Return to Transcripts main page


Senator John McCain Dies At 81. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 25, 2018 - 20:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: The inhumane, cruel, words used to describe his last hours alive.

UNKOWN FEMALE: There is video tape of that night, almost start to finish.

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What you realize is that you're watching him slowly die.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: What happened in that house and who was responsible.

CAMEROTA: Dozens of fraternity brothers face charges. One of the largest criminal indictments against a frat, in history.

UNKNOWN MALE: Shame, shame, shame.

JIM PIAZZA, VICTIMS FATHER: They fed him lethal doses of alcohol and then they treated him like road kill, like a rag doll.

CAMEROTA: The alleged cover-up.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: We have new evidence.

GANIM: One of the fraternity brothers allegedly deleted the footage.

CAMEROTA: A scathing grand jury report, putting a famed institution in the hot seat.

If Penn State had been listenting?

JIM PIAZZA: Tim would be alive right now. Yes.

CAMEROTA: What happens that makes you go to the police?

UNKNOWN MALE: No one should die just because they want to join a fraternity.

CAMEROTA: Tonight, a CNN Special Report, A Deadly Haze. Inside the Fraternity Crisis.


CAMEROTA: Penn State University, nestled in the heart of happy valley. Carried (ph) by it's legendary football team, the school is often ranked as one of the finest public institutions in the country.

Penn State pride runs deep, despite its recent scandals.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: Sandusky, a former Penn State Assistant football coach is serving --

GANIM: In February 2107 Penn State was really still just beginning to exit the tunnel of one of the largest university scandals in history.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: Investigators found the top university officials failed to act on and in some cases actively concealed information about Sandusky's behavior.

GANIM: For Penn State to be in the news once again, at a national level, for something negative, is another blow to their reputation for sure.


CAMEROTA: They say when you love Penn State, you bleed blue and white. And that was the case for the Piazza family. Tim's older brother, Mike, chose Penn State first. The next year Tim followed.

What was it like dropping Tim off for that first day of freshman year at Penn State?


JIM PIAZZA: I really, you know, I just felt lucky to have two good kids who were doing good things and they were going to, I believe, have great careers.

EVELYN PIAZZA: Do good in the world.


CAMEROTA: Doing good is something Tim Piazza did very well. In high school he was a Peer to Peer counselor for safe sex and drug education. Friends described him as sweet and kind. At 6 foot 1, they called him a gentle giant. He ran for homecoming king and made the varsity track and football teams.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: He was athletic, smart, funny, humble.

UNKNOWN MALE: Tim, how much was it?

CAMEROTA: In college, Tim checked out Greek life. Just like thousands of undergrads do on campuses all across the country. On average, almost 100,000 young men are initiated into fraternities every year.

When did he tell you that he was interested in joining a fraternity?

JIM PIAZZA: He talked about it on Christmas break. I wasn't a big proponent of it.

CAMEROTA: Why? What were your concerns?

JIM PIAZZA: He's a pretty studious kid and I viewed it as a ...

EVELYN PIAZZA: A distraction.

JIM PIAZZA: A distraction. I viewed it as kind of a party scene that I didn't really think was him.

CAMEROTA: And did you try to dissuade him?

JIM PIAZZA: Yes, I tried, but we didn't fight. I just kept saying, I don't know why you need to do that. Now, I mean, believe me, I'm kicking myself now.

CAMEROTA: Tim got his offer from his top choice fraternity.

Did you know Beta Theta Pi?


EVELYN PIAZZA: I looked it up and I felt better because it's a non- drinking, non-hazing fraternity.

UNKNOWN MALE: Our mission is to develop men of principle for a principled life.

CAMEROTA: Established in 1888, Beta Theta Pi was one of the oldest frats at Penn State. Its member boasted one of the highest GPA's on campus and strong alumni connections.

Kordel Davis pledged the fall of 2016, just one semester before Tim.

KORDEL DAVIS, PENN STATE STUDENT: When I first walked in the Beta house, it was so beautiful. It felt like my future was going to be bright.

CAMEROTA: A mansion made majestic by a wealthy alum named Don Abbey, who spent more than eight and a half million dollars in one of the most expensive fraternity renovations in history.

But beyond the perfect vainer, this Beta chapter had a checkered past at Penn State, dating back to 2009.

GANIM: They were shut down by the national fraternity for alcohol violation, but they were able to come back under the condition that they would be dry.

CAMEROTA: In 2010, Beta reopened as a no alcohol, no hazing frat. But, by 2013 bad behavior had returned with alcohol violations.

GANIM: Don Abbey decided he was going to install cameras inside the house as a deterrent to make sure that the brothers behaved.

CAMEROTA: And by early 2017, Beta's reputation was back on top.

UNKNOWN MALE: All indicators suggested Beta Theta Pi was a model fraternity.

