place he loves more and loves to show off more than Mar-a-Lago. So having the press pool, the small group of reporters there, he probably would have been happy having a, you know, full on press conference there most of the day. He's obviously having Thanksgiving dinner later. Right now we're told he's just arrived at the Trump International Golf Course here in West Palm Beach. So he has a completely clear schedule.

[12:10:04] And I think Ron makes a very smart point there. There is no introspection, there is no sort of like lessons learned, a do-over going forward. It is full steam ahead, but with many different equations. The first among them is the make-up of Congress. The president is about to enter into a new political order in Washington and you do not get the sense that he is, a, knows what is coming, you know, b, know what to expect, but he is trying to make that immigration argument again by wrapping the judiciary into it. I was struck by this morning he essentially is saying, you know, that

judges on the appellate bench and the federal bench are making military lives unsafe, making law enforcement officials lives unsafe. Well, it's the president who sent down the military officials to the border, the troops to the border. So -- but the president is drawing in the judiciary more than he has before.

But one thing he has not done as we sort of near the halftime mark of his presidency, he has never tried to create a congressional solution or a law, if you will, which a president can certainly do, you know, persuade both sides to get an immigration law or a fix in the works. And he's -- Republicans have controlled both chambers of Congress. That is now about to change entirely. So he knows the limitations of that certainly, but you don't get the sense that there's any strategy here going forward that will sort of change how he's operating for what is going to be a new world order in Washington.

HENDERSON: Yes, the strategy seems to just, in some ways, be the fight. And we'll see I'm sure once this new Congress comes in, in January, it's only going to get harder if he wants to pass any legislation on immigration reform. We'll see.

Up next, President Trump insists it's a cruel, cruel world and says it's a bad idea to upset our allies no matter what they do.


[12:16:03] HENDERSON: President Trump is taking yet another opportunity today to side with the Saudi government and to reject a CIA assessment regarding the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have not concluded. Nobody's concluded. I don't know if anyone's going to be able to conclude that the crown prince did it. But I will say this --

QUESTION: Do you think he did?

TRUMP: I -- I don't know. I don't know. But whether he did or whether he didn't, he denies it vehemently. His father denies it, the king, vehemently. The CIA doesn't say they did it. They do point out certain things. And in pointing out those things, you can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn't.

HENDERSON: Sources have told CNN that the CIA accessed with high confidence that the prince did order Khashoggi's murder. The CIA typically does not make final conclusions on its intelligence. Publicly, the president has been making the case that the U.S. needs the Saudis and that it's important to maintain that relationship, no matter what happened at the consulate in Turkey.

But the former congressman from Pennsylvania, Charlie Dent, says President Trump is missing an important part of the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHARLIE DENT (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: The -- and the Saudis have to be held to account. And everybody knows it. And for the president to kind of just dismiss all that is -- well, it's a tough world out there and, you know, we need the Saudis. Well, yes, you know, we'd need them, but they need us more, so we're -- we're bargaining from a position of strength as far as I'm concerned.


HENDERSON: Catherine, the president very much doubling down on being on team Saudi essentially and rejecting the CIA's assessment.

LUCEY: Yes, that's right. And he seems to be, if anything, using the fact that there is some, you know, wiggle room here. The fact that the CIA is not going to sort of put out an official report tied with a bow and say 110 percent this is our assessment.


LUCEY: For him to sort of say there's give here. But he's facing very serious pushback from within his own party, and not just from, you know, consistent critics, like Senator Bob Corker, but we heard from Senator Rand Paul, Senator Lindsey Graham, both of whom are close to the president, talked to the president a lot, and they are both expressing a lot of concern that the U.S. is not being tougher on this.

HENDERSON: And one of the things you hear from the president basically is that it's a cruel, cruel world and he understands that cruelty. You've heard from Pompeo. Well, here he was today with that theme.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You take a look all over the world. We're not going to be able to deal -- let's not deal with anybody.

But I will say very strongly that it's a very important ally. And if we go by a certain standard, we won't be able to have allies with almost any country.

Maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place.


HENDERSON: On Thanksgiving, talking about the cruel, cruel world. What's the calculation there?

TALEV: It is a cruel world and since World War II it has been the U.S.' job to try to modulate that cruelty by using basically both the threat of military action and financial leverage and just all of the levers of power to try to moderate behavior. And the U.S. has various rings of allies. You know, our closest allies like the U.K. and the western allies and, you know, Israel to some extent, you know, these -- and then the Saudis have -- are an important partner in the region on some things like intelligence sharing. But part of the reason why the U.S. has staked out the positions that it often does and tries to weigh these things in dealing with everyone, from China to Middle Eastern powers, it is -- is because it's a cruel world.

