Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Soon: President Biden To Meet With Saudi Crown Prince; DHS Watchdog: Secret Service Erased Texts From Jan. 5 & 6. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 15, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. AT THIS HOUR, you see this image on your screen, President Biden just touchdown arriving in Saudi Arabia for the most anticipated and controversial part of his Middle East trip. Very soon, the President will be meeting face to face with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The very man the U.S. intelligence determined likely approved the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. While in Israel President Biden stopped short of saying he would raise the killing with a Crown Prince though saying he will as he always says he will raise human rights with the country.

As a presidential candidate though Biden you will remember vowed to make Saudi Arabia a pariah for their atrocious human rights record. There is a lot to get to and there is a lot at stake in this stop on his Middle East tour. Joining me now CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Kaitlan Collins live in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Wolf, the President is going to be meeting with the Crown Prince shortly. This is he's leaving the plane and the meetings begin. This is the most complicated meeting of the entire trip set the stage for everyone.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's the most complicated, Kate, because the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince, was directly involved in ordering for all practical purposes the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S. based journalist who was writing for the -- a columnist who was writing for "The Washington Post," and he was brutally killed in Turkey a few years ago. And the President himself President Biden himself, said as a result of that, and other human rights violations, he regards Saudi Arabia as a pariah state. And he's going to continue to do so.

Well, clearly, some things have changed somewhat since then, because now he wants to, for all practical purposes, embrace Saudi Arabia, for a variety of reasons, not only for regional integration, you're looking at live pictures of Air Force One. The President is going to be walking down those stairs momentarily. He'll be greeted, by the way by Prince Khalid Al Faisal, the governor of Mecca, and Princess Reema Al Saud, the Saudi ambassador of the United States, who's here.

And then we'll go over to the palace for the big meetings with the King and with the Crown Prince. There going to be substantive meetings on a variety of issues. They will be very, very important. But it's a complicated situation right now. Because the U.S. has accused the Saudis of engaging in human rights violations. The President personally said so. And now he's going to have these really important talks with the Saudis. And there will be direct meetings, and we'll see how he handles all the meetings with the Crown Prince, for example, because as Kaitlan can tell us that that's really not an easy subject for the President to deal with.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, as you know, yes, Wolf, it's completely created this awkward situation because of what he said on the campaign trail about this, those comments that he has been reminded of and his aides as well over the last several weeks. And so we've been told, you know, White House aides are kind of bracing for this part of the trip because they know that the optics are not in their favor. They're not just being criticized by their normal critics. They're even being criticized by some members of the President's own party over this.

But the White House's argument is that, yes, that is something that President Biden said on the campaign trail. He hasn't expressed any regret over those statements. But it's a lot easier to get things done when the Saudis are working with you than when you are not working with them. It's kind of the hard reality that so many presidents who have been in Biden's place before have accepted and worked with and now it's something that he is kind of accepting, basically taking that.

But it's just notable given he was someone who said he wanted to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, yet as he is about to deplane here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Kate, the President has been unable to say and neither of his aides directly that he will bring up and confront the Crown Prince over Jamal Khashoggi's murder. And I should note when it comes to the schedule, you'll see the President go and be greeted by the Saudi royal family, including King Salman. That's who the President has held two calls with since he took office.

But the King is only going to be there for half an hour at most. And then the meeting will be the Saudi Crown Prince and President Biden meeting as they are talking about this working session in what they want to accomplish during this trip here to Saudi Arabia.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned the 2019 comments. He's been asked about how to reconcile that past statement about Saudi Arabia from the campaign through with his position as President. I want to remind -- we're going to try to stay on live pictures at the same time. But I will remind everybody what Biden said back in 2019, about Saudi Arabia. Listen to this.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered. And I believe in the order of the Crown Prince. And I would make it very clear, we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them. We were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are. There's very little social redeeming value of the -- in the President -- government in Saudi Arabia. They have to be held accountable.


