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Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush Dead at 94; Cohen Believed Trump Would Pardon Him. Aired 5-6a ET
Aired December 1, 2018 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: We being this morning with the breaking news: former president George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States, has died.
Good morning, I'm Victor Blackwell.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christi Paul.
The former president died overnight. He was 94 years old. He died in Houston, after, as I'm sure you've heard, months of declining health. His death shortly after his wife, Barbara Bush, passed away just this past April.
She was 92. They'd been married for 73 years. It was such a beautiful love story. Born into privilege, George H.W. Bush dedicated his life to serving the United States first as a Navy pilot, then as a congressman, a diplomat, as part of the CIA. CNN's Anderson Cooper takes a look at his extraordinary life story.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts on June 12th, 1924. The son of a future U.S. senator, he married Barbara Pierce. They had six children; two would follow his footsteps into public life.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear.
COOPER (voice-over): In 2001, his eldest son, Texas governor, George Walker Bush, became the 43rd president, the first since John Quincy Adams to follow his father into the White House.
JEB BUSH (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: I'm now about to enter, so help me God --
COOPER (voice-over): His second son, Jeb Bush, served two terms as Florida governor and in 2016 unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination. After earning a degree at Yale, the elder Bush moved his family to
Texas, where he made a fortune in the oil business. There his budding interests in Republican politics blossomed. That one fact helped Bush become elected to two terms as a congressman. But he was defeated in two subsequent bids for the U.S. Senate. His disappointment didn't last long.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We view this item as a -- so seriously that we consider it a possible turning point in the history of the United Nations.
COOPER (voice-over): His political profile was high enough that President Nixon appointed him U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Later he became chairman of the Republican National Committee.
President Ford sent him to China to head up the U.S. liaison office as part of a new initiative in U.S.-Chinese relations. And in 1975, Bush came home to become director of the CIA, a job associates said he truly loved.
He left that job when Democrat Jimmy Carter became president and soon became a player in national Republican politics. Bush ran against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 GOP primaries, winning some but eventually withdrawing when it became clear he wouldn't be the nominee.
But Reagan believed the Texas oilman could help him win over the party's moderates and named him as his running mate. As vice president, Bush spent a lot of time on the road. He was Reagan's heir apparent in 1988.
BUSH 41: I want a kinder and gentler nation, like 1,000 points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.
COOPER (voice-over): He also made a campaign promise that would come back to haunt him.
BUSH 41: Read my lips: no new taxes.
COOPER (voice-over): His selection of a running mate surprised many.
BUSH 41: My choice for the vice presidency is Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana.
COOPER (voice-over): The voters supported the ticket.
BUSH 41: So help me God.
COOPER (voice-over): As the nation's 41st president, Bush's focus returned to international affairs. He presided over the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. He ordered U.S. troops into Latin America to capture Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.
BUSH 41: The responsibility for sending someone's son and, today, daughter into harm's way rests on the shoulders of the president. So it is the most difficult decision. COOPER (voice-over): He would order U.S. troops into combat again, allied with dozens of other countries, to free Kuwait from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's aggression. The first Gulf War didn't last long.
In less than six weeks, the Iraqis were booted from Kuwait but Saddam Hussein remained in power and held a grudge. Years later, a car bombing plot hatched in Iraq targeted Mr. Bush during a visit to Kuwait.
BUSH 41: You've got to have security. If I have to have it with the Secret Service, I've got the best there is and we will continue to be careful.
COOPER (voice-over): The United States retaliated with a missile attack against Iraq's intelligence headquarters. The man behind the plot would not be captured for another decade. The second President Bush ordered the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.
COOPER (voice-over): At home, President Bush was hammered by critics for compromising with Congress on tax increases and breaking his --
COOPER (voice-over): -- "no new taxes" promises.
BUSH 41: Well, it was a mistake to go along with the Democratic tax increase. And I admit it.
