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U.S. Nation Mourns 41st President at Service Today; Three former aides of George H.W. Bush Pay Their Tribute; Dignitaries Arrive at National Cathedral for the Funeral Service of Late George H.W. Bush. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 5, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:18] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: At the U.S. capital, a final salute to the 41st president of the United States is about to begin.

This is CNN's special coverage of the state funeral of George Herbert Walker Bush.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with Jake Tapper, as we await an extraordinary moment of mourning and unity in a divided Washington. Right now President Bush's flag-draped casket is inside the U.S. capitol rotunda. It will be carried down the capitol steps soon, the first of many solemn rituals on this day.

We'll watch as the motorcade travel down Pennsylvania Avenue, passed the White House where Bush 41 served as vice president and then president. And on to Washington's National Cathedral there the Bush family will join with U.S. and world leaders, friends and bitter rivals to celebrate George Herbert Walker Bush's 94 years of life and his legacy.

Jake, this service will be exactly as President Bush would have wanted.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that's right. He planned it for years. The president who said that famously he wanted a kinder, gentler nation, made sure in fact that the current commander-in-chief would be at his funeral despite their considerable differences in both policy and personality.

It's hard to overstate what a remarkable gathering we're going to see inside the National Cathedral. President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will join all four living former presidents. Obviously George W. Bush and his family. George W. Bush, the son of George H.W. Bush. We'll also see Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.

It will be the first time all of them have been together since January 2017 the Trump inauguration. And for political junkies and the public, the body language should be fascinating, although it's anticipated that partisan politics and differences will be set aside for this moment, especially for the moment when Bush 43, George W. Bush, eulogizes his father and we expect this to be very emotional and personal for him. He's not going to be talking about necessarily moments of import beyond George H.W. Bush, the family.

BLITZER: Yes. This is understandably so very emotional. This is a son speaking about his dad. It will be powerful.

Let's get some more on what we can expect in the immediate hours ahead. Chris Cuomo is over at the National Cathedral for us. He's with Jamie Gangel and Dana Bash. They have new details on what we will see and hear at this historic funeral -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You know, and this is historic on a lot of levels. One that's not as important but people should know, with all these presidents and dignitaries here, the security is unusual here, unusual in its depth, its breadth, its timing. So that's going to be part of it today. We may see some delays as a result this morning but it's certainly worthwhile given the import of everybody they need to keep safe here.

And the memorializing of this president, which will take place in phases, is going to start here, though, with this. You're going to hear from three different people today. Jon Meacham, former Senator Alan K. Simpson and of course the president's son and President 43 himself, George Bush.

What are they going to say? Jamie Gangel has new information for us about that. No easy task to eulogize a father.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Especially for his son and, remember, his favorite moment was when he spoke right after 9/11 right in this cathedral and his father leaned over and touched his hand.

I've been told that President George W. Bush's speech will be very emotional. It will not be about his father, the statesman. It will be about his father. I know people who have read the speech, and they could not get through it without crying. So I think that's going to be a very moving moment.

Then we're going to hear from his biographer, Jon Meacham, who will talk about the man, his character, from former prime minister, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who will talk about the statesman, the global leader. And finally, get ready, hold on. Senator Alan Simpson, former senator from Wyoming who is one of his dearest friends, who we all know is very funny.

We may have some blue material. They loved to laugh, those two men. They loved to joke. So I think he will go where no man will -- has gone before in the cathedral.


CUOMO: Just part of the trick for the president. For President 43 is, how do you deal with the pain of loss of the man who made you? When you're lucky enough to have a father like President George Bush had in its own father, not just sharing names but sense of service and a formation of your core character.

GANGEL: Correct. [09:05:07] CUOMO: To balance that pain of loss, you know, the

expression, a man doesn't -- a boy doesn't become a man until he loses his father, it doesn't matter what age you are, to balance that with letting people into that sense of humor, you know, the mirth around it, the fun, it's going to be hard because he's going to be trying to hold it together.

I really don't believe age or stage of life matters in a moment like this. So it will be a really difficult thing. And I think that's part of our processing, to see one president struggling with their emotions.

