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Pennsylvania Attorney General: Vatican Knew About Sexual Abuse Coverup; North Korea Warns U.S. Denuclearization Talks "May Fall Apart"; Trump Finally Pressured to Honor John McCain. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 28, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:31:37] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: After a truly stunning set of bombshells about abuse within the Catholic Church, now another explosive claim. The Pennsylvania attorney general says the Vatican knew about the cover-up of abuse by clergy in his state. He also claims church leaders in Pennsylvania hid details of each allegation in, quote, "secret archives." The investigation comes after a grand jury report detailed the 300 so-called predator priests who preyed on more than 1,000 children.

Here to discuss this, the Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Attorney General, thank you so much for joining us.

I know these are extremely sensitive issues. Let's get to some of the substance right now. After you made that accusation this morning about the Vatican, a Vatican spokesman told CNN, and I'll read the quote from the Vatican spokesman: "If the prosecutor is referring to something outside of the report, we'll wait to see that before commenting."

So what evidence, Attorney General, do you have that the Vatican knew of a cover-up?

JOSH SHAPIRO, PENNSYLVANIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, let's be clear, Wolf. As the chief prosecutor in Pennsylvania, I deal with facts and evidence and apply the law. And 23 grand jurors in Pennsylvania sat for two years collecting evidence, listening to testimony, reviewing over a half a million pages of documents from the church's own secret archives detailing comprehensive, widespread sexual abuse by predator priests of children, noting 301 predator priests. They also found a systematic cover-up, a cover-up led by senior church officials, people like bishops and now one cardinal. In many instances, as the grand jury report shows, not a claim from me, but as the grand jury report shows, that cover-up went all the way to the Vatican. The church's own documents that were in the secret archives presented in the grand jury report show the connection between the abuse and cover-up in Pennsylvania and the fact that the Vatican was informed of it.

BLITZER: That's pretty stunning to think about. At what point, Attorney General, do these secret archives indicate a cover-up actually started? SHAPIRO: Well, we went back decades, roughly 70 years. We found

information actually on more than 400 predator priests. But the grand jury wanted to be very, very careful and specific about naming names and making sure that the abuse could be corroborated, that the cover- up could be corroborated. That was corroborated in a number of ways. Put very basically, it was corroborated in part by people testifying before the grand jury. But it was also corroborated by the church's own documents. Understand something, Wolf. These predator priests raped little children. They abused children. Bishops knew about it and covered it up. They lied to parishioners. They lied to the public. They lied to law enforcement. And then they wrote it all down. They documented all the facts. Oftentimes, they shared those documents that were in the secret archives with the Vatican. For the representative of the Vatican to say somehow this is new information, I would just say to him and to all people in Pennsylvania and across the United States, read the report. The details are all contained in that. I thank the 23 men and women of the Pennsylvania grand jury for listening to this gut-wrenching testimony over a two-year period of time and coming up with the most comprehensive report on clergy sex abuse in the history of this country.

[13:35:16] BLITZER: Do you have evidence, Attorney General, that Pope Francis was aware of this?

SHAPIRO: I have evidence that the Vatican was aware of it. Once the Vatican learned of it, I do not know whether the pope learned about it or not. As a prosecutor dealing with facts and evidence, I'm not going to make a statement, nor am I going to attribute something to the grand jury that is not in the grand jury report. We're going to stick with the facts and the evidence. As to what the Vatican -- who in the Vatican knew, what the pope knew, that's an answer that only they can provide.

BLITZER: As you know, Missouri is now the second state to go ahead with an investigation along the lines of what you're doing in Pennsylvania. Are you cooperating with them? Do you expect more states to follow your lead?

SHAPIRO: Wolf, I've received calls from over a dozen attorneys general across this country, along with the senior representative of the Department of Justice, our federal government partners. Some have already begun investigations, at least the one you cited that has been open about that. Others are contemplating investigations. Certainly, if Pennsylvania can provide any support to them, we will.

