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CIA Concludes Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s Death; California Wildfire Survivors Face Long Road to Recovery; Trump

November 19, 2018

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<Date: November 17, 2018>

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<Head: CIA Concludes Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s

Death; California Wildfire Survivors Face Long Road to Recovery; Trump

Answers Written Questions from Special Counsel; Judge Orders White

House to Return Jim Acosta’s Press Pass; U.K. Prime Minister May Moves

Quickly to Fill Vacant Cabinet Posts; U.S. Trade War; North Korea

Weapons Test Sends a Message to Washington; Celine Dion Partners on

Gender-Neutral Apparel; “Yellow Vests” Demand President Macron Lower

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[05:00:00]

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GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A brutal murder ordered from the top. That’s the conclusion by the America’s leading intelligence agency that Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My 3-year-old son keeps asking why can’t we just go home and I don’t know what to tell him.

HOWELL (voice-over): The stories are devastating, this in the aftermath of California’s largest wildfire. Many of the stories coming from those working to help the victims.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: President Trump says he’s personally written answer to the questions by Robert Mueller and he insists that he isn’t agitated by the Russia probe.

Live from headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome in our viewers from the U.S. and all around the world. I’m George Howell and CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

HOWELL: At 5:01 on the East Coast, it’s a damning report from American intelligence pointing directly to the Saudi crown prince. Sources say the CIA has high confidence he ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the conclusion based on evidence including a phone call, where the prince’s brother urged Khashoggi to go to the consulate in Istanbul.

That’s the last place he was seen before he disappeared. Khalid bin Salman denies making that call. The Saudi embassy says the CIA’s claims are false but the U.S. officials are confident of the report. A senior diplomatic source told CNN the current sanctions on Saudis may not be enough after this.

In the meantime, symbolic funeral prayers were held at an Istanbul mosque on Friday even though Khashoggi’s body has not been found. Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is following the story in Beirut.

Ben, the reaction from Saudi Arabia is not only a flat denial but even a dare to make the information public.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that’s what we’ve heard, George, from the spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in Washington but really at this point the number of leaks that have piled up in this case is going to make it very difficult for the Saudis to make a convincing argument that crown prince Mohammed bin Salman did not issue the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the 2nd of October.

This latest report is interesting where they’re citing a conversation that Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, had with Jamal Khashoggi in which he told him in order to get the piece of paper he needed to remarry, he should go to the consulate in Istanbul.

And he had that conversation with Khashoggi at the request of his brother, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. What’s interesting is this is a leak that does not involve these anonymous Turkish officials who, for so long, they were doing this drip, drip of information about the murder.

This is coming directly from the United States and doesn’t involve the Turks at all. So it appears that the CIA for its part is becoming involved in this slow effort to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to come clear when it comes to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

We know that, for instance, President Trump is not an enthusiast for taking this process to its logical outcome, which, of course, is that the crown prince did, indeed, order the murder of Jamal Khashoggi -- George.

HOWELL: Is there any indication that this new revelation, this new information, could have some new pressure on the crown prince, given his position to put his position in jeopardy?

WEDEMAN: His position on the world stage is in jeopardy; his reputation certainly tarnished. But the question whether that will, in fact, impact on the reality that he is the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia is yet to be seen.

Traditionally Saudi Arabia’s ruled by consensus. The senior princes in the kingdom would decide on who should run the country. Now it appears that Mohammed bin Salman has neutralized most of his --

[05:05:00]

WEDEMAN: -- rivals. His father, King Salmon is very old, has dementia. It’s hard to see how he will see his power whittled down under the current circumstances but certainly, on the international stage, he is damaged goods -- George.

HOWELL: Ben Wedeman, live for us in Beirut. Ben, thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Let’s talk more about this now with CNN global affairs analyst, Aaron David Miller. Aaron is a V.P. and distinguished scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Good to have you with us this hour.

(CROSSTALK)

HOWELL: -- CIA points the finger directly at the Saudi crown prince.

How significant an impact will this have?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it’s going to bring the administration to a proverbial moment of truth. For the last 40-plus days since Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the administration has been trying to figure out a way to navigate through this, maintaining a relationship that they believe is critically important to America’s Middle East policy, its oil policy, its arms sales policy on one hand and how to avoid having to take dramatic and punitive action against Saudi Arabia on the other, if it were proven that Mohammed bin Salman, AKA MBS, ordered or had direct foreknowledge of this operation.

