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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CNN SPECIAL: REMEMBERING RONALD REAGAN

Aired June 9, 2004 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right here to the nation's capital. Every step has been carefully planned. Let's go out to Simi Valley, California. Our Candy Crowley is standing by there with a little bit of the scene.
What do we expect, Candy, over the next several minutes?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: ... minutes we expect that Nancy Reagan and members of the Reagan family and some close friends will be arriving here at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

One interesting thing, Wolf, they've taken the camera down that has been in the room where the president's body has been lying in repose, in the coffin. The family wanting a couple of private moments in there. Before -- what we will see is the coffin coming out. There will be a small ceremony. The first of several along the way as the coffin makes its way back to the East Coast. And the funeral there in Washington on Friday.

There will be ruffles and flourishes, followed by "Hail to the Chief." The body and then coffin then put into the hearse. And they're going to Point Mugu, which as you remember, Wolf, is a very familiar place for the Reagans and for anyone who covered the Reagans. It's where he flew in and out of when he went to his ranch in Santa Barbara.

There will be another ceremony there, complete with 21-gun salute, the playing of "Amazing Grace."

And then the casket, along with members of the Reagan family and close friends, will board the plane, a 747, an Air Force One, not one that President Reagan flew on, but, indeed an Air Force One plane, that was sent by the White House, will take the former president's body back to Washington where there will be more ceremonies as the casket makes its way up to Capitol Hill, where the president will lie in state until that funeral on Friday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're expecting, Candy, any moment now, the former first lady, Nancy Reagan, will be arriving where you are. She'll be joined by the military escort, who has been with her virtually every step of the way, this very, very carefully choreographed process. Major General Galen Jackson -- Jackman will be with her.

When she gets there, we will be able to watch a little bit of what's going on. Set the scene a little bit more for when she arrives. What will happen? CROWLEY: Well, first, she will go where the coffin is, inside the Reagan Library. Then, the coffin will be brought out into the courtyard. And that's when we will begin to see what's going on.

There will be the ruffles and flourishes, along with "Hail to the Chief" as the casket then is moved into the hoist, and then they move from here in another slow motorcade to Point Mugu.

BLITZER: And that drive to Point Mugu, what, takes about 20 minutes. Is that right?

CROWLEY: Yes, it's not that far, but about 20, 30 minutes, around in there, yes.

BLITZER: Candy, stand by. Frank Buckley is not far away from you.

Tell our viewers, Frank, what you're seeing, the sense that you're getting on this historic day.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is a sense of history and occasion here at Point Mugu. There are families gathered to witness this moment in history, this departure ceremony that's going to take place here.

The motorcade you talked about, Wolf, expected to take 35 minutes from Simi Valley to Point Mugu. The expected arrival time, the scheduled arrival time of the motorcade, 9:05 local time here, 12:05 eastern, for this departure ceremony.

Once here, the casket will be removed from the hearse by an honor guard. Just a few moments okay, we were able to witness a rehearsal of a portion of the ceremony that's going to be taking place, involving the honor guard here at Point Mugu.

Ceremonial troops representing all of the branches of the services will be participating. There will be a 21-gun salute fired by the 11th Marine Artillery Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

As Candy was mentioning, "Hail to the Chief" will be played, and "Amazing Grace" will be played, as the casket is moved into the aircraft. That's also when the 21-gun salute will be taking place.

Once the casket is loaded onto the aircraft here, we are expecting the family members, including Nancy Reagan, the children, Patti, Ron and Michael and at least four other members of the Reagan family, along with close friends such as Merv Griffin, the Reverend Michael Wenning as well, all will board the aircraft and then the aircraft will take off.

Most of our viewers, of course, will recognize the aircraft as Air Force One. But as Candy was mentioning, as you were mentioning, Air Force One is only the designation when the sitting president is aboard. Today, the aircraft will be known as SAM 28,000, 28,000, the tail number on this particular aircraft -- Wolf. BLITZER: SAM standing for special air mission. This is a Boeing 747. It's often been used, of course, as Air Force One. It's in the fleet of 747s that the president uses.

This is a plane that President Bush has often used. But President Reagan never used it when he was president of the United States, because it only went into service in 1990.

We're coming back to live pictures from Simi Valley, California. That's where the presidential library is, the Reagan Presidential Library. We're awaiting the arrival of Nancy Reagan and a small group of her close family and friends who will be there to receive the coffin.

It will be taken in a motorcade from this presidential library over to the Mugu Naval Air Station not far away. That's where Frank Buckley is standing by.

We're going to keep showing our viewers these pictures, because Nancy Reagan will be arriving momentarily. But our Ed Henry is watching all of this across the country, here on Capitol Hill. That's eventually where the casket will arrive.

Ed, set the scene a little bit for us. What do we expect to happen, once the casket, the coffin arrives in Washington?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Wolf.

You can feel the anticipation building. You can feel the security tightening, as we move closer to this series of momentum events. Once the casket arrives at Andrews Air Force Base at about 5 p.m. Eastern Time, it will then head over to downtown Washington.

It will arrive about 6 p.m., and start the procession at 16th Street and Constitution Avenue, right between the Washington Monument and the White House, to begin that sad journey down the Constitution Avenue to the capital, aboard that horse-drawn caisson that we've spoken so much about in the last couple of days.

We've seen the drill officials here practicing careful precision, every detail. They are being very careful to make sure they get everything right. There was another practice run last night, late in the evening.

AT 7 p.m., this procession should arrive at the capitol, on the west front of the capitol. That's the side where Ronald Reagan was actually inaugurated as president, as you remember, in 1981.

Then brought up that grand entrance into the rotunda of the capitol, where there will be a V.I.P. ceremony starting at just around 7 p.m. Vice President Cheney, senior congressional leaders, diplomats will all be there.

It will be -- the casket will actually be put up on the catafalque. That this the large platform that was built in 1865 for Abraham Lincoln. That's where presidents and others lie in state. And we are then going to see it opened. Then we're going to see the capitol actually open at 8:30 for the general public to see President Reagan lying in state.

Now I mentioned a moment ago that catafalque...

BLITZER: I'm going to interrupt you for a second.

HENRY: Yes.

BLITZER: Because I want our viewers to understand what they're seeing right now. We'll of course get back to you. This is a live picture of the presidential library here in Simi Valley, California, the Reagan Library.

The motorcade beginning to arrive now just outside the library, the motorcade carrying Mrs. Nancy Reagan, members of the family, some very close friends.

They will come here formally to receive the flag-draped coffin of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States. There will be a brief ceremony here at the library. Everything has been very, very carefully worked out.

And I want our Candy Crowley, who's there at the library right now, to come in and help our viewers better understand what is about to happen. We're told momentarily, Mrs. Reagan will be there. We see the lead police escorts of the arrival getting very, very close to where you are, Candy, right now.

And this formal transfer, this ceremony, very, very carefully choreographed, is about to begin -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Down to the minute, Wolf. There you see the motorcade coming in with Mrs. Reagan, the Reagan children, along with close friends of the Reagans, including Fred Ryan, who was with the president at the White House.

Merv Griffin, Charles Wick and Mary Jane Wick, all expected to be honorary pallbearers in this California. Also some of them, at any rate, will be in Washington, honorary pallbearers on Friday.

They are making this trip -- helicopters overhead. I'm not sure if you can hear them -- really to escort the body from where it is right now, at the Reagan Library.

There will be a brief ceremony with ruffles and flourishes, "Hail to the Chief," and they will then put the coffin into the hearse and make the 30-minute trip to Point Mugu.

The family -- as you know, there had been cameras inside the Reagan library, where the body has been in repose. They have asked, and the cameras have been turned off, the Reagan family and friends apparently wanting a private moment in what has been obviously a very public event. So they will spend just a little time to, as one said, collect themselves where the coffin is. And then we will begin to see, with the honor guard, the movement of the coffin, out into the open, and then, finally, into the hearse, and off to Point Mugu, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Candy, it's a long, winding road that, clearly, we can see this motorcade beginning to move up to this library.

Eventually, the coffin will return here Friday night for a sunset ceremony, a private ceremony, after the formal state funeral, the National Cathedral service Friday morning here in Washington, D.C. It will eventually wind up there.

All of this has been worked out over these many years. And when I say years, I really mean years. Every little step has been worked out by the Reagan family, including the late president, and obviously, Nancy Reagan herself.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. This is -- this has been -- we've been told, then, that the president had wanted to give the people who elected him a chance to say good-bye if they wanted. That's why we have this bicoastal movement back and fourth.

I think you see now, coming into our picture, the limousine, which we presume is carrying Mrs. Reagan, as it makes its way up here to the hill behind me, and then finally to the library, just now passing by here, Wolf. You will see Mrs. Reagan and her family very shortly stepping out of that car, as they are right now at the library.

But yes, they planned this, down to the minute. What would be included, at what time, who the pallbearers would be. They had wanted Billy Graham, I know, to conduct the service in Washington, but he is ill. So there have been some changes along the way. But this is very much how the former president wanted his departure from this earth to be.

In a way that people on the -- both the West Coast and the East Coast could say good-bye if they wanted. More than 100,000 people, we're told, came by in California, to walk by the coffin.

There you see, they have pulled up in front of the library here, Wolf. And you will see, shortly, the former first lady, Nancy Reagan, members of her family. We are presuming that, of course, will be Patti Davis and Ron Reagan, her two children, with the former president, as well as Michael Reagan, his wife, and some grandchildren, who will be making the trip to Washington, D.C., for those -- for those last good-byes in Washington, a place where he lived for eight years. But his heart was always here.

