Return to Transcripts main page
Adam Schiff Says Democrats Plan to Investigate Khashoggi Intel; Backlash After Trump's Call to Military Turns Political; Trump Intensifies Attacks on 9th Circuit Court; Tribe Kills American Missionary. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired November 23, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's something that sticks in your heart. You understand how hard it is. As electricity crews go by us right now, as they're trying to get some of these lines out of the streets to make sure that no one gets hurt as they come back in to try to reassess this whole situation.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and I'm seeing the rain still falling there on you, Ryan. Thanks for continuing to cover the story.
SCIUTTO: A good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy is off today.
President Trump may be willing to dismiss intelligence findings that implicate the Saudi crown prince in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but this morning, there are new indications that Congress will not.
The incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, he is saying this this morning, telling "The Washington Post" that he plans to investigate what exactly the CIA learned about Khashoggi's death and whether the president, and I quote, "is representing something very different."
Let's discuss this now with Bob Baer, Robert Baer, CNN intelligence and security analyst, used to be a CIA agent, and David Drucker, who's a CNN political analyst here.
David, if I could begin with you here. The Turkish Foreign minister says that Trump is turning a blind eye to the hard facts here, to the murder, and the ties to Saudi leadership to this murder. Do you agree?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I don't know that he's turning a blind eye to it. He's clearly making a strategic decision based on the U.S. position in the Middle East and what he, you know, presumably would think is in the best interest of U.S. national security.
I think the problem for the president, Jim, is that he keeps describing this in domestic economic terms. And so instead of saying, look, I reviewed all of the evidence. I understand what the Saudis did was wrong, and there are going to be consequences. Nonetheless, we need to preserve our alliance with them for reasons X, Y, and Z.
The president simply dismisses the intelligence, doubts whether or not it's accurate, and then talks about jobs. Jobs from, you know, arms deals with Saudi Arabia, oil prices from Saudi Arabia. And I think that's where the president's actually undermining his own leverage and the case that he could make that even though the Saudis are not always good actors, and even though in this case they acted egregiously and even though there could be consequences in the Congress, never mind from the White House, he nonetheless believes that the U.S. position is best served by maintaining the alliance even with consequences. And I think if the president did that, we'd be having a very different discussion about this.
SCIUTTO: Bob Baer, your ears must have perked up yesterday when the president in, as David is saying, once again doubted a high confidence assessment from the U.S. intelligence community. He said that the CIA did not make a conclusion. They have feelings about this. Is that how the CIA does its work, it expresses feelings about a national security issue like this one?
ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Jim, no. They are sure that Mohammed bin Salman was behind this. They know Saudi Arabia. More than that, they're looking at the metadata, intercepts, a lot of information we're not seeing. And, you know, they have come to a conclusion that he ordered this. I mean, no one has denied that. It's come out in the press, multiple sources.
For the president to say a feeling, it's just -- you know, that's not what the CIA does. It doesn't do that at all. And I think the president's in a corner at this point. But his problem, though, Jim, is he can't differentiate between Saudi Arabia and the crown prince. The crown prince is way beyond the pale in his foreign policy. Arresting the Lebanese prime minister, beating him up, and so on and so on. And I think for the benefit of our relations with Saudi Arabia, we should be using our leverage to get rid of the crown prince.
SCIUTTO: David Drucker, how much does it concern you that we're back to where we were with Russian interference in the U.S. election? A high confidence assessment that Russia and that Putin directed it. And the president for months undermining that assessment, raising questions where there were not questions, because that information he found inconvenient or uncomfortable.
And here, you have another case where the president is ignoring and undermining and raising questions again where there are not questions. Are you concerned that this is a president who politicizes intelligence to his own interests here with an effect on the credibility of those agencies which are essential to U.S. national security?
DRUCKER: Right, I think the issue here, Jim, is how flippantly the president publicly dismisses the intelligence community and its work product. Look, presidents, their job is to examine intelligence, ask questions. Sometimes decide that they're not going to act in accordance with the intelligence. Sometimes they don't believe the intelligence. They have issues with it, and they send the intel analysts back to give him more facts.
And we have seen over the years there are occasional intelligence failures. I don't think the issue is so much with the president having a problem with it or not necessarily trusting it or not necessarily acting in a way people would want him to act based on the intelligence.
[10:05:07] I think it's -- as you brought up the issue of Russian interference, the issue is the president so publicly dismissing it, and acting as though the work product is not dependable. And the problem there is that when the president is going to need to make a case to act against a foreign adversary is going to go to either an ally or an adversary, and say look, there are things we know that you're doing. We need you to cut it out or there are going to be consequences.
