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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Reagan Remembered; D-Day Anniversary
Aired June 6, 2004 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6 p.m. here in Normandy, France, 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for this very special "Late Edition."
Over the next two hours, we'll be looking back at the life and legacy of America's 40th president, Ronald Reagan. His death after a 10-year battle against Alzheimer's disease comes as President Bush and other world leaders have gathered here in Normandy to commemorate the 60th anniversary of World War II's D-Day. It was 20 years ago that President Reagan led a similar commemoration here.
In just a few minutes, we'll have my special interview with the secretary of state, Colin Powell. First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.
BLITZER: Here in France, the world's leaders have gathered to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Despite some very serious differences over the war in Iraq, President Bush said the alliance forged between the United States and Europe during World War II remains strong and is still needed today.
The president also paid tribute to the former president Ronald Reagan, who died in California yesterday at the age of 93. He called the 40th president of the United States -- and I'm quoting now -- "a courageous man and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom."
You're looking now at some live pictures we're getting in from Arromanche, here in France. Tony Blair, the British prime minister, you see him nearly in the center of this picture. He has gathered there with other British subjects, British citizens. They will commemorate the British role in World War II on this 60th anniversary of D-Day. The British veterans have gathered in Arromanche, in the town center. Queen Elizabeth II is there, as well. We'll continue to watch this historic, dramatic development, the British participation in these D-Day celebrations.
Before being brought to Washington, D.C. later this week for funeral services, the body of the former president Ronald Reagan will be taken to his presidential library in Simi Valley in California. CNN's David Mattingly is there already. He's joining us with a little bit of a preview of what we can expect in the hours and days to come.
David? DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the flags are at half- staff at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. The library itself, however, is closed to the public today.
That does not mean, however, that people aren't finding ways to come by and show their respects to the former president.
Throughout the evening, into the wee hours of the morning, people were coming by creating sort of a makeshift shrine outside the entrance to the library, and that shrine continues to grow as people leave flags and flower arrangements to show their respects for Ronald Reagan.
We have confirmed this morning that this is where the president will lie in repose on public viewing tomorrow before going on to Washington, D.C. for a procession and eventually services at the National Cathedral, again, in Washington, D.C. The scheduling for all of this, however, is still being worked out and will be announced to us at a news conference at the funeral home in Santa Monica, California, where the family has been working since his death yesterday.
And we are told that that will happen at noon Pacific time, 3:00 Eastern time, and we will also expect to hear a statement read from the Reagan family by a family spokesperson.
But for right now we know for sure that there will be a public viewing here tomorrow for the people of California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and, after all, this was the home of Ronald Reagan where he started his career as an actor and as a politician. This library dedicated in 1991 chosen then by the Reagans to be their final resting place.
BLITZER: CNN's David Mattingly reporting from Simi Valley from the Presidential Library in California.
David, thank you very much.
It was during the Reagan administration that most Americans, indeed, much of the world were first introduced to Colin Powell. The eventual U.S. secretary of state was a highly regarded U.S. Army general when President Reagan asked him to become his national security advisor in 1987.
Earlier today I spoke with Secretary Powell about his memories of Ronald Reagan and more.
BLITZER: You worked for Ronald Reagan. You remember Ronald Reagan, Mr. Secretary. What goes through your mind?
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I remember him very well, and I'm very sad at his loss but he's in a better place now, and he was such a great man. I worked for him as a national security advisor, but I was in the Army during those years so I watched him not only as the commander in chief but as the head of our foreign policy operation as president.
And he was a man who brought such pride back to the armed forces and pride back to the nation. He was a man of incredible vision and he never varied or strayed from the vision that he had of a world at peace, a world where freedom was breaking out, and his first challenge was to make that happen in the Soviet Union.
And he was able to work with a man by the name of Mikhail Gorbachev who became head of the Soviet Union, and together they did historic things.
BLITZER: They changed the world.
POWELL: They changed the world. The president always believed that the Soviet people deserved a better system than the system they had, and he was going to make it happen not by war but by peace, by showing the power of democracy.
Every time Gorbachev would come to visit, Reagan always wanted to take him out to his ranch in California or to a factory where we made cars in Detroit. He never wanted to show missile feels or submarines or anything like that. He always wanted to show Gorbachev the goodness of America, how America works, and he wanted that same sort of system to ultimately persuade the Soviet Union that it should move in that direction.
Gorbachev tried to restructure and reform the Soviet Union, but it couldn't be restructured. It had to be taken apart because communism was a failed ideology. Reagan knew that.
BLITZER: In the '80s he managed to get this process going to see the end of the Cold War, to eventually see the collapse of the Soviet Union ending 74 years of communist rule without one shot being fired.
POWELL: Not without -- without one shot being fired. But one of the reasons for that is we remained strong. Reagan knew that he had to rebuild the armed forces when he became president, and we were not in good shape. We weren't really proud of ourselves after the Vietnam War, yet. And he restored that sense of pride in the armed forces, and he gave us the wherewithal to be the best in the world again.
And so showed the Soviet Union that, look, we are prepared to do what it takes, spend whatever is necessary so that America is strong, but we want to use this strength for peace, not to attack you, not to threaten you. Now that you know we're strong and you can't defeat us, let's work on a way forward where we can help you, where we can help the Soviet Union at that time. And Gorbachev knew that they could afford guns but they couldn't afford butter. America could afford both therefore things had to change.
BLITZER: It was a lucky break that there was a leader in the Soviet Union at the moment named Mikhail Gorbachev. POWELL: It was a lucky break. It was destiny if one can call a lucky break destiny. And President Reagan used to kid because he went through about three Soviet leaders. Two died very suddenly in front of him -- three of them and he said, if only, you know, one of these gentleman would stay long enough for me to work with and along came this vigorous man in his early 50s, Gorbachev.
And he was that man. And Gorbachev had taken a hard look at the Soviet Union and realized it couldn't continue this way, had to change it. Perestroika and glasnost, remember those words -- restructuring and openness.
But that wasn't enough. You couldn't restructure a communist system to make it work in the 21st century. And openness meant openness, and once you opened it up, it was all going to come out and people would see what they had been missing for all these years.
And so Gorbachev and Reagan are two great historic figures, both of whom had a vision. They were slightly different visions. Gorbachev didn't come in to preside over the death of communism, which is what he ended up doing. Reagan always knew communism was a failed ideology.
BLITZER: But did he have the confidence, did he have the optimism that what he was doing would result in that?
POWELL: Yes, he knew -- he didn't know what form it would take. He didn't know that the Soviet Union would totally break up, but he was absolutely confident in our system. He was such an optimist, such a believer in freedom and democracy and the rights of men and women. And he saw what it had done in the United States, and he kept saying to himself why shouldn't this happen elsewhere?
He saw what had happened in Europe after World War II. He saw what happened in Japan and other parts of the world. He saw what was happening in our own hemisphere, the sweep of democracy, he truly believed in the sweep of democracy and he said, why shouldn't it happen in the Soviet Union? Why shouldn't it go behind the Iron Curtain? Mr. Gorbachev, come here. Tear down this wall. What he was saying, we all remember that speech.
BLITZER: Of course.
POWELL: People said -- you know, there's been debate about that speech and debate about that line, but what he was essentially saying come tear down this wall. People say we've offended Gorbachev, but Gorbachev needed that kind of statement from the West that said, open up.
BLITZER: Remind our viewers, how did he come -- you and him, how did he come to pick this officer in the United States army to be his national security adviser?
