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Trump Praises Manafort for not "Breaking" like Cohen; What Scene was Like on Air Force One When News Broke; Trump Awards Medal of Honor to Fallen Airman John Chapman. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Trump's former attorney and longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, pleading guilty to 8 charges, and implicating the President in a crime. And Trump's former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, found guilty on 8 counts. As this news sinks in, the next 100 minutes, unusually quiet on Air Force One. Joining us now, a journalist that was on board that flight, Politico's White House reporter Lorraine Woellert. Lorraine, you were the pool reporter on Air Force One yesterday you wrote this. My window seat on Air Force One like a prison. Explain.

LORRAINE WOELLERT, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: When you're on Air Force One, you don't have access to your phone, don't have access to wi-fi, so you're literally in an information bubble. We did have a feed from Fox News coming over the TV monitors on the plane. But we weren't able to communicate. We couldn't get e-mails or news alerts, and we couldn't send anything out. And of course, the President didn't come back to talk to the press on the plane, which is typical. So, yes, we took off just as all of this stuff was happening.

CABRERA: What was conversation like? Was there a conversation that you were overhearing, was the press talking amongst themselves? I know you were the pool reporter. I mean set the scene a little more for us.

WOELLERT: So, I was one of two pool reporters that day. And you know once the plane took off and we got into our bubble, it really was pretty quiet. Because at that point there was literally nothing we could do. To be honest, I had actually brought a book called "Born Trump" and I read for about an hour on the plane until we were able to get communications back online. So, the plane itself, the flight itself was kind of quiet. It was after we landed that things got really nuts.

CABRERA: And what was going through your mind when you're like OK, I have no phone, but this news is breaking as you see it scrolling across the TV.

WOELLERT: Right. So obviously this was a historic day. The President implicated in potentially a crime and his campaign manager obviously found guilty, now a felon. So, you know, we were thinking that this campaign event that the President was going to could possibly blow up into something bigger. And he did come over to talk to us when he got off the plane in Charleston, West Virginia. He gave us a really brief appearance, maybe two minutes. He said some nice things about Paul Manafort and then got into his car. So that's when we started, I was getting like the adrenaline was kind of pumping at that point, because we're like all right, he is going to come in front of this crowd. It has been nothing but this for the last couple of hours on TV. He's got to talk about it at the event. He didn't. Minute by minute, you know, I was tracking the breaking news. And by the way, it wasn't just Manafort and Cohen at that point, then we had a congressman who was an early Trump supporter, Duncan Hunter, then Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg came out, and was talking about Russia.

CABRERA: The news just coming. Exactly. Let me play the sound from the President at his rally last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russian witch hunt, we have a whole big combination, where is the collusion. You know they're still looking for collusion. Where is the collusion? Find some collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So, Lorraine, really quick, heard him talk about collusion. He didn't say anything really specific about Cohen or Manafort at the rally but are you hearing anything from Trump supporters who were there reacting to news of the day yesterday?

WOELLERT: No. So that clip was the only reference to any of this from his entire speech last night. And as your viewers may know, the press at these events is basically penned into sort of a little cage. And it's up to rally goers to come talk to us. I was trying to wave people over to talk to me. Nobody wanted to talk about Manafort or Cohen. And one fellow who did speak to me was like eh, it is no big deal, people make mistakes. This one gentleman was more interested in talking about Walter Cronkite, how he missed days of Walter Cronkite's TV.

CABRERA: Interesting.

WOELLERT: It was just not an issue at the rally, none of this.

CABRERA: Lorraine Woellert, thank you for letting us be a little fly on the wall, and walking us through the moments, what it was like for you as a journalist. We appreciate it.

WOELLERT: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: Any moment now, President Trump is expected to honor an Air Force sergeant who was killed in battle in Afghanistan. It will be the first Medal of Honor for an air man since the Vietnam War. We will take you to the White House live.

[15:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Welcome back. Right now, the President about to award the Medal of Honor. Let's watch. UNIDENTIFIED CHAPLAIN: For those that desire, may you join me now in

prayer. Holy father, we thank you for this day, for this national recognition and for Technical Sergeant John Chapman. Lord, we enter this esteemed ceremony with hearts filled with grief and pride. Our grief stems from the pain of John's sacrifice along with six other courageous Americans that lost their lives at Takur Ghar in noble service to our nation in the cause of human freedom and dignity.

Our pride stems on this day, focused upon the man you created, gifted, and empowered, with an unconventional resolve to operate selflessly in protecting his family, his teammates, and the world from the evil of terrorism.

[15:40:00] We thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to honor John Chapman with America's highest decoration for his heroic valor. To honor the enduring sacrifice his family carries deeply within their hearts, and to honor the legacy and inspiration that John has infused into the mission, the leadership, and the operations of Air Force special tactics.

