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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Tells "A.P." His Former Attorney Michael Cohen's Testimony on Stormy Daniels Was "Totally False"; Hurricane Michael Death Toll Climbs to 26; Interview With California Congressman John Garamendi; Trump Reiterates Saudi Denials on Missing Journalist. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 16, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Total denial. President Trump says Saudi Arabia's rulers insist their they're in the dark about the fate of a missing journalist, even as a Turkish official provides gruesome details about Jamal Khashoggi's death inside the Saudi Consulate. We are getting new information about the investigation.
Insult to enemies. After Stormy Daniels' lawsuit against him was dismissed, the president lashes out at the porn star, calling her horseface and vowing to go after her in court. Tonight, Daniels and her lawyer are firing back.
Cohen's campaign. We are told the president's former attorney is ready and willing to stump against Mr. Trump and Republicans. After flipping in the Russia investigation, will Michael Cohen be a political fixer for the Democrats?
And rising death toll. There's a disturbing new increase tonight in the number of storm-related fatalities, as crews continue to search the devastation left by Hurricane Michael.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the growing evidence that a missing journalist was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, even as Saudi rulers try to convince President Trump they had no clue about what happened.
Tonight, Mr. Trump says it would be bad if it turns out the Saudis knew of Jamal Khashoggi's fate after their total denial. This as Turkish officials now tell CNN Khashoggi's body was cut into pieces after his death two weeks ago.
Also breaking, Stormy Daniels' lawyer is firing back at Mr. Trump, calling -- after he called his client horseface in an angry new tweet. Michael Avenatti telling me just a little while ago that Mr. Trump is now -- quote -- "a moron and a disgrace."
This hour, I will speak with Congressman John Garamendi. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the president, he has been busy tweeting about the Saudis and Stormy Daniels.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The Trump administration is scrambling how to figure out just how to contain the fallout of the apparent killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Saudi Arabia, had what a spokesperson for the State Department called a -- quote -- "direct and candid conversation" with the Saudis about Khashoggi. President Trump said earlier this afternoon the Saudi crown prince has -- quote -- "totally denied" any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi as he injected some bright, shiny objects into the news cycle that can be summed up in one word: horseface.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to be all smiles as he met with Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, just as grim details were surfacing in the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who Turkish officials say was dismembered by his killers.
President Trump tweeted that he discussed the investigation with both men by phone, saying: "The crown prince totally denied knowledge of what took place in their Turkish consulate. Answers will be forthcoming shortly."
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Turkey and Saudi Arabia are looking at it very strongly. And it depends whether or not the king or the crown prince knew about, in my opinion, number one, what happened, but whether or not they knew about it. If they knew about it, that would be bad.
ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, the president appeared to be distancing himself from the Saudis, tweeting: "For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia. Any suggestion that I have is just more fake news."
But that's not true. Just ask President Trump, who bragged about his business dealings with the Saudis during the campaign.
TRUMP: They buy all sorts of my stuff, all kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundreds of millions.
ACOSTA: The president's latest comments on the Khashoggi case sound as though he's prepared to accept the denials from the Saudi government that its operatives murdered the journalist.
TRUMP: It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?
ACOSTA: But fellow Republicans aren't buying it. Senator Lindsey Graham warned the Saudi crown prince known, as MBS, is dangerous.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This guy has got to go. Saudi Arabia, if you're listening, there are a lot of good people you can use, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself.
ACOSTA: CNN has learned advisers have warned the president his handling of the Khashoggi case could have global implications, sending a message that the U.S. is no longer a champion for human rights.
But the president has cozied up to autocrats around the world, from Russia to the Philippines, where that country's leader mocked reporters as spies. The president appeared to attempt to change the news cycle by attacking porn star Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had an affair with Mr. Trump.
In a tweet aimed at Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti, the president said: "Federal judge throws out Stormy Daniels' lawsuit vs. Trump. Now I can go after horseface and her third-rate lawyer in the great state of Texas. Knows nothing about me. A total con."