It makes it easier for countries around the world to say look, you don't trust your intelligence agencies. You've talked all the time about how, you know, maybe they've got a feeling, maybe they don't. And I'm here to tell you that you shouldn't trust them, this is wrong, and actually I don't think I need to pay attention to your warnings because you don't seem to trust them. Why should we?
SCIUTTO: And the Saudi Foreign minister already parroted back the president's doubts about the CIA assessment, doing exactly what you're saying there.
Bob Baer, we are in a different situation now because you have Democrats taking over the House. That gives Democrats powerful chairmanships of committees. And we have Adam Schiff now who will be the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee saying that among the things he wants his committee to investigate is whether the Trump -- whether Trump Organization has financial ties in Saudi Arabia that is influencing the president's decision here. How impactful could an investigation like that be?
BAER: Oh, Jim, it's going to be huge. I have already gotten e-mails this morning from Congress asking about who should they put in front of committees. They're going to come after this president with a hatchet, the Democrats. And they're going to uncover a lot of financial connections that go back years. I mean, essentially Russia and Saudi Arabia floated, you know, Trump property empire in its bad times. A lot of investments from the royal family. Current ones I don't know, but that's certainly going to go on, these hearings, for the next two years. You can count on it.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, we'll see what they discover. Bob Baer, David Drucker, thanks very much.
DRUCKER: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Now to CNN's Kaitlan Collins, she is in West Palm Beach with the president, where I believe the president is golfing this morning.
Kaitlan, any reaction from the southern White House to the Schiff report about this line of investigation? This is certainly a president who has bristled when his businesses have come under the investigative spotlight.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they haven't said anything yet, Jim. And we do presume the president is on the golf course right now because he arrived there with reporters earlier, and it's near 80 degrees here in West Palm Beach, Florida. Very sunny, a cloudless day. A prime day for golf for the president, but expect him to potentially tweet about it. That's how he's been responding to most things while he's been here, except for that brief interaction with reporters yesterday during that phone call with military leaders.
And that was the same day that the president essentially rebuffed the CIA's assessment that the crown prince did order the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, saying that they merely had feelings on the matter, not that they had concluded that the crown prince had ordered it. That's just not the case. Actually, the CIA doesn't offer conclusions. They instead offer intelligence assessments, and based on our sources, the CIA has assessed that it was MBS who ordered the killing.
But from what we've seen from President Trump so far, he has signaled he's not going to hold the Saudi crown prince responsible. But we do expect to see him respond to this because Adam Schiff is someone who he's described as a thorn in his side today at the White House.
SCIUTTO: And you might remember what name he used in place of Schiff in a tweet just a few days ago.
This morning, the president tweeted about something else, about the possibility of bipartisanship, particularly on a border wall funding, et cetera. But last night, he was still really after one of his new targets here of late, and that is the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
COLLINS: Yes, that's right. The president has a bone to pick with the 9th Circuit Court. He has been talking about it nonstop for the last few days. Even during a military call with those members on Thanksgiving, when he told a commander in Afghanistan, he was complaining that the court is a thorn in his side. So another thorn in his side alongside Adam Schiff as well. But it's something we're seeing the president continue to talk about, even today, calling for Republicans and Democrats to come together, to pass what he says is a border security package.
But he wants the border security package to include funding for his wall. And yesterday, he threatened to shut down the government over a spending fight if the spending package doesn't include funding for the wall. So that's something the president has been focusing in on while he's here, tweeting not only about the 9th Circuit Court repeatedly and getting into that fight with the chief justice of the Supreme Court. So we'll be waiting to see if the president sets his sight on Adam Schiff next.
SCIUTTO: Kaitlan Collins, we know you'll be on top of it. Thanks very much.
An American missionary is killed by tribes people on a remote island. Authorities say the missionary should not have been there in the first place.
And is there something to hide?
[10:10:01] The release of a new government report on climate change is moved up to today. And critics say most people won't be paying attention. Was that intentional?
SCIUTTO: It is not every week that a chief justice publicly abrades a president for attacking the federal courts, but it happened this week and it has only prompted more attacks from the president.
With me now CNN political commentators Scott Jennings and Robby Mook.
Thanks to both of you for coming on.
So, Scott, when you see this back and forth, which the president has continued, particularly over the courts and we even saw that in those call with the soldiers yesterday on the Thanksgiving holiday, are you comfortable with that?