POWELL: Well, I came into the White House as deputy national security adviser in January of 1987 after the Iran-Contra problem, and Frank Carlucci came as national security advisor to get things going. The administration was in very great trouble at that point, if you recall.
BLITZER: This is after Frank Dexter (ph) and McFarlen (ph) were in deep trouble.
POWELL: Exactly. And Frank Carlucci, an old, dear friend of mine, my godfather as I call him, my mentor in political life, asked me to come back from commanding my corps in Germany to be his deputy. And I said, I don't want to do that. Well, President Reagan called me and said you got to do it. And I did. And then 11 months later, Frank Carlucci went over to the Pentagon to replace Cap Weinberger, who left after a distinguished period of service, and one day Frank walked into the situation room and he had a little scribbled note, and he handed it to me at the beginning of the meeting and it said you are now the national security adviser. President Reagan had picked me.
I had gotten to know the president very well by then, of course, and I treasured that friendship, and after he left office we stayed in touch, stayed in touch with both President Reagan and Mrs. Reagan. I have fond memories of those days.
But to show you, if I have just a minute, what was it was like, two quick vignettes. After he retired, I went out to see him out in his home in Beverly Hills, and I had retired. But a young sergeant had been assigned as a courtesy to drive me to the house. As we were pulling up to the house, the young sergeant said to me, would you please tell President Reagan how much we appreciate what he did for us. And I said, OK. So I got to the door. I rang the doorbell. President Reagan answered the door, welcomed me. Come on in, say hello to Nancy. I said, there's somebody I want you to meet. And I called the sergeant over. I said, sergeant, you tell him yourself. The sergeant was stunned. He couldn't say a word. He just did what sergeants do, came to attention, saluted President Reagan. President Reagan returned the salute. We went in the house. The sergeant went back to the car, the door closed and President Reagan said, Colin, is it still okay for me to salute? I said, Mr. Reagan, don't you ever stop saluting. It means so much to us.
Another story of his optimism. In the '88 period, there was a lot of concern about how much the Japanese were investing in the United States. And we had these debates within the administration, is this good the Japanese are buying golf courses, they're buying buildings, they're buying up all of our real estate and whatnot. And we ought to do something about it, and Reagan sat in the Oval Office listening to this debate one day, and he smiled and said, no, we're not going to do anything about it. I am glad they know a good investment when they see one. You know, that just blew us away. His optimism. I'm so proud people think America is such a good investment that they're sending their money here.
BLITZER: It was instinctive on his part.
POWELL: It was instinctive of his part, but it wasn't just instinct, he had thought about these issues. He had studied them. He had such a belief in our system, our economic system and our political system that it gave him an asthmus to sail on that he never varied from. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: Coming up, more of my interview with Secretary Powell. I'll speak to him about the president's trip to Europe. Is it enough to reconcile the split over Iraq?
Then a conversation with two former Reagan Cabinet secretaries about what it was like to work with the man known as the great communicator.
Our special "Late Edition" live from Normandy, France, continues right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And still ahead, remembering Ronald Reagan, we'll look back on his presidency's impact on the world. And more of my interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Our special "Late Edition," live from Normandy, will be right back.
BLITZER: We have here a live picture of Arromanche, here in Normandy. The British are celebrating, commemorating the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Queen Elizabeth II is here, as is Tony Blair, the British prime minister. One of the final commemorative events of this historic day, the 60th anniversary of Normandy.
Welcome back to our special "Late Edition," live from Normandy, France. We return now to my interview with the secretary of state, Colin Powell.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, let's talk a little bit about U.S.- French relations right now.
Certainly the words that were uttered by the president of France, the president of the United States were encouraging, but are there still serious differences over Iraq that separate these two allies?
POWELL: The differences that we had last year are not going away. It was a major disagreement. They thought we shouldn't have gone into Iraq, and we were determined to do what was right and get rid of Saddam Hussein. So we shouldn't say that disagreement has gone away. It's there. But we have come together again, in the recognition that the Iraqi people need the help of the international community. So we have been working very closely with the French government. I think we're very close to a final resolution at the U.N. in New York, to be passed in the next several days. And we have worked out differences over a short period of time. We have just been working on this resolution for 13 days.
BLITZER: What is the major issue that divides the U.S. and France?
POWELL: There aren't any major issues left on the resolution. We are working out details. We are doing some language checks, as one always does with such a resolution. But I think the resolution will pass over the next several days, and it will be a resolution that recognizes that full sovereignty is being returned to Iraq...
BLITZER: June 30th?
POWELL: By June 30th. No later than June 30th. And it recognizes that the international community has to keep a military presence there, at the request of the Iraqi sovereign government. And we worked out the arrangements on how that military force will work with this new sovereign government. It calls on the international community to help build up Iraqi forces as quickly as we can, to provide additional assistance to Iraq in any way that we can, to reconstruction efforts. Additional troops, military trainers, police trainers. Anything that country can do to help the Iraqi people.
BLITZER: Do you see the possibility that France, or Germany for that matter, would deploy troops to Iraq?
POWELL: No. They've made it clear that deployment of troop formations is not something they are able to do. But keep in mind, we have French troops in Haiti working alongside of us, French troops in the Balkans working alongside of us, French troops in Afghanistan working alongside of us. German troops working with us in Afghanistan and in the Balkans. So we had this disagreement last year over Iraq. Now we are coming together. Remember the last three U.N. resolutions with respect to Iraq since the war all passed unanimously, and I hope this coming week we'll see another resolution passed unanimously.
BLITZER: Will this resolution have an end date for the U.S. deployment, the U.S. coalition -- led coalition in Iraq?
POWELL: It will say that at the end of 2005, when this political process has run its course and we have had a constitution written and free elections, at that point, this mandate probably should come to an end, but the more important point is not what the resolution says. It's what the Iraqi sovereign government wants. We have had troops in sovereign nations, for, you know, the last 50 years. We've had them in Korea, we've had them in Germany, we've had them in the United Kingdom. And so we will be there for as long as we are needed.
I hope it's not a long period of time. But we're there, with the consent of the sovereign government, and we've made arrangements with that sovereign government. That sovereign government wants to see us leave. Why wouldn't they? They want to build up their own forces, their own police forces. We're going to help them do that. So as soon as they're ready to take over their own security, sure, they want us to leave.
BLITZER: So is Colin Powell -- put on your general's hat for a second -- suggesting there is an exit strategy now for U.S. troops?
POWELL: There is an exit strategy. A political exit strategy and a military strategy, because we've made it clear that we are there at the request and with the consent of this new sovereign government. To help them do what? To help them get ready for elections. That's what the first mission of this government is. To help them build up their own forces so that they can be responsible for their own security and for their own political and military destiny. But I can't give you a specific time when there will no longer be a requirement for a military presence from the United States or the coalition.
Keep in mind that, when this sovereign government takes over, Ambassador Bremer, having done a terrific job, a brilliant job, will go home, and the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist. Ambassador Negroponte will be there representing the United States. But he is not the government the way Ambassador Bremer was. There will be an Iraqi government. And we've already seen, the president of this new government and the prime minister of this new government making positive statements about their vision for their country.
BLITZER: The new prime minister, Iyad Allawi. Certainly he expressed his gratitude to the United States for helping to liberate Iraq. We didn't hear that expression of gratitude, though, from the incoming president.
POWELL: We've talked to the incoming president, and I can assure you that he's very grateful for what we have done.
