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INSIDE POLITICS

Remembering Senator John McCain; North Korea is lobbing some fiery new allegations at the United States; Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 27, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:33:33] DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

John McCain counted despots and tyrants as his enemies, and also an untold number of people in far-flung places around the world saw McCain as a friend, a champion for freedom and an interventionist for decency.

Mark Salter, McCain's long-time collaborator, describes McCain as a romantic about his causes and a cynic about the world. McCain's life had shown him the ease with which the powerful can punish and the cruelty with which they can do it. So he made it his purpose to give the afflicted hope and to use American power to try to tear down oppression. And that commitment made him a hero, Salter says, all over the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SALTER, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: There's a story we talk about in the book where he goes to Burma and meets with three guys who had been political prisoners for 20 years, had just been released from prison. He walked into the room, they were already there, and he started to speak and one of them just started to cry because they had heard his voice on radio free Asia so many times defending them by name.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Joining me now is CNN national security analyst and Admiral John Kirby.

Thank you so much for joining us. When you hear Mark Salter talk about that, about the fact that people who, you know, you wouldn't even think that they would know who John McCain is, never mind have that kind of -- that he had that kind of impact on them while they were in prison just because he mentioned their name, what does that say to you?

[12:35:08] REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, it speaks right to the credibility that he had on issues of human rights, having been a prisoner of war himself, having known what that feels like. It gave him so much greater weight.

And the other thing, when you look back at the legislation he sponsored, the foreign policy impact that he had, it all really does come back to basic human rights. He was one of the staunchest defenders of basic human rights and values around the world. And oftentimes that led him and he would be the first to admit, it led him to a maybe more aggressive interventionist style and sometimes he ended up being comfortable (ph) with, but it was because at the root of what he believed what that sometimes we defend American national security best when we defend the national security and values of people overseas.

BASH: He certainly was criticized by the more pacifist wing of American culture and the U.S. Senate for being - for taking interventionism too far and being too much of a hawk, but you are right, it was the fundamental belief that he had that America has a responsibility --

KIRBY: That's right.

BASH: -- to stand up for the people who are being oppressed.

KIRBY: That's right. For him, American leadership mattered. One of my favorite John McCain speeches was just given last October when he got the liberty award. And he talked about the special responsibility that we have. He said, yes, our intervention around the world has come at a cost, but we have grown richer, not just from a prosperity perspective but as a culture perspective from having been involved overseas.

BASH: I wanted to talk to you especially because you are an admiral in the United States Navy. You just mentioned in the break and I didn't know this about you, you taught naval history.

KIRBY: I did.

BASH: And o that basically means teaching about the McCain family.

KIRBY: Absolutely. I was not smart enough, unlike Senator McCain, to get into the naval academy but they let me go back and teach when I was a young lieutenant.

BASH: He did graduate fifth from the bottom of his class.

KIRBY: He did, but at least he got there. I didn't even get into the school. But you honestly cannot teach about the 20th century Navy, certainly the last half of the 20th century, without teaching the McCain family. His grandfather won the Navy Cross, the second highest award to the Medal of Honor for his command of carrier strike forces in the pacific, including the air campaign over Guadalcanal. His father as we know rose to four-star admiral. The only father and son team, by the way, in naval history to get father in four-star rank. But his father was the commander of all the pacific forces in Vietnam and became a very staunch defender of the Vietnamization of that war. Very famous admiral. And of course you have senator McCain himself who was a naval aviator in combat, shot down, of course, became a POW.

BASH: I want you to, before we go to break, tell me about the letter you have in front of you. KIRBY: So my son is now a naval officer. And back in January, I

asked senator McCain for a little advice, just to give my son some advice as he ventured out on his own as an ensign. And I'll just read part of it to you.

As you may know, my father and grandfather served in the Navy, both were men of great courage and dignity, both were tough acts to follow, but they also inspired me to serve a greater cause than my own self- interest. From the naval academy to government service, it was their leadership and inspiration that encouraged me to work for others. God blessed me with the company of heroes and it has made all the difference in my life.

He ended up with this, which I think is just superb. Be proud of your accomplishments and never stop believing in yourself. And most importantly, you will find the most happiness in serving a cause greater than yourself.

BASH: That is so beautiful.

KIRBY: It says it all right there.

BASH: Says it all. Thank you for sharing that.

KIRBY: Thank you.

BASH: We will be right back.

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[12:43:24] BASH: Topping our political radar, President Trump welcomes Kenya's president to the White House in the next hour. They will talk trade and security issues. He is the second African leader to meet with President Trump this year following Nigeria's president.

The markets are reacting positively as the U.S. and Mexico reach a preliminary agreement resolving key bilateral trade issues. The NASDAQ climbed to an all-time high breaking 8,000 for the first time, while the Dow Jones industrial is back above 26,000 for the first time since February.

As the President continued his attacks on his own attorney general over the weekend, lawmakers seem divided on the issue. Republican senator Lindsey Graham, who once said he was 100 percent behind Jeff Sessions now seems open to the idea if it happens after the midterm elections. The two men have sparred on immigration and criminal justice reform of late. Others are warning that firing Sessions would be political suicide and a major mistake.

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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (R-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You have two prominent GOP senators say, well, if he wants to get rid of the A.G., we'll help him get a new one, but let's wait until after the midterms. That is not something you would have ever heard John McCain say. SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: There may be a few isolated voices

saying that the President ought to fire him now. I can tell you as a body we are saying please don't. He serves at the pleasure of the President, we all know that, but I think it would be a big mistake for the president to fire him now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Up next, North Korea says the U.S. is getting set to unleash a war while pursuing dialogue with a smile. Why the regime is lashing out, when we come back.