What the CIA did in putting this out -- and clearly the agency had come to this conclusion some time ago; the administration, I’m sure, was aware of most of this -- has now become public, which means it’s going to be an issue Congress, the media and the international community as well.

So I think the administration it’s reaching a point where it’s going to have to decide how to act. It’s already sanctioned 17 individuals but clearly that didn’t pass “The Washington Post” test in Congress. Frankly, U.S.-Saudi relationship is out of control and the administration is going to have to figure out a way to reset it.

HOWELL: Before this reporting, Turkey had been putting pressure, a great deal of pressure, given that it holds the cards to this investigation.

How does that square with the U.S. president trying to find ways to remove the Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, in order to possibly ease pressure on Saudi Arabia?

MILLER: Well, if that report is true -- and NBC had reported it out -- it may have been a suggestion I doubt, frankly -- it’s one of the dumbest idea I think I’ve ever heard. I’ve worked for half a dozen secretaries of state who came up with some pretty hair-brained schemes but nothing that even remotely resembled trading in order to placate Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one authoritarian, in order to get another authoritarian off the hook.

I mean, it’s a fundamental undermining of both the American values and interests and I doubt, frankly, if the administration would even consider seriously acting on turning Fethullah Gulen over to the Turks in order to somehow dissuade Erdogan, who’s in a bitter rivalry with the Saudis for a variety of reasons.

HOWELL: It is a complicated web here and, look, complex is very important here, Aaron.

Does the president take the CIA assessment seriously, given that he has discounted his own intelligence agencies many times in the past?

Does that give him some wiggle room here to get out of this?

MILLER: Yes. I think you’ve identified a critical issue.

Is the president going take issue with the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community and try to figure out a way to discount this report or downgrade it or trivialize it and somehow find a way to let Mohammed bin Salman off the hook?

That’s the pattern over the last 18 months, the tacky intelligence reports and analysis that didn’t square with his views of the world or what his sensibilities and predilections were.

I think it’s going to be extremely difficult, given the horrific nature of this crime, given the fact that the Saudis have been lying on this from the very beginning. The most recent Saudi report went back to the notion that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi was accidental. It was supposed to be a rendition back to Saudi Arabia and the dismemberment of his body was done on the spot without authority from Riyadh.

I think this strains the bounds of credulity to the breaking point. I think the world knows it, I think Congress knows. The real question is whether the administration is prepared to act.

HOWELL: Aaron David Miller, thank you again for your time.

MILLER: George, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: The president is set to leave the White House in a few hours for the state of California to meet with survivors of these deadly wildfires, also set to be joined by the --

[05:10:00]

HOWELL: -- governor Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom. Over the past week California has been ravaged by two fires, the Camp Fire in the north is the worst in the state’s history and the Woolsey Fire in the south, that fire expected to be contained by Monday.

But the Camp Fire is only 50 percent contained and so far the fire has burned nearly 146,000 acres. That’s 600 square kilometers. And at least 12,000 structures have been destroyed. That includes 9,800 homes. The fire captain for Madura County says 5,600 personnel have been assigned to fight these fires, at least 1,000 names are still on list of people who are missing. CNN’s Scott McLean has more on the search for the missing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For those lucky enough to survive the deadliest wildfire in California’s history, the list of those who may not have made it is gutwrenching.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, oh, geez.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, yes.

MCLEAN (voice-over): The latest list of those possibly missing in just one county is filled with more than 600 names of friends and families and neighbors, this along with photos and pleas online onto local community boards like this one.

MARE REASONS, HOUSEKEEPER: My clients are wonderful people, very giving people.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Mare Reasons (ph) is a caregiver and housekeeper; of her 11 clients in Paradise, California, she’s heard from all but one, an elderly woman with no local family.

REASONS: She didn’t drive anymore. She had a big farm gate across her property. You have to get the key out. The farm gate was big and cumbersome.

MCLEAN (voice-over): The woman’s house now a little more than ash.

MCLEAN: How much hope do you have?

REASONS: Half and half.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Officials warn that the number missing is likely to change as the displays reconnect and the long search for human remains continues.