GANGEL: No question. There is also going to be one other very emotional moment. President Bush loved music. He went to "Hamilton" this summer. He loved musicals. His favorite, Ronan Tynan, is going to be singing one of the tenors, his favorite song, "The Last Full Measure of Devotion." And I just want, for those who don't know, he asked Ronan Tynan to come to see him, his last day, Friday, and sing "Silent Night" to him right before he passed away.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wow, wow. And the other dynamic that is going to be impossible to keep our eyes off of is the Trump dynamic, the fact that he is going to be in this cathedral with these former presidents watching and listening to somebody be eulogized and memorialized and celebrated who President Trump, let's be honest, has spent the last two or three years attacking pretty much everything that George H.W. Bush held dear when it comes to the U.N., our international organization, the CIA, which has George H.W. Bush's name on the building.

GANGEL: "Points of Light."

BASH: "Points of Light." Not only his slogan, but his charity. And his children, you know, his children George W. Bush and of course Jeb Bush, who was his rival. And yet, and yet, what you have seen over the past two, three days and what we will see and hear is all of his offspring, all of the people who learned from him trying to channel him, trying to rise above it, trying to be better than that, and trying to, you know, appeal to the greater good, appeal to the gentile side of the politics that is gone.

And that contrast is going to be really, really phenomenal. And watching the way the Bushes are going to try to do that despite what you know is going on inside.

CUOMO: Right.

GANGEL: What would 41 do.

BASH: Right.

GANGEL: Is the mission this family has been given.

CUOMO: Right.

GANGEL: And how they're going to behave with President Trump. CUOMO: And look, such a party loyalist. That George Herbert Walker

Bush was. He said everything he needed to say about this dynamic when he said he was voting for Hillary Clinton. You know, that part of it was taken up. And, you know, I had a family member last night ask me to, you know -- ask me to promise that I would try to make this day in terms of reporting in a manner of perspective about remembering how things are done right. Don't dwell on --

BASH: Yes. And that's --

CUOMO: -- when it's done wrong.

BASH: But that's the whole point of having --

CUOMO: That will take care of itself.

BASH: Exactly. That's the whole point of 41 and his children having President Trump here, having Melania here, having that moment of the way it's supposed to be, a sitting president with former presidents, honoring and memorializing a late president.

GANGEL: Respect for the office.

BASH: Exactly.

GANGEL: George Herbert Walker Bush never went into the Oval Office without putting on a jacket. That tells you.

CUOMO: That's it. The man is the metaphor.

So we see people are arriving now. They're all ready. A lot of people inside the cathedral here. Let's bring it back to Anderson there.

Anderson, we'll be watching here and letting you know who we see as they file in. But for now to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Chris, thanks very much.

We just saw Bob Kraft from the New England Patriots, the owner, entering the cathedral. We're seeing people getting off busses.

John King, this is really the first state funeral since 2006. We really -- it is very rare to see an assemblage like this in this nation's capital.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Twelve years since we said farewell to an American president with the same cathedral of course. And to your point about -- we're watching the former Democratic House leader Tony Coelho just walking into the building. We have had. The question is, how long will it last. But we have had and for this day we will have a remarkable again show of bipartisanship, respect for tradition, respect for history and respect for this president to his family.

And I believe we have smarter people than I at the table. Doug Brinkley included. And history I think is growing to appreciate even more. The family thinks he's under appreciated. If you think back to those days, we live in an age now where we, you know, every morning there are 10 or 12 tweets that may disrupt this town. And that's our definition of disruption today.

But you think about today, is George H.W. Bush was president, and I think that's one of the things you see. I visited the capital yesterday briefly and people have been talking about it, and remembering those days. Yes, he was only a one-term president, but in an incredibly consequential time. And to see this, see the tributes, it's interesting.

[09:10:03] And in the program Jamie just went through, George H.W. Bush was a soft spoken person but he loved -- he was funny, very funny. Alan Simpson will speak, right? It'd be a great celebration. And like everyone, I just -- you know, having covered the George W. Bush White House and I know him much better than his father, I'm riveted by that moment because of the way they speak of their dad. Not the president, but the way they speak of their dad and the family. And he will not be able to keep it together.