[10:15:01] SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think the president is not unlike previous presidents who've had frustrations with the courts. I'll take you back to some ancient history, 2012, when President Barack Obama preemptively berated the Supreme Court as they considered Obamacare. I mean, some of the things Obama said at the time flew in the face of the "Marbury v. Madison" president.
So I think Donald Trump is not the first president to have frustrations with court, Supreme or otherwise. He will not be the last. I think the president should exhibit his opinions, though, by also telling the American people what's going on with the 9th Circuit, which is that the Democrats are slow-walking his ability to put more conservative judges on that particular circuit.
SCIUTTO: Robby Mook, your response? Fair criticism?
ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there's a lot to respond to there. First of all, I don't think anybody in the Republican Party and Mitch McConnell in particular are in a position to talk about slow-walking judges. It was basically impossible for Barack Obama to get his judges approved by the Republicans late in his administration.
But look, I think Scott's painting over a few things here. Of course, presidents have advocated for what they believe. That's their right under the Constitution. You know, and we want our presidents to be vocal. But Barack Obama -- and no other president ever berated the court in this way, you know, implying that the judges, because they were appointed by a certain president, are ruling one way or another.
The president is undermining the entire system by doing that, undermining the Constitution he swore to protect and defend. And look, it's also a dumb strategy, frankly, on his part. I believe that the Supreme Court of the United States, that he's in a fight with right now, is going to be the one who makes the decision about whether he has to answer Robert Mueller or not. And I think the worst thing he can do at this juncture is to put them in a position where if they -- if they rule in his favor that they look like they're in his pocket.
MOOK: He's setting that up right now.
SCIUTTO: On another topic, Scott, you saw the president raise again via tweet as he often does the issue of the wall. This has long been a presidential focus. And he had raised the possibility of shutting down the government if he doesn't get the money that he wants for his border wall that has some opposition not just from Democrats but even from Republican lawmakers.
In your view, would the president be willing to make a deal here to avoid a government shutdown. And that is to -- you know, this exchange often talked about, OK, give me my money for the wall. We'll make a deal on DACA. Is that a deal the president is willing to make?
JENNINGS: I don't know if he's willing to make it, but I certainly think he should make it because I think when the Congress goes divided in January, immigration gets a lot harder. This is one of the things that goes over the last two years that's gone undone on the president's promises to fix our immigration system. And when Republicans controlled all three legs of the stool, you have to ask yourself, why couldn't he bring this to a conclusion?
So if they were able to pull off some massive deal, as you lay out, where you get the wall funding, you get DACA, you get some fixes that say the agriculture community wants in immigration labor issues, that would be a huge win.
Now is that possible in a short lame duck. I don't know. It seems a little farfetched to me. But man alive, if you could get it done, you'd look like a magician.
SCIUTTO: Robby, is that a deal that Democrats want to make with this president? Give him the money for the wall, which you know he would treat as an enormous victory. Might even gloat a little bit on that, but is that an exchange that Democrats would and should be willing to make on a DACA deal.
MOOK: Well, I think we can be sure whatever happens, Trump will gloat about it. You know, this is going to be really interesting to watch. The freshman class of Democrats that are coming in, which is a sizable portion of the caucus now, almost universally ran on a pledge to work across the aisle and to get results.
I think that there is broad based support for immigration reform. And I think there is openness to dialogue. What I think is going to be a problem here is that the president did in fact strike a deal with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi in the last Congress that he pulled out of at the last minute. And so I think Democrats are going to be really cautious until the very last minute about striking some deal out of fear that the president will pull out. But I think, you know, everything is on the table right now, and there's a lot of energy to do something.
SCIUTTO: Scott, I wonder on the issue of Matt Whitaker, it remains a question. The president, you probably heard, one of the many comments he made during that call with troops was to defend Matt Whitaker, his standing. Let's have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Matt Whitaker is a highly respected man. The Justice Department respects him tremendously. I have spoken to a lot of people. And you know, the press has been nasty to Matt Whitaker, but I can tell you that he is a highly respected, strong person. And he's doing a great job. Everybody tells me that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: I just wonder, in this continued public defense of Whitaker, Whitaker here, are we seeing that this -- that Whitaker is not just an acting AG but that he is the president's choice to lead the Justice Department long term?
