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"Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin Dead at 76; Explosive Response from Brennan after Trump Revokes Security Clearance. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 16, 2018 - 13:30   ET

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


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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: So many songs that are hers forever. Celebrities, family, friends are all paying tribute to the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, dead today at the age of 76.

These are live pictures from her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The legendary Apollo Theater today changing its sign to honor Aretha Franklin, but the picture they tweeted was a file picture from the 1970s. Franklin's star on the Walk of Fame will soon have a memorial wreath. Much more being left there by fans of hers.

Lionel Richie wrote" "Her voice, her presence, her style, no one did it better. Truly the queen of soul. I will miss you."

Paul McCartney: "Let's all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many years. She will be missed, but the memory of her greatness as a musician and a fine human being will live with us forever."

Then there was Elton John: "The loss of Aretha Franklin is a blow for everybody who loves real music, music from the heart, the soul, and the church. Her voice was unique. Her piano playing underrated. She was one of my favorite pianists."

Joining us now, someone who knew just what a talent she was, Ralphe Armstrong, Aretha Franklin's bass player for decades.

Ralphe, thank you so much for taking the time with us today.

RALPHE ARMSTRONG, BASS PLAYER FOR ARETHA FRANKLIN (via telephone): Thank you for calling.

SCIUTTO: Tell us how you, how the people who knew her best, who spent so much time with her, tell us how you're doing now.

ARMSTRONG: Well, I'm a little -- right now, but I know she's in the hands of god because she was truly a great person, an intellectual, and a great American.

SCIUTTO: Tell us a story about her, the time you spent with her.

ARMSTRONG: Oh, let me tell you something. If you didn't play for Aretha, she will let you know it. She said, you got to give 100 percent. If you didn't get it, the queen beheads you.

SCIUTTO: No one would want to face that.

ARMSTRONG: Right. But the thing about her that made her special and made her a queen, and a lot of singers don't understand this, she knew music. She knew what key she was singing in. She knew what chord you were playing. She could tell you what to play. She was an intellectual. She knew about different topics, opera, musical terminology. She was a perfectionist, and she worked very hard so nurture her craft, and she truly deserved the title of being the queen of soul.

SCIUTTO: You know, I've seen it written many times that she couldn't read music, that she was a true natural. You're saying, of course, and we heard in her songs that didn't mean much.

ARMSTRONG: Right, but she could read a little bit. She was not ill literal. No, she could read some.

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ARMSTRONG: I don't know where they got that from.

SCIUTTO: Self-trained. Was she aware of the influence --

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ARMSTRONG: She could read music, yes. I'm telling you.

SCIUTTO: I'll believe you. I'll believe you over the obituaries, trust me.

ARMSTRONG: OK.

[13:35:00] SCIUTTO: You spent a little time with her. Was she aware of the influence she had --

ARMSTRONG: A lot of time with her.

SCIUTTO: Was she aware of the influence she had beyond music, as a voice for civil rights, as a voice for feminism?

ARMSTRONG: Yes, yes, she did. One thing that she did, which a lot of people don't know, she always paid into pensions for musicians. She always paid union wages. She paid above union wages. She was strong for working people.

SCIUTTO: And I know that's important as well because through her life, she didn't have consistent financial success. She was a star, of course, but she was not. She had her own issues at times. ARMSTRONG: Yes, but you know, she worked around that. But she was a

very good businesswoman. She worked hard. She studied the business. She took care of business. She was excellent and was very generous to me. There were times when I was struggling, she paid me thousands of extra dollars.

SCIUTTO: There are too many songs, and I know you've been playing with her since 1987. So many songs you performed with her. Is there one that was your favorite to perform with her?

ARMSTRONG: Yes. The one I recorded, "You Are My Joy." The other one was "Respect."

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ARMSTRONG: And she deserved that.

SCIUTTO: There's "Respect" right there. I love the idea that "Respect" was originally recorded as a song from a man singing to a woman, and she turned it around from a woman singing to a man.

ARMSTRONG: That's right. That's right. Now you got that one right. Yes, sir.

SCIUTTO: Ralphe --

ARMSTRONG: But the thing about Aretha, she was a great person. She was a people person in treating people. If you did her right, she did you wonderful. I loved her.

SCIUTTO: Ralphe Armstrong, thanks for sharing your memories.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you. And keep up the good work with CNN. Thank you so much. Bless you guys.

SCIUTTO: You take care of yourself.

There will be much more on Aretha's life and legacy.

Plus, an explosive response from the former CIA director whose security clearance the president revoked. Why John Brennan says the notion that there's no Russian collusion is, quote, "hogwash."

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[13:42:09] SCIUTTO: More politics now. President Trump says it was something that had to be done. The president makes a direct connection between the Russia investigation and his decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. That, of course, not what the White House press secretary said when this was announced. Critics say the president is punishing his critics and detractors.