Look, I think Pennsylvania is a pretty special and unique place, but sadly, I don't think we are unique when it comes to this. I certainly don't have any evidence of it happening in other states. What I do have evidence of, though, is these predator priests were passed around to other states and shielded from law enforcement in the process. Understand, Wolf, this cover-up served a very specific purpose. It was not only to cover it up within the parishes, within the churches, but it was also to shield them from law enforcement so law enforcement officials like me couldn't charge them with crimes. You know, we uncovered 301 predator priests as part of this grand jury investigation. Sadly, because of our weak laws in Pennsylvania and our limited statute of limitations, I could only charge two of them. One of those predator priests has already pled guilty. The other one will be in court later this fall. So we've got to hold these individuals accountable. If other states are going to step up and try and do that work, the federal government step up and maybe do that work, I think that's a good thing.

BLITZER: Yes, yesterday, I interviewed Josh Hawley, the attorney general of Missouri. He says he was going to move quickly on this area as well.

Josh Shapiro, the attorney general of Pennsylvania, thanks so much for joining us.

SHAPIRO: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, more news we're following. A major setback with North Korea. This time, a secret letter delivered to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with a very strong warning for the United States.

Plus, a rare reversal for President Trump. What was behind his decision to finally acknowledge the late Senator John McCain for his service to the United States?

Stay with us.


[13:42:38] BLITZER: One small step forward, two big steps back. Since the Singapore summit between the United States and North Korea, diplomats have struggled to advance denuclearization talks. The latest setback came in the form of a letter delivered to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Sources tell CNN that it warned Pompeo that talks may fall apart because the Kim Jong-Un regime feels the U.S. is not making progress on replacing the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War with a full-scale peace treaty. It added if talks fail, North Korea could resume nuclear and missile activities. Shortly after the letter was shown to President Trump, he canceled the secretary's scheduled trip to Pyongyang that had been scheduled for this week.

Let's talk about this and more with William Cohen, the former defense secretary under President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: What's your take on this letter?

COHEN: Well, it confirms what I thought months ago, that it was a mistake to have had that meeting in Singapore. What the president did was to turn the pyramid of diplomacy on its head. Normally, you would have Secretary Pompeo and others do all of the leg work necessary, building all the blocks in terms of finding what we were after with a step that would be necessary to confirm, et cetera. And then have the top man come in and say, now we can have an agreement. So he did it completely in reverse. The result now, we're back to square one. So resumption of the military exercises, which, again, I thought was a mistake to cancel. But one of the problems we're having now is that the South Korean president may decide to go forward on his own without us. It would be a big mistake on his part to separate South Korea from the United States. It would put South Korea in jeopardy as well as our forces there. So it's going to be hard to put everything back. You can't go home again quite the same. You can't get the Chinese to commit, as they have been in the past. You probably won't get the Russians to do the same. So I think we're seeing why it's important to follow the rules that have been established over time.

BLITZER: And listen to the secretary of defense, James Mattis, today speaking about those suspended U.S./South Korean military exercises, which, of course, the North Koreans hate. Listen to this.


[13:44:58] GEN. JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have no plans at this time to suspend anymore exercises. We suspended several exercises at the direction of the president. The good-faith effort was made. We have had -- we have done no planning for suspending others. Obviously, we know what exercises are out there. So we could do that if directed to. But right now, there are no plans to go further.


BLITZER: You know what's going to happen, though, when the U.S. and South Korea resume full-scale military exercises, which, over the years, the North Koreans have always complained about, always have taken action, they presumably will resume their nuclear testing, their ballistic missile testing, which they have suspended at least over these past several months.

COHEN: We were at a flection point when we were marshaling our forces there. The rhetoric was high, as the president continued to escalate it rhetorically. We had the Chinese on board. We had the Russians on board. We had the Japanese on board. Then we had the meeting in Singapore with the handshake without anything concrete to talk about, to sign. So as a result, now we're back on our heels. And it's going to be very difficult to put all the pieces together in a way that can bring maximum pressure against the North Koreans. I don't think that any of those in the region are anxious to have the United States go to war with the North Koreans, nor should we be. But I think we were at a point where we had maximum leverage, and I think we gave that up. Now we're going to try to regain it.

BLITZER: Very quickly, on your friend John McCain, I know you're going to be a pallbearer Saturday at the memorial service at the National Cathedral here in Washington. Give us a thought or two about this extraordinary man.

