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CNN NEWSROOM

Discussing the Funeral of Arizona Senator John McCain; Former Presidents, Dignitaries, And Senators Honor McCain; Papadopoulos: Sessions Suspended Putin Campaign Meeting; Report: National Enquirer Has Safe Full Of Dirt On Trump. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 1, 2018 - 20:00   ET

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


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[20:00:35] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Top of the hour. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thank you for being with us.

Today, the family of Senator John McCain invited their friends, their loved ones, the senator's colleagues and through TV cameras, the rest of the world to join them in celebrating John McCain's life. His funeral was held at the national cathedral with lawmakers and cabinet members and former U.S. presidents in attendance.

No party lines, no Washington disagreements. Only a shared sadness and appreciation for a war hero. And authoritative lion of the United States Senate.

One powerful figure who was not at John McCain's funeral, the current U.S. president. Donald Trump was explicitly not invited by John McCain himself. The senator's family honored that wish and President Trump stayed away.

But the two men who prevented John McCain's election to higher office were there, former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. They each defeated McCain separately on his two runs for the White House.

Now, before he died, Senator McCain displayed again his well-known civility and he asked both former presidents to speak at his funeral. And today, they did. I'm about to share with you right now comments from both presidents, Bush and Obama about the political life led by Senator John McCain the powerful example he set. First the 43rd president, George W. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thing about John's life was the amazing sweep of it from a tiny prison cell in Vietnam to the floor of the United States Senate. From troublemaking plea to presidential candidate. Wherever John passed throughout the world, people immediately knew there was a leader in their midst. In one epic life was written the courage and greatness of our country.

For John and me, there was personal journey, our hard fought political history. Back in the day he could frustrate me. And I know he would say the same thing about me. But he also made me better.

In recent years, we sometimes talk of that intense period like football players. Remembering a big game. In the process rivalry melted away. In the end I got to enjoy one of life's great gifts, the friendship of John McCain. And I'll miss it.

Moment said before my last debate ever with Senator John Kerry in Phoenix, I was trying to gather some thoughts in the holding room. I felt a presence, opened my eyes and six inches from my face was McCain who yelled relax, relax.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: John was above all a man with a code. He lived by a set of public virtues that brought strength and purpose to his life and to his country. He was courageous. With a courage that frightened his captors and inspired his countryman. He was honest, no matter whom it offended. Presidents were not spared.

He was honorable. Always recognizing that his opponents were still patriots and human beings. He loved freedom with a passion of a man who knew its absence. He respected the dignity inherent in every life. A dignity that does not stop at borders cannot be erased by dictators.

Perhaps above, all John detested the abuse of power. Could not abide bigots and swaggering despites. There was something deep inside him that made him stand up for the little guy to speak for forgotten people and places.

One friend from his naval academy days recalls how John, while a lowly plead reacted to seeing an upper classman verbally abuse a steward. Against all tradition, he told the jerk to pick on someone his own size. It was a familiar reframe during his six decades of service.

Where did such strength and conviction come from? Perhaps from a family where honor was in the atmosphere or from the first-hand experience of cruelty which left physical reminders that lasted his whole life or from some deep well of moral principal. Whatever the cause, it was this combination of courage and decency that defined John's calling. And so culturally paralleled the calling of his country.

It's this combination of courage and decency that makes the American military something new in history, an unrivalled power for good. It's this combination of courage and decency that set America on a journey and to the world to liberate death camps, to stand guard against extremism and to work for the true peace that comes only with freedom.

John felt these commitments in his bones. It is a tribute to his moral compass that dissidents and prisoners in so many places from Russia to North Korea to China, knew that he was on their side. And I think their respect meant more to him than any medals and honors life could bring.

The passion for fairness and justice extended to our own military. When a private was poorly equipped or a seaman over worked in terrible decision, John enjoyed nothing more than dressing down an admiral or a general. He remained a troublesome plea to the end.

