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Battle Between Former FBI Director James Comey and House Republicans; Trade War Between the U.S. and China; the Life of President George H.W. Bush. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired December 2, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: For joining us for this special edition of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. NEWSROOM continues right now with Fredricka Whitfield.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Wolf. Hello, everyone. Welcome this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
Right now the nation is preparing for a week of celebration and mourning as we remember the life of President George H.W. Bush. Tomorrow his body will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, and the final goodbye will be Thursday in Texas.
Here's what former Secretary of State James Baker remembers about Bush's final day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He opened both eyes, he looked at me and said, hey, Bake, where are we going today? And I said, well, hefe, I said, we're going to heaven. He said, good, that's where I want to go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: To be with his beloved Barbara. I'll talk to Neil Bush, George H.W. Bush's son, about his father's life and legacy in just a moment.
But first, we start with a CNN exclusive. Exactly two months after "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, we are learning new details about the growing animosity between the journalist and the Saudi crown prince in the days and months leading up to Khashoggi's murder.
CNN has obtained hundreds of text messages Khashoggi sent before his death, criticizing Mohammed bin Salman, calling him a beast and saying, quoting now, "something needs to be done," end quote. Even discussing the possibility of an electronic army of fellow critics.
These messages are coming to light as the "Washington Post" and "Wall Street Journal" report on messages the crown prince sent in the hours leading up to and after Khashoggi's murder to a senior aide who allegedly oversaw the assassination.
CNN's Nina dos Santos joins us now from London with more on this.
Nina, tell us more about your exclusive reporting.
NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN EUROPE EDITOR: Well, Fredricka, thanks very much. And we all know that Jamal Khashoggi was famous for his public criticisms of Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, indeed even compared him in one of his columns to Vladimir Putin of Russia. But the real question has always been was he engaged in some more dissident type activity? Was he indeed funding some of this activity?
Well, this exclusive cache of WhatsApp conversations that we have obtained sheds light on that very question.
DE SANTOS (voice-over): These are words you won't have read in Jamal Khashoggi's columns. Instead, they are WhatsApp messages never seen before sent by Khashoggi in the year before his death. They lay bare his disdain for Saudi Arabia's crown prince, saying, quote "He is like a beast, like Pacman. The more victims he eats, the more he wants." In another, "May God rid us and this nation of this predicament."
The words were exchanged with Omar Abdulaziz, a fellow critic in exile in Canada.
OMAR ABDULAZIZ, SAUDI DISSIDENT: He believes that MBS is the issue, is the problem. And someone has to tell him that, you know, you have to be stopped.
DE SANTOS (on camera): Talk like this is dangerous for those from a country as one of the world's worst records for human rights. And it wasn't just political views of the pair was trading, but plans to hold the Saudi state to account, creating an army of so-called cyber beast on social media, leveraging Khashoggi's name and the 340,000 strong Twitter following of his confidant.
ABDULAZIZ: In the beginning, it was a bit difficult for us to have this kind of relationship. For me I was a dissident. And he was a guy who worked for the government for almost 35 years.
DE SANTOS (voice-over): Khashoggi pledged funds and Abdulaziz bought the hardware, hundreds of phones, SIM cards to send back home, enabling dissidents to avoid detection.
In one message, Abdulaziz writes, "I sent you a brief idea about the work of the electronic army." "Brilliant report," Khashoggi replies. "I will try to sort out the money. We have to do something."
(On camera): How much money did he originally say he would commit to the project?
ABDULAZIZ: He said $30,000.
DE SANTOS: $30,000 U.S.?
DE SANTOS: How dangerous is a project like that in Saudi Arabia?
ABDULAZIZ: You might be killed because of that or might be jailed. They might send someone to assassinate you.
DE SANTOS (voice-over): Just like Khashoggi, Abdulaziz believes that he was also targeted after two Saudi emissaries were dispatched to Canada, he says, last May to coax him into the embassy there. He made these secret recordings of their meetings and shared them with CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have come to you with a message from Mohammad bin Salman. I want you to be reassured. We don't have to approach someone from an official department or the state security. The Saudi Arabian embassy awaits you.