Why on Thanksgiving? Because the president has the podium on Thanksgiving, you know. He's at Mar-a-Lago. Again, he wants to show, after the midterms, that he is still driving the decisions in this country and he has put all of his eggs in the Saudi basket when it comes to dealing with how to deal with Iran, how to deal with the region. It's, you know, it's in his interest to try to show that he made the right, strategic call. And that's what he's trying to do here.

[12:20:11] HENDERSON: And we heard from the Saudi foreign minister essentially echoing the president's take on what happened.


ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: What we heard is the president say that the CIA report is not what people say it is. And so we have to go by this. If you have any evidence or any government has any evidence that it would like to make available to the Saudi courts, I'm sure the courts would be pleased to receive it. We looked at how this issue came about. The -- and how the operation was launched. And the people who launched -- who were part of the operation and what they did. And it has nothing to do with the crown prince.


HENDERSON: And, Jeff, this is what worries a lot of foreign policy observers, the fact that the president seems to be giving license of this kind of cruelty in Saudi Arabia.

ZELENY: There's no question. And I think that's -- what's different about this moment, I mean, there's been so much talk of criticism of this administration on a variety of matters from Democrats. So let's set that aside for a second.

The voices I am struck the most by are the Republicans on Capitol Hill. Senator Lindsey Graham is one of the most loyal senators, whose one of the closest people to the president. He has been talking in an extraordinarily blunt terms about how Saudi Arabia, the kingdom and the crown prince, need the U.S. much more than the reverse. The president cast this as, you know, essentially an economic argument. Never mind that he has completely overstated the actual number of arms deals, you know, that have happened or are even to be contracted here. But I think the question here going forward is, what does it mean? Will Senator Graham, will Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul and others actually hold the White House to account on this? Will they not deal with the Saudi crown prince? Or will this be another example of sort of allowing it to slide? We're going to potentially get a window into the president's own relationship in dealing with it next week at the G-20 in Argentina. The crown prince is expected to be there. The president is going to be there. So this will be another opportunity for the president to essentially embrace the Saudi crown prince here. But this is, you know, a view of the president, you know, putting

this, you know, strictly in economic terms or that aren't even accurate, that is essentially vacating the moral authority. So we'll see how this plays out.

But there are repercussions, if not in the short term, potentially in the longer term, about these fights with the intel community. And it's potentially dangerous terrain for this president.

HENDERSON: Thanks for that.

Coming up, President Trump talked to overseas troops on the phone at length this Thanksgiving Day. So when is he going to visit them?

And before we go to break, a moment to remember, a true American hero. Ray Chavez, until his passing yesterday, was the oldest survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor at age 106. Ray lived in California with his family and was a Navy quarter master when the Japanese attacked in 1941. He gained prominence in recent years traveling around the country, attending memorial services and commemorations. He even met with President Trump in the Oval Office ahead of Memorial Day. In a recent CNN interview, Ray said he thought about Pearl Harbor and his Navy years every single day.

We'll be right back.


[12:28:23] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. MELANIE NELSON, HOMETOWN: LINDSTROM, MINNESOTA: Hi, I'm Captain Melanie Nelson from Lindstrom, Minnesota. I'd like to say hi to my family and friends back home. Happy Thanksgiving. I hope I'm home for the next holiday, guys. Take care.


HENDERSON: With thousands of American service members deployed to war zones this Thanksgiving, there are growing questions over why nearly two years into his term President Trump has not yet visited U.S. troops in a combat zone. The president points to his busy schedule, but presidential visits to war zones are a long and bipartisan tradition.

We can look here at President Bush. He visited Iraq actually on Thanksgiving Day in November 2003. Also visited Afghanistan twice during his presidency.

We can move on to President Obama. He visited Iraq in April 2009. Also had four visits during his tenure to Afghanistan.

And, interestingly enough, if you look at other administration officials, visits to Afghanistan, top administration officials have visited Afghanistan. Vice President Pence, for instance, as well as the Secretary of Defense Mattis and the Secretary of State Pompeo. And if you look at Iraq, more administration officials as well visiting that war zone, including Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law.

The president did spend his Thanksgiving morning on a conference call with troops deployed around the world where he wished them a Happy Thanksgiving, talked up the economy and hinted he might be making a trip of his own in the near future.

[12:29:50] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While you're away from your families and loved ones, I hope that you'll take solace in knowing that all of the American families that you hold so close to your heart, we're all doing well. The nation is doing well economically. Better than anybody in the world. We're the hot nation of the world. And it's nice to know you're fighting