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Interview with George W. Bush; Missed Warning Signs in Boston Bombings?

Aired April 24, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here in Boston.

We have got breaking news tonight on many fronts, both here and overseas, investigators not just scrambling to learn who turned the older bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, toward radical Islam and who if anyone trained him in bomb-making. They're also grappling right now here at home with the grim possibility -- and I do want to stress it's just a possibility that -- for now -- that they may have dropped the ball, the possibility that not one, but two potential red flags, one to the FBI and now one to the CIA, were mistakenly downplayed or otherwise mishandled and opportunities were missed that might have prevented this tragedy.

So, tonight, we do have new reporting on all of that for you and reporting as well on a jihadist in Russia's Dagestan region whose video was on the Tamerlan's YouTube channel, a channel he began after he came back from Russia, a guy who goes by Abu Dujana, who met with foreigners during the time that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was in the region and, say local police, helped train them in bomb-making.

Did Tamerlan meet with this guy? We don't know.

We also know that Secretary of State suspects an overseas connection.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We just had a young person who went to Russia and Chechnya who blew people up in Boston. So, he didn't stay where he went, but he learned something where he went, and he came back with a willingness to kill people.


COOPER: There's also the shadowy figure known as Misha. The Russian name would be Michael, or Michael, who may have helped radicalize the older brother, again, may have.

Also, late word that the suspect's father, but not the mother, who's wanted on shoplifting charges here, will be flying to Boston possibly tomorrow or Friday. Additionally, we're learning about how the two brothers lived and crucially where they got their money, allegedly from selling drugs. That is a theory that law enforcement is working on. They don't have specific evidence on that. But we will find out more details tonight, many, many new developments as well as this, as well as this. Boylston Street, which has been a crime scene for a week-and-a-half became a city street again. There's a memorial set up along Copley Square. We're just a few blocks from there, the scars obviously remaining, but this is part of the strong city is now longer -- is now no longer, I should say, an open wound.

And earlier today, more than 4,000 people, singer James Taylor included, gathered to remember a fallen MIT police officer Sean Collier murdered as the suspects fled last Thursday. Vice President Biden was at the service calling the bombing suspects -- quote -- "two twisted, perverted, cowardly knockoff jihadis."

What did authorities here and there know about the pair, especially the older one who traveled to Russia last year for six months and was on the radar of Russian intelligence a year before that?

Breaking news tonight from Nick Paton Walsh, who is in Russia's Dagestan region, and from Joe Johns and chief political analyst Gloria Borger for us tonight in Washington.

Joe, we begin with you. We knew the FBI was approached by the Russians in early 2011 to check out the older brother, Tamerlan, saying he was flirting with extremism. Now you're hearing the CIA was also approached later that year by the Russians. What happened?


The CIA says it nominated him, put him name up as a candidate for a terror watch list system. It's our understanding the agency's involvement actually led to an entry into one of the databases. It also says it shared its other information with other agencies and departments which we believe to be the State Department, Homeland Security, FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center, and we understand CIA gave out different possible spellings of his name, and two possible dates of birth, Anderson.

COOPER: Gloria, at this point do we know what the Russians said to the U.S. about this guy, about the quality and the information coming from the Russians?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Here's what we know. We know that the information was thin. We know that the Russians I'm told are not likely to give up their sources to us, that they're more formal about this, and that when the United States authorities went back to them on more than one occasion and asked for more information, I'm told they did not get a case report back to us.

But having said that, Anderson, the fact that this information was coming from the Russians at all should raise a red flag.

COOPER: What about the money here? I mean, there is a money trail here that has to be followed. It doesn't appear to be an expensive plot. But you got some information about or at least a theory that law enforcement is working with about how the older brother, Tamerlan, might have either financed this plot or financed his income in his trip to Russia.

BORGER: Right. They call it a working theory. Investigators are looking into whether he sold drugs as a way to earn some income. We know that he had a wife who worked. We know that the family was on welfare until 2012.

As you point out, Anderson, this is not a really expensive plot, not an expensive bomb. But he did go back to Russia, and he had to finance that somehow and help his family while he was gone for six months, right?

COOPER: Right.

And it also just doesn't make sense to me. This is a guy who's married, has a small child. What, he up and tells his wife, I'm leaving for Russia to, what, rediscover my roots for six months, I'm going to leave you with this little kid, fend for yourselves?

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: There's a lot of questions obviously we don't know about the six-month period in Russia.

Joe, do we know what piqued the Russians' interests in the first place? I know Gloria said they keep things close to the vest, but do we know why they were suspicious enough to alert U.S. officials?

JOHNS: Well, the best thing we have on that, Anderson, is the FBI's narrative, and they say Russia had information that Tsarnaev was planning to go there, planning to travel there and he was going to somehow join up with some unspecified underground groups. They say they made the request because was a follower of radical Islam, strong believer. He changed drastically since 2010, Anderson.