DE SANTOS: When Abdulaziz refused, they got to him another way, hacking his phone, according to a lawsuit Abdulaziz filed this week against the Israeli firm behind the spyware.
[16:05:01] When the pair's plans were discovered, Khashoggi panicked. "God help us," he wrote.
(On camera): How much of a target did that make both of you?
ABDULAZIZ: The hacking of my phone played a major role in what happened to Jamal. I'm really sorry to say that. We were trying to teach people about human rights, about freedom of speech. And that's it. This is the only crime that we committed.
DOS SANTOS: Well, Fredricka, that's just a snippet of some of the material that my producer and I have been sifting through over the last two weeks, including 10 hours of conversations when those two Saudi emissaries allegedly tried to coax Omar Abdulaziz into the embassy there in Canada.
And what's interesting about those conversations is that repeatedly they also bring up the same name of the Saudi royal adviser that "The Wall Street Journal" and "The Washington Post" is referring to today in those reports that suggest that Mohammed bin Salman was in frequent contact with an adviser of his, this specific individual, at the time when Jamal Khashoggi was killed.
All of these events that we're bringing you happening four months before Khashoggi was targeted after entering that consulate in Istanbul.
WHITFIELD: And now, Nina, his colleague there who talked to you, does he at all fear for his life after having have this interview with you, divulging this kind of information?
DOS SANTOS: That's a very good question. Yes, indeed. He's currently under the protection of the Canadian authorities. He's had to move out of his accommodation and live in a hotel in a secret location. And of course, remember that between the time frame when Jamal Khashoggi was in frequent text message contact with this individual, flitting between various encrypted type of messaging applications, I should say, not just WhatsApp, signal, telegram as well, and the time when Jamal Khashoggi tragically lost his life, we should also remember that Canada had a very high-profile diplomatic rift with the government of Saudi Arabia precisely because of their treatment of dissidents back inside Saudi Arabia -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right. Nina Dos Santos, thank you so much for that reporting.
All right. Despite all the mounting evidence, top Trump administration officials insist there is no direct evidence linking the Saudi crown prince to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer sat down with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the sidelines of the G20 Summit for an exclusive interview. And here's what Pompeo had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you believe the Saudi explanation that the Saudi crown prince did not know about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: 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 to try and learn, to make determinations about what happened. And we'll 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 very important, are doing everything we can to make sure that 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.
BLITZER: Because you have said that -- and you're a former CIA 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 that is 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, and it is the statement that we are making publicly today.
BLITZER: So the bottom line is that the U.S. is going to continue to maintain the same relationship, strategic cooperation with Saudi Arabia right 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 the Ayatollah Khomeini who killed hundreds of Americans, Wolf. They're an enormous support to us. They're a relationship that has mattered for 70 years across Republican and Democrat administrations alike. That remains an important relationship. And we're aiming to keep that relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. Meanwhile, a curious conversation between the French president and the Saudi leader caught on video. The conversation between the two men happening on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Emmanuel macron reportedly telling Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman or MBS, I am worried. I'm quoting now, "I am worried," and quote, "You never listen to me," end quote.
It's important to note that we don't know the context of these comments.
[16:10:03] Joining us now to discuss is Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."
Fareed, good to see you. So what do you make of this exchange between Macron and MBS? I mean, they are out in the open, but at the same time, having a very private conversation and this camera nearby was able to pick up some of the audio, some of which has been translated that way as I've just mentioned.
What do you think?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, Fredricka, you put it very well in the sense that, you know, we're reading tea leaves here. But it's fair to say that Emmanuel Macron has really taken on the role of the kind of moral leader of the West, the spokesman for liberty, democracy, the liberal international order that Donald Trump has essentially forsaken.
And so it wouldn't surprise one if, in fact, Emmanuel Macron, President Macron was there telling him that, you know, MBS needed to be more forthcoming, more transparent, perhaps, you know, scolding him in a sense because that is something Donald Trump most resolutely will not do with any leader he likes.
