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THE SITUATION ROOM
Death Toll Rises for Hurricane Michael; Trump: 'We Don't Know' What Happened to Missing Saudi Journalist Believed Murdered; Trump: Will Call Saudi King "Pretty Soon" To Discuss Fate of Missing Journalist; First Lady Discusses Her Marriage: "We Are Fine". Aired 5- 6p ET
Aired October 12, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Rising death toll. More than a dozen people now confirmed dead in the historic Hurricane Michael, with search-and-rescue missions being carried out right now. Officials fear the number will climb.
American freed. A U.S. pastor detained for two years by Turkey has been released and is on his way home tonight. Did the Trump team strike a deal with Turkey's authoritarian president?
Recorded execution? A source says Turkey has audio and video evidence showing that a missing Saudi journalist and "Washington Post" contributor was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. One source describes the recordings as "shocking and disgusting."
And "we are fine." First lady Melania Trump responds to questions about her marriage and the president's alleged infidelities. Why did she claim to be, quote, "the most bullied person in the world"?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The death toll from Hurricane Michael has risen to 13. But tonight, the head of FEMA says he expects that number to rise further as crews search debris in the hardest-hit areas.
A spokesman for the Florida urban search-and-rescue team tells CNN they have crews out right now, using specialized equipment and a dog to look for survivors in Mexico Beach, Florida, where at least 16 people have been rescued.
Our guests this hour include the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go straight to the town that took a direct hit from Michael. Our national correspondent, Miguel Marquez, is in Mexico Beach, Florida, for us.
Miguel, the town has been virtually wiped out. MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is unbelievable to see
the level of destruction in this town. That was a House. The only thing left is a staircase.
The only way to really appreciate it is to see it by drone, which we happen to have one here. The destruction of this town so complete that whole portions of Mexico Beach nearly wiped off the face of the earth.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): An entire town almost gone. Those who rode it out --
(on camera): you were up to your neck in water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. With a 96-year-old lady next door. And my mother. And two dogs.
MARQUEZ: And you made it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here, baby.
MARQUEZ: Would you do it again?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): They barely survived. Search-and-rescue now searching for survivors and possibly the dead. Emergency officials expect the death toll to climb.
CHIEF MARK BOWEN, BAY COUNTY, FLORIDA, EMS (via phone): I do expect that we're going to find that kind of bad news, and, you know, there's a process that we go through for that. And then we -- you know, our priority, obviously, is the living. And we're looking for people that are trapped.
MARQUEZ: Several people we spoke to say they haven't yet heard from neighbors and friends who rode it out.
(on camera): What's happened to Mexico Beach?
JACK PELHAM, SURVIVED HURRICANE MICHAEL: It's a disaster. It's -- I was really shocked to see what it looked like.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): This CNN exclusive video of the moment the hurricane hit shows winds as high as 155 miles per hour, shredding this once tranquil beach town.
Then an enormous storm surge. A dozen or more feet of water bulldozed large sections of Mexico Beach from the coast to the interior.
Thirty miles out from Mexico Beach, some roads no longer exist, entirely covered by downed trees for miles.
BUTCH ALLEY, SURVIVED HURRICANE MICHAEL: Brandi, it's dad. MARQUEZ: With power out, those who survived have no way to tell the
world they're still here. When they do, the news: about as bad as it gets.
ALLEY: Do not come down here. Do not. You can't get in. Everything is -- it's devastating. You have -- we have a hole in our House, but that's all that's wrong with it. Grandmother's House is completely gone. It looks like a bomb landed.
MARQUEZ: The devastation here jaw-dropping. The main drag, Highway 98, collapsed in many places, water eroding the sand beneath. Entire homes, their living rooms still intact, slammed into condos across the street. And the most popular bar here, Toucans, reduced to a pile of rubble.
MARQUEZ: Now, of all the destruction that I have seen, and it is a lot today, this might be the thing that maybe got me going the most. It looks like friends in maybe an Italian vacation, just found here on the street, have no idea where it came from. Utterly sad to see.
[17:05:10] They are trying to get buses in here to get people who are stuck here and want to get out. Their cars are gone. Their wallets are gone. Their jobs are gone. Their lives are gone. They are alive, but there is great concern that they are going to find people who didn't make it, who tried to ride it out here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, great concern indeed. All right, Miguel, thank you. Miguel Marquez.