CAMEROTA: So, when the brothers offered Tim a bid to join them, he jumped at the chance.

EVELYN PIAZZA: He was kind of excited.

CAMEROTA: Because you get chosen.

EVELYN PIAZZA: I think that was important to him, that he be chosen. That meant that he was wanted.

CAMEROTA: Thursday, February 2, 2017, Tim and the other pledges receive a text from Beta pledge master, Daniel Casey. Be outside the kitchen doors, behind the house at 9:07. Dress code is shirt, tie and jacket.

BENNET BROOKS, TIM'S BEST FRIEND: Before he left, he was just trying to finish up his homework, frantically trying to get that done before it was due the next morning, so he could go to the acceptance night.

CAMEROTA: When Tim Piazza arrived at the Beta house that night, he had no idea he would never walk out again. It would take investigators months to piece together the full story of what happened that night and the alleged cover-up that ensued.

Friday, February 3, 2017.

BROOKS: When we woke up the next morning, he wasn't there. We were able to get in contact with a brother in Beta asking where Tim was and one of them texted one of my roommates and said that he went to the hospital that morning.

CAMEROTA: Immediately Bennet called Tim's older brother Mike, who rushed to the local hospital.


CAMEROTA: Nobody had gone with him to the hospital.

MIKE PIAZZA: The ambulance brought him to the hospital alone.

CAMEROTA: Did you realize when you were in that room with him, the level of crisis?

MIKE PIAZZA: Being in that room is something that I'll always be thankful for, but it's also something that's always going to haunt me. I was able to see how bad it was. He was on full life support and his eyes were half open and he was banged up really bad.

CAMEROTA: Unconscious and gravely injured, Tim was airlifted to Hershey Medical Center.

So, you arrive at the hospital and what happens?

EVELYN PIAZZA: The doctor said, I'm sorry to tell you it's a non- recoverable brain injury. JIM PIAZZA: I was holding Tim's hand we were all talking to him and

saying we love you and a tear came to his left eye and rolled down his cheek and I looked at the doctor and I said, is there any chance he can hear us? And the doctor said, maybe, because we relieved the pressure in his brain. So, you know, maybe he heard us there and knew he was not alone. But, if he heard us then he also heard all of the people around him and then he knew he was going to die.

CAMEROTA: At 1:23 am, on February 4, just 29 hours after he walked into the Beta Theta Pi house, 19-year-old Tim Piazza died. The cause of death, traumatic brain injury resulting from several falls. Surgeons also found a shattered spleen and severe abdominal bleeding.

You asked the doctors at the hospital whether Tim would have stood a chance if somebody had called 911.

JIM PIAZZA: I said, listen, if he would have gotten help sooner, would we have a different outcome here? And the doctor just looked at me and he said, yes.

CAMEROTA: That has to be really hard to hear.

JIM PIAZZA: It was a knife through my heart.

CAMEROTA: If somebody had done the right thing?


Male: One person. One person.

CAMEROTA: Coming up -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happened in that house and who was responsible?

CAMEROTA: - the shocking details of what really happened that night.


The death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza in February 2017 launched an intense and wide-ranging investigation. It would become one of the largest criminal indictments in history against a fraternity and its members.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That natural secrecy of a fraternity often prevents prosecutions.

CAMEROTA: But this case is different. There is videotape of that night almost start to finish.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Immediately, our detectives learned that there was some kind of recording system in the house. When we started to watch it, we were literally stunned.

CAMEROTA: Stunning video combined with text messages, smart phone records, and hours of witness interviews. A Pennsylvania grand jury detailed the gruesome events of that night in a 65 page report.


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You could absolutely hear a pin drop in the courtroom -

CAMEROTA: CNN correspondent, Sara Ganim, has reported extensively on the Piazza case. She's one of the few people to see video taken from more than 12 high-quality cameras positioned all throughout the house. Edited excerpts shown in court but kept from the public at the Piazza family's request.

CAMEROTA: Have you see the video from that night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I have not interest in seeing it.

CAMEROTA: 9:07 p.m., Thursday, February 2, the pledges arrive. The brothers sing songs and read from a book. 56-year-old live in Beta advisor, Tim Bream, looks on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He actually watched the bid (ph) acceptance ceremony from a balcony.

CAMEROTA: What did Bream see? He would be forced to testify in the hearing months later.


CAMEROTA: But that night, immediately after the ceremony, 14 pledges, 12 of them under the age of 21 march into the basement. Brothers subsequently told detectives the cameras down there were broken.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It turns out a little bit later in the investigation, police realize they were working.

CAMEROTA: The FBI would later recover the video from the basement. That's where the gauntlet begins. Can you describe what the gauntlet is?

KORDEL DAVIS: You basically just run through the house and there's like stations of alcohol and you're supposed to drink it as fast as you can. And people are, like, yelling at you.

