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World Remembers Legacy of John McCain; Trump Refuses to Release Prepared Statement on McCain's Death. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 27, 2018 - 07:00   ET


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He was trying to sound the alarm.

[07:00:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John faced his prognosis the same way he did everything else. A matter-of-fact, incredible sense of humor.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I've had the good fortune to spend 60 years in service to this wondrous land. And I am so grateful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard gunfire. I got into a little doorway, and I hid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was three deceased individuals at the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something's got to change. The way it's causing these young men not to value life.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Hearing John McCain say how grateful he was to serve.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: There was a lot of humility. I mean, he had humor and humility, and that was just a winning combination for somebody, obviously. I mean, he won six terms. That just, I think, was the mark of his whole outlook on life.

BERMAN: Humor and humility, an all too rare combination this morning.

Senator John McCain, his life and legacy, is being remembered not only from lawmakers in the United States but truly all around the world. From Navy pilot, to war hero, to this longtime senator and Republican nominee.

Senator McCain will be honored for five days in three cities this week. It's a schedule that was meticulously planned by McCain himself. Memorials will be held in his home state of Arizona. And later in the week, the senator will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol before he is laid to rest at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he graduated five from the bottom, by the way.

CAMEROTA: Which he always joked about.

BERMAN: Which he bragged about.


BERMAN: Not just joked about. He bragged about it.

Throughout the morning, we'll be speaking with McCain's friends and colleagues.

CAMEROTA: So as the country mourns John McCain, President Trump has taken a different approach. CNN has learned that the White House drafted a statement for President Trump to release that praised McCain's service, but it was never released. According to "The Washington Post," Mr. Trump rejected the idea -- the advice of his chief of staff, John Kelly, and press secretary Sarah Sanders. They wanted to release this official tribute.

But instead, the president opted to posted a brief tweet on McCain's passing, never mentioning the senator's four-decade career in Washington or his sacrifice and service in Vietnam.

So joining us now is the reporter on that piece. We have CNN political analyst and White House reporter for "The Washington Post," Josh Dawsey.

Good morning, Josh.

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Alisyn. How are you?

CAMEROTA: I'm well. Why did President Trump not want to release an official White House statement on John McCain's service?

DAWSEY: So the president's senior aides crafted a statement that called McCain a hero and delved into the details of his life as a prisoner of war and his time in the Senate, and it was a lot of kind of accomplishments list on the senator.

When they presented the president the statement on Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, when John McCain died, the president nixed it and said that he would prefer to send a tweet instead. And then the president on Saturday evening tweeted condolences to the McCain family, but conspicuously absent -- absent in the tweet was any sort of commendation towards McCain for his time in the military, his time in the Senate, or any sort of positive praise about the long-term senator.

CAMEROTA: And Josh, do you have any reporting on why? Why doesn't President Trump respect John McCain's military service and sacrifice?

DAWSEY: Well, the two have a contentious relationship, to say the least, largely precipitated by the president. The president, as you remember, back in 2015 said that John McCain was not a war hero because he was captured. He said, "I prefer ones that were not captured." At the time, the comment seemed very cataclysmic for his candidacy, and then as you know, they were not, and he became president. Since then, they've sparred over, you know, a Gold Star family at the convention. John McCain has been very critical of the president on a number of fronts, from his press conference with Vladimir Putin. John McCain said that the president made himself an embarrassment on the world stage. To his comments about even the news media. John McCain has repeatedly come out and said that the president's rhetoric, like "enemy of the people," you know, is not helpful.

For the president's part, he deeply disliked when John McCain voted against the Affordable Healthcare Act repeal. You remember that famous scene, where John McCain came out and put both thumbs down. It delivered a big blow to the president's first legislative push. And the president actually felt that John McCain was -- was out to get him and embarrass him. And it did not make for a good relationship between the two men.

CAMEROTA: And do you what the original beef was? I mean, rewind the tape back before John McCain voted with the famous thumbs down. What was it that made then-candidate Donald Trump say something like "Yes, I prefer those who aren't captured" about John McCain's status as a war hero.

What -- what was that and how -- do you have reporting on how, inside the White House, General John Kelly feels about saying such kind of unbecoming things from the president?

[07:05:05] DAWSEY: Well, John McCain was critical of the president and the way he was running his campaign. And as you've seen time and time again, whether it's a NBA star or a civil rights hero or anyone, for that matter, if you say something critical about the president, you are likely to get attacked. Now, the president's attack was far sharper than many in his orbit would have preferred or liked on John McCain.

