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INSIDE POLITICS

Turkey Has Evidence of Killing; Mexico Beach after Hurricane Michael; Trump on Mueller Interview. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 12, 2018 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off today.

The White House celebrates a diplomatic win with one country while facing congressional calls for a harsh response to another. Is President Trump ready to confront Saudi Arabia?

And First Lady Melania Trump talks about her husband's alleged infidelities, saying she has much more important things to think about.

Plus, the devastation of Hurricane Michael, 13 dead and at least one community turned to rubble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAWN VICKERS, HOME DESTROYED BY HURRICANE MICHAEL: This has been -- I don't know even know if I have the words to describe it. It's been the worst nightmare I've ever been through in my life. My home was taken off the foundation, cracked in two and was floating away with my cars. Mexico Beach is devastated. It's -- I mean it looks like a war zone. I've never have seen anything like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: We start with two big stories on the world stage. One, a secret deal and a diplomatic victory for the president. The other, a potentially tragic test of his risky embrace of a young Saudi crown prince.

On the first, an American pastor is free, but not yet out of harm's way. A Turkish court released Andrew Brunson from house arrest after the Trump administration forced the Erdogan government's hand by threatening a new round of sanctions. Now the task is getting Brunson out of the country.

And then there is Saudi Arabia, where today CNN is learning of new and dramatic evidence of a state sanctioned killing which would increase pressure on the president from around the world, not to mention the U.S. Congress, to punish Saudi Arabia. Jamal Khashoggi disappeared into the Saudi consulate more than a week ago. A western intelligence source now tells CNN that Turkish officials have recordings from inside the compound that prove the journalist was killed there.

CNN's senior diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is in Istanbul.

Nic, what have you learned about these tapes? Help us understand the information and also the diplomatic stakes.

NIC ROBERTSON, SENIOR DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure, Dana.

What seems to be happening here is Turkey is sharing the evidence it says it has to back up its claims that it believes Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate. And that evidence appears to be video and audio. And what our source is telling us is that this frames are very brutal and deadly exchange, a violent exchange between Jamal Khashoggi -- or with Jamal Khashoggi and people inside the consulate. People that Turkish officials believe came from outside of the country. So Turkey is very clearly trying to stand up its allies behind it, the United States, European allies, Britain, France, Germany to believe and understand the evidence it has is strong and compelling.

From what we understand from one of the western intelligence agencies that has been briefed on this material, that is aware of this material, is that it is shocking. And remembering that intelligence agencies are used to dealing with pretty shocking material. What they have been confronted here with, what the Turks have explained and shown to them is, it seems, damning and compelling. And, to them, the bounds of what they're used to. So this seems to be very dramatic and very compelling material, Dana.

BASH: Nic, as you said, it's hard to imagine something being that shocking for people who are used to looking at and learning about pretty horrific situations every single day in their line of work.

Thank you so much, Nic. If you learn anything new, we'll be here for the next hour.

Here with me at the table to share their reporting and their insights, Michael Bender with "The Wall Street Journal," CNN's Elise Labott, Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post," and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson.

Elise, let me start with you. You've been doing excellent reporting on getting the information out from your sources in the intelligence community. What is the latest that you're hearing?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the U.S. still hasn't seen those tapes. Officials are saying that they hear that they exist. But, you know, I think what's happening right now is the Turks are trying to have their cake and eat it, too, OK. You haven't seen Erdogan come out and say officially, I have these tapes, I have this video, the evidence is irrefutable, because he also has a relationship with the Saudis that he needs to manage.

But, at the same time, there is tension between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. And so you have a lot of officials kind of leaking information. But until, you know, someone from another country lays eyes on this video, lays eyes on this audio, I think we're all going to still be in this limbo in terms of what happened. But I think we can say that there is mounting evidence that the U.S. has -- they have these intercepts about a plot that they were trying to lure Jamal back home and detain him, possibly assassinate him. No one really knows.

[12:05:08] But there is mounting evidence that the Saudis bear responsibility in some way. We don't know what way, but, you know, there's a lot of rumors and you talk to people in the region, there's a lot of rumors, a lot of conspiracy theories right now about how it happened, whether, you know, the method. But I think we can fairly say is that there is an increasing amount of evidence that the Saudis bear responsibility.

BASH: And you mentioned the tension between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which is really key here to potentially getting the answer because of that tension, fortunately or unfortunately.

