Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Train Carrying Bush Casket on Journey to Final Resting Place; North Carolina GOP Open to New Election Amid Fraud Claims. Aired 3:30- 4p ET

Aired December 6, 2018 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] MARY KATE CARY, SPEECHWRITER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: The outpouring that we saw last night at Saint Martins, 12,000 people going through St. Martins last night overnight.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The Episcopal Church where they had a memorial service for him this morning.

CARY: A tremendous -- it's really very moving. As we were saying, I went through the Capitol just by myself and saw the condolence books there. The lines were massive. It goes to what Jim Baker said, that what's best about him is what's best about America. He would say this is too much about me. He would say this is about America. And I think that's what people are standing up for.

I was flipping through the books inside.

BLITZER: The presidential library.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The entrance to the library is how they've set up the main foyer where you walk in as a memorial. And there are photographs of his career all around the top. They're breathtaking. Barbara and George Bush on bikes, in China with Chairman Mao behind them -- a portrait of Chairman Mao.

But in the books and just flipping through them, and some of them are signed by members of the military who list their ranks. Some of them just signed by everyday Americans. Some just signed by children, misspellings and scribbles over four or five lines. I have a 7-year- old. I know how that goes. It's just so touching. I was just flipping through them as just so moving that people wanted to just stop and take a few minutes and leave a paragraph or sentence. Some notes were a little bit longer. It's quite touching. And as you go deeper in, they've redone a section of the library to pay tribute to Barbara Bush since her passing and there are still condolence books there.

And to your point about Robin. What struck me, all the memories of this couple and George H.W. Bush's career. You say it's a portrait they had at their home. It's a copy of a portrait, oil painting of Robin, of this beautiful, beautiful girl right there in the middle of the library. It just stops you in your tracks that she was such a part long after they lost her, such a part of their life.

BLITZER: Certainly was. And there we see the train making its way to where we are, College Station, Texas. Stephanie Elam is on one places that's going to be going by. Stephanie, first of all tell our viewers where you are and what you see over there.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are in Navasota. So, we are getting to where you are, Wolf, but we are standing here in this really quaint town here in Texas. Where you can see people are lined up with their umbrellas because it's raining. I want to introduce you to my new friend here, this is Billy, along with Mary and Kaitlin. Mary, why do you feel so important about bringing Billy out here today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Bush -- I'll be 40 in January. He was the first president that I really remember. Yes, it' important for him to know about our American history.

ELAM: And Billy, what are you looking for when the train gets here? What you want to see?

BILLY: I want to see number 41, 41. He was the 41st president. I love President Bush.

ELAM: So, you're out here and you're going to stand out here in the rain no matter what, right?

BILLY: Yes ma'am.

ELAM: All right, so I think we heard a horn just now, Wolf, so I think it's getting closer to us. It's not quite here yet. But definitely what your sensing about people felt it was important to come out here, bring their kids out here. They're coming out of school a little bit early and just a to be here to witness this moment in history. You don't see it a lot. Where you see former a former President going to his final resting place by train and people wanted to see that. They know that President Bush love the train, loved writing this route. And so, that is why so many people are saying that they wanted to be here today. So, I think he's getting close. We'll keep our eyes on the rails here.

BLITZER: I want to see it once it comes to where you are, Stephanie. And I love that little boy. He's obviously very, very intelligent. He knows all about President Bush. So, that's really, really encouraging the next generation learning about our American history. Stephanie, let us know when the train really gets there because I want our viewers to see what's going on in that location. The train is clearly not going to stop. It's going to continue coming to where we are, the final stop, which is College Station, Texas. No, Dana, it's so sweet to see little kids like that -- obviously, he was not even alive when he was president -- but to speak about the 41st President.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And telling that his mother -- obviously a Texan -- talking about the fact that it was the first president that she knew about as a young girl and wanted to pass this on. And had this snapshot of history embedded in her son's mind, which he will forever. And just quickly, back to what you can see back in this library, talked about Barbara Bush and obviously there's an area that is dedicated to her and her literacy, but also an area for children. Because the focus of the Bush family so much is children and a place for kids to kind of run around a little bit -- a little mini White House and leave. A lot of books in there for kids to come in and read not just about them but about other things that were important to the Bushes.

BLITZER: And it's so nice to see all these Texans lining up, Mary Kate, to try to get a glimpse. They've got their cameras, they're taking a little picture. But it's an important moment for them.

CARY: Yes. And I think there are a lot of adults who have done things like this as children who remember it the rest of their lives.

[15:35:00] BASH: Absolutely.

CARY: When President Bush first got in office, he had all the speech writers come in and he was telling us who his favorite presidents were and who to quote. And one of them was Eisenhower. And I believe, if I read it correctly, that the last president to have a train with his casket on it was Eisenhower. And I wonder if that was part of why President Bush thought of this as his own nod to President Eisenhower.