She responded: "Ladies and gentlemen, may I present your president. In addition to his shortcomings, he has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self-control. Game on, tiny."
TRUMP: You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.
ACOSTA: For the president, it is the latest attack on a prominent woman's appearance, resurrecting memories of his insults aimed at the wife of Senator Ted Cruz, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and even the women who have accused him of sexual assault.
TRUMP: She would not be my first choice. That, I can tell you. Man. You don't know. That would not be my first choice.
ACOSTA: As for the president's attacks on Stormy Daniels, a source close to the White House said that the president simply misfired with that horseface tweet, but added his advisers have all but given up on controlling the president's posts on social media.
And, Wolf, getting back to the case of Jamal Khashoggi, the president did tell FOX earlier today that he thinks it would be bad if the Saudis knew about the murder or disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi before it happened.
But, Wolf, it is not exactly clear what the president would do about it. While there are some high-profiles Republicans on Capitol Hill like Marco Rubio saying there would be severe consequences for the Saudi government if they were behind the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, there's no clarity, zero clarity from this White House as to whether or not the president would be on board with that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us, thank you.
Let's go to Turkey right now.
Our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is joining us.
Clarissa, you have breaking details on the Khashoggi investigation. You're learning new information. Share with our viewers.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And this is very important, because we're hearing again and again from the Saudi crown prince through Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that they knew nothing about this operation, but new information coming into CNN, Peter Bergen, Elise Labott, Tim Lister, learning from three sources a little bit more about the man who reportedly organized this botched operation.
And guess what? He is known to be close to Mohammed bin Salman's inner circle. He's a former military officer now working in general intelligence. We are hearing that he was operating outside the usual chain of command and that he attempted to orchestrate some kind of a cover-up afterwards to prevent people back in Saudi Arabia and, of course, the king and crown prince themselves from finding out about this.
But, certainly, Wolf, it is fair to say that this raises some real questions. Would it be possible for someone close to the inner circle of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to go rogue, in essence, to organize this kind of a mission so bold, so brazen without a nod of approval from the highest realms of authority?
That is a question a lot of people are going to be asking themselves as we start to learn more details, not from the Saudis, as promised, but from our sources telling us more about this operation and why it went wrong and who the man in charge of it was -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Turkish investigators, Clarissa, they have searched the Saudi Consulate there in Istanbul. What have local authorities found so far?
WARD: Well, Turkish authorities are getting increasingly impatient now with the Saudis with regards to the investigation.
They still haven't heard a proper telling of the Saudis' account of exactly what happened. We're all waiting for this Saudi investigation to reach its conclusion and for that statement to come out, but they were revealing some horrendous, potentially gruesome details today.
We heard from one Turkish official that Jamal Khashoggi's body was dismembered, chopped into small pieces to be disposed of after he was killed. We heard President Erdogan earlier on today talking about potentially toxic materials being found in the building. We also heard about a sort of hastily done paint job or repainting of
some areas, again, that dovetailing with what we are hearing about an attempted -- hastily attempted cover-up.
But, as I said before, Wolf, the Turkish definitely getting impatient with the speed of the investigation, the speed of what they're hearing from Saudi Arabia, and they are continuing to drip out more information, even revealing seven passport pictures and passport pages, I should say, of the 15 Saudi operatives who were part of this mission.
Unsurprisingly, Wolf, one of them CNN has been able to confirm has appeared on state television with none other than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And I take it you and your colleagues, Clarissa, are getting new information on how Jamal Khashoggi may have been killed with some sort of injection, is that right?
WARD: One source telling us that it is likely that there was an attempt to give him an injection that would arguably or presumably sedate him, allow them to try to abduct him from Turkey, presumably to take him back to Saudi Arabia.
It is possible that the result of that injection was some kind of a medical situation, something went wrong, Khashoggi then died. This is from one source. And they were left with the rather grim option of having to carve up his body into small pieces -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Clarissa Ward reporting for us, thank you. Horrendous, horrendous details.
Let's talk a little bit more about all of this.