Here I think you're seeing Patti Davis. A little obstructed by some Secret Service. Getting out of the car. And we will shortly, I'm sure, see Mrs. Reagan, who has been through a very tough ten years. But an even tougher day today, I know, Wolf.

BLITZER: So far, Ronald Reagan, the son, has walked out with his wife Doria. Patti Davis, the daughter, she's there in the middle of the screen. There are close family members getting ready to receive the casket, the coffin. There's Michael Reagan, another son with his back to the camera right now.

The entire Reagan family has gathered for this very, very somber but historic moment, right now. There's Mrs. Reagan. I believe she's just walked out of the limousine right there.

She's being escorted by Major General Galen Jackman, the U.S. military escort who has been with her literally every step of the way. His responsibility is to make sure everything moves precisely as planned.

Nancy Reagan, walking into the library right now in Simi Valley, the Reagan presidential library, followed by her children, stepchildren, close family friends, and others, as they begin this process.

Candy, from your vantage point, how close are you to the entrance of the library?

CROWLEY: Well, I'm terrible at distances, but I would say maybe 500 feet, Wolf, as we watch them walk in, both on the screen and in person. We're going to see them disappear into the building, where we're told they'll take a few private moments.

As you know, Mrs. Reagan and the family brought the casket here, and that's when they opened it up to the public. They have, as far as we know, not been back since.

So she will be going in there with the family. We're told no services, just a time for them to be alone.

And they will walk in there, and the hearse has been here all this morning, waiting for the military and the honorary pallbearers to load the coffin into the hearse so that they can begin to make their way out east. A temporary home, but only a temporary one, for the Reagans, for those eight years.

Walking now past the military honor guard. Again, all members of the services represented in this. It's a -- you know, when you see these pictures, Wolf, after the picture we've seen for past couple of days which you'll remember, of course, this is the death of a husband and a father and a grandfather, as well as a president.

And this time alone for them apparently inside the Reagan Library with the coffin. It's a time for it to be a family grieving, as opposed to the public grieving that we've been seeing.

BLITZER: And while, Candy, they are spending a few minutes inside privately with the coffin of President Ronald Reagan, let's bring in Senator Lamar Alexander. He was a governor of Tennessee during the Reagan administration, a close friend of the late president.

What goes through your mind, Senator, right now, as you watch these historic dramatic moments unfold?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: Wolf, what goes through my mind is that, while here in Washington we're waiting for the Reagans, and we welcome them, it's solemn but it's not sad.

This is a celebration of really a marvelous life who inspired a lot of us. And it brings back happy memories for me, and I think most of us who have been inspired by Ronald Reagan over the years.

BLITZER: We're watching the coffin now emerge, Senator, from the presidential library. You saw the minister, Reverend Michael Wenning, a longtime family friend. He's leading this procession.

This coffin is now going to go into the hearse for the drive to the Mugu Naval Air Station, about a half an hour or so away.

Let's watch a little bit as this ceremony continues to unfold.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: Mrs. Reagan and her family, now back in the limousine. The first of several ceremonial events, marking this historic day, the state funeral of the former president of the United States.

Lamar Alexander, the senator from Tennessee, the former governor of Tennessee, is still with us from Capitol Hill.

As you look at the historic significance of this event, this is -- there are not many state funerals in American history. And it's been more than 30 years, Senator Alexander, since the nation has actually gone through this process.

ALEXANDER: Well, it has been. What I'm thinking, Wolf, is how unique our presidency is, and, you know, in England, other countries, they have a queen and they have a prime minister. We wrap all that up into one office, the presidency.

And one of the things Ronald Reagan did so well, and I'm reminded of that watching these pictures on CNN today, is that he -- he did all of that. You have to be of the people if you're a president. He was.

But you have to be -- we want our president to be a little better than the rest of us. We want him to talk a little better, look a little better. And President Reagan did that. He was truly presidential in that sense. And these ceremonies reflect him and reflect that special respect we have for the office.

BLITZER: Are you at all surprised, Senator Alexander, how not only Republicans, of course, and conservatives, but Democrats and liberals, are emerging and paying their high tribute to this former president over these past few days?

ALEXANDER: Well, I'm a little bit surprised, but I think it's part of the fact that -- it's as if the queen had died, or the king had died. In that sense, we always have great respect for the head of state, quite apart from our political differences. But it does obscure the fact that Ronald Reagan was really quite a controversial president. I think it's important to say that. I mean, James Watt was, and his interior policies were controversial. Bill Bennett and his educational policies were controversial. The tax cut was controversial.

A lot of State Department professionals didn't want him to say "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," and call the Soviet Union an evil empire.

So while he was genial, he was strong and principled, and he had a controversial time. So a lot of the people who -- who strongly disagreed with him in the '80s, are showing great respect for him today, partly because they liked him as a person, and because we all respect the office.

BLITZER: You think that there's sort of a revisionist piece of history unfolding right now? In the sense that, even as critics of those days are now beginning to take a second look and look at his accomplishments?

ALEXANDER: Well, as a Republican, I probably believe they're just now finally getting it right.

But I think we're pausing for a moment to respect a man, to respect a family, to celebrate our country.

You know, another part of the presidency is it's such a symbol to our country. I mean, look at the coverage that you've been giving this for this week. It symbolizes that we're all in this together, that anything is possible, that you can come from the roots of Illinois and be the president of the United States, that you can be a common man and still meet with Gorbachev and change the world.

So we're stopping to really look at ourselves. And I think Mr. Reagan's political opponents are wise to do that and are doing that sincerely.

BLITZER: And to the critics who are saying -- and we're getting this criticism in the e-mail that we're getting and also in other forms of communication, that we're going overboard. We're giving too much coverage to this funeral of Ronald Reagan. What do you say?

ALEXANDER: Well, I would say -- we've had a lot of coverage of car wrecks and of O.J. Simpson, of the war in Iraq and of the prisoner abuses. I don't see anything wrong with pausing for a week and thinking about a president whom we all admired, who conducted himself with dignity.

I think it teaches a little bit -- teaches us a lot about America, and a little bit how to conduct ours, those of us in public life and private life, as well.

BLITZER: Senator, I know you have to go vote on a resolution. Tell our viewers what this resolution specifically will do. ALEXANDER: This resolution will honor President Reagan. And it will specifically set in motion the official ceremonies that will begin to occur: tonight's viewing at the rotunda where all the senators will be there, on Friday, the funeral at the National Cathedral, and then all of the other procedures that are in place to honor a president of the United States.

BLITZER: I take it that all regular business has been suspended until after the state funeral. Is that right?

ALEXANDER: That's right. The Senate will adjourn at 3 p.m. It won't come back until Monday. We're in our offices. Friday is a federal holiday. The president has asked that we do that. Most of us are honoring that.

We talked about the Reagans this morning at our informal, bipartisan prayer breakfast we have in the Senate. We're signing a book of messages to Nancy Reagan. Those are the smaller things that we're doing here. And we're -- both parties are doing that. The Democrats feel the same way that the Republicans do.

BLITZER: Senator Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, thanks for spending a few moments with us. I know you have to run off and vote on this resolution. We appreciate it very much.

ALEXANDER: Thank you, Wolf. All the senators will be in their seats for this vote. That's a rare occasion, and that's what I will be doing, too.

BLITZER: All right. Well, thank you very much. We'll have coverage of that, as well.

And to our viewers, you're looking at the hearse carrying the coffin of President Ronald Reagan. It's now leaving the presidential library, the Reagan Presidential Library.

It's driving over the Mugu Naval Air Station. It will then be placed aboard a 747, a presidential jet, a jet that is often used as Air Force One, to fly about 4 1/2 hours to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., where the next steps will unfold.

Candy Crowley, you're over at the presidential library. This brief ceremony went precisely as scripted. I assume they had several rehearsals to make sure there were no flaws.

CROWLEY: They did. They were here -- and this -- remember, these are also in the military honor guard. They practice this sort of thing anyway.

But yes, it went exactly the way it was supposed to and the way the Reagans intended it and the way that the military maps out this sort of thing.

The motorcade leaving here and making its way down the hill. Kind of an overcast day, again, here. But like all these presidential libraries -- and I've seen quite a few of them, as I know you have, Wolf, it's beautiful here.

Listening to the ruffles and the flourishes and listening to "Hail to the Chief," which you almost half expect to see the president walk out. It struck me as very -- sort of dissonant to hear "Hail to the Chief" even as we saw the coffin carrying him. We expected to see that lively step and the smile. And it seems to me sort of strange to hear it in connection with a funeral.

But nonetheless, this is part of the ceremony that has been carefully laid out. And, as has who walks who gets into what car when, who is going to be the pallbearer, all of that worked out largely by the first lady, but also with great input from President Reagan who, as we know, has been suffering from Alzheimer's for 10 years. But so the planning has gone on even longer than that.

So this is a day that obviously everyone sees coming for someone who's been a president. It's planned to the very last minute, as you say.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, who were looking closely at those individuals who were with Mrs. Reagan at this brief ceremony at the Reagan Presidential Library. Obviously, the children were there, the spouses of the children.

But also good friends, including pallbearers. Merv Griffin was there Charles Wick, who was the director of the USIA, the United States Information Agency, during the Reagan administration. One of the president's, Ronald Reagan's, best friends.