KOTB: Yes. And Kaitlan, is it clear, though, as you mentioned, he did not say directly he would be raising the issue of Jamal Khashoggi with these meetings. But has the administration made clear how they -- how the President will be raising the issue of human rights on how substantially and on what substantive level the President will be raising this issue in these meetings?

COLLINS: They've said that he will bring it up. But of course, the big question is when the cameras aren't there when reporters aren't there? How much of a discussion is it because they have a lot of other things that the White House wants to discuss and things that they are hoping to make progress on, oil production being number one, extending the ceasefire in Yemen being number two, all of these other issues that they've been discussing, also normalizing relations with Israel, which of course, President Biden is the first president to make this flight directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia.

So those are the things that they're going to be talking about. The President said, you know, a few weeks ago, he wasn't going to be meeting with MBS. He is going to be meeting with MBS. One big question and it's something we just heard from his national security adviser Jake Sullivan, as he was speaking with the reporters who are on Air Force One during this flight, Kate, was don't expect any immediate announcements when President Biden leaves Saudi Arabia tomorrow on oil production that Saudi Arabia is going to increase oil production.

But those announcements could potentially come in the coming weeks ahead. And that's really been the driving factor of why you've seen the President, go from those comments on the campaign trail to now Air Force One is here in Saudi Arabia, and he's about to get off the plane and meet tonight with the Crown Prince.

BOLDUAN: Wolf, I do wonder, though, why -- I understand when Jake Sullivan says don't expect it because obviously, they say it's not coming very soon. But why make this trip if you're not going to have an announcement on oil production? Why -- because so much of this, as you know, from years is hammered out ahead of time.

BLITZER: Yes, the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, he just repeated what they've been saying for the past couple of days. The purpose is to recalibrate and reassess the U.S.-Saudi relationship right now, given what's changed in the region over the past couple of years. And that's why he's here. He's not only going to be meeting with the Saudi leadership, but there's a meeting of the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council, that's here in Jeddah. He's going to be meeting with the leaders of these other countries that have gathered as well, and many of them major oil producing countries.

So this is an important opportunity for the President to see if he can get the OPEC nations, for example, to increase the supply of oil and hopefully bring the price per gallon down in the United States, which is a subject obviously, very close to his heart right now, in this political season. There you see some of the welcoming Saudi leadership, getting ready to receive the President of the United States as he walks down those stairs. This is an important meeting for the President.

And Kate when they say that he wants to recalibrate the overall relationship what's happening in the region, there have been a lot of changes lately.

COLLINS: There have one thing to note is, the Saudis want this just as much as the United States does. When they're approaching this in this practical manner, the Saudis are approaching this as a form of rehabilitation to a degree because MBS is getting what he wants out of this, which is that image with President Biden where they are meeting and he is coming face to face with him because he has sought to reassert himself on the world stage ever since the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. He's just started making trips out of the country.

And so that is also a part of this. You don't see the royal family or the Crown Prince or the King greeting President Biden there. That's not a typical, but they will be meeting with them shortly. It's his first stop on the trip here. And so a lot has changed. And one thing I think when it comes to the -- what people say when they say that President Biden and his administration are being hypocritical by making this visit is because he was so critical of the former president and his cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia, including his son in law, Jared Kushner.

And so it is interesting to see how on the campaign trail you make one comment, but when you're in office and gas prices are what they are back in the United States, how it does change the calculation, and that's what you hear from officials. They're downplaying whether or not he and MBS are going to shake hands or the photos. They say basically this is just reality meeting foreign policy for the Biden administration.


BLITZER: And if do they share -- and do whatever they're going to be doing -- there not going to be reporters or camera crews or photographers in the room to get pictures of that. That will happen behind closed doors, if in fact that does happen.

BOLDUAN: One announcements that has already been made today, Wolf, is that Saudi Arabia is opening out -- has opened up -- is opening up its airspace to all civilian carriers, including all flights to and from Israel. What does this move, not necessarily the grand scheme of things, what it really means, but what does it indicate in terms of the changes in the progress that you've that you've been talking about?

