Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RIGHT NOW
Senators Briefed by CIA; Senators Speak After Briefing; Dow Sinks over Confusion. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired December 4, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] REP. JIM LANGEVIN (D), CO-CHAIR, BIPARTISAN DISABILITIES CAUCUS: Again, many guys have come down, but I'm looking at that.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman, I'm sorry, we're at the top of the hour. I need to stop you. But, amen, I'll bring you back on. I'm very sorry.
KING: Thank you for watching us today.
LANGEVIN: That's all right. Thank you.
KING: Brianna Keilar starts right now.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, a year of silence over. Robert Mueller's big week kicks off any moment as the special counsel reveals how Michael Flynn cooperated.
Secrets from a murder. The CIA gives lawmakers the intelligence on a journalist's death, but will it change anything?
A Republican wins a House seat by just 905 votes, but now questionable votes puts his win in limbo.
And, Joe Biden says he's the most qualified person to be president. Hear how Elizabeth Warren just responded.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: And we start now with a basement briefing just finish and a chorus of senators from both sides of the aisle now crying foul. And I want to talk about a smoking saw instead of a smoking gun in the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. These are some comments coming after a confidential briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel.
Just listen to Senator's Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Open source reports show that he had been focusing on Mr. Khashoggi for a very long time. It is zero chance, zero, that this happened in such an organized fashion without the crown prince.
As to Pompeo and Mattis, I have great respect for them. I would imagine if they were Democratic -- in a Democratic administration, I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia. But since I have such respect for them, I am going to assume that they're being good soldiers and that when they look at the analysis, they're being technical in their statement. But they're not giving the assessment that I think the Senate will have.
I would really question somebody's judgment if they couldn't figure this out. It is there to be figured out. Please let me finish. And I think the reason they don't draw the conclusion that he's complicit is because the administration doesn't want to go down that road, not because there is not evidence to suggest he's complicit.
QUESTION: And you said you had been working on a statement over the next -- between now and (INAUDIBLE).
GRAHAM: So I'm going to do two things.
QUESTION: Anything --
GRAHAM: I'm going do two things.
QUESTION: More tease (ph) than that?
GRAHAM: Yes. I'm going to try to get a sense of the Senate resolution where we all vote and designate MBS as one of the people responsible for the death of Mr. Khashoggi, that he was complicit in the murder, that I not only have high confidence, overwhelming belief that that's the case, then what do you do about it? I want to make sure that Saudi Arabia is put on notice that business as usual has come to an end for me. I will not look at the kingdom the same way that I used to look at it. I will not support arms sales until all responsible for the death of Mr. Khashoggi have brought -- been brought to justice.
GRAHAM: I will no -- yes. And I will no longer support the war in Yemen as constructed.
QUESTION: Does that mean you will vote --
GRAHAM: Yes, we're working on it.
QUESTION: For the Sanders resolution?
GRAHAM: No. I think that's the wrong approach. What I want to do is -- (END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Extraordinary comments coming from Senator Lindsey Graham. He also said, quote, there's not a smoking gun. There' a smoking saw.
I want to go now to Capitol Hill. We have CNN congressional -- or, pardon me, senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju there, on The Hill for us.
Tell us what's going on, Manu.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, about roughly a dozen senators just emerged from this closed door briefing. It lasted roughly an hour or so. A little bit over an hour.
And we've been hearing almost a unanimous conclusion from Republicans and Democrats alike who have emerged from this briefing saying it is crystal clear to them that the Saudi crown prince was behind the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And they're saying that there was very clear evidence, despite the administration, the president himself, downplaying the crown prince's role.
And you just heard close ally, Lindsey Graham, saying he wants to come down like a, quote, ton of bricks on Saudi Arabia. This is someone who has been close with the Saudi kingdom for some time. But he and other Republicans and Democrats are now trying to coalesce around a legislative response to what happened with Saudi Arabia.