COOPER: Seeing two former CIA chiefs who are in attendance.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And Anderson, this is also a convening of the president's club.

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: And it's a club that's really strange because nobody asked the other person to join. They all kind of find themselves together in this club. And there is one --


BORGER: Yes. And there is one, you know, member that has been distant from the rest of the club. And that is, of course, Donald Trump. And -- but in doing what George H.W. Bush did, which is inviting him in to this service, he has done in death what he did in life, which is to be a gracious human being. And the two men could not be more different. You know, one was a disruptor, one was a conciliator. And it will be interesting to see how Donald Trump reacts with the members of the president's club around him, most of whom he has not had conversations with at all since he has become president.

COOPER: But it also -- I mean, it says, David, a lot about George H.W. Bush that he would want Donald Trump at his service. Donald Trump is probably antithetical to everything George H.W. Bush lived by and believed in in terms of service, dedicating your life to the service of others, which is what this -- George H.W. Bush from the time, you know, he went to -- he was in Yale and he joined into World War II. He didn't have to do that. His dad didn't want him to do it. Yet he went ahead and did it and was a hero.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and then President Bush 41 the respect for the office of the presidency that he always knew and felt was bigger than himself. Something that this president very often seems not to believe. And you know, as I look at all of this, I think about dynasty and disruption. The Bush political dynasty is what we're seeing unfurled before us because it's not only all those people who worked in the government and the administration of President George H.W. Bush but also his son.

He had a big influence on the Bush 43 administration as well. And yet George H.W. Bush, who cared about the presidency, who really cared about the niceties of politics and public service also is subject to a kind of disruption that was kind of an early foreshadowing of what we've seen. Ross Perot, of course Patrick Buchanan running against him in the primary in 1992, and of course that young upstart from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, who represented a new Democrat and a new generation of leadership.

COOPER: And Mary Kate, I mean, you were a speech writer for the president from 1989 to 1992. It is kind of fascinating watching the assembly where all the people who have come, all the people who have stood in line to pay their respects, it does sort of harken back to a very different Washington, to a very different time in this country's history, though, it was not so long ago.


COOPER: It seems like, when he is reminded just of sort of politics, you know, obviously politics has always been rough and tumble, and it certainly was with George H.W. Bush. But in retrospect, it seems much more -- I don't know the word, polite. Even though it was rough then.

CARY: Yes.

COOPER: By today's comparison, it seems hardly so.

CARY: You know, I speak to young people all the time about him. And if you're 25 years old or younger, you were born after he left office. And I have children that age. And most of them knew him as W.'s dad, I think. And really don't know much about him. And I think young people can watch today and learn a tremendous amount, even though it wasn't that long ago. As you're saying, it seems like a different era to us, but to them we could all learn a lot.

There is a great line from his inaugural address where the president said, I take as my guide the hope of a saint, which is St. Augustine, even though he doesn't say it, in crucial things unity, in important things diversity, in all things generosity. And I think that could be a theme for today that we'll see the unity that he is inspiring in the nation right now. The diversity of people from all walks of life coming to celebrate him and the generosity of his own personal spirit.

COOPER: There is Rudy Giuliani, obviously, as he heads into the cathedral and obviously President Trump will be arriving shortly as well for this service.

We're going to take a short break. We're waiting for the historic reunion of all the living presidents, including President Trump sitting next to the Obamas and Clintons. And among the VIPs attending today's state funeral, President Bush's medic who saved his life several times and was there right up until the end. He joins us live, next.


[09:15:00] BLITZER: A short break, we're waiting for this historic reunion of all the living presidents, including President Trump sitting next to the Obamas and Clintons. And among the VIPs attending today's state funeral, President Bush's medic who saved his life several times and was there right up until the end. He joins us live next.


BLITZER: Looking at live pictures, others -- there, former Vice President Dick Cheney is already inside of the Washington National Cathedral where everyone is getting ready for this extraordinary state funeral, this memorial service that is getting ready to begin.

You know, Jake, the current president and all four living former presidents and a lot of special guests from here in the United States and around the world will be here.