CAMEROTA: Encouraging you to drink.

DAVIS: Encouraging you to drink as fast as you can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It begins with a handle of vodka. The brothers are made to stand in a line and pass it between each other until it's empty.

CAMEROTA: Next, the pledges run through stations manned by the brothers, shotgun a beer, run upstairs, chug from a wine bag, then back downstairs for beer pong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In a house that's supposed to be alcohol free, Tim Piazza goes from 0 - 18 drinks in 82 minutes. His blood alcohol was nearly five times the legal limit to drive in Pennsylvania.

CAMEROTA: Approximately 10:45 p.m., the brothers party on as Tim Piazza staggers towards the basement stairs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's so inebriated that he's walking almost like a zombie. He fell down the steps. He's unconscious.

CAMEROTA: Two minutes later, four brothers carry Tim's limp body into the great hall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they carry him back up the stair to put him on the couch his shirt is lifted up, so you can see a bruise on his abdomen, and it's very clear there trying to wake him up. So someone throws some sort of liquid on his face. Someone hits him. Somebody shakes him.

At one point, one brother sits on his legs so he can't roll over. You can see this brother checking his phone, and he told police he was checking sports scores while Tim is laying there trying to - he's agitated. He's trying to move.

CAMEROTA: Less than half an hour after the first fall, Kordel Davis walks in. And what do you see?

DAVIS: People standing around the couch pointing and laughing. So I walk over and right away, I kind of look over Tim. He looked horrible, and he was thrashing around making awkward movements. And he was kind of making sounds, but they were unintelligible.

And they're like, "he's going to be fine. He needs to sleep it off." And I said, "we actually need to call 911."

CAMEROTA: You were trying to sound the alarm. You were saying, "we need to call 911." What was their response to you?

DAVIS: They're response was, "you are overreacting." At that point, someone gets off the couch. They're just very angry and they shove me against the wall. I wasn't expecting my own fraternity brother to assault me.

So I go over to the vice president and I'm like, "honestly, like, Tim could have a concussion. We need to wake him up, call 911, and get him to a hospital." And he's like, "that's a myth." They're saying, "we're kinesiology and biology majors. This is what we do."

CAMEROTA: CNN reached out to both Beta brothers for comment. Neither they not their lawyers responded. Close to midnight, a brother sends a group text message. "Piazza might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs hair first. Going to need help." But real help never arrives, and no one calls 911 that night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another brother throws a shoe at him. Another brother appears to hit him right near that bruise on his stomach. They're doing things that look like they're trying to get him to snap out of it.

CAMEROTA: In the wee hours, Tim is left alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's now the middle of the night, and Tim Piazza is no longer unconscious.


GANIM : It's now the middle of the night and Tim Piazza is now no longer unconscious. He's going for the door and several times he falls into the door, or falls into furniture near the door he clearly hits his head on the floor. He clearly hits his head on the metal staircase. During a lot of this time period he's simply just rolling around on the floor, clearly in pain.

And what you realize from watching that portion of tape is that you're watching him slowly die.

EVELYN PIAZZA: Nobody stayed with him, and then he got up. He tried to escape so many times. He tired to live. They all went to bed. They all got a good nights sleep.

STACY PARKS MILLER, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Around 7:00 a.m. Tim makes his way back to those same steps that he fell down before. He is unable to even take a few steps without falling. And he disappears off the screen. They're very steep steps. And then you see nothing for a few hours.

CAMEROTA: Around 10:00 a.m. brothers find him in the basement and carry him upstairs for a second time.

MILLER: Timothy appears frank fully, he appears deceased. And they put him on the coach.

GANIM: This time he is stiff, completely motionless. And he's white as a ghost.

CAMEROTA: The brothers search Google on their phones. With terms like "true or false a person with a concussion should be kept awake", and "cold extremities in drunk person".

TIM KLINE, PIAZZA FAMILY ATTORNEY: You could see them looking at his stiff hand and trying to kind of pull them apart, pushing his hands back, and then his hands folding back.

GANIM: About 45 minutes after they bring him up for the second time from the basement two things happen. The brothers begin to clean up the house and then someone calls 911.

UNKNOWN FEMALE, 911 OPEARTOR: 911 what is the address of your emergency?

GANIM: Well police later said is that they were directed to clean up before 911 was called.

UNKNOWN MALE, FRATERNITY BROTHER: We have a friend who is unconscious. He hasn't moved, he has cold extremities, we probably need an ambulance. CAMEROTA: More than 12 hours after Tim Piazza's first fall help is on

the way. But it would be too late.

JAMES PIAZZA: They killed him. They fed him lethal doses of alcohol and they killed him. And then they treated him like road kill, like a rag doll.

CAMEROTA: Coming up, and inside look at fraternity pledging.

UNKNOWN MALE: The brothers can do anything to you.



ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news here on CNN. US Senator John McCain has died at the age of 81. His passing comes after a battle with brain cancer that was first diagnosed in July of 2017. The Republican from Arizona was a giant in American politics. Respected on both sides of the aisle. He was elected to the Senate six times. He ran for president twice. John McCain served in the US Navy for more than 20 years as a captain. He was shot down of North Vietnam, held there as a prisoner of war for more than 5 years. Again he ran for president twice. In 2008 he became the republican nominee for president, eventually losing to Barack Obama. Most recently he has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump. Our Dana Bash has a look back at John McCain's distinguished political career.


DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: His dramatic senate return against doctors orders after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

JOHN MCCAIN, US SENATOR: I've been a member of the Unites States Senate for 30 years.

BASH: His late night thumbs down that single handedly crushed his parties push to repeal and replace Obamacare. John McCain's last big moment in the political spotlight captured so many of the complexities of his character, a stubborn man who survived many a brush with death, who spent a lifetime looking for moments to shine as a leader, and put country first.

Yet forever a hotdog fighter pilot with dramatic flair and white knuckle political instincts. John Sidney McCain III was born with a storied legacy of service to live up to. His father and grandfather were both for star Admirals.

LINDSEY GRAHAM, U.S. SENATE REPUBLICAN: His father and his grandfather instilled in him a sense of duty, honor and country.

BASH: Young McCain's passion was literature. He was a voracious reader all his life.

MCCAIN: Hemmingway has always been my favorite author. In many ways a larger than life figure that I always admired a lot. BASH: Yet McCain followed the path of larger than life figures in his

own family. Enrolling at the navel academy, where he stood out for being a trouble maker, not a future leader.

MCCAIN: I'm the guy that stood fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy.

BASH: He became a fighter pilot. His first combat mission during the Vietnam was aboard the USS Forrestal.

UNKNOWN MALE: Fire! Fire! Fire on the flight deck!

BASH: On deck his plane was accidently struck by a missal causing a huge inferno. 134 fellow sailors dyed. A few months later McCain was on a routine bombing mission. His plane was shot down.

MCCAIN: I was gyrating very violently, almost straight down. So I had to eject very quickly. I was - and act unconscious.

BASH: He found himself surrounded by angry villagers swinging bayonets. The North Vietnamese forced him to give this interview in exchange for life saving treatments.

MCCAIN: I've been treated well here.

BASH: He was taken as a prisoner of war and tortured.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: He was beaten on a regular basis. You know being hung by his arms from the ceiling, sockets pulled out.

BASH: When his father Jack McCain was named Commander of U.S. Pacific Forces the Vietnamese offered John McCain freedom. He refused. It would have broken POW protocol. Release in order of capture.

MCCAIN: There was a correlation between my refusal to accept early release and my treatment. The treatment got very much worse.

BASH: Ultimately they broke McCain. Getting him to sign a statement admitting to claims against him, which he regretted the rest of this life.

JOHN WEAVER, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: After he signed it I think he wanted just to die.

BASH: Because he felt so disloyal?

WEAVER: He felt - he felt shame. That he had let the country down.

BASH: Finally after nearly five and a half years in prison, McCain was released.

WEAVER: You still see the impact of that today. The way he was tied, you know the way he can't raise his arm. His hands can't comb his hair. The things that we take for granted. BASH: His marriage to first wife Carol who waited anxiously for McCain while imprisoned fell apart. Captain McCain became a Naval liaison to the U.S. Senate where he caught the political bug. In 1982, he ran for the House from Arizona, home with new wife Cindy, and won.


BASH: Four years later, it was on to the U.S. Senate. Early on, controversy. The Keating Five. McCain and four other senators met regulators investigating the failed savings and loan bank of Charles Keating, a McCain contributor.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am, of course, relieved that I have been exonerated.

BASH: An investigation cleared McCain of wrongdoing but rebuked him for poor judgment. The episode set McCain on a crusade to clean up Washington, pushing campaign finance reform, fighting big tobacco, railing against earmarks.

MCCAIN: That's our obligation and our duty to the American people.

BASH: Everything with passion, humor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's very direct.

JOE LIEBERMAN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: He's also very funny. He has a way of, sort of, teasing people he likes.

MCCAIN: And thanks for the question, you little jerk.

He was a little jerk.

BASG: And a famous temper.

MCCAIN: Be a complete jerk to his closest friends and hug you dearly next.

BASH: In the falloff 1999, McCain announced his candidacy for president. As an underdog, he got attention by being constantly available to reporters aboard his bus, the straight talk express.

He trouped frontrunner George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primaries but then lost South Carolina where it got ugly and personal.

McCain soon dropped out and returned to the Senate even more determined to work across the aisle with Democrats like Ted Kennedy on issues like a patient's bill of rights and immigration reform.

MCCAIN: I announced my candidacy for president of the United States.