He is grateful for our continued presence. I think all of the ministers are. They know that they are not yet able to run this country without our help.
They also know that they wouldn't be able to take these positions of leaders of the sovereign government if Saddam Hussein had not been eliminated. So I can assure you they are grateful. President Ghazi al-Yawer expressed that to the president in a phone call that I was able to hear, sitting in the Oval Office with the president about a week and a half ago.
And so I'm confident that they are grateful for what we have done. They respect the fact that we put American lives and coalition lives at risk and lost a number of our youngsters.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, how serious are these allegations against Ahmed Chalabi from the Iraqi National Congress, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, that he may have provided top-secret intelligence information, code-breaking information to Iran?
POWELL: Well, you know, Wolf, I'm just going to have to let the intelligence community deal with this. It's a matter best left to the experts who know what might or might not have happened.
BLITZER: But this rise and fall of Ahmed Chalabi, it's been an amazing situation. The State Department, as you well know, always concerned about him, as the CIA, but he had strong allies, as you well know, at the Pentagon and over at the vice president's office.
POWELL: We have to acknowledge that Mr. Chalabi spent, you know, decades fighting for freedom with the Iraqi people and for the demise of Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein is gone, and I don't think we should overlook the role that Mr. Chalabi played in that.
But what his future role should be in Iraq, and what he might or might not have done to achieve the position he's achieved, I will let others make judgments on that.
BLITZER: We only have a minuter or two let, but the president, last night, when he met with Jacques Chirac, spoke of the Israeli- Palestinian problem, and he spoke about a two-state solution, Israel along Palestine, and he spoke about Palestine being contiguous, a contiguous Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza. What did exactly did he mean by that?
POWELL: What he meant by that is that in the West Bank you have got to have a coherent, contiguous land, which, joined with Gaza, would constitute the state of Palestine. He was making the point that you can't have a bunch of little vantage stands or the whole West Bank chopped up into noncoherent, noncontiguous pieces and say, this is an acceptable state.
The president wants the Palestinian people to have a state of their own, which would include Gaza and significant chunks of the West Bank with some alignment of the armistice line, as he has said previously. But he is going to be doing everything he can to help Mr. Sharon with his plan of evacuating all the settlements in Gaza, beginning with the evacuation of settlements in the West Bank, and then get back in the road map and help the Palestinian people put an end to terrorism that comes out of Palestinian communities and help them reform their political system and their security system, so that Israel can feel comfortable leaving Gaza and turning it over to Palestinian control.
And we're working with the Egyptians, who will be helping with the security in Gaza. So an opportunity is being presented to us, and the president fully intends to take advantage of that opportunity.
BLITZER: One final question on the resignation of George Tenet, the CIA director. You went over to the CIA before the war and studied weapons of mass destruction, the intelligence information, but clearly, some of that information was wrong. What do you make of his decision to resign now? Because, as you know, there's wild speculation, a lot of speculation out there, that he was coming under so much criticism he really had no choice.
POWELL: George was as disappointed as I was that some of the information was not correct. No CIA director wants to give a secretary of state or a president information that was incorrect, and he had undertaken to find out what went wrong. And we have the Silverman Commission now doing the same thing.
I know absolutely for a fact, because I was with the president just before he made the announcement last week, that George Tenet resigned for personal reasons. He was not asked to resign. In fact, the president wanted him to stay. We all wanted him to stay, but George felt that it was time for him to go. And he attributed it to personal reasons, and I have known George for many, many years, and I accept that answer and do not go charging off into the various conspiracy theories.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, it was kind of you to spend time with us on this very, very emotional day, 60 years since D-Day, a day after Ronald Reagan has passed away.
POWELL: It is an emotional day, the passing of a great American, a great man, and to be at this beautiful place that I visited many times before and see our fallen comrades resting in peace and have all their fellow Americans and President Bush and President Chirac here to pay, yet again, the final tribute to them.
BLITZER: Colin Powell, thanks very much.
POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The secretary of state of the United States, General Colin Powell, with us here on this special day, the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
BLITZER: And up next, we'll go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: And I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: ... the beginning of the Reagan legacy. We'll get perspective from two of his former Cabinet members.
Our special "Late Edition," live from Normandy, France, will continue right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility, and the humor that comes with wisdom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush commenting on the legacy of former President Ronald Reagan, who died yesterday at the age of 93. Welcome back to this special "Late Edition."
We're joined now by two members of the Reagan Cabinet: in Washington, North Carolina Senator, former Reagan Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, and former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese.
Thanks to both of you for joining us.
Senator Dole, let me begin with you. How did you come around to meet Ronald Reagan? How was it that he asked you to become a member of his Cabinet?
SEN. ELIZABETH DOLE (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, you know, I served on the transition team. My assignment was health and human services, to prepare the briefing books for the new secretary. And I knew Jim Baker very well, and Jim, I think, might have been the one who suggested to the president that it would be a good idea for me to serve on his White House staff. And so I became assistant to the president for public liaison for two years, and then I served as his secretary of transportation for five years.
And, you know, one of the things that I recall so well, Wolf, was being alone with him in a room waiting for a speech to occur, and I just couldn't resist, I said, "Mr. President, with all the pressures of the world on you, how in the world are you always so gracious, so kind and thoughtful, never appearing to be frustrated with your staff?"
And he kind of sat back, because he loved to reminisce, you know, and he said, "Well, Elizabeth, when I was governor of California," he said, "it seemed like every day yet another disaster would be placed on my desk, and I had the urge to hand it to someone behind me." And he said, "One day I realized I was looking in the wrong direction. I looked up instead of back." And he said, "I'm still looking up. I don't think I could go another day in this office if I didn't know I could ask God's help and it would be given." And we shared on that level, as people of faith as well.
BLITZER: Senator Dole, a lot of us remember, of course, Ronald Reagan as a very optimistic, happy president. Did you ever see him lose his temper?
DOLE: I didn't. I didn't. And even the one time that I recall something that I wanted him to do and this time he felt he couldn't comply with what I was seeking, and I recall as I left the room, the president saying, "Elizabeth, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry."
But he was a great supporter. My key goals in transportation was safety of the traveling public, and I remember looking everywhere to find a car with an airbag to put on the White House lawn so that President Reagan could see this. Because I was hoping to get passive restraints in cars and also state safety-belt laws, and we had none at the time, in '83. And he was a real supporter as we moved forward to ensure that these things came about and that we were able to save a lot of lives and crippling injuries.
BLITZER: Ed Meese, as a lot of our viewers of course will remember, you go much further back with Ronald Reagan, back to his days in California. How did you meet him?
ED MEESE, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I met him first right after he had been elected in 1966, in December before he took office, and I was at that time a lawyer practicing in Oakland, California. I was in the district attorney's office, and he was looking for someone to be his legal affairs secretary, to handle the judicial, legal and law enforcement responsibilities on his staff. And I was invited to come up and to meet him.
After a face-to-face meeting of about a half an hour, I was so impressed with him that when he offered me the job I accepted on the spot, and then drove home to tell my wife we were moving to Sacramento.
BLITZER: This is when he became the governor of California.
MEESE: That's right.
BLITZER: Did you already sense then in those early days, in the '60s, that he had higher ambitions?
MEESE: Well, I'm not sure he had higher ambitions, because as Senator Dole said, he really believed that if God wanted him to be president, he would be. He has a tremendous faith, and more and more of this is being shown recently in some of the books that are coming out. So he was sort of available, I think, but I don't think -- I wouldn't say he had a driving ambition to be president.