We saw the same pattern, and this is why it's possible that what we caught on audio is reflected. We saw the same pattern with Vladimir Putin. President Trump has, you know, famously never had an unkind word to say of Vladimir Putin. And yet Emmanuel Macron days after he was elected president had a joint press conference with Putin and directly at the press conference in full public view, reprimanded him, scolded him, asserted that Russia was doing things in Ukraine that were unacceptable, that they interfered -- that the interference in Western democracy through cyber attacks was unacceptable.
So all the kind of things that, you know, again traditionally the American president has done President Macron has been doing. So it wouldn't be surprising if Macron decided to extend that to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well.
WHITFIELD: All right. And then from that audio, what's being deciphered is based on they're both speaking English in what is being picked up in that videotape. And so many have been listening intently to see, you know, what more is being said. Meantime also at that G20, you know, there is that image of MBS and then Russian President Vladimir Putin interacting there. I mean, a high five, a very friendly handshake there. What does that say to you about their relationship?
ZAKARIA: Well, look, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is not going to care whether or not Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of a journalist. I think it's fair to say that President Putin has done similar things himself. And so if anything, I mean, there's a certain kind of camaraderie, which you see expressed there. I don't know what it was about, of course. But, you know, more broadly, Russia has never had a problem with governments that violate human rights.
China has never had a problem with governments that violate human rights. It is the United States that has been the world's leader on these kinds of matters. So it doesn't surprise me at all that Putin would be glad to see Mohammed bin Salman. For him, if anything, it means that they might be able to forge some kind of stronger relationship.
WHITFIELD: Yes. And talk to me about the setting there and say, the G20, while there may be orchestrated meetings, there are also opportunities in which many leaders see each other, catch each other's eye, and decide to have a little bit of chat. We know that Trump leading into it had canceled a planned meeting with Putin but now reportedly apparently they may have had a moment together.
You know, what is the kind of opportunity that leaders would take in a setting like this, even if it's a sideline, you know, broach?
ZAKARIA: Well, that's again exactly it, Fredricka. It's the side meetings, it's the informal conversations. The actual G20 can be a very boring conference because of too many countries. You know, it's not actually just 20. They have a whole bunch of invited countries. So you're talking about, you know, between presidents and secretaries of state and such, you know, about 100 people in the room. People are essentially making speeches. But in the sidelines, you can have real conversations. You can have real diplomacy take place.
WHITFIELD: That can be the real breakthrough moment sometimes.
ZAKARIA: Absolutely. And in many cases, that's where you manage to get to -- you can see that. You know, Mohammed bin Salman and Macron one on one, Putin and MBS one on one. We don't have any reports that President Trump used that forum for that purpose, but he may well have.
WHITFIELD: All right. Fareed Zakaria, thank you so much. Always good to see you.
And of course, you don't want to miss CNN's special report with Fareed tonight. "PRESIDENTS UNDER FIRE: THE HISTORY OF IMPEACHMENT." Fareed investigates impeachment and what could happen when the U.S. really needs to use it. That's tonight right here on CNN starting at 9:00 Eastern Time.
All right. Straight ahead, President George H.W. Bush meant a lot to so many people, but to some, he was just dad.
[16:15:05] Next we'll talk to his son Neil Bush about his late father and what his legacy means for him and for our country.
And former FBI director James Comey agrees to testify to the House Judiciary but under a few conditions. What are those conditions? And what could this mean for the Russia investigation?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please stand and join in a moment of silent reflection in memory of President Bush and his remarkable service to our country.
WHITFIELD: That moment of silence before today's Houston Texans game is just one of many tributes slated to honor President George H.W. Bush this week. Tomorrow Air Force One will transport President George H.W. Bush's body to the nation's capital. From there, Bush will lie in state at the capitol rotunda until Wednesday morning. There will be a memorial service on Wednesday morning before the body of the late president is returned to Texas.
For more on what we can expect this week, let's bring in CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.
Suzanne, you're there in Houston. What is the itinerary this week?
[16:20:06] SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Fred. Well, it is a beautiful sunny, a quiet day here in Houston, really a day of reflection for many people, many families who have gathered and also are going to church.