And, Michael, from your perch covering the White House, it has been a delicate dance to say the last given the fact that the Trump administration, led by Jared Kushner, as warmly embraced this relatively young, new Saudi crown prince. And John Bolton, which is the president's national security advisor, talked to Hugh Hewett this morning. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUGH HEWITT: Is it possible we have a Henry II situation, who will rid me of this meddlesome priest spiraling out of control, or even something more malevolent, that someone intended to undermine the crown prince and the king via this action?

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: You know, honestly, we just don't know what the facts are. There's obviously been historical animosity between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. We have our own difficulties with Turkey at the moment with their keeping Pastor Brunson effectively under house arrest for no good reason whatever. So this is a -- this is not to anybody's benefit and it needs to be cleared up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: That last part has begun to resolve itself, not fully resolved with the pastor.

But, you know, this is kind of been Jason Borne territory. What -- basically what Hugh Hewitt was leading John Bolton to, whether this is all potentially done to make it look like the Saudi crown prince did it --

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes.

LABOTT: Right.

HENDERSON: A very creative theory.

BASH: And in order to set him up.

HENDERSON: Yes. BASH: And to make -- and to form a wedge between the Trump administration and its, you know, basic ally, the new Saudi crown prince.

BENDER: Yes, I mean, you alluded there to the tension just between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. And that is what the White House is trying to deal with. It was their place in that dynamic. And for one, there isn't a lot -- you can tell because there's not a very clear message coming out from the White House right now. And you can -- you can really see President Trump struggling with this issue, saying that on one happened he wants to get to the bottom of it, and on the other hand, you know, he doesn't really quite maybe not believe what he's hearing from the Saudis.

I think the thing to remember with Trump on some of this is, is just how transactional he is at the end of the day. When it comes to Erdogan, he was very -- he's touted that relationship with Erdogan, right, to great criticism. But when it came -- when T\turkey got in his way when it came to metal tariffs, he slapped Turkey with the tariffs.

We -- China, we have a big story in "The Wall Street Journal" today about the turn -- really a coming cold war with China. The Trump administration is taking aim at military and economic and political targets just in the last couple of months. And this was after a year that Trump spent eating beautiful chocolate cake with Xi and talking about how great that relationship is.

BASH: Yes.

BENDER: And now just turn back to Saudi. The same thing. The president still talks about how he was vetted (ph) in Saudi Arabia, his first foreign trip overseas, and how well that went. And you can see him struggling with how to get to the bottom of this issue, which, according to his statements and taking him at his word, he truly means to get -- get to while they also have this relationship that has been building for the past year and a half.

BASH: And he is very -- he's -- he is very transactional. I think even he would admit that. And it's one thing to be transactional in theory or in business. It's another thing when you're the president of the United States and you're supposed to be a moral leader. And this is your colleague at "The Washington Post."

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right.

BASH: And this is a human being. And this is a journalist. So there's so many factors that go into the desire for people around the world, here in Congress, in the press world, for him to show that leadership.

I want you to listen -- I want you to comment on it, but also listen to what Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said about the situation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: If they lured this man into that consulate and they killed him and they chopped up his body and now they're lying about it, that is going to have a dramatically negative impact on the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress are going to be up in arms about that, including myself, and something's going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, it's interesting. So this -- more than -- there's been animosity building towards Saudi Arabia for a while. That's been, over the last few years, expressed more openly in Congress. There have been holds placed on all the Saudi arms deals that would benefit Saudi Arabia for the last few years now (INAUDIBLE) basically.

BASH: Right.

[12:10:06] DEMIRJIAN: It's interesting that this episode may end up being the straw that breaks the camel's back. The issue for a very long time has been the war in Yemen. We're helping the Saudi-led coalition fight that war. It's a moral quandary for a lot of people as to why we're doing that. And the stick that Congress basically has and being able to curtail that support to some extent, not just the arms sale, but you could say, we're not going to do the air refueling any more, we're not going to do intelligence sharing. There's a number of things that Congress could do that they've never done because of concerns about American jobs that go into making the material that gets sent to Saudi Arabia, because of concerns about national security and various sorts of -- fighting with terrorism that have never gone this far. But those are the sticks that Congress could wield. And that's what you started to hear yesterday, more Republicans, really, and more mainstream Democrats -- or moderate Democrats, I guess, talking about, we really could take these steps if they actually -- if it's proven to be true.