Those in political power were not exempt. At various points throughout his long career he confronted policies and practices he believed were unworthy of his country. To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist we are better than this. America is better than this.

John is the first to tell you was not a perfect man, but he dedicated his life to national ideals that are as perfect as men and women have yet conceived. He was motivated by a vision of America carried ever forward, ever upward on the strength of its principals. He saw our country not only physical place or power but as the carrier of enduring human aspirations. As an advocate for the oppressed, as a defender of the peace, as promise unwavering, undimmed, unequal.

The strength of a democracy is renewed by reaffirming the principals on which it was founded. And America somehow has always found leaders who were up to that task, particularly at the time of greatest need.

John was born meet that kind of challenge. To defend and demonstrate the defining ideals of our nation. If we are ever tempted to forget who we are, to grow weary of our cause, John's voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder. We are better than this. America is better than this.

John was a restless soul. He really didn't glory in success or wallow in failure because he was always on to the next thing. Friends said he can't stay in the same experience. One of his books end would the words and I moved on. John has moved on. He would probably not want us to dwell on it. But we are better for presence among us. The world is smaller for his departure and we will remember him as he was -unwavering, undimmed, unequal.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[20:09:35] CABRERA: President Bush and his comments today at the life celebration of Senator John McCain. And we learned it was back in April when the senator surprised former president Obama, asking if he would also speak at his funeral. The senators, they call it textbook John McCain to show the world that political differences should never over shadow common decency.

Here is former president Barack Obama at today's funeral service for the late senator.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[20:10:03] BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For someone like John to ask you while he is still alive to stand and speak of him when he is gone is a precious and singular honor.

Now, when John called me with that request earlier this year I will admit sadness and also a certain surprise. But after our conversation ended I realized how well it captured some of John's essential qualities.

To start with John liked being unpredictable, even little contrarian. He had no interest in conforming to some prepackaged version of what a senator should be and he didn't want a memorial that was prepackaged either.

It also showed John's disdain for self-pity. He had been to hell and back. And yet somehow never lost his energy or his optimism or his zest for life. So cancer did not scare him. And he would maintain that buoyant spirit to the very end, too stubborn to sit still, opinionated as ever. Fiercely devoted to his friends and most of all to his family.

It showed his irreverence. His sense of humor, a little bit of a mischievous streak. After all what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience. Understood if we get in the habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy our democracy will not work. That's why he was willing to buck his own party at times. Occasionally work across the aisle on campaign finance reform and immigration reform. That's why he championed a free and independent press as vital to our democratic debate. The fact that it earned him some good coverage didn't hurt either.

John understood, as JFK understood, as Ronald Reagan understood that part of what makes our country great is that our membership is based not on our bloodline, not on what we look like, what our last names are, not based on where our parents or grandparents came from or how recently they arrived but on adherence to a common creed that all of us are created equal. Endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.

It's been mentioned today and we've seen footage this week of John pushing back against supporters who challenged my patriotism during the 2008 campaign. I was grateful but I wasn't surprised. As Joe Lieberman said it was John's instinct. I never saw John treat anyone differently because of their race or religion or gender. And I'm certain that in those moments that have been referred during the campaign he saw himself as defending America's character, not just mine. For he considered it the imperative of every citizen who loves this country to treat all people fairly.

And finally, while John and I disagreed on all kinds of foreign policy issues, we stood together on America's role as the one (INAUDIBLE) nation believing that with great power and great blessings comes great responsibility.

That burden was born most heavily by our men and women in uniform. Service members like Doug and Jimmy and Jack who followed their father's footsteps as well as the families who serve alongside our troops.

But John understood that our security and our influence was one, not just by our military might, not just by our wealth, not just by our ability to bend others to our will but from our capacity to inspire others with our adherence to a set of universal values like rule of law and human rights and insistence on the god given dignity of every human being.

Of course John was the first to tell us he was not perfect. Like all of us who go into public service, he did have an ego. Like all of us there was no doubt some votes he cast, some compromises he struck, some decisions he made that he wished he could have back.

