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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

New Details in Khashoggi Death; Trump Dismisses Saudi Leadership Role in Journalist's Death; Pompeo: Saudis Didn't Talk Facts on Journalist's Disappearance. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 17, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What's the Arabic word for lying?

THE LEAD starts right now.

The president's known for jumping to wild conclusions, today still unwilling to criticize in any way the Saudis for what seems a killing of a U.S.-based journalist, as new evidence closes in on the crown prince's inner circle.

Today, shocking new details about the hell Jamal Khashoggi endured inside that Saudi Consulate and what an audio recording reveals about his final moments on this earth.

And so you're saying his dad didn't kill JFK now? President Trump going all-in for Senator Ted Cruz, as Cruz's Democratic challenger rips a page from the Trump book of nasty nicknames.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

President Trump taking a stunningly dismissive tone about any possible Saudi leadership role in the disappearance and apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

This afternoon, the president is denying he's giving cover in any way to the Saudis, insisting he simply wants to find out what happened. But that's about as tough as the president was willing to get.

He has had harsher words in the last week or so for Stormy Daniels, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Taylor Swift than he has had for the Saudis, responsible for the likely butchering and slaughter of a "Washington Post" columnist.

Instead, President Trump has expressed support for Saudi denials of knowledge of the apparent murder, despite the strong circumstantial case that Saudi leaders had to have known and their initial denials they knew anything about anything. And the president has emphasized the hundreds of billions of dollars in arms and military equipment that the Saudis have pledged to purchase from American defense contractors. Today, President Trump refusing to say whether the FBI is involved in

any investigation, and he pointed out for at least the fifth time by our count that Khashoggi was not an American citizen, though it is worth noting the journalist lived in the United States and contributed to an American newspaper.

We have this story covered from the White House to Istanbul, Turkey, and we will get the latest details on the investigation from there in a moment.

But first, let's begin with CNN's Pamela Brown at the White House.

And, Pamela, over and over today, President Trump highlighting the billions of dollars the Saudis will spend on U.S. military equipment.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake.

President Trump appears to be softening his tone towards Saudi Arabia, repeatedly emphasizing today how much the U.S. needs Saudi Arabia when it comes to the arms deal, the fight against terrorism, Iran. He also appeared to give the benefit of the doubt to the Saudis and their denials, while also casting doubt on whether this audiotape exists that suggests this "Washington Post" journalist was tortured and then killed shortly after entering the Saudi Consulate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): President Trump today not giving details about the investigation surrounding the disappearance of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi, playing coy with reporters in the Oval Office when pressed if he's asked for the FBI's involvement.

QUESTION: Why not send the FBI in to figure all this out?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, he wasn't a citizen of this country, for one thing. And we're going to determine that. And you don't know whether or not we have, do you? No, but do you know whether or not we have sent the FBI?

QUESTION: Have you sent the FBI?

TRUMP: I'm not going to tell you.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Why would I tell you?

BROWN: Trump indicating the U.S. asked the Turkish authorities to hand over audio recordings they claim proves Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered while inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

TRUMP: We have asked for it, if it exists. We have asked for it, yes. We have asked for it, if it exists.

BROWN: The president once again casting doubt on the mounting evidence that Saudi Arabia was behind Khashoggi's disappearance, and failing to point the finger at the kingdom, telling the Associated Press, "Here we go again with you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that," comparing the investigation to the allegations now Justice Brett Kavanaugh faced earlier this month.

TRUMP: We will get down to the bottom of it.

BROWN: The president also telling FOX Business, the U.S. needs Saudi Arabia, both for the fight against terror and as a financial partner.

TRUMP: I hope we're going to be on the better side of the equation. We need Saudi Arabia in terms of our fight against all of the terrorism.

QUESTION: But we're not going to walk away from Saudi Arabia.

TRUMP: I do not want to do that.

BROWN: Trump later insisting he's not providing cover for the Mideast ally, but rather he is waiting on a report from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is returning from the Middle East after meetings with the Saudis and the Turks.

TRUMP: I'm not giving cover at all. But I want to find out what happened, where is the fault, and we will probably know that by the end of the week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: So President Trump is expected to be briefed by Secretary Pompeo upon his return either tonight or tomorrow.