CNN's Brian Todd is also in Mexico Beach for us. Brian, search-and- rescue efforts, I take it, they are continuing there tonight.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf. A short time ago, I spoke to a leader of the South Florida Urban Search-and-Rescue Team. They are deploying, basically as we speak, to try to find survivors, try to find people who may be trapped. They're using cadaver dogs. They're using what they call live find dogs to try to find survivors. And they're combing through this area.
They have had to use specialized equipment, Wolf, to extricate at least one person. But they've otherwise had to rescue 15 other people who otherwise couldn't get out on their own.
This is the kind of stuff they're going through. This is a bathtub that was torn off and jettisoned. And yet something like this survives. A bottle of white wine.
Now, over here, I can show you a washing machine that was completely jettisoned from a House here. The entire unit jettisoned along with its hoses, its wall attachment and the wall. Imagine how heavy that was to be swept away.
And yet you can come over here. This illustrates the fickle, chaotic, unpredictable nature of those storms here, Wolf. Look what survives. A delicate candle holder and incredibly, even, a light bulb. A light bulb stays intact.
A short time ago, I also spoke with Mayor Al Cathey of Mexico Beach, just asking him not only how they get their minds around all of this, but how are they going to help this town recover?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR AL CATHEY, MEXICO BEACH, FLORIDA: It's so difficult, mainly because of the close-knit -- we're so close-knit. I'm an owner and have been since 1974 of the Ace hardware store down the street. I mean, so many of these people, that's sort of -- we know them. We know their families. We know how long, you know. Their children are now coming here. It's just -- it's heart breaking, but yet the spirit of our town, based on just the little -- the quaintness and the family feeling that we have, I think these people will come back. I think they enjoyed the memories.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And Mayor Cathey's challenge is also going to be to help provide shelter for those who survived and who come back, who stayed. And that's not an easy task. I asked Governor Rick Scott if they've got a shelter here. He said no, they've got a shelter in Panama City, which is 20 miles away from here.
I said, "Couldn't you put a shelter here in Mexico Beach where they so desperately need it?" And the governor said it's really just not stable enough right now in areas like this to put a large shelter to House people. So they're trying to get people to evacuate and maybe stay at the city hall, the mayor's office, which is just a little way down the road.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.
And you can see the scope of this disaster in these before and after pictures. Take a look. This is Panama City, Florida, before Hurricane Michael hit two days ago. And Panama City in the wake of this storm. Look at that.
And this is the main gate of nearby Tyndall Air Force Base, just before and after. The damage there is being called catastrophic.
Joining us now, the Florida state fire marshal, Jimmy Patronis. He's also the state CFO, overseeing urban search-and-rescue teams. He's joining us from Panama City. He's a native from there.
Thanks so much, Jimmy, for joining us. You arrived in the disaster zone last night. Tell us what you're seeing on the ground.
JIMMY PATRONIS, FLORIDA STATE FIRE MARSHAL: Well, what I'm standing in front of right now is my junior high school I went to. I played basketball in that gymnasium. I was in shop class right next to it. And it's no more.
And this is just a snapshot of what Panama City is like. It's -- Panama City and Lynn Haven, Mexico Beach, Apalachicola, has just been scraped off the map.
BLITZER: Tell us a little bit more, Jimmy, about the equipment search-and-rescue teams are using to try to find people who still might be trapped in the rubble.
PATRONIS: Sure. So right now we've got Miami-Dade task force here, along with Lee County and Jacksonville and Louisiana. We've got these urban search-and-rescue teams, almost 1,800 men and women that are searching House to House.
They've been on the ground since 9 p.m. Wednesday night. Florida Department of Transportation worked with Forestry to clear the roads to get these men and women down here. Just because of the nature of the storm, it was so much more devastating than was originally thought.
So these men and women have been searching. They've cleared about 90 percent of the county in the affected area so far. As they move further north and venture into Jackson county and on into Gulf County and Franklin County.
BLITZER: Do you know, Jimmy, how many people still need rescue services?
PATRONIS: So as we're having those challenges right now, here's the big concern. Verizon Wireless does not exist in Bay County any more. It was the dominant carrier. So nobody has the ability to communicate. All that has been crippled.
There's no Internet. We have no power. So even watching a television broadcast is a challenge.