COOPER: Nick in Dagestan, earlier, Russian media had been reporting that the mother and father of these two brothers were headed to the U.S. tomorrow. Now you're finding out something different. It's just one person that is allegedly going to come to the United States.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct. Information about this is changing all the time during this week.

But the last I heard from (INAUDIBLE) who has become kind of a representative, a human rights worker assisting the family, is that only the father will be going to the United States, and he will be traveling after tomorrow. That could be Friday or perhaps later.

Russian state media saying they were both going today at some point today, Thursday, here in Russia. Much confusion about this. It's not clear if the mother is not going for some personal reason or perhaps because of any potential outstanding charges -- Anderson.

COOPER: There was an arrest warrant or there is an arrest warrant, I should say, out for the mother on shoplifting charges and also destruction of property charges.

Do we know if that played a part in her decision not to come? Because she could be arrested and very likely would be arrested if she came to the United States.

WALSH: When I spoke to her, she was very emotional about her sons. And I can imagine in her heart I'm sure that's exactly what she wants to do, to go to the U.S. to perhaps partake in any burial that may be forthcoming.

But, yes, this could be an issue. She hasn't been specific about that, but certainly at this point the father going alone does give credence to potential threats of some sort of legal action. And much of the conversation we have been hearing the past week from neighbors and friends has sort of suggested that it may just have been the father going back to the U.S., Anderson.

COOPER: Gloria, as Jeff Toobin pointed out, our legal analyst, pointed out earlier in the 8:00 hour, even if the father does come, there's no guarantee that he -- he has no right to actually meet with his son, and even if he did, law enforcement could very easily eavesdrop on that, listen into that, and anything that was discussed would be information that they can use. There's no privileged conversation between a father and son.

You also have got some information, Gloria, about the kinds of questions that investigators are now asking about the brothers and their families. What are you hearing?

BORGER: Right.

And, first of all, they're also asking questions about the Russians, because we don't know, for example, Anderson, whether they were monitoring Tamerlan when he went back to Dagestan. So, we don't know the answers to those questions. We have got to find out what was in their files.

They're going to look at the parents' asylum. They're looking into that. Why did they decide to go back to a country where they said they have been persecuted? They obviously want to talk to the wife about what she knew. They're asking these questions about income, where he got his money, was he subsidized, did he do it as investigators are now looking at, selling drugs?

They are all kinds of loose ends that they have to look. And they also -- Anderson, quite frankly, they have to look at themselves and make sure that their information, that they were sharing information in the appropriate ways and that this just didn't get stovepiped, as we call it in Washington, because that was supposed to end on 9/11.

COOPER: I know talking to Nic Robertson earlier who is also in Dagestan, he was saying that there's a local mosque that locals describe as sort of a hotbed of radicalism.

The question of course remains is did the older brother actually have any connections with that mosque, did he attend it? We're still trying to find out more information about that in Dagestan. Nick, Joe, Gloria, appreciate your reporting.


COOPER: A lot more to talk about now globally as well as locally.

Joining us now is former Massachusetts Homeland Security Adviser Juliette Kayyem. She is currently a "Boston Globe" columnist. Former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes joins us and former CIA officer Bob Baer.

Bob, we know now the FBI and CIA both were aware of the elder brother. And yet he was able to plan according to authorities -- he's suspected of being able to plan and launch a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Is there any way to view this other than a failure of the national security community?

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I don't think we should look at it as a failure of the FBI. Because simply we don't know what the FBI knew and when they knew it.

But what kit is a failure, is there's been no way to unify databases. The elder brothers buying explosives in New Hampshire, gunpowder. He had to give a driver's license for that. Immigrations, his leaving, was the FBI in Boston pinged on that? We know they weren't pinged on the return.

But if you can take all this information and combine it, there would have been a much clearer red flag on this. Why isn't the FBI getting all this information? And, frankly, we don't even know what's in the National Security Agency. Normally, the FBI does not have access to that raw intelligence. And so I think we're doing a disservice to the FBI by not getting it enough information on a timely basis.

COOPER: Tom Fuentes, you're formerly assistant director of the FBI. Do you see it in the same way?


I think much has been made about, aren't these agencies sharing since 9/11, the information stovepiped? I can tell you the way a joint terrorism task force is set up, every member of all of these agencies sit side by side. And all of them have access to these databases.

It's not like you need to send a communication formally from the FBI to the Department of Homeland Security or from the FBI to the State Department. The representatives are sitting right there, and seeing the same information and have access to the same databases. So that part of discussions in recent times is just not accurate that information is stovepiped.

Yes, there are different databases, but they have different purposes. And so the key link-up is the terrorist screening center, the TIDE database that we have heard of, which only has 500,000 names on it to keep track of. That's why you have all of these different issues.