But toward the end of his governorship, that was certainly a distinct possibility. And several of us met with him and decided that he should not do anything upon leaving the governorship that would preclude him running for president at some time in the future.
And of course he did in 1976, although unsuccessfully for the nomination, and then successfully of course in 1980. And I think, in many ways, he saw that as divinely ordained as well, because I don't think in 1976 he could have accomplished all the things he did, starting in 1981.
DOLE: You know, Wolf, I have to add...
BLITZER: Senator Dole, he was -- yes, go ahead, Senator Dole.
DOLE: I was just going to add that I think my state of North Carolina had a little something to do with that situation in 1976, because when he won the North Carolina primary -- and Jesse Helms, Senator Helms, worked very hard to support him at that time -- he then won the Texas primary and a number of others, and that positioned him well, I think, for 1980.
MEESE: That's right. That actually...
BLITZER: Senator Dole, and the same question to you, Ed Meese, in 1981, when he was nearly shot and killed by John Hinckley, did you realize at the time how close to death he really was? First, Senator Dole.
DOLE: No, I didn't. I really did not realize that at that particular day at that moment.
And, you know, when I think later about the way I heard -- there were several surgeries, as you know, over the period of time there, and the way he would bounce back, and he was expressing humor with the doctors, and he was waving from Walter Reed window, you know, he was always that enthusiastic, upbeat, optimistic individual that inspired us all.
And I have to say, too, that Nancy Reagan deserves so much credit. What a tremendous marriage, and the inspiration that they provided to people all across the world. Nancy was his best friend, his confidante, and did a tremendous job in so many ways as first lady.
MEESE: Wolf, I was right there in the hospital...
BLITZER: It was incredible -- I remember you were in the hospital. You were on the White House staff at the time, Mr. Meese.
MEESE: Right, I was in the hospital with him, and I don't think we realized just how serious the injury was, because he had almost been joking about it, as you remember. And it wasn't until afterwards the doctors told us how seriously and how close that could have been to be totally life-endangering.
BLITZER: Ed Meese, fast forward now several years, the Iran- Contra affair. All of us remember when you came out with the president and you made that initial announcement that the U.S. was selling arms and trying to get hostages out of Lebanon, profits would be going to Nicaragua.
Remind our viewers how it came to be that you decided that you were going to come clean and expose all that information by yourself.
MEESE: Well, I wasn't by myself. But what had happened was, the president had engaged in a negotiation or a relationship with moderate forces in Iran, and part of the agreement to show good faith was to provide some defensive weapons for them. Separately from that, we had the support of the freedom fighters.
And when you had some people in the White House that, unauthorized, took some of the profits from the sale of arms to Iran and diverted them to the support of the freedom fighters, that was the problem. And as soon as we discovered it, I told the president what had happened, and he immediately said, "Ed, we've got to get this out to the American people as quickly as we can."
And so what he did was he called the Cabinet first, and we had a meeting in which it was revealed to the Cabinet. An hour later he brought in the congressional leaders and presented the whole picture to them, and then at noon brought the press together, had a press conference, and he introduced the subject. And then he was actually entertaining the Supreme Court for lunch that day. He had to excuse himself to do that, and he asked me then to explain the details to the press corps.
It was something that he knew nothing about while it was going on, in terms of the unauthorized activity, and which he was quick to make sure that all the facts came out to the public. And I think that in itself probably saved his presidency, at least enabled him to continue to be a successful president over the next two years, which were critical in ultimately our relationship with the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War.
BLITZER: I think you're right, and there's no doubt that at the end of his presidency, despite the criticism surrounding the Iran- Contra affair, his job approval rating was among the highest since modern polling began.
Ed Meese, Senator Dole, thanks to both of you for spending a few moments with us to remember, to reflect on Ronald Reagan. Appreciate it very much.
MEESE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And still ahead, the death of Ronald Reagan is resonating across the political divide. Up next we'll speak with some key U.S. senators about the Reagan relationship with Congress.
And coming up, as well, honoring the greatest generation. I'll speak with film director Steven Spielberg. He's here in Normandy with me. He'll speak about the lessons and the legacy of World War II veterans.
"Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."
Among the many dignitaries attending this weekend's D-Day commemoration, the filmmaker Steven Spielberg, the director of the World War II movie "Saving Private Ryan." Earlier today, I spoke with him here in Normandy about his passion for World War II veterans.
BLITZER: Why has this been so important to you personally, to get everyone on Earth to remember the sacrifices, what was done on this day 60 years ago?
STEVEN SPIELBERG, DIRECTOR: Well, you know, it is said that we're all influenced by our parents, and my dad taught me the lessons of World War II because he fought in the China-Burma-India theater in World War II, the 490th Burma Bridge Busters. And so, all my life as a child was spent hearing my dad's stories of World War II, and the reunions he would have with other veterans. He didn't seem to be able to talk about it to other people who weren't in the war, but once he had somebody who he shared an experience with, he was able to really open up and talk about it.
BLITZER: Could he talk about it with you?
SPIELBERG: Yes, he could, but it was great to hear him talk about it with those who served with him, and it just was sort of instilled in me a sense of my dad was more afraid of being forgotten than anything else, and that his generation being forgotten. And I just think that "Saving Private Ryan," or at least my impulse to tell the story of the landings on Omaha Beach, most of that came from what my dad had been talking about all those years.
BLITZER: What about today, when you walked around, you met with these veterans, so many of them unfortunately, this will probably be the last occasion for them to remember D-Day, what were they saying to you?
SPIELBERG: Well, first of all, they were thanking us for both the films, the "Saving Private Ryan" picture and also the "Band of Brothers" miniseries that Tom Hanks and I did together, because that was all involved -- it's pieces, the Rashomon pieces of the same story.
But the great thing is, they're just happy that you're remembering them, that there are so many people who have come here to honor what they did, because they saved the world, didn't they?
BLITZER: They certainly saved the world, and on this day 60 years ago the world changed, obviously, for the better. There was no guarantee that D-Day was going to be successful.
SPIELBERG: No, and all the indicators pointed to a tremendous failure in the first hours of the landings. The tides were unanticipated, and the units were mixed and spread out, and Higgins' boats either landed right next to each other or too far apart, allowing the Germans to concentrate their firepower. The entire beach was pre-sighted by Rommel, and everything that -- when they went into some of the bunkers, some of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), when they finally got to the top, they saw charts showing how the beaches were pre- sighted. And it was a slaughteryard. BLITZER: The German general, Erwin Rommel, he went away to see his wife in Berlin, it was her birthday. Had he been here, there are some scholars who suggest the outcome might have been different.
SPIELBERG: It might have been different, because they would have brought more of the reserves up, and I think he would unilaterally without waking the Fuhrer, who did not want to be awakened at the time, he unilaterally probably would have brought the Panzers up to Vierville and all the towns overlooking the beaches. But it didn't happen, but it looked at the outset that it was going to be a failure, and it wasn't.
BLITZER: You and Tom Hanks have done incredible work to bring the importance of D-Day to the public out there, but Ronald Reagan, who died yesterday, 20 years ago, when he was here and spoke about the boys of Point du Hoc, he did a lot to bring this story to life as well.
SPIELBERG: Yes, he did. I think every president has: Reagan, Clinton when he was here for the 50th anniversary, and then today Chirac and President Bush. I think it should be a national holiday, what happened here. And I felt today was Veterans' Day. I think for all of us, we felt this was a second Veterans' Day.