Joining us now, Congressman John Garamendi. He's a Democrat. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
Let's discuss these late-breaking developments. As you know, the president, he is touting Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, the denials from him, the denials from the king.
Do you think there's any chance that the crown prince was in the dark about this murder?
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: I have no idea, but we do know this. Saudi Arabia, their operatives, perhaps under the direction or not, carried out this horrendous, gruesome attack, this murder.
The country is responsible. And we ought not spend all of our time trying to figure out whether the crown prince or the king knew about it. The fact of the matter is, the country did it. Now, what are we going to do? When are we going to stand up and say that this kind of attack on journalists and journalism is not part of the American creed?
We have got a president that has already named journalists as being the enemy of the people. So don't be surprised when other countries take on a journalist, murder them, chop them into pieces and dispose of them.
BLITZER: Why do you think President Trump has been so quick to repeat the Saudi denials and the Saudi cover story?
GARAMENDI: He's protecting his backside, plain and simple. He has had a longtime relationship with Saudi Arabia. No doubt about it, in his own words. You just played those tapes. And he doesn't want this thing to go any further.
The fact of the matter is, Saudi Arabia carried this out. Their operatives did. Now, what is America going to do about it? Parse it, try to say, well, maybe the crown prince didn't know about it? Well, maybe the crown prince did know about it, but the country of Saudi Arabia carried this out in their consulate in a foreign country, Turkey.
Is America going to stand up for human rights, civil rights, and, most importantly, for the role of the press, the free press in finding the truth? Thus far, this president has been the enemy of the press.
BLITZER: As you know, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is placing the blame squarely on the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and he says Congress is going to, in his words, sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.
Senator Graham has been a close ally of the president lately. Are you surprised to hear him speak so bluntly about all of this?
GARAMENDI: No, not at all. Many of us in Congress -- obviously, the senator speaks for himself.
But many of us in Congress have been very, very disturbed about the way Saudi Arabia is conducting the war in Yemen, bombing buses, killing children, horrendous deeds that they've been doing, all of it using American-made equipment and with American support.
And Congress, at least those Democrats, myself included, in the House of Representatives, are saying enough already.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman, hold on for one moment.
Our White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is getting some major breaking news. The president apparently what, Jim, has just given an interview to the Associated Press?
ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf.
This just happened earlier this afternoon, and we're just getting details of this in the last few minutes. The president is apparently criticizing, according to the Associated Press, the global condemnation that Saudi Arabia has received over the apparent killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
The president saying here in an interview with the Associated Press -- quote -- if we have this, we can put it on screen -- "Here we go again with you're guilty until proven innocent."
The president making a reference here, according to the Associated Press -- and we have not seen the full transcript of this interview. The president making a reference to the allegations that were facing his Supreme Court nominee and now the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who the president felt was presumed guilty until there was that FBI expanded background check that some Republicans felt was not enough corroborating evidence to keep him from being on the Supreme Court.
But the president talking about this case of Jamal Khashoggi with the Associated Press and saying to the Associated Press, "Here we go again with you're guilty until proven innocent."
Wolf, it sounds as though -- and we can only extrapolate this from the few strands that we from this interview we have so far -- that the president is once again taking the denials, accepting the denials from the Saudi government that they did not have any direct ties to the murder of this Saudi journalist, when, of course, Wolf, there is mounting evidence that says otherwise -- Wolf.
BLITZER: There certainly is. I know you are getting more information on what the president told the AP. So, stand by.
Congressman Garamendi, let me get your immediate reaction.
You just heard the president tell the AP, you know, he is upset because you're guilty, according to him, until you're proven innocent. He is defending the Saudis.
GARAMENDI: He may want to talk to Turkey. He may want to be listening to what Erdogan said. He may want to be listening to the facts that are coming out in Ankara, as well as in Istanbul.
This took place on Saudi turf in Istanbul in their consulate, in their offices. There is nobody, except perhaps the president, that is saying, A, it didn't happen, and, B, that Saudi Arabia had nothing to do with it. In fact, Saudi Arabia had everything to do with this murder and, quite possibly, the gruesome hacking up of the body.