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[12:49:16] BASH: North Korea is lobbing some fiery new allegations at the United States. It says the U.S. is preparing for an invasion, pointing to what the north says are U.S. troop movements in the region. The country's main newspaper says they amount to a criminal plot to unleash war and says it's happening as the U.S. negotiates quote "with a smile on its face."

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is with us.

And Barbara, first of all, what are these maneuvers the north is referring to? And what is the Pentagon saying?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now the Pentagon is certainly not sure what the North Koreans are talking about. Let's get right to it. In fact, a U.S. military spokesman says as far as U.S. operations out of Japan go, and let me quote, "this spokesman says in general U.S. aircraft and ships operate from Japan every day in support of our commitments to our allies and partners in the region and in the interests of regional peace and security."

So standard U.S. military operations in the area. There is no indication that the U.S. is planning to invade Pyongyang, invade North Korea, that simply is not happening. Of course the deeper question would be why Kim Jong-un is having this new round of fiery rhetoric. It comes days after President Trump cancelled the planned visit by secretary of state Mike Pompeo to North Korea. Not a lot of progress on denuclearization and that is what everybody is still looking for -- Dana.

[12:50:43] BASH: Me thinks you just answered your own question, right? It's because the negotiations were cancelled. Maybe there's a little bit of frustration on both sides, but particularly North Korea.

Thank you so much, Barbara, for that report.

STARR: Sure.

BASH: And up next, Senator John McCain was many things. He was a war hero, a patriot, a maverick. But I bet you didn't know he was a really big fan of the '70s Swedish pop group, Abba.

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[12:55:55] BASH: If you have been reading and watching the tributes over the last few days, you may feel like you know what there is to know about Senator John McCain. Well, here's something you may not know unless you spend a lot of time with him on the campaign trail as some of us around the table have. John McCain was a huge fan of Abba.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Why Abba? Take a chance?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Because my cultural progress came to an abrupt halt on October 26, 1960. I just like Abba. I'm just, you know, I'm one of those people who is willing to admit that I like Abba. Absolutely, absolutely I would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: I'm willing to admit it too. And remember when we were -- he invited some of us in the press corps to his cabin in Arizona. And it's the only thing that was playing was Abba.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's right.

BASH: What is your memory, maybe something that people don't know about him?

SHEAR: So my memory, you know, watching that clip of him on the back of his straight talk express bus which is where so many of us spent so many hours, my memory was the first day that he re-launched his campaign in 2007, he had the big straight talk express bus. A bunch of us were on the back of it. But he had promised TV networks that they would each get an interview on the bus. But the place that the bus was going was only ten minutes away. So in order to accommodate all of the networks, the bus just went in a circle around and around downtown Des Moines, up one street, Main Street and back down and back and forth. And finally he looked out the window and he looked at all of us and said you jerks are going to right that our campaign is already going in circles, right? And yes, of course we did! But, you now, that was his way of interacting with us and eventually then the bus moved on.

BASH: What about you?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Mine actually comes from earlier in 2017. There was a hearing on Afghanistan. The theater commander just announced that they believed Russia was providing support for the Taliban. I was really interested and wanted to talk to senator McCain, the chairman of the committee after the hearing. He wanted to talk about it and so senator Lindsey Graham. After about 20 seconds though, his gaze went elsewhere and I was a little confused and he just walked away from me. It just, you know, it is not like super normal (INAUDIBLE). BASH: (INAUDIBLE)

MATTINGLY: I turned around and he had spotted a group of young marines that had just entered the Russell office building and he went and went to say hello to them. It looked like they had just seen the biggest celebrity in the world. He sat there and talked to them for 25 minutes. Eventually, I had to go to a vote (INAUDIBLE). I ran into him later. He looked at me and said hey, you, which is better than jerks, what do you want? Which is generally how he addressed us. And he said no offense, but they are more important to me than you guys are.

BASH: That's a great story. Very telling.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, I had personal experiences with John McCain, but the story that I wanted to share today is kind of a silly one. I was at my Sunday morning yoga class yesterday and the instructor decided to make the theme of the class inspired by John McCain and the theme for us all to meditate on in yoga was sacrifice. And I thought I wish I could go back and tell, you know, the John McCain of 1960 that one day he would be the inspiration for a suburban yoga moms practice in Arlington, Virginia, and he would have rolled his eyes and he would have laughed --

BASH: But you know --.

BALL: And he would have said, what is yoga?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BALL: You know, as I talk to people who knew him better than I did and campaign staffers, volunteers, people who were peripheral to his existence, this common theme was they all felt, I didn't matter to him but he mattered to me. He had an effect on so many people that he may have known glancingly (ph), but then he still did a good deed for or that he still had significance for their lives.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: As a White House reporter, I did not have an opportunity to sort of chase John McCain down the halls of the Senate or work with him in the capitol. I heard a lot of the stories. But as a White House reporter, one of the most important things we wait for is responses from senators to what the President is doing, the latest outrage or the latest tweet or latest policy change from the president. And often we would hear from senators, we would get statements that we couldn't use in stories because they were so vague.

John McCain always had a direct, clear statement. He always said where he stood and it was very key and useful for us as White House reporters.

BASH: Well said. Thank you all so much.

Thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

Wolf starts right now. [13:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, SITUATION ROOM: Hello, I'm Wolf

Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here at the Washington wherever you are watching from around the world.