BLITZER: What's next on your agenda?
SPIELBERG: In my professional life?
BLITZER: In terms of World War II.
SPIELBERG: World War II. Tom Hanks and I are working with HBO on a miniseries called "The Pacific," where we're going to tell the true stories of the veterans of the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II.
BLITZER: So you did...
SPIELBERG: We did Normandy; now we're going to tell the Pacific story.
BLITZER: And when is that going to be ready?
SPIELBERG: Probably ready for airing probably in '06.
BLITZER: A series for HBO?
SPIELBERG: Yes, about 12 hours.
BLITZER: Steven Spielberg, on behalf of everyone, thanks so much for spending a few moments with us.
SPIELBERG: It's always a pleasure. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. Appreciate all the good work you've done.
SPIELBERG: Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: And still ahead, remembrances of war, a conversation with World War II veterans turned United States senators John Warner and Frank Lautenberg. They're here in Normandy.
Our special "Late Edition," live from France, continues right after this.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a check of the hour's top stories.
Then, perspective on the Reagan revolution that inspired a new generation of conservative politicians. I'll speak live with the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Our special "Late Edition," live from Normandy, continues right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Welcome back to this special "Late Edition." In just a few minutes, I'll speak live with the House majority leader, Tom DeLay.
First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.
BLITZER: On hallowed ground here in Normandy, tributes to World War II veterans on this 60th anniversary of D-Day, the turning point of World War II.
In a show of dramatic solidarity, President Bush and the French president, Jacques Chirac, attended ceremonies here at the U.S. military cemetery behind me. Addressing thousands of World War II veterans in attendance, President Bush said the alliance between the United States and Europe remains strong and is still needed.
The German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, also attending D-Day commemorative events, marking the first time that their countries are participating in these historic occasions.
Take a look at these live pictures now. The French continuing to recall what happened here. These are French troops, young French troops, the new generation. They're participating in this celebration, this commemoration of D-Day.
The French president, Jacques Chirac, continuing to recall what happened, the liberation of France on this day. French President Chirac also meeting with the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. They will continue to pay tribute to what happened on this day 60 years ago in 1944.
During today's D-Day celebration ceremonies, President Bush paid homage to the former president Ronald Reagan, who died at his California home yesterday. Back in the United States, mourning is under way for the country's 40th chief executive.
CNN's David Mattingly is at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, with more details on what is to unfold this week.
MATTINGLY: Wolf, in about two hours we are expecting a news conference at the funeral home in Santa Monica, where we will find out what the scheduling is and all the details for all of the public events in mourning the passing of President Ronald Reagan.
Last night family and staff gathered at that funeral home to finalize plans. We are also told to expect a statement from the Reagan family today, as read by a family spokesperson.
Already the morning has been under way at the presidential library here in Simi Valley. This is where the president's final resting place will be.
And this is some new video showing you how the makeshift shrine continues to grow outside the entrance to the library. People are leaving flowers, signs, flags, even some jellybeans out there. If you remember, President Reagan often used to keep a jar of jellybeans on his desk in the Oval Office.
The Reagan Library is closed today, but the Web site is open, and the staff here is encouraging everyone to visit that Web site. They can leave messages of condolence to the Reagan family at www.ReaganLibrary.com.
BLITZER: David Mattingly reporting from California.
David, thanks very much.
For many of his supporters, Ronald Reagan launched a political revolution that still is very much on the march. An important soldier in that conservative cause, the House of Representatives majority leader, Tom DeLay. He's joining us now live from Houston.
BLITZER: Mr. Leader, thanks very much for joining us.
How important was Ronald Reagan to you personally in motivating your political stance?
REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, it was Ronald Reagan that got me involved in politics. Back in 1976, I became a precinct chairman for the Republican Party in Fort Bing County, Texas, where they shot Republicans, didn't elect them, back in those days. But Ronald Reagan was running against Gerald Ford in the Republican primary. I supported Ronald Reagan.
I started reading the stuff that he was writing and reading about him and listening to him make his speeches. And he was just -- he was begging all of us to get out of the private sector and get into the public arena. So I am -- whether you like it or not, Wolf, I am Ronald Reagan's legacy.
BLITZER: And this notion, Mr. Leader, that he was this movie star that really didn't have a whole lot of substance there, the critics were always pointing that out, but you got to know him rather well.
DELAY: Yes, I did. I was very fortunate and honored to get to know him even as a backbencher in the Republican minority when I came in in 1985. Now, this -- yes, his opponents, much like they are trying to do to George W. Bush today, tried to undermine everything he stood for, calling him arrogant, stupid, reckless. But no matter what you called him, he was a man of great principle and character, a man that believed very deeply in God and stood for what he believed in.
I mean, he didn't let the critics get him down. He knew that what he was doing was right, and he was going to follow through with it, whether it was fighting the Cold War or fighting the domestic wars. He was an inspiration to everybody. And just hanging around him, you wanted to be part of what he was doing.
BLITZER: Mr. Leader, if the Republicans are now in control of the executive branch of the U.S. government, the legislative branch, both the House and Senate of the U.S. government, and some would argue the judicial branch of the U.S. government as well, how much of a role, how much credit does Ronald Reagan deserve for that fact?
DELAY: I think he deserves all the credit, Wolf. He started this revolution. He started the American people thinking about something different than the old liberal policies of the past.
Some give Barry Goldwater credit for speaking out first, but it was Ronald Reagan that put the words into action. It was Ronald Reagan that showed that if you stood on principle, people would follow. It was Ronald Reagan, starting when he was governor in California and then most importantly when he was president of the United States, that inspired thousands upon thousands of people to get involved.
And from that came, what I think is the permanent Republican majority today. It took 20 years to get here, but it was Ronald Reagan that started it, that showed that if you had moral clarity, that you stood on principle, that you would do what you told the American people you would do, people would follow, whether they agreed with you or not. They felt very comfortable and secure that you knew where you were headed.
And so most of the Republicans, I think, that are holding office today at every level, local, state or federal, probably got involved and ran for office because of Ronald Reagan. BLITZER: You know, it's interesting you say that, because many have pointed out over the past day or so that the current president, that President George W. Bush, may have been more influenced in his political orientation, his political style, by Ronald Reagan than in fact his own president, the first President Bush. What do you make of that notion?
DELAY: Well, I think their two presidencies are very similar. The two men are very similar, in philosophy, in their belief in God, in their faith, in who they are; in the whole notion that "I didn't get into politics to be somebody, I got into politics to do something." That was Ronald Reagan, and I think that's George W. George W. doesn't need this job. He's doing what he thinks is right, as Ronald Reagan did.
So yes, George W. and I are the same age. We're the same generation. I think we both have been equally influenced by Ronald Reagan and his legacy.
BLITZER: What are the most important things from Ronald Reagan's legacy that you think the current President Bush needs to focus on right now if he's going to be re-elected?
DELAY: Well, he's doing it. I don't think he has to start doing anything.
He has to focus on the war on terror, and he's doing that. And he's leading with moral clarity, just as Ronald Reagan did in the war against -- the Cold War.
The president needs to focus on the economy and the domestic economy, and he's doing that, just as Ronald Reagan did after the debacle or the horrible economy coming out of the Carter years.
So they're both very similar in that regard. George W. is focused on winning the war on terror, and he's focused on building an economy that this country deserves.