Here's what the president told the "Wall Street Journal." Referring to the Russia investigation, he said, quote, "I call it the rigged witch hunt. It is a sham and these people led it, rather, so I think it's something that had to be done."

Let me bring back our panel now.

First on that point, Sam, it's another case where the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, when announcing this, rattled off a whole host of reasons why this was happening. I think she said that John Brennan had been unstable, that he was profiting from his time in office by writing a book, et cetera. The president then says that's actually not why I fired him. I fired him because he was part of the Russia investigation.

SAM VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This happens continuously, whether it's on the national security basis for tariffs or the president having hurt feelings and trying to punish someone who could be a net contributor to U.S. national security. There's an obvious disconnect between what happens at the podium and what the president says. This is an unprecedented action insofar as there's no basis for revoking this clearance. The president has the authority to do so, but this is a direct blow to the Intelligence Community. He undercut Sarah Sanders with that tweet. And he undercut the I.C. when me said, I don't care that you think John Brennan should retain this access. My reviews of him are of unfavorable so, I'm going against you and making this decision on my own.

SCIUTTO: Charlie, the reaction so far on the Hill has been mostly along partisan lines, imagine that. Democrats using words like "Nixonian," "enemies list." We've heard from some Republicans, Senator John Kennedy, of Louisiana, saying Brennan should have had his security clearance revoked. Have a listen to how he put it.

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SEN. JOHN NEALY KENNEDY, (R), LOUISIANA: He's been totally political. I think I called him a butt head, and I meant it. I think he's given the national Intelligence Community a bad name.

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SCIUTTO: Do you think that it's a fair punishment -- I imagine -- you can say you disagree with John Brennan's opinions about the president or maybe that he's gone too far. Do you think it's fair and presidential and in America's national security interests to punish that expression by removing his security clearance?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely not. Look, I think that people like John Brennan, Director Hayden, Director Clapper, these people have a lot of experience, knowledge, judgment that I would want to have access to if I were Dan Coats or Gina Haspel at the CIA. I think this is a mistake. This is simply an act of vindictiveness. I learned a long time ago in politics, retribution is a dish best served cold. These guys serve it piping hot. I don't think there's any justification for this. I don't agree with everything Brennan has said of late, but I respect him as an intelligence professional. He's a capable guy, and I think it's a mistake. The Intelligence Community loses out. It's not for America's security. And I think it's the wrong decision. [13:45:16] SCIUTTO: Garrett, John Brennan not to be deterred. He

responded to Trump's removal of his security clearance with a scathing op-ed in the "New York Times." I'm going to quote from it regarding the Russia investigation, he wrote, "Mr. Trump's claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash. The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of Trump incorporated attempted to defraud the government."

I wonder as you read that editorial -- because, of course, John Brennan was inside the Intelligence Community. He was the director of the CIA until he left in January of 2017. He was inside the CIA at the start of the counterintelligence investigation. He presumably -- not presumably, he has seen intelligence related to this investigation at the time. Do you think he was obliquely referring to what he knows or what he thinks?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTORT: Both. And we know that in part because he says that in the op-ed. He talks about having had conversations with Jim Comey, then the director of the FBI, in the fall of 2016 about whether Americans were actually involved in this. And believing, really, that there probably were going to be. Sam used a word, "unprecedented," in her answer, which I think is worth coming back to because we throw that word around a lot in the Trump era. But it's worth sort of realizing and emphasizing this really is quite unprecedented to have intelligence leaders like John Brennan, like Director Clapper out there as strongly opinionated as they are. The reason they're doing that is because, as they say, they're so concerned about what's going on in our country. I profiled Director Clapper when he was the director of national intelligence. I spent four months with him trying to get him to say a single interesting, controversial opinion under any circumstances about anything. Couldn't do it. The fact that John Brennan, Jim Clapper, Mike Hayden sounding the alarm bells in the way they are should chill us as Americans.

SCIUTTO: Julia, you cover Russia well. You had the president in Helsinki a handful of weeks ago, standing next to the Russian president, questioning the Intelligence Community's assessment. Dismiss it, really. Now you have a president firing a former leader of the Intelligence Community and citing the Russia investigation. Does Putin cheer this kind of thing?

JULIA IOFFE, CORRESPONDENT, G.Q. MAGAZINE: Of course, he does. It's just more chaos, more kind of dismantling of the U.S. system, of the transatlantic alliance. You know, at this point, sanctions doesn't matter. It's all about shaking up our system, taking it down a notch, instead of bringing Russia up.

I do have to say, though, because the Russia collusion investigation it personal, it is about Trump. It is about his victory in the election. It is about his legitimacy as president. So in some ways, it's not totally surprising that he -- that President Trump takes this so personally. That this isn't about national security, this is about him, Donald J. Trump, who criticizes him, who undermines his legitimacy. I'm not saying it's right, but it is kind of understandable, especially given the healthiness of his ego and what the Russia investigation is about.

