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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Ronald Reagan Dies at 93

Aired June 5, 2004 - 16:50   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: This is breaking news. Born in Tampico, Illinois and would later become known as "The Gipper," "The Great Communicator," the nation's 40th president, Ronald Reagan, has lost his battle with Alzheimer's disease after it was revealed 10 years ago.
He apparently died at the age of 93 today. By his side, Nancy Reagan as well as his family members in Bel Air. This being confirmed by our John King. Our specialty contributor, Frank Sesno, looks back on life of Ronald Reagan.

We'll have that report for you in a moment. But first, of course, we know that Ronald Reagan, through a letter, it was revealed about 10 years ago that he had Alzheimer's, and this weekend as early as this morning, we were warned by some family members that some bad news might be coming, and so now this special contribution from Frank Sesno now in this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR (voice-over): He lent his name to a revolution, as simple as it was bold.

REAGAN: In this presence crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.

SESNO: Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States rode to office on a wave of national discontent. America in 1980 had come to doubt itself, high inflation and interest rates, stagnant wages, a hostage crisis in Iran that served as metaphor to many of a hobbled giant.

Reagan had campaigned to change all that.

REAGAN: I will not stand by and watch this great country destroy itself under mediocre leadership that drifts from one crisis to the next, eroding our national will and purpose.

SESNO: His objective, to upend the way Washington did business, to cut taxes and the very government he would lead, and to rebuild American strength and project it on a world he saw as good versus evil.

REAGAN: What I'm describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term, the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history.

SESNO: A common thread connected Reagan's policies at home and abroad.

JEANNE KIRKPATRICK, FMR. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Ronald Reagan believed, as I see it, that the individual is the creative principal in history and in society and economics, you know, and in foreign affairs.

SESNO: But the Reagan revolution was nearly cut short. March 30, 1981, a disturbed young man named John Hinckley took aim and fired at the president as he came out of a Washington hotel after giving a speech.

MICHAEL DEAVER, FMR. REAGAN AIDE: I was there with Nancy when the surgeons came over and said, you know, we got everything. It was that close to his heart.

SESNO: Reagan's recovery, stamina and humor captivated the country. "Honey, I forgot to duck," he told Nancy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.

SESNO: Seventeen days after his return to the White House, he addressed Congress.

REAGAN: I have no words to express my appreciation for that greeting. Now let's talk about getting spending and inflation under control and cutting your tax rates.

SESNO: Reagan got his tax cuts, a 25 percent across-the-board reduction. He got some cuts in spending. They were controversial. And Reagan got big defense increases. One by-product? Huge budget deficits, under Ronald Reagan the national debt nearly tripled.

JAMES BAKER, FMR. TREASURY SECRETARY: But I think he had faith that if we got enough regulatory reform, if we got tax rates low enough, we would generate over time enough revenue growth that we would eliminate those deficits.

SESNO: At first things actually got worse. By October, 1982, unemployment topped 10 percent. A whole swath of the country came to be known as the Rust Belt. Reagan's job approval sank to 41 percent.

DEAVER: It was a tough time in the early '80s because all of the things that he said were going to happen, that things were going to get better, were not getting better.

SESNO: Reagan was resolute.

REAGAN: We can do it, my fellow Americans, by staying the course.

SESNO: "Stay the course" became a slogan, slowly the economy recovered. Then it boomed. The stock market would more than double. By 1984, when he ran for reelection, he would proclaim "Morning in America."

Reagan's view of the wider world was similarly uncluttered. He was ardently anti-communist and did not conceal his contempt for the Soviets. He spoke of the evil empire and defined the Reagan doctrine, which supported freedom fighters against Moscow's communist clients.

It would not be until 1985 that the menacing deep freeze of the Cold War would begin to thaw, his first meeting with a Soviet leader. Reagan would develop a relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, the new reformer from Moscow.

By 1987, having spent billions building up the nuclear arsenal, there was a breakthrough. Reagan and Gorbachev would sign the first treaty eliminating a class of nuclear weapons.

And he would go to Berlin and make this improbable plea.

REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

SESNO: But there were pitfalls, Iran-Contra was the worst of them. To get American hostages out of Beirut, missiles for the so- called moderates in Iran. To support the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua, a secret diversion of cash from the Iranian transactions. It was the worst scandal of the Reagan presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you make the mistake of sending arms to Tehran, sir?

SESNO: The diversion of funds was revealed to Reagan and the world by his attorney general, Ed Meese.

ED MEESE, FMR. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I guess what was going through my head at the time was that we had a major problem here for the administration, and quite frankly a problem of such magnitude that if it was not handled exactly right, it could be a major stumbling block for the administration, could even bring down the administration.

SESNO: Iran-Contra scarred Reagan's presidency.

REAGAN: There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.

SESNO: Staffers lost jobs and stood trial. Though damaged, Reagan weathered the storm.

ROBERT DALLEK, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: He made mistakes and the public didn't care all that much.

SESNO: Ronald Reagan connected with most Americans. His humor, his confidence, even his flaws seemed to reinforce his bonds with a wide array of citizens. In crises, Reagan's formidable communication skills could reassure a nation. After 241 Marines died in Lebanon in a terrorist attack, after the Challenger tragedy.

REAGAN: We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.

SESNO: Reagan was not an intellect. He delegated. Even many of his closest aides described him as aloof or detached. He never developed a deep rapport with minorities. Although an outdoorsman, he was not an environmentalist. But he projected vision and vigor, strength and optimism about America. He believed in its innate goodness. He often referred to it as a "shining city upon a hill" and he closed his presidency accordingly.

REAGAN: She still stands strong and true on the granite ridge. And her glow has held steady no matter what storm. My friends, we did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad. Not bad at all. And so good-bye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: That was Frank Sesno reporting. Once again, Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the U.S. has died today at the age of 93. On the telephone with us is presidential historian Robert Dallek to give us a sense of the legacy as to the legacy of Ronald Reagan.

And Mr. Dallek, you can just give us an idea, his final days, we know in the last 10 years that he has been suffering from Alzheimer's and that the family and close friends have been interacting with him, but communication has been very challenging at the very least.

Can you hear me OK?

DALLEK: Yes, I'm here.

WHITFIELD: OK. Give us a sense as to what these last few weeks have been like for the family members dealing with the ongoing struggle of Alzheimer's in his final days.

WHITFIELD: OK. Sorry about that. We're having a hard time being able to establish some communication there with Robert Dallek. Let's go now to John King who is traveling with President Bush in Paris and earlier today, White House sources had confirmed with CNN that this kind of news was likely to happen as early as today, throughout this weekend, or in the weeks or months to come.