So, you know, if you've got T-Mobile or AT&T, you're able to get a call out, but the loved ones are panicking right now. So who is truly trapped and who has been saved is a real challenge.
Governor Scott earlier today, he bought 400 AT&T cellular phones, just to pass out to our sheriff's departments and first responders, just to simply allow communication to get somewhat functional between these different agencies trying to save lives.
BLITZER: Based on what you're seeing on the ground, Jimmy, do you expect the death toll to significantly rise in the coming days?
PATRONIS: So what I -- I was worried about exactly that figure. Three hundred and fifty thousand people were in the evacuation area, told to evacuate. Our shelters had about 6,000 bodies in them that have evacuated to safety. So what's the -- what's the number there of who stayed, who left? Because the shelters weren't that full?
So the urban search-and-rescues, at least the good thing is about the -- the affected, most catastrophic area, they have already covered about 90 percent of those areas. So those numbers are still very preliminary. But as those men and women are bravely venturing into communities, they've come leaving their families to save our families. So it's a real -- it's a real challenge. I've represented this place
in the state legislature for eight years. So this is -- this is more than my job. It's my home.
BLITZER: I'm sure it is. How does this rescue operation compare to others that you've been engaged in?
PATRONIS: So this -- you know, this storm here, whether it be Hurricane Opal or hurricane Ivan or others that have come through this area, none have had near the catastrophic impact as -- as Hurricane Michael did.
So our two primary hospitals, Gulf Coast Medical Center and Bay Med, you know, my children were born at Gulf Coast Medical Center. I was born in Bay Med. They have suffered catastrophic failures. The hospitals have had to be evacuated.
So, I mean, what I plead with people, the folks that are watching this news program right now, if you're in a safe place, if you're in Jacksonville or Pensacola or somewhere in Alabama, stay there. There's no need to rush back, because if you do get hurt while you're here, it's going to be a challenge for us to administer any type of life-saving services.
If you're a diabetic or elderly, you know, stay where you can actually get your prescriptions filled. We will come back, but right now you need to give us a little bit of time and patience.
BLITZER: Which is very, very good advice to all those folks who were anxious to get back to their homes.
The destruction from this storm stretches far inland, all the way to the border with Georgia and beyond into the Carolinas and Virginia, even. Does Florida, your state, have the resources to handle a disaster of this scope?
So as of about an hour ago, I was talking to Governor Scott. We'll have 16,000 linemen on the ground here. Every available shopping center parking lot here in Bay County is full of line trucks right now. There's over 2,000 National Guardsmen on the ground that have been deployed here.
We have set up actually -- set up communication stations, because here's the concern. I have evacuated to Jacksonville. I don't know if my loved ones are alive in Panama City, and the panic then starts to emerge. They can't get their loved one on the phone, and simply because there's no communication available in this market.
So, you know, what we have done is -- as with the National Guard, these communication rooms to get calls out. Unless you're with those carriers that still maintain service, if you're with Verizon, you're just out of luck.
BLITZER: You're from Panama City. It's your hometown. What's the emotional impact when you see this destruction that has occurred there? As you pointed out, right behind you is your junior high school, which so much of it has been destroyed.
PATRONIS: You know, you're not supposed to come home and see your town gone. You know, I've got a great job. I've got a fantastic job. I get to represent every citizen in the state of Florida. This is a little bit of a different type of emotion. You're not -- you're not supposed to come back and see anything and everything that meant something to you all in a pile of rubble.
So, you know, I'm fortunate. My family is healthy. We will rebuild. This is -- this is part of the challenges we've got. And as I see the best out of humanity. I've seen the giving. You know, Cheney Brothers sent up a tractor-trailer load to my family's restaurant with ice and water in it. And just organically, by word of mouth, essentially, it emptied out in less than 40 minutes.
[17:15:14] So we're looking out for each other right now. We're giving the necessary supplies we've got for those that stayed. But as we're getting the roads opened up, you know, hats off to what Governor Scott has done in mustering up the resources we need to get our roads open. Thank God for the National Guard.
FEMA is going to be here with us later in the week, and we'll be setting up insurance villages in order to get people back the claims process to get them their resources to let them start rebuilding their lives.
