Return to Transcripts main page
ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Bloomberg: Trump Considers Mueller Probe "Illegal;" Bloomberg: Trump Says Sessions' Job Is Safe, For Now; NYT: Trump And Cohen Devised Plan To Buy Decades Of Dirt Directly From National Enquirer But It Was Never Finalized; John McCain's Casket Arrives Ahead of DC Services. Aired on 7-8p ET
Aired August 30, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANHOR: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next breaking news. Trump calls Robert Mueller's investigation illegal while insisting that what he said on camera about the firing of James Comey isn't real. Also breaking, President Trump saying that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a job possibly only for a few weeks.
And McCain's homecoming. The late Senator John McCain making his way back here to D.C., his arrival at Joint Base Andrews expected in just minutes. And we're going to bring you the touching ceremony live. Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Jim Sciutto in again tonight for Erin Burnett. And OUTFRONT tonight breaking news. Illegal investigation. President Trump telling Bloomberg tonight that he views Robert Mueller's investigation as illegal, and refusing to say if he will comply with a subpoena to answer questions. This as Mr. Trump is now claiming inexplicably that what he said on camera about why he fired former FBI Director James Comey is not real. The President claiming in a tweet that reads in part, "When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly".
Fudging his tape on Russia. What Trump is referring to is his May 2017 interview with Lester Holt, an interview in which he contradicted his own White House. His administration had claimed that the President fired Comey due to a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, criticizing Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. But that is not what Trump told Lester Holt just two days after removing Comey. Here's a clip from the extended interview which NBC released.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: The President isn't today offering any evidence to back up his claim that that tape you just saw is some how fudged, perhaps, because there simply is no evidence that NBC fudged or altered that tape in any way. And the President is not offering any evidence to back up his claim. He is also making this claim 15 months after the interview aired, a time during which his own Attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has referenced the tape repeatedly as fact.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: So he fired him and he said I'm free of this guy. And then he went on Lester Holt. Lester Holt's interview was as good as anybody could do, better than I think any of the people around Mueller could have done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: So why lie now? The answer is almost certainly Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump's firing of Comey is central to the question of whether the President obstructed justice. And advisers to the President are worried about what a democratically controlled House would mean for Trump.
One aide telling CNN, "It would be like a perfect storm", with hearings, investigations, and possible impeachment proceedings. That may explain why this President has expanded his campaign to undermine the Russia probe. Now going to the extreme of claiming that what we can see and hear with our own eyes and ears somehow does not exist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Just stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Dystopian novels have been written about this kind of thing.
Jim Acosta is OUTFRONT live at the White House now. Jim, is there any indication from people you speak to in the White House as to what the President was alleging here with this claim against the NBC?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The short answer, Jim, is no. We have gotten no explanation from the White House as to what the President was talking about when he said that NBC was fudging that Lester Holt interview with the President, which as you said was backed up by Rudy Giuliani already as part of the conversation of all of this.
But I will tell you, Jim, I did talk to a source close to the White House earlier today who said, listen, these attacks on the media are going to continue. They're going to continue to hit the media harder in the weeks to come. They see this as part of their midterm strategy. And Jim, it's not just going after NBC or going after CNN or the rest of the mainstream news media. Remember, earlier this week the President was talking about going after Google, and Twitter, and Facebook and social media companies because he's upset about what shows up in Google search results. And so, it's this attack on information and information sources that the American people have been relying on for some time. And Jim, he's doing this as he's also making things up. It's not only the claim that he made about NBC which is obviously false.
[19:05:02] But remember just of couple days ago, he was saying over here at the White House to a group of Evangelicals that there would be violence in the upcoming midterm elections on the part of Democrats. And when I asked the President about that yesterday for an explanation about that, he didn't have one. He did not explain what exactly he was talking about.
And so, this is part of that comment that you played earlier where the President was telling these veterans earlier this year, don't believe what you're seeing, don't believe what you're reading, believe me. The President would like to replace news outlets all over the country with one news outlet, and that is his Twitter feed, but obviously that's not going to happen. But, Jim, it does seem that this sort of untethering from reality that we're seeing from the President right now is going to continue, and there's a lot of angst behind it as you were just saying a few moments ago. They are greatly concerned about what would happen if the Democrats were to take control of Congress.
