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CNN Sources: Saudis Preparing to Change Story & Admit Journalist Was Killed; Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired October 15, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:12] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We begin with breaking news in the disappearance and suspected killing of the American-based Saudi journalist who was last seen walking to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul nearly two weeks ago and never seen alive again. Turkish sources, as you know, have said they believe that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered on the premises, dismembered and taken out in pieces.

Tonight, new reporting, two sources telling CNN that the Saudis are preparing not to admit that but to say instead that he died during a botched interrogation. We should mention that as of air time, the Saudi government has yet to officially say anything or admit to any responsibility at all for his disappearance.

Keep in mind, the latest denial is the focus tonight, namely President Trump's willingness to believe that denial, and in a broader sense, his eagerness to believe the denials in many alleged bad actors as long as they happen to be political allies or individuals who he's formed some kind of personal relationship with and with the Saudi monarch and his son, the crown prince, it appears to be both.

Here's what the president said earlier today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of what took place with regard to, as he said, his Saudi Arabian citizen. I've asked and he firmly denied that.

REPORTER: Did you believe his denial?

TRUMP: Excuse me, Mike Pompeo is leaving literally within an hour or so. He's heading to Saudi Arabia. We are going to leave nothing uncovered.

With that being said, the king firmly denied any knowledge of it. He didn't really know, maybe -- I don't want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows? We're going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, that was before we began getting word that the Saudis were preparing to admit to everything but ordering the hit, ordering Jamal Khashoggi detained, interrogated and taken back to the kingdom. But presumably, the president of the United States knows far more about this than we or anyone else does. So, why then is he floating the idea of rogue killers? Why did he seem eager to embrace the Saudi leader's denial?

Keeping them honest, it is kind of what he does, whether it's a country that attacked our election, a candidate accused of sexual misconduct, or a campaign chairman accused and now convicted of massive tax and bank fraud.


TRUMP: I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it. And by the way, he totally denies it.

Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it.


COOPER: Well, the president, as you know, also discounts Kim Jong- un's wrongdoing, however he's quick to say how well he gets along with Kim. That language earlier today about rogue killers, it sounds a lot like the way he once tried to discount the intelligence's community's conclusion that Russia hacked the 2016 election by pointing to some hypothetical other culprit.


TRUMP: It could be Russia, but it could also be China, could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?


COOPER: We should point out that we don't know exactly what happened. There's now a lot of speculation, obviously. A lot of rumors swirling around the story, but the president's rogue killer theory notwithstanding, Turkish authorities say they believe they know what happened. They say 15 Saudi men who arrived in Istanbul on October 2nd were connected to Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance and possible murder. At least some they say appear to have high level connections in the Saudi government.

And tonight, if our sources are accurate, the Saudi government could be on the verge of changing its story in a very big way.

A lot to watch for tonight and just a short time ago, the president was asked about the latest reporting.

Our Jim Acosta is at the White House for us.

So, what did the president say?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He was down in Florida and Georgia, Anderson, taking a look at the storm damage after Hurricane Michael. He was asked about this latest report from CNN and from others that this was the result potentially of a botched interrogation, that Jamal Khashoggi died as a result of an interrogation that went wrong. The president, as you noted earlier today, was saying that perhaps rogue killers were to blame for all of this.

He was much more careful in the way he responded to this question about the latest reports on all of this and here's what he had to say earlier tonight.


TRUMP: I'm going to have to see what they say and we're working very closely with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey and they're working together to figure out what happened. And they want to know what happened also. So, a lot of people are working on it, a lot of people. And we'll be bound very much by that. We'll see.

I've heard that report, but nobody knows if it's an official report.

[20:05:02] So far, it's the rumor, the rumor of report coming in.


ACOSTA: And, Anderson, the president was really talking up these denials from the Saudi king, King Salman. But, Anderson, I can tell you that, you know, just going through my personal inbox, the Saudi government has repeatedly put out statements denying any involvement in the death of Jamal Khashoggi and in one of those e-mails, it talks about false media narratives, false media allegations. That's about as close I guess as the Saudi kingdom comes to using the term fake news.

COOPER: What does it mean for the U.S./Saudi relationship that obviously is important to the president?