BASH: In a -- in a rare bipartisan way they're doing that.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. At this point, though, all that they've done is put this back into Trump's hands by invoking the Global Magnitsky Act, which if Trump says, OK, yes, people are responsible all the way up to the crown prince, you could put on some pretty serious sanctions, but this goes back to the fact that, you know, Obama had some ice with the Saudis as he was moving towards Iran, but Trump made a hard shift the other way to ditch Iran and form -- to solidify the relationship with the Saudis. And we've seen the way he's been really recalcitrant to even say, you know, when Putin was like, oh, he told me he didn't medal, that that was a big thing. This is going to be a very similar event.

(CROSS TALK)

HENDERSON: And you also had Americans really embrace this new crown prince as a reformer, right? I mean you if you think back into April of 2018, he was on the cover of "Time" magazine. He met with Michael Bloomberg. I believe he met with Oprah as well, Jeff Bezos, a bunch of people, because he is arguing that he's a reformer. He's going to change Saudi Arabia. He's going to ease some of -- other restrictions that are placed on folks there, particularly women. And you saw some of that.

But as he was sort of making these promises, they got a restriction and oppressive nature of that regime was very much continuing. So, you know, you kind of had these sort of dueling images of what's actually going on in Saudi Arabia, which I think this is probably an example of possibly and then what he's been selling, not only to Americans, but particularly to Donald Trump and Jared Kushner.

LABOTT: And there's been a -- look, there's been a growing concern about the overreach of this young prince. Not only in Yemen, but also when you saw the incident with Saad Hariri and he kind of disappeared in Saudi Arabia, the prime minister of Lebanon, for a few days. And then there was the incident at the Ritz, when he kind of --

HENDERSON: Yes.

LABOTT: Rounded up all of these princes and officials under the guise of reform. So there has been this idea of overreach and a growing concern.

I think as we cover -- continue to cover this story and find out, you know, kind of the mystery and what happened to Jamal, I think what he, knowing him, would want us to focus on is the larger issues of what's going on in Saudi Arabia. There was all this euphoria about this prince and what he was saying is, he was a patriot. He loved his country. And he was saying, this guy has a lot of potential, needs better advisers. He would say right now, focus on the human rights in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world.

BASH: Yes. No, you're right. And you do know him and have been friends with him for a long time. Thank you for that. And it is important to keep our eye on that ball and the fact that one of our journalistic brethren is in trouble. And that is something that the whole world is up in arms about that. It is a reminder of how important --

LABOTT: And that the president calls the press the enemy of the people.

BASH: All right, everybody stand by.

Up next, a heartbreaking look at Mexico Beach after Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not come down here. Do not. You can't get in. It's -- everything's -- it's devastating. It looks like a bomb landed (ph).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:18:06] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LINDA ALBRECHT, MEXICO BEACH, FLORIDA, COUNCILWOMAN: The cement pilings are still there. My stairs are still there. But all I see is my floor. And everything in my house. It was almost like it was just pushed back with a bulldozer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: That was Mexico Beach Councilwoman Lina Albrecht, one of the hundreds of people whose home was damaged or completely destroyed has Hurricane Michael ripped through the Florida panhandle.

Today, Mexico Beach looks like a war zone. Homes taken from the foundation, scattered piles of debris, neighborhoods completely unrecognizable.

Hurricane Michael has claimed the lives of 13 people so far and the head of FEMA warns expect the death toll to rise.

Today, more than one million people are without power. And CNN's Brian Todd is in Mexico Beach for us.

Brian, describe the scene where you are right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Dana.

I can give you a sense of what this storm did and the power that we were dealing with here. I'm standing in the middle of a section of houses that's just not here anymore. And some of these objects, like this bathtub here, it looks like it got tossed somewhere, these are things that could be -- could have been in houses down the street, because we talked to residents here who said they had furniture in their houses that wasn't their furniture when this storm was at its height. Furniture being blown right into their houses. You've got a heavy marble countertop here that's not going anywhere now, but you can get a sense of, you know, this thing has traveled.

A short time ago we saw two houses that were not too much smaller than this one over here to my right, your left. You see that. That's a large structure up on stilts. There were two houses that were right at about the same place along the beach. Both those houses got picked up and swept all the way over here.

Now, we can go a little bit wide for you here and just kind of show behind me. And we have a drone up in the air not far from me that can kind of give you a sense of the area in my immediate vicinity. And it really looks -- the only thing I can equate it to, Dana, is, you know, I was in Japan in 2011 after the tsunami there when we came across entire towns where there was really nothing left. This scene behind me is about as close to that as you can get.