I'm told by sources close to the White House that the President has been explained that by his own advisers that, listen, impeachment proceedings, Democrats taking over key committees that can hold hearings, issue subpoenas and so on. Those are all of the things that are motivating a lot of this angst over here on the part of the President tonight. Jim.
SCIUTTO: Jim Acosta at the White House. And you know what? We're going to keep doing our jobs.
OUTFRONT tonight, John Dean, Former Nixon White House Counsel during Watergate hearings, Laura Coates, former Federal Prosecutor, and David Gergen served as an Adviser to four Presidents.
David, you've advised four Presidents. The President cannot possibly believe that NBC doctored that tape. Why would he make such an outrageous claim?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Because he thinks he can get away with it. Listen, what we have is a fundamental strategy of assaulting the truth and this is a very dangerous road. There's an interesting book out by a woman long associated with New York Times, Michiko Kakutani on "The Assault on Truth." And she points out based on the work of Hannah Arendt some 60 years ago that the two big totalitarian regimes that arose in the 20th century, Nazism and Communism both were based, predicated on leaders destroying any sense and despoiling the truth. So that people know, people were wary, they were cynical, and they no longer knew what to believe. And she makes the argument it's the ideal person of totalitarian society, it was not a convicted nazi nor convicted -- or convinced communist, the ideal person to have as citizen was someone who no longer knew what the truth was. That's what the road to totalitarianism is.
SCIUTTO: And just keep repeating the lies, right?
SCIUTTO: John, it's a pattern from the President and it appears to be a pattern with intent, with the goal here. He's tried to discredit facts on tape over and over again. I mean, there's the "Access Hollywood" tape, we've all heard it. We heard it, you know, weeks before the campaign. But listen again to his voice there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I better use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful. I just start kissing them. It's just like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever you want.
TRUMP: Grab them by the -- you can do anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: You remember the President initially apologized for that tape, saying he was using locker room talk. But then a year later, he reportedly suggested to adviser also to a U.S. senator that the voice on the tape just wasn't his. And Twitter, another forum for this just in the past two days, several baseless claims, the President tweeted a story from a conservative news outlet claiming that Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server was hacked by a Chinese owned company.
The FBI run by a Trump appointee had to then tell CNN and other outlets that there was no such evidence to this. I suppose, John Dean, you worked with and witnessed a President who often told lies. Are there consequences for this President for this kind of thing?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, it's hard to say yet. One wonders who he is telling these lies to, who he thinks believes them. And maybe some of it is baseless, but I can't believe in totality that base is as gullible as he seem to think they are.
Richard Nixon, yes, he did tell lies. But he told big ones, whoppers, and not a part of daily life and small minutia that Trump will get into, and such blatant contradictions of fact. So it's hard to be sure if this man is just continuing what he sees as a con he can pull off or if he actually -- I don't think he is smart enough to try to become some sort of dictatorial leader. These are just his natural proclivities playing out, and he is being, you know, an adult child who is trying to get away with these things. So I think he'll get his come up and so, Jim.
[19:10:02] SCIUTTO: Laura, on the investigation, the President just a short time ago, he told Bloomberg that he views the Mueller probe. The President said this, he views it as an illegal investigation. Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, said again today that Trump's legal team is working on its own counter report which he says will look at whether the investigation was legitimate when it started. Of course, you have this claim now about some of the evidence in this, the NBC tape. Is this part of a coordinated effort by the President to undermine both evidence and potential witnesses in this investigation?
LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It certainly seems to be. I mean, he's gone from the term witch hunt. Now he's gone to a term of alliteration, illegal investigation, hoping maybe that will catch on in a way that could probably immunize him in some way. But I think he'll be unsuccessful in that. Because while he's trying to crack the narrative and change the narrative, he actually is walking right into additional conversations with Robert Mueller if he were to have him in the first one.
The President of the United States should no longer wonder why they are seeking to interview him or why they are prolonging the investigation in his mind unnecessarily. Every single time he spins a different version of the truth or different version of recollection or tries to crack a different narrative. Whether it'd be now illegal investigation or some basis of it, he prolongs their ability to conclude whether or not he had some nefarious intent or had some other role in terms of the intimidation, influence, or obstruction at any certain witness. So, he prolongs unnecessarily.