You covered that administration, Candy. You remember what it was like, how loyal the president was to those good friends of his.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. You know, there was the Kitchen Cabinet that really were the people who engineered and helped engineer the move from, you know, what had been a union leader to a California governor and then to the presidency.

There was a group of people who saw the president regularly, particularly when he came out to California. Among them, Charles Wick, and his wife Mary Jane, have been very close friends of the Reagans for a lifetime.

So a lot of loyalty in this White House, as there are in most of them. And that you will see people like Michael Deaver, another longtime friend of the president's, who will be an honorary pallbearer in Washington.

So a tight knit group, a group that has been together for a very long time. Obviously, more of a personal moment for them than for most of the country, but certainly one they share with the country at a lot of levels.

So the people that you just saw will be going with Mrs. Reagan, flying on that plane back to the East Coast where they will take part in the activities at National Cathedral. BLITZER: Candy, I wanted to go to Washington, D.C., to the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Senate. We just heard Senator Lamar Alexander say they were going vote formally on a resolution in tribute to honor the former president of the United States.

Right now, the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is speaking about Ronald Reagan, introducing this resolution. Let's listen in briefly.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: ... they're all around us.

In life, Ronald Reagan was a hero to millions. To the freedom fighters in the Soviet Union. To his fellow citizens striving towards that American dream. Ronald Reagan told the world that we are meant to be free.

He was a man of faith and deeply held conviction. Like James Madison, Ronald Reagan believed that in the creation of our republic was the hand of God. And he believed that our freedoms flow, not from the state, but from the Almighty. Our task was, and remains, to awaken in the people this essential truth.

I'd like to close with a story that I think captures Ronald Reagan's remarkable character, his courage, and his vision. It was 1997. And I quote from a news report. "Walking in Arm and Hammer Park by his home, Reagan was approached by an elderly tourist and his 12-year-old grandson, Ukrainian immigrates now living near Toledo, Ohio.

"They spoke with him for a moment and the grandfather snap a picture of the boy sitting with the former president. An article about the encounter and picture first appeared in 'The Toledo Blade' and then in newspapers across the country.

"The other day, the grandfather, Jacob Rabin (ph), recalled their meeting. 'We went to the park for a picnic with our friends,' he said. And then he saw President Reagan. 'And we began to cheer him and said, "Mr. President, thank you for everything you did for the Jewish people, for Soviet people to destroy the communist empire." And he said, "Yes, that is my job."'"

Indeed, America was blessed to have such a president...

BLITZER: Senator Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, paying tribute like his colleagues in the United States Senate to Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States.

The coffin is now in a hearse. It's moving to the Mugu Naval Air Station out in California. Our Frank Buckley is already over there, awaiting the arrival of the coffin. There will be more ceremonies once this coffin arrives there, before the actual plane, the presidential jet, takes off for Washington, D.C.

Tell our viewers what we can anticipate in the coming minutes once the coffin and motorcade get there.

BUCKLEY: Well, Wolf, as you've been saying, everything is planned down to the minute. And it's the same situation here. The motorcade arriving at 9:05 local time, 12:05 Eastern. From that point, there will be a series of things that take place including a 21-gun salute.

There will be the playing of "Hail to the Chief," which you just heard a moment ago. And "Amazing Grace" will be playing as the casket is moved by Honor Guard from the hearse into the aircraft.

It will be loaded on to a truck that is -- that is parked alongside the aircraft behind me, known to most people as Air Force One. Today, because the sitting president is not going to be aboard, it's SAM 28,000, Special Air Mission 28,000, is the designation for the aircraft.

It will a very dignified affair. In fact, part of that, the media has been asked not to provide any commentary during the actual ceremony, the departure ceremony itself. And of course we'll be honoring that so that the viewers will be able to see for themselves and partake in the events right here, as they take place.

Several hundred people, I should tell you, Wolf, are also gathered on the tarmac, guests here at Point Mugu who will be witnessing this moment in history.

Once the casket is loaded aboard SAM 28,000, the family members will also board. And according to schedule, ten minutes later, the plane will be lifting off on its way to Andrews Air Force Base -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It will be a small number of guests, family members, friends, who will be aboard this plane that will bring the body of Ronald Reagan to Washington, D.C. Mrs. Reagan, of course, daughter Patti Davis, Ron Reagan, the son, his wife Doria, Michael Reagan, another son, and Colleen Reagan, Cameron Reagan, the wife and kids of Michael Reagan, Ashley Reagan.

There will be other good family friends as well, including Merv Griffin and Charles Wick, his wife Mary Jane Wick, and the Reverend Michael Wenning who's been with them almost every step of the way, a very close family friend. Major General Galen Jackman, who is the military escort assigned to the first lady, will there as well.

I'm wondering, Frank, these people who have gathered at Point Mugu now, at the Naval air station, these are all invited guests or just people could show up and pay their respects?

BUCKLEY: Well, this is an active military base so I believe they are invited guests for this situation.

But I'll tell you, Wolf, having spent the last two days at the Reagan Library, I can tell you that there has been an incredible public outpouring for Ronald Reagan. Some people, clearly, true believers in Ronald Reagan. Some people, staffers who worked for him or worked on a campaign at one point.

But many people that we've talked to over the last couple of days simply wanted to pay respects to a president, to be a part of history or to witness a moment in history. So I suspect that many of the people here are -- would fit that category as well.

Nancy Reagan, yesterday, issued a statement, after seeing the lines of people that were trying to get into the library. I don't know if you've heard, but there were four-hour waits just to get on the shuttle bus to then get up to the library. Some people had to wait four hours from the freeway to the shuttle bus location.

So in some case, people waited eight hours for just about a minute and a half, or two minutes, of walking by the casket. There was a real sense of a moment in history. And people wanted to be there for it or to pay their respects or to both.

And Nancy Reagan commented on that yesterday in a statement in which she said, "It is unbelievable what I am seeing on TV. The outpouring of love for my husband is incredible."

So clearly, Wolf, Nancy Reagan moved by what she was seeing on TV over the past couple of days with the outpouring for the late president.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, I want to make sure I completely understand, Frank. At this brief ceremony here at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, where we're looking at this presidential 747, there will be no formal speeches or anything like. That only music and tribute to the former president. Is that right?

BUCKLEY: That's correct. The Honor Guard with -- representing all the branches of military services will simply quietly go about its business. All of it being orchestrated by the military district of Washington which orchestrates the entire procedure of the state funeral, which is a multi-day process. And they will quietly go about their business.

The only sounds we will hear are the music that we will hear playing, "Hail to the Chief," "Amazing Grace." And we will hear the 21-gun salute.

There will be no speeches or at least none are planned. Of course Nancy Reagan can do what she wants, even though this is something that is controlled by the military district of Washington, at the end of the day, the family can decide what will happen. If Nancy Reagan chooses to say something, she can.

But that's not something that we're expecting, anticipating to happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect she won't. I think she's going to go exactly according to the plan. Frank, stand by. We're going to get back to you certainly as soon as that motorcade arrives at Point Mugu, the Naval Air Station out in California. And we'll of course have complete coverage of that ceremony. Our Elaine Quijano is crosscountry in Washington, D.C. where people are already lining up to pay their respects. Elaine, tell us where you are and what's going on.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Wolf. We are on Third Street here. You can see the Capitol behind me.

But I want you to take a look at the line here, which actually began forming just after 5:00 today. Now it started off really as just a handful of people. Now I'd say we're up to roughly 30 or 40 people now. The folks who have been here, though, have a long wait yet ahead of them. We understand from U.S. Capitol Police, it will still be around 8:30 local time, at least, before the public will be allowed inside the rotunda to view the president's casket. But one of the folks who came out today actually took a 10-hour bus ride to be here.

Nineteen-year-old William Wiley is joining us from Johnson City, Tennessee. You were not even born yet when President Reagan took office.

WILLIAM WILEY, TRAVELED TO WASHINGTON: That's right.

QUIJANO: Why did you feel compelled to come out here today?

WILEY: Well, I don't know, I came of age, politically speaking, very early in my life, 12, 13 years old. And by that time, President Reagan had already contracted Alzheimer's, and he was years out of office, and he wasn't doing any public events or anything, and I really wasn't able to acknowledge his greatness in any sort of way, and I thought this would be the most fitting way.

QUIJANO: And you were telling me that your family was actually quite involved in campaigning for President Reagan in Tennessee, and that you yourself have some things in common with the president. You have an interest in acting and perhaps politics as well. But would you say the president -- his experience is really something that you might possibly want to mirror in your own lifetime?

WILEY: I don't know about mirror. I mean, it's certainly a coincidence, if anything. I don't know, I'm not try to mirror it in any way. Acting and politics really go hand in hand, I would say.

QUIJANO: Yes, and so you are here as just sort of a representative of your family, though, you were saying, as well. Why did you want to actually come here in person, though, as opposed to actually watching it on TV?

WILEY: Well, as I said before, I thought it would be more appropriate to be here, you know, dressed in the proper attire and so on, and just sort of pay my respects. You know, we haven't had a state funeral in many years. And I said that's one reason to come. And Reagan, to me, was just a very rare sort of politician.

QUIJANO: William Wiley, from Johnson City, Tennessee, thanks so much for joining us. WILEY: Thank you.