And we know, of course, John King, the news has come today with his family members at his side.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, we are told by a senior administration official that President Bush was informed within the past hour that the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, had indeed died. * JOHN KING, SR. SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Fredericka, we are told by a senior administration official that President Bush was informed within the past hour that the 14th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan had indeed died. Mr. Bush will make a statement here in Paris. The White House trying to put the arrangements of that together.

We were told earlier today that if Mr. Reagan passed away, President Bush would speak. He is of course in Paris here to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-day invasion. This president's father was Ronald Reagan's vice-president, George Walker Bush. And this president often modeled himself on Ronald Reagan's policies, and trying to sell his tax cuts.

Many say is he more Reagan than Bush, in comparing this president. But again yes, the president was formed by his Chief of Staff, Andy Carr who served in the Reagan administration that Ronald Reagan dies earlier today out in California. President Bush will make a statement as soon as possible, aides tell us, here in Paris on this tragic development. Fredericka?

FREDERICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN: John, what can you tell us about the kind of relations that even Ronald Reagan was able to forge with French leadership there? And the respect that he really did have as a great world leader, as a great communicator. In fact that was of course one of his nicknames.

KING: The timing of this is striking in the sense that you will have so many heads state that are here in France for the 60th commemoration of the D-day landing. World leaders due to meet in Sea Island (ph) Georgia in the comings days. It will be interesting to see whether that session is canceled or postponed because of President Reagan's death.

But Reagan was very controversial remember around the world when he stood up against the Soviet Union, wanted the allies in Europe to deploy short ranged nuclear weapons. Many criticized him, called him a cowboy. But in the end, Ronald Reagan now gets much of the credit for the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

So Ronald Reagan, a very controversial president during his presidency, remembered now as a man who perhaps was a pivotal in a turning point in history here in Europe. We're expecting just a chorus of praise and of course, remorse, and condolences for the Reagan family.

At word of this development from President Bush himself, we will hear very shortly, and then of course Fredericka, we know the plans are in place. The state funeral in Washington, it will be a remarkable tribute for this leader in the days to come. The first to come from the current president of the United States shortly here in Paris.

WHITFIELD: And in fact John, let's talk about the relationship between the Reagan family and the Bush family. Clearly the strong relationship between Bush Senior and Ronald Reagan as his once vice president before Ronald Reagan then began campaigning for his presidency and of course now, then George Bush Jr., George W. Bush becoming the president, and also still having a relationship with the Reagan family.

KING: Like many political relationships, it evolved over time. When Ronald Reagan chose George Herbert Walker Bush to be his running mate, many saw that as a political odd couple. George Herbert Walker had campaigned as someone who supported abortion rights, changed his position to put it in line with Ronald Reagan.

There was tension between the former president Bush, who was vice president at the time, and President Reagan because the former vice president Bush at the time didn't think he was given such great responsibilities. But Ronald Reagan of course redefined the Republican Party in the United States of America essentially picking up the Goldwater (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Barry Goldwater couldn't win the presidency with that conservative message, but Ronald Reagan did because he delivered the message in a much more optimistic way. This president Bush and much of his communications team tries to model the Bush presidency and how Mr. Bush, the current president campaigns on the Ronald Reagan presidency. Fredericka.

WHITFIELD: John King traveling with President Bush as we await statements coming from President Bush on this notice out of Paris. We'll be keeping in touch with you. In the meantime, let's go to Washington now and Robert Novak, as well as our political analyst Bill Schneider who also at his side there in Washington.

Robert, let me begin with you. Let's talk about the emotions that are likely being felt inside the beltway. Very fond memories of the former president, Ronald Reagan.

ROBERT NOVAK, CHICAGO SUN TIMES: Well, President Reagan, of course, was a dreamer. And his dreams ran quite counter to the conventional wisdom of the beltway. He was for -- he was abused for his tax cuts. Even his Republican leader in the senate, Howard Baker, said it was a riverboat gamble.

It turned out, I believe, a great success. But then of course, his very tough policy toward the Soviet Union, his refusal to make a deal and make a deal (ph) with Gorbachev. He was criticized inside his own state department. But again, I believe that contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union.

So at the time that he was here, he was far from a congenial, beloved figure. He was in much abuse, and much revile. But I think he's been proven correct on many things and was a great success in those two areas, in his tax policy and his policy against the Soviet Union.

WHITFIELD: Bill, on a day like this, the passing of the 40th president, this is a day in which many are embracing and thinking of the fond memories of his legacy. What are some of those things that kind of come to mind for you?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: I remember that Ronald Reagan was a very difficult president to elect back in 1980. One of the first campaigns I covered. Ronald Reagan frightened people. They were concerned that he was a dangerous man who said often very radical things, too extreme, too right wing, too old.

But Americans were desperate for strong leadership. A man of conviction after Jimmy Carter, who seemed to many Americans to be wishy-washy and ineffectual. And in the last week of that 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan used his best skills as an actor to reassure Americans that he wasn't a dangerous or monstrous man. That he wouldn't start a war, that he wouldn't throw old people out in the snow.

That he was actually a very reassuring, congenial personality. And we saw the first glimpse of what was to become a trademark of his presidency, his generosity of spirit. In a way, Ronald Reagan was the original compassionate conservative.

WHITFIELD: All right, sorry, Bill. We're just getting some information now. Updating us a little bit more on the details of the death and the notification of the death of Ronald Reagan. The White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan was informed by Chief of Staff Andy Carr today that the death took place 4:09 Eastern Time involving Ronald Reagan, and that information coming directly from a Reagan insider.

Before the word then was Fred Ryan, before that word was spread out to the world and to all the news organizations. So Bill, once again, let's talk about the day. We knew early on today that there were White House sources that were saying family members, particularly Nancy Reagan was saying, this is it. It could happen any day now. It could happen within weeks, within months. And now this sudden surprise, this sudden news coming at 4:09, the time of death for Ronald Reagan.

SCHNEIDER: Yes and the news reports also indicated that the immediate cause of death was pneumonia. Alzheimer's disease is a terrible disease. Not just for the victim but also for his family, the family around them. Because they have to live with and take care of someone that they cease to know.

When Nancy Reagan said touchingly at an event in Los Angeles just a few weeks ago that this man that she had lived with, she had been married to for 52 years had gone a long journey to a distant place where she could no longer reach him. And in many ways that's the saddest part of all. The person is there but the spirit has just gone. So for the last ten years, he and those around him have been suffering from this terrible disease.

Let me point out one other thing though. Ronald Reagan was not just a legend in the country. He's also a hero to the conservative movement. Remember just a few months ago, when CBS wanted to run a mini series called "The Reagan's," which was considered in many ways insulting to both the former president and the first lady.

