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THE SITUATION ROOM
New Details Emerge of Pompeo Meeting With Saudi Crown Prince; Trump Media Blitz; Leaker Arrested; CNN Source: Secretary of State Told Saudi Crown Prince "Time is Short", Saudis Must "Own" What Happened; CNN Gets Rare Access to Scene of Alleged Genocide. Aired 6- 7p ET
Aired October 17, 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: Leaker arrested. A senior U.S. Treasury Department official is charged with disclosing sensitive financial information about entities tied to President Trump and Russia, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
And media blitz. As White House press briefings become increasingly rare, President Trump is talking up a storm in a series of interviews and impromptu remarks to reporters. Is it part of a broader strategy to change the subject?
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.
CNN has learned special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is moving ahead full steam, even as it appeared to remain quiet in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections next month.
Tonight, sources tell CNN Mueller has continued to talk to key witnesses and may seek more indictments once the election is over, all leading to a final report likely to be issued before the end of this year.
We will talk about the breaking news with former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's get the details on the breaking news.
Our political correspondent, Sara Murray, is standing by.
Sara, you are learning Mueller has been anything but quiet the past few weeks.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. As you pointed out, he may not be doing a lot in public because the
midterms are just weeks away, but behind the scenes plenty has been going on with the Mueller investigation. We know, for instance, Paul Manafort and his legal team have met with the special counsel's team a number of times for hours upon hours of interviews.
We also know talks have intensified between the president's legal team and Mueller's investigators. They're even having conference calls about these written questions they want President Trump to answer. And in addition to that, Michael Cohen and his legal team have also met with the special counsel's team.
Now, all of this building up to what Robert Mueller is going to put in this report. As you pointed out, we are expecting it before the end of the year. The big question, what exactly is it going to say?
MURRAY (voice-over): Anticipation is building about whether more indictments are soon to drop and exactly what special counsel Robert Mueller will wrap into his final report.
The report expected after the November election and before the end of the year will be delivered to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But it's up to him to decide if it will ever be made public for the American people.
One outstanding question, just how much President Trump will cooperate. His lawyers are readying answers to Mueller's written questions. But in a Tuesday interview, the president told the Associated Press, "The whole process is a tremendous waste of time, adding: "We are looking at certain questions having to do with the word collusion. Of course, there was no collusion."
Trump offered up his strongest defense yet of his son, Donald Trump Jr., who participated in the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who had ties to the Kremlin and promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. "The meeting became about a different subject, and they couldn't get out of the meeting fast enough," Trump told the AP, while insisting his son is innocent.
"There is nobody harder on my son than I am. If he did something wrong, I would have been livid."
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The phony witch-hunt, phony witch-hunt.
MURRAY: Despite his anger over the investigation, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to recuse himself from it, Trump still won't say whether he wants Sessions out.
"I could fire him whenever I want to fire him, but I haven't said that I was going to," Trump told the AP. "But if you ask me am I thrilled, no, I am not thrilled."
The other person the president isn't thrilled with, his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, saying Cohen's under oath comments that he arranged hush money schemes at Trump's discretion was totally false.
While downplaying Cohen's role, Trump said, "Oh, absolutely he's lying. And Michael Cohen was a P.R. person, who did small legal work. Very small legal work."
Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, defended his client, tweeting: "Trump calling anyone a liar is a compliment."
MURRAY: Now, Michael Cohen appears to be cooperating in a number of investigations. Sources tell CNN he met today with state and federal prosecutors who are investigating Donald Trump's family business, as well as his charitable foundation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you, Sara Murray reporting for us.
There's more breaking news on the investigation into the missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi that's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, he is slated to be back here in the United States later this hour.
But our special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, is getting new information, new reporting tonight on what happened during that meeting between Secretary Pompeo and the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Jamie is joining us on the phone right now.
Jamie, that meeting, at least at the beginning, during the photo-op appeared to be all smiles. What are you learning?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what I have been told is those smiles ended at the end of the photo-op.
This is according to a source familiar with the meeting, and I'm told that the photo-op should not be read to indicate that the rest of the meeting was friendly, not at all, that the meeting was blunt, direct and that Secretary of State Pompeo told MBS in no uncertain terms that -- quote -- "He had to own the situation and that every fact was going to get out about what happened in Turkey."
And, again, he stressed to MBS that -- quote -- "He must own the situation." I'm also told by my source that Secretary Pompeo made it very clear that the Saudis had to get their investigation done very quickly. He stressed that time was short and that the Saudis had to deal with the people involved, and the quote I was given was that he told the Saudis they have to deal with them sharply.