ACOSTA: Well, I think this is huge, Anderson, because the president has put so much time and I guess his own resources in investing in this relationship forming these close ties with the Saudi government, his own son-in-law, Jared Kushner as you know, has been very close to the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

But, Anderson, the question that the White House is going to have to face moving forward this week is whether or not the president was lied to by the king of Saudi Arabia, or whether or not the king was in the dark. I will tell you, Anderson, that the president has been over the last few days sort of diminishing the importance of Jamal Khashoggi's death saying again -- once again today that he was not a U.S. citizen, that he was a Saudi citizen, essentially implying that there's not a whole lot he can do. And talking to my sources this evening, Anderson, in both the diplomatic community and up here in Washington, folks who are close to the White House, there is not a big expectation that the White House or the president is going to do much if anything about this once these final answers come in -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta -- Jim, thanks very much.

CNN's Arwa Damon has been out ahead of this just about every night from Istanbul. She joins us now from there.

So, this expected explanation from the Saudis, what's the latest on when it may be coming out or anything else you know about it?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're not entirely sure. One of the two sources at CNN had spoken to had actually eluded to the fact that it might change because it was still the a work in progress. Another source said that on top of the sort of overarching narrative that this was a botched interrogation that was meant to lead to basically the abduction of Jamal Khashoggi, that appears to have led to his death. That on top of that, this report would also be highlighting that this was not something that was expected, that it was not something that was sanctioned and that those who were responsible would be held accountable.

There have been all sorts of delays, Anderson, when it comes to allowing Turkish authorities access to the Saudi consulate, and this was after the Saudis last week had originally said yes to the Turks, that they would be able to enter the premises of the consulate and the consul general's home. They asked that it be postponed. We saw the working group being formed over the weekend.

And then, finally, tonight, about 7, 7 1/2 hours ago, we saw the Turkish team going inside the Saudi consulate. Forensics team in there as well, of course, as one would expect. We're not entirely sure what their investigation, what sort of information the Turks are going to be releasing or exactly how this is all going to play out in terms of specifics over the next coming hours and days.

But it certainly does seem that after days of denying having anything to do with Khashoggi's disappearance, in fact insistence on the part of the Saudis that Jamal Khashoggi left the consulate the same day he arrived, we are going to see the beginnings of a new narrative being put forward.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, if they come out with a new narrative, it is completely at odds with what they've been saying all along, which is, oh, no, no, no, he left the consulate and we know nothing about what happened to him after that.

DAMON: It is, and that in and of itself is quite likely going to raise a lot of questions because if they're going to come out and say this now, why did they not elude to it earlier? Why were they so adamant in their denials and as you were discussing earlier, going so far as to call the media reports about Khashoggi's death inside the walls of the consulate effectively false news and part of this broad campaign to tarnish or attempt to tarnish the image of the Saudi nation.

But Saudi Arabia has been under a phenomenal amount of pressure, as has Turkey to a certain degree, to try to uncover exactly what it is that took place because at the end of the day, even though at the core of this is the potential probable tragic death of Jamal Khashoggi, this has taken on a lot more significant geopolitical implications. And we're seeing all sorts of dynamics come into play when it comes to various nations relationship with Saudi Arabia, whether there are military ties, whether there are economic ties, whether they're part of the broader regional tensions that do exist at this stage.

But this most certainly is an incident, is a death that has really taken on a far greater dimension than perhaps anyone could have anticipated, Anderson.

[20:10:06] COOPER: Yes. Arwa Damon, thanks very much.

I want to get perspective now from someone who has watched up close as presidents of both parties have had to grapple with difficult alliances and some of the unsavory questions they raised.

Michael Hayden is a former CIA and NSA director. He's currently a CNN national security analyst.

General Hayden, thanks for being with us. Do you think this apparent explanation for Khashoggi's death is a believable one? And if the Saudis do end up going with this idea that this was a botched interrogation, do you think it gives enough cover to both the U.S. and to the Saudis to move past it?

MICHAEL HAYDEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, Anderson, I would characterize it as a plausible story. In fact, I was on air last week suggesting that that may have been what happened, an interrogation rendition gone wrong. But, you know, you don't get the benefit of the doubt when you take two weeks to develop your cover story.

And so, I think we have a right to be very suspicious about this. Let me end where I began. It's plausible. I'd like to see a lot more evidence.

Now, with regard to can you get beyond it? I actually think it is the purpose of both the kingdom and the Trump administration could get beyond this as quickly as possible with as little impact as possible on American/Saudi relations, and I think that's why the president has been sounding like he has for the past three or four days.