BASH: In 2008, his second presidential bid. This time he was the heir apparent. But McCain support for a surge of troops in Iraq and bipartisan work on immigration reform hurt him with GOP voters. His poll numbers plunged.

He held town halls in New Hampshire, talked boarder security instead of immigration reform and climbed back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fact that you're getting a second chance, sir, what does that say to you?

MCCAIN: It means that we are happy with how far we've come.

BASH: After securing the GOP nomination, he had to pick a running mate, close friend, Democrat turned independent Joe Lieberman was his first choice.


BASH: He never told you that?

LIEBERMAN: No, he did.

BASH: Aides convinced McCain that Lieberman's support for abortion rights made it impossible. McCain still went fold, first term Alaska governor, Sarah Palin.

At first, Palin helped McCain draw conservative support he was lacking. But after some bizarre interviews, many campaign aides consider her a liability.

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: -- and comes into the airspace of the United States.

BASH: McCain would never say he regretted choosing Palin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't talk about it, no, ever, and he never will.

BASH: The economic collapse in September 2008 ultimately sealed McCain's defeat.

Still, he worked to stay out of gutter politics, taking the mike from a voter who claim Barack Obama was Arab.

MCCAIN: No, ma'am.

BASH: And giving a concession speech that marked the historic moment for the country.

MCCAIN: This is a historic election. And I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans. And for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.

BASH: McCain settled into life as senior statesman, fulfilled the dream of becoming Senate arms services chairman and travelled around the world every chance he got. An informal diplomat and an informed senator.

When President Trump was elected, McCain took it upon himself to reassure world leaders, visiting 26 countries and four continents in the first six months of 2017 alone.

Even at age 80, McCain liked to travel with and mentor younger senators in both parties forging close relationships.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He is loyal to his friends. He loves his country and if he has to the stand up to his party for his country, so be it. He would die for this country. I love him to death.

BASH: His July 2017 brain cancer diagnoses and treatment for it, forced McCain to slow down but he hated pity.

This is how he always wanted to be remembered. Paraphrasing his political hero, Teddy Roosevelt.

MCCAIN: I've had the most wonderful life and career that anybody will ever meet.

Thank you.

Dana bash, CNN, Washington.


ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: A man who kept that positive attitude until the end, who kept his sense of humor, who kept his appreciation for life, for service.

Let me read you the statement we got from Senator McCain's office this evening. It reads "Senator John Sidney McCain III died at 4:28 p.m. on August 25th, 2018. With the senator when he passed where his wife, Cindy and their family. At his death, he has served the United States of America faithfully for 60 years."

[20:35:09] I want to bring in CNN's Dana Bash. And, Dana, I know you've been close with John McCain, with his family. You've been keeping in touch with those who are close to him in his final days and final hours. What do we know about what has been happening there with that friend and family and all of these people who have been rallying around him in these last few moments?

BASH (through telephone): Well, what happened unfortunately so many of us know from friends and families who have suffered this horrible disease of cancer that when the end comes and in the case of Senator McCain, as we heard officially from his office yesterday. He decided to stop treatment. Everybody gathers for what obviously is something that they knew was inevitable. But it's obviously not the same as knowing as it happening.

And Senator McCain is a father, is a grandfather. He's got a loving wife, seven kids and friendships that are so close, somebody who knows him very well said that they're like love affairs, the friendships that he has forged over his entire lifetime.

Speaking of friends, I just wanted to read you a tweet that we just saw from Lindsey Graham who you just saw in that piece there, saying "America and freedom have lost one of her greatest champions and I've lost one of my dearest friends and mentor." That's coming from Lindsey Graham. I also just want to -- as we soak in this news and you talked about his final moments and his family being around him, one of the things, one of the gifts that Senator McCain and his longtime collaborator and dear friend, Mark Salter, has given to us his insight into how he thought, how he felt about the world, but also about his own mortality, particularly towards the end and in his most recent book "Restless Wave" he wrote, "I'd like go back to our valley and see the creek after the rain and hear the cottonwoods whisper in the wind."

There, he's talking about his beloved home, really the only home he knew because he was a military kid and travelled around all his life. Arizona, in this particular where house he passed away, he loved so much. And he wrote, "I want to smell the rose-scented breeze and feel the sun on my shoulders. I want to watch the hawk hunt in the sycamore and then take my leave bound for a place near my old friend, Chuck Larson in the cemetery on the Severn back where it began."

So the Severn referring to the river near Annapolis, the naval academy where he went, where his father and grandfather, admirals both also attended and where we believe that he is going to be buried, Ana.

CABRERA: Dana Bash, I'm going to let you go so you can continue to gather some more information. I do want to again read that tweet from Lindsey Graham. So poignant. "America and freedom have lost one of her greatest champions and I have lost one of my dearest friends and mentor."