COOPER: Yes. Tom, what interests you most in the last 24 hours that you have heard?

FUENTES: I think I still want to know what happened in Russia. If allegedly Russia is sending communications to both FBI and CIA and saying, we have information that this guy intends to come to Russia and meet with militants here, well, those militants are under 24/7 coverage in Russia, as evidenced by the fact that Abu Dujana, who you see in the video that was on Tamerlan's YouTube account, he's killed by the Russians in a major firefight this past December.

So obviously, my expectation would be if they're suspicious of Tamerlan and if they're watching this group, he should have just wandered into their surveillance and come up on their radar by that. Additionally, Russia doesn't have the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment. They have no problem with, if they have radicals in a mosque, they're going to cover it.

If they have militants meeting, they're going to cover it. If they have political groups that say bad things about the Russian regime, this is a regime that just locked up a rock 'n' roll group because they criticized Putin. I just have a hard time understanding that this guy, when he arrives in Russia, and allegedly meets with people that are so high on their radar, that they kill him, how does that happen?

COOPER: Juliette, they don't even have to allow him in Russia if they don't want to, right?


What we know now is that the Russians told two different federal agencies essentially the same sort of explanation or concern about the older brother. One of the federal agencies, the FBI, reviewed it, didn't get very far with it, didn't think there was much. Russians also go to the CIA. None of those agencies determined on their own that this was a threat.

This is where the information is now. He then goes off to Russia. The Russians clearly don't view him as a threat because, as Tom said, they're not watching him, they have standards that are very different from ours. And so that is what we know right now, so the intelligence pieces are being put together to figure out, was there a ping that we should have gotten, either because the Russians actually told us something specific? It seems pretty clear they didn't. Or because information one agency had was not shared with another?

But it seems like every agency looking at it did not find him as a threat. It's hard for us to believe that now. But they were all going on the same information. COOPER: Also, as Tom pointed out, they have got 500,000 people on this list. It's very easy in hindsight to say, they should have focused more on this guy.


KAYYEM: And you have that many people on the list because there's dozens of intelligence agencies for all sorts of reasons. In fact, state and locals get involved with this as well. The JTTS also have state and local representatives as they do here in Boston.

They're feeding information in. You want the first list to be big, and then you winnow it out until you get to either the no-fly list or the terror watch list. Those are the most extreme ones. You want that list to be small. Otherwise, you're going to miss people.

BAER: Anderson, this is not a routine request from Russia. It just isn't. Russians rarely do this. They do not bring up...


COOPER: Well, Bob, why would they have allowed him into Russia?


BAER: We don't know. They're inefficient as well.

They're not completely -- it's not a complete, total police state there. You can get through. The names are misspelled on passports, things like that. They do make mistakes as well. And Dagestan is a chaotic situation.

But the fact is the Russians don't bring this up without a very good reason. And that's the question is why did the CIA and the FBI decide that he wasn't a threat? On what basis? Because it's not like these things come in every day.


COOPER: Bob, in your gut, the key to you is what happened in those six months in Russia, is that right?

BAER: Absolutely. I mean, this could have been completely homegrown. Let's don't exclude that. It's much scarier than if it came from abroad. But I cannot believe that he was in Russia, in Dagestan, converting to militant Islam and didn't seek out fellow travelers. It just doesn't sound reasonable to me.

COOPER: Right.

And adding to that, as we know, again there's a lot of that timeline, that six-month timeline we don't know about. But he didn't show up at his dad's place and then his aunt's place until several months in his journey. So, again we don't know what he was doing in all that time. If he wasn't meeting with his relatives, this is a guy -- he wasn't living off his relatives. This is a guy who apparently, allegedly didn't have money, had been living on welfare here in the United States, didn't have a job.

How was he supporting himself, what was he doing? And again that's an open question. Tom, Juliette, Bob, appreciate...


COOPER: I'm sorry. Go ahead. Yes.


BAER: Anderson, I don't like the fact that he got in a running gun battle with the police. It's Bob.

It just -- he got in a fight with the police. There's -- on the face of it, he has some sort of military experience. You don't shoot it out, throw bombs out of the car in a confrontation like this unless you have some sort of prior experience.

COOPER: There's a level of confidence in that activity.

Bob, I appreciate it, Tom, Juliette as well.

Let us know what you think about all this. Follow me on Twitter right now. Let's talk about it right now during the next commercial break. I will be trying to tweet as well throughout the hour.

Up next, we do have more on how the older suspect became more devout, then allegedly radicalized. We will look at a guy who is being called Misha, Russian for Michael or Michael, who may have played a key role in that process, a shadowy figure if he even exists. We frankly don't know. But we're trying to figure out details on that.

Also trying to figure out if law enforcement is looking into this alleged Misha character.