Frankly, Anderson, I actually think that's a mistake from the point of view of the interests of the United States. This was not an isolated incident in Mohamed bin Salman's body of work. We've seen an awful lot of other activity, whether it's savage attacks diplomatically on Canada, kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister and so on.

This is not out of the pattern. And so, to let it pass without having some severe repercussions, I think may actually just lead to deeper problems in the future. COOPER: The proposed claim may also include the operation was carried

out without clearance and without transparency. I'm not exactly sure what they mean by that. The idea that a group of interrogators/whatever they are, hit men, whatever, could enter into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul without the highest level of authority seems odd to me.

How likely do you think it is that something like this, an interrogation of this sort if that's, in fact, what it was, not an outright hit or attempted rendition, would have been done without the highest level of authority?

HAYDEN: So when I said the story was plausible, I meant what happened in the consulate in Istanbul, that this may have been an interrogation that just got out of hand. The part of the story that this was a rogue operation beyond the view of Saudi authorities is not believable.

Now did King Salman know about this? Frankly, I think probably not. And so, when the president is talking to his majesty and gets the word from the king that I knew nothing about this, that's probably true.

It's far more difficult for me to believe that a controlling personality like Mohammed bin Salman would not know that something like this was going on or, conversely, Anderson, that someone would attempt to do this without the cover of the crown prince.

COOPER: Also, I mean, given that the crown prince had also, you know, I'm not sure even what the proper verbiage is, but, you know, locked people up in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Saudi Arabia --


COOPER: -- and got money back from them through whatever means, you know, we were unaware of what the means were, maybe some of those were ill-gotten gains, but there is a track record here.

HAYDEN: Yes. No, exactly. And so -- but, look. I mean, if I'm still back in government and I'm trying to brief President Trump, and I think this needs a more forcible response on the part of the United States, let me tell you the tact I would take, Anderson.

I would simply approach the president and say, Mr. President, this 33- year-old crown prince had so little respect for you that he thought he could actually conduct a rendition of a legal resident of the United States working for "The Washington Post" and you would not respond. That's how I would frame this for the president. I don't think that's a lesson he wants to teach other people in the world.

COOPER: It is -- I mean, you know, when you step back from it, as you said, I mean, he's a resident of the United States working for "The Washington Post". You know, there are plenty of foreign nationals working for -- in U.S. news media, and the idea that they can walk into an embassy and be taken or chopped up or whatever it -- you know, interrogated is frightening.

[20:15:15] And the idea that nothing would be done about it is -- I mean, that's -- I mean, I know it's real politic, but it's alarming.

HAYDEN: And again, it's not just a question of values, which it is, and it's very important, Anderson. It's a question of interest. Again, we're teaching the wrong lessons.

COOPER: General Michael Hayden, appreciate you being with us. Thanks so much.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next, more on the Trump doctrine with respect to the Saudis and other countries. Why it seems the president may shrug off their questionable behavior instead of getting tough on that. I'll talk it over with Senator Bernie Sanders, ahead.

Also tonight, President Trump mocks her as Pocahontas. Now, possible 2020 challenger, Senator Elizabeth Warren, claims she has DNA proof of some small Native American ancestry. The president fires back with, who cares? Details ahead.


[20:20:19] COOPER: Again, breaking news. Two sources now telling CNN the Saudi government is prepared to admit that missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was, indeed, killed during an interrogation gone wrong after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul almost two weeks ago, he never came back out.

Now, the question tonight, what will President Trump do about this? On the world stage, he seems to avoid a tough stance with certain countries. Take a look at this key moments from this weekend's "60 Minutes" interview, starting with the president talking about why he won't cancel the Saudi's weapon deal, because it would cost jobs.


LESLEY STAHL, "60 MINUTES"/CBS NEWS: Would you consider imposing sanctions as a bipartisan group of senators have proposed?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it depends what the sanction is. I'll give you an example. They are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia, wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it. We got it.

STAHL: Do you agree that Vladimir Putin is involved in assassinations and poisonings?

TRUMP: Probably, he is. Yes, probably. I mean, I don't know --

STAHL: Probably?

TRUMP: Probably, but I rely on them. It's not in our country.

STAHL: What about North Korea talking about --

TRUMP: Well, I consider it a so far great achievement. STAHL: You say so far.

TRUMP: It's always so far until everything is done. Deals are deals, OK? Whether it's a real estate deal or a retail deal, it doesn't matter.


COOPER: Well, earlier tonight, I talked with Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders to get his stake on the Saudi situation, as well as the Trump doctrine overseas.