BLITZER: What it suggests is that the Saudi slowly but surely are moving closer and closer to doing what the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, other Arab countries have done over the past couple of years, establish full diplomatic relations with Israel normalize their relationships. And while U.S. officials are downplaying the possibility that that could happen as a result of this specific visit, they are making the case that that's one of the things President Biden is going to be pushing for with the Saudis. Go ahead and establish normal relations with Israel that will be good for you, good for the Israelis, good for the region.

And one thing that the Israelis and the Saudis have in common, and this is a driving force, is their concern over Iran right now, and their fear that Iran potentially could be developing some sort of nuclear weapon. And that's sort of uniting these countries, not only Saudi Arabia and Israel, but the UAE, and some of these other Arab Gulf states as well, their combined concern over Iran right now. And that's a real problem. Here's the President emerging from Air Force One.

BOLDUAN: And Kaitlan, you've mentioned the -- you mentioned the handshake that's been if a handshake would happen between the President and the Crown Prince in their meeting, a lot has been made of it because there's been a lot of questions around it and a little bit of, I don't know, vagaries from the administration, when asked about it. Senator Chris Murphy, on the Foreign Relations Committee, of course, he was actually asked about that last night, Wolf asked him about it last night, kind of the atmospherics around this meeting in the handshake.

He made the point that he himself is not caught up in the visuals. Instead, he cares more about what steps the Saudis make toward real change in the future. Do you see that the admin -- is that the administration's position as well? Do they see a clear path of what kind of progress looks like to them to gauge that in the future?

COLLINS: Yes, they have been very, very much downplaying whether or not they're going to shake hands, what it's going to look like they say, you know, that's just frivolous, it's not really important. It is to a degree, but also these are very tightly choreographed meetings. You know, there have been meetings with past presidents where there's questions of do they smile? How warm do they look when they greet a world leader? And I think that's especially the case for President Biden, who on the world stage, one of his biggest arguments that he's made is democracy versus autocracy. So people have asked how do you effectively make that argument when you're going to meet with someone who sanctioned the brutal dismemberment of a reporter?

That on the other hand, though, the White House says we're focusing on the substantive aspect of this, what is he going to accomplish? I think one thing people will be watching is not really do they shake hands, what happens to detained Americans, what happens to people who have travel bans put in place and can't leave Saudi Arabia, how much of that is part of the conversation that President Biden also brings up in a more substantive way than whether or not he shakes the Crown Prince's hand during this visit.

BOLDUAN: And Wolf --

COLLINS: And you can see he just gotten the beast with the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who of course, has been an integral part of planning this visit and what it's going to look like and what they think it will look like, once they get to tomorrow and have those other meetings that Wolf was talking about. But it is notable to take a moment and step back and think about what President Biden said on the campaign trail and now to see him descend the stairs of Air Force One on his way in the beast now to go to a meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And Wolf, what do you expect when you --

BLITZER: That was Tony Blinken, the Secretary of State who was in the limo as well, go ahead Kate.

BOLDUAN: No, no, I was just going to say as he heads into these meetings, it's there have been questions of how much press access or how much the public was actually going to be able to see in these tightly coordinated meetings. And I wonder what you're going to be looking for because it will be happening, probably, if not towards the end of this hour at the top of the next hour.

BLITZER: Well, I think there's going to be like a photo opportunity right at the top of the meeting with the President and the King. Reporters will be in there. And I'm sure there'll American reporters at least will shout a question or two see if the President or the King answer, that's another matter.


But I think there'll be some sort of photo opportunity right at the top and then they're kicked out. And I don't think there's going to be any photo opportunity in the separate meeting, the secondary meeting, Kaitlan, but you can correct me if I'm wrong, when it's the Crown Prince and other Saudi ministers who will be meeting with President Biden.