Now, we just spoke with Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who is also part of this effort to try to target Saudi Arabia. And he made it clear that based on what he saw that the crown prince is guilty of murder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: You know, there's no direct evidence of this. And how do you square the two briefings (INAUDIBLE) last week?
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Let me just put it this way. If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes.
[13:05:10] QUESTION: Of murder?
QUESTION: Why isn't the resolution something that does have teeth? One of the right ways to try to punish Saudi Arabia?
CORKER: Which one?
QUESTION: The Yemen resolution.
CORKER: Well, the Yemen resolution gets into a war power situation and the administration can easily turn right back around and say we're not involved in hostilities, we're not refueling their equipment. (END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So there's still some debate about exactly how to respond to what they saw here, Saudi's involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and whether or not to get behind an effort on Capitol Hill to prevent -- withdraw U.S. involvement from that Saudi-led war in Yemen. So there is a division about exactly how to respond, but there are overwhelming amount of senators who do want to respond, including the Senate Appropriations Chairman, the Republican, Richard Shelby, who just told me that somebody should be punished for this.
So the question, Brianna, is, what can the Congress do? Can they get behind something before the end of this year? Can they get enough support? And will they have to overcome a presidential veto given the president's resistance to punishing Saudi Arabia?
KEILAR: Yes, he said maybe they did, maybe they didn't, and it didn't seem like he cared in a statement of support for Saudi Arabia.
Manu Raju on The Hill, thank you for that.
With me now to discuss these brand-new developments is CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.
And I want to answer the question that Manu just posed, well, what can Congress do? But first, let's just discuss some of the stunning things that we heard from Senators Graham and Corker.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
KEILAR: He said there's no way that this was done without the crown prince's knowledge. And he was careful to say open source reports because he just came out of a classified briefing.
KEILAR: He wants to be clear that all of the things that we know, just as the public that are out there and being reported, that there's -- it's clear that MBS was focusing on Khashoggi for some time.
BASH: Yes. I mean there was no daylight at all between -- and left no question about how they felt. And what Manu said, and it's really important to note, these are Democrats, these are Republicans, these are friends of the administration, these are foes of the administration crossing over both parties. These are people who are representatives of their states, United States senators, who came out of a briefing appalled by what they saw. And so they wanted to make clear I think in the language that you're talking about, not just to the American people, not just to the Saudis, but the guy in the White House, that he better be ready because they are using this language in order to telegraph, they're going act. The question is how they're going to act, but they feel the need to act on a bipartisan basis. KEILAR: And the reports that are out there, some of them -- one key
report, exclusive to CNN, that came out yesterday from our colleague Nina de Santos (ph) says the motive was essentially that Khashoggi was discussing with another exile of mobilizing this untraceable army online of young Saudis who would take aim at the Saudi government, at the crown prince. You can see why he would have this animus for Jamal Khashoggi.
When you heard Senator Graham say about Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Mattis, who -- members of Congress who senators initially got the briefing from, if they were Democrat, I would say they were in the pocket of Saudi Arabia. That's what he said. But essentially because they're Republicans, because I respect them, because I know them, he said, I'll assume they're being good soldiers. But he said they were technical in their statement. He also said that there's no one -- there's no way to conclude, because of the intelligence, that MBS was not involved. It must be because the administration doesn't want to acknowledge this.
BASH: Yes. I mean, remember who is saying that, Lindsey Graham, who, you know, many moons ago was a big opponent of President Trump, but in recent months --
BASH: And even more than that, has been very close with him, even a confidant of President Trump's, on issues, both domestic and on national security, and the fact that he's making these kinds of statements on Saudi Arabia, it's noteworthy for a couple of reasons. Number one, Lindsey Graham has been a supporter of Saudi Arabia, so this isn't like he's jumping on a train that he's already been on. So it's a turn for him. And, number two -- same with someone like Bob Corker.