I also was told that Secretary of State Pompeo was very blunt and he went on to tell the crown prince that if the Saudis don't deal with this and don't deal with the people sharply, that the U.S. will have to deal with this, that Secretary Pompeo said that -- quote -- "The U.S. will take action because the world will demand it," and he said the president's hand will be forced to take action if the Saudis don't.
So this is the first readout we are getting, and Secretary of State Pompeo, I'm told, went so far as to tell the crown prince that, even if the crown prince says that he didn't know about what happened or any plot beforehand, that the future, his future as king is at stake and -- quote -- "He has to own what happened" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Jamie, what was the reaction from the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman?
GANGEL: So my source would not describe the Saudi reaction or the crown prince's reaction, beyond saying this -- quote -- "The message was received."
And I also asked whether Secretary Pompeo felt that the crown prince would do anything, had heeded his words, and my source said -- quote -- "The proof will be in what action is taken now" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Was Secretary Pompeo, based on the information you are getting, Jamie, aware of how his meeting was being portrayed back here in the United States, his meeting with the crown prince during that photo-op? Once again, everybody was talking about how they were all smiles.
GANGEL: So I think that my understanding is that there was some frustration that everybody was talking about the photo-op and not what happened after the photo-op.
And that's why I was told the smiles ended at the end of the photo-op and that the rest of the meeting was very blunt and very direct. There's nothing more direct than Secretary Pompeo telling the crown prince that his future as king was at stake in how he handled this.
BLITZER: Secretary Pompeo is now going to be meeting with the president, the president of the United States, delivering his report on his talks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and in Turkey as well with Turkish officials.
But, clearly, going into this meeting President Trump is making it clear he doesn't want to see any damage to the overall U.S.-Saudi relationship.
GANGEL: So, you know, what we have heard from the White House on a political level is certainly that, but I think what is quite telling here is that Secretary Pompeo was very blunt and very forceful with the crown prince behind the scenes.
What happens from here, you know, as my source said, the proof will be in what action is taken, but behind the scenes, this was a very tough meeting.
BLITZER: Is there a sense you're getting, Jamie, in your reporting that the crown prince was aware that Pompeo was delivering a specific, very blunt, tough message from President Trump himself?
GANGEL: You know, again, my source would not go so far as to describe how the Saudis took the message or what their reaction was, beyond saying -- quote -- "The message was received."
So I think we can take from that that they understood that it was -- that it was, you know, blunt, direct. You know, to say to the crown prince that if he didn't take action, if he didn't "own it," that the president's hands will be forced because the world will demand it and that his future as king would be at stake, it doesn't get more direct than that.
BLITZER: Yes. Clearly, if he's suggesting to the crown prince, you better deal with this, you better deal with it immediately, you better be blunt because we're all going to know what happened in any case, and if you want to some day be the king of Saudi Arabia you have to come clean, is there a sense you are getting at all whether the crown prince is going to do any of that?
GANGEL: I think that we don't know yet what's happening.
I mean, we have had a lot of -- CNN has had a lot of reporting about what happens next with the Saudis, but I think that is still to be determined.
I thought it was very interesting that Secretary of State Pompeo said to the crown prince, look, all of the facts are going to get out, and you have to move forward very quickly with this, by saying, own it, take responsibility for it and deal with this, you know, the word that was used was sharply.
BLITZER: Yes. It is a very delicate situation right now, because, as you know, Jamie, the president and Pompeo and the Trump administration, they're getting a lot of grief from members of Congress, not just Democrats, but leading Republicans as well, saying, you know what, maybe the U.S. should just stop dealing with the crown prince, this would not have happened without his authority, his authorization to begin with.
And now we're getting the sense that Pompeo was very tough with the crown prince. What's the bottom line right now before I let you go, Jamie?
GANGEL: I think the question now is going to be how the Saudis react, what does the crown prince do.
Does he take Secretary of State Pompeo's message and run with it or not? And we will know that very shortly.
BLITZER: Is there any sense that this was -- what you're hearing from your sources is spin because they were getting a lot of grief, a lot of bad publicity, the Trump administration, Pompeo specifically?
GANGEL: You know, I don't think that it was. There's no question, Wolf, that I think there was frustration about all of the reporting about the smiles during the photo-op. So I think that that is clear. On the other hand, I think that we're getting this reporting not just because of spin, but because the administration wanted to get out what the substance of the meeting was.