Inside the White House, most everyone, as you saw, from Twitter and publicly, put out statements praising John McCain and his life. Vice president, national security advisor, secretary of state, secretary of defense, I mean, all of the cabinet secretaries, counsel to the president, press secretary. The president was basically alone in his own White House in not putting out a statement lauding McCain. And John Kelly and Sarah Sanders and others, you know, crafted the statement, wanted the president to do it, and the president was not interested.

CAMEROTA: Josh Dawsey, thank you very much for sharing all of your reporting with us this morning.

BERMAN: So joining us now, CNN political commentator, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH," Michael Smerconish; CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, who has been fantastic in remembering Senator McCain with CNN specials all weekend, so thank you, Dana, for that. Also with us again, CNN political analyst David Gregory.

So Smerconish, Michael, I'm going to start with you. The president's actions, his failure to put out an official statement from the White House, his rejection of such a statement is so predictably small. The question is what does one do with that information this morning? And you, Michael, I think, look for inspiration in Senator McCain's own words. Explain.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR/HOST OF "SMERCONISH": Well, a year ago when he came back to the the well of the Senate and he dramatically, as you've been discussing, thumbs down on repeal and replacement of Obamacare, wearing a battle scar from having undergone brain surgery to try and save his life, he delivered a very emotional pitch to his colleagues. And when I think of John McCain's legacy, I think of that speech.

John, I have quoted one particular paragraph of that speech for the last year. Because after he laments the passing of the time when the Senate was regarded as the world's greatest greatest deliberative body, he aims his sites on the media, and he says to his colleagues, "We've got to stop listening to those loud mouths."

BERMAN: Let's play that. Let's play that right here, because I think he's not just talking about the media.


MCCAIN: Stop listening to the bombastic loud mouths on the radio, and television, and the Internet. To hell with them!

Let's trust each other. Let's return to regular order. We've been spinning our wheels on too many important issues, because we're trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. We're getting nothing done, my friends. We're getting nothing done.


BERMAN: And again, I think that message not just for the media. I think that message is for the president, as well, and the politics that he has helped create.


BERMAN: Go ahead.

BASH: Can I just chime in with one anecdote that speaks to that? Michael is exactly right that John McCain -- that was a moment where he tried to, you know, get the Senate back on track.

But that message for the media -- he was talking about the talk radio, conservative talk radio, also the conservative groups that solely exist to profit off of division, in his view. And this is something that he held -- a belief that he held for a very long time, for decades.

I remember ten years before that speech, in 2007, McCain was beginning his presidential campaign. Remember, he was the front runner. He had amassed a big war chest. He was the guy to beat, and then it all fell apart for many reasons but largely because of his support for immigration reform, which the base hated. I did a story one evening on that, and I interviewed some

conservatives who were very critical of McCain and had long been. The next day he found me in the hallway, and it was really the first memory I have of really being ripped into by John McCain. Happened a lot of times afterwards, and I realized it was a rite of passage. "How can you give a platform to those people? They don't really care about America. They don't care about our party. They just want to make money."

And so this is something that he believed for so long, even before that from the John Tower nomination, which I won't go into now. But this is something that he was crazed about. And you know what? Look where we are today. He wasn't wrong.

CAMEROTA: Hey, David Gregory, just one thing. I want you to comment on this --


CAMEROTA: -- in terms of the big picture, because we often talk about the norms that President Trump is breaking, the different standards that he's setting. But the disrespecting of a war hero seems like a big one.

[07:10:00] GREGORY: Yes. Yes, I don't know how -- I don't know how anybody gets over that. I don't know how military officials who serve in this administration, and others outside the administration, how they forgive it, how they get over it. It is an act of smallness that is not befitting the president of the United States. And that is who this president is.

And I just think the -- the contrast of his behavior and his smallness and those comments about John McCain in his passing just loom ever larger. And I just don't know -- I suppose the only thing you can say for those who support the president on a number of bases, you're just going to have to look the other way and somehow be in denial about that one, and that will stand as what it is.

I want to comment on what Smerc was saying and Dana, too, about you see, to me what McCain was saying there was something he's been saying for a long time. You know, back in 2000 he was running for president. He would say -- he would say, "Friends, you may not always agree with me, but I will always tell you the truth."

That was what the maverick style was about. That was that he was a strong enough senator, like Ted Kennedy, that he could work on legislating; that he could work with Democrats; that he could work on controversial matters, and he knew that his political base wouldn't desert him. That's what he was saying, and that's what's missing now. So it's talk radio, but it's also monetizing political division, which is what social media now does, because -- and in many ways, cable news, as well, because we have an inability for members of Congress to be able to do their work without being seen as sellouts. So we don't value that kind of legislating that John McCain stood for. That is what is passing now. And it's unclear whether and what it will take to allow someone like a McCain to emerge again, to have the political space to emerge again.