We have learned that Air Force 747 plane is now at Ellington Field here in Houston. That is where tomorrow morning the body of President George H.W. Bush will be taken and transported tomorrow morning and then to Joint Base Andrews. It is going to be 4:45 tomorrow when they have the -- at the U.S. capitol rotunda where you will see both the House and the Senate participate in arrival ceremony.
The president will be lying in state there and the public is going to be able to really pay their respects from quite a bit of time here from 8:45 -- I mean, rather, 7:30 that evening, Monday, to 8:45 on Wednesday before the 11:00 ceremony that will take place at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. among family and friends.
And then, Fred, as you had mentioned before, the president will come home, he will come back home to Houston. His body will be flown back, where he'll lie in repose that Wednesday evening, 7:45 to 11:00 in the morning, Thursday morning. And then a second memorial service at the St. Martin's Episcopal Church. And you may recall that is where the late Barbara Bush was memorialized.
And then on to College Station, Texas, at the presidential library, where the president will be buried alongside, side by side, Barbara Bush, and of course their young 3-year-old daughter who died of leukemia, Robin, who is also at that same site -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much, Suzanne Malveaux in Houston.
The 41st president of the United States died at his home in Texas late Friday with family members and dear friends at his side. His final day, even his final moments described as gentle and peaceful. Those words from someone who was there.
BAKER: When I showed up at 7:00 in the morning, one of the aides who assisted him physically said, Mr. President, Secretary Baker's here. And he opened both eyes, he looked at me and said, hey, Bake, where are we going today? And I said, well, hefe, I said we're going to heaven. He said, good, that's where I want to go. Little did I know or did he know, of course, that by 10:00 that night he'd be in heaven.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Former Secretary of State James Baker, who said his best friend, President Bush, often joked that he wanted to live to be 100.
Well, joining me right now from the Bush home in Houston, the president's son, Neil Bush.
First of all, our condolences on the loss of your father. So many people, including yourself, you know, are considering this a real time of celebration, though, for your dad's life. So what are the high points that you keep replaying in your mind right now?
NEIL BUSH, PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH'S SON: First of all, Fredricka, thank you for having me. And I want to express I think on behalf of the entire Bush family our gratitude. My e-mail and messages, you know, have been flooded with offerings of condolences. I'm sure my brothers George and Jeb and Marvin and sister Dara were similarly being inundated with well wishes.
And I want to thank CNN for doing such a wonderful job in paying tribute to my great dad and thank all of those who are kind of offering wonderful stories that reflect a life that was so well lived. So yes, I was blessed to be with my dad, along with other family members and Secretary Baker was right there. Our pastor, the wonderful caretakers who have done such a fabulous job of making sure my dad was comfortable there for his last breath. And it was pretty amazing to see, as we did witness with my mom, that when the body goes limp and there's an empty shell, you know that that spirit and that soul of a great man flew straight up to heaven. And so we're grateful for the offering of condolences, and I'm not grieving. I'm the biggest cry baby in the Bush family. But -- and I'll probably
cry in this interview, but I'm not going to cry in talking about this is a moment of celebration of a life so well lived. He was a great man. My brother Jeb said it beautifully. He's probably the greatest human he'll ever know. I agree with that. And so we're happy today here in beautiful Houston, looking forward to three or four days of great celebration.
WHITFIELD: Well, that's beautiful. You know, and it must be so heartfelt, too, to hear people describe your dad. You know, from -- you know, General Colin Powell saying that he was the perfect American, you know, dedicating his life to service and being so grounded throughout, and his former chief of staff and friend, James Baker, saying they were like brothers. You know, and --
[16:25:06] WHITFIELD: You know, what an honor in his life it was to have such an association with your dad. So what has that been like? What does it feel like to hear so many celebrate your dad, to praise him, to see in him so many special experiences?
BUSH: You know, it's so heartening to hear these wonderful comments. It doesn't surprise me. You know, a lot of people used to ask me what it's like to have a brother and a father become president. When my dad became president, you know, he was my idol anyway. And so it was kind of a fulfillment of an expectation. He was the perfect man to lead our country for the four years he had the privilege of serving.