Number two, again, he's trying to telegraph to the administration. What this reminds me of, Brianna, in a much more intense way, is what happened after Russia. After the election with the Russia sanctions. You know, unclear --
[13:10:02] KEILAR: More intense than that you think?
BASH: I definitely think it's more intense --
KEILAR: Yes. Yes.
BASH: Because it's -- it's clear cut. Obviously whatever they heard in this classified briefing. If Bob Corker said, based on what I heard, a jury would convict him in 30 minutes, I mean, that's a pretty intense statement for -- and a very telling statement for someone like that to say.
But what it reminds me of is that if these members of Congress decide to go down the sanctions route, or, you know, arm sales, or, you know, pick your legislative or your policy punishment, it's so unanimous in the anger and the outrageousness at the Saudi crown prince personally and particularly that unless something happens in Saudi Arabia, unless the president does something to act without Congress, Congress is going to try to force his hand, just like they did with sanctions against Russia when it was, you know, a huge bipartisan vote, 90 something to almost zero in the United States Senate, similarly in the House, they passed it and the president was forced to put some sanctions on Russia.
KEILAR: And I want to bring in CNN political analyst Eliana Johnson to talk about this as well.
So they're going to -- the expectation, as Dana lays out there, they're going to try to force the president's hand in this. He's been so reticent and has taken Saudi Arabia's side. Will Congress -- they will be able to take -- to really force his hand here, to force him to change, do you think?
ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": I think it's -- I think it's likely and very likely. This is an issue where, yes, it's a complicated issue, but when the president said we may never know the truth on this, on an issue where actually we can ascertain the facts. And not only that, there's bipartisan agreement in Congress that the administration needed to take some action this. I think that's where you see Congress like on forcing the president's hand on Russia sanctions very likely to act to constrain the administration's actions.
And I think that where the frustration is, is not that the administration didn't cut off ties with Saudi Arabia or impose sanctions, but simply a refusal to acknowledge the facts here and use our leverage with Saudi Arabia, which is a close ally, to force the king to broaden the base of power there because the base of power there is now only the crown prince and whatever sort of roylae (ph) politic (ph) Trump is practicing, he's not using a moment of weakness for Saudi Arabia to extract any concessions from the kingdom.
BASH: And that's the other thing to keep in mind here. You know, what Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker and Dick Durbin, the bipartisan senators who came out really aggressive are also trying to do is force change, force regime change. I mean, obviously, the king is the king, but force him to take the power away from MBS. Take the -- say, he's too young, he shouldn't be in this, he clearly did something that was against every norm of anybody who's not an absolute brutal dictator by, as you said, with the evidence that we know about, probably even more so that they saw in a classified way, that he was behind, maybe even directing, the brutal, brutal murder of a political opponent, a journalist. It's just -- it's not OK, and that's another signal that they're trying to send over to Saudi Arabia.
JOHNSON: They want to know that the president or his secretary of state or his national security adviser are communicating to Saudi Arabia that while you may be our most important ally in the Middle East, aside from Israel, this was a disaster for you and it was a disaster for us and you cannot embarrass us this way if you're going to stand by you.
Beyond that, this was bad for you. Investing power in one individual like this and where he can act in ways and see no -- believe that there will be no consequences is bad for you, Saudi Arabia, and you've got to broaden the base of power there, perhaps appoint other people to high levels in government and force some change inside Saudi Arabia. And it's clear, I think, from what you hear, traditional allies of the president, like Lindsey Graham, saying that they're not getting those sorts of reassurances from the administration.
KEILAR: Eliana, Dana, thank you so much to both of you for helping us understand all of this.
BASH: Thank you.
KEILAR: Stay with us because, coming up, it's been months and months of silence, but any minute Robert Mueller will reveal how Michael Flynn cooperated with the special counsel.
And stocks are sinking. The Dow down almost 600 points here. We're going to have more on this selloff.
