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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl; Replacing John McCain's Senate Seat. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 27, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:05]

JON KYL (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: He was hard to keep up with.

But the times that I will cherish the most are of the times we had together quietly at his place in Hidden Valley in Arizona, with his -- with his family and just a few close friends.

He really enjoyed those times together. And those were the most enjoyable for me ,because we all let our hair down and had a lot of fun with each other, and there was a lot of humor in that is as well.

Just one other more business memory. When John McCain and Lindsey Graham were both on a congressional delegation trip abroad, it was a lot of fun to be on the airplane, because the two of them played off each other like Martin and Lewis, or think of some of other comedy duo.

It was a lot of fun.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I wish -- I wish there were tapes of that.

You mentioned his sense of humor. He often poked fun at himself. I just want to share with our audience and you as well John McCain on "Saturday Night Live." This was joking about a new strategy just days before the November 2008 election. Please have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Here's another bad one.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: It's called the sad grandpa.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: This is where I get on TV and go, come on, Obama's going to have plenty of chances to be president. It's my turn.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: You wish there was more than that ability to laugh at yourself. But he had so many life experiences, difficult life experiences, Senator Kyl.

But where do you think his unique sense of humor came from?

KYL: Well, I think, to some extent, if you have got it, you have got it.

I mean, I mentioned Lindsey Graham before. How many of us could acquire the capability of quipping like Lindsey or like John McCain? He was just very quick-witted.

And John was a real student of history. He read voraciously. He watched all the TV that he could. He watched a lot of movies. He was very interested in and enjoyed music. And he had plenty in terms of social commentary to reflect on.

And, of course, I think that's one of the things that makes a good comedian to be able to just pick those things out. But, again, self- deprecation is a humor for -- that politicians really ought to take greater advantage of. And he did that in a very effective way.

SCIUTTO: Finally, if I can, I know, of course, you and we are focused on memorializing the senator, but we should mentioned that your name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for him.

The Arizona governor would replace him through 2020. Is that a position that you would consider if you were asked?

KYL: And you can appreciate the fact that I won't comment on that.

And, by the way, there's another reason. Governor Ducey has been very clear that until John is laid to rest, that's not the kind of think he wants to talk about. And while I definitely appreciate your interest in me in the subject, I think I will eschew any comment on it.

SCIUTTO: Senator Kyl, thanks so much for sharing your personal memories and your thoughts. We appreciate it on what I know is a difficult time for all his friends.

KYL: Well, I appreciate your taking the time to reflect on his great life. And keep it up. It's a lot of fun.

SCIUTTO: OK. We're going to keep that...

KYL: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: And safe travels.

KYL: Bye-bye.

SCIUTTO: Senator McCain's longtime adviser shares who the hero would have liked to have picked to replace him in the Senate.

That next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:52]

SCIUTTO: As the nation prepares to say a final farewell to Senator John McCain, there is a struggle already brewing behind the scenes about who will fill his seat in the U.S. Senate.

Supporters of the late senator wants someone made from his mold, fiercely independent, and not afraid to take on the White House at times.

But the pro-Trump wing of the party has made it clear they want someone who will unwaveringly support and protect the president.

CNN's Miguel Marquez joins us now live from Phoenix, Arizona.

Miguel, we know Senator McCain's replacement will, of course, be a Republican, Republican governor there. But what kind of Republican the governor chooses will certainly have a major impact.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. And there's going to be a very tough decision for governor Doug Ducey here in Arizona.

President Trump has certainly split Republicans across the country and here in Arizona, a state that is increasingly politically purple. The Republicans in the Senate need every single vote they can get. Replacing the irreplaceable will be a fraught decision, and it is certain to upset one wing of the Republican Party or the other.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The death of maverick Republican Senator John McCain long expected. Still, it sent a Grand Canyon-sized shot through his beloved state.

RICK DAVIS, FORMER JOHN MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Even talking about it makes you a little weak-kneed.

MARQUEZ: The big question for Republican Governor Doug Ducey, how do you replace a maverick?

BARRETT MARSON, ARIZONA GOP STRATEGIST: The good thing is that, first of all, there's a deep bench for him to choose from. There will never be a replacing John McCain.

MARQUEZ: McCain's pick, says his former campaign manager:

DAVIS: I think a Hispanic woman probably would have been his pick for a successor.

MARQUEZ: Ducey has the power to hand-pick McCain's successor to serve until a special election is held in 2020.

The Republican Party here torn by conservative pragmatists like John McCain and the ideologically driven supporters of President Trump. MARSON: You don't need to go too far to the right, because you still have to appeal to a wide swathe of independents that vote here in Arizona.

MARQUEZ: For years, McCain angered the GOP base with his moderate stance on immigration reform.