And finally, on the idea of whether or not it's an illegal investigation, even if weren't his tag line at this point in time, you have Andrew Miller who was the assistant of Roger Stone who was trying to make that very argument in court, is the very reason he is defying a subpoena and has been held in contempt here in Washington, D.C. for that very reason. Because he is trying to establish that, because Robert Mueller in his mind has not day to day oversight by Rod Rosenstein, he is a man with very little oversight and zero accountability, which means this is an illegal act that he's always going outside of his mandate. That's his argument.
It also will fail because of the language of the statute as what's written to protect him. So all of these is kind of the spaghetti on the wall, Jim, in my mind, and he's using the media and I think what John was talking about, his perception of the gullible as a focus group.
SCIUTTO: Yes. I tell you, as I said earlier, we're going to keep doing our jobs. David, the President, he's had 15 months to claim this NBC interview was false. He didn't, over time, Giuliani himself referenced the Presidents marks to NBC as fact and to support his arguments.
GERGEN: Yes. He counted them.
SCIUTTO: Several times.
SCIUTTO: Do you see a reason for this now? And is it possible that he, his lawyers, have learned about a line of inquiry by Mueller which makes them nervous, and therefore they go on the attack here?
GERGEN: Oh, absolutely. I think that -- I'm not sure we have it all scoped out, but it's very clear to me that they're going to use the next 10 weeks from now to the midterms and do everything they can to smear the press and to bring this over. The President has not been spending a lot of time being President anymore. He is spending a lot of time running for office and running to get, you know, to keep protect people and sending out these tweets.
So he challenge (ph) me, if he wins the House and he will feel much more protected. If he loses the House, he's got this alternative plan, he will get rid of Sessions after the midterms, he will appoint someone who can either fire Mueller or, and in effect, that John Dean had been pointing out in the past, that it's not clear under the law what exactly is going to happen with the Mueller report whether it will ever go public. And, a new attorney general can potentially block that from ever going public. It might delete in portions, but to see the whole thing which the American people so clearly and richly deserve after all this.
So to understand what really went on, I think is a serious danger. I think the President is playing this. He wants to get it win or lose the midterms, I want to have a strategy post midterm.
SCIUTTO: No question. It's my point there. He could block the release of that report. Thanks to all of you.
OUTFRONT next, breaking news. President Trump saying that Jeff Sessions' job is safe, but not for long.
Plus, Trump reportedly tried to buy decades of dirt directly from the National Enquirer. Just what could they have had on Trump? A National Enquirer insider will be my guest.
And, we're standing now by now for the late Senator John McCain making his final flight here to Washington. The ceremony on arrival expected to take place in just minutes. We'll take you there live.
[19:18:31] SCIUTTO: Breaking news, President Trump says Jeff Sessions' job as Attorney General is safe for a short time. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Trump said Sessions will keep his job at least until the midterms. That's a reprieve of just about eight weeks. Mr. Trump adding, I just would love to have him do a great job. This as Senate GOP sources tells CNN, Trump has been increasingly venting about Sessions for months now.
OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. She sits on the House Judiciary Committee. Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us tonight. I'll give you a moment to get that earpiece back in there.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Thank you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Can you hear me OK now? It happens to me all the time as well.
JACKSON LEE: Good evening.
SCIUTTO: Good evening. Thanks for coming on. You, of course, opposed Sessions' nomination for A.G., claiming at the time that he was one of the most far right members of the Senate, that he lacked the commitment to equal justice or rights. Then in March of 2017, you said he should step down immediately for failing to disclose his meetings with Russians ambassador to the U.S. I wonder if now, in current circumstances, would you be happy to see him resign or be fired?
JACKSON LEE: Well, Jim, first of all let me offer my deepest sympathy to the family, friends, to the Congress, House and Senate for their loss of Senator John McCain --
JACKSON LEE: -- who truly is an American hero. And, as well, let me offer to the American people that we've lost the Queen of Music, not soul music, the Queen of Music for her genius, her spirit, and her commitment to the struggle and civil rights, and that's Aretha Franklin.
[19:20:14] All of us celebrate their lives and their contributions to this nation.
SCIUTTO: No question.