It's no secret, it's been mentioned that he had a temper and when it flared up, it was a force of nature, a wonder to behold. His jaw grinding, his face reddening, his eyes boring a hole right through you, not that I ever experienced it first hand, mind you.

But to know John was to know that as quick as his passions might flair, he was just as quick to forgive and ask for forgiveness. He knew more than most his own flaws and his blind spots and he knew how to laugh at himself and that self-awareness made him all the more compelling.

We didn't advertise it but every so often over the course of presidency, John would come over to the White House and we would just sit and talk in the oval office, just the two of us. We would talked about policy and we talked about family and we talked about the state of our politics.

And our disagreements didn't go away during these private conversations. Those were real and they were often deep. But we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights. And we laughed with each other. And we learned from each other. We never doubted the other man's sincerity or the other man's patriotism. Or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team. We never doubted we were on the same team.

For all of our differences we shared a fidelity to the ideals for which generations of Americans have marched and fought and sacrificed and given their lives. We considered our political battles a privilege, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those ideals here at home to do our best to advance them around the world. We saw this country as a place where anything is possible. And citizenship is an obligation to ensure it forever remains that way.

And more than once during his career John drew comparisons to Teddy Roosevelt. I'm sure it's been noted that Roosevelt's man in the arena seems tailored to John. Most of you know it. Roosevelt speaks of those who strive, who dire do great things, who sometimes win and sometimes come up short, but always relish a good fight. A contrast to those cold, timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Isn't that the spirit we celebrate this week? That striving to be better? To do better? To be worthy of the great inheritance that our founders bestowed?

So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse, can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking and bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It's a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is born of fear.

John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that. Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that will ever come can depend on what you do today.

What better way to honor John McCain's life of service than as best we can. Follow his example. To prove that the willingness to get in the arena and fight for this country is not reserved for the few. It is open to all of us. That in fact it's demanded of all of us as citizens of this great republic. That's perhaps how we honor him best, by recognizing that there are some things bigger than party or ambition or money or fame or power. But there's some things that there worth risking everything for. Principals that are eternal. Truths that are abiding. It is best John showed us what that means. For that we are all deeply in his debt.

And God bless John McCain. May God bless this country he served so well.

(APPLAUSE)

[20:22:59] CABRERA: We have more on the funeral of John McCain. Here's part of his daughter, Meghan's emotional tribute at today's service.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF SEN. MCCAIN: John McCain was not defined by prison, by the Navy, by the Senate, by the Republican Party or by any single one of the deeds in his absolutely extraordinary life. John McCain was defined by love.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[20:57:53] CABRERA: More than 3,000 mourners honoring Senator John McCain today at the national cathedral in Washington.

Senator McCain was a military man through and through. Now, the huge part of his legacy, a Navy pilot held as prisoner of war in Vietnam for five long years.

Joining us now CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali, the former director of the Nixon presidential library and retired rear admiral John Kirby, former state department spokesman and CNN military and diplomatic analyst.

Admiral Kirby, I want to start with you because I know you asked senator McCain to write your son a letter. Tell us about that.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, my son was getting ready to start his naval career. In fact, he just recently been commission as an officer in the Navy. And I thought, this was back in the winter time, I thought would be very special if he could get some words of advice and some from senator McCain.

As a navy family, all of us who grew up know the McCain family, respecting them and honoring them for their service and I just thought it would be special. So I sent a note to the staff and I was very surprised given all that he was going through that he responded so quickly but he did write back a very nice letter. And if it's OK, Ana, I will just read a little bit of it for you.

CABRERA: Please.

KIRBY: He said, as you know my father and grandfather served in the Navy. I love that he said may know like we wouldn't really - nobody would know that. Both were men of great courage and dignity, both were tough acts to follow. But they also inspired me to serve a cause greater than own self-interest. From the naval academy to government, it was their leadership and inspiration that encouraged me to work for others. God bless me with a company of heroes and it has made all the difference in my life.