COOPER (voice-over): In a three-way battle with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, he lost. He lived long enough to see his son accomplish what he did not: win a second term in the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So help me God --
BUSH 43: So help me God --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.
COOPER (voice-over): At his son's request, he also briefly reentered the public spotlight.
BUSH 41: The aftermath of the devastating tsunami --
COOPER (voice-over): He joined with former president Bill Clinton to help raise money for victims of the 2004 earthquake and tsunamis in Asia. The two reunited in late 2005 to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
As a young Navy pilot, Bush's plane was shot down and he had to bail out over the Pacific. As a far older man he would jump from planes again to celebrate his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays.
BUSH 41: It feels good. It's an exhilaration. It sends a message around with these guys all around the globe that, just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit around drooling in the corner. Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.
COOPER (voice-over): It was a life that brought George Herbert Walker Bush back to the White House in 2011 to receive the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those of you who know him, this is a gentleman, inspiring citizens to become points of light in service to others. His life is a testament that public service is a noble calling.
COOPER (voice-over): At his beloved wife Barbara's funeral, President Bush posed for a photo with other surviving former presidents. The years had taken their toll on his body but his dignity and resolve shined through, part of a graceful final act in a life of public service.
BUSH 41: I do not fear what is ahead, for our problems are large but our heart is larger. Our challenges are great but our will is greater.
PAUL: George H.W. Bush. I mean, the patriarch of a family and this whole family, many people have said, dedicated to service.
BLACKWELL: Yes, dedicated to service for generations. And President George W. Bush, he issued a statement announcing his father's death. Here's part of it.
"George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for."
And Bush's grandson, Jeb Bush Jr., tweeted out this picture with the message, "Nothing gave my Grampy more joy than service to others, especially supporting and caring for those who risked making the ultimate sacrifice every day."
Another grandson, George P. Bush, tweeted, "My grandfather was the greatest man I ever knew."
His life spanned the American century. He fought in World War II, took part in the Texas oil boom, served out a distinguished career in public service, including service as president during the final days of the Cold War.
PAUL: CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Houston right now and she's talking to people there to see how the city is honoring the former president now.
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, Christi, we're outside the Bush residence, the home that George H.W. Bush shared with Barbara, the home where she took her last breaths just last April. And here in Houston, we're reminded by the mayor that, following their
departure from Washington, this couple could have lived anywhere. But they chose to come to this beloved city of theirs, the place where his political career began, as he was the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party.
And they became beloved themselves here over the past couple of decades. As the mayor said, George H.W. Bush became our most esteemed and relatable neighbor. That's because you would see him and Barbara behind home plate at Astros games, supporting that baseball team.
You would see them at Texans games, supporting the football team. They were boosters for everything Houston and they're undoubtedly Houstonians who will think back on their experience of November 1st and realize they were among the last to see George H.W. Bush in public because it was on that day that we last saw him in this photo tweeted by his spokesman, Jim McGrath, where he says, "The 41st president, accompanied by his two best friends, Jim Baker and Sully, discharging his civic duty and voting today."
George H.W. Bush there voting alongside his service dog, who had more recently come into his life. Now this city is about to have a spotlight on it and mourn the loss of this man themselves.
Our understanding is that the Bush family will be coming here in the coming days and a private smaller service will be held at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, just a couple of blocks from here, the church that George and Barbara attended for so many years together, the same church where Barbara's life was celebrated.
And then President Bush's body will be taken to Washington. He will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol and then a service will be held at the National --
HARTUNG: -- Cathedral in Washington. He'll be returned here, there will be a larger service at St. Martin's and then, by motorcade, he will be taken to his final resting place, his presidential library in College Station at Texas A&M University, alongside Barbara and their daughter, Robin, who died so many years ago.
This just the beginning of a week-long process of mourning the loss of our 41st president -- Victor, Christi.
PAUL: Kaylee, thank you so much.
Now President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump expressing their grief at the loss of former president George H.W. Bush.