COOPER: Senator Sanders, this new reporting that the Saudis are planning to acknowledge Khashoggi's death as a result of interrogation that went wrong, I mean, if that ends up being the narrative that they put forward, do you buy that?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Interrogation that went wrong. Well, it tells me, Anderson, that if the Saudi embassy invites you for a little discussion, you may not want to go there. I don't know what that means.

It sounds to me like they killed this guy. He was a dissident and a critic of the regime.

COOPER: You know, on "60 Minutes" last night, the president vowed severe punishment if Saudi Arabia is behind Khashoggi's disappearance. Do you think he would actually follow up with that? I mean, if the Saudi government did, in fact, direct this?

SANDERS: No, I don't think so. I mean, that's what he said yesterday. God knows what he will say tomorrow.

The president and Jared Kushner are very tight with the Saudi regime and I have little doubt that the United States, at least the Trump administration, would do everything it can to protect the Saudis. In my view, we have got to rethink our arms deals, the sale of huge amounts of weapons to Saudi Arabia. I think if, in fact, it turns out what I believe to be true is that Khashoggi was killed by the Saudis, it requires some sanctions and it requires a fundamental rethinking of U.S./Saudi relations.

COOPER: The president has up until now given the Saudis obviously the benefit of the doubt, saying they vehemently denied any involvement, that rogue killers could have been the ones behind this. It's interesting, because he does seem to have a public history at least of believing denials whether it's Roy Moore said, you know, he didn't do anything. People say they didn't do anything. That seems to be kind of his go-to response often.

SANDERS: It's convenient denials. Putin said -- you recall when he was in Helsinki, when Trump was in Helsinki with Putin said, and Putin said, we had nothing to do, no involvement in trying to sabotage U.S. elections. Well, every intelligence agency in the United States government said

otherwise and then Trump after his discussion with Putin says, Mr. Putin told me they had no involvement. And I believe him. Well, you know, he is now a great, you know, friend of Kim Jong-un in North Korea, one of the worst autocrats and dictators in the world. He loves the guy, you know, Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.

I think this speaks, Anderson, to the fact that we have a president who has very strong authoritarian tendencies, who likes strong men all over the world. And we are seeing those authoritarian tendencies right here in the United States, where he attacks the media as an enemy of the people. First Amendment rights, that's what media is about, hacks and independent judiciary, is working for voter suppression. So, I think of the many concerns that I have about Trump, and his tax breaks for billionaires and he's trying to throw people off health insurance, this movement toward an authoritarian type society and support of authoritarians all over the world should be of concern to every American who believes in democracy.

COOPER: If there is a Trump doctrine, I mean, you saw him in the "60 Minutes" interview, it seems like he is willing to look or overlook moral outrages, whether it's the Russian meddling in the election, or Putin's alleged assassination involved in assassinations, and poisonings, Kim Jong-un's human rights abuses, it doesn't seem like that this president or this administration has a vision of America as, you know, they were critical of Obama for not believing in American exceptionalism. It doesn't seem like they have a vision of America as being somehow different than the rest of the world.

SANDERS: Worse than many of the leading countries in the world. It saddens me very much to see all over the world, they do a poll, they do international polls and they ask people all over the world, what do you think of the United States of America? We used to be very, very high up. People said, we love the United States. We respect the United States. We want to come to the United States.

And now, that international feeling, that approval has plummeted under Trump because people see a regime, an administration right here in the United States that is not standing up what has historically been what the United States is supposed to be about, that is support for democracy, support for human rights, support for the oppressed all over the world.

COOPER: Senator Sanders, appreciate your time. Thank you, Anderson.

SANDERS: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: Well, up next tonight, 23 and she. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the DNA test that she says puts the controversy over her claim of Native American ancestry to rest. What the Cherokee Nation thinks of that. And also, why President Trump now says who cares even though he has cared enough in the past about it to mock her repeatedly forward.

We're keeping them honest, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:30:58] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well not too long ago, President Trump had a warning. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. And just remember, what you're seeing and what you are reading is not what's happening.


COOPER: Well, today, he's asking us not to care about an insult that he repeatedly hurled at a sitting U.S. senator and he's asking us not to believe what we saw him say on tape in front of a crowd of thousands of people.

Also late today, he tried blaming the target saying she, not he, owes the country an apology, but we'll have more on that in a moment.