Also, we're looking at the widow, the woman and the child who Tamerlan left for six months last year to travel to Russia. If you're married, does that make any sense to you? You say to your wife, I'm leaving for Russia for six months, I don't have a job, there's no way for me to give you money, I'm leaving you with this infant child?

As Gloria Borger mentioned earlier, investigators want to know what her role was if any, if she had any role in any of this, if she had any knowledge of what was going on in that house.

We will be right back.


COOPER: Again, our breaking news tonight, two warnings from Russian intelligence about the older bombing suspect.

First the FBI, then after the bureau cleared him, to the CIA. That came from Russia, an intelligence official telling CNN the CIA did recommend him for inclusion in a terrorism-related database, which he was. He was not however put on the no-fly list. But relatives say he had at least one influence here at home in the United States in Cambridge, a shadowy figure known only as Misha, which is the Russian nickname for Michael, which is for Michael.

Brian Todd has been working that angle. He joins us now.

I have heard a lot about it in the last 24 hours about this Misha character. What do we know about him, and do you buy his influence on Tamerlan?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have an indication that he does exist.

It's not that clear that he does, but we have an indication that he does. That's from the former brother-in-law, a guy named Elmirza Khozhugov who Wolf Blitzer spoke to today.

COOPER: He was married to one of the sisters of Tamerlan.

TODD: That's right. He was married to one of the sisters.

He said that he met this person Misha twice, that he was introduced to him by Tamerlan, that he did witness some of the conversations. He says he didn't witness him -- quote -- "radicalizing" Tamerlan, but he did say that he saw him speaking to him about things that maybe could turn him in the direction. He also said he did not suspect that this guy had any terrorist leanings or anything like that, but he saw him twice, he spoke to him, he met him. That's about the most tangible evidence that we have that he does exist.

COOPER: The caveats on that, because I saw that Wolf Blitzer interview, the brother-in-law admits he has not seen Tamerlan in the last I think it was two years, but he's talked to Tamerlan's father, and Tamerlan's father had allegedly expressed some concern about this guy, is that right?


TODD: That's right. He's said this to other news organization that at one point, I think it was around 2007, when they were all living here in Cambridge, the father came home late one night from work. This guy Misha was there, and the father got upset and said, what is he doing here, get him out of here. That caused some family tension.

We already know there was family tension over other issues.

COOPER: Right. It seems like what was happening inside that house is the father was not himself becoming more devoutly religious, whereas the mother was, the mother and Tamerlan and kind of trading these conspiracy theories.

We from a blog posting from a woman who actually got facials from the mother that not only was the mother increasingly devout, but also started talking about 9/11 conspiracy theories that her son Tamerlan had gotten off the Internet.

TODD: That's right. There are some accounts that the mother and the father even might have had arguments about this guy Misha, the mother favoring him being around, the father maybe not.

So, again, we're not quite sure. We also have asked this mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge where they went, do you know him? Do you have any connection with him? That would seem the most natural place where they would have met. They said, no, nobody has heard of him, nobody has seen even anyone of his description, we don't know him, and we want to find him.

COOPER: Because the description that I read, I don't know if this is accurate, is of a bald guy with a red beard of Armenian descent. It's pretty specific. You would think somebody would recognize him if he does in fact exist.


TODD: You would think so. But we have tracked him all day in the Boston area, and we don't necessarily think he's here. But we're still tracking him. We have looked up addresses.


COOPER: The key question, is law enforcement taking it seriously and looking at and should they? Again we don't know the answer to that, because obviously with an ongoing investigation, they're not going to say, yes, we're trying to trace this guy down.

TODD: That's right. And they're not commenting on this whole Misha thing. And the indications we're getting is that they may not know a whole lot about him right now.

COOPER: All right, appreciate it, Brian Todd, thanks very much for running that down for us today.

There's new information about the widow of Tamerlan. We have been talking to people who know Katie Russell as well as her family. What they are saying about her, about their relationship and what if anything she knew about what her husband was up to.

Also still to come, what former President George W. Bush has to say about the bombings, what he was thinking when he heard the news. We will also have John King's interview with the former president coming up.

We will be right back.


COOPER: Well, the stretch of Boylston street that was turned into a crime scene after the bombings opened again today. Among the people who came to the bombing site, Victoria McGrath in a wheelchair. Both of her legs were severely injured in the attack.

Deborah Feyerick was there when people started returning to Boylston Street. She joins me now live -- Deborah?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it was a coincidence that we happened to be here when she arrived and then two other girls were passing by and all of them they began hugging each other.

It's because they were standing basically exactly where I'm standing right now. This was the site of the first bomb blast. You can see the memorial that's here right now. What's fascinating is the story that two of the girls were telling me that when the blast went off, it sort of came up from underneath and then they were paralyzed for what felt almost five, 10 seconds, where they didn't understand what was going on, and then all of a sudden things got into focus.