A statement from the White House reads, in part, "Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit and unwavering commitment to faith, family and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service, to be, in his words, a thousand points of light, illuminating the greatness, hope and opportunity of America to the world"
BLACKWELL: President George H.W. Bush left a pretty long legacy during his 12 years working and living at the White House there. We'll talk to one member of his administration next.
PAUL: Also, President Bush in his own words, how he had no regrets about anything in his life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH 41: I did my job as president. I just didn't expose my inner feelings. And I think people liked me. I think people were disappointed. I think people wanted change. I think when I said the economy has recovered, hey, look at this guy, he's out of touch.
And I got a whole rationale of reasons why I did not get re-elected but maybe if I had been a little more emotional or more revealing of the person, maybe it would help but it never occurred to me then. I mean, I --
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: No regrets then?
BUSH 41: No regrets about anything. No regrets about one single thing in my life that I can think of. I mean, I made mistakes but they don't measure up to regrets now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: If you are just waking up, I'm sure you have your own memories of watching George H.W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, former president, as the nation now is mourning --
PAUL: -- his loss. This is a man who's devoted to serving his country.
BLACKWELL: The 41st president being remembered by friends, family, fellow politicians. His son, George W. Bush, calling his father, "A man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for."
As we continue to bring you tributes from here in the U.S., around the world, let's bring in Anita McBride. She's the former chief of staff for first lady Laura Bush.
Good morning to you. You've worked with and for the Bush family for some time now. Let's just start here with your strongest memory, what you're feeling and what you're thinking this morning. ANITA MCBRIDE, DIRECTOR OF WHITE HOUSE PERSONNEL, BUSH 41 ADMINISTRATION: Well, I'm watching all the wonderful tributes and recap of his very full life that you just showed yourself this morning.
And it does bring back a lot of memories and a lot of emotions. And I have to say, one of the things that really struck me is how lucky, how lucky I am and my husband, who I met in the White House, as he was working for George H.W. Bush, all of our friends, that we had the privilege and opportunity to learn from the leadership of George H.W. Bush.
And what a great journey and full life he had and how he shared it with all of us, not just the professional way that he ran the White House or led the staff but also just the personal integrity and always, you know, service and country above self. And that, you know, will live with all of us for as long as we live.
PAUL: You just mentioned a word I've heard a lot in the last several hours as we've been reading about how people are remembering him. You said integrity. I've also heard kindness, character, patriot, humility, compassion.
is there another word that strikes you that really encompasses who he is?
MCBRIDE: Yes, this is a guy who always thought about the other guy first. I'll give you one example.
On his Inauguration Day in 1989, arguably one of the most important days, if not the most important day of his life, and he was very conscious of the fact that Ronald Reagan, on his last day, was all bundled up in a coat with a scarf. It had been a cold day but really not all that cold.
But Ms. Reagan was worried about President Reagan. George H.W. Bush, as he was about to go onto the platform of the inauguration, sees this, says I can't look like a more robust man than Ronald Reagan. It wouldn't be right. And he wore his coat. The problem is his coat is already down in his car in the limousine at the Capitol.
There was no way he could get it. And so his personal aide at the time gave him his coat and that man happens to be my husband now.
But can you imagine, George H.W. Bush about to be sworn in as president after serving eight years so loyally as vice president, still worrying about the other guy?
BLACKWELL: You know, you talk about the beginning of his administration but so much of his legacy is after his term in office and the dignity with which he conducted himself as a post-president, both holding a role as a political elder but not opining on his successors and creating really a warm relationship with successors of the Democratic Party.
Talk a bit about the lessons of how to conduct yourself as a post- president that the country learned from George H.W. Bush.
MCBRIDE: That's a great question and actually to put it into perspective for a longer period of time, remember, he's a man who was elected to the Congress from Texas, one of only two Republicans in the mid-'60s.
So he came into Congress working across the aisle right from the beginning. And he used that -- or that was his frame of reference on how to comport himself as a public servant, throughout his whole life.