I love what Secretary Baker said earlier that, you know, in his four years, he accomplished more along with his great team in creating harmony and peace on earth and freedom around the world. And we don't need to tick off all of his accomplishments, but he was a great leader. More importantly, he led with -- in everything he did, he led with love. And he created friendships. He created friendships that benefitted our nation in terms of the diplomacy that he was able to deploy.
He created friendships that were lifelong friendships with those he worked with and those he played tennis with, like Secretary Baker and others. And he clearly is going to leave an indelible legacy with the children that he raised and the grandchildren and great grandchildren that are now coming up. Because all of us have been inculcated with this desire to serve and to give back and to be of service to others and to be respectful. And all of the wonderful qualities that they had and we aspired to be like him. And that's my -- every day I'm going to wake up and think, how can I, you know, be a better man?
WHITFIELD: Wow. He left such an incredible, indelible mark on you and so many. And, you know, we all can't help but admire, you know, your dad and your mom Barbara's commitment to family. It was just so palpable. And, you know, just so clear what was in their heart and the dedication to family. So if there is a, I guess, singular message or, you know, a litany of lessons that your dad tried to teach you and your siblings, what do you suppose that was or what were those lessons? BUSH: I think for me it was this notion of leading with love and
doing for others. And, you know, he counted his blessings and felt privileged to have been successful in his own personal and business life and was able to give in service to others. You know, my dad said that any definition of a successful life must include serving others. He started Points of Light, now the largest organization focused on volunteerism.
And I think his legacy is going to be not only the impact he's had on our family and the culture of service he's created here, but he's put -- kind of blown wind into the sails of a National Service Moment that sees 62 million Americans now volunteering from time to time in their communities. So yes, I'm really -- personally, I think that's going to be one of his most important legacies, and I'm really proud of that.
WHITFIELD: Wow. Well, inspirational. Your dad was also very active and also very humorous. And we've been able to hear all kinds of stories from people in the last, you know, 24 hours, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, you know, who spent a lot of time, you know, with your family. And he actually shared this very humorous story.
BUSH: Yes, he did.
WHITFIELD: And I'd like you to listen to it and hear what you have to say.
BUSH: About the sled?
WHITFIELD: Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, FORMER CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: But it was one day it was snowing up there. And we had this toboggan. And he was trying to teach me how to slide that because I was only used to sledding down with Austrian sleds, which you direct kind of with your feet. And so we went down totally out of control. And of course, we crashed into Barbara Bush, who broke her leg then after that. So that's why he sent me this picture. So we had really a great time up there at Camp David. And like I said, it was a great learning experience, hanging out around him. He was kind of like a mentor and kind of like a father figure at the same time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So it's touching in the end, but, you know, about the whole notion of the crash and your, you know, mom breaking her leg. So is he saying that --
WHITFIELD: He led to the breaking of your mom's leg, or did she break her leg in a different way? Because there are different stories out there. What do you recall?
BUSH: Well, she broke the leg running into it. I wasn't there, but she broke the leg running into a tree. And she -- anyway, so yes, I love hearing that Arnold Schwarzenegger accent. He's such a -- he's been such a good friend. I don't know if it's appropriate, but there's one joke that dad would tell. And it's a little off -- a little racy, Fredricka. Do you think it'd be appropriate?
WHITFIELD: Yes. I'm ready.
BUSH: When he was in the hospital --
WHITFIELD: I'm ready -- we're ready to hear it.
BUSH: OK. This is -- if you have kids in the room, you might want to, you know, have them --
WHITFIELD: All right, kids --
BUSH: You know, turn the sound off. OK.
[16:30:01] So my dad was in the ICU numerous times over the past four years. In fact, the fact that he lived this long really defies nature. And he had a superhuman will to live. And I remember three or four years ago, mom was in the ICU with dad. I was there. A new nurse came into the room.
And this is the same joke he actually played on other nurses, by the way. And he could barely talk. And he said, nurse, are my testicles black? And the nurse was like, you know, a little startled. And she went over and she washed her hands in the sink. She's putting the gloves on. She's about to lift up the sheet to look under, to investigate.