JACKSON LEE: Let me say to you, I stand by what I said in terms of his confirmation hearings. I do think he was and is one of the most far right attorney generals ever nominated and his stance on civil rights and the empowerment of people, most vulnerable people, is not one consistent with my views. In addition, his lack of candor as relates to his meetings with the Russian ambassador was disappointing and unacceptable for an individual who is going to ascend to be attorney general. But I also believe in the rule --
SCIUTTO: The point on that is he is not being forthcoming about that meeting and other meetings is one of the reasons that he recused himself from the Russian investigation which is what Trump holds against him. Are you concerned about who might follow Sessions into that role? And if he might be, he or she might be less protective of the Special Counsel, less protective of the Russian investigation?
JACKSON LEE: I think all members who believe in oversight should be concerned about that. So as I was saying, I believe in the rule of law. I made those statements and I stand by them.
But what has happened to General Sessions by the President of the United States who does not believe in the rule of law is both untenable and almost have taken us to a constitutional crisis. I have not seen this in the four Presidents, but I've had the privilege of serving under his and him in the United States Congress. And so I would not want General Sessions to be in essence dispensed with the way this President wants to dispense with, and that is because he is not following and doing what this President wants him to do which is to dismiss Mueller, dismiss the special investigation, and stand on his side that this is a witch hunt.
For that reason, I'm glad that Sessions has one, recused himself, but recognizes that he cannot involve himself, and that the deputy attorney general is appropriate in both the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller, but also in protecting Special Counsel Mueller. Frankly, I think the Congress should pass the legislation that we've introduced in the Senate. I introduce legislation and some of that had 150 co-sponsors and the one that the Senate pass out to Judiciary Committee. So --
JACKSON LEE: -- your question is to whether or not I would want a different person, in a normal set of circumstances. Certainly a President has a right to select his or her cabinet. This is not a normal circumstance. You had the chairman of the President's campaign indicted -- convicted last week of 8 counts, 10 hung jury, and of course his long time lawyer, personal lawyer who admitted to campaign --
JACKSON LEE: -- violations. This is not a normal set of circumstances. Why does he want to get rid of General Sessions?
But if he was, then it would have to go through a major confirmation. But he still has the power to not do that and to appoint someone that is already been confirmed by the Senate. I think that is dangerous. I don't know what that question would be --
SCIUTTO: Who could that be? Because --
LEE: -- with the special investigation.
SCIUTTO: -- others who have made this point that he could make sort of the equivalent of a recess appointment if Sessions particularly were to step down. Who do you believe were the possibilities?
JACKSON LEE: And that's dangerous. Again, I said that we're on the brink of a constitutional crisis at any moment with this President. And to be honest with you, might I say Eric Holder. I don't think that he bring General Holder back again.
JACKSON LEE: So, I don't have a nominee that I feel confident of that would be selected by this President and this administration that would believe in the effectiveness of the role and responsibility of the Special Counsel, the responsibility that the Special Counsel has to finish his investigation, and of course the role of the Congress. If the report is submitted to us, that indicates that the Congress should act. I do not feel confident.
So, I'm watching what the President does. He's already given notice to the nation and to the Congress that he will hold onto General Sessions until after the midterms. Then, you know, all bets are on.
JACKSON LEE: Some would say all bets are off. What nominee will he offer and what will be the litmus test that he will ask his nominee to abide by?
JACKSON LEE: Will it be that you do what I do? Because the President believes the Attorney General is his lawyer. He is not. He is the lawyer or she is the lawyer for the nation, and abiding by the laws that allow them to protect the nation's legal business.
[19:25:02] SCIUTTO: Right. Seems that loyalty is the number one judgment there. Congresswoman, thanks so much for taking the time.
JACKSON LEE: Unheard of in other presidential administrations where they put that litmus test, except for of course Richard Nixon of some 40 years, 50 years ago almost that indicated that when his attorney general didn't follow his instructions, but no modern day president -- no recent president, Jim, has ever asked for that kind of loyalty because you don't understand what the role of an attorney general is. He's the people's lawyer. The people of the United States of America.
SCIUTTO: Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
JACKSON LEE: Thank you for having me.
SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, Trump reportedly want to top buy -- reported to buy decades of dirt from the National Enquirer. So why did the deal fall through. A National Enquirer insider will be my guest.