BLITZER: Well, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks over there, and we're hoping clearly for the best. Florida state fire marshal Jimmy Patronis, joining us. Thank you very much.
PATRONIS: Thank you. Thank you.
BLITZER: At least five of the hurricane deaths have happened in Virginia. Four of them from drowning; and more than 400,000 people in the state right now are without power tonight.
Let's get some more. The Democratic senator, Mark Warner of Virginia, is joining us. Also happens to be the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, thank you for having me, Wolf. And obviously, these are heartbreaking images you see of the destruction in the panhandle in Florida. It looks like some of those communities look almost like they have been bombed out.
But this storm affected Georgia, the Carolinas and unfortunately, in Virginia, we've had five deaths. We've got now, I think, more people without power than any other state.
And, you know, my message to folks throughout the southeast is there are power lines down. You've got to assume they're live. There is still flooding. If you're safe, stay in your location. We don't have the extent of damage that's taking place in the panhandle, but there are a lot of flooded out roads and downed power lines, downed trees right now. And it will still take us, you know, a couple of days to get back in shape, as well. And we, frankly, or unfortunately, have the sense that we may see added fatalities, even in Virginia, as well.
BLITZER: Because as you point out, already five confirmed fatalities in Virginia. So you do expect the death toll to climb?
WARNER: Unfortunately, yes. I go back to my time as governor, and we had a storm called Isabelle, where it was literally days afterwards when we were still discovering fatalities.
This storm moved so quickly, with so much power. I think we had about six tornadoes spotted in the south side in central Virginia. And, again, it's not the kind of extensive devastation you've got there in Florida, but we have a lot of folks who were are in need as well in Virginia and we've got to make sure our National Guard in our state and hopefully soon federal resources will be available.
BLITZER: We're showing video from Roanoke, Virginia. Danville, Virginia. The flooding is clearly awful. Are Virginians getting the help they need from the federal government?
WARNER: Well, again, we've -- the governor has declared a state of emergency. We've got a request in for our federal declaration. My hope is that will be granted very shortly.
The challenge, though, is sometimes folks feel like when FEMA comes in, they can turn over all the problems to FEMA. The truth is, FEMA only supplements after local and state resources have in a sense been exhausted.
So folks still need to turn to the state, turn to the locality, make sure you've got the ability to kind of document your losses so that, hopefully, when we get that FEMA declaration, we'll be able to have those losses reported to the government so people can start the rebuilding process.
But we're still close enough to this storm, although outside here in D.C., it's a beautiful day today. In northern Virginia, it's a beautiful day. But this storm moved so quickly, and there's still a lot of places as those images showed in Virginia, where flooding exists. You know, it's not safe. Let the first responders do their job.
And, again, throughout the whole southeast, a lot of thanks goes out to all of the first responders who have helped so many families get through this tragedy.
BLITZER: Senator, I'd like you to stand by. We have more to discuss, including other important breaking news developments. President Trump just spoke to reporters about the missing Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who may have been murdered. As top Democrat of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I would love you to weigh in, tell us what you can.
Also, we're going to have much more on the rising death toll and the search for survivors in the wake of Hurricane Michael.
BLITZER: We're back with Senator Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as we follow breaking news.
Senator, I want to get to some other important news, but I need you to stick around. Stay with us. Just moments ago, President Trump spoke with reporters about the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who vanished after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is working this story for us. Jim, so what did the president say?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he's on his way to his second campaign rally in three days in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
But the president was asked a few moments ago by reporters about the current situation with respect to the "Washington Post" columnist, the Saudi, Jamal Khashoggi, and the president was asked whether he knows what is going on with Khashoggi. He said at this point, despite what the Turkish officials are saying, that they believe he was murdered by Saudi individuals inside that consulate in Turkey, the president was saying they still don't know exactly what happened to Khashoggi.
He went on to say that he's going to be speaking with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in the coming days to get more information about all of this. Here is more of what the president had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are you re-evaluating the relationship with Saudi Arabia?
[17:25:00] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're going to find out what happened with respect to the terrible situation in Turkey, having to do with Saudi Arabia and the reporter. And nobody knows quite yet. Nobody has been able to put it all together. People are starting to form ideas. And as they're formed, we'll let you know. But it certainly is a terrible thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has their record been overlooked for too long?
TRUMP: Excuse me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has their record otherwise been overlooked for too long?