[12:20:11] Now, there are structures that are left here, but just about everything was either flattened or very, very heavily damaged. I just spoke a short time ago to the mayor of Mexico Beach, Al Cathey, and I asked him about, what are the dangers right now. And he said it's really just trying to get through this stuff so that first responders can some in and help people with food and water. He does not believe they have any fatalities. I asked him if people needed to be rescued. He thinks they've got a handle on that, but they're still trying to forage around and see if people need rescuing, Dana.

And take a look. This is what the first responders have to get through if anybody's trapped in any of these structures. This is what they've got to get through to get to them.

BASH: Absolutely horrible.

Brian, thank you for that report.

It's always so eerie to see devastation. Obviously this is about as bad as it gets, but with the beautiful blue sky that you tend to see after a hurricane like that.

We'll be checking back with you, Brian. Thank you.

And for those of you watching who want to help the affected Hurricane Michael area, please go to cnn.com/impact.

And up next, after months of negotiations, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is finally getting some answers from the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:26:04] BASH: Welcome back.

A big development in the Russia investigation. After months of negotiations, sources tell CNN that President Trump's legal team is preparing written answers to questions provided by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Now, the questions focus on possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia. But the two sides have still not reached an agreement on the issue of an in-person interview with the president over potential questions of obstruction of justice.

Now, for his part, President Trump, once again, expressed a willingness to sit down for an interview, even as he called the idea ridiculous because, as he has said many, many times, there was no collusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it seems ridiculous that I'd have to do it when everybody says there's no collusion. But I'll do what is necessarily to get it over with. They've spent tens of millions of dollars doing this and it's a disgrace.

They've interviewed everybody that you could imagine you could interview, and then Richard Burr stands up a few days ago and says, we've found absolutely no collusion. And it's no different. There is no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And Ayesha Rascoe with NPR joins our conversation.

Welcome, Ayesha. Let me just first, before we start the conversation, say that Richard Burr, in a diplomatic way, said the president may be a little bit confused. He said the following, the president's using a quote from three weeks ago that you heard that I said we didn't have any hard evidence. That's fine. But we have a lot of investigation left.

OK, so, putting that aside, let's talk about sort of the big picture here in our reporting about the fact that, look, it has been a year that Robert Mueller has been trying to find a way to talk to the president about these issues. And it's been baby steps. It has been hard. But the fact that the president's legal team has some written questions and that Robert Mueller's team seems to be OK, at least within the parameters of collusion, of working through it this way, significant?

BENDER: Yes, I think it's really significant. And, you know, it's another step in this unfolding drama here. And once those questions get to Mueller, once those answers get to Mueller, there will be another round of negotiations and another round of talks after that.

I think as far as whether or not or how close we are to getting here, I think one potential tell to watch is in the White House -- in the White House Counsel's Office. Don McGahn shepherded Kavanaugh's nomination through the Senate and is widely expected to leave as Trump informed him on Twitter after this -- after this nomination is through.

There's been a lot of chatter in the White House about this. McGahn is -- most people say McGahn is getting -- kind of wrapping up, getting his stuff ready to go, but there -- but his expected replacement, Emmet Flood, that's not quite done yet. One -- for one, Flood is trying to negotiate the terms of how he wants that office to run. But also, Flood is the point man for the White House on this issue.

BASH: Right.

BENDER: He's a very serious lawyer with experience in exactly this kind of thing. And he -- and if -- the -- my reporting in the White House is that if Flood feels like this has a lot -- long way to go, he wants to stay focused on this instead of trying to run the whole office.

BASH: That is so fascinating because, yes, Flood is the one focusing on part two, for lack of a better way to say it. The questions about obstruction and building a case for, I guess maybe even against, Robert Mueller for a potential court fight against Mueller having access to the president, citing executive privilege.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: These next few weeks and months are going to be very important. And I think that when you look at this news coming out that they've gotten the questions, it's just a reminder that this is ongoing. You know, we kept hearing for a long time from Rudy Giuliani and others this is wrapping up. Any day now, September, it's going to be done. It's not done. It's still going. And we could still have a long way to go. And this is a cloud that is going to continue to hang over the president until you get some real answers.

[12:30:07] HENDERSON: And the question is when those answers come, right? I mean you talk about is this a sign that it's wrapping up. Is it sort of the next step to it wrapping up