So, what is the president doing? Is he standing up for the free press? Is he standing up for the First Amendment to our Constitution about the right of the press? Apparently not.
He has said it many, many times, that the press is the enemy of the people. And here he is once again, instead of standing strongly in support of a journalist that was murdered by a foreign country, he is instead going the opposite direction.
And that is a horrible signal. It is a horrible signal to every journalist anywhere in the world that as far as this president is concerned the press is the enemy of the people. Apparently, Saudi Arabia believes that to be the case also.
BLITZER: What are the consequences if the Trump administration doesn't take some action?
GARAMENDI: Congress will. Congress will.
We can withhold the approval and the arms sales that the president likes to talk about. And, by the way, it is not $115 billion. There's about $14.5 billion that's actually been consummated. That is the contracts actually in place. The money will eventually change hands as the equipment does.
But the point here is really about the freedom of the press, about the role of the press and about the American civil liberties and rights that we have for journalists to carry out their tasks.
And our president, our country has to stand firmly in support of journalists wherever they may be, whatever country they may be in. Otherwise, the truth will be hidden from the people. That's what the First Amendment is all about, and this president has declared war on the press, calling the press the enemy of the people and, in his rallies, encouraging his supporters to take on the press, to condemn the press, and to otherwise harass the press that are trying to cover the president.
This is terrible. Repercussions will come on. You had a moment ago about Duterte in the Philippines. We can't allow that to happen. America has to stand firmly in support of the press, in support of the freedom of information.
Our president is going the opposite direction, and the repercussions are inevitably going to be journalists dying even more than they have had in the past.
BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.
GARAMENDI: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we have the breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
We will take a quick break and resume our special coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight.
Sources tell CNN that a high-ranking officer with the Saudi intelligence agency oversaw the mission to interrogate and possibly abduct the journalist Jamal Khashoggi that ended with his death.
But in a new interview, President Trump is suggesting that people are jumping to conclusions that the Saudis are guilty.
Also tonight, new reaction to President Trump's ugly attack on Stormy Daniels. Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, telling me they will keep fighting Mr. Trump in court and in the public arena after the president promised to go after him and his client.
Let's go to our national correspondent, Sara Sidner.
Sara, this battle between Stormy Daniels and the president clearly is not going away.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is absolutely correct, Wolf.
Tonight, the president and porn star Stormy Daniels in a nasty Twitter battle that got really personal after Stormy Daniels lost one of her cases against the president. But the two of them, the fight is nowhere near over.
SIDNER (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump gloating over his legal victory against porn star Stormy Daniels with a glaring attack on her appearance.
"Federal judge throws out Stormy Daniels' lawsuit vs. Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees. Great. Now I can go after horseface and her third-rate lawyer in the great state of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed. She knows nothing about me, a total con."
That tweet prompting an immediate response from Daniels. "Ladies and gentlemen, may I present your president. In addition to him, um, shortcomings, he has demonstrate his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self-control on Twitter again, and perhaps a penchant for bestiality. Game on, tiny," a reference to his genitalia, something she wrote about in detail in her book.
STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: I was like, ooh, that was kind of mean. But then I look back at the horrible things he said about other people, and women, and calling women pigs, attacking girls' weight and their looks, and then I don't feel so bad.
SIDNER: All this after a federal judge Monday dismissed a lawsuit Daniels brought against Trump for defamation. Daniels sued the president after he called her claim that a man threatened to hurt her if she didn't keep her alleged affair with Trump a total con jump.
Trump, who denied the affair, argued it was his First Amendment right to express his opinion, and the judge agreed, saying: "Mr. Trump's statement constituted rhetorical hyperbole. That is protected by the First Amendment."
This is one of two cases brought by Daniels against Donald Trump and involving his former attorney Michael Cohen. The case involving the nondisclosure agreement signed just before the election where she was paid $130,000 in hush money is still pending. Cohen pled guilty to eight criminal counts against him in the Southern District of New York, including a count tied to trying to influence the presidential election by paying off the porn star and a Playboy playmate.
Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced in December. Now Daniels and her attorney, Michael Avenatti, vow the fight is not over. Avenatti tweeting today: "You are disgusting, misogynist and an embarrassment to the United States. Bring everything you have because we are going to demonstrate to the world what a complete shyster and liar you are. How many other women did you cheat on your wife with while you had a baby at home?"
SIDNER: And while the barbs likely will keep coming on Twitter, the court case is still in effect. The NDA case being still fought out in court. The next court date, the next hearing is December 3.
And you can bet this fight is going to continue in the public eye -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly can.
Sara Sidner reporting, thank you.
Just ahead, we will have more on the breaking news on an apparent connection between a Saudi official with ties to the crown prince and the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Also, as President Trump is defending the Saudis in a new interview, is he refusing to accept that their denials may be a lie?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. There's breaking news this hour. We're just getting new details on a wide-ranging interview President Trump just did with the Associated Press.
[18:32:05] Let's get some more from our correspondents and our analysts.
And Abby Phillip, you cover the White House for us. Among other things, the president once again siding with the Saudi government. He said this: "Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until you're proven innocent. I don't like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh, and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned. So we have to find out what happened."
What do you make of this defense? He seems to be giving a lot of credence to the Saudi official denials?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and Wolf, we knew this was coming. President Trump, every time he's been asked about this over the last several days, the first words out of his mouth are, "the Saudis have denied it, totally." Over and over again he's repeated this. And now I think you're hearing a little bit about why. The reason is
because he believes that this is another case of the media jumping to conclusions about something.
The president also does not want this to get in the way of the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia for a number of reasons, not just because of this arms deal that he seems very protective of but also for his broader foreign policy goals. So this shouldn't be surprising in that respect.
But I would say this is coming after the president has had multiple phone calls today with his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who has been in Saudi Arabia. And I think it's clear that those phone calls haven't changed his mind about what he's seeing on the ground in Saudi Arabia and the impact that he thinks it will have. A lot of people in his administration disagree.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's also rich, borderline or ironic -- maybe it is actually flat -- flat-out ironic that he is using kind of American ideals of justice and how you make sure that there is justice in this country by saying innocent until proven guilty. And one of the major criticisms of him and, frankly, other presidents before him is not pushing on the Saudis to be focused enough on the moral imperative of freedom and all of the ideals, even basic freedoms that we have in this country.
And that is the pressure on him right now. The pressure on him is to not just focus on the arms sales, not just focus on counterterrorism, which are, you know, incredibly important for the region and how everything fits in; but to be the moral leader when you have somebody who was going into a diplomatic consulate, who was working as a journalist, who was trying to do the basic things that, when you look at human rights and freedoms, that he is alluding to and the innocent until proven guilty line should be afforded.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, you are talking about a human being who was apparently chopped into pieces in a -- in a consulate here.
And the president is not listening, it would seem to me, to Republicans in the Congress, Lindsey Graham in particular, who has been out there saying, "I don't want to do business with the Saudis anymore if this is -- if this is what is going on."
[18:35:10] Comparing this to the Kavanaugh hearings? I mean, this is an apple and an orange we're talking about here.
And -- and he needs to act as a moral leader, you know. People look to the United States for moral leadership. And instead of talking about we need to get to the bottom of this, et cetera, et cetera -- yes, Pompeo is over there -- he's talking about, "Well, be careful. You don't want to convict the Saudis too quickly. Let's be nice to the Saudis."
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And by the way, how would you feel if you were a judge, Justice Kavanaugh in this situation, being thrown in with this egregious, possibly crime by the Saudis? Not exactly a flattering comparison.
BLITZER: There's another quote from the interview with the Associated Press we're just getting in. He was asked to elaborate on his assertion in that tweet earlier in the day calling Stormy Daniels "horseface." And take a look and see what he says in this A.P. interview. He says, "You can take it any way you want."
BORGER: What way is there to take it? I just don't even understand that, honestly.
BERG: It's not exactly a statement of remorse, though.