And Senator John McCain about to make his final return to Washington as friends pay tribute to the late Senator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm a Democrat. And I loved John McCain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: New tonight, President Trump reportedly tried to buy three decades worth of dirt that the National Enquirer had collected on him. "The New York Times" reporting Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen devised a plan to purchase the stories from American media, the Enquirer's parent company, but the plan was never finalized. The plan corroborates a tape obtained by CNN that reveals Cohen and Trump discussing how to handle transfer of information and money.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do it right away. I've actually come up and I've spoken --
TRUMP: Give it to me and --
COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with -
TRUMP: So what do we have to pay for this?
COHEN: -- funding.
TRUMP: One fifty?
COHEN: Yes. And it's all the stuff --
TRUMP: I was thinking about that.
COHEN: All the stuff. Because here you never know where that company -- you never know what he's going to be --
TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.
COHEN: Correct. So, I'm all over that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: I'm all over that, he said.
OUTFRONT now, former L.A. bureau chief for the "National Enquirer", Jerry George.
Jerry, thanks for joining us.
JERRY GEORGE, FORMER L.A. BUREAU CHIEF, NATIONAL ENQUIRER: Hi, Jim. Thanks for having me.
SCIUTTO: So, dirt going back decades to the 1980s, this just in run up to the presidential election in November, 2016.
Do we know what kind of details, what kind of scandals, et cetera, or accounts that we're talking about?
GEORGE: Well, we know that the "National Enquirer" was notoriously slow in entering the digital age. So, you know, when I first joined the company, we wrote our stories on typewriters. Later, word processors were introduced, and we turned hard copy into editors, who would edit, then production, someone would type it into the system for pagination. That resulted in an inventory of physical story files going back 30 years. So, any stories written about Donald Trump from the '80s to early '90s that aren't online are stored in a warehouse somewhere.
SCIUTTO: So, you're saying that this was not new information that had now become public, this was archived material, old articles?
GEORGE: It's material that some had been published, some hadn't, but it all still exists.
SCIUTTO: Right. So, why would they have been interested in making a deal? In fact, Michael Cohen there said formulate a company, found a company to make this purchase there. Why were they so concerned about it? I mean, we know they paid a lot of money to Stormy Daniels, to Karen McDougal to buy their stories. What to your understanding was so incendiary about this information?
GEORGE: Well, I think it, you know, based on President Trump and David Pecker's friendship, the Trump Organization was comfortable in probably making the approach to saying, hey, why don't you sell us everything you have on the president and we'll make a deal on that.
SCIUTTO: OK, understood.
Last time you were on the show I know you talked about how close Trump and Pecker were, that he was essentially a silent editor, Trump that is, of the "Enquirer". If Trump trusted Pecker on tape, it sounds like he and Cohen wanted an insurance policy, perhaps in case Pecker went away or no longer controlled the company, Trump on tape says if he's hit by a truck, is that what they were looking to do because they trusted him but they didn't trust what might follow?
GEORGE: I think they wanted a clean slate. I think the president wanted the peace of mind of being able to sleep at night and that there were no surprises awaiting him in archives of the "National Enquirer".
SCIUTTO: I see. Now -- go ahead.
GEORGE: For David Pecker's purposes, that was very appealing. At first blush it probably looked like a blank check. It would give him the money to continue acquiring additional titles in publishing.
SCIUTTO: OK. Now, to be clear, the deal didn't happen. Was that a matter of money or just that Pecker didn't want to sell it? What do we know?
GEORGE: I suspect that probably in the end, someone from the board perhaps, even CFO Weisselberg, eventually sat David Pecker down and said, listen, you're opening up the company to a lot of exposure, and I think at that point, their friendship transitioned from, you know, a favor and sloppy journalism to potential organized crime.
SCIUTTO: Understood. Last week, again on this show, you said that you knew buried stories about marital discord about Donald Trump, infidelities, et cetera. Here I should is what Trump's divorce lawyer Jay Goldberg said on this topic. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAY GOLDBERG, PERSONAL FRIEND AND LONGTIME ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don't believe that he had that kind of attitude where he was picked up women randomly, I don't think so. He wasn't the kind of character that you would expect of a person who has no regard for women. That was not his approach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: To your understanding, did the "Enquirer" appear to have reporting that suggested otherwise? I'm trying to get why they would have been so concerned, why he would have Michael Cohen setting up that company, perhaps making a payment.
[19:35:03] GEORGE: Yes, definitely.