Lord, your just intent of overcoming evil with good in this world through human agency found fearless expression in John, even in the face of death so others may live. We thank you for John. We thank you for his family. We thank you for his unforgettable life and love shaped by your very spirit.

Father, as we move forward this day, may your presence be tangibly known to John's precious family. As we move forward, may John's sacrifice motivate selfless duty to you, to country, and to humanity. And as we move forward, may we give thanks for our great nation, our great military, and our great liberties that rest upon the bravery and blood of selfless patriots like technical sergeant John Chapman. To this end, we pray. Amen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, please be seated. Thank you. Thank you, chaplain. Very well done. Beautiful.

We're honored to be joined by members of congress, military leaders, distinguished guests from all across our nation. I want to recognize Secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson. Thank you, Heather, thank you. Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein. David, thank you. It has been 19 years I think, right, for the Air Force to gear you with the Congressional Medal of Honor, sir. Congratulations. It's a long time, very deserving.

Air Force Undersecretary Matthew Donovan, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, Stephen Wilson, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Kaleth Wright. I also want to thank VA Secretary Robert Wilkie for joining us, and you are doing a great job. The vets are very happy. We're getting a lot of great reports. Thank you very much. Along with Senators John Boozman, Richard Blumenthal, Bob Casey, Chris Murphy, and Pat Toomey, and Representative Matt Gates and John Larson. Thank you all for being here very much. Thank you. Thank you all very much. Appreciate it. We're gathered together this afternoon to pay tribute to a fallen

warrior, a great warrior, Technical Sergeant John Chapman, and to award him our nation's highest, and most revered military honor. Would you all please join me in welcoming a wonderful family that I just met in the Oval Office, the Chapman family. Thank you. Please stand up.

And to his beautiful wife, Valerie, who agrees that he was a very brave man right from the beginning, right? You knew that. I know this day has truly brought special meaning. Exactly 26 years ago you married John. Today is our great honor to share his incredible story with the world, so thank you very much, Valerie. Appreciate it.

And to your daughters, Madison and Brianna, we award your dad the Congressional Medal of Honor, and I know he is looking down on you right now from heaven, proud of this day, but even more proud of the incredible young women that you have both become. It's great to know you. Great to have met you. Thank you.

We're also grateful to be joined by John's wonderful mom Terry, his sister Lori, his brother Kevin, and Valerie's parents, Rita and Jim Novak. Thank you all for being here. Very great honor. Thank you.

[15:45:00] Although she could not be here today, somebody that John loved very much, his sister Tammy. So, please give our regards. Thank you. I also want to recognize Jack Suza, John's friend, and combat control teammate who is still recovering from a recent severe injury. Jack, thank you for your noble service. Thank you very much. We appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you, Jack. Appreciate it.

Looks like you're doing well, doing well. Thank you, Jack.

Finally, we salute the five Congressional Medal of Honor recipients that join us. Woody Williams, Harvey Barnum, Edward Byers, Byron Thacker, Britt Slabinski. Please stand. Brave people.

Three months ago, I awarded the Medal of Honor to Britt for his heroic actions in the same battle we are remembering today.

John Chapman grew up in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. From a very young age, John was determined to protect those in need. In kindergarten, John noticed that his classmate, Bill Brooks, was being bullied. As Bill says, John stepped in and saved me. In his high school yearbook, John quoted these words, give yourself before taking of someone else. Very farsighted. John lived by that motto every single day. Everybody that knew him said that's the way he lived.

Two years after he graduated high school John enlisted in the United States Air Force. He was among the elite few to complete Air Force Special Tactics training, one of the most rigorous training programs in all of the military. John became an expert in deploying undetected onto the battlefield to set up air fields and direct fire support. Now John will become the first special tactics airman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

John met Valerie in Windber, Pennsylvania while he was training with the army. It was a big day. Good day, right. They married in 1992, and soon grew into a beautiful family. Whenever John was home, he immediately took on dad duty, reading to the girls, playing with them, and even building an amazing swing set. Do you remember that? It's a long time ago, a swing set.

Soon after the terror attacks of September 11, John volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan. He walked into his superior's office and said I need to go. In one of the most harrowing engagements of operation, enduring freedom, John was part of a highly trained team on a combat mission to establish a secure position on the peak of Takur Ghar mountain. In the early morning of March 4, 2002, John and his teammates were preparing to land onto the mountain when their helicopter was struck by heavy machine gunfire, and a rocket propelled grenade. They were under serious attack.

As the helicopter lurched away, Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts was flung out of the aircraft and onto the top of the mountain as the helicopter crash landed into the valley below. It's a horrific crash. The team survived the crash, and without hesitation they volunteered to return to the mountain. They wanted to get Neil. They landed into a deep snow and heavy machine gunfire coming from three different directions. Couldn't even see, so many bullets.