BLITZER: All right, Jamie Gangel, terrific reporting, as usual. Thank you very much. If you get more, let us know.
In the meantime, I want to bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
So, Jeff, what is the latest on all of this that you are getting where you are?
GANGEL: Wolf, as Jamie was just reporting there, that meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the crown prince certainly is going to be something that the secretary of state is going to come back here to the White House likely tomorrow and brief the president on, but the president not showing any sign of stern words towards Saudi Arabia.
He's very much keeping an open mind and a wait-and-see approach, if you will, not even saying if he is relying on U.S. intelligence here, but saying he is waiting on the completion of an investigation.
Now, we should point out, Wolf, we are about 15 days into this or so, so the idea that this is still being investigated raising eyebrows here, but it is also raising eyebrows about the president's America- first policy and people are wondering if it means the U.S. moral leadership is still front and center in that.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump denying tonight the U.S. is trying to help Saudi Arabia cover up its alleged involvement in the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, not at all. No, I just want to find out what is happening.
ZELENY: Despite mounting evidence of the Saudi kingdom's hand in the disappearance and suspected dismembering of the "Washington Post" columnist two weeks ago in Istanbul, the president still taking a wait-and-see approach, even as he touts the importance of the U.S.- ISIS relationship.
TRUMP: Saudi Arabia has been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East. I want to find out what happened, where is the fault, and we probably will know that by the end of the week.
ZELENY: In the Oval Office today, the absence of U.S. moral leadership on clear display. The president would not say why the U.S. is waiting for a Saudi investigation, rather than relying on U.S. intelligence.
TRUMP: Well, he wasn't a citizen of this country, for one thing, and we are 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. Why would I tell you?
ZELENY: Tonight, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is returning to Washington after a fact-finding mission to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Talking to reporters in Istanbul, he defended the U.S. decision to give Saudi leaders time and space.
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It is not about benefit of the doubt. It is that is reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete it so they get it right, so that it's thorough and complete.
ZELENY: As the diplomatic and political crisis deepens for the White House, a growing course of Republicans saying the president is not doing enough.
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I don't think he fell through a hole in the space-time continuum. I think he's dead. And I think the Saudis killed him. With the exception of Israel, I trust every country in the Middle East as much as I trust gas station sushi.
SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: I hope he is listening to all of that information, not just the arguments that are coming from Saudi officials.
ZELENY: Since choosing Saudi Arabia last year as the site of his first foreign trip as president, Trump has worked to forge a strong rapport with the kingdom, showing little, if any skepticism of Saudi leaders.
TRUMP: I hope that the king and the crown prince didn't know about it. That's a big factor in my eyes, and I hope they haven't.
ZELENY: That interview with FOX Business today only the latest in the president's media blitz, doing a crush of appearances 20 days before the midterm elections.
He is placing himself at the center of the conversation, but when asked whether he will own some of the blame if Republicans lose control of Congress, he told the Associated Press no.
ZELENY: Now, the White House is under incredible heat on this, hearing from Republicans on Capitol Hill, clearly sensitive to how they're portrayed.
Wolf, I was hearing from my sources throughout the day today the president is agitated and aggravated by the news coverage of this, somehow suggesting that he is beholden and afraid of, perhaps, standing up to the Saudi leaders. It is that meeting with the secretary of state that is going to be so important here.
Wolf, there's also another important decision to make. That is what the treasury secretary is going to say tomorrow, Steve Mnuchin. Will he be attending that business conference in Saudi Arabia in Riyadh next week or will he pull out?
The president also involved in that decision. So, Wolf, some high- stakes moments here. It is a deepening crisis, even though the president is saying he is taking a wait-and-see approach -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny at the White House.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Joining us, former U.S. attorney, senior CNN analyst Preet Bharara.
Preet, thanks very much for joining us.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.
BLITZER: All right, I don't know if you have seen it yet, but it's a very rare interview with "The Wall Street Journal."
The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, has just sat down with "The Wall Street Journal." He is strongly defending the Robert Mueller investigation. He says -- and I'm quoting him now -- "People are entitled to be frustrated. I can accept that. I committed I would ensure the investigation was appropriate and independent and reached the right result, whatever it may be. I believe I have been faithful to that" -- close quote.
He always says he tries very hard to ignore media speculation. Why do you think Rod Rosenstein all of a sudden is speaking up right now?