BORGER: Of course not.
PHILLIP: He's not backing down, and he's also -- but this is also another case of the president not actually explaining himself, not even defending himself. He's just saying, "Just let it be whatever you think it is."
BASH: He doesn't care. He doesn't care, but guess who does care, every Republican on the ballot in three weeks in independent-heavy districts where women are already turned off by what they're seeing in Washington, turned off by this president. And talking to Republicans who very much like the president, seeing that tweet today about the horseface, sighing and saying, "That doesn't help."
BORGER: Well, you know, the Republican Party has worked for so long to try and close a gender gap, and they've had a little bit of success sometimes, but they've got a real problem right now with women. Not the Republican base. We're not talking about that, but in the moderate districts you are talking about. This does not help.
Even if you don't think, you know, Stormy Daniels is a particularly great figure, calling any woman that name. I mean, he's got a long history, as you've reported on your show today, you know, starting with Carly Fiorina during the campaign, and on and on and on and on, of calling women names.
PHILLIP: But this is who the president is, and I think we shouldn't take it for granted that this is one of, you know, so many interviews he's done over the last few days.
The White House is not putting Donald Trump in a box three weeks before the midterm elections. They are literally letting him out of the box.
And this is the person that Republicans are running with this fall? Warts and all, whether they like it or not, this is President Trump. And I think Republicans, by and large, have accepted that. They are inviting him out on the trail with them, because they need to in many cases, and the president is going to say what he wants to say. And there's literally no one in the White House anymore who is saying,
"You know, we should try to stop the president from saying this thing about Stormy Daniels." No. He's doing interviews. This interview was conducted after he sent the Stormy Daniels tweet, so that should tell us a lot about whether or not there's an attempt to restrain or rein him in at this point.
BLITZER: It makes Republicans, not only those who are running for reelection, but all these Republican lawmakers so uncomfortable. They say he's done a great job in all sorts of areas, but they're squirming when they see something like this.
BERG: That's right. But then I guess the silver lining for Republicans, if there is any from a political perspective, is that most voters who could be turned off by this sort of behavior, by a statement like this, have already sort of factored that into their equation when it comes to assessing Donald Trump.
And as Abby mentioned, Republicans who are in these tough races running for reelection or running for office for the first time, they're hugging the president quite close, even -- you know, I think Martha McSally in Arizona is a really interesting example, because our recent CNN polling there showed Trump's approval in only 39, 40 percent in the state. Incredibly low approval in Arizona. And yet, the Republican candidate for Senate is still working to bring him in on her behalf.
BLITZER: We're getting new details of this interview the president just granted the Associated Press. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.
[18:44:12] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and our analysts. President Trump just now gave a wide-ranging interview to the "Associated Press". He spoke about his former personal attorney, among many other issues. We're talking about Michael Cohen.
I want to bring in our national political reporter, M.J. Lee. M.J., what did he say about Michael Cohen?
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Donald Trump in this new A.P. interview is taking on his personal attorney, former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
One thing that he said that was interesting is that he said it was totally false what Michael Cohen said in that courthouse in August when he said that Michael Cohen had actually coordinated with Donald Trump in silencing women like Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, both women, of course, alleged to have affairs with Donald Trump years ago.
And remember, it was Cohen that said in this courtroom in this very dramatic setting that it was at the direction of Donald Trump that he had made these efforts to try to silence these women, and Donald Trump coming out and saying that is absolutely false. [18:45:11] He also personally attacked Michael Cohen. He mocked him
as a PR person who only did small legal work for Donald Trump. That, even though, of course, we know Michael Cohen was somebody that was very close to Donald Trump for a long time, and he said it was very sad that Michael Cohen struck a deal in order to get a lighter sentence.
So, obviously, Donald Trump, in addition to the other people that he mocked and criticized today, now taking on Michael Cohen in this new A.P. interview, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: It's interesting, M.J., because Michael Cohen has clearly turned on the president. Now, you're learning he even, what, go out there and campaign against him? What are you hearing?