And then, Ana, he closed it with these two sentences which I think are just so powerful. 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 your own self interests.

You know, I love my son. And I'm very proud of him. But there isn't anything that as a former naval officer myself I could have been any better or more elegant than what senator McCain did.

[20:30:02] CABRERA: No doubt. I'm just letting those words linger because that was a powerful message a beautiful message, something that resonates with anybody. How did your son react? What does this letter mean to him?

KIRBY: He was as stunned and set back as I was. On two levels. One that the senator and his staff would take the time to do this. The senator didn't know me, certainly doesn't know my son and given that all that he was going through back in the winter that they would take the time to do this that he would.

And number two, I think he was just as blown away by the actual message itself. Calling on this young officer to look at the service and the navy as something bigger than himself and to serve a cause greater than himself is such a universal virtue for the military, something we all -- that we all can resonate with.

But that -- but I think it really -- it really did impress my son a lot that the senator would take the time to deliver that particular message so personally.

CABRERA: And Tim, I want to get your take on the other messages we heard today, the eulogies of the former presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think in many ways, Senator McCain's last gift to our country was the service today.

I believe he knew exactly the message that both Barack Obama and George W. Bush would deliver. And he knew that that message would be delivered in different ways because the men are different.

In his book, it's a wonderful book by the way, "The Restless Wave," Senator McCain's last book. He talks about -- he talks about Obama's a great orator. He says that, we always look for a Cicero and he knew when he heard Obama is a Cicero. But he never thought George W. Bush was a Cicero. But he knew that Bush had his own way of saying the same thing and it's that thing that he wanted us was to hear was that our nation is a creedal nation.

What bring us together, our set of values and ideas and ideals and that's what he spent his life defending. We're not a nation as he put in his book of "Blood and Soil."

We aspire to be something and that's why what we heard today were speeches that Franklin Roosevelt and that Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could have identified with and that was John McCain's gift to us. Because he didn't -- he didn't want people tears from how he selected the eulogies. He want people just to talk about him.

He wanted to reaffirm those values that inspired his life. And he chose two men who could do so powerfully. George W. Bush and Barack Obama and they did today.

CABRERA: I want to, like, say amen, brother. I feel like you just took me to church, Tim. But I felt that way, it was so powerful to watch the service because it was just one of those moments. I mean, really the service in itself was a moment I felt like in this country.

But it was so striking the message in contrast to what we've seen in our political dialogue and just society right now, the divisiveness that we have. Of course, President Trump was not there.

How unusual, how unprecedented is it for the sitting president not to be invited to the funeral of a member of his own party?

NAFTALI: Well, I think I want to dwell today on the unprecedented nature of two presidents from different parties eulogizing the same man.

We've had two presidents eulogize someone, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, both eulogized Ronald Reagan. But they are both of the same party -- to have two men of different parties who had both fought McCain and beaten McCain, to have them speak was about something bigger than party and that was the point, which is we can fight but at the end of the fight, we are still Americans. We trust and respect each other. We shouldn't be so petty that we never can embrace the one who beat us. The one that we fought against.

Can you imagine this man had -- he sat down and he thought, who do I wish to speak for me and about me? And he chose men who had fought against him and with whom he disagreed. But he knew them well enough to know that when given the opportunity, they would speak of that which bound them together and not that which cast them a sunder.

He knew that both Bush and Obama would do it and they did and that was a gift to our country from Senator McCain.

CABRERA: Tim Naftali and John Kirby, thank you both. I really appreciate it. We're back in a moment.

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[20:35:13] CABRERA: We're following new developments in the Russia probe. An ex-Trump campaign advisor, publicly contradicting sworn testimony given by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Congress.

In new court documents, George Papadopoulos says Sessions supported his proposal for a summit between then-candidate Trump and Russian president, Vladimir Putin during the 2016 campaign.

Quoting from the documents, George announced at the meeting that he had connections that could facilitate a foreign policy meeting between Mr. Trump and Russian President, Vladimir Putin. While some in the room rebuffed George's offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Sessions who appeared to like this idea and stated that the campaign should look into it.

