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British PM Faces No-Confidence Vote Amid Brexit Chaos; House Leadership being Briefed on Khashoggi Death; Cohen Seated in Court Room Awaiting Sentencing. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 12, 2018 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The political fate of Britain's prime minister is up in the air right now. And so if the nation withdraw from the European Union on this Brexit. Just about five hours Theresa May faces a no-confidence vote by members of her own conservative party. It is a secret ballot that will determine if she is forced from power.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: She is not going down without a fight though. In the House of Commons this morning, she took on one of her fiercest critics, the opposition party labor leader. Listen to this.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The biggest threat -- the biggest threat to people and to this country isn't leaving the EU, it's a Corbyn government.


HARLOW: Nic Robertson joins us outside of 10 Downing Street. Good morning. Wow. What a moment for the U.K. They are facing this March deadline for Brexit to happen. Now, we don't even know if Theresa May will be in power and what this will mean for Brexit. Explain this to Americans who are wondering just how big it is this morning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It could look a lot different in just a few hours. So, what Theresa May has to do is to win the simple majority of the conservative MPs. And that magic number if you will is 158. And the reason that she has to get 158 votes is because 48 of her own MPs decided that they have no longer have confidence in her and called for a vote of no-confidence.

[10:35:10] Now, it has to be said that Theresa May's supporters feel confident but equally there are others on the other side of this who are feeling confident, as well. So at this stage it really is too soon to say how it is going to go.

Theresa May spoke on the steps of Downing Street this morning when it was made public, this vote of no-confidence was going to happen. She said that she was going to fight this all the way until the end. She has known that there was going to be a challenge to a leadership that was potentially coming. She always said that she would meet that challenge head on.

But now that moment has come. In parliament earlier today, we heard that big challenge from the leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn asking about when parliament was going to get that meaningful vote on the Brexit deal that she has so far. That was the vote that parliament was supposed to take yesterday that she decided to delay which really was one of the key triggers for this vote of no-confidence by her own party and her today. But listen to the strength of her retort to Jeremy Corbyn.


MAY: I'll them that's on the other side when we've had a meaningful vote, we had it on the referendum on 2016. And if he wants a meaningful data, I will give him one. 29th of March, 2019, when we leave the European Union.


ROBERTSON: Of course, the big concern here is that Britain doesn't make a deal before that date potentially crushes out without a deal and that would have a huge impact on the economy. Poppy, Jim?

HARLOW: Yes and we have seen it, right, with what has happened to the pounds, sterling against the dollar and the euro and what this means, big picture for the global economy. Nic, thanks for the reporting. We'll see what happens in just a few hours.

Still ahead, House Republican lawmakers quietly doing something very important, moving to gut a resolution that would pull back - this resolution would pull back U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in that war in Yemen. Well, they're moving to gut that in just hours. We're going to tell you what this all means ahead.


[10:41:45] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. So, Congress is moving in opposite directions today on the Saudi-led war in Yemen. When I say Congress, I mean Republicans in Congress. Well, the Senate moved forward on a Republican-backed measure that would end U.S. support for the war in Yemen holding the kingdom to account to the wake of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. There are Republicans in the House that are throwing up road blocks and they are significant and meant to be quiet, but they are very important.

Manu Raju is on the Hill with more. What can you --

SCIUTTO: So, Manu, just on that point, I mean after all the talk last week about this briefing for senators, angry senators coming out, Lindsey Graham among them, does this now mean that the Senate not only won't take action but cannot take action because of what the House is doing here?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the House - what the House is doing is that they - the Republicans yesterday, they inserted a provision in a rule that has actually governs the floor debate of an unrelated measure, the farm bill. And in that rule that governs debate over the farm bill, it essentially gutted the resolution that would move forward and pull back U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

What it does essentially makes it harder for people who are pushing that Yemen resolution to get a vote on the House floor and empowers House leaders to block that measure from going forward. So, it appears that the House will probably not take action on this resolution to pull back the U.S. support for its role in Yemen.

Now, separately, the Senate is moving forward with a similar measure of vote as soon as today. We are expecting it to happen today to pull back within 30 days U.S. support for Yemen. Now, there is a disagreement among Republicans in the Senate about whether this is the best strategy going forward to rebuke Saudi Arabia for -- over its role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the American-based journalist. Some Republicans are pushing for other measures. They don't want to go forward with this Saudi -- this Yemen plan worried of the broader implications that it may have. And one bill that they are looking at is a resolution condemning the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his role in the murder. So, they may ultimately support that. And this Yemen resolution may fall by the way side because of disagreements among Republicans.

HARLOW: All right. Manu, important. Thank you very much.

Again, this vote happening, I think at 1:00 p.m. today.

SCIUTTO: Well, relevant to this, just moments ago, CIA Director Gina Haspel arrived on Capitol Hill to brief House leaders now about the intelligence on the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that intelligence officials are still collecting facts. Who's right?


[10:48:50] SCIUTTO: Right now, top House leaders are being briefed on the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A short time ago, CIA Director Gina Haspel was seen walking into that briefing. Tomorrow Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will take their turn in front of House leadership. Earlier this morning on Fox News, Secretary Mike Pompeo once again backed claims that there is still no direct evidence linking Khashoggi's murder to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.


AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX HOST: The CIA says they are highly confident that the Saudi crown prince did order the murder of Khashoggi.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Some reporting that you've seen on that has been inaccurate.

(CROSSTALK) Look, we all know they are still working on this. This is still a developing set of facts with respect to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The intelligence community is working diligently on that. The direct evidence, as what I've said before, the direct evidence isn't yet available. It may show up tomorrow. It may have shown up overnight and I haven't seen it.


SCIUTTO: Let's speak now to Read Admiral John Kirby. He also once who served as a spokesperson for the State Department and the Defense Department. Thank you, admiral for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So on this issue, there is quite a divide here.

[10:50:01] Let's separate out the Democrats but between this administration, Trump and Pompeo and hardline Republicans on the Hill who saw the same intelligence, Lindsey Graham among them. Is it your impression that this administration including Secretary Pompeo are deliberately misleading on U.S. Intelligence to provide cover for the Saudi leadership?

KIRBY: I think that is certainly the appearance of it, Jim. I mean it is hard to say because you and I haven't seen that raw intelligence and what they're using to base their decisions on but when you have so many senators and we'll see what the House says today -- clearly coming down on the side of believing that the crown prince was directly involved, one has to assume that part of the administration's calculus is to try to ease the blow on Saudi Arabia and to not try -- want to hold them accountable for what it appears the crown prince was directly involved in. So, it is difficult to say with certainty, but that certainly is the appearance.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. You in your roles at the Defense Department and State, you dealt with the Saudis on a number of issues. Do you believe that they are celebrating the administration's defense?

KIRBY: Yes. I frankly do. I mean they have -- everything coming out of the Trump White House has been almost laudatory of the support that they give for the struggle against Iran and what they are trying to do in Yemen and their influence in the region. And they have heard nothing from the Trump administration that should lead them to believe they need to be overly concerned about being held to any measure of significant accountability. That is a problem. It looks like it is going to be up to the Senate to try to hold them accountable.

There is one point on this though, Jim. I think is really important for people to understand. When you have an ally it doesn't mean that you have to agree on everything. And sometimes the best way you can be an ally and a good friend to another nation is to hold them accountable for actions like this. To make it clear that there are lines they cannot cross. And to try to get the relationship into a better place. What I'm not hearing of anything from the Hill or from the White House is where do we want Saudi Arabia and our bilateral relationship to be in 10 or 15 years. What kind of Saudi Arabia do we want in the region? And we are not talking about that.

SCIUTTO: No. It's a point we made on the broadcast before. The U.S. held Egyptians to account for a crackdown on protesters there. Israel to account for building settlements. Those relationships have survived and thrived.

One final question. This is not new with this administration. This president has ignored and questioned intelligence, confident assessments by intelligence on Russian interference in the election, on North Korea's continued nuclear and missile activity, on climate change and its effect on national security around the world and now Saudi Arabia. By ignoring intelligence, does this administration damage U.S. national security?

KIRBY: Yes, of course, they do. The intelligence community is nonpartisan. They are diligent. You have covered that for a long time, Jim. You know how hard they work to try to get it right. And they are humble about the fact that they don't always get it right. Their job is to provide an assessment, to help policy makers make better and more informed decisions. And when he shuts them down the way he does, he is actually closing himself off to context and nuance that might help make his decisions better on behalf of the American people. So absolutely, this ignorance and this willful ignorance of intelligence and intelligence community assessment actually does in the long term hurt them as a community and what they believe their credibility is. But more importantly, it hurts us from a national security perspective.

SCIUTTO: As you know, there were commissions established following the Iraq invasion on the mishandling of intelligence in the lead to that. Are we seeing in front of our eyes the repeated mishandling of intelligence on all these, the most serious national security issues? Rear Admiral John Kirby thanks very much.

KIRBY: You bet.

HARLOW: All right. So we are just hearing that Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney and fixer has been seated inside the courtroom there in Lower Manhattan in this federal court. He is about to be sentenced in just moments facing years in prison. What this means for him. You see him walking in with his family. Will he say anything about the president in the courtroom today? And what sentence will this judge hand down? Stay with us.


[10:58:37] HARLOW: All right. Really important as the opioid epidemic continues to ravage this country and become one of our country's most devastating health emergencies ever. We're learning more about the drug responsible for more overdoses than the United States has ever seen before and that drug is fentanyl. The CDC overnight announcing it is now deadlier than heroin and cocaine. The CDC says it has now become the most commonly used drug in all drug overdoses in this country killing more than 18,000 people in 2016 alone, many of those very young adults.

SCIUTTO: I mean those numbers get up to levels combined as you see with gun crime. Those sky rocketing between particularly 113 percent every single year in fact between 2013 and 2016. Experts blame over prescription of pain killers for what has now become a lethal opioid crisis across the country. It is shocking when you read about it and it's something the country still hasn't found the right way to address.


SCIUTTO: We have some news on a story that we have been following all day. A short time ago, Michael Cohen arrived at a federal courthouse here in Manhattan with his family. That is his daughter there on the left. He is now seated inside the courtroom there between his lawyers and soon he's going to hear his sentence perhaps years behind bars for the president's former long-time attorney and fixer.

HARLOW: That's right. The sentencing hearing is underway. We'll get that sentence really from the judge at any moment. We'll hand it off now. Thanks for being with us today. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.