And through his presidency, when he had as many that were Democratic congressmen and senators over to play horseshoes or play tennis or for cocktails or a movie at the White House, as many Democrats as he did Republicans. That's how he acted.
And in his post-presidency life, the way he developed the closest of bonds with the one person who beat him and beat him good in 1992 when he lost the presidency to Bill Clinton.
And when I asked him --
MCBRIDE: -- about that budding relationship with Bill Clinton and I said, you know, what is at the basis of it?
And he said well, look, he likes to talk. I like to listen. But I think, too, I'm the father he never had. That was George H.W. Bush.
PAUL: And he was happy to be that father.
MCBRIDE: Yes, he was happy to be that. And I really was struck to every time he visited the White House during the time of his son's presidency and all the staff, the household staff just adored him.
And I -- you couldn't help but be moved by the example or just the visual of a former president visiting the current president and they happened to be father and son. The White House had never seen that. John Adams never visited his son, John Quincy Adams, in the White House, so it really -- there's such a history here.
And the bushes don't like to use the word dynasty. I don't like to use that, either. That's not what I'm presenting here. But it's just the imprint on the historical fabric of our nation and the example of service. There's nobody finer than this man.
BLACKWELL: Anita McBride, thank you so much, especially at the hour and at this time for spending some time with us, sharing some memories.
MCBRIDE: Well, it helps me to share it, too, and I appreciate it.
PAUL: And our condolences to you as well because we know this is a rough time for everybody who knew him and loved him and you are certainly included in that. Thank you for taking the time for us today. MCBRIDE: My pleasure. Thank you.
PAUL: Take good care.
Our continuing coverage of the passing of former president George H.W. Bush as we look at the man who shaped an era of politics that still resonates to this day.
PAUL: So glad to have your company here. I'm Christi Paul.
BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you. We continue to follow this morning the breaking news, the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, has died at the age of 94.
PAUL: He passed away overnight in Houston after several months. His health was declining. His death comes just a little more than seven months after Barbara's passing, his wife, of course. She was 92 years old.
BLACKWELL: President Bush is remembered as a politician, a statesman, a World War II combat pilot and a compassionate family man. Friends and family call him a man of the highest character. They also said his leadership taught us to be kinder and gentler.
A live look here at the flag, half staff atop the White House in Washington, D.C., an honor paid to President George H.W. Bush, as we imagine flags across the country will go at half staff for the first time for the U.S. president since 2006 and the death of Gerald Ford in December of that year.
PAUL: Whether, you know, people agreed or disagreed with his politics, most of the folks who worked with him, as Anita McBride was just talking to us about, most of them that worked with the former president valued his overall dedication to the country.
BLACKWELL: And Mr. Bush leaves behind not only a rich legacy of public service but also a political dynasty that changed the American political landscape. CNN's Jamie Gangel has more on that.
BUSH 41: So help me God.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George H.W. Bush may have sat in the Oval Office for just four years but his legacy will last for generations. In foreign policy...
BUSH 41: This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait. GANGEL (voice-over): -- Bush's coalition building during Desert Storm was unprecedented, uniting nearly 40 countries and ending the conflict in a matter of weeks, a playbook for all presidents that followed.
JAMES BAKER, BUSH 41'S SECRETARY OF STATE: If you want to know how to fight a war, take a look at the way George Bush fought the First Gulf War.
GANGEL (voice-over): The Cold War ended on his watch without a shot taken or a bomb dropped.
COLIN POWELL, BUSH 41'S JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: He didn't gloat because it would not be in his nature to gloat at someone else's misfortune.
GANGEL (voice-over): That same diplomatic restraint also shown when the Iron Curtain collapsed.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, BUSH 41'S SOVIET SPECIALIST: On the day that the Berlin Wall came down, we all went over to Oval Office to tell President Bush that he had to go to Berlin.
GANGEL: You wanted --
RICE: I wanted him to go to Berlin.