And what happened was a spontaneous outpouring of anger among conservative activists who were determined to protect his legacy from what they regarded as a derogatory treatment by a television network. And in the end they threatened to boycott, and the network decided to put it on cable rather than to show it to a large broadcast audience. Ronald Reagan was always able to rally conservatives. Even 15 years after he left office. He was just that important, and just that much a hero. WHITFIELD: And Robert, let me go back to you for a moment. Let's talk a little bit and try to recap, if we can, about Ronald Reagan's career as a president. Shortly after being nominated as president, his assassination attempt came just 70 days well into his presidency, still early on.

He was criticized, early on in his presidency. Criticized for a number of things, but at the same time, he was heralded for being quite progressive, namely for having three women in his cabinet.

NOVAK: Let's not pretend that he was something that he wasn't. He was not a liberal. He was not a progressive. And to beg to differ with my colleague, Bill, I don't think he was a compassionate conservative. He was a hard line conservative, and that's why the liberals hated him. You said in a passive voice that he was criticized. He was criticized by the left.

He was extraordinarily popular in the country. And that's where the phrase "Reagan Democrats" came from. These are people who had become disgusted with the Democratic Party. And there had been a rolling political realignment which really began in 1968. But it really hit warp speed in 1980 with Reagan.

Where people who had been Democrats all their life decided they were republicans, probably a realignment that's nearing its end or has come to an end by now. But this was an extraordinary development that President Reagan coming out for smaller government, for much radically lower taxes, and for a very, very muscular foreign policy toward the Soviet Union, was getting majority support from around the country.

So this was really a radical change in government, and was fundamentally successful. It had, like any administration had its ups and downs, and the Iran-contra situation was one of the great downers he had, but by and large, I think we'd have to agree an eight-year successful presidency.

WHITFIELD: Nearly an hour now after former president Ronald Reagan was pronounced dead. Now the flag at the White House in the nation's capitol flies at half-staff. John King is traveling with President Bush as he is on his tour of Europe tomorrow. Was to be on his way to Normandy for D-day commemorations. We're now waiting to hear from the president on their official comment now with notice of the death and what's the latest on that, John?

KING: Fredericka, as of now, no change in the president's travel plans, no change as of now in the President's schedule to participate in the 60th anniversary ceremony at Normandy tomorrow. We are awaiting a statement from the President. We are told the White House at the moment is working on a written statement for President Bush, voicing his condolences, and his remorse. His sadness at the death of former president Ronald Reagan.

Here's how it's played out here in Paris. As you know, Mr. Bush was informed by his senior staff earlier in this today and in recent days that President Reagan's health was deteriorating. It was 10:09 here in Paris, 4:09 in the afternoon back in Atlanta in the Eastern United States when Mr. Bush was told by his Chief of Staff Andrew Carr that he had received a phone call from Fred Ryan, who was Ronald Reagan's last chief of staff in the Reagan White House, telling him that Mr. Reagan had indeed passed away.

Mr. Bush was told again by his chief of staff, Andy Carr. The White House had a sense in recent days this was coming. There are elaborate plans Fredericka back in Washington for a state funeral, other commemorations, memorial services for former president Reagan. We'll see in the hours ahead here in Paris whether Mr. Bush cuts short this trip.

Is he scheduled to attend these historic commemoration events and the White House officials suggesting to us at least at this hour that Mr. bush believes it is appropriate to go forward with those and perhaps even use them for public comments about Ronald Reagan, what he meant to the people at the United States, and how his presidency changed Europe. Fredericka?

WHITFIELD: All right, John King, and of course when we get more information on the statement and plans from the White House, we'll be going back to you there in Paris. As you said, the President still may have his plans to move on to Normandy tomorrow for the 60th anniversary D-day commemorations.

Carol Lin is here at my side as we look at the White House shot of the flag at half-staff there. You covered Ronald Reagan and the presidency of Ronald Reagan for some time. As we heard from John King, an elaborate plan for state funeral is likely to be planned there in Washington. What are your expectations?

CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN: I think the expectation is that world leaders from all over are going to arrive in Washington. The body of Ronald Reagan will travel to Washington; lay in state at the Capitol Rotunda. There will be a service to be held and clearly this is expected news. I mean, Ronald Reagan was 93 years old, and had been in ill health for quite some time.

Fredericka, you mentioned that I Covered the White House. Really I was just starting in my career at the White House, ironically. I was a field producer for a startup satellite company. And what I remember from those days was the utter protectiveness of President Reagan's staff, of him and his time. And how carefully controlled, and how carefully planned every public event was with the president. Every word thought out, every detail seen right down to the detail.

Our Frank Buckley now is standing by outside of the Bel Air mansion where President Reagan just passed away in the last hour. Frank, what can you tell us about who has arrived at the house, and what is going on right now?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN: We can tell you that throughout the day, family members and friends have been coming to the home to pay respects. It's our belief that the three surviving children of President Reagan did make it to the home. Ron Jr., Patty, and Michael, Michael, the last child to arrive here at the home in Bel Air. People have been coming throughout the day. The gate is open right now. I want to show you as well the scene out here outside of the home throughout the day, journalists have been gathering here on this very narrow road that winds up through the hills here in Bel Air.

This was where President Reagan spent his last years after leaving the White House and quite a departure from the life that he led as a boy in Illinois. He rose from being a radio announcer, where he did play by play, became an actor, became the president of the Screen Actor's Guild, then governor of California, then eventually president of the United States of America.

Throughout it all, he maintained this tumble human touch that I think you've talked about already, but people -- he was able to reach them on a level that people could relate to, talking to them in his great storytelling style. He was someone who could keep an audience throughout hours of talking, whether it was a speech or whether it was one on one, when you talked to people who have had an audience with President Reagan, they say his charisma was something to behold.

Someone with a great sense of humor, everyone recalls what he said when there was the assassination attempt. His first words to Nancy Reagan reportedly, "Honey, I forgot to duck," and his words to the surgeons who were about to operate on him, "I hope you're all Republicans." So a person with a great sense of humor, who rose from a small-town America childhood to a position of greatness. And right now, we're just waiting to see what happens here in Bel Air, but this is where President Reagan passed away. Back to you.

LIN: Frank, this is the home in Bel Air that President Reagan and Nancy Reagan moved to after his presidency. In fact, this home was bought by very close friends of the Reagan family.