TAPPER: That's right, dignitaries and former world leaders as well as the four former presidents and the current president. Let's go to Jamie Gangel now, she is with three special guests. they are individuals who were close to advisors, to former President George H.W. Bush, who we are mourning today, including one adviser who was with him to the very end. Jamie.

[09:20:00] GANGEL: The three men with me are personal aides who I think spent more time with him except for Barbara Bush. And did you ever get in trouble with him, the three of you? Did you ever get the look over the glasses?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we did, we're not saying it.

GANGEL: Got it.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Further, there was never a doubt, you knew.

GANGEL: Evan, let me start with you. Evan Sisley, you were his most recent personal aide, and one of the reasons you were picked was because you had a background as a paramedic, and you were the person who after Barbara Bush died, you're responsible for Sully.

You decided the president --

EVAN SISLEY, PERSONAL AIDE TO LATE FORMER GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH: Yes -- GANGEL: Talk to me about how important Sully was in those final days.

SISLEY: This was -- we ended up taking a look at a couple of studies, and showed that elderly patients do really well, they have a sense of purpose with a dog in their life, and that was a big drive for us. I also think honestly, the dog was probably just good for the family as it was for him.

Came with two pages full of tasks he was able to perform. But more than anything, I think it brought everybody together. It was something joyous in the room.

GANGEL: The joke was he could do everything but make Martini --

SISLEY: Yes, I couldn't get that right, that's right.

GANGEL: On a more serious note, I know you would be too modest to say this, but you really were responsible for all the medical care, day in and day out around him. You helped save his life several times. You were there the last day with him. Talk to me about what that was like.

SISLEY: Well, so as a medical provider, I wouldn't want to go into too much specifics, especially with medical care. But what I would say is that he was surrounded by the people who loved him the most in life, his family. Secretary and Mrs. Baker were there.

This was a guy who didn't have any quit. He fought his entire life and to see him, I think he became comfortable in the end. There is a story that Secretary Baker was saying that, he said "Bake, where are we going in the morning?" Then he died. And president -- and Secretary Baker responded "we're going to heaven", he said, well, that's where I want to go.

So he was comfortable, he knew where he was going, he was surrounded by the best people. And right, we would all be so lucky to be able to have that as our way to go out.

GANGEL: Tommy?


GANGEL: Going back in time, you spent a lot of time with President Bush traveling all over the world during what I would call the Bill Clinton buddy years.


GANGEL: Was the friendship as real as it seemed to be?

FRECHETTE: Absolutely. So they didn't have much relationship -- professional relationship before 2004, but after the horrible events of the tsunami in 2005, President Bush asked both the presidents to come together and help raise awareness and raise capital. And they sadly had to do it later in the year for Hurricane Katrina, as Katrina and the tsunami.

And they raised hundreds of millions of dollars to do it, but that bringing these two guys together was a message both in the U.S. and throughout the globe. We had some heads of state in southeast Asia say to us, what you two are doing, we couldn't have done in our own country, so it's really impressive.

But one thing they make you do is they make you go out and actually see the destruction, so you can come back and report on it and then help raise the awareness. And the -- when they got on the plane, there was essentially Air Force 2 that they were using, and there was one bedroom.

And President --

GANGEL: One bedroom, two former presidents --

FRECHETTE: Two former presidents. So President Bush of course gets on and says, President Clinton, I want you to have this. And President Clinton with great deference says, you know, I'm 20 years your junior. You're going to stand there. But President Bush goes into his room and he brings out some of the luggage he had, which was a roll-up mattress, and he went out and put it in the hallway --


FRECHETTE: Put the pillows and mat, yes, blankets on there for him, and I think that was the start of this relationship. And every year it seems --

GANGEL: President Bush once said to me, he talks a lot. And President Clinton said, I think he thinks I talk too much. They were funny together.

FRECHETTE: They were -- they constantly teased each other, but it was respectful. In many ways, I think President Clinton viewed it as President Bush is somewhat of a fatherly figure. And you know, he would reach out to him, say personal things.

But he would come up to me every Summer and he would spend the night and they go golfing or they go for a boat ride. And there was nothing on the agenda, it was, how is your family? How's life? You know, here we are with friends. And that's how it was until this last Summer, and it's always been. So --

GANGEL: President Clinton never missed an opportunity to say I love George Bush, and he really did.