And mom said, hold it, hold it, wait. And Dad said, I said are my test results back? You get it?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, NEWSROOM ANCHOR, CNN: I do, I do.
BUSH: That was a classic. That was a classic George Bush moment, to try to bring levity at a time when he was down and almost out, just typical of my father.
WHITFIELD: That says so much about him. We're so grateful that you shared that story. Neil, what a pleasure and honor to talk to you, of course, all of our hearts are with you.
BUSH: Can I say one thing, Fredricka, before you go?
WHITFIELD: Yes. BUSH: And that is in the spirit of giving to others, this whole
notion that everyone can be a point of light. I want to thank CNN for hosting the CNN Heroes, which I understand is going to be broadcast on Sunday. I don't know, 8:00, I thought my time. But I hope everybody tunes in and learns lessons from ordinary citizens who do extraordinary things to help others.
We need to take control of our democracy. And everyone has the ability to do something. And by the way, in a divided time in our nation, service unites us in the way that very little, very few other things do. So thank you, CNN, for hosting these amazing awards and recognition. I am really proud and dad was very proud you do that.
WHITFIELD: That's so beautiful. Thank you, Neil. Well, CNN, we're very proud of that. And really, all the efforts that so many put out to give to others but exemplified by your father's service for so many decades, really inspirational. Thank you so much, Neil.
BUSH: All right, all the best.
WHITFIELD: All right. And we'll be right back.
[16:35:00] WHITFIELD: A new twist today in a legal battle between former FBI Director James Comey and House Republicans. Today, Comey agreed to testify before Congress behind closed doors, Comey dropping his legal fight to force the testimony to be in public. Comey tweeting this today, grateful for a fair hearing from judge, hard to protect my rights without being in contempt, which I don't believe in.
So will sit in the dark, but Republicans agree I am free to talk when done and transcript released in 24 hours. This is the closest I can get to public testimony, end quote. With me now, Michael Zeldin, who is Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice and a former federal prosecutor, all right, good to see you.
So does Comey have a point there, that while he is going to answer all questions, he's also challenging that committee to say you've got to release the transcript within 24 hours?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Exactly. What Comey wanted was the public testimony. He didn't get it. He didn't have any real way to get it. So in the sense, they compromised. They said we'll take it behind closed doors. We'll have essentially 24 hours to leak what we want to leak, and then there will be a full transcript. It's different in a sense that most Americans are not going to read those transcripts.
So Comey is going to have to say let's refer to the transcripts. But it's better than behind closed doors with no transcript. So they reached an accommodation. The broader question is what do they want to talk to him about. There is nothing there that he hasn't already said that's relevant to the Russia investigation.
WHITFIELD: And reportedly also about Clinton and e-mails, and that he might be asked about that as well. But then what is to be gained? I mean there are only a few weeks left in this Congress before you've got, you know, a new session that begins in January. So what business could be tended to post his testimony in a matter of weeks?
[16:40:04] ZELDIN: Nothing. I think this is political grandstanding, using the criminal justice system. In this case, it's the oversight system sort of as the mechanism. I just think it's wrong. I think that they have all they need to know about the Clinton e-mail. I think America has all it needs to know about the e-mails. They made their decision politically. Why the Republicans in Congress need to do this is just beyond me because it serves no purpose.
WHITFIELD: All right. And then there's the case of Roger Stone, long time Trump adviser. You know this development coming on the same day that, you know, Roger Stone in an interview earlier today said that he did not have any kind of contact with Julian Assange, the Founder of Wikileaks, which, you know, released hacked Democratic e-mails during the 2016 campaign. This was Stone today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: There's no circumstance under which I would testify against the President, because I would have to bear false witness against him. I would have to make things up. And I am not going to do that. I've had no discussion regarding a pardon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It also looks like Mr. Stone was attempting to enlist Mr. Corsi's help in covering for false testimony. So I think the testimony alone is reason for great exposure for Mr. Stone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So essentially, Roger Stone is saying he doesn't know anything. He'd have to actually make things up. And he doesn't want to do that. So he's essentially saying he wouldn't be a good witness.