BUCKLEY: Right, this was the place that he came to right after the presidency. Initially, it was a home that had been leased for the Reagan's, and his friends -- he had legions of friends, of course, in his position as president. But as I said, his human touch, he always maintained a very close circle of friends, the people who became his kitchen cabinet, who went to Washington with him, who helped to advise him as the president of the United States, and continued to be his friends as he returned here to California.

Right now, helicopters arriving over the scene here in Bel Air. It's a growing group that is coming, mostly right now media. We haven't seen any private citizens come by, but a significant group of media here in Bel Air right now. Carol?

LIN: Thank you very much, Frank Buckley reporting live in Bel Air.

Joining us now on the telephone is CNN Political Analyst Jeff Greenfield, he's phoning in from Charleston, South Carolina. Jeff, how did you hear the news today?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A call about I guess four or five minutes after it happened by somebody at CNN. Obviously, this is something that we've been, thinking about pretty much all day.

But I want to just underscore something that Bob Novak said. I think historians are going to decide what kind of a president Ronald Reagan was. But I think one thing that is clear, is that he was the most consequential president politically since Roosevelt. It is really remarkable to think of Ronald Reagan, a man who came to national prominence politically in 1964 with a speech on behalf of the doomed candidacy of Barry Goldwater. This was the high-water market, post- war liberalism.

Over the next 16 years, a combination of people leaving the Democratic party, a combination of events that ultimately, a meeting of a movement and a single individual culminated in a 1980 landslide that brought Reagan to the presidency and brought a Republican senate with him and to an extent that I really think he's not been equaled since Roosevelt.

He changed his political party. We had other two term presidents. We've had Eisenhower, we had Clinton, but Ronald Reagan fundamentally reshaped the Republican Party into a party of tax cuts instead of deficits. He was an internationalist. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), a famous writer said his epithet will be he won the cold war. He indeed as Bill Schneider pointed out, overcame a lot of suspicion about whether or not he was an extremist, and wound up playing a major role in ending the cold war peacefully.

In part by arguing the moral supremacy of the west by making alliances with Pope John Paul II and the solidarity movement. And by convincing the skeptical Western Europe that if you just are armed enough and strong enough, this system would crumble. And ultimately on that score, I think it turns out there was a lot to what he said.

There's going to be a lot of debate about his domestic policy, about whether or not he took the country in the direction it ought to have been. But there's no question in my mind that the reason why this president's passing is going to be more really to an extraordinary extent is because in a political sense, this guy was a giant on the landscape. Carol?

LIN: Yet, Jeff, some of his past remarks even before he ran for president, he was cynical about politics himself. One time back in March of 1977, he said, "Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I've come to realize it bears a very close resemblance to the first."

GREENFIELD: Yes, but you know what? With all due respect, I don't think that's a mark of cynicism. That's part of what Ronald Reagan had, and it's been mentioned before. One of the reasons people didn't see him, even people who disagree with him politically, didn't want frightened about him, was that he did not in my view take himself with the seriousness of (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

That's the remark of a guy who is making a quip. And Ronald Reagan loved to make quips. It used to get him in trouble every once in a while. Before radio speech once he was kidding around with the crew and he said -- he was testing the mike and he said, "I just signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes." It was a great to-do. The idea that he meant was that ludicrous.

I think in fact, Reagan, who after all moved into politics out of kind of a personal passion, started as a liberal Democrat. He became increasingly conservative on two issues. One was communism, and the other was taxation. He was one of those highly paid on salary folks who found his salary being taxed in the high 70 percent, and that made him a conservative.

This was a guy who was passionate about politics and a couple of years ago, a collection of his newspaper columns and letters came out that revealed much of the surprise of some people that this guy all the way back into the '50s and '60s actually thought very seriously about public policy.

And after all, as I mentioned, he entered the stage in the worst possible way, advocating on behalf of a guy, Barry Goldwater, who lost one of the biggest landslides in history, he tried kind of for the presidency in 1968. He almost unseated Gerry Ford in 1976, and then wound up being the oldest man ever elected president in 1980. So I'm not sure, I wouldn't would call him a cynic about politics, I would say that this is a fellow who did not approach politics with the fiery eyes of the zealot, who could tell a joke and have a drink with Tip O'Neill after battling him on public policy.

LIN: And make statements in public like "trees cause more pollution than automobiles," or like "ketchup really is a vegetable."

GREENFIELD: Well as I say, the public policy arguments are going to go on, and the way historians go on, it will be decades. Whether or not Ronald Reagan understood enough about the complexities of policies, I think there are people who will argue that he missed a golden opportunity to turn conservatism toward the task of what was going on with the poor.

He once gave a great speech in 1980 to the Urban League about the failure of liberalism, but there was no particular sign in his administration that he cared about that. This is a human being after all, with his own full share of weaknesses.

I just come back to my original point, in a political sense, he cast, I believe, as large a shadow on the American landscape as any president or more, a larger shadow than any than any president since F.D.R. And he still remains by the way, in the Republican Party, the single most popular figure in that party. I think maybe Lincoln gives him a run for his money, but nobody else.

LIN: Jeff, do you remember in his second term, there were a lot of questions about how engaged the president really was directly policy. How hands on do you think President Reagan was during his two terms?

GREENFIELD: I think there are people who will tell you that particularly with the second term, the second terms are notoriously unsuccessful in American life, there was a kind of disengagement, with one profound exception. The exception was dealing with Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan had always said, there's a kind -- there was a part of Ronald Reagan that always had a kind of, not sentimentality, but a kind of almost romantic sense of how things worked.

He once said if he could take the leader of the Soviet Union and fly him over a typical American suburb, and show them the homes and the swimming pools, they'd get it. And in a way, with Mikhail Gorbachev, I think when he saw that this guy was beginning to break the ice in the Soviet Union; I think Reagan did get engaged. In fact some of Reagan's advisers felt he was too engaged. That famous summit in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Reagan and Gorbachev without their aides got close --

LIN: A walk in the woods.

GREENFIELD: -- to a deal that would have effectively wiped nuclear weapons out of everybody's arsenal. They quickly backtracked ON THAT. What happened was that Gorbachev wouldn't accept Reagan's argument that this had to be done with the strategic defense initiative. So on that score, I don't think he can say he was disengaged.

In terms of things like Iran-contra, and certainly the whole domestic program in the second term, I think you can make that argument. Some people felt actually that it was the first sign this guy was slowing down. If I was elected at 69, and almost died in an assassination attempt and he had colon cancer. This was somebody who by his second term probably was getting a little tired, and there are people close to him who felt that he had lost a step in the second term.

On the other hand he ended that administration more popular than when he came in, and with clear signs that the Soviet Union -- that the Cold War was beginning to wind down in a way that nobody had ever thought. I think you'll have a lot of people fighting about this legacy. That's one of the things about any figure. We're still debating -- there are still people debating about Franklin Roosevelt's legacy or for that matter, Teddy Roosevelt.