BERMAN: I'm not so sure that someone like John McCain will ever emerge again.

CAMEROTA: Don't give up.

BERMAN: Yes, look, we've talked to Patrick Kennedy about that before. Where -- where are people going to find that healing? I have a hard time assuming it will happen.

I will say, going back to 2000, David and I covered the Bush campaign. We weren't on the McCain campaign. But the McCain Straight Talk Express in 2000 was the closest thing ever to a candidate going full "Bulworth," which is to say untethered to anything and just going to say what he really feels, Michael Smerconish. And he dialed it back to an extent in 2008 for that candidacy --

BASH: In a big way.

BERMAN: In a big way, but it was interesting to see a politician who, for a time, was unafraid, Michael, to say anything.

SMERCONISH: True, also someone whose hallmark, I think, has been not only bipartisanship, as evidenced by his working relationship with Senator Kennedy, but also civility for the most part.

What occurs to me is that today, this morning, is the start of a week of national reflection, and I don't just mean about Senator McCain. The contrast between his legacy and what the country is now experiencing is something we're going to see for the next six days, culminating with presidents Obama and Bush eulogizing, in the absence of the current commander in chief --


SMERCONISH: -- their fallen colleague. And I think every day this week people are going to have to stop and reflect. Where have we become? What have we become, and where have we traveled? Not in a good way.

CAMEROTA: Dana, I was on the Straight Talk Express during that 2000 campaign, for a portion of the time, and it was really fun. I mean, there was so much comradery, as you can -- as you know. And being able to watch John McCain unvarnished.

And he loved that retail politics. He loved being able to, you know, give all those stump speeches and have people mix it up with him.

So one of the things that I think was his hallmark is that he was able to mend fences with his political opponents. And you sat down with Hillary Clinton, one of -- at times a political opponent, who he became --

BERMAN: Drinking buddies.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. I mean, there's no other way to put it. So here's -- here were her thoughts.


BASH: 2008, for a long time people thought that the two of you were going to go up against each other.

CLINTON: We did. I think we both thought that. I think it would have been a great campaign, because we both respected each other. We'd worked with each other. And in that campaign that eventually did happen with Senator McCain running against then-Senator Obama, I so respected John. Because you know, when his supporters got carried away and started making racial or religious comments about then- Senator Obama or Mrs. Obama, he would just shut them down.


CAMEROTA: Your thoughts, Dana.

BASH: He did, and obviously it did take a very different turn because it wasn't Hillary Clinton on the ballot. It was a man who was trying to be the first African-American president of the United States. And he shut them down.

[07:15:08] But my memory in covering the 2008 campaign, and I did start to finish, was that that was after a lot of consternation within the McCain campaign and a lot of criticism that the McCain campaign got, because they -- a lot of the people in the crowd were holding signs with racial overtones, were making comments, very similar.

And so he began to do that, slowly but surely, and that culminated in his -- probably one the best speech he's ever given, one of the best speeches, I think, in political history, which was his concession speech begging people to come behind the new president, marking the moment not for him but for the country and for history. And that, I think, says John McCain in a nutshell.

GREGORY: You know, it's interesting, how often McCain found himself in this -- in this relationship of tension with his party and even with the politics of the moment. We talked about it earlier in the program.

2008, you know, he was a -- had become, in effect, a Bush Republican, being a stalwart supporter of the surge in Iraq, believing that if he put his hand up for the war in Iraq, then the mission ought to be completed. And there was such a deep desire for change. And of course, that was represented by Iraq, and that hurt him, in part, against Obama.

But there were other portions, as well, where he had so often to get right with the Republican Party. That relationship between McCain and his own party was always difficult, certainly in the years he was running for president.

BERMAN: All right. David Gregory, Dana Bash, Michael Smerconish, thanks so much for being with us. One thing Dana said that I do want to highlight. You know, she said

she was ripped by Senator McCain. It's not that it was all rainbows and unicorns. I think every member of Congress, every reporter who ever got near him has some scars --

CAMEROTA: Oh, he had a temper.

BERMAN: -- from dealing with Senator McCain. But he would be the first to admit his flaws.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. And he tempered his temper with humor, and that was really appreciated, at least on the Straight Talk Express.

BERMAN: All right. John McCain's bravery in just unthinkable conditions honored. Up next, we're going to speak to an Air Force colonel who shared a cell with McCain as they were held captive in Vietnam.