BHARARA: I don't know. That's a good question. It is unclear how much longer Rod Rosenstein will be in office.
We had that back and forth a couple of weeks ago where breathlessly everyone was reporting that Rod Rosenstein was on his way to the White House to potentially be fired by the president. The president has made clear on prior occasions that he doesn't like the fact that special counsel Bob Mueller was installed at the hands of Rod Rosenstein, and on other occasions, he has made clear he doesn't like the fact his attorney general has recused himself.
He said just recently that he's not thrilled with his attorney general's performance, so it is unclear what is going on. Sometimes, people go to the media because they want to stand up for their own, you know, conduct and the things that they have dedicated themselves to. Sometimes, they want to speak to an audience of one, that audience of one being Donald Trump.
What I can say is, you know, I think it is good that he issued that message, Rod Rosenstein issued that message. It is a good, strong statement that he has not wavered from the thing that he did almost a year-and-a-half ago, which was to appoint and to protect the appointment of the special counsel.
You will remember that that occurred in part because of, you know, you could say a screw-up on the part of Rod Rosenstein in the first place. He wrote this memo that was reported to justify the firing of Jim Comey on grounds that were absolutely not the grounds that Donald Trump ultimately relied on to fire Jim Comey.
And then the firestorm that ensued over the course of six, seven, eight days for Rod Rosenstein, who had been lauded as sort of a nonpartisan U.S. attorney who had served multiple presidencies through different party affiliations, he decided to right the wrong and did one of the most powerful things you can do, which is to appoint Bob Mueller.
BHARARA: I think it is consistent of him to stand up for what he thinks he did that was correct, and I think it was correct.
BLITZER: You know, it is interesting because this is a lengthy interview that he's granted to "The Wall Street Journal."
He says the Robert Mueller investigation in his words is appropriate and independent. That's clearly in sharp contrast to what the president of the United States keeps saying, including today he calls it a witch-hunt, says it is rigged.
And he also says -- this is very significant, Preet -- that the American public will have faith in its findings, the findings of the Mueller investigation.
Clearly, the president of the United States is not ready to say that.
BHARARA: Well, the president of the United States will have faith in any investigation that doesn't touch him or doesn't touch his associates or doesn't touch his relatives.
He has faith in people and in conclusions that assist him, and he has no faith in investigations and conclusions that hurt him in some way. So it is not a principle basis on which he decides what is to be favored and what is to be disparaged at all. We have seen that time and time again.
Someone is an ally if they're on his side and someone is a foe if they have chosen to speak up in a way that offends the president in any way, shape or form. So I think we will see what happens, but I think it is important that Rod Rosenstein said what he said.
BLITZER: Yes. He also said, "I try very hard to ignore media speculation about what we're doing and focus instead on what we're actually doing. We sit down every day. We work towards the goal of the department, try to ignore the inevitable attention in the media." The president is clearly not going to be happy with Rod Rosenstein after this interview. So, the bottom line is, what do you anticipate he will do about it?
BHARARA: Tweet, I guess. He will take to the Twitter, like he often does.
It is an odd relation someplace with Rod Rosenstein because it seemed they had sort of made up. They kept postponing, you know, the summit over mineral water that they were supposed to have at the White House. The president ultimately said that he doesn't have a beef with Rod Rosenstein. These things, you know, go day by day.
I have said before on this program and other places, on Monday, he loves you, on Wednesday, he hates you, on Friday, he fires you. It seems we have repeating cycles of that with Rod Rosenstein longer than perhaps with other people.
So, it could be that Rod Rosenstein doesn't see himself lasting long and he wanted to put on the record, you know, what he thinks and say it in strong terms for people who are in the special counsel's office to have faith that their work is protected and respected and the people in the Justice Department as a whole.
You know, 100,000 employees who believe in the rule of law and equal application of law like to hear from their leaders, often don't hear from people like Jeff Sessions, who look like they're just sort of tiptoeing around, trying to maintain their job without overly offending the president while at the same time trying to carry out the president's policies.
Maybe it was that. It is ironic a little bit for him to have said in the interview that you keep your head down and not pay attention to speculation in the media, while he is talking to the media and while he is causing people like yourself and myself to engage in speculation.
BLITZER: You know, it would be highly extraordinary -- you tell me because you know a lot more about this than I do -- if immediately after the midterm elections, in less than three weeks, that the president fires Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.
How likely, how possible would that be?
BHARARA: Look, I thought it was likely he was firing both of them multiple times over the last several months, including two weeks ago.