[10:20:07] JENNINGS: Well, I think he's certainly on the list. And if the president is going to go this direction, I think he should go sooner rather than later because going ahead and putting someone, whether it's Whitaker or some other person into the confirmation process, where you're going to have hearings, where you're going to have disclosures and transparency, that would actually in some ways alleviate the pressure on this situation where you've got an acting who is not subject to Senate confirmation.
So I think the president is probably considering several names. My advice to the White House would be make this a short-term appointment. If Whitaker is going to get it, go ahead and do it. If it's going to be somebody else, get there as quickly as you can. If they can keep this situation short term, it would be for the political best in my opinion.
SCIUTTO: So, Robby Mook, how would you feel about a permanent -- well not permanent, but long-term attorney general who has publicly and repeatedly criticized the special counsel and would then have oversight of that special counsel, as he does now?
MOOK: Yes, it's not acceptable. And we're seeing today he -- you know, this is someone who was paid by some sort of political, you know, transparency organization that was attacking Democrats. He's absolutely a partisan. We're also seeing, you know, he was receiving donations into his campaign account as early as the last two years when he wasn't running since 2014. So there's the aura of scandal around this.
Clearly he's in the president's pocket in terms of how he approaches the Mueller probe. But I actually agree with Scott. Get him in for confirmation. All this can get worked out in those hearings. I don't think that the Senate will let him out. I think he's way too damaged. But I agree with Scott, just, you know, put your cards on the table. If you want this guy to be attorney general, just say that.
SCIUTTO: Robby Mook, Scott Jennings, thanks for taking the time. Happy holidays to both of you. And Scott, say hi to my relatives in Louisville, OK?
JENNINGS: You got it, brother. Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: All right. Thank you.
SCIUTTO: An American missionary went to a remote island near India to spread the word of God. Now authorities are searching for his body. Coming up, what we have learned about the island the missionary called, quote, "Satan's last stronghold."
[10:26:52] SCIUTTO: This is a fascinating story. It's been nearly one week since the death of an American missionary on a remote island in the Indian Ocean. And authorities have yet to recover his body. John Allen Chau was killed by tribesmen on the north sentinel island last Saturday when he illegally visited the isolated community there. In his final journal entry, Chau wrote, quote, "You guys might think I'm crazy in all this, but I think it's worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people. God, I don't want to die."
Joining me now is CNN New Delhi bureau chief Nikhil Kumar.
Nikhil, search crews, I understand, are there looking for his body. What's taking so long?
NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: So, Jim, this is a very isolated island. You know, hundreds of miles off India's east coast, a remote island, and this tribe that lives there, known as the Sentinelese. They number, depending on which estimate you use, they number up to around 80. They have lived in complete isolation, pretty much, from the outside world. He wasn't supposed to be there, as you said. He visited there. Fishermen in the local area, who took him near the island, they said that days later they spotted his body being dragged around by tribesmen.
And since then, authorities have been trying to spot that location. Once they do that the next step is to try and work on how to recover the body from the island itself. They haven't yet gone ashore. They're working with anthropologists and tribal experts to do this carefully. The tribe has a history, one of the reasons why this was off limit for tourists is the tribe has a history of forcefully repelling outsiders.
And he seemed to know this. A friend of his spoke to CNN said that he knew this, but that he had gone there to preach to and try to convert the inhabitants. You read out a journal entry. I've got two more that I want to read to you from what his mother shared with "The Washington Post."
"Lord, is this island Satan's last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?" And, "God himself was hiding us from the coast guard and many patrols." Now that lest entry, a reference to some of the efforts that authorities made to make sure that outsiders don't go ashore -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Yes. And he ignored those warnings, sadly. Tell us more about the reaction locally. What are people saying in the area? He wasn't -- or he was, rather, breaking the law here. But he had other intentions.
KUMAR: Well, that's right. You know, I mean, I think there is a wide acknowledgment of the tragedy over how sad this is. But as you say, people have been raising this point that this was off limits. You know, tourists are not allowed within five nautical miles of this island. And as I said, it's to keep outsiders safe, because the tribe has a history of attacking outsiders when they venture near them, but also to protect the tribe.
Their immune systems, scientists believe, is just not strong enough to deal with some of the infections that outsiders might bring when they visit them. So for both those reasons, there's a strict rule making sure that outsiders stay away. Survival International, the conservation group, has in fact, called out the Indian authorities to say well, why didn't they do more to make sure that this doesn't happen in the first place?
So the questions have been raised, but as well alongside an acknowledgment of the tragedy and now all the attention on the search and rescue operation to work out where this happened and hopefully recover the body as soon as possible.