[07:21:10] MCCAIN: I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency, for its faith, and the wisdom, justice, and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's.


BERMAN: A cause worth fighting for, and Senator McCain did fight his whole life for this country.

There's one picture we want to show you this morning, and we're trying to figure out exactly what's going on here. This is the White House, and you see there the flag raised to its top, full staff. Yesterday the flag was at half-staff at the White House to honor the passing of John McCain, we believe. We're not quite sure what's going on here. The president never released a proclamation, which generally speaking, keeps the flag at half-staff until the burial, which will happen in a week from now. But the flag flying full this morning. We want to know why. We're asking the White House, is this intentional? We're going to get to the bottom of it.

In the meantime, an important discussion. In October of 1967, John McCain was flying a U.S. Navy flight over North Vietnam when his plane was shot down. McCain spent the next five and a half years as a prisoner of war, enduring torture and isolation at the hands of his captors.

Joining us now is retired Air Force Colonel John Fer. He was a prisoner of war along with John McCain. They shared a cell with each other for two years during that captivity. Colonel, thank you so much for being with us this morning. I just

want to get your reaction when you heard the news that Senator McCain passed away.

COL. JOHN FER (RET.), AIR FORCE: For me, personally, it was a void that was created by John's departure.

I'm generally a very optimistic individual, and even in the prison compound, I was optimistic, and I was hopeful. As was John.

And when I found out that he had this incurable form of cancer, I got down on my knees and I prayed very hard that he would survive and be cured of this dreaded disease. It was not to be, and when I got up on Sunday morning and I found that he had passed away, it was like getting hit with a sledgehammer right in the knees. Because I knew then that the country was going to be absent an exceptionally American -- an exceptional American who was patriotic, courageous, and dedicated to those principles that you found in our great document that's guided this country for so long.

BERMAN: You first met John McCain inside a prison cell in Hanoi, shared a remarkable two years with him as cell mates in the Hanoi Hilton. What did you learn from Senator McCain?

FER: The single most important thing that I learned from John McCain is summarized in a statement that he often made to me when we talked about military leadership. And that is, it's the mission and the men. The mission and the men.

In the prison camp, it was resisting exploitation by the communist North Vietnamese, and at the same time, caring for those of us that inhabited that place.

[07:25:06] What John said on the floor of the Senate when he returned for that momentous speech -- I think it will go down in history as one of the major speeches by any senator ever made, and I would consider it a statesman-like speech -- was that he was reminding us that it's America -- it's America that we're committed to. It's America and the people, the mission and the men.

BERMAN: How did you two help each other through those trying years?

FER: We -- we -- we helped each other, I think, in a number of ways. But one of them, one of them was our sense of humor. You'll run into very few people that, under extremely painful circumstances that we underwent in North Vietnam, that can maintain their sense of humor. John was always upbeat. I swapped stories with him all the time. He had nicknames for everybody. We were collectively with two other fellas, the chaplains in the room. And I remember, he used to refer to me as San Pedro, because that's where I was from in California. I called him the Reverend Pastor. And we had this other fellow that was one of our chaplains, whose name was Jim Sehorn, which he nicknamed Ocean Bugle. And so you can decipher that and see how he came up with that. But he had a nickname for everybody, and it was his sense of humor. It was a knowledge that he imparted to all of us, as well. BERMAN: There's a statue by the lake where Senator McCain was shot

down in North Vietnam, a statue of Senator McCain which I believe calls him an Air Force pilot, which I'm sure rubs you the wrong way, because he was the naval pilot. You, of course, are an Air Force pilot.

FER: Right.

BERMAN: But I understand they were laying flowers at that statue in North Vietnam when they learned of Senator McCain's passing. Reflect on what that means to you.

FER: Well, you know, I can understand that. I can understand the respect that they would have for -- for John. He -- you know, he made a return visit there, and he urged recognition and reconciliation as the best way to counterbalance some growing adverse efforts in South Asia and in other parts of that -- of the world there. So he understood.

John had a great geopolitical sense about the destiny of humankind, if you want to put it that way, and he very often spoke of those things. I think that's why he got along with people of the other party or of other points of view. He could work, and he could understand, and articulate to them why his approach, perhaps, was best.

BERMAN: And the sense of humor didn't hurt, either, you know. Colonel Fer, thanks so much for being with us this morning. Thanks for sharing your memories of your time with Senator John McCain. Appreciate it.

FER: And thank you very much for inviting me here. I appreciate it.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: That was beautiful.

So what legacy will John McCain leave behind for this country? Well, General Michael Hayden shares his memories and thoughts, next.