So it is hard to predict. Predictions, I think, are a problem these days. I would not be surprised if one or both of them go, in particular in the case of Jeff Sessions. I think the president has signalled that over and over again. I think his language about Jeff Sessions has been especially harsh.
I think it also depends on woo the results of the election are. I think most people don't think that the Senate will change hands, but if it does, then that might, you know, stay the president's hand because it is going to be harder, you know, to put someone else in position because you have to be Senate-confirmed.
If on the other hand Republicans gain seats and have a stronger majority, maybe the president thinks that it is easier to remove Jeff Sessions. It is clear, I think, from the statements and from the attitude and the repeated back and forth between the president and Jeff Sessions, although it is more not so back and forth, it is more back, not forth, that the president would prefer to have someone else in that position.
And the question for him is how much fallout can he sustain? And maybe he wants to wait and see what happens in the midterms before making that decision.
BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right. As recently as yesterday in the AP interview, the president was making it clear he is still so angry at Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the overall Russia probe.
All right, we will see what happens. There's going to be dramatic developments for sure.
Preet, thanks, as usual, for joining us.
BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, the breaking news continues next, with more on the new details of Robert Mueller's timeline. How much of the special counsel work will the American people actually get to see?
Plus, the new concern for the president tonight, what does it mean that his former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen is meeting with federal prosecutors?
BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, strongly defending special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation as -- quote -- "appropriate and independent," the investigation the president of the United States calls a witch-hunt.
Let's get more from our correspondents and our analysts.
And, Jeffrey Toobin, let me read a quote from this new interview with "The Wall Street Journal" that Rod Rosenstein gave -- quote -- "People are entitled to be frustrated. I can accept that. I committed I would ensure the investigation was appropriate and independent and reached the right result, whatever it may be. I believe I have been faithful to that."
This is a pretty rare interview, for him to be speaking out like this.
First of all, what do you make of the timing? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think, you know,
both Rod Rosenstein and his boss, Jeff Sessions, they are both hanging by a thread, and I think it means Robert Mueller is hanging by a thread.
You know, if the president does well in the midterms, there is no question that Jeff Sessions is gone; but he may simply decide to clean house, because a Republican Congress is not going to do anything if the president fires Robert Mueller or anyone else.
So this -- we are approaching a very critical election, not just for all of the issues that are familiar but also for the future of the Mueller investigation, because that, in a way, is on the ballot here. And I think Rosenstein recognizes that.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a really sensitive moment right now.
Laura Coates, he also says this, and I'll read another quote from the interview: "The president knows that I am prepared to do this job as long as he wants me to do this job. You serve at the pleasure of the president, and there's never been any ambiguity about that in my mind."
And as Jeffrey says, both Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions, they are hanging by a thread right now.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They are. They're both keenly aware they serve at the pleasure of the president, who is often displeased with both of them and the underlying investigation.
What's most important here is the striking contrast between his statements about trying to infuse faith into the investigation, that the American people should have faith in the result, whatever it may be, not signaling one way or the other as the result, but just saying that, unlike what the president of the United States has been saying all along about it being a witch hunt, about being a total scam, a sham, and the FBI who is part of the probe being people who you cannot trust. You have somebody who is overseeing it and telling the American people, "You can believe in me and not the words of the president." Not exactly consistent enough to give that type of faith that says he's not on that thin line with the president of the United States.
BLITZER: Things could quickly, Sara, very dramatically unfold shortly after the midterm elections in less than three weeks.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right. And I think the key thing to remember about Mueller right now, you know, is he and his team may not be out there releasing indictments or making public statements but they're doing a lot of work behind the scenes.
They're continuing to try to build some cases behind the scenes. They're continuing to talk to Paul Manafort and get his cooperation. They're talking to Michael Cohen.
And so it's certainly possible that we're going to see more indictments once we get through the midterms, and then we're going to turn to what is going to be included in this report, whether the president will be implicated in anything, whether any members of his family will be implicated in anything, whether, you know, there will be any sort of others in his orbit who are implicated in that.
And so we are expecting that that could come out before the end of the year. Whether the American public will ever see it, whether we will ever see it, that's a different question.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, you -- go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Well, I was just going to say remember, under the regulation that Mueller was appointed under, that report goes to his supervisor, goes to Rod Rosenstein at the moment. But if Rosenstein is gone, maybe Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, will be the supervisor.
And that person, whoever it turns out to be, will have to make the decision about what happens to the report. Does Congress see it, does the public see it. And that decision is, of course, enormously important.