We're also hearing from other members across the aisle, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tweeting, "We will never forget the unparalleled courage, heart, and service of John McCain. My thoughts are with his family as they mourn this great loss, but also as they celebrate his incredible life. It was a privilege to serve beside John in the Senate and he will be so greatly missed."

I want to bring in CNN's Wolf Blitzer now, because it really was an incredible life, Wolf. He was somebody who was known as a fighter in every aspect of his life, from his service in the military to his service as a U.S. Senator first elected in 1986 serving six terms. Somebody who worked across the aisle and always, always stayed true to his conviction no matter if it was along the same lines as the majority of his party.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (through telephone): He was a really unusual politician. I think he was so honest with his own national security, especially his national security.

Even though he was a conservative Republican, even though he was very loyal to his party, and loyal to the conservative movement, he was always willing to work with Democrats, including very liberal Democrats.

If there was an area they can work together to the national interest, especially in the area of national security, Ana. I covered him for a long, long time, more than 30 years and interviewed him dozens and dozens of times. Spent a lot of quality time with him over the years. And when you compare this politician to so many other politicians, he was really unique. And that he was willing to speak up and what he felt was the truth, not play games. He was always, always there and he will certainly be missed because he was such an unusual man, a great American, a great patriot.


Someone who was always, always working for the American people and you can agree with him, you could disagree with him but you always have to respect him and especially what he went through during his life. And he didn't make a big deal out of it. It's really amazing to think of the years -- 5-1/2 years he was a POW in Vietnam and then he was one of the leaders in working to restore relations with a new Vietnam.

It really is so sad when you think about the fact that he is now gone and I think I speak for everyone here at CNN, certainly everyone in the United States and around the world who knew him, admired him, loved him. We express our deepest, deepest condolences to his very, very loving family.

CABRERA: Absolutely. Wolf, do you have any memories that are top of mind of John McCain in the time that you covered him and knew him as a senator?

BLITZER: You know, years and years ago, there was very -- a Democrat here in Washington named David Ifshin who was close to Bill Clinton when he was president and a leader in the Democratic Party, the DNC.

But during Vietnam War, David, he was an anti-war protester. Very out spoken, very active and as we know John McCain has done an amazing and he was serving, flying missions in Vietnam and then eventually was a POW for more than five years.

I remember that they became close in later years. Even though David Ifshin was a Democrat, even though John McCain was a Republican, even though David Ifshin really oppose the war in Vietnam and John McCain fought in the Vietnam War. And it was one of the most riveting moments.

I remember David Ifshin as a young man, he passed away and I went to his funeral here in the D.C. area and John McCain gave the eulogy to David Ifshin. There was such a kind jester on his part, even though they were so different during the Vietnam War. They did become friends in later years. And it was just a beautiful eulogy that he deliver at his funeral. And it's just sort of indicative.

It underscores the man that John McCain was, that he could get beyond, move beyond and work together, especially when he thought that there was in the American national interest to do so. And he was just so bold, so courageous and it's just very sad for all of us that knew him, admired him, covered him, interviewed him. To know that he is now gone at 81 years old, almost 82.

But it's just a sad, sad moment and I'm sure his family, they've been preparing for this for more than a year when he was diagnosed of brain cancer. But when it happens, it happens. Those of us have gone through this family member's notes. You can get ready, you can prepare, but once it's really there, it's so, so sad.

CABRERA: No doubt about it. He was diagnosed in July of 2017. He has spoken about how he has survived longer than family thought he might because of what doctors had told him given his very aggressive brain cancer that he was suffering from.

We have new reporting, Wolf, stand by, about John McCain's plans for his funeral service. Something that apparently had begun over the last year. He had been planning for his services. Often discussing the plans with close friends who lived and who visited his Arizona ranch.

Two people close to McCain say that he wanted three locations for services including Arizona, the National Cathedral in Washington and Annapolis. This is reporting from our Jeff Zeleny.

Also, as we have previously reported, he did not want President Trump to be at his funeral and that apparently is a wish that he held true to the very end. He's also asked that some of the eulogies at his funeral come from former presidents from Barack Obama as well as George W. Bush.

So now again, the plans continue in the works for what happens next for John McCain, for his family. A close group of friends are planning to be with him next Wednesday which would have been his 82nd birthday but they were told on Wednesday that he wouldn't make it that long. So this did happen very quickly.

We just got a statement from Meghan McCain. John McCain's daughter. Let me read it to you. She writes, "My father, United States senator, John Sidney McCain III departed this life today. I was with my father at his end as he was with me at my beginning.


In the 33 years we shared together he raised me, taught me, corrected me, comforted me, encouraged me and supported me in all things. He loved me and I loved him. He taught me how to live. His love and his care ever present always unfailing. Took me from a girl to a woman and he showed me what it is to be a man. All that I am is thanks to him.