COLLINS: Right. That's when the cameras will have a brief moment to go in. Of course, it's just the tip top of the meeting. It's unclear President Biden will speak in that because officials have said, when it comes to the question that has just been brought up every single day, this week, multiple times a day this week about whether or not he brooches the subject of Jamal Khashoggi, the White House has said they'll leave it up to President Biden, once he gets to the meeting how does he want to characterize how that went? That obviously will be a huge question. So we will see the President with the Saudi Crown Prince briefly after they have a formal sit down with the Saudi King, who of course, is a deteriorating health and is not expected to stick around in that meeting for long. Kate?

BLITZER: They say he'll be there for maybe for half an hour.

BOLDUAN: And as we see the beast leaving now from the airport in Jeddah off to these meetings that we've just been discussing, and a lot at stake, these -- the most critical of the meetings that the President will be having in his Middle East trip. We're going to be bringing that to you as it comes in. Kaitlan, Wolf, thanks guys really appreciate it. A programming note for everyone, you can join CNN's Fareed Zakaria for a CNN special report Saudi Arabia: Kingdom of Secrets that is airing tonight at 11:00 on CNN.

As we continue to watch developments over in the Middle East, we also have this coming up, the Secret Service is under new scrutiny now over text messages among agents from January 5th and 6th erased from devices. How the agency is explaining that, we have details in a live report next.



BOLDUAN: The January 6th Committee is considering seeking interviews and testimony from former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence. Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, of course is on the Committee telling "The Wall Street Journal" that the Committee may ask Pence for a written interview or issue a subpoena to compel him to testify all still under consideration. CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live in Washington with more on this for us at this hour. Katelyn, how serious are these discussions at this point?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: It's a good question, Kate. Kate, we've heard this refrain before and that is that the House Select Committee could try to get answers directly from Donald Trump or Mike Pence. So I want to start with Pence. Yesterday, Representative Adam Kinzinger did tell "The Journal" his panel could try to ask Pence, written questions maybe subpoena him. But this has been kicked around by the Committee for months now. They were planning to discuss it again this week. So that's why it's coming up again now.

But remember both Pence's former Chief of Staff Mark Short and his counsel Greg Jacob have already testified extensively. We even saw Jacob at a public hearing giving those searing details of how forcefully Pence's office was pushing back meetings multiple days on this idea that Mike Pence alone could block the election result. Pence was not going to do what Donald Trump wanted in that case and we know that.

But the area that Pence's staff couldn't share was about the private communications that they didn't witness between the Vice President and the President before and on January 6th. So that is an area that if the House were to press for it, it would be unclear if they believe -- will be able to get answers and if they would go after Donald Trump, separately with a subpoena that would even be a more complicated situation. Executive privilege is always a question in these sorts of pursuits. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Katelyn, it's good to see you. Thank you for the update. So also this, the Secret Service is finding itself in the middle of the insurrection investigation. Once again, the watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security says, the Secret Service erased text messages from agents devices from January 5th and January 6th, shortly after the inspector general had asked the agency for those records. CNN's Jessica Schneider is live also in Washington with this side of this now. Jessica, what is the Secret Service saying about this?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know, as you laid it out, Kate, there are a lot of lingering questions here. So the Secret Service is saying those text messages were erased in the process of phones being replaced. So they put out a statement overnight saying this. The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false. In fact, the Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the OIG in every respect. They go on to say in January 2021 before any inspection was opened by OIG on this subject, U.S. Secret Service began to reset its mobile phones to factory settings as part of a pre-planned three months system migration. In that process, data resident on some phones was lost.

But what's interesting here is the Inspector General has said the text messages were actually erased after they were requested to be handed over for the investigation. So the timing is really questionable here. And you know, if there was this migration, why aren't those text messages still accessible? All questions we are asking and hope to get answers to. But the Secret Service has really come under a lot of scrutiny in the wake of Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony late last month, when she described how Trump angrily demanded his secret service detail taken to the Capitol on January 6th.