BLITZER: How is the president, Kaitlan, going to react -- you cover the White House -- to Rod Rosenstein saying the Mueller investigation -- his words -- appropriate and independent, and the American public should have full faith in the outcome?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it raises even more questions about what was said when the president invited Rod Rosenstein to ride with him on Air Force One to Orlando during that recent trip to visit the police chiefs; because we know that was going to be an awkward conversation anyway, because it came after the reporting that Rosenstein talked about people wearing a wire when they met with him and forcing him out of office.
And after that flight, President Trump was in a good mood, talking about the Russia investigation, saying he believes they are going to be treated fairly.
So it raises the questions of, if Rod Rosenstein felt comfortable enough to go to the "Wall Street Journal" and do this interview, what was said between the president and the deputy attorney general?
But also an interesting thing he says is that he thinks that the American people are going to find that what they've done is warranted by evidence. So that raises the questions of what do they have left that they're going to come forward with that he knows that we don't know, that he believes will safeguard them from a negative public opinion.
BLITZER: Lots of breaking news. We've got to take a quick break. Let's resume our coverage right after this.
[18:37:03] BLITZER: We're back with our experts and our analysts. You know, John Kirby, if the Democrats do win the House of
Representatives, become the majority, have subpoena power, that will have an enormous impact on the investigations of all sorts of activities of the Trump administration, well beyond what Robert Mueller and his team are doing.
ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No question. They've already hinted that they're going to hold lots of hearings; and they're going to launch investigations into a lot of these matters that they feel have been blown over by the Republican- held House. And I think the White House has got to be prepared for that.
The president is announcing that he's going to have a new general counsel. That individual is going to be a very busy guy trying to help navigate the White House through what is absolutely going to be, I think, a blitz.
BLITZER: You know, as recently as yesterday the president, Kaitlan, told the Associated Press that this entire Mueller investigation, in his words, is a tremendous waste of time. His deputy attorney general certainly doesn't believe that. Robert Mueller doesn't believe that. Jeff Sessions, who's recused himself, he certainly doesn't believe that.
COLLINS: Well, that goes back to what we're saying that Rod Rosenstein said in the "Wall Street Journal," that he believes the public will believe there was enough evidence that warranted what has happened. And that is exactly what President Trump is trying to push back against, that public opinion. He's trying to win over that by saying this is a waste of money; this is a waste of time; it is a witch hunt, which he started recently tweeting about that he had not tweeted about since around mid-September, if that gives you any indication of how he feels that that is going to affect the midterm elections.
I think it is greatly going to affect his party and ultimately his agenda, so we're seeing him try to rework that messaging three weeks ahead of the midterms.
BLITZER: How much of Mueller's conclusions and his work do you think the American public, Sara, will eventually see?
MURRAY: I think that's the big question. And I think part of it going to depend on what recommendations Mueller makes and whether there is any disagreement between, you know, what Mueller thinks should happen and what Rod Rosenstein thinks should happen. If there is that kind of disagreement, then that information has to be shared with Congress. And we all know that when things go over to Congress, it's more likely they will ultimately be shared with the American people.
But a lot of this right now lies in the hands of Rod Rosenstein and what he decides he wants to be -- wants made public. Certainly, you would imagine there would be redactions, that there would be things left out, even if they did decide to release some report to the American people.
But, you know, right now I think when you hear Rod Rosenstein say, you know, "I understand why people are frustrated," he's partly talking to America who's saying, you know, "What have you guys been doing behind the scenes for so long? And when are we going to see what you guys have been up to? Are we ever going to see what you guys have been up to?" And we don't have a clear answer on that right now.
TOOBIN: And Wolf, complicating matters further, there is likely to be more than one report. As I understand it, there is a report in the works that will -- is fairly close to being done about the issue of obstruction of justice, about the firing of James Comey and whether there was any attempt to interfere with the FBI investigation. That's one part of the report.
But that's only -- that does not deal with the question of what went on during the campaign, the possible collusion with the Russians. That's a separate issue. And as I understand it, that report is not ready.
[18:40:06] So, you know, the complexities grow as the number of reports grow.
BLITZER: It's certainly an important case. Go ahead, Laura.
LAURA: You're talking about reports. Remember, one way the American people would be able to substantiate with evidence is through indictments.
And of course, when I hear the word "evidence," I think about not a report issued to Congress or maybe withheld from Congress. I think about the type of talking indictments that have already been released through Mueller and his team.