QUIJANO: So that's just one story, Wolf, of the kind of folks who are coming out here today. Certainly, he is one of the younger faces who has come out today, but a variety of people are beginning to show up. Now, we have seen -- earlier today, we have seen people bring their children, wanting to be a part of history, wanting to pay their respects in person -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Elaine Quijano, we'll be getting back to you with the lines beginning to form in Washington D.C. Tens of thousands of people expected to pay their tribute once the body lies in state in the Rotunda.

CNN's Walter Rodgers covered the Reagan presidency. He was a White House correspondent during the 1980s, knows this former president, knows all the details. He's joining us now live from our Boston bureau.

When you look back on those days, Walter, remembering what it was like to cover the Reagan White House, what goes through your mind on this historic day?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The man was magic, Wolf. He could sell his Reagan economics program to the most reluctant members of Congress. I remember standing in the White House driveway. You would see reluctant members of Congress, men who really did not want to vote for his tax cuts, they would walk out of that driveway and they were true believers. The man was a consummate actor. He was also a consummate politician. He could persuade you to do anything. And when you were with him one on one in a close meeting, he was the most charming man you ever met in your life -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Walter, as you look back on some of the more dramatic moments -- I know you were there that day in March 1981 when he was nearly killed, an assassination attempt, and he survived, but at the time, we didn't know how close to death he really was.

RODGERS: That's true, Wolf. And one thing I'm not sure many of your analysts have pointed out, Ronald Wilson Reagan was man who broke the traditional curse on the American presidency. That curse being that every president elected since 1840, in a year ending in zero, starting with William Henry Harrison, died in office. Harrison died of pneumonia. Lincoln assassinated, 1860. You had Garfield assassinated, 1880. You had Mckinley assassinated, 1900. Harding died in office, elected in 1920. FDR, 1940. JFK, assassinated, 1960.

They came so close. John Hinckley came so close to murdering Ronald Reagan. And I was there under that pile, because the Secret Service agents knocked me down. Hinckley was standing right beside me. His gun was 18 inches off my left ear, and I can still hear it ringing in my ear. And yet President Reagan, great vitality, great strength, taken to George Washington University Hospital, had a very narrow brush with death, and he broke that traditional curse on the American presidency, that a president elected in the year ending in zero died in office. He didn't.

BLITZER: Well, when that happened, Walter, what did you immediately do in the minutes and hours that followed that assassination attempt?

RODGERS: You -- it's like rerunning a newsreel in your ear. Hinckley's gun, as I say, was about 18 inches off my left ear. He was standing beside me when he pulled the trigger, and you heard this snap, a very loud bang actually. And your first thought was firecracker, and then there were five more shots in very rapid succession. Actually In about a second and a half, you knew on that second shot -- by the time your mind calculated two seconds, you knew it was an assassination attempt.

I remember Jim Brady, the president's news secretary, falling right at my feet. I can still see in my mind's eye a very clean bullet hole in his head. Brady was a friend of mine. He fell right at my feet. And the next thing I knew, I was hit by flying phalanx of Secret Service agents who knocked me to the ground with Hinckley, because he was that close to me. I -- they were not after me, so was able to wriggle out and rush to the telephone very quickly. I was with the Associated Press at the time, and filed a quick rush bulletin, if you will, and reported that the president been -- or there had been an assassination attempt on the president, because at that moment, when the Secret Service pushed the president into the car, I don't think the president was even aware that he had been shot. Certainly, the Secret Service agents were not aware the president had been shot. We knew shots were fired at the president.

The motorcade sped off. As I say, I went to file, as did the other reporters who were there, that there was an assassination attempt on President Reagan. But I think it wasn't until they were headed back to the White House that the Secret Service heard the president complaining about a pain, and of course he took a bullet in this underarm area that went into this underarm area that went into his chest, and it was near fatal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Walter, stand by a moment, because I want to bring our viewers up to date what we're seeing right now. This is Point Mugu, the Naval air station in California. The motorcade getting is closer to Point Mugu. This is the plane that will carry the coffin of Ronald Reagan, and the family and friends back to Washington D.C., where the formal state funeral will take place.

Our Frank Buckley is there, on the scene, near the tarmac, at point Mugu Naval Air Station.

What are we seeing right now, Frank?

BUCKLEY: Well, Wolf, right now, the ceremonial troops, representing all the military services, are getting ready, getting prepared. The Marine Corps band from the 3rd Marine Airwing in Miramar are getting on to the tarmac in preparation for the arrival of the motorcade. It's still several minutes away. As I mentioned a moment ago, as part of the dignified air that they want to maintain here, as part of this ceremony, they've asked that the members of the media stop talking at a certain point, and that time has arrived. So I'm going to toss it back to you. They've asked us to wrap up the commentary from our point, but we'll let you describe it from here on out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, that's fair enough. The former first lady, Nancy Reagan, clearly anxious for a dignified moment at this Naval air station, asking that reporters not speak on the scene. They've also asked that we of course comply, and the military has asked us as well not to have the kind of normal helicopter aerial photography of live pictures of the motorcade moving from the presidential library in Simi Valley to the Point Mugu Naval air station, also part of what Nancy Reagan wants to keep some semblance of dignity, decorum, respect for her late husband. Certainly understandable, certainly something the news media is more than happy to comply with when these kinds of requests are made.

Candy Crowley, you remember, like Walter Rodgers, covering the Reagan White House at the time in the 1980s. I don't think any of us -- and I was there as well. I don't think any of us are surprised at how Mrs. Reagan has asked these formal funeral services to unfold?

CROWLEY: Absolutely not. I mean, one of the things that struck me when you were talking to Senator Alexander, Wolf, is that gap that Ronald Reagan was able to fill between being sort of an everyman, I mean, you know, the guy from Dixon, Illinois, who, you know, came up in relative poverty, who went, became an actor, and a governor and a president. And yet he would go overseas, and I mean, from point a to point z, he could carry off, and Mrs. Reagan could carry off, a very regal, a very dignified representation of the United States. It's very clear that they wanted to continue with that in the final farewell to Ronald Reagan.

I mean, this was a man who did the ceremony and the, quote, the royalty part of the American presidency very, very well. And Mrs. Reagan was no small part in that, in the White House dinners. Any number of things that the Reagans did, they were very mindful of the appropriate way to do things. This funeral and these past six days have all been, according to Hoyle (ph), have all been right down the line, according to both military and -- just funereal rules, and it has been something -- a way to say goodbye in a manner in which Mrs. Reagan and the former president wanted him to be remembered. I think that's why we are seeing so much precision here and so much solemnity.

And I think the senator was also right that this is a time for most of the nation to sort of look back and -- regardless of how they felt about Ronald Reagan, an era has passed. This was eight years, eight pretty tumultuous years in many ways, that is passing here. And as you've also mentioned, it doesn't happen that often. I was talking to my 20-something children who want to go down and see this in Washington, and see the march up Constitution Avenue, simply because history is happening here. And for Ronald Reagan, history had great dignity to it. And that is clearly what they're trying to do with these ceremonies. I mean, even in the moving from one spot to another, just the pace of the motorcade is very solemn. This isn't an OK, now let's get in the car and go this place; this is very solemn, very dignified, and it is a way to say goodbye worthy of a president. BLITZER: Candy, I want you to stand by, because we're only moments away from the motorcade arriving at Point Mugu at the Naval air station. We'll watch this ceremony unfold.

But the presidential historian Richard Reeves is joining us now live from Paris. You're working on a book, I know, Richard, `on Ronald Reagan.

First of all, give us your thoughts on the historic significance of what we're seeing today, and what we will continue to see tomorrow and Friday.

RICHARD REEVES, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I think the historic significance is to maintain the presidency at a very high level. The president, after all, as you saw with President Bush at Normandy last week, is not only the head of government in the United States, Ronald Reagan's not just another politician, he's the head of state. He represented the United States. He was the United States abroad for eight years. So the pomp and ceremony in our system revolves almost exclusively around presidents and around that role.

BLITZER: Have you taken a second look at Ronald Reagan now? you obviously lived through that era. Are you discovering new information that's causing you to rethink some of your earlier thoughts about this president?

REEVES: Yes, I'm taking a second look, and a third, and a fourth and a fifth. I've been at this for three or four years, and I'll be at it another year. And my politics are quite different than President Reagan's. And I was a critic of him as president, and I still am a critic about many things.

However, in doing hundreds of interviews about both the people who work with him, and the people who worked against him, it's pretty hard not to conclude at this point in time that whether or not he was a great president, that Ronald Reagan was a great man, in the sense that he changed the way people thought. And I think we live with that today. This man made what we now know is the conservative movement and the Republican Party. He pulled together people like the Episcopals from Wall Street, the evangelicals from the South, the libertarians, old populous, into a single party, which came to dominate the country, and now years after he left the scene, still dominates the country.

He also -- Ronald Reagan was an old man, and he was -- even when he was president, and he was set in his ways and set in his ideas, and he came to office with a very simple, direct agenda about lower taxes, less government, bigger military, destroy communism. Some of those things went well, some didn't. But we suddenly had a president who broke the mold of conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom when Ronald Reagan became president was detente and containment, and he changed all of that to defeating communism.

The Republicans, his own party, were so concerned of what seemed to be his ignorance on foreign policy that they would constantly brief him before he ran. He ran for president after all three times, in '68, in '76 and in '80. And between the '76 and '80 races, they kept trying to tutor him on things like foreign policy. And one of the people that did that became his first national security adviser, Richard Allen, who, after a day of briefing Reagan on the Soviet Union, on communism, said, you know, Mr. President -- he wasn't Mr. President -- you know, governor, you have to have a strategy to deal with communism, and you've got to understand the complexities of all this. And Reagan said, you know, you're not going to like my answer, but I do have a strategy. And Allen said, what's the strategy? And he said, we win, they lose. And he did try to put that strategy into place and, to a certain extent, it succeeded.