And then of course, Kate that Trump even allegedly lunged at his driver. So the Secret Service really coming under scrutiny and a lot of questions being asked here, especially now that this revelation that they deleted text messages after they were requested. So we're digging on this, and a lot more will probably come out. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, thank you, Jessica. I really appreciate it. Joining me now for more on this is CNN chief political correspondent co-anchor of the State of the Union with -- is Dana Bash. Dana, so let's start with these erased text messages from January 5th and 6th, what does this add to the kind of overall picture that the January 6th Committee is bringing together?


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well right now what it adds is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of understandable skepticism, despite what Jessica just reported about the emphatic statement from the Secret Service that this was not done in a nefarious way. And part of it is because the Committee still hasn't heard in an official way since Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony from Tony Ornato and from the agent angle, those are the two kind of central players in that story that she told about what happened on the 6th, allegedly in the President's motorcade where he tried to take the wheel.

And then bigger picture, of course, the question is, did the then President want to be at the Capitol? And how hard was a fighting to do that? And why did he want to be there so badly? What was his goal? We know that the goal, what appears to be the overall goal of the day was, but for him in particular, what did he want to physically do there?

BOLDUAN: And you have as Jessica, as you said and as Jessica read, the kind of emphatic pushback and denial from the Secret Service calling in an insinuation that they had acted maliciously in deleting these text messages. But "The Washington Post" who's really, a couple of reporters who really well source within the Secret Service said today -- reported today that the Secret Service has had a history of important records disappearing under cover of night and agency staff members refusing to cooperate when investigators come calling seeking information. And just kind of, I'm just wondering, Secret Service has said that agents are prepared to testify to other facts in the investigation as you're getting to. Is there any sense that the Committee is moving in that direction to have them do that?

BASH: Absolutely. There's a sense, a strong sense that the Committee wants to hear from the agents who are at the core of that story. And one case, it was a former agent, who was then at Tony Ornato was then acting as one of the President's deputy chief of staff. But there's no question that they want to put the issue and put the under oath story that Cassidy Hutchinson told to them.

The other thing I just want to add, one thing you were talking about with Katelyn is the question of Adam Kinzinger, saying, well, maybe we do want to revisit the notion of trying to speak with the former President Donald Trump, the former Vice President Mike Pence. I can tell you, Kate, I checked in with somebody close to Mike Pence this morning. And their position has not changed. They don't see any reason for him to go and testify that Greg Jenkins, the then Vice President's Chief Counsel, testified extensively, both in private and in public. Mark Short, his chief of staff testified extensively in private.

And then the other thing that they argue sort of privately is, and I think they've done this publicly as well, that it would be a bad precedent for the Vice President of the United States to comply with a request from Congress, kind of pitching forward to what happens in November, if the House does go for Republicans. And if as expected, they launch a slew of investigations on Democrats, including the White House, is that going to be precedent setting when it comes to the separations of powers.

So there are lots of issues here. And, again, unlikely, it will be unlikely that the former Vice President will testify. According to this -- and this isn't my opinion, this is according to the source I spoke with.

BOLDUAN: Right, exactly. And I mean, it just kind of emblematic of how politically fraught, this is for the Committee as they consider it, is just how long is this session to continue the Committee gathering all together last night about it all? I mean, it is just very clearly there couldn't be anything more politically fraught than asking the former president and former vice president who are kind of wrapped up in all of this, to then come testify before them again. There are more hearings ahead. We shall see together. It's good to see Dana.

BASH: And politically fraught for Mike Pence.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. To say the least. It's good to see you, Dana.

BASH: You too. BOLDUAN: All right, be sure to catch down on State of the Union this Sunday morning. Her guests include January 6th Committee member Congresswoman Elaine Luria and one of Biden's top economic advisors, Brian Deese.


Coming up for us, the autopsy of Jayland Walker just released, the unarmed black man killed by police during a traffic stop, 46 entrance wounds is what the medical examiner has just reported. The cousin of Jayland Walker joins us next to react.