So it's amazing how similar the two presidencies are, and how interesting that two men at very critical times, the same kind of men, emerged to be leader of this country.
BLITZER: As you well know, there are some conservatives who are irritated right now with these huge budget deficits that have been escalating, record budget deficits over the past few years. How deep is that irritation at the current Bush administration?
DELAY: No, I don't think it's that deep. There are some people that don't quite understand what's going on. And what's going on, if you're fighting a war -- and we are in a war, whether you like it or not -- it's very difficult to balance the budget and have surpluses. I don't think this country's ever fought a war with a balanced budget or with surpluses.
But if you watch the spending that is non-defense, non-homeland security spending, we are holding that down, but yes, we're having to spend more money to fight this war, and we'll spend whatever it takes to get these terrorists.
And some people that have blinders on and are sort of focused on nothing but the deficit don't understand what's going on. The deficit's important, but we're holding it down. In fact, it's going down because of the tax cuts. We're growing the economy, and revenues to the government is growing.
But it will be very difficult to balance the budget as long as we're fighting this war.
BLITZER: Given the current situation in Iraq right now, the continuing casualties, the tens of billions, maybe $100 billion, $200 billion that have already been expended in Iraq, the worry that the situation is not going as planned, the fact that very few, if any, significant stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were actually found, do you have any second thoughts about the wisdom of this war in Iraq?
DELAY: Not at all. It's going exactly as we planned. The president after 9/11 said we're going to go after these terrorists on all fronts until every terrorist is either in a cell or a cemetery. He also said we're going after the states that harbor the terrorists. And that's what we're doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we're winning.
I would much rather be fighting the bad guys and the terrorists and these thugs over in Iraq than in Dallas or Houston, Texas. And that's -- yes, we have problems. War is chaotic. We're going to have problems. But the key is that, whenever we find a problem, we find a solution for it and we keep moving.
And we're winning this war on terror. And that's why we haven't had an incident in the United States since 9/11, because we're going after the terrorists and we're getting them.
BLITZER: The majority leader of the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us, especially on this very, very important day, the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the day after the death of Ronald Reagan. Congressman Tom DeLay, thanks very much.
DELAY: My pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: And coming up, my conversation with two World War II veterans, now both senior members of the United States Senate.
Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: What kind of people will we be 40 years from today? May we answer free people, worthy of freedom and firm in the conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few but the universal right of all God's children. This is the universal declaration of human rights set forth in 1948, and this is the affirming flame the United States has held high to a watching world. We champion freedom not only because it is practical and beneficial but because it is morally right and just.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Up next, two World War II veterans turned U.S. senators on the lasting foreign policy legacy of Ronald Reagan and more.
You're watching our special "Late Edition," live from Normandy.
BLITZER: Celebrating victory and loss here on the beaches of Normandy today.
Welcome back to our special "Late Edition," remembering D-Day, remembering former President Ronald Reagan.
Two veterans turned U.S. senators were on this battlefield earlier today. Republican Senator John Warner is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the end of World War II and would later become its Navy secretary.
BLITZER: You were here 20 years ago with Ronald Reagan when he delivered that moving address praising the boys of Pointe du Hoc. Remember for our viewers, Senator Warner...
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: I remember it very well, Wolf, because I'll be down there this afternoon, how touching it was. But right in the middle of his speech, one of the original soldiers that scaled the cliff...
BLITZER: The Army Rangers.
WARNER: ... he ran up, I mean, broke through the Secret Service and went down the row and came up the row. Ronald Reagan just loved that.
BLITZER: He just was so excited...
WARNER: He was so excited.
BLITZER: When Ronald Reagan spoke those powerful words 20 years ago, these were words that came from his heart, because he lived through that period, as did you. You're a veteran of World War II.
WARNER: Well, I was in the training command. My generation in the 1944, '45 were ready to come over and replace these fighters, and then the war ended.
BLITZER: And you volunteered as -- you were 17 years old?
WARNER: We were all 17, it was no big deal.
BLITZER: These were young boys who came here, and Ronald Reagan remembered that.
When you heard that he had passed away yesterday, what went through your mind?
WARNER: Well, if I may say with a sense of humility, he was a good friend. He used to come down to my farm, we'd ride horses together. He loved the history of Virginia. I mean, he could recount every campaign Stonewall Jackson had ever fought in. He was an extraordinary man. He had a tremendous depth of knowledge in a lot of subjects. And I say with humility, he was a hero to me.
BLITZER: Why was he a hero to you?
WARNER: Well, because he had done so many exciting things in his lifetime, and every day to him was another day filled with challenge and filled with excitement.
BLITZER: He was often criticized for not being substantive enough, but you knew him, obviously, very, very well.
WARNER: Well, I wouldn't say that well, but I knew him well. He was a friend, he came to the house. I remember one time he was making a speech. Do you remember how he carried those 3x5 flip cards?
WARNER: And he knew them by heart. And the flip cards all dropped on the floor accidentally before the speech. Well, we got down and scrambled them up and put the deck back together again, then he hardly used it. It was sort of a security device, those old cards he had.
BLITZER: He always had those cards to remember some of the notes, some of the points that he would want to make.
If Ronald Reagan were here today, he would remember, of course, what happened during World War II. He would reflect on all of those emotional moments. But he'd also be thinking about the U.S. relationship with the allies, especially France.
Do you get a sense there's been an improvement over the past day or two?
WARNER: Well, I had an opportunity to talk to some this morning about the meetings between the president and President Chirac, and if President Chirac will match actions with his strong words today, then I think the president followed up with an equally strong speech. I think we'll see a strengthening -- I'd say a renewing of the relationship that's been with this country forever.
BLITZER: For 200 years.
WARNER: Absolutely. Right there in Yorktown, in my own state. If it hadn't been for the naval blockade by Admiral de Gras and Rochambeau marched down the valley, we wouldn't probably be here today.
BLITZER: It looks like they're getting closer to a common language on a U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq. Is that your sense?
WARNER: That's my sense. I'm optimistic. I also -- my leader went to Iraq yesterday, and I had a chance to talk with Senator Frist.
BLITZER: The Senate majority leader?
WARNER: Yes, and he came away with a very strong message which I am sure he will be delivering soon about his impressions of the new prime minister and that government.
BLITZER: Is it premature to start getting a little bit more hopeful that perhaps things are improving in Iraq?
WARNER: I allowed myself to begin to get a little more hopeful, and I have been there a number of times, and I was there two months ago, and it's so important that we stay the course and finish that job, because it's symbolic to the whole world, the credibility of the coalition forces, not just the United States.
BLITZER: Some in Europe, as you well know, are criticizing President Bush for making the comparison between the liberation of Iraq and World War II.
WARNER: Oh, well, people always criticize presidents and their speeches, so what's new? Let's move on. We still, we're the most significant force in NATO, in terms of dollars of contribution, and NATO is playing a vital role in Afghanistan now, and the French are there with us.
BLITZER: All right. Senator Warner, as usual, thanks for spending a few moments with us.
WARNER: Thank you.
BLITZER: And what you're seeing now, the French president, Jacques Chirac, the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. This is the first time that a German leader has participated in these D-Day commemorative events here in France. The German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, together with French President Jacques Chirac, allies now, bitter enemies 60 years ago, Germany and France. How the world has changed.
The French president clearly anxious right now to underscore this new world, this new world order, this new relationship between France and Germany, bitter enemies for so many centuries, all that has changed since World War II. Chirac and Schroeder here in Normandy.