GANGEL: And he said --
RICE: And he said, what would I do, dance on the wall?
He said this is a German moment. And I thought, the President of the United States to step back, this is a German moment.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he deserves credit for getting the world off in the right direction at the end of the Cold War. The Cold War being over was not an excuse to pack up and go home. It was an excuse to build a new world of cooperation.
Time will prove that he was right in wanting an integrated, cooperative world of strong security but lots of freedom, lots of democracy, lots of interaction between people.
GANGEL (voice-over): On the domestic front, Bush is credited for making improvements to the Clean Air Act and signing the Americans with Disabilities Act, critical legislation that revolutionized access for millions, including Bush himself when he suffered from Parkinson's in his final years.
NEIL BUSH, SON OF BUSH 41: That community, I think, holds my grandfather up as a hero. He wasn't their likely hero. They have all these big kind of liberal advocates that advocated for their movement. But my grandfather is the guy who got it done. It's not just through things like wheelchair access but it's changing the culture of how people with disabilities, you know, can shine and let their abilities shine and have jobs in places where they might not have jobs. So I think that's an awesome legacy.
GANGEL (voice-over): Another legacy: many will remember Bush for this.
BUSH 41: Just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit around drooling in the corner. Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.
GANGEL (voice-over): Bush did just that, jumping over and over and over again --
GANGEL (voice-over): -- even for his 90th birthday.
BUSH 43: I think the reason he did it is because he's got a young heart and it's the thrill of the job. And once he did it the first time, it became a natural for the next four or five times.
GANGEL (voice-over): And while Bush 41 disliked the word dynasty, no question he was thrilled...
BUSH 43: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear.
GANGEL (voice-over): -- when his oldest son became the 43rd President of the United States.
BUSH 43: He felt a sense of pride and I was grateful for that. I was happy that he was happy.
GANGEL: Did he give you any advice?
BUSH 43: No, no. And he was very guarded about giving me advice unless I asked for it.
GANGEL (voice-over): But for many, Bush 41 will long be remembered for what he did after the White House.
N. BUSH: The family legacy isn't about who's president or first lady or governor. The family legacy is the legacy of service.
GANGEL (voice-over): He turned a campaign vision into a post- presidential mission statement.
BUSH 41: Leaders, I want a kinder and gentler nation, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.
GANGEL (voice-over): That call prompted millions to volunteer. And Bush and wife Barbara did their part, too, helping to raise an estimated $1 billion for charity.
JEB BUSH (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: It does fit my dad's philosophy that the definition of a successful person is not just about how much money you make or the W's on your -- in your column. It's about helping others. It's about acting on your heart.
GANGEL: Is there a phrase that you think embodies him?
N. BUSH: I would say it is service above self.
GANGEL (voice-over): A legacy that led him to receive the highest civilian award in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His life is a testament that public service is a noble calling. We honor George Herbert Walker Bush for service to America that spanned nearly 70 years.
PAUL: And he wasn't just a dedicated public servant. He was a dedicated dad, no doubt about it. We're going to take a closer look at his family legacy coming up.
BLACKWELL: But first, listen to what President Bush once told CNN about his son, the 43rd president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You think about this too much?
BUSH 41: For him, yes.
KING: For you?
BUSH 41: No, not for me. Feller, I'm too darn old. I just think about how to get home and go to bed.
BUSH 41: No, but I don't -- I don't think about history and I don't keep up with events like I used to. And so it's different now, very, very different. But history will be kind to George.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: George H.W. Bush held many titles during his distinguished career: war hero, CIA director, U.N. ambassador, head of the Republican Party, congressman, of course vice president and then president.
PAUL: But I think listening to all of these people you can discern that one of his, really his greatest pride most likely was being called Dad. CNN's Wolf Blitzer takes a look at Bush 41 in the words of his own children.