But why that's important? Sessions told Congress under oath that he actually pushed back on the idea of the Putin meeting. Papadopoulos' description comes as he fights to avoid jail time after being convicted of lying to investigators. His sentencing is scheduled for September 7th.

[20:40:12] A report this week revealing there is damaging stories on President Trump, apparently locked away in a safe somewhere and owned by at the National Enquirer.

Up next, I'll talk to someone who worked for the paper for nearly three decades. Stay with us. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

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[20:45:48] CABRERA: There's an entire safe full of dirt on President Trump, allegedly. That's right.

According to the Associated Press, the National Enquirer run by Trump's friend, David Pecker, has damaging stories about Trump locked away. And according to the New York Times, the president once tried to buy them.

Remember that tape the one Michael Cohen secretly recorded, that revealed this?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, what do we got to pay for this?

COHEN: -- funding. Yes. And it's all the stuff.

CABRERA: All the stuff. Apparently that conversation wasn't only about buying the rights to one story by Trump's alleged mistress. The New York Times reports that secretly recorded discussion was about buying all of the National Enquirer's salacious dirt on the then- candidate, decades worth, if you can believe it.

Jerry George is joining us now. He worked for the National Enquirer for 28 years as the tabloid's L.A. bureau chief.

And, Jerry, thanks for being with us. You tell us this safe was no secret among employees. Explain what kind of a safe or storage vault we're talking about and what kind of evidence was kept in it. Documents, photos, recordings, what was it?

JERRY GEORGE, FORMER NATIONAL ENQUIRER EMPLOYEE: Thank you for having me, Ana.

Yes. Materials of a particular sensitive nature were kept in this safe and it was, you know, an iron safe with a combination. And it included very sensitive story files in addition to photographs, audio, and video recordings, things that were the utmost sensitive to the news gathering.

CABRERA: So were these things just related to Donald Trump? Or could they have been about other people and other stories?

GEORGE: No. It's a litany of very important names are involved. But of course President Trump wanted a clean slate and he thought it would be best to just buy everything up have it off the market so he wouldn't have to worry about it.

CABRERA: Now, did you -- did you know that President Trump was trying to buy those items that were in the safe?

GEORGE: Only later did we learn that President Trump was actually working hand in hand with CEO, David Pecker and someone came up with the idea of purchasing the entire contents of the safe.

CABRERA: Who came up with that idea? Do you know?

GEORGE: I believe it would have been on the president's side. It would just be one less thing to worry about. Because within the files, you know, oftentimes were the names of sources who contributed the story ideas, sources who helped back up the story. So it would give him a chance to review all of the people who contributed stories on his personal life.

CABRERA: Now, when was that discussion about buying up the contents of that safe? And did you know about it firsthand or was it just sort of the rumor that was going around the office?

GEORGE: No. Again, I've been gone for five years. I think the contents of the safe and acquiring everything in it developed within the past -- since presidential run. CABRERA: Now, Trump's friend, David Pecker, he runs the company that owns the National Enquirer. What do you know about their relationship?

GEORGE: I know that they were good personal friends and they were a lot alike and that both were shrewd businessmen and had a sharp eye on, you know, the bottom dollar.

CABRERA: Jerry George, a short segment. We're running short on time tonight. Thank you very much for sharing some of your knowledge with us. We really appreciate you joining us.

[20:50:00] GEORGE: My plushier.

CABRERA: We're back in a moment.

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CABRERA: Tonight, I want to leave you with this moment, a performance of the Irish ballad John McCain loved, "Danny Boy."

[20:55:04] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling, from glen to glen and down the mountainside, the summer's gone and all the flowers are falling, it's you, it's you must go and I must bow.

CABRERA: Joined President Obama, President Bush, and President Clinton as they remember their friend, John McCain. John McCain, "For Whom The Bell Tolls" airs next here on CNN.