Earlier today, I also had a chance to speak with U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey. The World War II veteran served during World War II, and he reflected on Ronald Reagan, the legacy of the 40th president of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This is an emotional day, especially for the vets like yourself.
SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: Yes. This is a moment of recall that was so far ago it seemed that it's hardly real. But when you walk through the cemetery and you look at the names and you look at the dates, there were people who died in the service of the country before June 6th.
One tombstone in particular touched me, Wolf, and that was, "Here lies a comrade in arms known only to God." It's a really...
BLITZER: If you walk up and down these aisles, you see several of those, that remains -- clearly they could not be identified properly.
LAUTENBERG: Right. And some family is missing a brother or a son, a father, and they don't know what happened to them. They very well could be there, but there's no way of finding them.
BLITZER: MIA. So sad. So sad indeed.
You know, some of these veterans as they get older, I noticed, I was here for the 50th anniversary 10 years ago, as they get older, they become so much more emotional. I saw a lot more crying here today than I think I saw 10 years ago.
LAUTENBERG: Yes. I think that's also because of oncoming age, and all of us who served in World War II, we'll be something of the past one of these days -- not too soon. I hope to be here for the 80th celebration, but the odds are really against us.
BLITZER: And that's one of the sad things, that these eyewitnesses, they're not going to be around for a 70th anniversary...
LAUTENBERG: No, that's right. And what we have to do is recount carefully everything that took place, because herein lied a battle that we thought maybe would end wars in the final analysis. And when we look around now, we see how bogged down we are in Iraq and what a toll it's taken in a place like Afghanistan and others, and we say where's the end?
And one thing that I was very encouraged by President Bush's speech today was kind of a reach-out to the French. They've been our friends and allies. We've had our differences. But it's an important alliance. And the whole West is going to have to unify because the madness of the terror organizations overwhelms any of the countries individually that are going to try to stand up against them.
BLITZER: And Secretary of State Colin Powell just said to me a little while ago, he sees definitely that within the next few days they probably will be able to get a new U.N. Security Council Resolution passed on Iraq.
LAUTENBERG: I hope so, Wolf, but I'm not sure what kind of a price we have to pay. But whatever the price, this was something that we should have acquired a long time ago and didn't. So the cost has gone up. But we're going to have to eat some humble pie and try to make an arrangement that satisfies both of us.
When I see the two flags out on the field, as we did yesterday, the French flag and the American flag, they go so well together. They belong together. Our history is based largely on the help that we got from the French during the Revolutionary War.
BLITZER: And it looks like that relationship, at least for the short term, seems to be improving a little bit.
Ronald Reagan, a political adversary, but on this day after he passed away at the age of 93, what goes through your mind?
LAUTENBERG: Well, there's a poignancy in relation to this event, also, because it's an era that's passed. President Reagan was a communicator beyond any expectation. And he had an ability to bring people together even as we had problems, whether it was deficit or otherwise. But he seemed to be able to rise above it, get the public's -- the American public's heart and soul, and for that he'll be remembered, revered and loved.
BLITZER: When you look back on Ronald Reagan's contributions to America, what stands out in your mind?
LAUTENBERG: Well, I think it was a unifying force more than anything else. I don't think of a legislative record that really sticks, except to say that he projected America as a power to be reckoned with under any circumstance.
BLITZER: He brought back a sense of optimism to this country.
LAUTENBERG: Yes, and it wasn't bellicose, either. You know, he did use some unflattering expressions and names, talking about the Russians and the others, but the fact is he unified the people behind his voice and his thoughts. He made a very important contribution. We're sad to see him go.
It's sad that he was so sick at the end of his days. But that also reminds us that there are things we have to do as a country to take care of things like Alzheimer's and those other diseases.
BLITZER: Senator Lautenberg, a veteran of World War II, on behalf of everyone, thanks very much for helping save the world.
LAUTENBERG: We tried our best. And I thank you for the opportunity to be here.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.
And coming up next, a check of what's making news at this hour, including a story, a breaking story we're getting out of Jerusalem, an Israeli proposal to withdraw from Gaza.
More of our "Late Edition," live from Normandy, straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the first time in history, in the 1990s, more than half the people live under governments they voted in themselves. And that's a great tribute to our country and to people like President Reagan, who embodied that spirit of freedom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Former President Bill Clinton speaking earlier today on the aftermath on the death of Ronald Reagan.
Welcome back to our special "Late Edition."
Also speaking today at his home in Plains, Georgia, former President Jimmy Carter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we arrived back in Plains yesterday, we learned that President Reagan had passed away, which is a sad day for our country.
I probably know as well as anybody what a formidable communicator and campaigner President Reagan was.
It was because of him that I was involuntarily retired from my last job...
... in November of 1980. But he was able to clarify and possibly simplify even some very complex issues.
This was a time of the Cold War going on, and our hostages were being held. The war between Iran and Iraq had interrupted all supplies of oil from those two countries, which created a worldwide inflation rate.
And it was during those troubled times that he came into the political picture as a governor of California, former governor, and he presented some very concise, very clear messages that really appealed to the American people.
And I think throughout his term in office, he was obviously very worthy of the moniker that was put on him, that is, the great communicator. He was always able to express his very clearly held views in a concise and sometimes inspirational way. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter speaking earlier today on Ronald Reagan's death.
I spoke earlier today with the speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, about the events of this weekend here on the battlefields of Europe as well as at home.
BLITZER: Once you get back to Washington, you have to make preparations for his body to lie in state in the Rotunda and also for the funeral, for the memorial service. Tell us what you are doing.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, we anticipate that the president will be, first of all, lying in state at the Reagan Library in California. Tuesday night he will fly back, they will fly his body back to Washington. He will come up to the Capitol, as far as we know right now, by a procession probably Wednesday morning, and lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday and Thursday.
And we think then a funeral at the National Cathedral on Friday, then being flown back to California to be interred at sunset at the Reagan Library with a private funeral with the family.
BLITZER: In Simi Valley, California...
BLITZER: ... at the Reagan Library. Now, technically you have to pass a resolution in order to get the process legislatively approved.
HASTERT: That will be pretty much pro forma, but we'll do that so that he can lie in state in the Rotunda, and that's what we anticipate, and we'll do that Tuesday.
BLITZER: And this will be an opportunity for everyday, average Americans to walk by to pay their respects?
HASTERT: Well, you know, Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois and raised in Dixon, Illinois, in my district, and he really represents the heartland of America, and I think every American would like to be there, but we're going to open up so real folks can come in there and pay their respects.
BLITZER: And people not only in the Washington area but all over the country, if they want to come to Washington, this will be their chance to say goodbye to Ronald Reagan?
HASTERT: We anticipate that'll happen, yes.
BLITZER: What did he mean to you? HASTERT: Well, I first got into politics and ran in 1980, the same time that Ronald Reagan was running for president, and that was an interesting time because people didn't really have a lot of faith in what could happen, but Ronald Reagan I think gave America and Americans the belief that we could do great things and we could become relevant in the world.
And, you know, I had to give a speech this year for the Ronald Reagan Day dinner in Lee County, Illinois, in Dixon, Illinois. You wonder, what do you say about Ronald Reagan? When you really think about it, Ronald Reagan allowed millions of people to walk in freedom today because he had the ability to challenge -- when the rest of the world stepped back, he stepped forward and challenged the Soviet Union. And I think, because of that, there are people that walk in freedom today.