But for today, I think the proper note is to talk about the fact that this really remarkable figure, who was seen by most of his political rivals, and even by some Republicans as a guy way too simplistic, too old, how could an actor possibly be president? He was, in a political sense, an enormous figure over the last 20 or 30 years of American life.

LIN: The great communicator. Thank you very much. Jeff Greenfield joining us live on the telephone from Charleston South Carolina.

WHITFIELD: We're still awaiting official comment coming from the White House as the president is in France, one day before going to Normandy to take part in the D-day commemorations. Our Wolf Blitzer is there right now. Former White House Correspondent. And Wolf, maybe you can give us a sense as to what was it about the former president Ronald Reagan that the White House pool either loved or loathed about covering him?

WOLF BLITZER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: One of the most amazing things about Ronald Reagan was his sense of timing. It was almost always perfect Fredericka. And even in his death, that timing, almost perfect. This is the eve right now we're approaching midnight here in Normandy France, the eve of the 60th anniversary of D-day. The day that turned the tide in World War II, and as many have pointed out, the greatest generation at that point saved the world.

It would be 11 months before the defeat of Nazi Germany, but it all began here on the beaches of Normandy 60 years ago. The world is getting ready in the next few hours to commemorate that event. It's almost appropriate that Ronald Reagan, at age 93, who delivered one of his most memorable speeches here at Point (UNINTELLIGIBLE), on the beaches of Normandy 20 years ago for the 40th anniversary of D-day on June 6th, almost appropriate that he would die on the eve of this historic occasion, when so many world leaders will be gathering here in Normandy to prepare to commemorate for this D-day anniversary.

The French president Jacques Chirac already has met tonight in Paris with President Bush. They will be coming here in the morning, early in the morning. They'll be coming in with other world leaders as well. Ronald Reagan 20 years ago when he was here, was on the verge of getting close to ending the Cold War, defeating communism, setting the stage for the collapse of the Soviet Union, perhaps his greatest achievement as president. That will be remembered throughout this occasion.

Let us bring in the presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, who is here with me in Normandy and Doug, as you reflect now on the timing of Ronald Reagan's death, what goes through your mind?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: As you said, Wolf, it's just incredible timing. There are fireworks going off here now. We have all of these sea of white crosses behind us over the English Channel right now. When you cut back 60 years ago, Dwight Eisenhower was just getting ready for the invasion. It happened shortly after midnight on June 6th. And if Reagan's remembered for one thing it is always -- he'll be remembered for the support he gave the troops.

When he became president in 1981 defeated Jimmy Carter, his main objective was to rebring the morale. The armed forces had become corrosive due to Watergate, due to the problems of Vietnam. And Reagan was determined to support our armed forces. People like Secretary Layman and the big navy, the Grenada Invasion of 1983, where he actually banned the press from coming, trying to rebring morale. And he was always serving under -- he was known for his moments of pageantry like the "Challenger" explosion.

BLITZER: Douglas stand by. I want to bring in our Senior White House correspondent John King; he's traveling with the president in Paris tonight. John, walk us through how word began to filter out from the presidential party that former President Ronald Reagan had died.

KING: Wolf, as the President was in Italy to begin this day, word did get to the Senior White House Staff from the Reagan family there had been a serious deterioration in the former president's condition -- former president's condition, and that in fact it was possibly eminent at that time. Mr. Bush was here in Paris, France, after a meeting with president Chirac when he was told by his Chief of Staff Andy Carr who you know well, and who served in the Reagan administration, that he had received word from a former Reagan administration official that President Reagan indeed had passed away. That was at 10:00 here in Paris, 10:09 we are told.

And the issue now is when will we hear from the President? We are told a written statement will come out shortly. Mr. Bush as of now anyway will wait until tomorrow morning here in Paris is to deliver a statement to the camera. As you noted, in some ways, a very powerful setting for President Bush tomorrow as he attends the 60th anniversary commemoration of Normandy.

Just earlier today he equated the global war against terrorism to standing up against communism. It was Ronald Reagan of course who was remembered for saying, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Ronald Reagan was controversial when he urged the European allies to take a tougher stance against the then Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan remembered now in history as the president who probably more than any other forced the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And Wolf, we should also note this plays out in the middle of a presidential election campaign back in the United States. Ronald Reagan a polarizing figure in many ways who cut taxes. Democrats say he ran up record deficits. The one trademark of Ronald Reagan was his optimism. That is a character asset that this President Bush has tried to emulate. Many say this President Bush in terms of a candidate is much more like Ronald Reagan, than his own father, the former president.

BLITZER: John, let's just recap a little bit. Do you anticipate that the president, President Bush tonight, even though it's approaching midnight here in France right now, you're in Paris, I'm in Normandy where the president will be coming early in the morning. The president will make a public statement before the television cameras tonight?

KING: We are told at this moment, Wolf, no, that the president will issue a written statement, voicing his sadness and his condolences. Whether that changes or not is an interesting question, because it is still the afternoon of course back in the United States. But as of now, Bush plans to issue a written statement tonight. We're told by aides he will not deliver a statement on camera for the American people and of course for the global audience given this until tomorrow morning.

We'll keep closely on track of that if the plans change. But as of now we're told to expect perhaps even within the next few minutes a written statement from the President of the United States. No plans as of now for him to address to the American people and react to this tragic event on camera tonight here in Paris. Wolf?

BLITZER: John King, as you were speaking we were showing our viewers a picture of the White House with the flag already at half-staff atop the White House. There is an elaborate plan now that the President, the White House has already gone through that will involve a presidential funeral, lying in state in Washington, burial in California. What if anything can you share with our viewers on this plan that has been carefully, carefully worked out over these past several months involving the funeral, the state funeral, the memorial services for President Reagan?

KING: In fact, that plan worked out, and sometimes amended Wolf, over a period of several years as Mr. Reagan has suffered from Alzheimer's. President Bush leads that funeral by his designation as the President of the United States. President Reagan will lie in state in the United States Capitol Building, so the congressional leaders, principally, the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert have a lead role in arranging those events and those ceremonies and the memorial services.

The key question now, and we're awaiting word on this is when the Reagan family wants to schedule that. President Reagan of course passing away in California. The Reagan family, we're told by White House officials will decide the timetable for series of events.