ZELDIN: Well, I don't think they're talking to him as a witness. I think they're talking to others to determine whether or not his communications with Guccifer 2.0, the Russian organization that we allege did the hacking, and then derivatively Wikileaks, who published those hacks, amount to some criminal conduct. And so I think he hasn't been spoken to because he is the target of an inquiry about whether his conduct violated the law.
And whether he's a good witness or a bad witness is beside the point. If he is going to be a witness against Donald Trump, that's a whole different matter. But yet, we haven't heard their asking about Stone to Trump, just Corsi to Stone.
WHITFIELD: And that he hasn't been interviewed yet by Mueller. Is that peculiar to you?
ZELDIN: Not if he's a target of Mueller's investigation, because typically...
WHITFIELD: And he was asked that and he said, you know, that they haven't spoken within me. Essentially, says there's nothing to try to derive from me.
ZELDIN: Or it means that they are close to deciding that he's a target who will be indicted. And you typically don't bring targets into the grand jury. They, you know, they get to stand outside of it. And the others collateral to them go in and give the evidence. So maybe they're not interested. Maybe he's a target. Mueller will have to tell us in a couple weeks.
WHITFIELD: Hmmm. And if he did have a conversation with Julian Assange, which he is, you know, now denying that he did. What kind of protections might Wikileaks have in this investigation that they may have obtained information, that they may have passed it on or publicized it? Are there protections?
ZELDIN: Yeah, it's a great question. Wikileaks, according to U.S. law enforcement, is a non-state, hostile intelligence service. According to many, it's the First Amendment-protected news organization. If it is a news organization, then they stand like The Washington Post did when it received the Pentagon papers.
WHITFIELD: Is that how Wikileaks defines itself, that it is a news organization? It obtains information and then it is offering as a service some dissemination of information.
ZELDIN: That's right. And they did that with Snowden stuff. And they did that with other classified stuff. And now this is with the hacked stuff. So they view themselves that way. And any prosecutor is going to have to look long and hard to see whether they want to have a First Amendment challenge to any inquiry about them.
And so if Roger Stone is only talking to a First Amendment news protected organization, it's a very much more difficult case for a prosecutor to bring than if they can prove Roger Stone was talking to the hackers, Guccifer 2, and was somehow complicit in that whole scheme.
WHITFIELD: On the heels of Michael Cohen's, you know, plea agreement, Manafort, you know, I guess getting the finger wag that he may not have told, you know, all the truth to the Mueller team. Do you feel like there is some momentum towards any sort of conclusion?
ZELDIN: Good question. It's hard to know. What we don't know, in light of the Cohen revelations this week, is whether or not when Cohen says he believes that if he just held the line and didn't talk honestly. He would have gotten a pardon. If they can prove that that goes back to the President in some way, then Mueller is nowhere near done, because he has to investigate still the question of whether or not the President of the United States obstructed justice, tampered with a witness.
[16:44:51] If that is not true, if that's just Michael Cohen's hope, aspirations, you know, Son of Sam messages in his head, then, you know, Mueller may be a little closer to the end.
WHITFIELD: All right, Michael Zeldin, always good to see you, thanks so much, and especially in person, always a treat. ZELDIN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Thank you. All right, coming up, President Trump and China pump the brakes on higher tariffs after talking at the G20. What other agreements did the President make after meeting with world leaders, more on that next.
WHITFIELD: We're following a significant breakthrough in the escalating trade war between the U.S. and China, the leaders of the world's two largest economies reaching a temporary truce. President Trump and President Xi Jinping cooling tensions during a highly anticipated dinner at the end of the G20 summit in Argentina, CNN's Sara Westwood joins us now from the White House.
[16:50:04] So Sarah, President Trump is, you know, back in Washington after his busy, you know, week on the road. What can you tell us about his latest development with China, which he really promises could be big if it's confirmed?
SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, CNN: That's right, Fred. Both President Trump and President Xi are expressing optimism that they may have found a path forward for these trade talks that had for months stalled. They met for 2 1/2 hours over dinner at the G20 Summit. And President Trump says that he'll now delay raising tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Those goods are already subject to 10 percent tariffs.