TRUMP: I think a lot of records are overlooked. If you look at Iran, if you look at so many other countries. Take a look at Syria. You take a look at a lot of countries. A lot of countries' records have been overlooked.
But this is a very serious thing, and we're looking at it in a very serious manner. OK? And we'll see -- we have a big crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you spoken to the king of Saudi Arabia about this matter?
TRUMP: I have not. I have not called him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you plan to soon, sir?
TRUMP: I will be calling him. I will be calling, at some point, King Salman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And Wolf, you heard there at the very end there the president saying he plans to speak to King Salman in the coming days.
But very interesting to note, Wolf, how he was asked about whether or not the Saudi human rights record has been overlooked. The president seemed to deflect on that question and say, other countries' human rights records have been overlooked.
Wolf, we should point out when the president traveled to Saudi Arabia, that was his first foreign trip, first country visited as president of the United States last year. He did not -- he made a point of not bringing up the Saudi human rights record, and now that question obviously appears to be following him as people are trying to sort out exactly what happened to Jamal Khashoggi -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, lots at stake, indeed. All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you very much.
Let's get some more details right now from our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, a source tells CNN that Turkey has, what, shocking audio and video evidence of what they say was the killing inside this consulate in Istanbul?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The question now is to what extent they've shared that evidence. I spoke to a British official today who said that the British authorities have not viewed this evidence yet. But they did say that Britain's assessment of Khashoggi's disappearance is worrying and that Britain has shared that directly with Saudi officials. And that is becoming, really, the unanimous view of folks, including U.S. Lawmakers, who have been briefed on the intelligence here, that the evidence points to Saudi responsibility.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, Turkish authorities claim to have shocking audio and visual evidence that Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. A source familiar with the investigation, who was briefed by western intelligence, tells CNN, the tapes provide proof of an assault, a struggle, and capture the moment Khashoggi was killed. A Turkish official told CNN that investigators believe that the murder
was premeditated and that the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate. Citing Turkish officials, "The New York Times" reported that his body was cut up into pieces with a bone saw.
CCTV cameras recorded several Saudis who Turkish authorities say are now persons of interest arriving just hours before Khashoggi disappeared and checking into a hotel near the consulate.
Cameras also captured these Saudi government vehicles leaving the consulate some two hours after Khashoggi entered, then driving to the consul general's compound.
Sources say that Turkey has shared their evidence with several European allies.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia have now agreed, at the Saudis' request, to form a joint action team to investigate the disappearance. The Saudi delegation arrived on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. has traveled back to Riyadh. The State Department said it was not at the request of the U.S., but they do expect answers from him when he returns.
HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: My understanding is that he's on his way back there. We said, "When you come back we'd like to hear -- get a report from you."
SCIUTTO: The BBC spoke to Khashoggi just three days before he vanished, and he expressed fears about Saudi government intentions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do you think you might be able to go home again?
JAMAL KHASHOGGI, SAUDI JOURNALIST/"WASHINGTON POST" CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think I will. I don't think I will be able to go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you put out feelers every now and again?
KHASHOGGI: See, when I hear of an arrest of a friend who did nothing that's worth to be arrested, it makes me feel I shouldn't go.
SCIUTTO: The Trump administration is now facing pressure from Congress to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which the president is resisting.
TRUMP: I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion, which is an all-time record, and letting Russia have that money and letting China have that money.
SCIUTTO: However, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, told me today that Saudi Arabia must face consequences.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We may have to pass measures in Congress to exact a price. I think sanctions should be applied on the Magnitsky Act, if the evidence supports what we believe took place inside that embassy.
SCIUTTO: Of course, the Magnitsky Act was drawn up for Russia. This would be the first time it would be applied to a country other than Russia.
But, Wolf, the president's claim about $110 billion in U.S. arms sales with Saudi Arabia is, in fact, misleading. That was included in a memorandum of intent meant to be spread over ten years. Saudi Arabia has actually only written letters of offer, as they're called agreements for $14.5 billion, so a fraction of the president's claim.
BLITZER: Interesting. Very interesting indeed. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.
Let's get some more now. Senator Mark Warner, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has been kind enough to stick around. Your Republican colleague, senator, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, he's a Republican, says everything indicates, his words -- everything indicates that this Saudi journalist was murdered. Based on the evidence that you've seen, is there any doubt in your mind?