He also totally changed the way people thought of populism. Populism, really, the great American political sport, the idea that somebody up there is screwing you, and you're not exactly sure who it is, but people always thought it was Wall Street and the railroads and what not, and Reagan came and said no, no, it's not big business who's screwing you, it's big government, and people still believe that. He was a very, very persuasive fellow, a president of big things, who tried to change big things, and did it. He did very little day to day in office, except work on what he was going to say to the American people.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He was one of those presidents, Richard, that could focus in on the big picture and leave some of the smaller details to others.

I'm going to ask Richard Reeves to stand by. Let me just update our viewers what we're seeing. This presidential jet will carry the body of Ronald Reagan from Point Mugu, the Naval air station in California, here to Washington D.C. It's about a 4 1/2-hour flight. Before that happens, the motorcade momentarily will arrive. The hearse, carrying the flag-draped coffin, followed by the family, Mrs. Reagan, the children, and close friends, who have been invited to accompany the coffin on the way to Washington D.C.

James Kuhn was a former executive assistant, a personal assistant, to President Reagan in the White House. He's with us in our Washington studio.

This is so carefully planned, James. I think it's fair to say not only what Mrs. Reagan wants, but what the former president would have wanted as well, is that right?

JAMES KUHN, FMR. REAGAN EXEC. ASST.: Yes, I mean, that was the way all of our planning was put into effect for all presidential travel. Even prior to that, on the '79 and '80 campaign and primaries against President Carter and the general, and throughout the eight years at the White House. Very formally planned and structured.

BLITZER: Everything had to have dignity, is that right?

KUHN: It did. And we had that, because of No. 1, the Reagans themselves, being very dignified people. It just came with them, and people like Mike Deaver, who knew how things had to be done for them, and people like myself and the rest of the staff went out, did our jobs them.

BLITZER: So what do you remember on this day about Ronald Reagan that you want to share with our viewers? And remember, momentarily, the motorcade will be arriving here at Point Mugu at the Naval air station, and the official ceremony, the next ceremony will actually start,

KUHN: When you think about Ronald Reagan today, you think about how much he cared about this country, how much he loved the nation, but more specifically what the American people meant to him, and he used to remind his cabinet, his staff, everybody virtually it seemed like every day to listen to the people. They know what is best.

And I'll give you a more specific example. If you went to Capitol Hill, Senate side, House side, you always felt it was more important to hear from them than it was for members of Congress to hear what he had to say. So here was a man who preferred to take Q&A, takes questions and answer them, rather than go out and give a speech in situations like that.

Granted, he gave many addresses. But if Ronald Reagan had had his way, he would have done Q&A after every speech he ever gave. But unfortunately, there wasn't time to do that.

BLITZER: And a lot of times it just happened. Sometimes he pretended. And you were there at the time. You couldn't hear the reporter's questions. Was he pretending or was he serious?

KUHN: No, he was serious. And I always felt Ronald Reagan had one bad habit, and that was that he couldn't say no. He was too nice.

And when he heard those questions, he answered them. And there were many times we preferred that he wouldn't answer them. But he did. But when he didn't answer, he literally couldn't hear you because of the APU from the helicopters, from Marine One, from Air Force One. It was just too noisy.

BLITZER: I think you're right, because I was there at the time. I could barely hear the questions myself that were being shouted.

KUHN: Yes, right.

BLITZER: And the reporters who were shouting the questions were standing right next to me. When the helicopter lands on the south lawn of the White House, as you well know, Marine One, it becomes very, very noisy.

Your job -- and just to let our viewers understand fully, as a personal assistant to the president, your job was to make sure he arrived at various places on time, he had the speech he needed, the text was there. Every little detail was up to you.

KUHN: Your job was to keep him on schedule, keep him briefed up. When you're the president, you're going from foreign policy, to domestic policy, to legislative affairs, to press opportunities, to individual meetings. You're switching gears constantly. That job was the one constant. That individual was the one constant in his life. And my sense was you were always kind of there to protect the president. Not in a -- from a security standpoint, but in terms of him not being surprised and him knowing what he needed to know.

BLITZER: And you were there basically every waking moment -- every moment he was awake, you were there with him.

KUHN: That was the job. And second term, Camp David, every weekend that he went. But fortunately, the Reagans were very good. You got to take your family, your wife and kids up with you. So they took -- the Reagans made it very nice.

BLITZER: I've always felt -- and I covered that president -- that what you saw on television pretty much was what you saw behind the scenes as well. Is that true?

KUHN: Without question. Whether it was the Oval Office, upstairs in a residence, Camp David, or on stage in a press conference, that was the real Ronald Reagan, the most genuine man that I've ever met.

BLITZER: Everybody always asks this question, and you probably did see him get angry and lose his temper. Although I don't remember seeing that in public very often. Did he lose his temper and start screaming at aides in private?

KUHN: Never. There was really only two things that could anger Ronald Reagan, and that was if he ran behind schedule. But I want to preface that.

There were those days when there were crises going on, and you just said at the outset, we're going to be rolling with the punches all day, we're going to tear up the schedule. And we did, and that happened many times. And he understood that.

But on a more structured day, yes, if you ran late, that -- I wouldn't say it made him angry, but it upset him. But it wasn't because of him. It was because of everybody that was going to be waiting for him after that.

It could have been one individual or it could have been 10. It could have been a hundred or thousands. He couldn't stand to inconvenience anyone. It wasn't because of Ronald Reagan. It was because of everyone else.

The other thing that would anger him, that would really angry him, if someone attacked Nancy Reagan. That he didn't like.

BLITZER: Well, talk a little bit about this love affair between Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan. And she will shortly arrive here at Point Mugu NAS, which stands for the Naval Air Station out in California. This presidential jet will carry the coffin and the family and friends, the delegation to Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington D.C. A lot has been said, a lot has been written about the love affair, but you saw it up close and personal.

KUHN: It was unbelievable. To me, it was the closest thing I've ever seen to a fairytale. I mean, it was just -- but it was the real thing. What you'd always read about and heard about, they were the epitome of that kind of a relationship. Deep love -- deep love and concern for one another.

And I -- more specifically, there were times when where it almost interfered a little bit. We could be on elevators and hotels in the United States or overseas, and a lot of times when those elevator doors opened up, the press were there or there were many people there to greet them. And you'd almost have to ask them to stop holding hands, to break it up, so that you could get their attention to tell them what was going to happen next. But they were preoccupied with one another. That's how much they cared about one another.

BLITZER: It was not only a love affair. It was a friendship that was really powerful on both of them.

KUHN: Correct. The deep love, that they were best friends. They were one another's best friends also.

BLITZER: And some might say they were their -- almost their only really good friends, although Ronald Reagan obviously had a good friend in Merv Griffin, a good friend in Charles Wick, both of whom will be pallbearers. Mike Deaver, of course, was very close to Nancy Reagan, still is very close to Ronald Reagan. But there were no other close friends, as close as the two of them.

KUHN: They were certainly at the highest echelon, but the Reagans had many friends, as you know. And they were -- most of those were in Los Angeles, although they had friends all over the country. But when they were at the White House, when they were at Camp David, especially Camp David on weekends, they normally preferred to be there by themselves.

But when they went to the West Coast, when he went to the ranch and they carved out time to go to LA for Mrs. Reagan and for the president to be with their friends, they did that. And they had many, many close friends out there. But we didn't see them here, back here that much, because there just wasn't time. And they did prefer private time at Camp David.

BLITZER: And they were private individuals who cherished their private time, even though he was the president of the United States and she was the first lady of the United States.

Momentarily, Jim, this motorcade will arrive. The motorcade will arrive here at the Point Mugu Naval Air Station. You see some sailors, the Color Guard an Honor Guard. There will be a ceremony there, a ceremony involving all of the tribute, all of the honor that the president of the United States deserves on this historic occasion.

"Hail to the Chief," "Ruffles to the Chief" (ph), "Ruffles and Flourishes," there will be a 21-gun salute during the music here as the casket is walked down -- the Color Guard. I think we're getting very, very close. You see the Color Guard being brought to attention as this motorcade will arrive and the formal ceremony will begin.

Have you had much time over the past 10 years since Alzheimer's set in to spend time with the family?

KUHN: Especially in the beginning. My wife is from Los Angeles, so we would go out and see the Reagans every August during vacation time. Go up to the House, see the president and Mrs. Reagan. We might be there for 45 minutes, we might be there for two, two and a half hours. They always welcomed you into their home to see him.

BLITZER: And did you see the deterioration of Ronald Reagan?

KUHN: No, not until -- no. But not until the later years, when -- and close to the announcement there might have been a slowdown right before the announcement. But prior to that, no.

I mean, we would go back. We would talk about what was going on at the White House and that administration, and the Bush administration, what was going on in Washington in general, what he was doing, about the ranch, about my family. We did that for years after he left the White House. So no slowdown.

BLITZER: We will shortly see not only Nancy Reagan come, escorted by Major General Galen Jackman, the military escort, we will shortly see that. But we'll also see the children of Ronald Reagan, Patti Davis, Ron Reagan, Michael Reagan, their spouses, their family. They will show up as well.