And they saw colors and they couldn't hear. It was almost as if they were experiencing it in slow motion. And one thing they told me that was just so striking, and that is that some of the folks that were nearest to the blast, they absorbed the impact of the device, and others just walked away virtually unscathed, that sort of twist of fate.

And they're still trying to come to terms with what happened. But they say, it's crazy. It still just feels like a dream, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, I was there earlier today, Deborah.

And there was really very obviously this kind of somber and respectful mood there. A lot of people kind of laid flowers. Kind of a makeshift memorial has sprung up outside the store there where the first blast went off. Can you just kind of show us where you are right now? I know they even have been taking out a section of concrete earlier.

FEYERICK: Definitely. They have.

OK, these are the stores that absorbed most of the impact. Right here, this is where they believe the bomb went off. And the forensic agents, the FBI and the ATF, they were here, and they were actually picking up physical pieces of evidence. So, this is a brand-new concrete that's been laid down here.

They removed that, and they're going to -- they're testing things. They're testing the blast pattern. They're bringing shrapnel out of pieces of stone, concrete. Back here, you can see the windows over here still blown out. And so many things have been taken.

All of that is going to be analyzed, so investigators can really understand how this device worked, because they still don't know exactly how the device worked, how it was put together. And also the impact of the shrapnel. So all of that's being investigated.

But here a somber mood, people just reflecting and realizing that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was standing pretty much where I am -- Anderson.

COOPER: Deb, appreciate that. We're learning more tonight about Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow, Katie Russell. More information about her. She said through her attorney that she had no idea about what her husband was allegedly planning, that she's shocked and devastated. Her attorney said she's cooperating with law enforcement as much as she can. The question is, is she actually talking to law enforcement? Also, people who know Katie now are speaking out.

CNN's Erin McPike joins me with all of that. Erin, what are you hearing in North Kingstown, in Rhode Island there?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we talked to a number of people who knew Katie, who know the Russell family today. Many of them have told me that she was very likeable, well-liked when she was in school. A good student.

I spoke to her boss at the doughnut shop where she worked when she was in high school just down the road earlier today. He said she was very dependable, very good with the money, and like a daughter to him.

And I spoke also with one of her co-workers at the time, Robyn Aldrich, and she said she doesn't think Katie's getting a very fair shake from the media and from some of the people in this town. Here's what she had to say a little bit earlier today.


MCPIKE: What are people saying?

ROBYN ALDRICH, FORMER CO-WORKER OF KATIE RUSSELL: Saying that she doesn't have a mind of her own. And that she is a terrorist's wife. And OK -- I don't know, she married the wrong person or -- I don't think his actions should, you know, be taken out on her.


COOPER: Erin, you also spoke to Russell's attorney briefly. What did he tell you?

MCPIKE: It was actually -- there were two attorneys, and I spoke to the she. And she said earlier today, essentially that they're not talking, that she is acting on behalf of her client. They would not confirm or deny anything.

And Anderson, we had a couple very sensitive questions for her. She wouldn't say whether or not Katherine has talked to the FBI yet. But what we can tell you is that, around her house here in North Kingstown, there are a lot of federal agents here earlier today, a lot of media, and that has largely died down. So we don't know whether she has spoken to them or not. They will not say -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Erin, appreciate it.

John King interviewed former President George W. Bush in advance of the dedication of his library. When -- John, talked to him about what he was thinking when he heard about the Boston bombings nine days ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was reminded that evil exists and that there are people in the world who are willing to kill innocent people to advance a cause. I don't know what this cause is, but we'll find out.



G. BUSH: This nation stands with the good people of New York City and New Jersey and Connecticut as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens.


COOPER: The last major terror attack on American soil before the Boston bombings happened, under President George W. Bush's watch. That was almost 12 years ago, of course. Who can forget that image of the president there at Ground Zero?

Tomorrow, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is going to be formally dedicated in Dallas, Texas. All four living former presidents will attend. So will President Obama. The library opens to the public coming up next month.

Laura Bush had a big hand in its design, we should point out. It has been more than four years since the former first couple left the White House. They're now grandparents. Chief national correspondent John King talked to them recently inside the new library.


JOHN KING, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, Mrs. Bush, thank you for your time. Let me start by saying congratulations. This is a beautiful place. And congratulations also on being new grandparents.

LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Thank you very much.

G. BUSH: She's a beautiful child.

KING: Interesting time of the life. Right?

G. BUSH: It really is.

KING: I want to spend most of our time on the lessons we will learn when we visit this place over the years and why you did what you did here. I just want to ask you, sir. The investigation is ongoing. I won't get into the details. But just as the man who was commander in chief on 9/11, what went through your mind when you heard explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon?