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN OF THE SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, Wolf, I want to let the Turkish officials, if they have evidence -- I've seen some of those public reports. I think the world would need to see. I think there needs to be, in a sense, almost an international transparent investigation.
I'm not going to be able to comment about what I may have seen in a classified setting. But this is an extraordinarily serious crime, if this proves to be the case. And unfortunately, as you and your colleagues probably know more than most, we have seen this pattern repeat itself in many countries in Europe and in the Middle East where -- in many ways, it's almost open season on journalists who might disagree with their home country's government.
And those are disturbing traits; it's disturbing traits when you have our own president call out the fake media, and fake news in many of his own rallies. And in a sense, incent folks to take a fairly dim view of journalists. This is not the way our country is based, and frankly, as we've said all along, a president's words have power and meaning that extend way beyond our shores.
BLITZER: Well, let me press you on that, senator. You suggesting that when President Trump speaks of American journalists, as the enemy of the American people, he's sending a message to someone like the Saudi crown prince to go ahead and deal with their own critics in the press corps?
WARNER: Wolf, I'm not connecting those dots. But I am making the case, and we've got -- there's plenty of evidence of this, if you look at -- there was just recently, I believe, a Bulgarian journalist killed in the last few days. The number of journalists killed in a number of regimes around the world is at -- has gone up dramatically. And I think this notion that governments -- civilized governments everywhere ought to be protecting all people's rights, but particularly the rights of journalists to express their views needs to be continued.
BLITZER: It's a very worrisome development, indeed. Senator, the president says he doesn't want this incident to scuttle a potential arms deals that he's brokered with the Saudis. Should the United States be in the business of selling weapons, at least right now, to Saudi Arabia, given the allegation that we've now heard from the Turkish government?
WARNER: Well, Wolf, for a long time, I have -- I've realized the value of the relationship we have with Saudi Arabia. We realize that counterbalance it plays, particularly vis-a-vis Iran, in that very dangerous neighborhood. But I've been increasingly concerned and voted recently against some of the Saudi interests in terms of the way they've conducted the war in Yemen, where there have been I believe indiscriminate killings of civilians.
And while the crown prince in Saudi Arabia has made -- has made speeches and taken some actions in terms of, for example, allowing women to drive that seem to be forward-leaning. You also have this as the individual who, frankly, locked a lot of his relatives in a hotel in Saudi Arabia. An individual who took in a sense almost hostage the Lebanese prime minister. My fear is the crown prince, who is very young -- I like some of his liberal-sounding speeches, but that has to be followed up by respect for rule of law.
And on that issue, I think the jury is well out, as well as clearly concern I have about how they have conducted the war in Yemen. So, I want to get all of the facts first before I reach my conclusion. But it's a dangerous neighborhood, but we need a partner that is going to adhere to particularly how it conducts the war in Yemen in a way that doesn't needlessly victimize innocent civilians.
BLITZER: Including children. We have seen the video.
BLITZER: Jamal Khashoggi was a resident of your state, Virginia. Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died a day or two after he was freed from North Korea, came back basically in a coma. He also was a resident of Virginia, a student at the University of Virginia. What do you think when you hear President Trump sort of brush aside criticisms of his arms deal with the Saudis and at the same time, he praised Kim Jong-un. He said, he was in love with him the other day.
[17:35:21] WARNER: Well, Wolf, I think there's a reason why American presidents of both political parties, President Obama, both President Bushes, President Clinton, have made protection of human rights part of American foreign policy. Again, as the world's military and industrial leader, we send that message. Unfortunately, this administration continues to make the point that it doesn't want to tell anybody else in the world how to conduct their affairs, and again, I'm not connecting the dots here.
But I am saying the incidents of violence, against journalists, the incidents of individuals who are authoritarian leaders in terms of their power is increasing around the world. I think we need an American foreign policy that leads not only militarily and economically, but also continues to lead morally and continues to speak out for human rights all across the world.
BLITZER: I know you've got to run. One final question. Give me a quick answer. The Turks. Turkey is a NATO ally. If they do have video and audio of this supposed execution of this Saudi journalist, would they under normal circumstances, despite the strains and U.S./Turkish relations, share that kind of intelligence, that kind of information with the U.S.?