Talk a little bit about the former president's relationship with his kids.

KUHN: He had a very good relationship with his kids, but there were those like Patti, everybody knows, was not one to hang out at the White House. She just didn't.

Now, Maureen, who died in 2001, she lived there when she was co- chairman of the RNC. Ron came in and out when he had time. Ron was in Geneva for the first Reagan-Gorbachev summit. Mike was around quite a bit from time to time. Patti chose not to be. But it's so heart warming to see her there today, as we knew she would be.

BLITZER: I think she's become increasingly closer to the parents in recent years.

KUHN: Yes. Not just today, but for the past several years.

BLITZER: She was often there with her father and her mother over these past several years...

KUHN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... as the Alzheimer's was getting worse and worse.

KUHN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And she's obviously there today, as is her brother, Ron Reagan.

KUHN: And the White House was not on Patti's agenda. It's as simple as that.

BLITZER: It was also -- several people have asked me in recent days, why did she change her name to Patti Davis from Patti Reagan?

KUHN: Well, I don't know that it ever -- I always thought it was Patti Davis. I didn't know that it ever was Patti Reagan. So she changed it. I don't know when she did it or why.

BLITZER: I guess the speculation has always been she didn't -- she wanted to have her own career and not necessarily...

KUHN: Well, yes. I guess she would have been born Patti Reagan. So, you're right, she would have changed it at some point. But that's an interesting question that's never come up before or that I've thought about.

BLITZER: All right. Now, Merv Griffin is going to be there. A lot of our viewers, especially our older viewers, will remember the entertainer, Merv Griffin. He's going to be there, he's one of the honorary pallbearers.

KUHN: Yes.

BLITZER: Talk a little bit about the relationship that he had with the president.

KUHN: Well, I know he was very close Mrs. Reagan. And so a lot of the communication was between the two of them.

The president didn't have -- during presidential hours, during the day and night, generally didn't talk to Merv Griffin. But whenever they were in Los Angeles, whenever they were at the ranch, whenever they went down to LA for dinner parties, for various receptions, Merv was always there.

But their relationship goes back many decades. Back to Hollywood and back to when he was governor of California. But not so much when he was president. But the relationship had already been developed.

BLITZER: And the relationship with Charles Wick had already been developed long before he became president.

KUHN: Oh, yes. I have to tell you, when Reagan announced his presidency on November 13 in 1979 as former governor of California, we went into Advance (UNINTELLIGIBLE), for the team, the Advance team did. And there was this guy my the name of Charlie Wick, and we didn't know who he was. And every time we thought we had what we were going to do for the Reagans, it got undone because it was done Charlie Wick's way, who had one way of doing things, and we had another way.

But we compromised. But we found out how close Charlie was to both...

BLITZER: And eventually he would come to Washington and become the director of the USIA, the United States Information Agency.

KUHN: For eight years.

BLITZER: And to our viewers who might not remember, because today the USIA does not necessarily have the power that it had during the height of the Cold War, this was an organization that was designed to win the propaganda battle.

KUHN: Yes, and he put that agency on the map. He opened up channels around the world. Charlie Wick deserves immense credit for what he did. He served the president with distinction at USIA. He really did.

BLITZER: All right. We're looking at this military band, the Color Guard. The motorcade should be arriving momentarily here at the Naval Air Station, Point Mugu in California. The next stage in this historic process will unfold. Every, every little detail worked out well in Advance.

Jim, you know how many times the president would travel on Air Force One, board one of these giant jetliners, and travel not only domestically, but around the world. You were on Air Force One on many occasions. As a reporter, I've been on Air Force One. Tell our viewers a little bit about this plane and what it's like inside.

KUHN: Well that plane, we never got on, now. In 19 -- when Reagan became president, the Air Force came to us and said...

BLITZER: Ands I'm going to interrupt you for one second. That is the hearse that's carrying the coffin of Ronald Reagan. It's approaching the Naval Air Station. Go ahead.

KUHN: The Air Force made it clear to the Reagan White House that we would have to make the transition from the 707s because you couldn't get spare parts, and that we had to transition to another -- a larger aircraft.

BLITZER: A 747.

KUHN: Yes. And it was clear we had to have a four-engine plane that was going to be a U.S. manufacturer. So we went with the 747s. We had to get the money appropriated from Congress. We had to layout the interior designs about what -- how many seats would be for press.

We worked with Larry Speaks (ph) and Mark Weinberg (ph) on that, the staff area, the state rooms for the president and Mrs. Reagan, the conference rooms, the colors. The Reagans got in involved in it, the White House staff did.

We did all that. We got the money appropriated. We ordered the planes. The first one was supposed to be delivered in -- for November of 1988 on the trip when they went out for Thanksgiving when they did the groundbreaking for the library.

Boeing had never had a request like this before. They ran behind schedule. They did a magnificent job. It just took longer. That first plane, the first 747 -- there were two of them -- was delivered 19 months late. So we never got...

BLITZER: And President Bush was the recipient...

KUHN: Correct.

BLITZER: ... of that first Air Force One that was a 747.

KUHN: Yes. So Ronald Reagan -- none of us ever flew on the 747, Ronald Reagan never flew on it. And I'm almost certain this will be Mrs. Reagan's -- I may be wrong, but I think this is Mrs. Reagan's first trip on the 747.

BLITZER: Unless she was a guest at one of the president's earlier...

KUHN: And she could have been and I may have forgotten that.

BLITZER: I suspect you may be wrong on this one, knowing that President Bush would have invited her on several occasions once these 747s became the fleet of Air Force One. I suspect she probably was, but that's just my suspicion.

KUHN: I'm sure you're right, Wolf, that she was invited. But I just don't know that she got on. But I certainly stand corrected.

BLITZER: Well, I don't know. I mean, the Clinton administration, I'm not sure she was ever invited. And on the past three and a half, almost four years of the Bush administration, I'm sure she was probably invited to join the president and the first lady.

KUHN: Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: I don't know. You may be right. I don't know if she actually went, but it's a historic question that we'll try to get the answer to.

KUHN: It is.

BLITZER: Look at this motorcade. You did a lot of Advance work for the president when he was president of the United States. You saw these kinds of motorcades. This one, though, very, very different, because right in the middle of the screen you see a hearse carrying the coffin of Ronald Reagan, a coffin that will be put aboard that huge Boeing 747, that presidential jetliner to be flown to the nation's Capitol, where there will be formal funeral services on Friday.

The body will lie in state in the Capitol Hill Rotunda tonight, tomorrow, getting red for the Friday service at the National Cathedral. This is powerful history unfolding, Jim, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican.

KUHN: It certainly is. But I have to tell you, when I look at this, I think of what Ronald Reagan could be saying to us right now if he were speaking to us and we could hear him. And he would look at this and say, gee, they're doing all that for me?

And he was the same man that walked out of the White House after eight years of foreign policy and domestic policy achievements. The same man that walked in eight years earlier, walked out from an individual standpoint, from a personal standpoint. Aside from all of his policy achievements, aside from the massive knowledge base that he built because of the information, he was the same individual.

BLITZER: It was hard for him to believe not only that he had reached where he -- the levels that he reached, governor of California, president of the United States. I assume he was constantly pinching himself and asking himself, is this really happening?

KUHN: He knew, Wolf, that he had a job to do. And he never lost sight of that. And he took that very seriously. But he was able to separate himself, his personal side from the presidency. And he did that in such an amazing way, and he did it every day of the eight-year period.

Look, in terms of being president, every day, when he got on that elevator to go down, every time he got on Air Force One, he knew what the job was, and that was to grow the economy, to foster democracy, to end excessive government regulation, and ultimately to end the Cold War.

BLITZER: And he focused in on the big themes, those big goals. And he left the details to his cabinet secretary and his aides.

KUHN: He did. And he used to say when I traveled with him before he became president, when he was on the mashed potato circuit, giving speeches around the country, he used to say then that he wanted people -- if he became president, that he wanted people on his staff that would take pay cuts to come, because he wanted the best. Because he said they're going to get a lot of work for me to do. I'm going to stay focused on the overall agenda and they're going to take care of the specifics. They're going to take care of the details and they'll report back to me, and that's what he did effectively.

BLITZER: All right. Look at this hearse arriving on the tarmac here at the Point Mugu Naval Air Station in California. The American flags flapping in the front of these -- of this hearse. That's the first car in this motorcade, followed by limousines involving the first lady, the former first lady, Nancy Reagan, and the children, the family, the friends, the loved ones. A very small group of individuals who are there.

I want to show you a list of the individuals who are going to be joining the first lady on the flight from Point Mugu Naval Air Station to Andrews Air Force Base. Talk a little bit about some of these people that we're going to be seeing emerging from the limousines and who they and are what their responsibilities, their relationships with the Reagans were.

KUHN: Well, of course, the first eight or nine on page one here are all family. And so they're where they need to be with... BLITZER: The children of Ronald Reagan.

KUHN: Yes. They're with Nancy Reagan, and paying their respects to their father. And it's just -- that's very heart warming and very touching that they're all there together, as we knew they would be.

But looking here beyond that, Fred Ryan has been a big part of their lives. He was in the White House virtually all eight years. Director of scheduling and appointments, private sector initiatives. But since then, was chief of staff for the Reagans when they left. When all of us went our ways, there were people like Fred Ryan that stayed on and served, and now...

BLITZER: And worked at the library.