And so when I hear Rod Rosenstein talking and almost (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to the American people, "You'll have confidence because there's evidence to support it," you don't have evidence to prove something that did not exist. You have something to prove something actually happened. And so I think indictments are forthcoming based on his statements alone.
BLITZER: And on top of all of this, the president's long-time fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen, we're told now he's been meeting with federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, from the New York attorney general's office. There could be charges involving the Trump Organization, members of the Trump family, charitable organizations involving the Trumps, you know.
The president told the Associated Press, "Well, he was a very, very low-level guy." He's distanced himself from Cohen. How worried should the president be about this?
KIRBY: I think the fact that he's talking like this shows how worried he is and how concerned he is. We've got the midterms coming. He knows that all of this is playing out there. I think just his reaction alone tells you that this is very much on his mind, as it should be.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think?
TOOBIN: I love the Donald Trump -- "Who is this Michael Cohen of whom you speak? Michael -- who is this person?"
I mean, you know, this was a right-hand man, if not the right-hand man, to candidate Trump and real-estate developer Trump. He's the one who went to Russia to negotiate about a possible Trump Tower in Moscow.
I mean, he is someone who is centrally involved in all of the president's most private business dealings. He's the one who did the Stormy Daniels agreement.
So, you know, if he knows something that improper dealings went on, he's going to be telling it at this point.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys. Stick around. We're going to take another very, very quick break. Lots more right after this.
[18:46:52] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with our correspondents and our analysts.
And, John Kirby, our Jamie Gangel, you heard her exclusive reporting a little while ago from a source familiar with the meeting that the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. It wasn't all smiles, that's what we saw in the photo-op at the beginning. But he was tough with the crown prince saying he's got to deal with the situation quickly. He has to own the situation.
What do you make of that?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: I hope it is an accurate portrayal of what happened when the cameras left, that's what should have happened. I hope they took those words to heart. I also hope the Trump administration means what it says, that they're going to hold them to account.
Look, I understand the difficult position they're in, the Saudis are a key ally and helpful in Syria and against is, but we have leverage and we should hold them to account. I think the relationship will be different as a result of this one way or the other. The question is how different and what does it mean for the alliance going forward?
BLITZER: Sara, the details we are learning now about Khashoggi's apparent murder are gruesome, and I don't want to discuss the details. But if there's a direct link to the crown prince, that has enormous ramifications for the overall U.S./Saudi relationship.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Not only was it a gruesome act, but it was a brazen act for them to do that this at a time when the Saudis are trying to reinvent themselves, when they're sort of going on a publicity tour and saying, you know, look at all these reforms we have made. And, you know, we've seen this relationship they have built not only with President Trump but with Jared Kushner. You point out that the U.S. has leverage in this situation, but you don't get that sense when you hear Donald Trump talk.
MURRAY: You know, he talks almost like we're backed into a corner when it comes to the Saudis and there's nothing we can do. That is not the reality in the situation.
KIRBY: Not at all.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, you have been doing a lot of reporting on Jared Kushner and his role in all of this.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUESE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he does have really close ties with the crown prince, who is known as MBS. He messages him on WhatsApp. He was the one who convinced President Trump to make Riyadh his first destination for his first trip as president. He hosted him at a dinner here in Washington a few months ago. They have a really close relationship, and you are seeing him back off all of that now that there's all this scrutiny and this is becoming a diplomatic crisis. That's because he doesn't want this backlash.
That's why White House officials say he's not been involved with the way the administration is handling this. Behind the scenes he is helping shape this, telling MBS they need to call for an investigation, but we're not seeing him on the front lines with this at all.
BLITZER: Why did he go with the secretary to Riyadh?
COLLINS: Well, because White House officials were scared that there was going to be a lot of backlash given his close relationship with MBS if he did travel with the secretary of state.
KIRBY: And, frankly, he had no place going.
BLITZER: But he is a major liaison to the crown prince.
KIRBY: He is, but --
COLLINS: He is the liaison.
KIRBY: But he shouldn't be in that role really. It is Pompeo's job to do that.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Is there anything that qualifies Jared Kushner to be dealing with these issues? He is an unsuccessful real estate developer who inherited millions of dollars and married the president's daughter. He is unqualified and it is gross nepotism and it is an embarrassment he has any power at all, much less in this critical area of the world.