BUSH 43: It's always an honor to be introduced by the President of the United States, especially when he's your dad.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): It's only happened once before: the country's second president, John Adams, saw his son, John Quincy Adams, become 6th president. Almost 200 years would pass before Adams 2 and 6 were succeeded by Bushes 41 and 43.
BUSH 43: Dad taught me how to be a president. Before that, he showed me how to be a man.
And, 41, it is awesome that you are here today.
BLITZER (voice-over): Much of America has changed between the era of the Adams years and the era of the Bush years -- but not everything. It's still easier for a president to take criticism than see it dished out to members of his family.
KING: Pains you, though, as you told me many times, whenever either one of your sons is criticized.
BUSH 41: Much more hurtful than when I would be that crossfire, much. It's not even a close call.
BLITZER (voice-over): Sometimes the roles were reversed.
BUSH 43: Mother used to call me, say, "You need to call your dad."
And I'd say -- I'm president at this point.
"Because he just read some editorial and he's upset."
And so I'd call him and he'd say, "Can you believe what they said about you?"
And I'd say, "Dad, don't worry about it. I'm doing fine. I'm doing fine."
BLITZER (voice-over): In their published letters, as well as in their books and interviews, we have a revealing, behind-the-scenes portrait of life in the White House.
BUSH 43: It mattered to be able to get, you know, these notes from Dad or phone calls from Dad because, in that, he was president. He knew what the pressures of the job were like and he knew moments can be, you know, very trying. And to have him interject some humor and/or a love note really made a huge difference during my presidency.
BLITZER (voice-over): The Bushes' books, letters and interviews give us personal glimpses of the most dramatic days of their presidencies, including a family visit that ended on September 11th, 2001, the day terrorists hijacked four U.S. airliners.
BUSH 41: Just left the White House, flying to Minneapolis; they grounded the plane I was on. It was a private plane, landed there. And the next thing I know I was out in a little town outside of Milwaukee.
And eight hours later the president called me and he said, "Where are you, Dad?"
I said, "It's where your people made me land."
BLITZER (voice-over): The relationship between Bush 41 and Bush 43 includes lessons for all of us.
BUSH 43: So here's a guy who runs for senator of Texas twice and loses and runs for President of the United States in a primary against Ronald Reagan in the state of Texas and loses and ends up being president. And all the time was still a great father.
In other words, defeat didn't define George Bush. There's something greater in life than, you know, chalking up political victories or political losses. It taught me -- and I'm confident it taught Jeb -- you know, you don't need to fear failure.
BLITZER (voice-over): George H.W. Bush not only lived to see one son in the White House, he also watched another son seek the same office.
J. BUSH: My brothers and sister are different than me but I'm not going to go out of my way to say that my brother did this wrong or my dad did this wrong. It's just not going to happen. I have a hard time with that. I love my family a lot.
BLITZER (voice-over): Life, love, loyalty and one family's unique contribution to the history of the United States.
BUSH 43: I want to thank my dad, the most decent man I have ever known. All my life I have been amazed that a gentle soul could be so strong.
Dad, I am proud to be your son.
BLITZER (voice-over): Wolf Blitzer, CNN, Washington.
BLACKWELL: That's an honor, to have your son say I'm proud to be your son.
We talked about the former president as a father, a friend, a president but also he was a war hero. Coming up, we take a look back at George H.W. Bush's service in World War II and the time he almost did not make it home.
(MUSIC PLAYING) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLACKWELL: In addition to being the 41st president, President Bush was also a proud war veteran. He served as a fighter pilot during World War II. But in 1944, his plane was shot down over the Pacific.
PAUL: He was rescued. There were three other crew members who did not survive, though.
PAUL: And this is a day the president said he replayed in his mind over and over again. In fact, in 2002, CNN went with him back to the site -- and you're going to see this. This was an emotional journey for him.
BUSH 41: I wake up at night and think about it sometimes.
Could I have done something different?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He had spent nearly a lifetime wondering.
BUSH 41: I have a clear picture of my parachute blowing up onto Chichi Jima.