G. BUSH: I was reminded that evil exists and that there are people in the world who are willing to kill innocent people to advance a cause. I don't know what this cause is. But we'll find out.

During the same week in a town close to us, a plant exploded. And both incidents reminded me of how fragile life can be for some. And both incidents, you know, made us weep, knowing that somebody was hurting a lot.

KING: Let's focus on this place. And it's beautiful. I mean, you're the librarian in the family. Are you the decider when it comes to this building?

L. BUSH: Well, I was the chairman of the design committee.

G. BUSH: Yes is the answer.

L. BUSH: But it was really fun for me to work on this, because I am a librarian, and also I'm particularly interested in architecture. So we're very proud of the way it looks. It looks terrific.

G. BUSH: It's an elegant building just like the chairman of the -- of the design committee.

KING: You're going to have all of the living presidents there for the dedication.

G. BUSH: You bet.

KING: What have you learned from the formers -- your dad, President Clinton, President Carter -- about how to be most effective in a post-presidency?

G. BUSH: Well, you learn that life doesn't end after you're president. In other words, you're going 100 miles an hour, and in my case we woke up in Crawford, and I was going zero. And so the challenge is how to live life to its fullest.

In my case, I've chosen to do so outside the -- outside the limelight. On the other hand, I am confident that, when it's -- this chapter of our life is finished, we will both be able to say that we've advanced the cause of peace and freedom and the human -- and helped improve the human condition.

KING: One of the things that I think that is fascinating about the library, is that you've created this exhibit called the Decision Points Theater.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Where any visitor can walk in and see some of the advice you got on the hard ones.

G. BUSH: You bet.

KING: And then make their own decision.

G. BUSH: Yes. KING: Based on what you saw at the time. I want to go to one of those, which is the Iraq decision, which you know is something people always debate when they talk about that word you don't like, legacy. People in that room will see what you saw at the time.

G. BUSH: Right.

KING: I want to ask you, sir, based on what you know now, do you wish that, instead of the Rumsfeld Doctrine, which was lean and mean, to go with a lighter force, that you had maybe adopted what your dad did in the first Gulf War, the power doctrine, and gone in with overwhelming force?

G. BUSH: In my book, I pointed out there are some -- you know, tactics that need to be revisited.

On the other hand, the removal of Saddam Hussein was the right decision. America's more secure. The Iraqi people have a chance to live in a free society.

The museum is a -- it does give people the opportunity to hear the different points of view that I got on these particular issues. The purpose of which is not to try to defend the policy. The purpose of which is to try to show people what it's like to be the president and how you make decisions. History will ultimately judge the decisions that were made for Iraq. And I'm just not going to be around to see the final verdict.

KING: Not going to be around. That's an interesting way to put it. You...

G. BUSH: In other words, I'll be dead.

KING: As first lady, and that was part of the institute here, you focused on the empowerment of women. We saw it a lot in Afghanistan in the initial months after 9/11.

What's your sense now, when you look at what you can do, and what the institute can do, if you look at that region, whether it's Iraq, we just talked about, still a big question mark. If you look around -- look at Syria, look at Egypt. The whole region is in this incredibly volatile stage. And have the rights of women in some ways have been set back because of all the changes or at least held hostage to all the volatility?

L. BUSH: Not necessarily, no. I think that -- I think people really worldwide are looking at the rights of women and seeing how important women are to every society.

When you look at countries where women's rights are marginalized and where half the population is looked at -- left out, you usually see a failing country. That's what we saw in Afghanistan. I'm still worried about the women in Afghanistan as we draw down our numbers of troops.

KING: What can you do about that? Is there so much uncertainty...

L. BUSH: But on the other hand women have made great strides in Afghanistan.

G. BUSH: Democracies take time to evolve. Laura and I believe that women will help lead the democracy movements in these young democracies. And part of our afterlife will be to enable and empower women. And to remind our country, through programs that we institute here, that our involvement overseas is necessary to our national security.

KING: I want to ask you, what will we learn from the theater and from all the memos that eventually will be made public about one of the toughest decisions of your presidency, which was right before Katrina? Where you had to decide whether or not to send in the federal troops. And you had a big debate about whether to overrule the governor?

G. BUSH: That's right. People just learned about the debate of federal law related to natural disasters. And natural disasters in our country have generally been left to the governors. And the role of the federal government's to be supportive.

In this case, it was so overwhelmingly, and the infrastructure was so overwhelmed that I had a tough choice to make. And people would just learn the facts. That's all I care about, and that's what I wrote in my book which I'm sure you studied. And...

KING: You talk about -- you talk about the idea that you have a southern governor, a woman governor in a state with a large African- American population. A former governor yourself. And people were telling you, Mr. President, maybe you need to declare an insurrection.