Keeping them honest, it's textbook gaslight. We've talked about this before asking people to not believe what they see and hear challenging reality. It all centers on Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren releasing results of a DNA test showing she has very distant Native American ancestry. The expert, she cited, says it was between 6 and 10 generations ago.

Warren, herself, said she was raised believing that ancestor was a member of the Cherokee Nation, though, she herself makes no claim of actual tribal citizenship. The Cherokee Nation put out a statement today saying that using a DNA test to make any connection is, and I'm quoting here, "inappropriate and wrong."

Now, all that said, when told of the test results today, here's what President Trump said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your reaction to Senator Elizabeth Warren releasing the results of her DNA test?

TRUMP: No, I have no -- who cares?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you said --

TRUMP: Who cares?


COOPER: Who cares? I mean, who on earth would ever make a big deal about Elizabeth Warren's heritage, let alone say it out loud? And even if they did say it out loud, who would ever say it on camera? And if they did say it on camera, I mean, who would ever, you know, say it again and again during the campaign and, well, actually well into office. Who, indeed, would say that?


TRUMP: Pocahontas, that's this Elizabeth Warren.

Massachusetts is represented by Pocahontas, right?

I call her Pocahontas, so that's an insult to Pocahontas.

I was being hit by Pocahontas.





What an insult to Pocahontas.

I've got more Indian blood in me than Pocahontas and I have none.


COOPER: Well, to answer President Trump's question, he cares, clearly. He made this an issue even if you can call hurling racially loaded insults making something an issue. And now, he kind of wants to ignore all the evidence of it, including presumably what he said in front of some of the most courageous people who ever lived, Navajo Code Talkers from the Second World War.


TRUMP: We have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.


COOPER: So today, Senator Warren called this bluff and the President first said, who cares, asking us to ignore all the times that he, himself, cared asking us to ignore that he is the one who called her names over and over. He also turned the gaslight up to about 11 with his answer of this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you said --

TRUMP: Who cares?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- you'd pay $1 million to a charity --

TRUMP: I didn't say that. You better read it again.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: So he said he didn't say it. Now keeping them honest, that must mean that on July 5th of this year he never said this.


TRUMP: I'm going to get one of those little kits and in the middle of the debate when she proclaims that she's of Indian heritage, we will say, "I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity paid for by Trump if you take the test and it shows you're an Indian."


COOPER: So he says he didn't say it. He did. And later today inspecting hurricane damage in Georgia, he was no long denying that he'd said what the video clearly shows him saying. Instead, he kind of wiggled out of it on a technicality or try to saying his million dollar promise only counted if Senator Warren actually wins the nomination. He also added this, make of it what you will without DNA testing and apologies.


TRUMP: I'll only do it if I can test her personally, OK? That will not be something I enjoy doing either.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you owe her an apology? What about the money that you --

TRUMP: No, I wasn't, absolutely. Do I owe her? She owes the country an apology.


[20:35:04] COOPER: So what you're seeing, what you're hearing is not what's happening, except in this case it is.

Joining us now is the USA Today Columnist and CNN Political Analyst, Kirsten Powers, also a former Trump Campaign Aide, Michael Caputo. Great to have you both on.

Michael, is it fair for the President to say who cares when he was the one who has brought this into the forefront?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Well, I think he was just dismissing it out of hand. Clearly this is something that he's used as a punch line for two years now, ever since she first attacked him when he was running for president and she was acting as an anti-Trump surrogate.

You know, he also, you know, mentioned that he is in a debate. He would offer her a million dollars to prove that she was of Native American descent and, you know, she -- you know, in this test today that she revealed, it looks like she's got less Indian -- Native American blood than probably even the president does, which is pretty hilarious, actually.

COOPER: Kirsten, is this much to do about nothing as the President -- or I mean, how do you see what the President is saying about this?

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Well, I think this is one of those things that's actually a more difficult situation than it appears on the surface. Donald Trump was, you know, making fun of her using this racial slur, talking about -- actually, Pocahontas was, you know, a teenage girl who was kidnapped and held hostage by white settlers, so it's not actually a really funny story. And so that's obviously really bad.

But the way this originally came up is it came up during her Senate campaign and it was actually unearthed by reporters. And she did mishandle it and she's really gotten a lot of criticism since then and including today from Native American leaders and from indigenous people who are saying that she's misappropriating their heritage and that she -- this DNA test actually doesn't prove that she's part Cherokee because that's actually a tribe, it's not something that a DNA test is going to prove.