Mr. Reagan's body then will be brought to Washington for the state funeral and memorial services and other events to commemorate him. We'll get word we assume in the day to come as this White House, the Bush White House talks to Nancy Reagan in California and other close associates of the Reagan family. We are told that it is the Reagan family, not the White House, or not anyone in Washington who will dictate the timetable for this, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to warn our viewers once again, if you hear explosions going off above my head it's approaching midnight here in France. Fireworks on the eve of D-day, the 60 anniversary of D-day. That's what you are hearing. If you can hear that crackling sound above my head here on the beaches of Normandy, fireworks going off. The celebration beginning. The liberation of France, the liberation of Europe 60 years ago on June 6th, 1944 it began.

John king, I assume the President and his delegation, including the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, who is here as well, they will all still be coming to Normandy to this cemetery behind me to commemorate the 60th anniversary of d-day. No indication --have you received any indication whatsoever that any of those plans will be changed because of the death of Ronald Reagan?

KING: No, in fact, Wolf, senior officials tonight telling us that the President has every intention to go forward with those plans. They say for now it would make no sense to go immediately back to Washington because it will take a period of a few days we assume to schedule the state funeral and the other events, commemorations and services for the former President Ronald Reagan.

As you had been noting in the coverage, and we have been noting tonight, in many ways perhaps a fitting backdrop for this president of the United States to offer words of condolences and his own reflections on the legacy of Ronald Reagan. He will be in the company of so many other heads of state. For the first time the German Chancellor invited to participate in the D-day ceremony. An enemy 60 years ago, now part of the western alliance 60 years later.

In many ways this president will certainly be the lead in what will be a chorus of praise and condolences for President Reagan tomorrow, sprinkled into those 60th anniversary commemoration events that again, Mr. Bush has been highlighting a theme on this trip, saying that he's used the war on terrorism much like the war against communism. And it took a while to convince some of the western European nations to adopt a harder line against the Soviet Union.

That was Ronald Reagan's mantra, his constant theme when he was president of the United States. It was quite controversial at the time. But in the history books now written Ronald Reagan in fact for taking those positions, is given a great deal of the credit for the fall of the Berlin Wall which occurred under his successor as president, his vice president at the time, George H. W. Bush, this president's father.

BLITZER: I also assume John that all of these world leaders who were scheduled to go to Sea Island (ph) Georgia this week for the G-8 summit scheduled to begin on Tuesday, the president was supposed to fly directly from here to Georgia for that summit. They will all continue on that journey and certainly they will all be in the United States in collaboration in connection with the funeral, with the funeral of President Reagan. I assume there's been no indication of any change in plans involving the G-8 summit. Is that right John?

KING: That is all under discussion right now Wolf. And again, that relies primarily on what the Reagan family wants to do. Right now we are told no plans to change the schedule for the G-8 summit. No plans to change the arrivals of so many leaders from around the world, not just the group of 8 leaders, but leaders from the Middle East, and the greater Middle East.

That could change however. We need to watch that, and be careful about that in the days ahead. We are told now that the statement from the White House, the written statement from the President of the United States is scheduled to be released at 6:15 Washington time, that would be 12:15 a.m. here in Paris. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, John, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you. Our colleague, Bob Novak, has covered Ronald Reagan, covered him for many, many years. He's bringing, joining us once again. I know, Bob, that you are close to many of the Reagan associates. Those people who were intimately involved in setting the stage and preparing for the state funeral, preparing for the events that are about to commemorate Ronald Reagan's life.

What do you know about what Nancy Reagan-- Mrs. Reagan wants to unfold in the coming hours and days?

NOVAK: I don't really know Wolf what the plans are for the funeral. There's been detail planning for some time but I'm not aware of what's going to happen in that score.

BLITZER: What can you tell us about Ronald Reagan on this death, on the eve of D-day, the 60th anniversary of D-day? This almost sense of perfect timing on the part of the former president.

NOVAK: Wolf, he was a greatly underestimated figure, president. Almost a condescending air in some of the comments I've heard during the day today. Well, he wasn't all that bright, but he could communicate. A new book has come out quite recently about his previously unpublished letters, all of them handwritten by him, and he was a remarkable intellect in my opinion.

He was a great reader. He read a lot of the philosophers and economists of classical economics, as well as conservative magazines like "Human Events," and "National Review." He was unquestionably, Wolf, the most ideological president we have ever had. I wouldn't ever call Roosevelt an ideological person, and I don't think Bill Clinton was really very ideological. But certainly Ronald Reagan was.

But he was a practical man. He knew he could only go so far. He would have loved to have a gold standard for the dollar, but he couldn't get that far. But he did, as he said in his farewell address, achieve much more than anybody dreamed. One thing I would like to say, how tough he was. We have to describe him now that he's been in this long sleep of Alzheimer's as a grandfather figure. He was a tough, ornery customer.

I think the thing that made his presidency was when he broke the Air Controllers Union in the beginning of his presidency. A lot of people have forgotten that entirely, how controversial it was. And I know that there were members, conservative members of his staff who said, Mr. President, you can't do this. It's going to ruin your presidency. He said, "They broke the law by going on strike."

And that was just an absolutely shattering decision for the labor movement, for America, and for the world. People in Europe said hey, this is a tough hombre you have to deal with. He was I think also; somebody was asking whether he was disengaged in his second term. Well, of course he was disengaged from a lot of things he wasn't interested in much, but he was very engaged in the Cold War and of course, it was during his second term that he made these tremendous decisions not to follow the state department's line on giving in to the Soviet Union.

And also, which got him into a lot of trouble, his adamancy in supporting the Contras in Nicaragua, who we must remember were the winners. The Sandinistas were driven out of power. I really do believe that history is written by the liberals, and I think they're going to have to be careful in assessing Ronald Reagan. He wasn't all triumph, but he was I think, as Jeff Greenfield said, not only as Jeff Greenfield said a dominant figure on the earth, thought highly of the world, but a highly successful figure as well.

BLITZER: Bob, I want to you stand by. I want to just correct one thing that we reported at 6:15 Eastern Time, about a half an hour or so from now, a little bit more than a half an hour or so from now, the former president George Bush, the father of the current president, will be making a statement on Ronald Reagan's death, 6:15 Eastern, about 30 minutes or so from now. You're looking at this live picture at the White House, where the flag is already being flown at half staff. Frank Fahrenkopf is on the phone, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Someone who was very close to Ronald Reagan. Frank thanks so much for joining us. What's going through your mind on this sad occasion?

FRANK FAHRENKOPF, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well listening to everyone, Wolf, including Bob Novak, just completing. I think the one thing -- you could you talk about the Cold War, and it was a tremendous victory for all of us, but I think the important thing was that he brought back our national sense of pride and dignity after what was really a tough time in the '70s.