[18:50:04] COLLINS: Wolf, that's the risk here, is that he's cultivated this close relationship that he thought was going to be pretty beneficial to this role and to this administration, and now, we're seeing they're trying to backtrack off that now that they're in the spotlight and even President Trump is getting really frustrated by the news coverage of this and the idea that he and Jared Kushner have this cozy relationship with such a repressive regime. That's the problem they're facing here.
But as far as Pompeo, we're also seeing a lot of scrutiny on him, someone who has been trusted as this tough guy and now he's the one seen there smiling with him today. He couldn't even answer the very basic of whether or not this reporter is dead or alive, saying that they didn't want to talk about facts, they being the Saudis, and neither did he. Raises a lot of questions since that's the guy coming back to brief President Trump and other White House officials on what's happening.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stay with us. There's much more news right after this.
[18:55:32] BLITZER: The United States is among nine nations requesting the Security Council briefing on what the United Nations now says is a genocide targeting Myanmar's Rohingya population. Hundreds of thousands of the minority Muslims have fled and reports of atrocities by government forces are rampant.
CNN correspondent Matt Rivers went to Myanmar to investigate. He's joining us live for an exclusive report from Beijing.
Matt, what did you find out?
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, basically this trip is all about Myanmar's government trying to change the narrative that's been accepted by the international community that you just laid out. So they invited us in, we listened to what they had to say, we judge it on its merits and we make a conclusion.
Here's our story.
RIVERS (voice-over): These people are Rohingya Muslims. Some of those who fled from what the U.N. calls a genocide. Myanmar's government wants you to believe it never happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are afraid for our life.
RIVERS: To meet these people, it took several days and a rickety boat ride to get to this part of the Rakhine state in remote western Myanmar.
(on camera): So, foreigners aren't allowed in this part of Rakhine. The only way we're here is on a government escort.
(voice-over): We're only taken where authorities want us to go. Our first stop, a village of Inn Din, there used to be more than 600,000 Rohingya living here.
(on camera): The government says their forces did respond to terror attacks by Rohingya extremists in Inn Din in 2017, but that the Rohingya burnt down their own houses.
So, this is what's left of the Rohingya village that was here. It's completely overgrown. It's hard to tell that there were any structures here at any point. The only clues we have to the violence that took place here are trees like this one, still a year later burying the scorch marks of the fires that burnt this village to the ground.
(voice-over): Clear evidence shows it was the Rohingya who were the main victims of slaughter. Ten Rohingya men were hacked and shot to death by Myanmar soldiers, a massacre the military has admitted to, and that two "Reuters" journalists were jailed for investigating. The U.N. says 720,000 Rohingya fled when violence broke out last year.
A full U.N. report documents how the military and local groups engaged in rape, torture, and the murder of at least 10,000 people to get rid of the Rohingya, a group many in broader Myanmar regard as sub-human noncitizens.
YEE HTOO, DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR, MAUNGDAW DISTRICT (through translator): Regarding the army, they did everything within law. We cannot comment on whether it was right or wrong.
RIVERS (on camera): The question is very simple. Do you believe that genocide happened here or not?
HTOO (through translator): I'd say genocide didn't happen.
RIVERS (voice-over): Myanmar's civilian leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi also denies genocide. Her government says it's ready to bring back Rohingya refugees like these, stuck in no man's land, forced out of Myanmar and are not allowed across the border into Bangladesh. They're staying put in part because security forces that would oversee their return are some of the same people accused of carrying out the killing in the first place.
(on camera): The conditions inside that camp are obviously horrific. There's no access to education, no health care, no electricity. Food is scarce.
And yet still, they'd rather be on that side of the fence than this one because they're too afraid to come back. Myanmar might continue to deny ethnic cleansing but the evidence gathered by the U.N. and others is overwhelming. A government-sponsored trip does nothing to change that fact.
(END VIDEOTAPE) RIVERS: And so, Wolf, clearly, Myanmar's sticking to that story but that certainly doesn't mean that we or anyone in the international community has to buy it.
Now, moving forward, in addition to being scared for their lives, the Rohingya also want citizenship rights in Myanmar and they want to go back to their original properties, but Myanmar's government has said, well, that's not going to happen.
So how do we move forward from here? There's no clear path. These hundreds of thousands of people who are in horrific conditions right now are likely to remain that way, Wolf, for a long time.
BLITZER: What an awful, awful situation, a brutal situation and we'll continue to follow this story.
Matt Rivers, thank you so much for reporting on this.
We are grateful to you and to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" with Jake Tapper tonight starts right now.