[16:40:00]

MCCAIN: Well, we have to have comprehensive immigration reform, which gives people a path to citizenship.

MARQUEZ: So does the Arizona governor pick someone who will carry on McCain's legacy, someone like McCain's wife, Cindy, former McCain chief of staff Grant Woods, or former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl?

Or does he name someone Trump loyalists will embrace, who will be a more reliable vote for the president's agenda?

The choice may become clearer after Tuesday's hotly contested GOP primary to replace outgoing Senator Jeff Flake. Arizona Congresswoman Martha McSally, a former fighter pilot like McCain, was viewed as his natural replacement.

REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), ARIZONA: Now I deploy to D.C. to fight for Arizona.

MARQUEZ: She's now in a tough race with a former state senator and conservative firebrand, Kelli Ward.

KELLI WARD (R), ARIZONA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: The last guy who was a pilot and became a senator in Arizona...

(BOOING)

MARQUEZ: And controversial former American Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was pardoned by President Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, the decision to replace John McCain will be made next week, after tomorrow's primary and after he is laid to rest.

Maybe then the decision might be a little clearer and a little easier to make -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Miguel Marquez, thanks very much.

Adolfo, if I could ask you, because you're in the unusual position of having been a McCain staffer, but someone who...

ADOLFO FRANCO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: A surrogate.

SCIUTTO: A surrogate who supports -- I didn't want to underplay you, demote you -- but someone who now supports President Trump. What kind of -- what brand of Republican do you think would be better for the Republican Party to fill his seat? Would it be a staunch pro- Republican in the Joe Arpaio camp, or would it be someone who's more like John McCain?

FRANCO: Well, I think somebody like John McCain for a variety of reasons. Now, I have my prejudice. I think he's just about the greatest ever.

But, beyond that is, this might sound strange, it's still his seat. And I think there is something to be said about filling in, in that tradition. The report that was just played as accurate. There's a very wide bench on it. I personally would love to see Grant Woods fill the seat.

He's quite experienced. It would be in the tradition of Senator Coons, so to speak, of Delaware, was chief of staff to Senator Biden. But there are a number of others. It even could be Senator Kyl. That's not outside the realm of possibility.

But to answer your question, I think it would -- it would be a -- frankly, I will say it. It would be a mistake to turn to the, I think, more...

SCIUTTO: Extreme right wing.

FRANCO: Extreme right wing of the Republican Party.

The irony of this, I think, had this been under different circumstances, I think Congresswoman McSally would be at the top of that list. But that's not the case, of course, and she should win tomorrow for the nomination.

SCIUTTO: Dana, do we know where the Arizona governor is on this?

Because obviously this has been -- despite how recent this loss was, this has been in the offing for some time or at least this possibility. Do we know where the governor, which direction he is more likely to go?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No.

I mean, that's the honest answer. At least I don't. Maybe somebody else has -- he's been very, very cautious, very close hold, for obvious reasons, for the sensitivities. You don't want to start talking about something.

And in fact he's gone so far as the opposite. Anybody who lobbies for it -- or lobbied for it while Senator McCain was dying from cancer, you're out. And that's the way to do it.

SCIUTTO: Which is not a bad rule.

BASH: That's way to do it.

(CROSSTALK) FRANCO: But you would be surprised -- I would like your opinions, both of.

You would be surprised if he would turn to the more extreme conservatives of the Republican Party in Arizona, wouldn't you?

BASH: Would I be surprised?

FRANCO: Uh-huh.

BASH: When it comes to McCain and the idea of what you said, feeling McCain seat, yes.

FRANCO: Yes.

That has to weigh on him, isn't it?

FRANCO: Right. But he's also a politician. And he knows where the political -- the Republican Party is in Arizona.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Susan, a thought. And I want to get your thoughts, Symone, on...

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": And you can think of this as the last two years of John McCain's term.

You can also think of as the first two years before a reelection fight. And you might want to choose a Republican to position that person to win their own full term.

SCIUTTO: That's a lot more difficult in 2020.

PAGE: The reality is nationally and in Arizona, this is Donald Trump's party. In that Arizona primary tomorrow, the three Republican candidates have tried to align themselves not with John McCain, but with Donald Trump.

And it seems to me that is the reality that the governor is going to be facing.

SCIUTTO: Symone, I just want, for the sake of our audience, to get your reaction to this.

Remind folks of really the most -- one of the most memorable moments of the 2008 campaign. And this is when John McCain was asked during a town hall about his opponent, Democratic opponent, of course, at the time, Barack Obama, how he responded to this person. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't trust Obama. I have read about him, and he's not -- he's not -- he's a -- he's an Arab. He's not...

MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No?

