MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Trump administration is being drawn ever more deeply into the mystery of Jamal Khashoggi's fate. Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month. Today, President Trump spoke to Saudi Arabia's King Salman, who said his country had nothing to do with Khashoggi's disappearance. Trump spoke to reporters about that conversation as he prepared to leave for a tour of areas hit by Hurricane Michael.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He didn't really know. Maybe - I don't want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could've been rogue killers. Who knows? We're going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.
KELLY: With me now to discuss this and the president's visit to Florida is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Rogue killers - this is quite the turn of phrase. Do we know if the president has thought deeply on this? Did he come up with it on the fly. What?
LIASSON: The president is offering an alternative theory of the case, although he didn't explain how a group of rogue killers could have gotten into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and killed someone. But his instinct is to deflect blame from the Saudi royal family. He said several times today that the Saudi king flatly, firmly denied it. This is very similar to what he did with Vladimir Putin when he cited Putin's strong denials of any interference in the 2016 election. And back then, he also offered an alternative theory of the case, where he said someone weighing 400 pounds sitting on his bed could have been the hacker of the Democratic Party emails. So clearly the president's instinct is to defend dictators.
KELLY: So rogue killers is maybe the update on the 400-pound guy.
KELLY: We shall see. OK, and I mentioned the president was on his way to Florida today. It's very common of course for a President to visit a disaster area. But in Florida a few weeks before an election - what are the politics of a presidential visit?
LIASSON: Well, this was an official visit, but it definitely had a political component because two of the most important races this cycle are in Florida. The governor's race - of course very important to Trump that a Republican remain governor there for 2020 for Trump's own re-election. And also, the current governor, Rick Scott, is the Republican nominee for Senate. And if Democrats can't keep the Senate seat in Florida, they probably have no chance of taking over the majority there. But the president did meet with Governor Rick Scott. He praised him.
Normally natural disasters are a very positive political opportunity for incumbent governors because they have the resources and executive powers that non-incumbents lack. They can be acting, helping people, really keeping in the spotlight.
KELLY: Let me ask you about one of the big issues in that Florida Senate race. This is the red algae bloom that's been fouling the state's beaches and which is tied to warmer waters that come with climate change and the warmer waters which are of course also tied to the increasing intensity of hurricanes like Hurricane Michael. How is the president talking about that? How's Rick Scott talking about that?
LIASSON: Well, what's so interesting about that is the president gave an interview to "60 Minutes" last night in which he said he thought the climate was changing, but he wouldn't say that people or human activity was behind that change. He even said, well, the climate was changing; it could change back. And then when asked, well, 99 percent of scientists believe that human activity is behind climate change, he said, well, scientists have a very big political agenda - so again kind of casting doubt on science, fact-based research. So he has become the world's most prominent climate denier, and he's using his global platform to spread information that the scientific community has found to be false.
KELLY: Just a few seconds left, Mara, but that "60 Minutes" interview you mentioned - it does seem that the president is talking to the media a lot, that he's sitting down for a lot of interviews. What's going on with this?
LIASSON: The president believes that dominating the media narrative is a metric for success. He thinks that if he's on television all the time, making his case, sucking up all the oxygen in the room, he's doing well. And the big question is, is he in charge of the narrative? Or with this story that Jamal Khashoggi might have been killed by orders of the Saudi Government, is he kind of losing the narrative when it comes to Saudi Arabia?
KELLY: All right, thank you, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you.
KELLY: NPR's Mara Liasson.
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