At over 10,000 feet, they fought the enemy at the highest altitude of any battle in the history of the American military. John Chapman was the first to charge up the mountain toward the enemy. He killed two terrorists and cleared out the first bunker. John left the safety of the first bunker to fire a second enemy grenade at another bunker.

As John fired on the second bunker, he was shot and fell to the ground and lost consciousness. Even though he was mortally wounded, John regained consciousness and continued to fight on, and he really fought. We have proof of that fight. He really fought. Good genes. You have good genes.

[15:50:00] He immediately began firing at the enemy who was bombarding him with machine gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. Despite facing overwhelming force, John bravely and fiercely battled on for over an hour as another American quick reaction force helicopter engaged. John engage the enemy and provided covering fire and an attempt to prevent the enemy from shooting down our soldiers, our airmen and that helicopter.

In this final act of supreme courage, John gave his life for his fellow warriors. Through his extraordinary sacrifice, John helped save more than 20 American service members, some of whom are here today.

And I like to introduce them. Sergeant Major Matthew Lafronz. Please stand up. Thank you, sir. Sergeant major. Sergeant Major Raymond DePaulie. Thank you, Raymond. Special Tactics Major Gabriel Brown. Thank you. Along with his team leader Master Chief Britt Slabinski. Thank you. Thank you all. And we also remember the six others who along with John gave their lives on that snowy, really, really cold Afghan night. Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts, Specialist Mark Anderson, Sergeant Bradley Krauss, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, Technical Sergeant Philip Svitak and Corporal Matthew Commons.

Our country is rich with blessings but our greatest blessings of all are the patriots like John and all of you that just stood and frankly many of the people in this room. I exclude myself and a few of the politicians. Who like, John, carry our freedom on their shoulders, march into the face of evil and fight to their very last breath so that we can live in freedom and safety and peace.

Now it is my privilege to ask Valerie to join me on stage to accept the Congressional Medal of Honor on behalf of the hero she loved and the hero our nation will forever remember, Technical Sergeant John Chapman. Thank you. Please. Please, Valerie. Thank you. Would the military aide please come forward and read the citation? Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MILITARY AIDE: The President of the United States of America has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor posthumously to Technical Sergeant John A. Chapman, United States Air, for conspicuous and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.

Technical sergeant John A. Chapman distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism as an Air Force special tactics combat controller attached to a Navy sea, air and land SEAL team conducting reconnaissance operations in Takur Ghar, Afghanistan, on March 4, 2002.

During insertion the team's helicopter was ambushed, causing a teammate to fall into an entrenched group of enemy combatants below. The Sergeant Chapman and the team voluntarily reinserted on to the snow-capped mountain into the heart of a known enemy stronghold to rescue one of their own.

Without regard for his own safety, Sergeant Chapman immediately engaged, moving in the direction of the closest enemy position despite coming under heavy fire from multiple directions. He fearlessly charged an enemy bunker, up a steep incline in thigh deep snow and into hostile fire directly engaging the enemy. Upon reaching the bunker, Sergeant Chapman assaulted and cleared the position killing all enemy occupants.

With complete disregard for his own life, Sergeant Chapman deliberately moved from cover only 12 meters from the enemy and exposed himself once again to attack a second bunker from which and in placed machine gun was firing on his team.

During this assault from an exposed position directly in the line of intense fire, Sergeant Chapman was struck and injured by enemy fire. Despite severe mortal wounds, he continued to fight relentlessly sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy personnel before making the ultimate sacrifice.

[15:55:00] By his heroic actions and extraordinary valor, sacrificing his life for the life of his teammates, Technical Sergeant Chapman upheld the highest traditions of military service and reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force. UNIDENTIFIED CHAPLAIN: For those of you who desire, I ask you to join

me in prayer once more. Oh Lord, we thank you again for this honorable ceremony for it is right to exalt integrity, courage and valor. We thank you again for John's life and love that looked beyond self-preservation, to the preservation of others. To the preservation of human worth and dignity. To the preservation of righteous governance around the world.

We thank you again for building this man's heart. His mind and his fearless resolve that equally matched his war fighting skills, so others may live. As we conclude, may John's family be covered with your lavish love and peace. May the uniform sons and daughters of America know your empowerment and protection. And may you hasten the day, oh Lord, where war will be no more. For your glory we pray, amen.

CABRERA: And with that, with that, we honor a fallen hero. We salute the brave. Sergeant John Chapman, an airman who lost his life in 2002 in Afghanistan as he tried to save his fellow troops. His family there to accept the Medal of Honor on his behalf.

The President honoring this airman with a special honor for the first time since the Vietnam War. Again, our thoughts are with the Chapman family today.

Meantime, as we continue to follow the breaking news today, President Trump is responding today for the first time to Michael Cohen implicating him in federal crimes. The President's new explanation and admission about paying the women. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)