SHERIFF KORY HONEA, BUTTY COUNTY: This is a dynamic list, right. Some days there might be more people, some days there might be less people.

MCLEAN (voice-over): At the height of the danger, the fire tore through towns at a range of one football field per second, giving little time to escape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh, these poor people.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Many of the missing were last seen fleeing the flames by car. Teams now searching charred neighborhoods and evacuation centers for clues.

MATTHEW GATES, PARADISE POLICE OFFICER: She had burns on her arms and I knew it was her.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Officer Matthew Gates tears up speaking about the mother he found by chance at a recent evacuee dinner.

GATES: I went and gave her a hug because I had been looking for her body.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Nearly 10,000 homes have burned to the ground. In the destroyed town of Paradise, California, more than half of the police force is now homeless.

DAVID AKIN, PARADISE POLICE OFFICER: My 3-year-old son keeps asking why can’t we just go home. And I don’t know what to tell him.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Scott McLean, CNN, Paradise, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Just doesn’t know what to tell him.

The story in California is huge. So many homes destroyed, so many lives lost and so many people missing. And the other part of the story right now, it’s the smoke, smog.

(WEATHER REPORT)

[05:15:00]

HOWELL: If you’re watching the story and want to help the people, you can go to cnn.com/impact for more information and links.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, it is a take-home test with historic implications. The U.S. president says he’s answered written questions from the special counsel Robert Mueller about collusion and that his lawyers didn’t do it, he says he did it. We’ll explain that.

Plus Britain’s embattled prime minister determined to get her Brexit plan through Parliament even as her own political future hangs in the balance. Stay with us.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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HOWELL: Welcome back. You could say it’s a milestone in the Russia probe. The U.S. president says he has answered written questions from Robert Mueller about possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Trump also said he wrote the answer, not his attorneys. Our Kaitlan Collins reports from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 24 hours of Twitter silence about the Russia investigation, President Trump addressing it out loud today from the Oval Office.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There should have never been any Mueller investigation.

COLLINS: Announcing he’s finished the written answers to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller and even penned them himself.

TRUMP: I write the answers. My lawyers don’t write answers. I write answers.

COLLINS: Trump met with his legal team nearly every day this week and despite his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, raising concerns about some of the questions...

TRUMP: No collusion.

COLLINS: -- Trump said he hasn’t submitted them yet, but doesn’t have any problems.

TRUMP: But they’re not very difficult questions.

COLLINS: The president insisting he’s not bothered by the Russia investigation --

[05:20:00]

COLLINS: -- despite writing in all caps the day before that it is a witch hunt like no other in American history and has gone absolutely nuts.

TRUMP: I like to take everything personally, because you do better that way.

COLLINS: Trump suggesting investigators from the special counsel’s office were setting him up to perjure himself.

TRUMP: Gee, was the weather sunny or was it rainy?

He said it may have been a good day. It was rainy. Therefore, he told a lie. He perjured himself.

COLLINS: The back and forth with the special counsel coming as the president is weighing shaking up his own staff. Today, when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, standing over his shoulder, he said he’s not done making changes yet.

TRUMP: I’m extremely happy. I’m very happy with almost all of my cabinet. And, you know, changes are made because they’re always made, especially after midterms.

COLLINS: Sources say Trump has decided to remove Nielsen from her post, but he hasn’t picked a replacement yet and there are questions in Washington about who wants to work in a White House engulfed in chaos.

Now as the president continues to search for more people to bring into his administration while he’s considering getting rid of some, we have learned from sources that the Florida attorney general Pam Bondi is scheduled to meet with Trump while he’s in Florida next week for his Thanksgiving vacation, someone whose name has been floated for not only the attorney general post but also for Kirstjen Nielsen’s job over at the Department of Homeland Security.

While all this is going on, a senior administration official made a stunning remark to Jake Tapper earlier today, saying that there are people in this administration who are arsonists and people in this administration who are firefighters.

And they said -- and I’m quoting this senior administration official now -- “The president is looking to get rid of the firefighters. The more he does, the faster his administration is going to burn down” -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Kaitlan, thank you.

Our colleague, Jim Acosta, will be reporting again from the White House press room. That is the ruling for now from a judge after the Trump administration revoked Acosta’s credentials.