TAPPER (voice-over): Hoping to return to the Pacific, to the site of a combat experience he said forever changed his life.
BUSH 41: I'm not haunted by anything other than the fact I feel a responsibility still for the lives of the two people that were killed.
(INAUDIBLE) that we went after, it was up on this hill.
TAPPER (voice-over): Fifty-eight years after his bomber was shot down by the Japanese, former president George H.W. Bush finally got a chance to go back to answer his own questions.
BUSH 41: Lucky little guy.
I wonder if I could have done something different. I wonder who got out of the plane. I wonder if why the chute didn't open for the other guy.
Why am I blessed?
Why am I still alive?
That has plagued me.
TAPPER (voice-over): Bush's story of war begins half a world away at an elite Eastern boarding school.
BUSH 41: The day Pearl Harbor was bombed, December 7th, 1941, I was 17 years old. It was a Sunday. I walked by the chapel; somebody came running by and yelled that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
TAPPER (voice-over): Four days after Bush graduated from Andover, on his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the United States Navy.
BUSH 41: I knew fact certain that I wanted to serve. Duty, honor, country. But again, I hate telling you this, because I don't want to be sounding like I'm different. I'm not.
TAPPER (voice-over): September 2nd, 1944, the day that would end up defining the war for 20-year-old George H.W. Bush, he was a Navy pilot getting ready to fly off the aircraft carrier San Jacinto.
BUSH 41: We went to the briefing room; we were told what our mission would be. The mission was to attack a radio station on the island of Chichi Jima.
TAPPER (voice-over): On a spectacularly sunny day in June 2002, President Bush returned to the place where he almost lost his life, a remote island 700 miles off the coast of Japan.
BUSH 41: All right.
Now how do we thank all these people?
Very nice. Thank you.
TAPPER (voice-over): Chichi Jima is a flyspeck in the Pacific, about twice the size of Central Park. Today it is a sleepy natural paradise with fewer than 2,000 residents. But it's also home to countless relics of World War II.
This is all that remains of the main radio installation on the island.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's some nice stuff over your head here.
BUSH 41: Yes, that will open it up.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was the key target of Bush's bomber squadron. Bush started his bombing run with the radio tower in his sights.
BUSH 41: The minute we started, angry black puffs of anti-aircraft fire and they were all over the place. And then I felt that we were hit and I felt the plane kind of go forward like this. And I tried to stay on my target, release the bombs and pull out here. So I just -- I had the satisfaction of knowing that I completed my mission. TAPPER (voice-over): His mission was complete but Bush and his plane were in serious trouble.
BUSH 41: We came down off these mountains. I could tell I --
BUSH 41: -- was hit. The plane was burning. The cockpit was beginning to fill up with smoke. So we headed out here and it became apparent to me that the plane was -- I thought was going to explode because I could see fire along where the wings fold.
TAPPER (voice-over): Bush decided to abandon his plane but an armored plate behind his seat it prevented him from speaking directly with his two crew members, Ted White and John Delaney.
BUSH 41: I then told our guys to get out. Whether or not they heard it or not, there was no reply to the command. And then I jumped out. I dove out onto the wing of the plane but not as far as I should have and I pulled the ripcord too early.
And what happened was I hit my head on the tail of the -- on the horizontal stabilizer of the plane. But it didn't take long before I was in the water.
TAPPER (voice-over): With still no sign of Delaney nor White, Bush struggled to get into his life raft and to stay away from shore.
BUSH 41: I knew I had to get out of there. I had to stay away from the land and I was expending a hell of a lot of energy. But then I felt sick to my stomach. I felt -- I was crying, I've got to confess. I don't feel badly about that, incidentally. I was scared. I was 20 years old and I thought about my family and I thought about survival.
TAPPER (voice-over): Bush was actually in more trouble than he knew. Squadron mate Charlie Bynum was watching over Bush from the air.