The President had planned to raise those tariffs to 25 percent come January 1st. But he says he will wait to do that, because China has agreed to increase substantially its purchase of agricultural goods, energy products, and other goods, all in an effort to reduce the trade imbalance between China and the U.S. that Trump has spent years railing against.
Now, the President obviously has focused on trade for a long time and the issues that prompted him to impose tariffs against China in the first place. Those remain unresolved, like China's practice of intellectual property theft, its industrial subsidies, its alleged currency manipulation. So even though both President Trump and President Xi are touting this as a breakthrough, Fred, both sides have yet to roll back any existing tariffs, even though both are facing domestic pressure at home over the economic ramifications of their trade war.
WHITFIELD: All right. Sara Westwood, thank you so much from the White House. All right, the top navy commander in the Middle East has died. In a moment, we'll talk to a former rear admiral about what impact his death will have in one of the most strategically important areas of the world.
[16:55:00] WHITFIELD: We're following a developing story. The U.S. Commander in charge of naval forces in the Middle East has been found dead in his home in Bahrain. Officials say there is no evidence of foul play in the death of Admiral Scott Stearney. Stearney was in charge of the fifth fleet, which oversees operations in strategic areas like the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Joining me right now is Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Former Pentagon Press Secretary, Admiral, good to see you, very sad circumstances here. What do we know about the investigation? How do they lead an investigation into this admiral's death?
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST, CNN: Well, so when you have an unexpected death like this, and clearly, one where it's a three-star admiral in charge of a numbered fleet. You want to properly investigate it. So you can figure out all the circumstances surrounding that death. The navy came out yesterday and said that there was no foul play apparent, but they still have to go through this investigative process to make sure they fully understand exactly what happened.
And so that they can properly keep the family informed as well and, you know, that they have every bit of access to the information that the investigators do.
WHITFIELD: So he was found in his home in Bahrain. Was he there with his family? Was his family at post with him overseas?
KIRBY: You know I don't know what the family situation was out there. And I don't know if he had any loved ones with him at the time. But again, the investigators will work all the way through this, all the circumstances surrounding it. They'll get to a bottom line. And then the navy is going to transparent about it, Fred. They'll talk to the America people about this just as they will keep the family informed.
WHITFIELD: And then talk to us about his post, you know, being an admiral of this fifth fleet, and where it is in the alignment of, you know, strategy in the Middle East.
KIRBY: It's one of our most important numbered fleets. The fifth fleet is based in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. But as you rightly pointed out at the beginning, they don't just control U.S. naval operations in the Persian Gulf. It's the Red Sea. It's the Gulf of Oman, that whole area in the upper Indian Ocean. And it's very strategic. A lot of oil traffic goes in and out of the Strait of Hormuz.
And you have piracy that's still a bit of a problem off the coast of West Africa. So there's a lot going on right now. I can tell you that even though this death has no -- I am certain it's rattled the men and women on his staff and the sailors in the fifth fleet. It won't have an impact on their mission. The deputy commander has already stepped up, and he's in charge. The navy is sending a new three star admiral to be the interim commander.
The fifth fleet will not miss a bell. They will continue to conduct the vital missions that they need to on behalf of the American people and our allies and partners.
WHITFIELD: Hmmm. All right, very sad news, all right, thank you so much, Admiral Kirby, always good to see you.
KIRBY: You bet, you too.
WHITFIELD: We got so much more straight ahead in the Newsroom and it all starts right now. All right, hello again, everyone. Thanks so much for being with me this Sunday. I am Fredricka Whitfield. Right now, the nation is preparing for a week of celebration and mourning as we remember the life of President George H.W. Bush. The Presidential aircraft just landed in Texas.
It will carry Bush's casket to Washington, D.C., where the former President will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol starting tomorrow. Here's what former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker remembers about Bush's final day.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He opened both eyes. He looked at me and said, hey, Bake, where are we going today? And I said, well, we're going to heaven. He said good. That's where I want to go.
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