LEE: That's right. As though we needed another sign that the Trump/Cohen relationship is very broken and very over, CNN has learned that Michael Cohen is willing to campaign for Democrats, whether it is heading into the 2018 midterm elections which is, of course, now only three weeks away, or the 2020 presidential election, and that he is willing to personally take on Donald Trump, including refuting some things that he believes are lies that Donald Trump tells in these public settings.
And we are told that he is really prepared to do anything, whether it is stumping for candidates, whether it is helping to raise money or giving speeches, and the backdrop, of course, Wolf, you remember last week Michael Cohen's lawyer said that Cohen had actually changed his party registration from Republican back to Democrat. And this is sort of a returning to his roots moment for Michael Cohen. You will remember that he for many years was actually a Democrat and it was only after the election when the RNC wanted him to become a deputy campaign chairman that Michael Cohen switched back to becoming a Republican.
So, now, Michael Cohen is a Democrat and he is saying -- or is at least signaling that he is willing to campaign for Democrats against Trump.
BLITZER: Amazing how things change.
All right. M.J., thank you very much.
You know, Gloria, remember how Michael Cohen used to speak about Donald Trump? We've got a clip.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Lovingly.
BLITZER: Let me play this. It is brief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: One thing Donald Trump is, he's a compassionate man.
He is a man of great intellect, great intuition and great abilities. Mr. Trump's memory is fantastic, and I've never come across a
situation where Mr. Trump has said something that's not accurate.
Mr. Trump truly cares about America. He loves this country.
He's an amazing negotiator, maybe the best ever in the history of this world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Well, he doesn't say that anymore.
BORGER: No, not the best in the history of the world and he wants to campaign against him. I don't know many Democrats actually who would ask Michael Cohen to go on the stump for them, do you?
But these men are at war, and I think the president's language today and his answers to the "A.P." indicates he might be a little worried about what Michael Cohen has to say.
BLITZER: And the president said in this "A.P." interview that Michael Cohen was lying under oath when he made that accusation that the president knew about the payments to Stormy Daniels.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's a big allegation, and it is one that you better believe that the people taking Michael Cohen's testimony are going to try to substantiate it. So, it will be knowable whether or not Michael Cohen was telling the truth or not in this case, and it would be interesting to see if President Trump can prove his side of the story.
But I would be surprised if prosecutors decided to take the word of Michael Cohen without some kind of corroborating evidence in this case. As Gloria just mentioned, it is a sign that president Trump is worried. I don't necessarily think it is a sign that President Trump knows something differently about the situation.
BLITZER: In the new interview with the "A.P.", he also says he won't take any of the blame if the Republicans wind up losing the majority in the House of Representatives. We may have an exact full-screen quote of what the president had to say. There it is.
Quote: I don't believe anybody has ever had this kind of impact. He's not going to accept the blame if the Republicans go down.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. But which one is it? Are you out there saying, I'm on the ballot, which he is doing at every campaign stop, or are you saying, not my problem, this isn't about me? You kind of have to pick one.
Now, just the real political landscape, separate from what he is saying, is that the House is a different animal than the Senate and he can and is trying to help Senate candidates because they're from much more red states and that they need to get out and vote. But you can't have it both ways. Either you're going to be out there and you're going to be aggressive and you're going to say, it is all about me, and if that's the case and you lose, you got to be willing to take part of the blame.
BORGER: But he never takes responsibility, right?
BORGER: So if something goes wrong, it's always somebody else's fault, so that will be what occurs.
[18:50:03] For example, if the Democrats were to win the House, it would be -- it would be the candidate's faults.
BLITZER: There's a very good chance the Republicans could lose the majority in the House of Representatives and the president will then be in an awkward position. What does he say?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, you know, it doesn't really matter, right, Wolf? Like whether he takes the credit, the blame, whatnot, Trump will be in a really difficult governing situation for at least the next two years if Democrats take back the House, and of course they'll have subpoena power. They'll be able to investigate him. It will be a really tough few years for Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., and I don't think many voters and many Americans will really care whose fault it was or who deserves the credit for that.