[16:05:00]

And it remains to be seen what exactly Pompeo will be briefing the president on, considering Pompeo admitted to reporters today, Jake, that the Saudis did not want to share any facts with him.

He also said that the Saudis have pledged to conduct a transparent investigation, so it remains to be seen how much credence the administration will give to this investigation, considering the mounting evidence that the Saudis are responsible for the disappearance and apparent killing of this "Washington Post" journalist -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Grisly new details revealed about the torture and likely murder of Khashoggi. A source telling CNN that the journalist may have been injected with some kind of tranquilizer before he died in the consulate and his body was dismembered.

Senior international correspondent Arwa Damon joins me outside the Saudi consul general's residence in Istanbul, Turkey.

Arwa, forensic investigators were on the scene there today. Have the Turkish officials been able to gather any crime scene evidence? ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's the

thing.

Let's take a look at what they found in the consulate. Some sort of a toxic substance they're looking into. They say that all of the walls have been repainted. They also took DNA samples here at the consul general's residence. Well, they have been inside already for six hours.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): A caravan of Turkish forensics teams descended on the Saudi consul's residence today, gloves and hazmat suits on, ready to conduct their first search of the property since Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance more than two weeks ago.

Teams of Saudi investigators also piling in. This as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he received assurances from Turkish President Erdogan that a thorough investigation is under way.

Turkey's foreign affairs minister says Pompeo used his visit to deliver messages from President Trump as well as information from the Saudis. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was all smiles as he met with Secretary Pompeo yesterday, telling him he is also keen to examine the Khashoggi case, but denied any involvement.

The authenticity of that claim coming into question as sources tell CNN the mastermind behind Khashoggi's death was a senior intelligence official, with one source saying he was close to bin Salman's inner circle.

Still, Pompeo left ample room for the oil-rich ally to find alternative explanations.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. Khashoggi is missing. I'm not going to get ahead of -- we have two countries conducting the investigations. We're going to give them the space to complete their investigations of this incident.

DAMON: And the basic facts surrounding Khashoggi's fate were not discussed.

POMPEO: I don't want to talk about any of the facts. They didn't want to either.

DAMON: According to Turkish media, an audio recording from inside the consulate indicates Khashoggi was tortured and then killed soon after entering. A source tells CNN agents may have injected the journalist with a tranquilizer to subdue him.

The gruesome details emerging as we learn more about who those agents were. According to a source, Turkish authorities are now investigating Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a member of the elite protection brigade tasked with guarding the Saudi crown prince.

Turkey has identified 15 Saudis who arrived and left the same day Khashoggi went interesting as persons of interest in the journalist's death. At least nine worked in Saudi security forces, military or government ministries, according to "The New York Times."

Still, the United States is allowing Saudi to reach its own conclusions.

POMPEO: We have many overlapping interest places we work together.

DAMON: Secretary Pompeo now returning to Washington, with hopes that Saudi will keep its promise.

POMPEO: They made a commitment to hold anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found accountable for that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: And, Jake, this has become such a highly politicized case. And it's not just about U.S.-Saudi dynamics.

There is, of course, the very different dynamics with Turkey and various different regional players. And it's going to be quite interesting to see exactly what sort of differences or similarities there end up being between the report that Turkey comes up with and the one that Saudi Arabia decides to release, especially given the various different competing interests, and, of course, various different nations' economic ties to the kingdom.

TAPPER: All right, Arwa Damon in Turkey for us, thank you so much.

Let's talk about this, but let's start with CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who has some breaking news on this.

Kaitlan, you're learning more about the role of Jared Kushner. That's obviously the president's son-in-law, a senior adviser, who has established from very early on the crown prince, MBS, Mohammed bin Salman's reign, a very close working relationship.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And the more that this becomes a full-blown diplomatic crisis, the more scrutiny there is on Jared Kushner, because he did tout that close relationship with MBS, the crown prince, for so long.

And now what we're seeing is, he's not saying anything publicly. And he's intentionally doing that, because several White House officials fear if he was really involved on this on a public front, because he has such a close relationship with the crown prince, that there would be backlash.