WARNER: Again, Wolf, I'm not going to comment about any of the specifics of what's been shared or not. But I do think it is unusual that these Turkish sources are so publicly indicating they may have audio and video indications of what happened in the Consulate. Usually, intelligence services don't like to share, particularly things that would identify sources and methods; but this is such a potentially heinous crime.
I hope the Turks would if they had that evidence. And I would also point out that Turkish government within the last 24 hours actually released an American pastor who had been held, I think, inappropriately for almost two years in Turkey. So, anything where Turkey returns more to NATO and to kind of a western lean would be a step in the right direction.
BLITZER: Senator Warner, thanks so much for joining us.
WARNER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to have a lot more on the breaking news, right after this.
[17:42:19] BLITZER: Breaking news just a little while ago. President Trump told reporters he will be calling the king of Saudi Arabia to discuss the disappearance of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. A source tells CNN, Turkish officials have shocking video and audio evidence that Khashoggi was killed at Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Turkey. Our correspondents and experts are here to assess the global impact of all of this. It's amazing how much information Turkish government authorities are releasing. SCIUTTO: No question. And let's be frank, the folks who've been
briefed on the intelligence, this includes U.S. lawmakers and the gang of eight, and others, including Republicans, in that group, as well as Europeans -- I spoke to a British official today. Everyone has been briefed on the intelligence that's been gathered. They say the evidence points to Saudi responsibility for the death of Khashoggi.
Now, the Turks are more forward-leaning, certainly than the Trump administration and others, based on what they have seen. And let's be frank, Turkey has an axe to grind here politically with the Saudis. But, again, folks of both parties who looked at the intelligence that's available so far, they're leaving little doubt as to who's responsible for this.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Except the administration is not --
SCIUTTO: Except the administration.
BORGER: Except for the administration. I mean, you have John Bolton saying, you know, we're not sure. I mean, and you have the entire administration, president today saying this is terrible, this is terrible, this is terrible.
SCIUTTO: And it's telling. It's telling because they're laying the ground work, it seems, for raising doubts about that conclusion.
SCIUTTO: To therefore give the administration more options going forward.
BORGER: Right. And you know, we have a president who has said he doesn't want to end any arms sales. But you have a Senate that is really pushing back on this, saying, you know, we're going to invoke the Magnitsky Act, which means that there could be sanctions against Saudi Arabia. Look, the president clearly feels that this geopolitical situation -- Iran is the enemy, and the Saudis are helpful with that, obviously. He has done business with the Saudis, we should probably look into that. And so, you know, he's much more reluctant. He doesn't want to block any kind of arms sales.
BLITZER: You know, Nia, we haven't heard of a very tough, firm statement from the Trump administration, from the president on down. And we have heard from the president, as we pointed out, that business as usual will continue.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And, you know, that is in some ways been his approach to foreign policy more broadly -- sort of a transactional relationship. Relationships also built on sort of personal rapport. And we, of course, know that Jared Kushner has a personal rapport with the crown prince. I think as Gloria talked about, the place to watch is the Senate, right?
We've heard from Bob Corker, we've heard from Marco Rubio, we've heard from Lindsey Graham. pretty tough words. Lindsey Graham, for instance, saying, if this turns out to be true, there'll be hell to pay. Of course, the Senate -- you think about these next couple of weeks, they're going to be out campaigning, so they're not necessarily going to get right on this, but I think the key is to watch them.
Do they act to block parts of this arms deal, $100 billion or so? And also, American businesses, right? I mean, if you think -- when the crown prince was here in April, he was talking to Jeff Bezos, he was talking to Bill Gates. He really wants to have more investment in that country as he turns away from independents on oil. What do they do? What does the sort of public sector, or the private sector do as sort of kind of public shaming of him, given this situation?
BORGER: Well, they back out of his conference.
HENDERSON: Yes, that's exactly right.
BLITZER: You know, there's a lot of concern that the president is -- when all is said and done, going to ignore it.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that's right. I mean, as Nia said, there is this, sort of, mercantilistic transactional foreign policy point of view. Now, you know, the United States has had to make common cause with unsavory regimes in the past, including the Saudis, and we shouldn't pretend otherwise. But what we're seeing here is not, sort of, a hyper realistic foreign policy; it is actually foreign policy decupled from American values entirely and sort of decupled from basic morality.