KUHN: ... and now he's chairman of the board of directors at the Reagan Library and has a big role there.

Of course, Merv Griffin, very, very close to Mrs. Reagan, so supportive over the years, especially during the time of Alzheimer's. When she needed someone to rely on, Merv was always there, as with the Wicks, not only from a personal standpoint, but from a policy standpoint. As we said, with the United States Information Agency through the hard times in the last 10 years of Alzheimer's, there every day with Nancy Reagan. So it's very fitting that they're there.

Joanne Drake (ph), you may have heard her say in a press conference the other day -- and her husband. Joanne's (ph) been with him for 20 years. The White House Advance Office, out in California as a former president and...

BLITZER: She was the woman who had the news conference the other day...

KUHN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... in which they announced all of the specific schedule of what was going to happen.

KUHN: Correct. Correct. And these people never stopped serving, Wolf.

I mean, the rest of us have been in the private sector doing what we're doing. And they stayed on and continued to serve the Reagans with distinction.

Here's one, Diane Caps (ph), a former medic, I believe, Army medic, traveled with us around the country, overseas, as part of the medical team. She spent many, many days, months and years with Ronald Reagan in California.

BLITZER: All right. The motorcade has now come to a halt, and we see Ron Reagan has just emerged from the limousine.

Shortly, we'll see -- there's Patti Davis, the daughter of Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan. Mrs. Reagan will be emerging as well. She'll be accompanied, escorted by Major General Galen Jackman, the military escort.

We'll shortly see the casket being removed from the hearse, transported to this presidential jetliner. It has been Air Force One, but only when there's a sitting president aboard that this Boeing 747 will receive this casket. Let's watch a little bit as the ceremony unfolds.

This Color Guard, this Honor Guard will begin the process of taking the casket from the hearse over to the plane. Let's watch a little bit.

That would be the coffin of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, now moving right into this presidential jetliner that will carry the coffin to Washington D.C., to Andrews Air Force Base, outside of Washington D.C., the next stage in this process. It's about a four and a half hour flight from California to Washington.

You saw Mrs. Reagan. Now she is onboard Air Force One, walking up those stairs, escorted by Major General Galen Jackman, the military escort assigned to her, assigned to this very, very elaborate, carefully choreographed process.

The Color Guard representing all aspects of the U.S. military. You saw eight members of the joint casket team made up of various military bringing the coffin to this plane.

People have gathered at the Point Mugu Naval Air Station to pay their respects. There's Patti Davis, the daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, walking up the stairs, together with Ron Reagan, Michael Reagan, other family members and friends.

With us still is Jim Kuhn. He's the former personal assistant to then President Ronald Reagan. This was very, very moving, Jim.

KUHN: Very much so. And I'm sitting here fighting back tears, and I'm trying to be the way Ronald Reagan would have wanted us to be today. Be strong and think about the good things that were done during his presidency and reflect positively this day.

But at the same time, when I see Mrs. Reagan walking up those stairs and how -- she went slowly. And how physically she's worn down...

BLITZER: That's Merv Griffin walking there right now.

KUHN: Yes, it is. Yes, it is. I still think of her and her strong mind and how graciously she'll handle these days going forward and how much she meant to him.

BLITZER: She looks so frail. But she's really not that frail, is she? She's powerful.

KUHN: She's strong. She is strong. She has physical strength in the sense of a woman of her age. But more importantly than that, I know she's very tired. I know it's been quite a wearing 10 years for her. But it's her mind. I mean, she's done all of the right things. She did as first lady, and she did for this 10-year period, everything that she did. She was a big part of his life when he was president, and she was a big part of his life until the day he was gone.

BLITZER: The last 10 years, though, must have been so, so very difficult for her.

KUHN: I don't know how she did it. I just -- we all prayed for her. We all thought about her.

You do what you had to do. But we always knew that she would be with him every day, that she would keep him in the home and he would have the best care. And she did exactly what all of us knew she would do. And we just commend her so highly and thank her.

BLITZER: The next stage on this plane, she'll be with her children. She'll be with her close, personal friends. She's so far, in all of the pictures that we've seen of her since her husband died, she's been very stoic. Is that the word I want to use?

KUHN: I think so. I think so. And, once again, she -- a lot is going through her mind. What they went through going, back to when they met, his career, Sacramento, as governor, a successful two-term governor, and going through the campaigns that they did.

And all those people that ever doubted Ronald Reagan and thought that he would never ascend to the presidency, let alone be successful, all of that has to be going through her mind right now and what he was able to achieve for the nation and the world as a whole. I think so much is going through her mind.

BLITZER: This plane is getting ready now. Shortly, it will take off from the Point Mugu Naval Air Station. People have gathered there to witness this historic moment for the flight to Washington D.C.

This is not Air Force One, because there is no sitting president aboard this aircraft. It's only called Air Force One when the sitting president of the United States is aboard. It's only called Marine One when the sitting president of the United States is aboard.

Air Force Two, of course, the sitting president of the vice president; Marine Two, the sitting vice president. But this plane has been used as Air Force One, of course, on many occasions once the sitting president is there.

KUHN: That plane was in Europe for -- when President Bush went to France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Both planes were there, and that is the backup Air Force One. Of course the Air Force One is with President Bush in Sea Island, Georgia. But, yes, that is one of the presidential aircraft. Technically not Air Force One today, though.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a minute, Jim. Our Frank Buckley is there at the Naval Air Station Point Mugu. Frank, you were up close and personal. You watched this unfold before your very eyes. Share with our viewers what you saw, what you heard and what you felt.

BUCKLEY: Well, Wolf, I think you'd have to be a stone to not feel some emotion as you saw Nancy Reagan watching the casket moving toward the aircraft there. There was a great deal of emotion, I think. It was completely quiet here, except for the sounds of the 21-gun salute, of the music that was playing.

I don't know if you had a sense of the emotional moment when Nancy Reagan finally got to the top of the ramp, top of the stairs and looked -- stopped and looked out at the crowd of hundreds of people who have gathered here and waived at them. And they all applauded, I think surprised that she stopped and took a moment to wave at all of them.

She was standing just, I would say, 30 feet in front of me when the casket came out. It came out and she came out of the air -- out of the limousine at exactly the same moment, emerging as the casket was emerging. It was a very emotional moment. The engines are firing now. And I'll toss it back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Frank. I want to bring in our Candy Crowley. She's over at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where this day has started out in California. That's where the body had been lying in repose.

And what, Candy, how many thousands, tens of thousands people do they now estimate actually went and walked by the casket?

CROWLEY: Over 100,000 they say walked by over a period of about 33 hours, about. We are told that they got everybody in to walk by the casket that wanted to, having been given obviously ahead of time when they hoped to close this up. But they did, in fact, extend the hours so that whoever wanted to come could, in fact, come and walk by the casket of the former president. Much the same, I'm sure, will be true in terms of numbers, and perhaps even more in Washington D.C., where this plane now heads for a second leg of this good-bye to Ronald Reagan.

I tell you, watching this ceremony where Frank is, we're so used to listening to "Hail to the Chief" as kind of a signal of an entrance. And having it be a signal of an exit is an interesting -- an interesting feeling. And seeing Nancy Reagan at the top of a plane looking very much like Air Force One -- although, as you point out, it clearly isn't -- all by herself, also seems pretty striking.

Just some pictures that kind of tell you in a single second what's going on here. And that is the passing, obviously, of an era. And then seeing those little faces who couldn't possibly know who Ronald Reagan was, but that are clearly there because their parents felt a sense of history and felt it was something that this little girl that we saw not too long ago when she's 20 can say, I was there when Ronald Reagan and the casket was put on the plane and he flew to Washington. So a lot of history and lots of things passing, and the personal touches, and very, very public touches.

BLITZER: The military district, Candy, of Washington D.C., which is in charge of organizing all of these funeral ceremonies, the memorial services, everything else, they point out to us that this aircraft that will be taking the body of Ronald Reagan to Washington has officially designated what they call SAM 28000, SAM standing for Special Air Mission, 28000 is the tail number of the plane. It's a backup Air Force One and what they also call an alternate Air Force One. But since the sitting president of the United States is not onboard, we can't call it Air Force One right now.

I want to bring back Jim Kuhn, who was a personal assistant, executive assistant to Ronald Reagan when he was president of the United States. Help us better understand, Jim, right now what Nancy Reagan, a woman you know quite well, is going through.

KUHN: She's got to be thinking from a personal standpoint, Ronnie is gone, my roommate is really gone now. Because she always referred to him as Ronnie or her roommate, and that's just got to be weighing on her mind very heavily and will for some time, quite some time going forward. And our hearts and prayers go out to her, and there are going to be those of us that will be supportive in any way that we can. But it's just a tremendous, tremendous amount on her mind, from a Ronnie and roommate standpoint.

BLITZER: She must be so comforted knowing that her kids are there with her.

KUHN: Yes, and that is the most heartwarming part about all of this, to see how closely -- the cohesiveness and how they're together and where they need to be. And I'm very touched by that.

BLITZER: This is a moment not only for the Reagan family. It's a moment for all Americans. Indeed, it's almost a moment for the entire world to watch, as this journey back to the nation's capital begins to unfold.

We all remember, at least those of us old enough to remember, and certainly those of us who covered the Reagan presidency remember, when he came to Washington to become president of the United States on January 20, 1981, for that inauguration. There was another journey from California to Washington, albeit very, very different circumstances. Do you remember that day?