BLITZER: Do you think, Gloria, he understands fully the enormity of the Democrats being the majority in the House of Representatives?
BORGER: Yes, I think he does, and in an interesting way, although everything you say is absolutely true, which is that, you know, the Democrats can investigate and have subpoena power, it gives him a new enemy, which he's really good running against enemies. And so when the Congress is all Republican, it's a little bit more difficult, although he's managed to find enemies there too.
But if he has a Democratic House, led by a Nancy Pelosi and he's heading into 2020, he can figure out a way to use that to his advantage very well. And he can, you know -- he likes that kind of a fighting situation, I think.
BASH: Yes, I mean, from my reporting and I know everybody here at the table has probably heard similar, he has, over the past month to two months, been increasingly agitated about the reality that he's probably -- or he very well could lose control of the House and what that means, particularly for the idea of investigations. But knowing that intellectually and being on the receiving end of it is a whole different thing, and over the past year and a half, Republicans who are in control of the House have done virtually nothing. Very, very little when it comes to the oversight responsibility on umpteen things that Democrats are just chomping at the bit to be able to get subpoena power and get the gavel and be able to look into with regard to this president, and all of the agencies and all the cabinet members that -- many of whom have just stayed under the radar, happily so.
BORGER: And then you should also have -- I mean, forget what happens in Congress. He's also going to have the Mueller investigation coming full circle, we think. And that's another, you know, that's another problem for him, particularly if the Congress changes hands.
BLITZER: There will be plenty of problems out there.
All right, guys, stick around. There's more breaking news.
New deaths from Hurricane Michael now being reported. We're live in the disaster zone. We'll be right back.
[18:57:25] BLITZER: We have more breaking news. The toll from Hurricane Michael has jumped to 26 people now confirmed dead.
CNN's Martin Savidge is in Mexico Beach, Florida, a town that was nearly level bed by the storm.
Martin, what's the latest there?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've seen a significant spike in the death toll from Hurricane Michael. Yesterday, we were reporting overall 19. Now we're up to 26. In Bay County, the number jumped by 9 today, and it doubled in 24 hours here in Mexico Beach going from two to four.
We've got a drone up in the air and if you take a look at that sort of vantage point, you can understand why the massive amount of debris, the carpet of destruction that you find everywhere is making the search for those still unaccounted for so very, very difficult. There are a number of factors the reason it's jumped up. It is that communications improved in many areas so they're reporting in.
In other places, they've finally been able to get teams in where it's been difficult to get in and then in other communities, some people have actually started returning home and they're making discoveries on their own so that's part of the reason. Authorities always feared that they would see a jump in the death toll after the storm and now a week later, almost, they are seeing exactly that, Wolf.
BLITZER: The residents are being allowed to return, I take it. For many, though, it's the first time seeing what's left of their homes. What's been the reaction?
SAVIDGE: You know, a lot of people had seen their homes in some way, shape, or form because now there are so many ways, either by watching CNN or even by looking at government websites, you could ascertain what your house might have looked like. What they're stunned to see is what their neighborhood looks like, what their community looks like, how devastated it is. There is no way that images or words have conveyed to people what it is like to actually see it firsthand and that's what people are saying.
They are realizing that it may not just be their home that they lost. They lost an entire town and it's only beginning to sink into them that they're not coming back right away. In fact, many are not sure if they're coming back at all, even as the community plans to rebuild -- Wolf. BLITZER: Based on your own observations, are they getting the help
they need or a lot more help needed?
SAVIDGE: I asked city officials that. They do say they are getting the help they need. There aren't a lot of residents so they've got plenty of food and water to handle them and it appears that the first responders have the support equipment they need and more continues to pour in almost every day.
The roads are just slammed with all sorts of relief being brought in to this community. The one thing they don't have and it's considered minor but still big, port-a-potties. They don't have enough of them in this community. In fact, city hall has none. So, they need some relief in many ways, Wolf.
BLITZER: They need help.
All right. Martin Savidge on the scene for us, thank you.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.