That's a big part of why we didn't see him travel with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, when he was sent with Riyadh to meet with the Saudi officials this week. And it's a big part of why we haven't seen him say anything publicly.

He went to New York last night. And as you have seen, there is that video of him getting off the plane in New York with his wife, Ivanka Trump, also a White House employee. And a reporter tried to ask questions about the Saudis and their role and potential role in this. And he didn't answer the question, and his Secret Service agent traveling with him kind of blocked the phone.

[16:10:10]

A lot of that has to do with they're trying to not have any more scrutiny on Jared Kushner, any kind of role. But we are told behind the scenes he's helping shape the response to this. He's the one who talked to the Saudis and told them they needed to call for an investigation into the disappearance of this reporter.

And this also comes as President Trump is getting really frustrated with the news coverage of this and this idea that he has this cozy relationship with the Saudi officials. So all of that is happening. But what we are seeing is essentially Jared Kushner intentionally take a step back from all of this, so as there is not so much scrutiny on him.

But the question is, what is the cost going to be? Because he's touted this close relationship. He was the one who convinced President Trump to make his first foreign trip as president to go to Riyadh first. He hosted MBS when he came to the United States for a tour earlier this spring. He messages with him on WhatsApp. He's done that in the past, which was a national security concern.

So he does have a close relationship with him. And it's really coming under the spotlight now with all of this going on and the disappearance of this reporter.

TAPPER: And, Amanda, let me read you what "The Washington Post"'s David Ignatius reported this morning.

Quote: "Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, urged MBS last week to organize an investigation that could identify the culprit responsible for Khashoggi's death, two sources told me. The next day, after speaking with the Saudi king, the president said he thought rogue killers within Saudi Arabia's government may have been responsible, seemingly telegraphing a fall guy strategy."

The accusation that some Democrats are making when they see things like this in the press is that Jared Kushner and President Trump are helping the Saudis escape blame for what they did.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here's how I see it.

There are some Republicans on Capitol Hill, like Lindsey Graham, who are so hopped up and angry at this situation, they're calling for regime change.

TAPPER: Literally.

CARPENTER: In Saudi Arabia.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Shouldn't we hear from Jared Kushner, who is the architect of the Saudi Arabian policy, before we go to that measure? Why is Jared Kushner, who is always eager to plant himself good press and take credit for things whenever he has the opportunity, why is he being allowed to evade responsibility here?

And the security element that Kaitlan brought up is highly concerning.

TAPPER: The Secret Service?

CARPENTER: No, not the Secret Service. The messaging that's been reported in numerous outlets. Jared Kushner not only with Saudi Arabia has communicated with foreign officials outside secure channels, despite warnings from people, you know, who would prefer him not to.

Why is he this rogue foreign policy actor inside the White House who has no accountability? That boggles my mind.

COLLINS: One thing we should note is that after it was reported he was messaging people like the crown prince on WhatsApp, he started to pick up on that concern and he started filling in White House officials on his calls.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: One more thing. He had numerous security clearance problems. And I am still not even sure if those have all been resolved.

TAPPER: Yes.

And there was all this reporting, Bill, from earlier by "The Intercept" that Kushner met with MBS, may have even given him information about people within the kingdom he couldn't trust, that MBS told people that he had Jared Kushner in his pocket.

We should point out, Jared Kushner through his lawyer has denied all of this to "The Intercept." But there are some serious questions here about this relationship.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, and it's a problem when you try to run a relationship between the house of Trump and the House of Saud, as opposed to through government channels.

There's a reason you have ambassadors, assistant secretaries of state.

TAPPER: And we should note there is no ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

KRISTOL: Right. But the charge would take notes normally in a meeting if a senior American went over, for example, to meet with someone like MBS. I'm not sure that happened.

There are those phone calls that seem to be totally offline, without record. So just as a matter of kind of good governance, it's a problem. And, of course, there are further questions then about the family relationships in terms of money. I think this could be -- this is a real crisis, I think, a real

foreign policy crisis, not just a Trump White House crisis. It's funny how foreign policy works and you have seen over the years too, Jake.