KUHN: I sure do. And I flew in with the Reagans on 27000, the 707, on January 14, 1981, six days before the inauguration. I had been on the West Coast with him after the campaign and remember every day going forward, absolutely. Days you will never forget.

BLITZER: Those are moments that, of course, are etched in your mind and the minds of so many people who worked for the president of the United States. I've covered several presidents, and I've been to the White House, obviously, as a reporter for so many years. I think it's fair to say that when you work for a president, any president, every single day you remember. KUHN: You do. It just -- it is so deeply embedded in your mind, it's just indelible. It never leaves you. And I will say this, as high as an honor as it is to serve any president, Republican or Democrat, it doesn't matter, you were darned lucky if you got to work for this man, the nicest human being, Ronald Reagan, you could ever meet.

BLITZER: And no matter how many times -- and this plane is about ready to take off. So let me just point out to our viewers what we're going to do. We're going to watch this plane take off, and then we're going to take a quick commercial break. But we'll have special continuing coverage right after that.

BLITZER: And there it is. This plane, this plane, SAM 28000, Special Air Mission, the presidential jetliner, United States Air Force plane taking the body of Ronald Reagan to Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington D.C.

Onboard, Mrs. Nancy Reagan, the former first lady, and her kids, family, friends. A delegation escorting the coffin back to Washington D.C. for formal funeral services that will take place over the next few days. The final service, Friday morning, at the National Cathedral here in Washington.

We are going to take a quick break. I want to remind our viewers, 4:30 p.m. Eastern today, we will have extensive live coverage, anticipating the arrival of this plane at Andrews Air Force Base, and then the coffin, the flag-draped coffin moving from Andrews Air Force Base to the Ellipse, not far from the White House, for the journey up Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, where the body eventually will lie in state.

Much more coverage of all these historic and dramatic developments. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This was the scene almost two hours ago, when the coffin carrying Ronald Reagan's body was escorted from the presidential library in Simi Valley, California. It was removed. It had been lying in repose there.

More than 100,000 people had walked by to pay their respects. There was a brief ceremony at the library before the motorcade and the hearse took the coffin to Point Mugu, the Naval Air Station, for the next phase in this journey to the nation's capital. Another ceremony as the coffin was removed from the hearse, escorted by a military Color Guard aboard this plane. This Air Force jetliner to bring the family and the immediate friends to Washington, D.C.

The former first lady, Nancy Reagan, joined by her children, were there. She was escorted aboard this plane. A military escort, Major General Galen Jackman, has been with her every step of the way in this very, very carefully, carefully planned out historic moment. It's been more than 30 years since the nation has seen such a state funeral. Let's get some perspective now from two guests. Laura Ingraham worked for Ronald Reagan during her years in the White House. She's joining us here. She is now the host of a radio talk show. And David Corn is the editor that works for The Nation Magazine. He's got a new book that's out in paperback, "The Lies of George W. Bush."

Let's talk substantively right now, Laura, what it means to you. You worked for this man in the White House after you finished law school. And you're watching history unfold today.

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I graduated from Dartmouth. I came right to Washington in 1987. And this was my political inspiration. I mean, think I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today, David wouldn't have written "The Lies of George W. Bush" if it weren't for Ronald Reagan.

We all think, I think, people of my generation, of the ideas of Ronald Reagan. A lot of people are focusing on his optimism, but it was his idea of not following a policy of appeasement, of making the federal government a smaller part of our life, and of really presenting his ideas in a positive, can-do mentality. That's what motivated me to go work for him.

And seeing that little scene and hearing "Amazing Grace," I lost it in the makeup room. I started to cry. It was so moving.

BLITZER: I'm sure -- I suspect a lot of Americans did as well. On this day, when he is being honored, as she should be honored, and even a critic like you, David, believes he deserves all these honors that already have unfolded and will unfold, what goes through your mind, historically speaking, about Ronald Reagan?

DAVID CORN, THE NATION: Well, I think back to the '80s, and I remember a fellow who wasn't well known just for being optimistic and for having a good manner about him, but for being a very divisive figure.

He did win tremendously in '84, but still, four out of 10 Americans or more voted against him. But in terms of arms control, the movement for freedom in South Africa, there were night fights over Central America and the Contra war, these were really -- you remember, you were here at the time -- fierce battles very reminiscent of today. And he was a fellow who mobilized millions of Americans on a very, very wonky issue, nuclear arms control, to hit the streets and protest his policies. He had church movements across the country protesting his policies in Central America.

INGRAHAM: Ronald Reagan decimated liberalism as we know it in the 1980s. Ronald Reagan motivated a young generation who weren't all that interested in politics, I think, to get involved like they'd never gotten involved before.

Bill Clinton learned from Ronald Reagan. This president that we have now, George Bush, has learned from Ronald Reagan. When Bill Clinton said "It's the end of big government as we know it," that was straight from Ronald Reagan when he said that. And so, you know, the critics are going to be the critics. And I think Ronald Reagan, looking down from heaven, would say, David, there you go again right now.

BLITZER: You've got to admit, David, he changed politics in America.

CORN: Well, yes.

BLITZER: He's a conservative Republican who really altered the political landscape in this country to this very day.

CORN: Oh, I don't deny that he had a tremendous impact. In fact, the gap between the wealthy and the poor increased during his eight years, and has continued on that trend. He had draconian cuts in food stamps and school lunch programs. Remember, catsup as a vegetable and Medicaid? I mean, all these things.

BLITZER: Wait.

INGRAHAM: I can't believe (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Wait a minute. Let's...

CORN: Laura, if you're talking about his legacy, it's a full legacy, as is supporting militaries, militaries in Central America that killed hundreds of civilians. I mean, these are things that are undeniable. And when Republicans and Democrats got together to try to put sanctions on against South Africa, Reagan vetoed those things.

BLITZER: In fairness -- and Laura, let me let you pick up -- I believe at the end of Jimmy Carter administration, interest rates were approaching 20 percent.

INGRAHAM: Right.

BLITZER: Inflation was at, what, 12 or 14 percent? The economy was not moving at all, and the steps that he began to take certainly helped change that.

INGRAHAM: Well, it's like the last 20 years never happened to David, I think. I mean, the facts of Reagan's success are undeniable. The largest peacetime economic expansion our country had ever seen from 1983 to 1990. The last George Bush was able to benefit from that then. Of course Bill Clinton even benefited from that years later.

The fact that he confronted the Soviets and left behind the Republican and Democrat policy at the time was huge. People were dismissing him in the 1970s for making that argument.

He was a substantive man, he was ideological, you bet, and he was moved by an abiding faith. Those three things drive the left crazy to this day. And Ronald Reagan would be happy to be hearing what David's saying, actually, I think. CORN: You can argue these things in terms of the imagery of Ronald Reagan and say that that -- that it's a given that he confronted the Soviet Union. Yes, in 1983, he called the Soviet Union an evil empire, and because of that the Soviet -- the nuclear defense forces went on high alert and we got closer to a nuclear war.

Thankfully, it didn't happen. But Soviet leaders and the records coming out of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bureau show that they were already worried about internal decay long before Ronald Reagan confronted them. He gets credit, it happened on his watch, but it still is an open -- no, no, it's still an open historical question how much he had to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union, apart of what was happening internally.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. Stand by for a moment. We're going to be right back. One quick break. Our coverage will continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation with our two guests, David Corn of The Nation Magazine, Laura Ingraham. She's a host of a very popular radio talk show.

What's the nicest thing that you can say about Ronald Reagan on this day?

CORN: He believed what he believed. He had strong principles. He stuck to them, even when sometimes they were disapproved (ph). Even when, you know, people said that happened in a movie, not in real life.

He would repeat the story over, but he cared about ideas. And he tried to bring ideas into public life, and he did try to motivate people like Laura and others. And he was wildly successful. And I give him tremendous credit for that and just sticking to his guns and not and not trimming his sails. I happen to believe he steered the country in the wrong direction and was too wed to some ideas that were not founded or based in facts and reality. But nevertheless, he was strong in that regard.

BLITZER: Laura?

INGRAHAM: I think that, look, President Reagan did something that the critics for years said he could never do. He got the nation to confront the "evil empire" and put a huge amount of capital spending into our military, which ultimately drove the Soviet Union down.

Even The New York Times editorial page, even The Washington Post editorial page will concede that if it weren't for Reagan pushing for Star Wars, which terrified the Soviets, and more military spending at home, that they felt the pressure enormously in the Soviet Union with their economic -- with their economic difficulties. And that was a huge -- he saw that that was the biggest threat to our freedom and he confronted it. CORN: Well, I...

BLITZER: Hold your fire, because unfortunately we are all out of time. David Corn, as usual, thanks very much.

Laura Ingraham...

INGRAHAM: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... thanks for joining us on this special day.

Ronald Reagan's body is now on the way to Washington D.C.. It's in the air. It should be landing around 5:00 p.m. Eastern, we are told.

Stay tuned to CNN for live coverage of the state funeral of Ronald Reagan. We'll bring you live coverage from here in Washington beginning at 4:30 p.m. Eastern. That would be 1:30 p.m. Pacific. I'll be here with Paula Zahn, Jeff Greenfield. All of our CNN team will bring you special coverage. Then tonight, starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, a very busy lineup of "LARRY KING LIVE," as well as a special edition of "NEWSNIGHT" and "ANDERSON COOPER 360."

"LIVE FROM" with Miles O'Brien and Kyra Phillips will be up next.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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