And, you know, I think what he said here 20 years ago, and he looked across these graves lining up like soldiers standing at attention, and then he looked across the ocean and said, where do we find these men -- or men like these? And he said, we find them in America. And, you know, I think that sums it up.
And those veterans who were here today, those last precious few of those men who did face this challenge, he was proud of them, and we were proud of Ronald Reagan.
BLITZER: If he were here today, if he had witnessed this 60th anniversary of D-Day, he not only would have been able to once again pay tribute to those heroes of World War II, but he would see an effort by both French President Jacques Chirac and President Bush to patch over some of these strains that have developed. Do you get a sense that they're doing that?
HASTERT: Oh, I think so. And, you know, one of the things you have to talk about is what Ronald Reagan talked about, Wolf, was that, you know, we could make a difference in the world. And I think what the French understand and what the Americans understand is that if we stand together in the world, people who love democracy, people who love freedom, we can make a difference in this world, and we're doing it today.
BLITZER: Are you encouraged that this alliance, this 200-plus- year alliance between the United States and France, can get back together?
HASTERT: You know, I taught American history, and I taught about --President Chirac talked about Yorktown; he talked about we were able to win our independence from the British because of the battle. That was the key battle, and the French helped us do it.
I think there are great people who love freedom, and if we can stand together, we can do great things in this world, to keep freedom for all people in this world.
BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, thanks for spending a few moments with us on this very, very special day. Appreciate it very much. HASTERT: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: And up next, my conversation with one of the veterans of the fight here in Normandy, 60 years ago today.
BLITZER: Twenty years after D-Day, General Eisenhower looked back. "Everything had gone wrong that could go wrong," he said. "The thing that pulled us out was the bravery and the courage and the initiative of the American GI."
Welcome back to "Late Edition."
Now 60 years after the invasion, memories still burn bright among U.S. veterans of the invasion. Earlier today, here in Normandy, I spoke to U.S. Navy veteran Grant Gullickson about his D-Day.
BLITZER: Mr. Gullickson, thanks very much for joining us. Thanks for your service during World War II.
Tell our viewers what you were doing on D-Day.
GRANT GULLICKSON, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: Well, on D-Day I was the chief machinist mate aboard a United States destroyer, the "USS Cory," DD-463. The "USS Cory" DD-463, with our sister ships the Hobson and the Fitch were leading the first wave ashore over here at Utah Beach. And I was the chief machinist mate, and my job on that particular ship, I was in charge of the main control, which meant I had the power distribution and control of the engineering plant. And that was about 80 people in the engineering plant that I was having under my supervision.
BLITZER: So you were crossing the English Channel, getting ready to move closer toward Normandy. Then what happened?
GULLICKSON: Well, we were steaming up the lane, and about 5:20 or so is when the first shells started firing from the Cory.
BLITZER: 5:20 a.m. in the morning?
GULLICKSON: That's right. And this went on back and forth, and I got reports that the ship had taken some hits topside, and some men got hurt. And the firing kept going back and forth, and about 6:20 I got an order for flank speed ahead, which indicates that a destroyer -- that means all the speed you've got. The captain was going to do some violent maneuvering at that time, due to the shells that were getting close to us.
BLITZER: How close to shore were you?
GULLICKSON: I would say we was probably a mile, a mile and a half from the beach.
BLITZER: You had taken some direct hits, but you were still moving.
GULLICKSON: Oh, yes, we were still going, and everything was going well. And about 6:35 my tachometer was going around 255 RPMs, which would be 25 knots, and the world came to an end. The ship literally came out of the water. And the engine room I was in, it filled with steam and the floor (ph) plates and everything came apart. And it began flooding immediately. And then there was a pause...
BLITZER: You had taken a direct hit?
GULLICKSON: We had taken a direct hit of some kind. I didn't have the -- and then the steam dissipated. And what had happened, the two boilers in the forward boiler room blew up, and the fact that I was getting my steam from those two boilers, the steam dissipated up the stack, which in effect allowed us to get untangled from the bilges and one thing or another.
We wrestled the hatch open, got most of the men out of the port side of the ship, went around to the starboard side of the ship. The top side of the ship had a rupture about this wide clean across the main deck. And the ship was starting to buckle at that time.
BLITZER: How many men were aboard the ship?
GULLICKSON: At that time, we had between 260, 270 men. I don't know exactly, but it was right in that neighborhood.
And I got all of the men out of the forward engine room with the assistance of my crew, but we only saved two men out of the forward boiler room.
By then the captain had ordered abandon the ship, because we were still getting a lot of gunfire. And I went off the ship on the starboard side, swam out to a life net that was out there, hung on to it, and it seemed like it was half a day, but reconstructed at the time I was in the water about two hours. And the water was about 52 degrees.
BLITZER: How many of your fellow sailors did you lose?
GULLICKSON: We lost 24 dead and 59 wounded.
BLITZER: Fifty-nine wounded. And the rest survived like you?
GULLICKSON: Yes, they did.
BLITZER: Briefly, tell our viewers what goes through your mind 60 years later.
GULLICKSON: Well, we was out here, the French Navy took us out for a memorial service, and we had a service for our shipmates that didn't make it that are still out here. And it's a very emotional thing. It really -- I was in good shape till I got there, and I was in good shape till I get to the cemetery.
BLITZER: And then what happens, you just lose it?
GULLICKSON: Then you lose it.
BLITZER: Because you remember what?
GULLICKSON: Well, you remember your buddies that didn't come back. And it's just -- the rest of the time you just go about your business. It's an emotional time now.
BLITZER: Do you find as you get older -- you're 83 years old now, almost 84 years old -- as you get older, you get more emotional?
GULLICKSON: Well, I do, because I lost my wife of 59 years on the 22nd of December, and since then the emotions...
BLITZER: Our deepest condolences to you. Our thanks, though, to you and to all your -- the men who served with you and helped save the world. Thanks very much, Mr. Gullickson (ph), for joining us.
GULLICKSON: I'm proud to have been a member of the United States Navy. It's been good to me, and it's a great country.
BLITZER: And we're proud that you were a member. Thanks so much.
GULLICKSON: Thanks so much, Wolf, for having me up here.
BLITZER: My conversation earlier with Grant Gullickson (ph), just one of the hundreds of thousands of allied troops in the fight along the beaches here in Normandy 60 years ago.
Up next, the sights and sounds of ceremonies today commemorating D-Day.
BLITZER: German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is speaking now in Caen at the Eisenhower Esplanade, together with the French president, Jacques Chirac. You're looking at these live pictures. The French flag, the German flag, bitter enemies until World War II.
Now, 60 years later, for the first time the German chancellor, the leader of Germany, participating in these commemorative events surrounding the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Until this day, Germany had never been invited to participate in these commemorative events.
All that has changed. Today the French president, Jacques Chirac, who has a very close relationship with Gerhard Schroeder, the French president invited Germany to participate. And you're hearing the German chancellor express his appreciation once again right now.
That's our special "Late Edition" for Sunday, June 6th. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
I'll be back later today, 5:00 p.m. eastern, for a special Sunday edition of "Wolf Blitzer Reports." Conservative activist and former Reagan education secretary Bill Bennett will be among my guests.
At 6:00 p.m. eastern, Lou Dobbs explores the legacy of Reaganomics. And at 7:00 p.m., a special edition of "Anderson Cooper 360." Anderson will be live from the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.
Until then, thanks so very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Normandy, France. We leave you now with some of the sights and sounds of this remarkable weekend.
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