MCCAIN: No ma'am. No, ma'am. He's a -- he's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about. He's not. Thank you.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That kind of stands, Symone, is one that we too often see now by outgoing politician, right? Folks who aren't running anymore and don't have to face the say the difficulty of a primary challenge who has the gusto, right, the backbone to issue statements like that today.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know who in the Republican Party has I gusto or backbone. It surely doesn't seem like Paul Ryan who is outgoing and still I look for his spine weekly. I would think what so -- what's so striking about that click for me -- I know there's been so much conversation about it happening on social media today but I think what's striking about the clip is I think Senator McCain's intent was absolutely correct. For some folks might see that as a slight to Arab-Americans but it wasn't.

He stood forcefully against this vitriol that had creeped up throughout his campaign from his running mate and some other folks and he wanted to be sure that people knew that that's not what this was about for him. And I wish that in today's climate so many more politicians including the President would be willing to stand forcefully in the face of vitriol and just beat it back and be very clear about what -- who it is we are as a country and where it is the President's --

SCIUTTO: Adolfo, to put you in a difficult spot but to be fair, that is not the kind of comment that this President has made it and frankly, at his rallies and town halls, he has tended to stoke rather than to put out flames like that. Are you willing to challenge the President when he makes statements like that?

ADOLFO FRANCO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well I'm not sure the President quite made that quite -- that statement but I understand that the President at the rallies particularly when he -- when he appeals to the core Trump supporters uses rhetoric that are -- it's completely unconventional in politics. There's no question about that. You know, it's not my style, it's not my message, it really isn't but again I go back to the underlying policies that drive even most of the establishment. You're asking about Paul Ryan and others, the fact is that -- and frankly including Senator McCain in terms of the positions he took, but I think the vast majority of Republicans are looking the direction that Donald Trump is taking the country with the economy, deregulation, and so forth. And that's -- they do and that's why people --

SANDERS: Can I say though, the I want to be really cautious. The rhetoric that Donald Trump espouses at his rallies is racist, misogynistic, not just controversial it is like sometimes he's parenting white nationalists talking points. I don't believe that's who the Republican Party is but maybe it is. FRANCO: No, it isn't.

SANDERS: But when is somebody going to be best? Is that who they are?

SCIUTTO: That's your final word because we do have to go, but I want to give you a chance to respond.

FRANCO: Well, you know, I think there are voices there. You know, you mentioned other people in -- from there, Senators Sasse or other people in the Republican front from Nebraska that have different points of view.

SANDERS: I'm from Nebraska.

FRANCO: And do they do -- they do express -- went to school in Nebraska and they do express those views. I think the -- I think there are plenty that people in the Republican Party that want to express themselves differently while still supporting President Trump's policies.

SCIUTTO: All right. It can be a difficult balance. Thanks very much for the panel. We've got a lot to discuss. Breaking news coming up, new details from sheriff's office about the gunman in the Florida gaming competition shooting and his victims.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] SCIUTTO: Breaking news now. In our "NATIONAL LEAD," new, upsetting information about the Jacksonville gunman who opened fire at a gaming tournament. A witness tells CNN that one victim had recently defeated the suspect during a recent game and the 23-year-old targeted the players competing, this according to authorities. CNN's Kaylee Hartung has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Police say that's the sound of bullets being fired from the gun of David Katz, an elite Madden player at a competitive videogame community. We're now learning Katz, who went by the gaming name Bread previously won that tournament according to gamers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: David Katz keeps to himself. He's a man of business. He's not here for the experience, he's not here to make friends.

HARTUNG: The 24-year-old from Baltimore allegedly opened fire inside of this gaming venue in Jacksonville on Sunday, killing 27-year-old Taylor Robertson and 22-year-old Eli Clayton. He wounded ten others, before turning the gun on himself.

TONY MONTAGRINO, SHOOTING VICTIM: I heard the shots and I thought why is there firecrackers in here and then I actually got hit and I turned around and I actually you know, saw flashes from the gun and at that point, it just went in a you know, survival mode. HARTUNG: While police have not given motive, one witness told CNN affiliate WJAX that Katz has defeated in a game the day before and refused to shake hands afterwards. Last year, when he won a regional tournament in Buffalo, the bills officials twitter account congratulated him but eventually fell short in the national competition. That title captured by Robertson, the country's latest mass shooting at video tournaments to an increasingly long list of venues attacks, including several in Florida which is now front and center in a tight Senate Primary on Tuesday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:55:13] HARTUNG: Law enforcement officials telling CNN that the shooter's parents are telling investigators their son suffered from mental health issues. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Just another sad story involving guns. Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: We're looking at a picture there of Senator McCain's desk on the Senate Floor, adorned in black, decorated with white roses, yet one more tribute to the fallen Senator. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."