G. BUSH: Insurrection, which would have been pretty difficult.

KING: Very difficult.

G. BUSH: It just points out the dilemma.

KING: Do you wish in hindsight you had done it?

G. BUSH: No. Not really. There's no telling how history would have recorded the situation, had I declared insurrection. I can tell you that the decibel level would have risen even louder than it was.

The point is, is that it -- this helps Americans understand the decisions that I made during a massive storm. But also points out that -- the dilemmas that presidents face. Not just me but every president has got a series of conflicting advisors. And you've just got to pick and make the best judgment call you can.

And hopefully, people will go to the Decision Point and say, "Wow, I didn't understand that" or "Now I understand it better." And it's interesting to me, they say, of how a president makes decisions, and hopefully it will help them make better decisions.


COOPER: John King joins me now from Dallas. John, it's interesting to see the former president and his wife. You walked through the library. What's it like? What did you find most interesting?

KING: Well, Anderson, we'll hear more from the president in a moment. When you walk through the library -- and people should come here and visit, whether you agree with George W. Bush, whether you supported him or not. What is most jarring is that you see from the very beginning the presidency he planned and then the presidency he had.

By that, I mean, you start out in a room where there are school books, children's books. The president wanted to focus on education reform in his first term.

Then you see the state dinner on September 6, 2001, President Vicente Fox of Mexico at the time. Remember, candidate Bush, he promised that humble foreign policy. He promised it would be focused on the hemisphere of Mexico, Latin and Central and South America.

And then you step across the threshold and, Anderson, you literally are on September 11. You see pictures of the towers. You see that bullhorn the president had on September 14 at Ground Zero. And you see a twisted piece of steel, part of the steer girding from the second tower. It's right in the middle of that room, and you are reminded of how, in a flash on that crisp September morning, this presidency changed.

And as you take a few more steps, you also then see pictures of Saddam Hussein and the statue coming down in Baghdad. So you see how the president rallied the country after 9/11, and then you step into what became, next to Katrina, the biggest controversy -- with Katrina, the biggest controversy of his administration, the decision then to go from all that 9/11 popularity into what became such an unpopular war in Iraq, Anderson.

COOPER: It's fascinating to hear he was being advised to declare an insurrection. John, stay with us. You talked about a lot more -- about a lot of different subjects, including the alleged tensions among his White House team and why President Bush says he's a contented man today. Part two of John's interview is next.


COOPER: As I mentioned, tomorrow President Obama and all four living former presidents are going to be in Dallas at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Former President Bush's White House team will be there, as well. Some of his former advisers and staffers have talked pretty candidly about the bumps in his presidency and tensions in the Bush White House. That's where part two of John King's interview with George and Laura Bush picks up.


KING: Your friend and longtime advisor Karen Hughes told me recently the combination of the rising opposition for the Iraq War and then Katrina came right at that moment. She said it cast what she called a, quote, "huge shadow" over the rest of the presidency. Is that a fair assessment?

G. BUSH: You know, historians will judge that, John.

KING: Was it harder, though, to get things done?

G. BUSH: Well, I tried to get immigration reform done, and it didn't happen. And Social Security reform. And those two issues didn't take place. I don't think it was because of any shadows. I think it's because Congress is reluctant to take on -- was reluctant to take on a difficult issue like Social Security.

In other words, the legislative body tends to be reactive. And -- and until a crisis is imminent it's hard to get them to move forward. And -- and on immigration reform, a populist streak hit during the midst of the debate and made it difficult to do. The job of the president is to look beyond the moment and anticipate problems and encourage the legislative body to move. Eventually, these problems will get solved.

KING: Elements of your party abandoned you on immigration.

G. BUSH: And Social Security.

KING: Do you feel a sense of redemption now when you see leaders in the party saying we have to do something that looks a whole lot like this debate?

G. BUSH: I don't view it as redemption. I view it as smart and logical. And we're proud of my little brother being out there, because he understands the issue well. Eventually, these problems will get solved, and the president just has to understand that not every issue gets solved during his presidency. But he can contribute to the ultimate solution.

KING: I want to ask each of you. Looking back, now that you're removed from the daily politics. And especially the end of the presidency was a pretty polarizing time. How do you think that the angst about Katrina, the opposition for the Iraq War just hardened some people so that they just couldn't see other things? I'll mention PEPFAR, for example.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Remarkable work against malaria and AIDS in Africa. The Medicare prescription drug benefits, which under budget according to most costs. And yet, many of your fellow Republicans say, why did George W. Bush give us this liberal entitlement?

G. BUSH: You know, John, I -- I'm really not that concerned about why people did what during my presidency, I'm more concerned about being an effective person for the rest of my life.

I know this, that Laura and I gave the presidency eight years of our lives. We gave it our all. Made the best judgment calls I could, didn't compromise my principles, and I'm a content man. And I am excited about what we're going to do here.