CNN’s chief White House correspondent now gets to keep his press pass at least until a lawsuit filed by CNN is resolved. President Trump says it’s not a big deal. Acosta on the other hand welcomed the big news. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Everybody, thanks for coming. I just want to say something very briefly and that is I want to thank all of my colleagues in the press who supported us this week. And I want to thank the judge for the decision he made today. And let’s go back to work. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Let’s get back to work with Leslie Vinjamuri, the head of the U.S. and Americas Programme at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, live this hour in our London bureau.

Always a pleasure to have you on the show, Leslie. We heard Jim Acosta there. He is back to work, back in the White House. But there is now this new promise of rules to govern how reporters engage with officials when asking their questions. The U.S. president spoke about that in a recent interview. Let’s take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

It’s not a big deal. What they said though, is that we have to create rules and regulations for conduct, et cetera. et cetera. We’re doing that. We’re going to write them up right now. It’s not a big deal. And if he misbehaves, we’ll throw him out or we’ll stop the news conference --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are your rules going to be?

What is it that you’re saying --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- this is over the line and you --

TRUMP: Yes. We’re doing them now. I mean, we’ll have rules of decorum.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: We don’t know exactly what those rules will be but the White House certainly has, you know, the time to write this out. We understand this happened before this with Jim Acosta.

Can the White House arbitrarily create these rules to govern the press and if the rules are deemed unfair, Leslie, can the press then challenge them?

LESLIE VINJAMURI, SOAS, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON: Of course, the press and the wider public and many different individuals and organizations will challenge the rules if they don’t think they’re fair.

But this is a very interesting development. Remember that much of what we’ve seen during this presidency is things we’ve taken for granted in terms of conduct or behavior or what people call norms haven’t been respected and people have never really confronted this.

So now what we’re seeing in this case is a very specific effort to say we will develop clear rules in an instance where people in the past didn’t feel they were needed because the basics of decorum were for the most part respected.

HOWELL: How does this play into the president’s continued war on the media as he describes it because instead of simply not choosing reporters that they don’t want to talk to, instead this White House seems to prefer escalating controversy, these moves, then fighting it out in court.

Do you see this as a move that plays to his base?

What’s the strategy?

VINJAMURI: The strategy is partly reactive. Trump has had clearly, throughout his campaign and especially throughout his time in office, has had a very negative response --

[05:25:00]

VINJAMURI: -- to certain parts of the media and we all know CNN is one of those. But what’s interesting -- and we’ve seen this again throughout his entire presidency -- is a lot of things have been taken to the courts, not only when it comes to the media. You go to the very first travel ban, went right to the courts; civil society, the ACLU has engaged heavily and things worked their way through the courts.

It shows the system at some level is working to ensure the integrity of the office of the presidency, despite real challenges. So this ruling, of course, is on the basis that there must be due process. It’s not a freedom of speech ruling. It said it must work its way through the court. So I think that’s very significant and very promising.

HOWELL: The midterm elections, I want to shift to that. They’ve come and gone. But Republicans losing Orange County. Orange County has always been seen as Reagan country but Democrats now officially losing the governor’s race here in the state of Georgia.

Still in the grand scheme of things, it seems as if this blue wave grew bigger than first expected.

VINJAMURI: Yes. This has been a fascinating election. I think many of us were talking about it almost immediately. And if you look at what we were saying the day after, it’s very different. The blue wave looks much bigger. One of the biggest losses, seventh biggest loss, I think, in the House, the Republicans have ever suffered, and 38 or 39 seats. So quite a significant setback for the Republican Party and this president will feel that.

One very interesting thing is a lot of individuals who voted for President Obama then voted for President Trump. In this election, they’ve turned back and voted Democrat. So that’s a very interesting swing of population to watch.

And as we know a lot of suburban areas have voted Democrat. So there continues to be a very significant divisions but the blue wave is much more considerable than we thought a few days ago.

HOWELL: Leslie Vinjamuri, thank you so much, live in London. We appreciate it.

VINJAMURI: Thank you.

HOWELL: Speaking of the United Kingdom, Britain has a new Brexit secretary. Coming up the prime minister, Theresa May, may act quickly, of course, to shore up support for her unpopular deal with the E.U. We’ll follow that story for you.