Now that he is gone, the task of my lifetime is to live up to his example, his expectations and his love. My father's passing comes with sorrow and grief for me, for my mother, for my brothers and for my sisters. He was a great fire who burned bright and we lived in his light and warmth for so very long. We know that his flame lives on in each of us.

The days and years to come will not be the same without my dad but they will be good days filled with life and love because of the example he lived for us. Your prayers for his soul and for our family, are sincerely appreciated. My father is gone and I miss him as only -- and I miss him as only an adoring daughter can. But in this loss, and in this sorrow, I take comfort in this.

John McCain hero of the republic and to his little girl wakes today to something more glorious than anything on this earth. Today the warrior enters his true and external life, an eternal life greeted by those who have gone before him, rising to meet the author of all things"

And then she writes this, "The dream has ended." This is the mourning. Again, that statement from Meghan McCain, reaction to his death from his daughter. She is one of seven children that McCain leaves behinds from two different marriages.

And just now, we also have a statement from the president of the United States, Donald Trump who just tweeted this, "My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you."

And, Wolf, getting that statement from the president, that's notable because since it was announced that John McCain had terminated his medical treatment, the president had not commented on him at all.

BLITZER: Yes. No, he had not commented on him at all and there was a long history, unfortunately, of animosity of President Trump, including over this past year that was often repeatedly at various campaign rallies and those who were, you know, going after John McCain, because John McCain, in the end, voted against the complete repeal of Obamacare and the president would often talk about that.

But going back to 2015 when John McCain was -- he certainly was a national hero and everybody remembered his service in the U.S. military, U.S. Navy and five and a half years, he was a POW. But all of us remember that -- and it's hard to even talk about this, it's a sad moment.

But in 2015 when he was a candidate, he was out in Iowa and he said that John McCain was not a hero because he was a POW. POWs are not really heroes. It was just a sad, awful moment and he never regretted it as a president, never apologized, never reached out. It was just a very, very disturbing moment in American history. Glad he's issued a statement finally.

But as the family has made it clear, the McCain family has made it clear they really don't want President Trump to come to the funeral. They don't want him involved. There's tension there and it certainly is understandable.

CABRERA: And of course John McCain, he ran to be president twice. Did not succeed. But in 2008, the second time that he ran, the first time was in the 2000 race. In 2008 race, he did receive his party's nomination and now we're hearing from the man that he ran against in that race, now former President Barack Obama who just a statement along with Michelle Obama.

And they write this about the passing of Senator John McCain. They write, "John McCain and I were members of different generations, came from completely different backgrounds and competed at the highest level of politics but we shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher, the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed.

We saw our political battles even as a privilege, something noble, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those high ideals at home and to advance them around the world. We saw this country as a place where anything is possible and citizenship as our patriotic obligation to ensure forever remains that way.

Few of us have been tested the way John once was or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John's best, he showed us what that means and for that, we're all in his debt.

Michelle and I send our most heartfelt condolences to Cindy and their family."


Again a statement from former president Barack Obama. He talks about his courage.

And, Wolf, you've also talked about his time serving as a POW, in the Vietnam War. He was captured in October of 1967. Served -- withheld prisoner until March of 1973. We know his captors tortured him. In fact, tortured him so badly that he couldn't raise his arms pass a certain level, even after he was -- he was saved and recovered from those injuries. He was permanently damaged. He was held in solitary confinement.

And what I really find amazing that I think, Wolf, speaks so much to his character is that he had declined an offer of early release because he wanted other people who had been prisoner longer to be let go first.

BLITZER: Yes. It was underscored the nature of this wonderful man that when he was a POW, since his father, who was a retired U.S. admiral, well-known in the North Vietnamese knew about that. They will let even make a gesture and release him even though there were other Americans who were held longer and McCain himself said that's not happening. I'll wait my turn. I'm not going to get special service because my father is a retired U.S. Navy admiral.

He stayed put. He stayed in Vietnam. He didn't have to. He could have left. But it just -- it shows what kind of man he was. He was a true American hero, someone that was so widely respected.

The other day, yesterday, I was interviewing Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who's a ranking Democrat in the armed services. Senator McCain was the chairman in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Reed, a Democrat. And when he was speaking about Senator McCain, the man he traveled with, went to Vietnam with, went all over the world with and work together as the chairman and the ranking member, of the armed services committee.

You could see how emotionally, you know, charged, how sad Senator Reed was. And I've spoken over these past couple of days now with a bunch of leaders in the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans, everyone is going to be so distraught, so concerned. Look, it's not a huge surprise. He had a terminal form of brain cancer and he lived for 15 months with that brain tumor.

And as Dr. Sanjay Gupta had said normally that that particular type of brain cancer, maybe he should live 14 months. So he did live 13 months with it with treatment. But in the end, this is -- that's going to happen. This is not a form of cancer that is usually treatable.