From what I observed from story leads coming in, married or not, David Pecker was -- I'm sorry, Donald Trump was quite the ladies man. And he had -- there were a series of marital affairs.
SCIUTTO: And you're suggesting to your knowledge that would have been the information that the American media had and that Trump and Cohen would look to suppress?
SCIUTTO: Understood. Certainly more to explore there. Thanks very much for joining us tonight.
GEORGE: My pleasure.
SCIUTTO: And OUTFRONT next, we are standing by for the late Senator John McCain's casket to arrive at Joint Base Andrews.
Plus, Hispanic Americans reportedly being denied passports along the southern border. Keep in mind, these are U.S. citizens. I'm going to speak to an attorney who has taken on the U.S. government.
SCIUTTO: Breaking news. You are looking at live pictures here. This is Joint Base Andrews where John McCain's family, his casket just landed in that plane there, a U.S. military plane, carrying him back to Washington, D.C., following a funeral in his home state of Arizona.
[19:40:08] This before a series of ceremonies here and in the Washington, D.C. area to honor his extraordinary legacy.
OUTFRONT now, we have Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He's a former army commanding general of Europe and the Seventh Army. S.E. Cupp, she's host of CNN's "S.E. UNFILTERED," Mark Preston, CNN's senior political analyst, and Elaine Povich, she's author of the biography, "John McCain: American Maverick".
We are going to be watching, keep up live pictures as we watch this ceremony as the plane taxis there. It will be met shortly by the secretary of defense, General Mattis. That will come in the next few moments.
But as we watch, S.E., if I can come to you first. You're friends with the McCain's family, they were there on the plane, they've accompanied their late father's, their late husband's body back to D.C. How are they handling this?
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, as you can imagine, this has been a tough year followed by a tough couple of days at the end here. As we watch these humbling stirring ceremonies, honoring and celebrating a man that was important to us all, you have to imagine how much more emotional it is for all of them.
As I have been saying, you know, they've had the gift of time to prepare for all of this and yet it is obvious to anyone that's been watching these ceremonies that there wasn't enough time and it is still at least for Meghan, my friend, you know, she is not ready for this. She's incredibly close to her dad and is obviously having a very difficult time, you know, grappling with this end of his life. She's 33 years old. That is young to lose a father.
You know, it's easy to think, well, he was -- he was 82. He lived a full life. That is true. He lived ten lives. But for some of his younger children, this is -- this is all too soon.
SCIUTTO: Yes, I'm sure we and many folks who are listening and watching can identify with that. There was never enough time.
Elaine, again, as the plane is going to taxi to a stop, we should note this is where Air Force One lands, the same air base just outside of Washington here. Arizona his adopted home, and we saw an enormous outpouring of emotion from people that worked with him, served with him, and also members of the public.
Now, he is back in Washington, served those six terms as a senator, he was a congressman. Washington is certainly a home for him as well.
ELAINE POVICH, AUTHOR, "JOHN MCCAIN: AMERICAN MAVERICK": Absolutely. Now we are seeing the second half of his life. The first part was in Arizona where we saw the deep love of the state that he has, but Washington was really where he made his mark.
This is where people know him. This is where everybody in the city knows him. He is friends with everybody. He feels comfortable here.
You know, he went to high school here, which is a little known fact about him. He went to Episcopal high school across the river from Joint Base Andrews in Alexandria, Virginia.
So, he knew Washington a long time ago. And then when he came back from Vietnam and became the Navy's liaison to the Senate, he somehow fit right in. He felt very, very comfortable here and he made people around him feel comfortable. This was a place that he moved gracefully through, taking people with him, and enjoying every single minute of it.
SCIUTTO: Just to set the scene again as the aircraft carried him, this is a C-32, a military version of the 757 this part of the honor that the president signed an order to carry out. The plane to bring him back here, lying in state at the capital tomorrow, which is an honor reserved for I believe just 31 Americans have had that honor, most of them presidents.
You're going to see his staff, dozens of staff through the years greet him in addition to the defense secretary.
General Hertling, of course, his time in the military, there as defense secretary now. I called him a general. Of course, he is a retired general, he retired when he took the job as defense secretary walking up there.
General, you tweeted an image of you and the senator in Iraq where you commanded forces, you tell a story he chewed you out because you wouldn't let him or you tried not to let him visit Mosul because of the danger there. Senator McCain was not shall we say skittish in situations like that.