Plus, Kim Jong-un overseeing the test of a new weapon, a weapon that’s also a message. Stay with us.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:30:00] (MUSIC PLAYING)

HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You’re watching CNN NEWSROOM.

(HEADLINES)

HOWELL: Now to the United Kingdom, the British prime minister rebuilding her fractured cabinet after a disastrous rollout of her Brexit plan. The terms of that draft agreement triggered a wave of resignations, including Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.

Ms. May brought in a loyalist, Stephen Barclay, to replace him. But Barclay’s role is greatly diminished. Downing Street says going forward the prime minister will handle all negotiations with the E.U.. The top priority for Ms. May is to get Parliament to back the Brexit plan, a prospect that appears stacked against her.

Let’s go live to London to discuss. Nina dos Santos following the story.

Nina, the prime minister pushing on, despite these resignations.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: Good morning to you, George. Yes, she’s managed to stave off her second round of resignations. Five key pro-Brexit members of her cabinet have decided to stay on because they believe they may be able to change the wording of one of the most contentious issues, the so-called Irish backstop, the insurance policy to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Whether or not that’s likely to be feasible, given the fact that, as you just pointed out, her now third Brexit secretary will have an even more diminished one than the previous one so that the government, particularly Theresa May will be taking on the mantle of these negotiations.

That’s one reason perhaps why many in the Conservative Party, particularly pro-Brexit members, have written to special backbench committees to say they have no confidence in the prime minister and would like to see a leadership challenge.

They think perhaps this is, to use a Margaret Thatcher adage, a situation where the lady is not returning and she will not necessarily listen to them. That raises the specter of a leadership challenge mounting; so far we have not heard from Number 10 Downing Street but they have been notified that enough members of the Conservative Party have written to try and mount a no-confidence vote.

They need 15 percent of Tory MPs. That doesn’t seems to have happened yet. But it could be they gain momentum over the weekend and maybe Monday or Tuesday that might happen.

HOWELL: With regard to that no confidence vote, getting to 50 percent in the past, we’ve seen the numbers grow over time.

Is there a sense the number could continue to grow, given the uncertainties and the questions around this Brexit plan?

DOS SANTOS: It could but in light of that --

[05:35:00]

DOS SANTOS: -- the prime minister has now pivoted away from trying to get their cabinet on board and MPs on board. Yesterday she sent out her whips to try to get them to toe the party line, to make sure some of these unruly MPs didn’t send in those letters expressing no confidence in the prime minister.

They met a number of times at Number 10 Downing Street. Now she’s taking the message to the people and the members of the Conservative Party, having conversations with the chairmen of local constituencies and so on.

Remember any future leadership contest is not just the Conservative members of Parliament who will have a big say in who becomes the next prime minister; it will also go to the members of the broader party as well. It’s not said and done that those two parts of the equation would like to see the same person.

The real issue is the members of the party don’t necessarily have an obvious leader here. We did see Boris Johnson emerge a few months ago as a potential leader. He’s been conspicuously absent in this debate. So the prime minister is going to try to mount a big pushback over the course of the weekend with a big social media blitz campaign to try to get the people on her own side, even if she can’t necessarily get her own MPs on her side.

She’s holding the cabinet together. But when it comes to the vote, that’s going to be a whole different ballgame. Might be an even tougher battle for her.

HOWELL: A social media blitz still ahead. We’ve seen her make the media rounds, trying to gain support. Nina, thanks for reporting. We’ll keep in touch with you.

Let’s put all of this into context now with Matthew Doyle. He was a political director for prime minister Tony Blair, joining us from our London bureau.

Pleasure to have you on the show today.

MATTHEW DOYLE, POLITICAL DIRECTOR FOR TONY BLAIR: Thank you for having me.

HOWELL: Matthew, we understand this is the final plan, the final offer from the E.U., described as resoundingly unpopular, no matter how you slice it.

Do you see Theresa May gaining traction here in her efforts?

DOYLE: I don’t see how at the moment this plan can get through the House of Commons. She doesn’t have the numbers within members of Parliament. But she really has no choice other than to pursue this aggressive, resilient strategy.

The problem is at some point her resilience slips into denial of the reality. But there’s also a challenge for her opponents here. There’s zero evidence that I can see that a different leader of the Conservative Party would be able to negotiate a better deal than this one.

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