[13:18:56] KEILAR: All right, let's take a look at the Dow here. We're down almost 600 points there.
I want to bring in CNN business editor at large, Richard Quest. He's in New York with his eyes on this as our eyes are.
What's going on?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: It's simple, that there is a lack of confidence and belief in any deal or agreement that President Trump may or may not have come to with the Chinese over the weekend.
Look, we don't know what the auto tariffs agreement was. We don't know how long the deadline is. We don't know any of the facts. And yesterday, Brianna, the market was giving the benefit of the doubt. It liked what it saw and it roared up. But even yesterday the best gains of the day had evaporated. The market closed up, but well off the highs of the day.
Today, we opened down about -- off about 200 points. And then just look, just before 12:00, for some inexplicable reason, probably an algorithm that started selling and others joined in, the market turned over. And now we're at the lows of the day, down 600 points.
And it is, Brianna, it is because the market is uncertain about what happens next. It's as simple as that.
KEILAR: All right, Richard, keep an eye on that for us. We do appreciate it.
[13:20:11] I want to get back to our breaking news.
Just amazing reaction today in the halls of Congress to this basement briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel. Haspel briefing some members of the Senate on Saudi Arabia and the murder -- its role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Here with me now we have Utah Congressman Chris Stewart. He's a Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
You've heard a lot of the outrageousness from these senators, in particular Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker. When you look at this, especially Lindsey Graham, saying that he said, if Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo, who gave the initial briefing on the Khashoggi murder, which the White House is trying to minimize, he said that if they were Democrats, he would have said they were in the pocket of Saudi Arabia. But because he respects them, he's going to assume they're being good soldiers.
REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: Well, I think there's another possible explanation, and that is that we just have more information or more information was provided to these senators.
I can tell you that sitting on the House Intel Committee, what we --
KEILAR: He made it clear that wasn't the case. He made it clear that this was open source information. So it's not like there was more information that came to light in the matter of a few days. That does not seem to be the case.
STEWART: Yes. I still think that's a possibility.
KEILAR: You think that's a possibility?
STEWART: He doesn't know what others were provided is the thing. He knows what he was provided.
But I can tell you that this --
KEILAR: But that's key, isn't it, if he was not provided it by the defense secretary and the --
STEWART: Well, it could be, though, because there was more information learned.
STEWART: I can tell you that last week the information we were provided by the agency was not definitive. And I know the senator doesn't believe this, but if someone is saying that Secretary Mattis or Secretary Pompeo were dishonest, they just don't know those individuals. There's no way in the world those individuals came out and lied because they didn't --
KEILAR: Well, he does -- here does know. He certainly knows Mike Pompeo.
STEWART: Yes. Yes.
KEILAR: And he's trying -- says he's giving him the benefit of the doubt. But if he didn't know them, if he wasn't friendly with them, he would say they were in the pocket of Saudi Arabia. STEWART: Well, once again, I just think there's another simple
explanation and one that I think is plausible, and that is that there were --
KEILAR: And do you -- factually, you know that's true or it's possible?
STEWART: Well, we -- without having sat in both briefings --
STEWART: And the senator didn't, and neither did I. Without having set in both briefings, no one can say, well, this was briefed here and this was also briefed here.
KEILAR: But as a member of the Intel Committee, knowing --
KEILAR: So you're saying -- but then if nobody can know, then you don't actually have a factual basis for that assertion? You're just saying you believe that's a plausible -- that's a possible --
STEWART: I think that's possibility. Yes, a possible explanation.
KEILAR: So you think it's a possibility but you're not sure?
STEWART: Yes, that's exactly right.
KEILAR: OK. All right.
KEILAR: Just want to be clear there.
What happens now when you have senator who feel very differently than you do. You're giving them the benefit of the doubt. He said he's going to believe they're good soldiers. There are clearly senators who believe that something was covered up here from what -- and this is all with the background happening of the Trump administration or President Trump essentially saying maybe the Saudis did it, maybe they didn't, he doesn't care.