[19:45:01] LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, FORMER ARMY COMMANDING GENERAL: He wasn't, Jim. And that was sort of a serendipitous move -- meeting between the two of us. We had met once before in Baghdad in 2004 when I was an assistant division commander, then he had come to the northern part, I commanded the northern part of Iraq from Baghdad up to the Syrian border, and we had all sorts of fights going on in different locations.
But the one that was most harrowing was what was going on in Mosul. And, of course, this was during the surge. There were politicians wanting to come over on congressional delegations, CODELs, which as you know, I can say this now that I'm out of the military, they were the bane of our existence when those congressmen and senators came in.
And we tried to push them off on the public affairs guys, and we could do that with most of them. They could go to some lesser known areas where fighting wasn't as intense or, in fact, didn't exist at all. They could get their visit in for a day or two, meet their constituents, go back home, speak on Sunday morning talk shows, say how they had been to Iraq. But not McCain.
I tried to persuade my bosses at the time not to let him come to the north because we were in pretty tough combat in Mosul, and I guess that word got back to him. And first thing he said as he got off the C-130 as he landed at Mosul airport, they said, no, he is coming, you have to take him for a couple of days. First thing he said to me is -- and I hadn't met him or seen him since 2004, he probably didn't know who the hell I was either, he said: so, General, I understand you didn't want me to come to Mosul. And that kind of puts you on your heels a bit, you know, and I'm stumbling, saying, no, no, sir, it's not that, it's just that -- I think I said it is a little sporty out there, which is an expression we used in the military.
SCIUTTO: General, let me interrupt you a moment, because the late senator's wife walking down the stairs to be greeted by Defense Secretary Mattis. Behind her you can see his adopted daughter, I imagine, behind him, the rest of his children. But there you go, a hug.
Jim Mattis, he knew McCain well. He made quite an emotional tribute to him on his death, too, very emotional statement from a sitting defense secretary about his service and about their personal connection here. You can say that this is a personal loss for him. He knew him well.
Behind him there you can see the late senator's two sons from his more recent marriage, two older sons from a previous marriage, Jim Mattis, of course, escorting them. Earlier, you may have seen on the other side of the plane there was a black truck there called a loader. That's where senator McCain's casket, you can see it there on the left will be taken out of the plane and lowered and taken to the hearse as well.
Again, emotional moment for all involved. But really a tremendous honor here. What you can't see on camera we may as the camera pans here, are dozens of his staff bussed from Capitol Hill here to greet the late senator's body. That explains all of the black cars there. There are a lot of people that wanted to be there for this moment.
Mark Preston, you spent a lot of time on the Hill. This is a -- here's the honor guard approaching the loader there with his casket. There are a lot of folks in this town, Democrat and Republican, who had admiration for Senator McCain.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, they were, Jim. As we watch, this is a very sad moment for the McCain family. But I'm trying to take a little bit of good out of it, a little bit of happiness.
And I've got to tell you, the past couple of years, the divisiveness we have seen in this country and the anger and really all being inflamed by politics, and then this week we've seen this outpouring of support for somebody who not only gave his life when it comes to like his mental life, he gave his body to the country, he was shot down over Hanoi, he suffered incredibly torture over there. He came back. He learned how to forgive those who inflicted that pain upon him when he was a prisoner of war.
And then on Capitol Hill, he was somebody who was able to forge a deal. Now, I'm not going to pretend that John McCain wasn't difficult to work with because he was very -- he was a hard guy to deal with. If he didn't like what you said, he would come back at you very hard. And, of course, General Hertling had to be on the receiving end of that. I myself was on the receiving end of that many times within the hallways of Capitol Hill.
But here's the thing about John McCain. He never lied. You always knew that whatever he told you was true. And he was always a gentleman. And I know a lot of people talked about his relationship with the media, I think he saw the media not as his buddies, didn't look at it as his friends, but he looked at it as part of a process that made America great.
[19:50:01] SCIUTTO: Right. Well, forgiveness. Here's a man who could forgive his Vietnamese captors, imagine the model that sets for the tone in Washington as we know today, where there's not a lot of forgiveness going around.
Let me explain what's happening here. What you see there in front of, again, what's called a loader, which will carry his casket down from the military jet, that's a military honor card representing all branches of the military. There are eight members there. They will carry his casket to the hearse once it comes from the plane there and the family waiting as well. There, we see them, an emotional moment for all involved.