So I think it would have been better if she would have just originally said, "You know what, family lore, this is what I thought. I made a mistake." You know, as Michael said, actually I don't think she probably has much more, you know, of this, you know, in her DNA than most Americans.

So just, you know, we all hear stories in our families and you say, "I heard it wrong" and said -- she said something about her grandfather, great-grandfather having high cheek bones, which is a race stereotype. And so I think she actually has legitimately handled this badly.

Donald Trump, that's not his motivation. It's not about he cares about her misappropriating culture, he's just acting badly and making racist attacks.

COOPER: Michael, does it make sense to you that Elizabeth Warren would go back to this now and sort of make this, you know, produced video and have this reveal so close to the midterms? I mean, just from a political standpoint, does it make sense?

CAPUTO: Well, I think I would look at two people that made statements today. Ian Bremmer, the political scientist said clearly she's running for president and also, boy, did she make a mistake doing this because this just going to get worse for here -- her from here. And also, Jim Messina, the Obama campaign manager said, "Oh, my gosh, why are you bringing this up 22 days away from the midterm elections? You know, this is completely off message and now we're going to be talking about this for days."

So I do hope she continues to talk about it as a Republican so we can continue to keep the Democratic Party off message as the Republicans try to keep the House of Representatives.

COOPER: Kirsten, do you -- I mean, do you agree with those assessments that it sort of an odd time to bring it up? Obviously, she feels for her political future that she needs to address it. Is this the right time and the right way? POWERS: No, it's a very strange time to bring it up and I'm actually not sure that she did needs to address it. I don't know that many Democratic voters or independent voters who weren't going to vote for her over this.

And like I said, if you're going to address it, there's another way to address it, just say you made a mistake. Don't do a DNA test and tell everybody that you have, you know, this heritage that you don't have.

So, I mean, it's just kind of bizarre to me. It's like the DNA test actually didn't prove the point that she says that it's proving. So -- and, again, it can't prove it because the DNA test can't make you a member of the Cherokee tribe. It's actually not possible.

So I think that, you know, if I were her, I would have just admitted that I made a mistake in the first place. But, that's not something that politicians typically do. And so she's gotten herself kind of backed into this corner and I think a lot of people are saying, "Oh, this was so smart of her to do."

I just think she's just drawn attention to something that, you know, has been, you know, a Donald Trump attack line and I don't think you have to like walk into that trap.

COOPER: Kirsten Powers, Michael Caputo, good to have you on. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

There's more breaking news tonight. A victory tonight for President Trump in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by adult film actress Stormy Daniels. A federal judge dismissed the suit filed on her by behalf Michael Avenatti.

[20:40:01] Now, this after President Trump tweeted that he composite sketch of a man who Daniels claimed had threatened her years ago to stay quiet about her alleged relationship was in the President's words, a total con job, that's what the President said about it. The judge said the tweet was "rhetorical hyperbole and not defamatory." And that's what the suit was about.

Now in addition, the judge ruled the President is entitled to attorney's fees. Avenatti said he's going to appeal in Daniels other claims against President Trump and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, are proceeding. That's a different case.

President Trump took a couple of oblique swings at Defense Secretary James Mattis during his "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday. Just ahead, we're going to tell you what General Mattis had to say and what it might mean in terms of politics and policy.


COOPER: In that "60 Minutes" interview, Lesley Stahl asked President Trump whether his Defense Secretary James Mattis would be leaving shortly. The President said he wasn't too sure but didn't stop there. Listen.


LESLEY STAHL, "60 MINUTES" HOST: What about General Mattis, is he going to leave?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know. He hasn't told me that.

STAHL: Do you want him to leave?

TRUMP: I have a good relationship with him. It could be that he is. I think he's sort of a Democrat if you want to know the truth, but General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point everybody leaves. Everybody -- people leave. That's Washington.

STAHL: Is it true that General Mattis said to you the reason for NATO and the reason for all of these alliances is to prevent World War III?

[20:45:07] TRUMP: No, it's not true. Frankly, I like General Mattis. I think I know more about it than he does. And I know more about it from the standpoint of fairness, that I can tell you.


COOPER: Well on his way to Vietnam tonight, Secretary Mattis said he's never talked to the President about leaving. The Secretary telling reporters, "I'm on his team." In addition, Mattis says he's never registered to a political party.