This is a horrible war in Yemen. Famine with a million people. Putin has killed people. There was the Helsinki thing. You never know what -- but this one feels like it might become a moment where the whole Trump foreign policy gets put in question.

People have been saying, well, he really hasn't been tested by a crisis. He's been sort of lucky. He's made things that people like me think are big foreign policy mistakes, but we haven't paid much of a price for them.

You could have a real question now about our relationship with the Saudi regime, which is an important -- has been an important historical relationship, one that has been controversial at times, one that should have been more controversial, perhaps. And it could be a real moment here, interesting moment for American foreign policy.

TAPPER: And, Symone, as Bill points out, the U.S. has been turning a blind eye to Saudi human rights abuses...

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: For a while.

TAPPER: ... for decades. But there is probably no president that has more starkly talked about why we need Saudi Arabia, in their view, than President Trump talks about it.

Take a listen to him talking to FOX Business, which -- trying to explain, I think, in some ways why he doesn't seem to care more about the murder of this journalist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:15:04] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, we need Saudi Arabia in terms of our fight against all of the terrorism, everything that's happening in Iran and other places.

INTERVIEWER: But we're not going to walk away from Saudi Arabia, as an ally and a containment of Iran.

TRUMP: No, I don't want to do that. I do not want to do that. And frankly, they have a tremendous order, $110 billion. Every country in the world wanted a piece of that order. We got all of it. And what are we going to do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A hundred and ten billion dollars. First of all, that's not an official figure in terms of --

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course --

TAPPER: -- lines that have been signed. But beyond that, that's money for American defense contractors.

SANDERS: Absolutely. You know, look. I think it's very interesting. Before a long time, many people on both sides of the aisle have turned a blind eye. I mean, most recently, what's happening in Yemen.

It's very striking to me with the capture and seemingly assassination, if you will, murder, of this journalist, that that is a thing that is bringing everybody together to say, OK, someone's got to -- we have to hold the Saudis accountable.

TAPPER: As opposed to the school bus full of Yemeni children.

SANDERS: As opposed to the school bus full of Yemeni children, or as opposed to when the crown prince, MBS, locked up a number of senior officials in hotels, seemingly, basically locked them up at the Ritz for a while in Saudi Arabia. So I do find that interesting.

Donald Trump has been very clear, though. What he said on Fox Business is not much different than what he said during his rally in Kentucky last weekend. You know, look, I get a lot of money from the Saudis. He said he personally gets a lot of money as personal business interests and now he's talking about the business interests of the United States defense contractors.

This is something that should cause everyone to give pause. And I hope to hear more folks on the Republican side of the aisle call for something to be held accountable.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

We're going to keep talking about this. The secretary of state said the Saudis didn't want to talk about any facts regarding the apparent murder of the Saudi journalist. So what's the purpose of a fact- finding mission again?

And from vote like I'm on the ballot to not my fault if we lose, President Trump giving himself a new out in case of blue wave comes his way.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:20:36] TAPPER: And we're back with the world lead and continuing the conversation about the apparent murder of "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and the response or lack thereof from the Trump administration.

Amanda, let me start with something that President Trump told the "Associated Press" regarding the claims that Saudi leadership must have been behind this, based on all of the circumstantial evidence and just basic common sense. You have 15 Saudis linked to intel and military flying in, go to the military consulate where this happens and then they fly out.

President Trump says, quote, here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh, and he was innocent all the way. So I was unconcerned.

What do you make of that?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I am concerned that not only President Trump doesn't seem interested in finding out what happened, Secretary Pompeo doesn't seem interested in finding out what happened. As you mentioned earlier, he said we're not interested in talking about the facts. So, who is interested in finding out what happened? Because I saw with the Saudi Arabian government did in the wake of Jamal's disappearance, whatever you would like to call it. They issued a warning to their people, saying that spreading fake news --

TAPPER: Right.

CARPENTER: -- or smears online is punishable up to five years in prison and about $800,000. That's what they're going to do there.

So, why -- it is on us to find out. I don't want to rely on the Turks anymore. I want our people to find out.

TAPPER: So, Kaitlan, let's play that sound from Secretary of State Pompeo after he left Saudi Arabia regarding his meeting with the crown prince and talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Did he tell you whether Mr. Khashoggi is alive or dead?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't want to talk about any of the facts. They didn't want to either. They want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What was the -- I mean, this completely sincerely. What was the point of him going to Saudi Arabia if they didn't talk about any of the facts?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question. And that's who is coming back to brief President Trump, and White House officials are essentially waiting to see what Mike Pompeo is going to say when he gets back after visiting Riyadh and then going to Turkey to talk to officials. That is why President Trump sent him there, because initially when all of this is happening, President Trump was expressing concern and saying there is going to be severe punishment if it is the Saudis who are responsible for this guy's death.

But then we saw Pompeo go there, and he's smiling in had pictures with MBS. We see photos of his spokesperson smiling, posing while she's in Turkey. Those are raising a lot of questions about what exactly it was they're doing there. And he can't even answer the simple question of whether or not this

reporter is dead or alive. He is asked, is he dead or is he alive and he said, well we didn't talk about the facts. So, that's raising a lot of questions. That's who's going to be briefing --

(CROSSTALK)

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: This is all the wrong way -- we know what happened. We know what happened. He was lured to the Saudi embassy or consulate --

COLLINS: But what message does it sent to the Saudis when he won't even say it?

KRISTOL: We know what happened. We don't know every grisly detail, and I'm not sure we want to know of the torture and his killing. But we know he was lured to the embassy there and killed, right?

TAPPER: Yes.

KRISTOL: There's no question about that. He's not there as a fact- finder. He's supposed to be conducting U.S. foreign policy and they're trying to distract this into some police detective show. We have to find out details before making a judgment.

What judgment should be made? Shouldn't they have meetings of the National Security Council to say what is our policy going forward with Saudi Arabia?

SANDERS: It looked like the folks from the State Department went on a dang gone vacation this past week on America's tax dollars. I literally do not understand the purpose of the chief of the State Department rolling around smiling, next to MBS, and while in Turkey. This makes absolutely no sense.

The point that Bill made earlier about the fact that there are no -- in the region in Saudi Arabia and Turkey that we lack high-level State Department officials, we lack the ambassadors, we lack the lower -- the senior lower-level staff in those offices is not something that should be glossed over. There is no -- when our folks -- when Pompeo is not there, we have no one on the ground. We have no high-level staff on the ground to connect with the other governments.

TAPPER: Well, we have diplomatic staff. We just don't have the political appointees.

SANDERS: We have diplomatic staff. We don't have the high-level staff, Jake. We don't have the folks who can march in and have the follow-up conversations.

And so, this is what's going on. And this is all we've got? I, frankly -- am extremely concerned and unimpressed.

COLLINS: But the larger question is what is the response going to be? Because you hear Pompeo there, and maybe he's waiting for the full investigation to be completed. Because they have called on them to conduct this investigation. If that's their defense, that's fine.

[16:25:03] But the question that was posed to President Trump just this morning is, if the Saudis are responsible, what are you going to do? What will your response be? And he didn't say it's going to be bad. It's going to be ugly. Like his allies on Capitol Hill, including Senator Lindsey Graham are saying.

Instead, he turned the answer into something about how important the Saudi/U.S. relationship is to him. Talking about that arms deal. And that's exactly what Pompeo told reporters, as well. He's like, well, while you're thinking about all of this, you've got to consider our financial endeavor --

KRISTOL: The answer is -- I can tell you the answer now. The answer is they will do as little as they can get away with doing to be tough with the Saudis.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

Robert Mueller reportedly almost ready to deliver his report. How soon could we see the report on the president's campaign and Russia, possible conspiracy, obstruction of justice and more?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back.

In politics, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is urging Robert Mueller to wrap-up his investigation as quickly as possible, according to "Bloomberg News". Mueller's report is expected to focus on possible conspiracy between members of the Trump team and Russia, and whether President Trump obstructed the investigation.

CNN's Sara Murray joins me now.

And, Sara, the Mueller report, we're told, is likely to come out after the midterms.