Elaine, help us place -- there's been a lot of talk about this the last several days. Help us place his legacy as a senator, as a politician, as a military leader. Have we seen his equal in recent memory?
POVICH: Not at all. He is a singular individual. He is rare, he is unique.
You know, we don't usually do this sort of thing for failed presidential candidates. And, you know, he ran not once but twice and did not achieve the highest office in the land, and yet he commands such respect because of who he is and what he's done and his life story. It's interesting, you know, the family, not these folks that are standing here but his mothers and brother and sister thought they lost him back in 1967, when his plane was shot down.
They believe that he had died. When I talked to his brother, Joe, and Joe told me the day he learned his brother was a prisoner and had in fact not died, he was the happiest he could be and people were coming up to him saying, Joe, Joe, your brother has been captured, aren't you upset? Oh, no, he said, I'm as happy as I can be.
This is a military family that understands combat and understands death.
POVICH: To see this tribute to him, I think what his legacy will be more of service to country than any specific piece of legislation or the fact that he was able to work across party lines. All of that is important. But I think his service to country and the role model that he set for young Americans, probably will be his lasting legacy.
SCIUTTO: No question. We should remind people in this history cheating death when he was shot down and then captured, he was involved in what I think was the deadliest friendly fire, if you want to call it, incident during the Vietnam War, he was on a jet, on the deck, enormous fire there, barely survived that.
If you talk about risking your life, body, life and limb for country, John McCain has done that a number of times.
You see the honor guard now approaching the load are the. We saw this in Arizona as well, because he had a number of moments where a military honor guard was carrying his casket, each step here planned, practice, each full of symbolism. They will take the casket off the loader at chest height. On command, lower it to waist height. They will do an about face and carry it to the hearse there.
See the family there. There are still tears.
S.E., again, you know the family well, you've been talking to them. How have they taken the reception to his loss? Because there have been a lot of kind words from all quarters in the last several days.
CUPP: Well, I haven't spoken to them specifically, to any of them specifically about that, but I know Meghan and I know that hearing kind words about her father, she never took that for granted, she never felt entitled to that. She fought very hard, on a daily basis, to remind people how proud she was of her dad.
And so, I am certain that the outpouring of memories and support and love for this man is part of what you're seeing here, this overwhelming sense of reality that she has not only lost her dad, to whom she was incredibly close, but a man that was so important to so many people, that must -- that must create a real -- a real mix of emotions there.
SCIUTTO: We're going to listen in for a moment here. This is one of the most solemn cemetery ceremonies the U.S. military prepares for.
(SEN. JOHN MCCAIN'S CASKET ARRIVAL CEREMONY)
[19:58:03] SCIUTTO: General Hertling, you commanded forces in combat. You have lost soldiers in combat. I'm sure you've attended more ceremonies like this than you'd like to count or remember, but help us understand some of the symbolism and procession here.
HERTLING: Yes, I was thinking as it was going on. In most formations or most ceremonies, soldiers are told by their command sergeants to look sharp and stand tall and come together. The self-pride of every sailor or marine does that. But transfer of remains ceremonies and this is the equivalent of that as we bring soldiers home from combat that have given their life are these kinds of ceremonies.
You know, the conversation before them says something like this is your last honor to pay for this individual. So, it becomes different when you stand in a ceremony like this. You're not standing there for yourself or your formation. You're standing there for the individual who has sacrificed so much for their country.
And in this case, Senator McCain is certainly worthy of this kind of tribute. But, Jim, all I can tell you is there is something different in formations like this. You have to understand it to experience -- you have to experience it to understand it. And watching this honor guard with their sharp salutes, their precise commands, that everyone is in step and align, it's just different than a normal military ceremony.
SCIUTTO: No question.
You're seeing here now some of the senators and Senate staff that have come to greet the late senator's body on arrival here, the family greeting them.
You can see Lindsey Graham giving a hug. He had a very emotional tribute on the floor of the Senate. They were close friends and there were tears in that tribute as for many of his former colleagues. I believe that's Jeff Flake, former senator from Arizona as well. Part of many Americans greeting this extraordinary senator on his return to Washington.
Our coverage continues with my colleague, John Berman.