COHEN: Well, what was most remarkable about John was his absolute passion. His passion, his patriotism, his desire for the United States to continue to exercise leadership throughout the world. You know, it's really kind of ironic that here's a man who was beaten badly, he could never lift his arms up to comb his hair. Yet, he was able, through the sheer strength of his personality, to lift up the hopes of millions of people who were under the heel and boot of tyranny and oppression and totalitarianism and authoritarianism, lift them up by giving them hope. So here's a unique individual. Yes, was he flawed, absolutely. But what was unique about John is he always recognized when he made a mistake, he had to correct it. His conscience would not allow him to say something he knew in his heart was not right without going back and telling the people not just privately, publicly, internationally, I made a mistake. I was wrong on the Confederate flag. I was wrong on this issue. I was right to fight to bring the Vietnam people together with the United States. Even though it cost me lots of criticism and charges of lack of patriotism. I think he's a unique individual.

I was disheartened to see the way in which the flag was treated. It's ironic when you think about it. You have black athletes taking a knee to protest injustice in America being criticized of being unpatriotic. Then you have the refusal to raise the flag to half-staff -- or lower it, I should say -- to half-staff on behalf of a patriot. There's something wrong with that picture.

BLITZER: I know you knew him well for many years, going back to your days in the Senate, the House of Representatives. And I know this is a sad time for you and your family and everybody else.


COHEN: But it's a time to celebrate him, too. Not only to be sad but to be uplifted with his message of promoting democracy. He was the Paul Revere riding through the night saying democracy is not safe, it's fragile. It's fragile here at home, it's fragile around the world. We have to constantly reinforce our commitment to its values.

BLITZER: He was a great American. A true American hero as well.


BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in.

COHEN: Pleasure.

[13:49:08] BLITZER: Up next, honoring the life and legacy of John McCain. Soon, we're going to hear from one of his best friends, Senator Lindsey Graham.

Stay with us.





BLITZER: A rare reversal for President Trump. After refusing to publicly acknowledge the passing of Senator John McCain with warm praise and after refusing to order the White House flag lowered to half-staff, the president finally, under enormous pressure, relented to both.

Here with us now is David Gergen, who knows a lot about presidents, knows a lot about presidential ego.

What was behind this?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Anger, resentment, rage at the fact that John McCain was so much more popular than he was with the country. And also that John McCain blocked him as he thought on repealing Obamacare. But they have two different value sets. You know? One believes in the old-fashioned traditions of honor and courage. And President Trump is who we know he is now, and that caused -- but I think what's been -- you know, we were saying over the break, you know, many people around the world find this just impossible to understand why the president wouldn't be -- salute John McCain because he's held in affection and respect around the world. But it's also true that I think the silence is not -- was not just sort of childish and move beyond that but the silence for 48 hours I think gave permission for a lot of the people who are actively -- active extremists on the right to pour out and attack McCain. And now we have the sludge, this anti-McCain stuff on social media which is competing with this outpouring from other Americans, millions of Americans who would like to get back the traditions of bipartisanship.

[13:55:17] BLITZER: Yes. It's not every day you see this president, President Trump, basically cave on something like this. He doesn't usually do that.

GERGEN: He does not. And we should say I wonder why. It appears to be the American Legion was principally responsible. Whether his wife Melania weighed in in a way that made a difference, we know he rejected the staff's comments. Wolf, I cannot remember, perhaps you can, because we have had the experiences. I can't remember a president had to be dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge someone who had been a political rival.

BLITZER: What did you think of John McCain?

GERGEN: Oh, I was a big, big fan of John McCain. He came -- you know, I teach at the Kennedy School and we had him --


BLITZER: Harvard University.

GERGEN: Yes. Harvard. And he -- I moderated a conversation with him with students back in 2000 and students flocked out to hear him. After he spoke, they were so inspired. They just wanted to touch him. They just wanted to have a sense that they were -- they knew they were with someone special. I think every time the students saw him they erupted. And just admiration.

BLITZER: Really was a great American. GERGEN: Yes.

BLITZER: And we're going to be hearing a lot more about him in the coming days as to various memorials take place.



BLITZER: David, thank you for joining us.

GERMAN: Thank you, Wolf. Good to see you.

BLITZER: Always good to have you here.

Up next, voters in Senator McCain's home state, they are heading to the polls for an important primary on another Senator, Jeff Flake, who's retiring. What today's battle could mean for Republicans down the road.

Much more news right after this.


[14:00:13] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching --