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Remembering the Legacy of Former President George H.W. Bush; Trump Meets Informally with Putin as Mattis Says Russia/Putin Interfered with Midterm Election; Put and Saudi Crown Prince Share High-Five; Gen. Colin Powell Reflects on George H.W. Bush; David Gergen Remembers George H.W. Bush and His Legacy; Pompeo talks Recollections of George H.W. Bush; Exclusive Interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Trump and Chinese President Meet at G-20 Summit. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired December 1, 2018 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But let's start with a closer look at the life of the 41st president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush. He passed away last night at the age of 94, just months after his wife, Barbara Bush. She passed away earlier this year, in April. The nation is now in mourning again. Flags are at half-staff. And the former president will lie in state at the U.S. capitol rotunda starting Monday. He will stay there until Wednesday, the national day of mourning in the United States.

George H.W. Bush is being remembered for his decades of service, a combat pilot in World War II, an oilman, a U.S congressman, head of the CIA, a diplomat, vice president and then president.

But one of his favorite roles was that role being a family man. He was a father to six children and 17 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. His love story with his wife, Barbara Bush, is one for the ages. They fell in love as teenagers and spent more than seven decades married. Even writing her sweet love letters like this one.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: "My Darling Barb, this should be a very easy letter to write. Words should come easily and in short it should be simple for me to tell you how desperately happy I was to open the paper and see the announcement of our engagement. But somehow I can't possibly say all in a letter I should like to. I love you, Precious, with all my heart. And to know that you love me means my life. How often I thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours someday. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you.


BLITZER: Joining us now, CNN's special correspondent Jamie Gangel, who has covered and known the Bush family for many years.

Jamie you're getting new reporting on the former president's final day. What you can tell us? JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: What we've learned is that

he really had a rough final week, as we know, Wolf, he's been suffering from Parkinson's, and he had congestive heart failure. And the last week, he really was suffering, and the family was told that it was nearing the end. They were very concerned it could be any day, but yesterday, when he woke up in the morning, they said to him, you know, what do you want to do? He had said before, that he didn't want to go back to the hospital. And he confirmed that, and he said, for the first time, I'm ready to go. And he also told them, I want to go be with Barbara and Robin. Robin, being their 3-year-old daughter who died of leukemia so many years ago.

And in addition, we have just learned about his final words, and they were, in a phone call, with his son, former President George W. Bush. He had been surrounded by his family, by his son, Neil Bush, his wife, Maria, his best friend, James Baker, his grandson, Pierce Bush. But he was on a phone call with his son, former President Bush, as we call him, 43, they were speaking on speaker phone, and former President Bush 43 said to his dad, you have been a wonderful father, and his father said, his final words, which were, I love you, too. And then shortly after, he passed away. So just another very poignant moment, as expected, as this was, because of his age, and his health, Wolf, and it is just a heart-breaking glimpse inside what the family has been going through -- Wolf?

BLITZER: How long had he been suffering from Parkinson's?

GANGEL: You know, that is a great question. It has been a long time because, remember, he has been confined to a wheelchair for a number of years. You might remember that back in 2012, he started having serious health problems. He would get bronchitis or pneumonia. In 2012, over Christmas, I think he was in the hospital for almost two months, and they really thought that they were going to lose him then. So that was six years ago. Since then, he has been in and out of the hospital, many, many times.

But here is the thing. Up until very recently, this man had a spirit that wouldn't quit. Every day, his family, or friends, or staff are saying, how are you feeling today, and on a scale of one to ten, and I'm told he never said less than a seven. He once said to me, Jamie, I want to be 102. And he wanted to jump out of a plane. He wanted to go sky diving again on his 100th birthday. So you know, up until quite recently, he was getting out, he was doing things. He went to a performance of "Hamilton." He was at his granddaughter Barbara's wedding in Kennebunkport just a few weeks ago. He went to vote on November 1, with his dear friend James Baker. There's a great picture of the two of them on Instagram. So even though he had been struggling, he really, as always, in his life, wanted to live every moment.

[15:05:50] But the family knew that he was on borrowed time. That it was, you know, it was getting harder and harder, that this day was coming, and that doesn't mean it is any easier for them -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, so happy he was able to go to his granddaughter Barbara's wedding only a few weeks ago. GANGEL: Absolutely.

BLITZER: That was so important.

Jamie, thank you very much for your terrific reporting. Very, very moving, indeed.

George H.W. Bush is being remembered as a family man, a beloved husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather.

One of his relatives is joining us, Walker Stapleton, Colorado state treasurer and George H.W. Bush's second cousin.

Thanks for joining us.

What are you hearing? How is the family doing?


Well, I think we're all doing well. Everybody expected that this day was going to be coming. And he had been struggling, as Jamie pointed out. But there's just some people, Wolf, that you wish could live forever, and he was one of those. I was fortunate to have had him in my life. I'm 44 years old. And my earliest memories are of fishing with him in Maine. When I was about five years old, I got to go fishing with him, actually the day he came back from Michigan, when Ronald Reagan asked him to be vice president, when I was six years old. And I have a lifetime of memories to be grateful for. And I think it is a great chance for our country, to reflect upon a life well-lived and a triumphant life of service to this country, over 70 years, and a life where George Bush lived by example. And the example that George Bush set for his family was one of humility, was one of kindness, character, integrity. He was unfailingly gracious and he treated people, regardless of their background, from all walks of life, equally, and with respect and dignity. And that's how I hope he will be remembered in the coming days.

BLITZER: Walker, share with us some of your favorite family memories.

STAPLETON: Well, you know, the memories that I have of him, that would stick out the most for me, are memories which are a testament to his kindness as an individual. During the time that he was in the White House, he used to organize horseshoe tournaments for all of the staff that you never hear about, or read about, or see about, that worked in the White House, and they loved him dearly. And he went to eulogize the White House elevator operator at the time, a guy named Woody Willowby, whose families had worked in the White House for generations, down in the Deep South, and didn't tell anybody about it and did it because it was an act of love.

And I remember I was fortunate enough to travel with him by motorcade to the Houston Astrodome, when he gave his speech at the Republican National Convention, which ultimately ended up in his losing his re- election to President Clinton. And it is not that car ride that I remember. I was with him and Jim Baker, and his oldest grandson, George P. Bush. It was the fact that he wouldn't leave a room because a staff member had had a spouse that had been diagnosed with cancer, and he wanted to make sure that he spent enough time telling that staff member how much he cared for them, and loved them,. And even though staff was banging on the door, saying Mr. President, you're going to be late, you're going to be late. He didn't care. He cared about expressing his love for his fellow human being. And he was the best person, the best human being that I will ever know.

BLITZER: What was it like growing up, with a second cousin who became the president of the United States?

STAPLETON: Well, it wasn't -- there was never any pomp and circumstance, and there was a family saying, if you got too much of a -- to become too much of a show boater, or too self-important, you were quickly put back in your place. It was more enjoying a lot of sports activities, a lot of tennis matches, horseshoe matches. He would turn a competition into everything he possibly could. And he had a ranking committee of one. He was the chairman of the ranking committee. And he would call it the family ranking committee. And we rank everybody's abilities in different sports, and different things that they would engage with.

[15:10:11] And the amazing thing about him is that he could be having a meeting with King Hussein, of Jordan, one minute, and talking with Brent Scowcroft in a room the next, and talking to you about a baseball game the night before, or what he was planning on doing that day, and in terms of the golf course, and what fish he had caught.

And the memories that I will remember of him, are that he is somebody who had a constant parade of friends come to visit him during the summers in Maine. And it wasn't just the typical Republican rolodex. It was Tip O'Neill, George Mitchell, it was Ted Kennedy. And he related to people, because he had a deep and abiding sense of humility. He knew who he was. From start to finish in life, he had a great sense of himself. And so he carried himself with an ease that I think made him accessible to people regardless of their backgrounds.

BLITZER: Yes, I remember going up to Maine to see him on one occasion, and you're absolutely positively correct.

Walker Stapleton, thanks so much for joining us and sharing your memories.

STAPLETON: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it. Thank you so much.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And please join CNN later tonight, as we honor the life and legacy of George H.W. Bush. We begin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern with a CNN special report, "Remembering 41."

Just ahead, our other big story that is unfolding right now. President Trump having what the White House describes as an informal conversation with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, after President Trump canceled a planned meeting between the two men. What are we learning right now about this informal conversation?


[15:16:03] BLITZER: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Welcome back to our special live coverage.

We're here in Buenos Aires for the G-20 summit where President Donald Trump will meet shortly with China's president.

But first, there's breaking news unfolding right now. Listen to this. The defense secretary of the United States, James Mattis, says the Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to meddle in U.S. elections just last month, the midterm elections. Listen to this.


GEN. JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There's no doubt the relationship has worsened. He tried again to muck around in our elections this last month. And we are seeing a continued effort along those lines.


BLITZER: The news comes after President Trump had what is now being described as informal conversations at dinner last night. After canceling a formal meeting, a formal conversation with Putin during the course of that dinner.

Joining us now, our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, who is covering all of this for us.

This statement from the Defense Secretary Mattis, it is pretty significant, coming out now, specifically, at a time of already some strained, deeply strained ties with Moscow.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think this is probably the revelation of the day in terms of the U.S./Russia relations. The defense secretary saying, at an event at the Reagan Library out in California, that the Russians were trying to muck around in our elections before the midterms last month. I think that is pretty striking, given the fact that, just before those midterms, the DHS secretary, other Trump administration officials were trying to downplay this notion that the Russians were going to try to meddle in the midterm elections. And so this is a pretty startling revelation from the defense secretary to have made that earlier today.

And then, Wolf, we should point out, I mean, this is all happening with this backdrop here at the G-20 where President Trump did not meet with Vladimir Putin and did not hold a news conference, as you know. So many of these G-20 summit, the president goes out and gives a news conference at the end and talks about what was accomplished here. So we didn't get to ask the president about these comments from Secretary Mattis. Didn't get to ask him about why it is exactly he did not meet with Vladimir Putin. Is it because of Ukraine as the White House says? Or is it because of the Russia investigation?

And we should just note, in the last several minutes, we got another statement from Vladimir Putin. He was talking at the conclusion of the summit, and he says he wants to meet with President Trump when President Trump is ready. But Wolf, it sounds like there were contacts going on throughout the summit between U.S. and Russian officials. The Kremlin said earlier today that the national security adviser, John Bolton, and some of his officials were having contacts, were initiating contacts with the Russians to continue a dialogue of sorts during this summit. So a lot to sort out. When the president decides to hold that news conference and explain exactly what went on here at the summit, because it seems the White House was going at great lengths to sort of keep him away from reporters, keep reporters away from asking him questions.

BLITZER: The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview I did with him earlier today, he took a very tough line on the Russians as well, saying they have not going to re-establish that kind of direct substantive dialogue until the Russians return the Ukrainian sailors and slips in that confrontation.

Let me read to you. This is extraordinary. This is the defense secretary of the United States James Mattis. He said this, I'm quoting him now: "Russia tried again to muck around in our elections, this last month, and we are seeing a continued effort along those lines." And he then added this, this is General Mattis, "I don't know that the threat has increased. It is continued efforts to try to subvert democratic processes that must be defended." Listen to this. "We'll do whatever is necessary to defend them."

[15:19:50] ACOSTA: And, Wolf, you have to contrast that with the fact that the president seems to, from time to time, not believe what his own Intelligence Community is telling him with respect to Russian meddling in our elections. You will remember the Helsinki summit, when he seemed to say, well, President Putin is telling me that it didn't happen, I have to listen to that. And that has happened time and again since President Trump has been in office. And so my guess is, when we get back to Washington, and, yes, we are going to be dealing with the passing and the funeral and all of the services surrounding the passing of former President George H.W. Bush, but there are questions that will be asked. Now we have the defense secretary saying once again, not in 2016, but in the midterms, the Russians were trying to muck around in our election process, as he put it. I think that squarely goes back to the White House. And the question has to be asked of the president, you know, that do we know about what is going on? Because as we were told before the midterms, the Department of Homeland Security and other top officials in the Trump administration, they made it fairly clear that they thought they were on the case, that they were going to prevent anything like that from happening.

BLITZER: And the Defense Secretary Mattis specifically singled out Putin, the Russian leader, and blamed him.

ACOST: Right.

BLITZER: And it is interesting that amidst all of this, Russian President Putin had a meeting today with the visiting crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, who has sort of been ostracized to a certain degree, but not by the Russians. ACOSTA: No, and it seems as though the U.S. has put in sort of a

diplomatic time-out. Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince. But at the same time, Wolf, the White House did put out that statement, from the president --


BLITZER: Look at the picture.

ACOSTA: There's the picture right there, of President Putin, Mohammad bin Salman shaking hands there. That picture is obviously not as start ling as the high-five video that just may emerge as the lasting image of this summit. It almost turned this into an autocrat summit when you saw the image of the two high-fiving each other shortly after this conclusion, the assessment from the CIA that the Saudi crown prince had a hand, was involved in the murder of the "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

There you see President Trump in the background, studiously avoiding both of those leaders because that's what the United States decided to do at this summit.

But, Wolf, I mean they did put -- it seems, they did put the Saudi crown prince in sorts of a diplomatic time-out during the summit, but at the same time the president put out the statement, saying maybe he did, maybe he didn't. He was repeating that language up until this summit. To reporters. Did that with the "Washington Post." and so on. So you know, it is -- and I do think it is worth mentioning, there's this contrast. You know, we're mentioning, we're remembering the passing of former President Bush, and how, and one has to think about how former President Bush would have handled Vladimir Putin, how he would have handled Mohammad bin Salman, and what kind of American principles he would have been standing up for. My guess it would be a different approach, a very different approach from that taken by President Trump -- Wolf?

BLITZER: You're right on that point.

Stand by. Major breaking news we're following.

Jim Acosta, appreciate it very much.

Also coming up, he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush and was instrumental in the strategy during the first gulf war. My interview with General Colin Powell, coming up next.

And this statement just in from Dana Carvey: "It was an honor and a privilege to know and spend time with George H.W. Bush. When I think of those times, what I remember most is how hard we would laugh. I will miss my friend."


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [15:27:59] GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am pleased to announce that at midnight tonight, eastern standard time, exactly 100 hours since ground operations commenced, and six weeks since the start of Operation Desert Storm, all United States and coalition forces will suspend offensive combat operations.


BLITZER: That was the late President George H.W. Bush giving a national address to end Operation Desert Storm back in 1991.

General Colin Powell, as President Bush's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was certainly a key figure during that mission to liberate Kuwait.

Earlier, I had a chance to speak to the former secretary of state on how President Bush handled that first gulf war, and other key moments of his presidency, including his re-election defeat. Listen to this.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE (voice-over): The moment I will never forget is the day after he lost, 1992, I waited a day or two, since I was active duty officer, but I finally called him and expressed my sorrow that he had lost, but just to let him know that I was thinking of him. And he thanked me. We hung up. And an hour later, my wife called me and said, Barbara just called, they want to go to Camp David this week. I said, what, they want the family. No, they want us. And bring the kids. And so that Friday, we went up to Camp David, spent part of the weekend with the president and Mrs. Bush. And we walked through the woods that evening. You know, I will never forget, as we took a walk, I remained silent walking next to him. He was just being very quiet and reflective. And he just turned to me toward the end of the walk, and he said, you know, it hurts, it really hurts. He hated losing. He is a very competitive individual. But he lost and he knew why he lost. And he was already moving on. But he just had to share with me that it hurts. It did hurt.

[15:30:06] So I thought he was a terrific person. I think that the service he gave to America will not be matched any time soon. And the experience he brought to the office will not be matched any time soon. It has never been since he left office.

So America mourns for a great president. America mourns for an American who gave it his very, very all. And the beauty of his family, what he did for us, what he did for his family, what he did for the world. Ae didn't gloat after the fall of the Berlin Wall, or after the fall of the Soviet Union. He knew that they had to be hurting, hurting for losing everything they had believed in for all those years. And he was not going to rub it in. That is what made him so interesting and I think so great.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: General Colin Powell speaking with me earlier in the day.

Joining us now, CNN's senior political analyst, David Gergen. David was an adviser to President Bush in his 1980 presidential campaign. He also served in four presidential administrations.

So, David, you worked with the late president. What memory stands out to you on this day the most?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, a personal memory, if I might be permitted, and that was he invited me, before the 1980 campaign started, I think it was the summer of '79, he was asking me to join his team and work with him. But he said before we do that, I would like you to come to Kennebunkport and spend a weekend with Barbara and I, which I agreed to do. Happy. And one of the first things I noticed when I got there, his house companion, his other house guest for the weekend was a Democratic member of Congress, just a good friend. They worked across the aisle for years, and he had him in there. And, Wolf, and it was -- I landed at the airport there in Maine, about 30, 40 miles away, I thought I had been looking around for somebody, to send a driver, was there a bus or something to get to their house. And the two of them had come to pick me up. And that Monday morning, when I left, I had an early morning plane, and I will to get up around 5:30 to get this early morning plane. And who was knocking on my door, my bedroom door at 5:30, George H.W. Bush, with a cup of coffee in his hand, saying, here, I hope this will get you started. And then they climbed in a car and drove me back to the airport. And he said, as we got there, he said, I always liked to know about the character of someone before I ask them to work with me. So thank you for coming. It was one of those memorable weekends that you just don't forget.

Because -- and seeing the two of them together, they were very optimistic about America. They liked to look on the sunny side of things. And they were proud of this country. And I think this whole, this last 24 hours has given us a chance to celebrate and to remember what true leadership looks like. The civility, the decency, the empathy, and the restraint, and the use of exercise of power, and all of those things used to be the hallmarks of our best presidents, and it almost seems like a vanishing world at times.

BLITZER: And you tweeted this, let me read to our viewers, what you tweeted. You tweeted, "The loss of our last World War II president should be a reminder of the darkest moments in recent memory, and the leadership it takes to overcome them."

Talk about the legacy that he has now left.

GERGEN: I think the most important legacy was that he -- that he ended the Cold War, in a peaceful way. And brought peace across much of Europe and the first time we've seen an integrated Europe in hundreds of years. Now, a lot of that is frayed in the last couple of years or so. And Putin, you know, the General Mattis story you just had on, about the Russians continuing to try to spy or influence our elections, is so outrageous. But there was a time when it looked like it would be, at the end of the Cold War, whether we would sort of grab up a lot of property, whether we would keep Germany divided. The Germans wanted to unite but they didn't know whether they would have America's support. He, first of all, as Colin Powell said, insisted that we not dance on the graves of the Soviets, but he also worked very hard to integrate and reunite Germany, a peaceful Germany. That was a huge contribution when you consider that Germany had gotten us into two world wars over the course of the 20th century. And put -- and solving the German issue, to ensure that they had a peaceful democratic future, was, I think, an underappreciated but very significant contribution to world peace. I think standing up to Saddam Hussein, kicking him out of Kuwait, was important.

[15:35:02] George H.W. Bush will be thought of today as a globalist, but he was proud of that. He did think, having come out of the military, and being the last combat veteran shot down at the age of 18, over the Pacific, surviving miraculously, he knew the horrors of war. And he tried very, very hard to steer us toward peace. And for that, we should be grateful.

BLITZER: He absolutely should be. And we are remembering him today, and in the coming days, as well.

GERGEN: If you want, if I could -- if I could tell a somewhat lighter story, I would be happy to do that.

BLITZER: We are going to have more time later. Unfortunately, we got to run right now. There's so many other developments unfolding.


BLITZER: But, David, we will have plenty of time over the next several days to reflect and remember this great American.

GERGEN: We will.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: We will have much more on the late President H.W. Bush just ahead.

Plus, all of the new developments from here at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires.

And also coming up, my exclusive interview with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.


[15:40:44] BLITZER: Welcome back to our special live coverage. We're here in Buenos Aires for the G-20 summit.

Earlier today, I had a chance to sit down for an exclusive interview with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. And we talked about several major issues facing President Trump here in Argentina. And I started by asking him about his recollections on President George Herbert Walker Bush. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special live coverage from Buenos Aires of the G-20 summit.

Earlier today, I sat down for an exclusive interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He talked about several major issues facing President Trump here in Argentina. I started by asking him about his recollections of President George Herbert Walker Bush.


BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Wolf, it's great to be with you.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the late president, George H.W. Bush. How do you see his legacy?

POMPEO: It's a remarkable American legacy. They don't make them like that very often. I had a chance to get to know him when I was a member of Congress first. Then I held the job that he held at one point. I remember talking to him just after I was nominated to be the CIA director. He said, you'll be great, you'll be awesome. It was the second-best job I ever had. And he loved that group of people, that talented espionage agency so much. America is worse off today. And I want to extent mine and Susan's heartfelt sympathy to the entire Bush family.

BLITZER: What lessons can politicians today learn from the life he led?

POMPEO: True life of service. He was also committed to his faith. He was known to work really hard. Maybe those are the three things. You work at it, keep your faith, and you have this commitment to serve, good things can happen, not only to him. He had a remarkable life. But you'll do good work for your fellow man as well. President Bush certainly did that.

BLITZER: He was an amazing man.

POMPEO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I interviewed him on several occasions. I know if he were here, he'd want us to get to substantive issues.

So in his memory --


BLITZER: -- let's talk about some of the major national security issues facing the U.S. right now. Saudi Arabia, do you believe the Saudi explanation that the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman did not know about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

POMPEO: Wolf, I've spoken about this a lot. I continue to work on this issue. President Trump and this administration sanctioned 17 people that we came to learn were connected to the murder, the heinous murder, of Jamal Khashoggi. All across the United States government, we continue to investigate, try and learn, make determinations about what happened, and we'll will continue to hold those responsible accountable. We've been very, very clear about that since literally the very beginning.

We also, Wolf, and this is important, are doing everything we can to make sure we get it right for America, that we keep the strategic relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and protect the American people. Those two things can both be done. And we've done it very effectively.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Because you have said that -- and you're a former a CNN director so you understand how U.S. intelligence analysis works. You said, "There's no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to order the murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

Can you confidently tell his four children that he was not involved in that order?

POMPEO: Well, obviously, sitting in an unclassified setting, here's what I can say. I have read every piece of intelligence in the possession of the United States government. And when it is done, when you complete that analysis, there's no direct evidence linking him to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is an accurate statement. It's an important statement. It's the statement that we are making publicly today.

BLITZER: Did the CIA conclude with high confidence he was involved?

POMPEO: I can't comment on intelligence matters, CIA conclusions. I didn't do it when I was the director. I'm not going to do it now.

BLITZER: Because you've seen all the reports in the media about that?

POMPEO: I've seen lots of reports in the media, Wolf. They often are untrue.

BLITZER: So bottom line is the U.S. is going to use the same relationship, the strategical relationships with Saudi Arabia now, irrespective of what may have happened?

POMPEO: Today, we're working with the Saudis in Afghanistan. We're working with the Saudis to push back against Ayatollah Khomeini, who killed hundreds of Americans, Wolf. And they're an enormous support to us. They're a relationship that has mattered for 70 years across Republican and Democratic administrations alike. It remains an important relationship. We're aiming to keep that relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

[15:44:58] BLITZER: Because you're losing support in Congress. Even including among Republicans right now to continue U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia operation in Yemen. Even Lindsey Graham voted against your position. I think there were 14 Republican Senators who voted against you the other day in the Senate. POMPEO: Secretary Mattis and I and the president have made very clear

we're working to end the hostilities in Yemen. The humanitarian crisis there's of epic proportions. Millions of people at or near starvation. This administration has put almost $1 billion into stopping that humanitarian crisis. The Saudis have put even more money in of theirs. The Iranians, Wolf, have put zero dollars in to stopping that humanitarian crisis. And we're determined to fix the problem of the humanitarian crisis while ensuring that we don't have a Hezbollah organization on the southern edge of Saudi Arabia.

BLITZER: So U.S. military support for the Saudis in Yemen will continue?

POMPEO: The program that we're involved in today, we intend to continue.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Russia, another critical issue. Why did the president decide to cancel what was supposed to be a two-hour face-to-face meeting with the Russian leader?

POMPEO: I can actually answer that. I was there. He canceled it because the Russians behaved in a way that is deeply inconsistent with international law and is outrageous, to have held the Ukrainians that they took in the strike needs to be changed. The president wanted to send a clear, unambiguous message that we that find that kind of behavior unacceptable --

BLITZER: But the Russians --

POMPEO -- so he cancelled the meeting.

BLITZER: The Russians have done other awful things and the president went ahead in Helsinki --


POMPEO: This happened hours, days before the series of events --


BLITZER: Is it a good time for --


POMPEO: Hours and days, Wolf, hours and days before. And the president made the decision that the right thing to do was tell the Russians, return the sailors, return the Ukrainian equipment. It's theirs. The people need to be returned to their families. He wanted to send an unambiguous message that the Russians needed to change that act.

BLITZER: And it --


BLITZER: And don't forget to join CNN later tonight, as we honor the life and the legacy of President George H.W. Bush. We begin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern with a CNN special report, "Remembering 41."


[15:51:57] BLITZER: President Trump and his top aides are now sitting down with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, for a lengthy conservation, a lengthy series of discussions, plus, dinner.

Here is the president at the beginning of this session. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- meeting. A lot of people are looking forward to it. I know that President Xi and myself are looking forward to it. And we've also established an incredible relationship.

I want to thank the president for his nice best wishes to the Bush family on behalf of a man that we all respected and liked very much, President Bush.

And we very much appreciate that, Mr. President.

We will be going back -- I will be going back to Washington right after this. And we'll be spending three days of mourning and three days of celebrating a really great man's life. So we look forward to doing that. And he certainly deserves it. He really does. He was a very special person.

I spoke with Jeb and George today. We had great conversations. And we spoke about how much they loved him and how much that he loved them.

So we'll be starting our meeting. We'll talk about a number of topics. One topic we will bring up is the fentanyl problem that we have in the United States, which is a tremendous problem. We ask for the president to do something about that. I think he will be able to. If that's on the restricted category, we'll be able to pretty much stop it right there. To criminalize it in China would be a great thing. We'll be discussing trade. And I think at some point we are going to end up doing something great for China and great for the United States. And I look very much forward to the dinner. I look very much forward to the discussion, and I'm sure discussions after.

The relationship is very special. The relationship that I have with President Xi. And I think that is going to be a very primary reason why we'll probably end up getting something that will be good for China and good for the United States. We very much appreciate it. Thank you.



BLITZER: There you heard the president sitting with his top aides. Jim Acosta, you have been listening very carefully to what the

president says. He says there will be an extensive period of mourning for George H.W. Bush, but then he goes into other substantive issues that he will be raising with the Chinese leader.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOSUE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He also referred to late President Bush as a great man. Folks might want to contrast that with the things that President Trump has said about the Bush family in the past. But, yes, you heard the president also say that they're going to be talking about these critical trade issues. And, you know, Wolf, the prospect of a trade war between the U.S. and China, as you know, this has rattled the markets all over the world. And what we've been seeing over the last 24 to 48 hours is really a concern in the markets as to what is going to happen at this dinner. This is a pretty critical dinner on the trade issue. If things don't turn out so well at the end of all of this, going into Monday next week, these markets might be rattled by the fact that President Trump, he may be continuing to talk tough on the issue of trade, he may not. He may back off of that so he doesn't rattle the markets. They've been unnerved by that inside the White House over the last couple of days.

[15:55:31] He also talked about fentanyl and, I guess, fentanyl drugs coming into the United States, and the concern that the Trump administration has raised on that front. It was a little strange to hear the president raise that right there with President Xi as all this was starting. But I think it was also notable, Wolf, just getting back to the passing off garbled, but I believe he spoke to George H.W. Bush and Jeb Bush.

BLITZER: Yes. He spoke to both of them.

ACOSTA: And it was notable to hear the president talking about the late President Bush in those terms. Earlier today, he asked whether he regretted some of the comments he made about late President Bush, and he just didn't comment at all, and said thanks, everybody, and that was it. It's sort of a different tone from the president at this dinner this evening.

BLITZER: He will be attending the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington together with the first lady.

ACOSTA: That's right. There were some questions as to whether or not President Trump and Melania Trump would be invited to this. I don't see how you cannot invite the president of the United States to a funeral marking the passing of a former president. To me, that just seems to be part of protocol.

But one thing that we're all going to be watching for, Wolf, is what the president says in the coming days to honor former president, late President George H.W. Bush. Because, I mean, obviously, what the president said during the campaign and what he has continued to say as president about the Bush family has just rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. It was really one of the more astonishing things I would see during the 2016 campaign to hear then-Candidate Trump talk about the Bush family and the way that he did and so on. And it might be a moment. I think -- you and I were talking about this during a commercial break -- it might be an opportunity for the president, if he seizes it, to try to lower those tensions, to try to talk about the Bush family in ways that maybe put some of the ghosts to rest and put some of that bad blood to rest.

BLITZER: He was supposed to have a major news conference at the end of this G-20 summit here in Argentina. He canceled it. And he said he canceled it because he didn't think it was necessarily appropriate in the aftermath of the death of President Bush. No Q&A on that front.

ACOSTA: That's right. And there are so many critical questions. And the president said he hopes to have a press conference in the coming days to deal with all these questions. But so much was not asked on the summit trip, Michael Cohen, and so on.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to continue our special coverage.

Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Much more of our special coverage on the life and incredible legacy of President George H.W. Bush. That's coming up.