Joining us to discuss the political and policy implications is Leon Panetta who served both as CIA Director and Secretary of Defense at the Obama administration, and CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

Secretary Panetta, this notion that the President knows more about NATO than Secretary Mattis, I'm wondering what you make of that? Is that something people should be concern about the idea that the President thinks that?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Well, as we've found out about this President, he knows more about everything more than anybody else, so it doesn't surprise me that he would say he knows more about NATO than Jim Mattis. It's just -- it's just one of those exaggerated statements that I think the public has adjusted to from this president.

COOPER: Gloria, why do you think the President calls Secretary Mattis sort of a Democrat or said he was sort of a Democrat in the "60 Minutes" interview?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He went from mad dog to reports now that he calls him Democratic dog and it's really not surprising, Anderson. They disagree on so much. When you think about the South Korea war games, they disagreed on the President stopping those, the band on transgender in the military, the space for NATO, the Paris climate deal, and I could go on and on. I think there have been a lot of disagreements. I think Mattis is very good at kind of keeping it close and not going out there and talking about it, but now that the President has, it seems to me he's doing to Mattis what he's been doing to Jeff Sessions.

COOPER: Secretary Panetta, what is the impact where there is something role stage or within the arm forces when the President is essentially undermining his, you know, Secretary Mattis and even suggesting he might be leaving.

PANETTA: Well, there's no question that it undermines the Defense Department and, frankly, it undermines our national security because Jim Mattis I think is without question probably one of the more respected members of the cabinet because he's knowledgeable.

He knows military issues. He knows national security. He knows what it means to go to war and when to go to war. He's also been a restraining force with regards to this president.

So the fact that Trump would now take on criticizing General Mattis sends a message that somebody who really is strong and has the knowledge that is necessary for Secretary of Defense is somebody who the President doesn't necessarily go along with. And that's just sends a horrible message to our national security establishment.

COOPER: You know, Gloria, we now have the situation it seems like where pretty much all the cabinet secretaries who have meetings overseas with other world leaders or are in negotiations, I'm just wondering why anybody would believe that they speak for the President when it seems like the President is very willing to publicly undermine basically everybody around him.

BORGER: Everybody.

COOPER: I mean, I would think that it essential let in some of those meetings that somebody meeting with Secretary Mattis overseas in Pakistan knows that what Mattis is saying is actually what U.S. policy is?

BORGER: Right. And how do you think Mattis feels about that? I mean, if he can't go and have these meetings with any confidence that he's going to be backed up by the President or his national security adviser, John Bolton. I mean, I think that's his real problem right now is that when Tillerson was there, Mattis and Tillerson were kind of together and felt like they could speak for the President at one point.

And I think now he's clashing with the President's top advisors and he can't speak for the President. And now the President has publicly, publicly said this. And so the question for Mattis that I'm sure they're asking abroad just as people were asking in this country about Sessions is, how long can he last?

How long can he stick it out? Will he stick it out, let's say, for January. Or will he decide that he can have any impact anymore and he's got to leave? Does the President have somebody else that he wants to ask? Maybe Lindsey Graham who says he doesn't want the job.

So, you know, if you're abroad and you're talking to General Mattis, I think you have to be thinking exactly that. For whom does he speak?

[20:50:06] COOPER: It is interesting, Secretary Panetta, because the President, when he was running he, you know, kind of trumpeted, no pun intended his love of generals, his trust in generals, letting generals make decisions, listening to the generals. All of that just doesn't seem to be the reality. I mean, McMaster is gone. The doubts about Mattis now, I mean he's been very critical of many of his generals.

PANETTA: You know, one thing that seems to be clear about this President is that he has a problem with people that are perhaps more knowledgeable and more admired than he is. And so we've seen a list of those people leaving the administration whether it's Gary Cohn, whether it's Nikki Haley, whether it's H.R. McMaster or whether it may be Jim Mattis.

The reality is this President has a hard time accepting advice from people that are more knowledgeable and that understand these issues and are respected in the outside world. I think detracts from him and for that reason it creates this kind of tension that always results when there is somebody who is very good in the cabinet who happens to be doing his or her job. The President just doesn't like it.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, Secretary Panetta, thank you both. Appreciate it.


PANETTA: Thank you.

COOPER: I want to take with Chris, you know, what he is working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the air. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: How you doing there, Anderson?

COOPER: I'm all right. How you doing?

CUOMO: Better than I deserve. There are some very weighty questions that were taken on tonight. What is behind the shift in the Saudi story if according to CNN sources they do make those shifts?