SCIUTTO: Charlie, are you disappointed that no sitting Republicans -- you do see Bob Corker criticize this decision, but Bob Corker is on his way out. You saw Jeff Flake criticize this decision, but he's on his way out. Are you disappointed that no sitting members, Republican members are willing to say this is a step too far, this damages U.S. national security?

DENT: Well, first, I suspect there are some who have said something. They're not in town right now, so you're probably not putting cameras in their faces.

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SCIUTTO: We've tried to be fair. We've reached out to dozens of Republicans to talk about this issue, and they're all saying no.

DENT: Well, if that's the case, I would be disappointed because, look, I think many members are worried about their re-elections right now. They can't get too close to the president or get too far away. They're in this no man's land. It's creating heartburn for so many of them. It's the fundamental problem. I tell Republicans, you better find yourself and develop your own brand if you're going to survive in this election cycle, particularly if you're going to swing a marginal district. And this would be a good issue, put some separation between yourself and President Trump.

SCIUTTO: We'll see if we see that outside of an election year.

Thanks very much to all of you.

Coming up next, again, remembering the life, the legacy, the influence of Aretha Franklin.

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[13:50:13] SCIUTTO: That song list is so long. How her incomparable voice made her the queen of multiple generations and helped change history.

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SCIUTTO: That was Aretha Franklin singing the opera aria for the pope in 2015 in Philadelphia. Just to be clear, she pulled that performance off at the last second, only because the opera star, Pavarotti, became ill. She did that performance cold. Just incredible.

In case you're just learning, the queen of soul, she passed away earlier today at the age of 76.

Let's bring in CNN's senior entertainment reporter, Lisa France. She has covered the queen of soul for some time.

Tell us about her and why her music was so enduring, going back through decades. And every generation, I think, has a favorite and influential Aretha Franklin song.

LISA FRANCE, CNN SENIOR ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Absolutely. And you know, it's obvious how beloved she is, when you look at all the tributes that are pouring in, from contemporaries like Elton John, all the way to Arianna Grande, who, of course, is much younger. Aretha Franklin is a woman who recorded her first album when she was 14 years old. And like many African-American singers, she started in the church. Her father was a famous gospel singer and a pastor. And she was as beloved for her gospel music as she was for her secular music. And just the power of her voice, we hear it right here. She was an amazing, amazing singer, and there was so much pain and rich and depth to her voice. You couldn't help but love her.

SCIUTTO: She started in gospel and went to pop, and there were times when she returned to gospel and released albums and that quality stayed in her voice throughout her music, through those years.

FRANCE: Absolutely. And we allowed her to go back and forth. She could sing any genera. We saw her doing opera in 1998 when she stepped in for Pavarotti at the Grammys when he was ill. She had such an incredible voice, she could sing anything. In the 1970s, when it seemed like her career was fading a little bit because soul music seemed to be on the wane, she rolled into the '80s and she released, I mean, classic pop songs that we still love today. And she collaborated with the Arhythmics and with George Michael. So just when people thought, OK, Aretha Franklin's career is over, she was like, oh, no, I still have plenty left.

SCIUTTO: You know, she had tragedy in her life, too. She rarely discussed it. Her father -- her father was shot by burglars, died several years later. She had a child, I believe, when she was very young, as a young teenager, as young as 13.

FRANCE: Yes.

SCIUTTO: But she never shared those details in public.

FRANCE: No, no. SCIUTTO: She was very private.

FRANCE: She was extremely private. She was a teen mother. She also lost her mother when she was very young, at 10 years old. And she said the death of her father, who after he was shot lingered in a coma for many years, was extremely difficult on her. She had financial issues, but these are all things that we know about mostly from other people. I mean, she talked, of course, about the death of her father. But for the most part, we allowed Aretha Franklin to have her privacy, because she was truly a queen. She was regal. She did not share a lot. But what she did share with us was her tremendous talent.

SCIUTTO: Was she aware of the influence she had outside of the music world, in the civil rights movement, in the feminist movement? So many of her songs were anthems to those movements.

FRANCE: I think she absolutely was. She was a woman who demanded respect, like she sang about. People used to talk about her diva ways, the way you had to have the room at a certain temperature for her and she always carried her purse on stage, but she was just a woman who was a star at a time when people were very much aware of what stardom meant and how you needed to really carry yourself a particular way. And I think she was very aware of the influence that she had, not just on music, but outside of the musical realm. You know, she never proclaimed herself to be a feminist, but she seemed to be thrilled that people gravitated towards her music as a source of strength and, you know, just to say that this is something that bonds us all as Americans.

SCIUTTO: Lisa France, thanks so much for helping us remember her.

FRANCE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: That's it for me today. Just remarkable songs from Aretha Franklin, something to cherish.

The news on CNN continues right now.

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[14:00:14] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you so --