KING: You've made two trips -- two trips to Africa since leaving office. And I understand there's a third one coming up.

G. BUSH: Yes, sir.

KING: What draws you there?

G. BUSH: The human condition. I think it's important to set priorities in life. I always said that one of the principles that was important to me was human life. We went to Africa and saw people dying, needlessly dying. There's nothing more important, I think, and Laura thinks, as well, to help somebody live.

And so during my presidency, I convinced Congress to spend taxpayers' money to save lives. Not only from HIV but from malaria. And it worked. And we wanted to continue that type of work with cervical cancer.

KING: This will bring your team together?

G. BUSH: Yes, it will.

KING: The dedication. We talked to a lot of them in recent days. At the end of the presidency there was some strain with your vice president over some policy disagreements in the second term, over the Scooter Libby pardon decision. Is that relationship still strained?

G. BUSH: No, it was never strained. That's -- I think that's the mythology that's -- that we've escaped. In other words, there's a mythology in Washington, there's kind of a...

KING: He writes in his book that things were tense.

G. BUSH: Not really. I know on Scooter Libby, we didn't agree with that decision. But I don't -- I -- people look at the total picture. And we're friends then and friends now.

KING: Can you enlighten us to the painting? George W. Rembrandt?

L. BUSH: George was looking for a pastime, actually, when he gave up smoking cigars. So he read Churchill's book, "Painting As a Pastime." And he's actually very good. He's a very good painter.

KING: What do you get from it?

G. BUSH: A lot of things, John. I get -- I relax. I see colors differently. I am, I guess, tapping a part of the brain that I certainly never used when I was a teenager. And I get the satisfaction out of completing a project. And I paint people's pets, and I love to give them their pet as a gift. And I readily concede the signature is more valuable than the painting.

L. BUSH: He's become a pet portrait painter.

G. BUSH: It's hard to say if you say it quickly.

KING: This is my second dedication of a Bush presidential library.

G. BUSH: There you go.

KING: I was at your father's, and I'm happy to be at this one. Will I ever go to a third?

G. BUSH: That's a good question. You know, I don't know. I think because of his example, his grandchildren and children admire his service and realize you can go into the public arena and not lose your soul. And that you can be a good father and still be a political figure. He's been an inspiration for me, obviously. But as well, brother, sister and grandchildren. There's no telling. There is a nephew, George P. Bush, who is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here in Texas. And...

KING: You're not skipping Jeb, are you?

G. BUSH: Well, big Jeb, you know, he's -- he's got a decision to make. And if I could make it for him, it would be run. But I can't. And I don't know what he's going to do. He'd be a great candidate and a great president.

I do know his son, George P., has made up his mind, and he's running for general land commission in Texas, very important position. And I think he'll do very well if given the chance to serve.

KING: Do you prefer the post-presidency to the presidency?

L. BUSH: No, I loved that, too. I've loved every part of our life. From when we were in midland Texas to those eight years in the White House. It was a huge privilege to live at the White House and serve the American people. And here back home in Dallas.

KING: Thank you both so much for your time and congratulations. And good luck with this place.

G. BUSH: Thanks, John. Thank you.


COOPER: John, it really is fascinating to kind of hear them in depth like that. President Bush says he's content. Do you think he's really as unconcerned as he seems about his legacy, about what people think of him?

KING: Yes and no, in the sense that it is who he is. Remember, all during his presidency he was like this. He's not, at least publicly, introspective. But Anderson, here's what I take away from this. If you go inside this campus, this library, it's very impressive again. Whether you like or dislike George W. Bush. It's an impressive place.

There is a sculpture in the center court of President 41, George Herbert Walker Bush, and President 43, George W. Bush. This is a very competitive family. George W. Bush, remember, was around two Reagan terms, his father's one term. He was so stunned when his father lost. He's a very competitive person and a very loyal Republican. You heard him nudging his brother Jeb there to run in 2016.

So you have a proud Republican, and a proud family that is treated like pariahs by the Republican Party right now. Publicly, he says, "Eh, it's like water on a duck." Privately, you talk to his friends, of course it bothers him, which is why he's grateful it's turned back his way on immigration.

And we'll watch tomorrow. It will be interesting to hear his dad speak. But also, three Democrats tomorrow are going to have to say good things -- Carter, Clinton and Bush [SIC] -- Carter, Clinton and Obama. Three Democrats have to say good things about George W. Bush, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Interesting. I'll be anchoring our coverage starting at 11 p.m. tomorrow of the dedication. I hope you join us for that. John King will be integral in that, as well. John, thanks very much for that in-depth interview tonight.

That does it for us. We'll be back also in Boston, of course, at 8 p.m. tomorrow night, 10 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow night back in Boston.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right after the break.