If you think back Wolf, there are many people saying that no president would ever again serve for two terms. Everyone thought that. That was the word out, and he overturned that in 1984, winning one of the biggest election victories in history. I think what also came to mind was the comparison in a way with President Bush. I mean, when Ronald Reagan came to Washington in 1981, the view was that this was a governor from a western state, no foreign policy experience. He was "dumb," a cowboy actor.

Remember all of that? That he needed advisers around him to do anything. And sort of very much the same thing that George W. Bush faced when he first time. The economy, I mean people forget the day he was sworn into office; the crime rate in this country was 21.5. It's hard to believe that now, looking back. So the great changes that he brought and the dignity and pride he brought back to America are the things that resonate most with me.

BLITZER: Frank Fahrenkopf, do you know what the Reagan family would like to have happen in the next hours and days? In other words, the plans that they have taken? I'm sure under great, great consideration for the state funeral, for the memorial services in Washington, the body lying in state at the Rotunda on Capitol Hill?

FAHRENKOPF: No, I don't know the details, and I don't know anyone who does. I've heard the same thing. That the body will be flown back here, he will lie in state and following that, an appropriate burial at the library. But I think, in many ways those plans clearly for out there have been in stone for a long time. Nancy and the President picked out their grave sites. I know you've seen them, outside the library in the back overlooking the Simi Valley. But the exact details, timing, and so forth, I don't think anybody knows at this point.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stand by for all of that, obviously, wait to hear directly from the Reagan family, specifically Mrs. Nancy Reagan. Frank Fahrenkopf thanks for spending a few moments with us here on CNN. The 93-year-old former president of the United States Ronald Reagan is dead. Let's continue our special coverage in honor of Ronald Reagan. Fredericka Whitfield is standing by in Atlanta.

WHITFIELD: Thanks very much, Wolf.

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was with the surviving Reagan children, Patty and Ron Jr., when the former president passed away just over an hour ago at their Bel Air estate. Judy Woodruff now profiles the lasting legacy of the love affair between Nancy and Ronald Reagan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN: They were a Hollywood fairytale turned political power couple. Leading man, Ronald Reagan, was president of the Screen Actor's Guild, when he met Nancy Davis. He was divorced. His film career on the decline, and Davis was a waning Hollywood starlet. Reagan often said Nancy saved his soul and that he couldn't imagine life without her. She responded, saying her life didn't start until she met Ronny.

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: Everything just fell into place with Ronny and me. We completed each other.

WOODRUFF: A love affair so close, even their children and stepchildren could not squeeze in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a love like I've never seen. And nobody gets in the way of that love. That's theirs.

WOODRUFF: When Reagan enters politics, their partnership solidified even more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nancy was a very fast learner. I don't think she had any idea when Reagan decided to explore, which is the way he looked at it the governorship in '66. But she was immediately not only part of the partnership, the campaign, but she had to go out on her own and do various activities.

WOODRUFF: Early in Reagan's political career, Nancy was criticized for gazing at her husband during his speeches. She was lamb basted for playing the role of the adoring wife. But insiders say it was no act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've always felt that the relationship between the two of them was quite genuine, and that this is not a -- you know, they didn't have to act at being in love, because they were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shots rang out as President Reagan left the Washington Hilton Hotel this afternoon.

WOODRUFF: Nancy nearly lost the love of her life when John Hinckley shot the president. But Reagan recovered. He used humor to ease her fears, telling Nancy, "Honey, I forgot to duck." Still, Nancy worried, and began consulting an astrologer. Something which raised eyebrows in Washington.

Her profile improved with time, and as she traveled with the President. In Beijing, Berlin, and Geneva. The Reagan's presented a united front of diplomacy and charm. They were each other's staunchest ally. Critics suspected that Nancy whispered more into the president's ear than words of help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doing everything we can. WOODRUFF: Nancy understood Reagan's strengths and weaknesses, and she filled in the gaps, even if that meant playing the heavy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had that third eye that she would see people who were trying to use him, and use him in the wrong way, and she would stop that.

WOODRUFF: Many say Reagan would never have succeeded in politics, had it not been for his wife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, Ronald Reagan wouldn't have been governor, wouldn't have been president without her, no way.

WOODRUFF: And as his presidency ended, he let everyone know what she meant to him.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: That second floor living quarters in the White House would have seemed a big and lonely spot without her waiting for me every day at the end of the day.

WOODRUFF: And then, in 1994, Reagan wrote a letter, a poignant farewell to the nation, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. It would be the last campaign he and Nancy would handle together.

NANCY REAGAN: I found that even though the person I love and have loved for 44 years is slipping away. My love for him grows. As he changes, if I stop asking why and simply love, I do grow.

WOODRUFF: Reagan epitomized the American dream. He was a small town boy from humble beginnings, who exemplified that the system worked, that any kid can grow up to be president. And Nancy, well, she was right where she wanted to be, by his side. Judy Woodruff, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LIN: And Nancy Reagan was right by his side at the time of his death, which we believe is 4:09 Eastern time. One of his sons, Michael Reagan arrived at the Bel Air home not long before the former president was pronounced dead. And just a short time ago he released a written statement, comments coming on behalf of the family and reads in part,

"I pray that as America reflects on the passing of my dad they will remember a man of integrity, conviction, and good humor that changed America and the world for the better. He would modestly say the credit goes to others, but I believe the credit is his."

That from Michael Reagan, the oldest son. I want to head to Washington where Al Hunt is with the rest of the CAPITAL GANG to reflect a little bit more on your thoughts on this day of the news of the passing of the former president.

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: With Kate O'Beirne, who worked in the Reagan White House, Margaret Carlson, who's covered Washington politics for 20 years and Robert Novak who first interviewed Ronald Reagan almost 40 years ago. First coming out of that story we just saw, one of the great love stories of all times, Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan. It was genuine. Anyone who read those wonderful letters, those poignant, beautiful letters that he wrote to her just has to be inspired and a little bit jealous that he could write like that. Kate, what's your recollection of Ronald Wilson Reagan?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Al, a conservative, a deeply committed conservative. He had a coherent political philosophy. Sure he had as an incredibly successful politician; sure he had that winning personality, extremely likeable, the terrific sense of humor. But I think his success beginning as governor of California and then of course the two big wins in the presidency owe most to the power of ideas. Because that's what he was committed to.

He was an idealist. He saw the world the way it was and was determined that he was going to do everything he could, use America's power to change that. He was deeply moved by the plight of people trapped in the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain and we don't have to wait long in this case for the enormous -- to understand the enormous impact of Ronald Reagan. We do know this, the Soviet Union is no more, and he was an indispensable mover in seeing the end of the Soviet Union.