CHARLIE BYNUM, BUSH 41'S SQUADRON MATE: We saw him in the water. And we saw the Japanese boats coming out from land to pick him up. They had guns on him.
BLACKWELL: That experience, with context, for the presidency, one of the toughest jobs as president. President Bush talked about here sending Americans into war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH 41: This one is September 3rd, our fleet; we had gone through a lot of the Pacific campaign. Before the 5th Fleet went down and became under Halsey, the 3rd Fleet, we were up there under Mitscher, I believe, and --
KING: We were behind in that war in the Pacific for a time, weren't we? BUSH 41: Yes. But Admiral Mitscher had the 5th Fleet. I said McCain commanded it. McCain had part of it, I think. But, anyway, this is the day after I was shot down over the island of Chichi Jima, September 3rd. I was picked up by a submarine. So I'm riding in a submarine.
"Dear Mother and Dad, this will be the first letter you've gotten from me in a long while. I wish I could tell you as I write this I'm feeling well and happy. Physically, I'm OK. But I am troubled inside and with good cause."
Then we go on, "I'll have to skip all the details of the attack as they would not pass censorship but the fact remains that we got hit, the cockpit filled with smoke and I told the boys in back to get their parachutes on. They didn't answer at all but I looked around and couldn't see Ted in the turret so I assumed he had gone below to get his chute fastened on.
"I headed the plane out to sea and put on the throttle so as we could get away from the land as much as possible."
Then later on, "There was no sign explaining what happened after ejecting. There was no sign of Dale or Ted anywhere around. I looked as I floated down and afterwards kept my eyes open for the raft. But to no avail. I'm afraid I was pretty much of a sissy about it because I sat in my life raft and sobbed for a while.
"It bothers me so very much. I did tell them and when I bailed out I felt they must have gone and yet now I feel so terribly responsible for their fate, oh, so much right now."
KING: They died?
BUSH 41: Both died. One of them did get out. The Japanese reported it and, thank God. But the parachute streamed and --
KING: One would imagine that the hardest thing of all -- maybe as hard as being in war -- is sending them to war.
BUSH 41: It's the toughest decision a president makes and maybe it was because I've been conditioned by war. But there is no decision, domestic or foreign, that came as close to when you send somebody else's son -- or daughter these days -- into combat. It happened to me twice, Panama and, of course, Desert Storm.
But I felt it. I felt this even 50, 60 years later.
PAUL: What a perspective he had in that regard.
BLACKWELL: Our last World War II president.
PAUL: Yes, our last World War II president. We are following some other news this morning, just to let you know.
Michael Cohen, for one, believed that his boss, President Trump, would pardon him if he faced any charges.
PAUL: Where does that stand now?
PAUL: We as a nation remembering President George H.W. Bush today and we will continue to do so in a moment. We do have some new details that are unfolding in the Russia investigation we need to talk to you about.
BLACKWELL: According to discussions with federal prosecutors, the president's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, thought the president would protect him if he faced any charges related to paying adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
PAUL: Cohen believed that the president would pardon him in exchange for staying on message in support of him. But after the FBI raided Cohen's office and home, he noticed things changed and acted to protect his family and himself at that point.
CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen in Moscow.
Frederik, what are you learning about that this morning?
And good morning to you.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning to you. That he's -- Michael Cohen is cooperating with the investigators and cooperating with the courts and he says he's giving more details about this Moscow project, the project that the Trump company wanted to build in Moscow as late as 2016.
He was saying that he kept President Trump informed about how things were going until at least June 2016 and was also trying to set up then candidate Donald Trump going here to Moscow to try and get that project through.
It was interesting because he also said he had what he called a substantive conversation with the assistant of a senior Russian official. That senior Russian official is Dmitry Peskov, the press spokesman for Vladimir Putin. Peskov himself actually got in touch with us while he was on the Russian presidential plane on the way to Buenos Aires, that G20 summit, and said that, yes, he received an email and the Russians said they could not help with that matter.