We have Senator Ben Sasse, Republican from Nebraska here. Is the Senate really willing to move if the President doesn't? It's a weighty question. We're doing that and we have the next step in our investigation of the reality of the crisis on the border. Those kids are in more trouble than even I knew.

COOPER: All right. That's about eight minutes from now. Chris, I look forward to that. Thanks very much. I'll see you then.

Tomorrow, it will be three weeks until the midterm elections. Both sides, of course, have been pouring in million and millions of dollars, controlled both the House, the Senate and maybe at stake. Just ahead, I'm going to talk with CNN John King at the magic wall for the first of what's going to be regular visits between now and Election Day on this program. We'll be right back with John.


[20:56:15] COOPER: Looking into midterm elections, they're three weeks from tomorrow, so it's with great pleasure that we welcome John King. He's going to start appearing in the program regularly to bring the trends to keep an eye on in the key races to watch. So let's kick this off, John.

We're going to start in the biggest factor hanging over every race and that's obviously President Trump, presidential approval ratings. You usually get predict of how political party will do.

In the most recent CNN polling shows President Trump with an approval rating of 41 percent, disapproval rating of 52 percent. Just in terms of the numbers, John, the President isn't obviously on the ballot. How much of the coming midterms are about President Trump?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Almost exclusively. There are some exceptions to the rule, but almost exclusively. Midterm elections are about the president. And even the President now says, "I'm not on the ballot, but I'm on the ballot."

Anderson, the president's approve rating is why as we head into the final three weeks, we have the Democrats in the lead and with plenty of room to take control of the House of Representatives, 206 seats lean likely are solid Democrat, 201 lean likely are solid Republican. Why, because of what you just mentioned.

Let's just take a look at the numbers. You mentioned the CNN poll. This is a slightly more recent ABC-Washington Post poll. The numbers are consistent. Look at the President's approval rating, 43 percent approve, 53% disapprove.

Look at how Americans say they're going to vote for Congress three weeks from now, 53% disapprove of the president, 53% say they're going to vote for the Democrats. 43% approve, 42% say they're going to vote Republicans. There is a direct correlation between what you think of the President and how you will vote for Congress in the midterm election here.

And if you think of the President, 41, 42, 43, right around 40. Let's just take a look at the history. This is why Republicans are worried. The President is up a little bit if you go back a few months, but look at history. President Obama at 45 percent three weeks out, same exact time frame, in his first midterm, the Democrats got shellacked.

President Bush, this is his second midterm, a lot of Republicans think this year looks to them like 2006, President Bush is at 37, below where President Trump is. The Republicans lost the House. President Clinton was close to 50 at 48 in 1994, his party took a weapon.

So if you look at where President Trump is, right now, President Trump is right now and you compare it to history, the Republicans are headed for hard times unless the President can change those numbers in the next few weeks.

And Anderson, one more quick point, a number of factors. Well, this is the overwhelming factor driving this pro-Democratic environment climate nationally. Again, look, 36 percent of American women approve of the President's performance, 37 percent of women are voting Republican.

But here's why it matters. Six in 10 women disapprove of the President. Six in 10 women voting Democratic for Congress. This giant gender gap right now is the single biggest asset the Democrats have at a climate that looks three weeks out very good.

COOPER: What about the whole idea of politics being local? How much of that rings true in the congressional races?

KING: It's an important question and thank you for asking it because remember the presidential election, we talk about all these national polls. Hillary Clinton was ahead. Yes, she won the national vote, but she lost the election.

So you look urban, the Democrats are way up. Suburban, the Democrats are up. Rural, Republicans are way up. So that is why you do see Republican starting to think, "OK, we feel better about these lean Republican seats in rural areas." Democrats feel very good about suburb.

I want to zoom in just very quickly here into the state of Virginia. You come up here. We'll know on election night. Democrats need to take the close in suburbs. Can they win these districts that are somewhat suburban but also have some rural? That is the tug of war in the way out.

Republicans because of those rural numbers, the President travel lately, feel better about the seats that are in red areas. But if it's blue or purple, Democrats have the advantage, Anderson, three weeks from tomorrow.

COOPER: All right. John, we'll be with you a lot. Thanks very much. And reminder, don't miss "Full Circle," our daily interactive newscast on Facebook. You get to pick some of the stories we cover. You can see it week nights at 6:25 p.m. Eastern. It's at

The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris. "Cuomo Prime Time" starts now. Chris?