HUNT: An idealist Margaret?

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: As the daughter of a Reagan Democrat, I saw close up and firsthand the power of a personality. And this charismatic man who convinced die-hard Democrats like my father that it was morning in America with Ronald Reagan. And it was an astonishing thing for me to see. But in fact, he did have the power of personality to dominate this whole period of time with the couple of simple ideas, which is not to say he was simple, but he wanted to defeat the Soviet Union, and thought it could be done.

He wanted to get government off our backs. He wanted to get over malaise, and he had a cheerful optimistic personality. He wasn't in any way a compassionate conservative, by the way. He was just a conservative who put forward a kind of cheerful face. Nancy Reagan, by the way, just let me add briefly, was far more powerful a first lady than Hillary Clinton, because I think she had tremendous influence over him, totally trustworthy, and the third eye, as Michael Deaver just put it.

HUNT: Bob, I was always struck that Ronald Reagan, whether you agree or disagree with me, he knew who he was; he knew what he wanted to do. He was really a very secure man.

NOVAK: He was. You know, thinking about it, he was almost the direct answer to Richard Nixon. Because Nixon really didn't believe in much of anything, but he was engrossed in the game of politics. Just loved political maneuver, wasn't as good as it as he thought he was but he loved the maneuver, the minutiae, and the big things.

Reagan really didn't like politics very much, and on the occasions when I was fortunate enough to be alone with him, I thought I'd get a lot of good political gossip. I never did. He didn't like to gossip about politics. He liked to gossip about show business. That's what he really enjoyed. He loved to tell dialect jokes too, Jewish and Irish, particularly the Jewish were forbidden in public, but he loved to do it in private.

The other thing was, there was such a condescending at attitude by the establishment. He knew an awful lot of things. Rolly and I interviewed him for a book.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Your ex-partner Rolly Evans -- your late partner Roland Evans -- you wrote a book actually wrote a book about the Reagans.

(CROSSTALK)

We interviewed him for that book in 1981, and he started citing, just sitting there, didn't have any cards, started citing budget figures for the last 30 years, how much deficit there was, and the fact that the high taxes did not lower the deficit. And we went back and checked them, and all those figures were absolutely accurate. I was stunned. He knew an awful lot, and I think he liked to give the impression of people that he knew less than he did.

O'BEIRNE: We learned that book that was published a couple of years ago, "Reagan and His Own Hand."

HUNT: I was talking about a few minutes ago, yes.

O'BEIRNE: Exactly. He was very widely read which an awful lot of people didn't appreciate. He thought long and hard about issues. He'd go out on the road when he traveled and in his own hand, of course, write his presentations. He'd test ideas with audiences. He'd think more about it.

By the time he ran for public office, he had very well-defined refined, deeply held beliefs. Even though many flocked to Washington to be part of the Reagan revolution, we called it, he had his own share of naysayers in his midst, but he was never deterred. It was the confidence. He knew he was right and it didn't matter that he had some people whispering in his ear.

HUNT: Let me add this. I don't disagree with any of this, but I did disagree with a number of the Reagan policies and had tremendous admiration for Reagan. But one of the reasons I did was because I do think we have to -- he also was a pragmatic man. He was a man who liked to get things done. He actually liked to govern. I agree with you, Bob, he didn't like to gossip about politicians, but he was a pretty darned good politician. He had the security to surrounded himself usually with some very good people going back to Sacramento days, and when he was president of the United States.

NOVAK: He never tried to be to covered by half. He was not, you know, here's the plan, if you read the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) diary about Nixon, they were always figuring out some kind of plan. That was not Reagan. Just one more point that I like to remember about surprising. When Rolly and I interviewed him, I asked him what economists really he felt influenced him the most, and he said, Frederick Bastiott (ph). Do you know Frederick Bastiott (ph)?

HUNT: No, I've never read his works Bob.

NOVAK: He was an 18th century -- I had never heard of him. I had to go get a book and sure enough, guess what he was for? He was for free trade and tax cuts.

O'BEIRNE: And a gold standard perhaps?

NOVAK: And a gold standard.

HUNT: Also, I'll tell you, he was very fortunate, because he had a wonderful Boswell, Lou Canyon (ph)of the "The Washington Post", who has written several biographies of Ronald Reagan, but was president, and he just wrote one last year, a marvelous biography of Reagan's time as governor of California. And I can say a great compliment to both, they richly deserve one another. Lou Canyon (ph) is one of the great journalist biographers out there.

O'BEIRNE: We have to remember what a tough political competitor he was, whether he liked gossiping about politics or not. In 1976, of course after losing those early primaries to a sitting president, Gerald Ford, many people urged him to leave the race. What's the use? And he refused to. Again, that was he was surrounded by naysayers and insisted on going all the way to convention, and darned if in later primaries he didn't start picking up some of the political support.

HUNT: One of the greatest moments my political reporting life Bob, was going Ronald Reagan went, and the time between the last primary and the convention. Gerry Ford was the President of the United States, was eating away delicate by delicate and put a damn in this district. And Reagan had to do something dramatic.

So he picked Dick Schweiker (ph) as his running mate. And to use a football expression, I'm sorry women, but it froze the line backers. He goes to Mississippi with John Wayne, and right in that plane with John Wayne, John Wayne came back and talked about what a great guy that gipper was. He was an extraordinarily memorable and historic figure. Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Carol, back to you.

LIN: Thank you very much Al. I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center in Atlanta. And in case you are just joining our coverage, our special coverage, Ronald Reagan, America's 40th president dies this afternoon at 4:09 Eastern Time in his Bel Air California home. He was surrounded by his wife Nancy Reagan, and his surviving children, Ron Jr., and Patty Davis. His son Michael Reagan joined shortly thereafter and released a statement saying that he prays as America reflects on the passing of his father that they remember him as a man of integrity.

Fredericka Whitfield is joining me here on the set here at the CNN Center in Atlanta for last hour and a half or so. Fredericka, we have been covering this story. Apparently his body will be flown to Washington, D.C. where it will lie in state and plans for a funeral service are still pending.

WHITFIELD: Yes, exactly. Still undetermined exactly when that will take place. We're still awaiting a written statement to come from current president George Bush who is in Paris. He is, of course, in Europe, to impart commemorate the D-day celebrations tomorrow. As well as meeting with French President Jacques Chirac today to talk a little bit more about their relationships, or bringing the relations together again as it pertains to Iraq.

Now, former president George Herbert Walker Bush is likely going to be making a statement in about 15 minutes from now from Kennebunkport, Maine. And of course you know he and Ronald Reagan working very closely together, being very good friends.

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