FRECHETTE: Yes, he did --

GANGEL: He really did.

FRECHETTE: It was for real.

[09:25:00] GANGEL: Gian-Carlo, go back in time for me a little bit more and talk to me a little bit about this staff, this Secret Service. You guys, you really did love him. I mean, the outpouring of emotion and loyalty has been quite something.

GIAN-CARLO PERESSUTTI, FORMER AIDE TO THE LATE FORMER GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH: Absolutely, I mean, you know, I've had the opportunity to speak about President Bush over the last couple of days, and I always tell the story that people would say to me, how fortunate I was to get to work for a former president, and they were right.

But where I was really fortunate was getting to work for one of the best human beings I know I'll ever meet on this earth, someone who did the right thing ten out of ten times, who was humble and kind and brought everyone up that was around them.

He was just a joyful person. And that transcended the attitude, the culture of our office. Loyalty is a two-way street, and George Bush got loyalty from the people that worked for him because he gave it, and he showed it every day. Whether it was the staff, whether it was the Secret Service, whomever he came into contact in life, he demonstrated that and was a living example of it.

GANGEL: I think you told me on the phone, Secret Service agents have been calling former Secret Service agents who wanted to pay their own way just to come and stand to wave.

SISLEY: That's right --

PERESSUTTI: I mean, literally, all of us have received messages where they said, how can I go? Will -- they don't live in D.C. or Houston and they -- so let's --

GANGEL: They just want to be there and pay their respects --

PERESSUTTI: One of the agents wrote a piece that I read online that was beautiful, and it'd be basically articulated, this is why the Secret Service loves President Bush and the Bush family. And he gets into some of the detail that I mentioned about the respect that he showed to them, whether it was rearranging family schedules so agents didn't have to be apart from their families over holidays --

GANGEL: On Christmas and new year --

PERESSUTTI: On Christmas, right, or the famous story, and Tommy, you can speak to this about the child of a Secret Service agent who is battling cancer.

FRECHETTE: Oh, God, he --


FRECHETTE: Two-year-old boy --


FRECHETTE: Who has leukemia and the detail shaves her head, and as soon as he sees it, he says get him in here, I'm doing this --

GANGEL: And he shaves his head -- FRECHETTE: And just emotional.

GANGEL: Two words, very quick. Best advice he ever gave you, Gian- Carlo?

PERESSUTTI: To live by example.

GANGEL: Live by example. Tommy?

FRECHETTE: Marry my wife.

GANGEL: That's good! Evan?

SISLEY: Can't sum it up in two words, but when I told him I was looking at med school, he said it would be good training. It would be a good resume builder. I didn't understand what he meant.


What he saying at the time was keep on pushing, never settle at where you're at in life, always keep going higher. This is a guy who became president in his 70s.

PERESSUTTI: No secret, why we all love him.

SISLEY: Yes --

PERESSUTTI: He's just the greatest man, was --

SISLEY: Ever --

PERESSUTTI: The greatest man.

SISLEY: You can't -- you can't work for that man and not want to just become a better version of yourself.

FRECHETTE: Yes, that's right --

PERESSUTTI: It's a mechanical of what everyone wants to be, and he --


PERESSUTTI: Wasn't. It's just --

SISLEY: So true --

PERESSUTTI: Incredible. So we're all lucky.

GANGEL: Thank you all --

PERESSUTTI: Thank you Jamie --

FRECHETTE: Thank you --

PERESSUTTI: For being here today, thank you. Jake?

TAPPER: Thanks, Jamie.

BLITZER: You know, Jake, we're watching the guests, the invited guests arrive. So many friends, family members we're continuing to watch as other mourners, they gather at the National Cathedral here in Washington. We're also standing by to see the Bush family for the first time today.

TAPPER: There's a lot of anticipation obviously for the moment when President Trump enters the National Cathedral to join the funeral service, he'll join four past presidents, three of whom he hasn't had any contact with as president. One of whom George W. Bush, he has had only cursory contacts. We'll have much more of our special coverage ahead. Stay with us.