[17:46:12] BLITZER: Yes. All right. Everybody standby. There's a lot more that's developing right now. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[17:50:52] BLITZER: A newly released CNN polls show First Lady Melania Trump remains far more popular than her husband. Look at this, 54 percent of U.S. adults have a favorable opinion of her compared to only 41 percent who have a favorable opinion of the president. Our Kate Bennett is joining us right now. She was among the reporters who accompanied the first lady on her recent good-will visit to Africa. You know, the first lady also had eye-popping comments to make about her marriage, her relationship with her husband. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not the first first lady to have to deal with her husband's alleged infidelities. Has this put a strain on your marriage?
MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: It is not concern and focus of mine. I'm a mother and a first lady, and I have much more important things to think about and to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mentioned you still have a good marriage. Do you love your husband?
M. TRUMP: Yes. We are fine. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes, we are fine. Now, what did you think of her comments?
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It's so rare to hear the first lady speak and be interviewed. It's been almost a year since she's been interviewed on camera at all, so certainly the comments feel even more startling than what they are. To me, she still remains very reserved, very sort of unemotional in her answers. I don't know necessarily that she still feels comfortable talking to the media, but certainly the questions that unfolded here after the year that she's had with all of these salacious headlines, it was an interesting moment to see the first lady address them because she certainly has not.
BLITZER: No. And you've traveled with her on several of her trips. What did you think, Nia?
HENDERSON: You know, interesting. I mean, I don't know anything about her marriage to her husband. Obviously, it has been in the headlines over these last days with Stormy Daniels. What's interesting though is that 54 percent favorability rating means she's the least liked first lady we've seen in decades. Typically, first ladies are in the high 60s, the 70s, the 80s. So, she's got some work to do in terms of increasing the favorability.
BORGER: Can I just say something about, yes, we are fine? I just think that it's an incredible answer.
BORGER: I mean, she was there. I mean, her husband has been accused of multiple infidelities, sexual assault.
BORGER: Everything else. And she goes, yes, we are fine. That's not an answer. That's a brush-off. That's sort of, do you love your husband? Yes, we're fine, we're fine. That's very telling to me. And I think she -- it was her way of kind of brushing it aside, right.
BENNETT: I will say that they do communicate quite a bit. Even on this trip I had some sources telling me they're constantly on the phone, they relate to each other.
BORGER: They're fine.
BENNETT: They are fine. And to your point, this is so true, but she is -- to her poll number, she's still the most liked member of the Trump family.
BORGER: Yes, yes, it is true.
BENNETT: In the grand scheme of this administration, she does continue to go up even more so than Ivanka Trump, for example, or Jared Kushner.
HENNESSEY: I mean, I do think that it's significant that her husband still represents the political party that claims to stand for family values. And so, the fact that the -- in light of these really, really scandalous, salacious, unbelievable headlines, sort of the most she has to say in defense of him is to kind of shrug and say, yes, yes, we're fine -- not even to directly deny it. To me, it's a pretty telling sign of how far Donald Trump has moved the Republican Party in terms of what is acceptable behavior.
BLITZER: And Kate, you were telling me earlier she's going to continue doing these international trips.
BENNETT: Yes. We asked her, are you going to do more? You know, we had another impromptu Q&A moment with her on the record which she's never done before, and that was one of the questions. And she said, let's get home first, let's settle down, and figure things out; but, yes, she does want to make another international trip. And I was also saying, she does seem more relaxed when she is away, and more smiley, more laughter. It's hard not to feel that way on a trip to Africa when you're playing with baby elephants, but at the same time, it is an interesting way to look at this first lady. I might be conditioned -- I mean, we've tried for a long time to get any kind of words or comments, if you will, this past year with all of the headlines, so this little something was --
BORGER: Well, you do live in a gilded cage, right.
HENDERSON: But she's bullied, apparently.
[17:55:02] BLITZER: It's a whole different world. Everybody, stick around. There's more breaking news we're following. The toll from Hurricane Michael has risen again, 16. 16 people are now confirmed dead. We're getting new information. We'll be right back.
[17:59:57] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Grim reality. Rescue crews and residents are confronting the horrific destruction from Hurricane Michael as the death toll climbs again. Tonight, search teams are going to new lengths to find survivors.
American pastor released.