And so everyone knew this was just a matter of time and everyone was ready for it. But still the outpouring of grief, the outpouring of sadness coupled with an enormous amount of tribute and praise for this man, even if you disagreed with him on some sensitive issues and there were plenty of people that disagreed with him, for example, in support of the Iraq war. But still everybody -- you never question his integrity and his honesty.

CABRERA: Absolutely. And as you mentioned, we're starting to see the sentiments really pouring out over social media right now. In fact, his wife just tweeted as well writing, "My heart is broken. I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years. He passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people he loved in the place he loved best."

We're also hearing from his fellow senator from the state of Arizona. "Words cannot express the sorrow I feel at John McCain's passing," writes Jeff Flake.

The world has lost a hero and statesman. Cindy and the McCain family have lost a loving husband and father. I have lost a wonderful friend. He was a friend to so many, so many commenting on his adventurous spirit, his joy that he brought to those around him, but also that he really epitomized in his own life.

In fact, there is a quote I wanted to read that he wrote himself, he wrote -- in just the last year, he wrote, "Maybe I'll be gone before you read this. I'm getting prepared. I have some things I'd like to take care of first, some work that needs finishing, some people I need to see. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times. The bell tolls for me. I knew it would. I hope those who mourn my passing and those who don't will celebrate as I celebrate a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued success is the hope of the world and I wish all of your great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine."


Given everything he experienced in life, things that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, he still had such an appreciation for all of his life, including those trying years as a prisoner of war. And what strikes me, Wolf, in that quote, and in his final interviews is how much he speaks to celebrating a wonderful life and the joy that he lived with. BLITZER: Well, appreciative of every moment given the fact that he had been so close to death at a relatively early age in his life when he was shot down over Vietnam. He survived. He survived five and a half years as a POW. So really he appreciated life. He wanted to live life to its fullest.

And he could have gone into a different direction and simply gone out there and made some money, but his patriotism, his service, going back to the -- his graduation from New York's naval academy, it was always built in to his blood. But he couldn't believe that. He wanted to serve. He wanted to do whatever he could for the country and that certainly came through in 2008 when he was running for president of the United States.

Everybody will always remember that exchange he had with that woman at a town hall when she was going after then Democratic candidate Barack Obama and said he's an Arab and immediately, Senator McCain -- he was a Republican, Republican, and he's Republican candidate said, no, no, no. No, ma'am. He's not an Arab. He's a decent family man and he really rejected that whole notion.

It was just indicative of who John McCain was that he was a politician, he had different views than Barack Obama and he disagreed in many issues, but he wasn't going to let it get personal. He was never going to say these things -- and certainly not true about his political rivals. He was just a decent wonderful guy.

Over the years when I interviewed him, I never knew what to expect. I know he would come prepared. I know he would be ready. And even when we - would get into a tough line of questioning, and clearly he was on the defensive, you could see was still a little bit of a smile on his face even then.

He enjoyed that give and take. He enjoyed going back and forth. We'd have a tough interview. And then we'd talk about it afterwards and it was just something that was in his nature. He was considered a maverick.

But he was always so appreciative of the American news media. He was always, even when he disagreed and even when he was being criticized, he was always available. He was always willing to talk to reporters, always willing to work with the reporters. He was willing to go on television and do interviews.

He was very, very aware of the amazing role, really unique and critical role that a free press has in any democracy, especially our democracy. And those of us who are journalists and have them for a long time, we always appreciated how much he appreciated what we were doing, what our job was, and our role in democracy and that's something that always stuck out in my mind.

CABRERA: Well, stay with me. I want to bring in former Arizona governor, Jan Brewer. She's a governor from 2009 to 2015.

Governor Brewer, thank you for joining us right now. What are your thoughts about John McCain tonight? JAN BREWER, FORMER ARIZONA GOVERNOR (through telephone): Well, of course, my heart is broken. It just doesn't seem real to me. John and I have known each other for a long time. We did so many things together collectively and he was such an honorable man and had so much courage and lived a full life.

It's just so hard to be able to even talk about it. My heart -- I know the country, the world's heart is breaking, but he was endeared by so many of us in Arizona and the United States and around the world that it's almost -- you can't put it into words.

You know, we campaigned together. We worked together. We took care of the military together. We talked about our families together. He was always the kind of guy that when you were having a crisis or if you lost -- I had a couple of bad deaths in my family and he always called me and gave me sympathy and understanding and called back.

He was just a wonderful man. Truly a wonderful, wonderful man. And he was a man. He was a hero, but he was a man and I loved his family and I wish everybody could have known him the way so many people that have been able to get to know him.

CABRERA: No kidding. No kidding.

BREWER: A big -- a huge loss today. A huge loss. I hope that God had in him and keep him safe.

CABRERA: Absolutely. I can --