STEWART: I think the more important question -- look, we can go back over the last few weeks and wonder and I think eventually conclude, well, this is the information that was provided to these groups at this time. At this point, this is what we now know. I think that's the most important consideration. And the question is, what do we do now?
STEWART: Because we've got a couple of very perplexing problems. The first is this, and it's simple, and that is, we have to have a relationship with some players that we don't agree with. Journalists disappear all over the country. Twenty journalists have been killed in Mexico. You don't think it's happened in Turkey and China? Of course it does. And yet we have to have a relationship with these individuals and with these countries.
And the second thing is this, what is in the best interest of the United States? And this is a very, very difficult challenge because we have to, on one hand, hold them accountable, including the crown prince, for whatever action he may have been involved with. And at the same time, what is protecting U.S. interests? What is going to counters Shia extremists? What is going to help bring stability? What will help bring an end to the war in Yemen? You have to balance all of those considerations as we move forward on this.
KEILAR: But as the administration moves forward, isn't there a commitment to telling the truth? Because it seems like the -- what is bothering these senators, bipartisan among them, including folks who have supported Saudi Arabia and who have supported the Trump administration, is that the Trump administration has turned a blind eye to the facts here.
STEWART: Yes. Well, I just don't think we know that that's true at all. And having worked in this -- in this area for a long --
KEILAR: How can you not say that the president has turned a blind eye?
STEWART: Because he has --
KEILAR: He literally said in his statement, maybe they didn't, maybe they didn't. And then he said that Saudi Arabia needs to be supported.
STEWART: Because new information may have emerged. I mean that's a very possible explanation.
KEILAR: But it -- this was at the time he essentially said, maybe they did and he doesn't care.
STEWART: Well, I don't think he said he doesn't care. But I've been -- I just --
KEILAR: He said maybe they did, maybe they didn't.
STEWART: I just don't think you're focusing on the thing that matters here. I mean it's very possible, and you can't deny this, it's very possible that new information has emerged. I'm telling you what I was briefed last week was very different than what these senators were apparently briefed on. I haven't had that briefing. And it's very possible, you don't have all of the intel all of the time and you don't have all of the analysis of the raw information that you do have immediately. Sometimes the takes a little bit of time. I think that's a possible explanation for this.
[13:215:05] Putting that aside, isn't -- wouldn't we agree the most important thing is, what do we do with this now? How do we --
KEILAR: Well, would - should the president do? Should the president change his tune on this?
STEWART: Well, it -- I -- well, it depends on what you mean by change his tune. KEILAR: Should the president consider looking critically at Saudi
Arabia instead of saying, hey, there's money at stake, this essentially is not of concern to me, because that, I think, is a fair paraphrasing of what he said.
STEWART: Absolutely. Absolutely I would -- that's an absolutely appropriate response for him to have if this new information would point directly to this one individual.
KEILAR: We're don't know it's new information. I just have to be clear, we do not know that this is new information. We just know this is information coming from the CIA, which had assessed previous to that last briefing where you're saying maybe information changed.
KEILAR: Prior to that initial briefing, the CIA was saying --
STEWART: Well --
KEILAR: That they -- that they, with high likeliness, they were concluding that MBS was behind this.
STEWART: Yes. And, again, I think we're (INAUDIBLE) that and swallowing the camel. Let's decide what is the important response here. Your question is, should the president change his response to this? I would say that he should. I think all of us agree, there needs to be an appropriate response here. We need to hold individuals accountable. And we need to completely understand the facts regarding that as well.
KEILAR: All right, you're going to stick around, if you don't mind?
STEWART: Yes. Good.
KEILAR: Congressman Stewart, we appreciate you being here. We want to talk to you about some other issues. I'm going to ask him about the Russia investigation coming to a head. Robert Mueller expected to reveal how exactly Michael Flynn cooperated with the special counsel.