BLITZER: Looks like that train is getting closer and closer to where Stefanie Elam is. Stephanie, if you can still hear me, are you hearing the sounds of the train yet? I guess Stephanie can't hear me. But she will. Will make sure --

BASH: Maybe the train was too loud.

BLITZER: The train can be very loud over there, but I'm sure she'll hear me eventually. We'll get back to her and will see this train coming in past that little town here in Texas as it gets closer and closer, once again, to where we are. I think, John, it's still about at least an hour away from College Station.

KING: You're watching -- they just passed. You see the folks on the sidelines. We just came with the tail end of what was a bruising election year. We're saying farewell to an American person President in some ways of a different era. The cable TV era was just beginning. There wasn't a social media era.

But one of the things we do know about our politics, is a lot of people who live-in small-town America feel forgotten. They see the big debates in Washington. They think the country is dominated by Hollywood and New York in the big cities. Even a state like Texas, you think it's Dallas and Houston. So, I think it's refreshing and charming and a tribute to President Bush and his family and the planning of this that they would take this train from Houston -- which in the past 20 years is now the four largest city in the United States. It sprawling and growing -- through these small towns where America -- this is an American moment. We live in the world of days and ours and fierce partisanship. I suspect by this time tomorrow will be back into the fray. This is an American moment today. And watch a train carrying a President go through small town America is awesome.

BLITZER: Stefanie Elam, I think you can hear me now. It's clearly slowing down, the train, where you are. You beginning to see it, you beginning to hear it? ELAM: We are beginning to hear it, Wolf, you can see the excitement.

You're starting to see the Texas flag starting to get flown again. It's Getting closer because I can hear the blowing of the horn getting closer and closer to us. Folks have their phones out, their iPads out. They are holding them up to get this image, to capture this image. And to echo what John was just saying. It's definitely one of those days where it just feels like a bunch of Americans coming together for this moment in America history to watch this moment. And people are unified in that hear in Navasota. You can feel that vibe here on this little street, right on the train tracks. Still can't hear the train yet. But I can hear it and I can tell it's getting closer. And People are getting excited to see the train, despite the fact that the rain keeps picking up here.

BLITZER: And what's important also is once the train goes by in Navasota, it won't stop. It will continue and move a little bit slower than it does when it's out there away from the towns. You'll see that window where the George H.W. Bush casket is draped in the American flag. And people will have a moment to reflect on this Great American and we've all been thinking a great deal about him over these past several days. And we remember what he achieved throughout his life, going back, dana, to world war II. When he was part of that greatest American generation volunteering for the U.S. Navy at the age of 18, right out of high school. His parents wanted him to go to Yale but he said I'm going to serve my country. It was World War II, became a naval aviator and he became an American hero.

BASH: That's right. And tomorrow is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. And it was that moment he and his entire generation, the greatest generation --

BLITZER: can see that window there with the casket draped in the American flag. You can see it right in the middle of the screen.

BASH: That is really something.

CARY: Good horn.

BASH: To see that from above and to see that image. It's just -- it takes your breath away.

CARY: Yes, it really does.

BLITZER: It looks like that train is getting closer and closer to Navasota right now. But go-ahead finisher your thought, Dana.

BASH: I was going to say that it was this day in history that his generation, they were called to serve and he didn't want, as you've had been talking about any you had conversations with him about, Mary Kate, that he didn't want to go straight to college. He wanted to go and serve. Then he did even though his parents were not thrilled about it. And then it was during one of his many missions in the Pacific as a naval aviator that he was shot down and his two wingmen did make it out and that stayed with him forever. And it's going back to what James Baker said --

BLITZER: Here comes a train in Navasota. Stephanie, if you can hear me, tell us what it's like.

[15:40:00] ELAM: (INAUDIBLE). If you can hear me, it got extremely quiet. It got so quiet as the train arrived. Everyone got very, very quiet. Deferential looking at the train going by here. And there right now in front of everyone here, can you now see where the casket is going by and people are waving their flags. They're waving with their hands. It's actually quite emotional watching people. And you can see the family members up on the top of the train all waving to everybody. Think about it, they been waving now for over an hour under still waving. Just waving at the people here to honor President Bush.

And you can see that as a going to through, more people are raising their flags up into the sky. It is a remarkable site to see this come through here and you can feel it right now. Can you definitely feel it? People were happy to be here despite the weather being the way it is. You can feel it.

BLITZER: Yes, so emotional. And very quickly, Mary Kate, I can only imagine how the Bush family inside the train is reacting when they see all these people lined up in the small towns, waving the American flag, taking pictures, saluting this American president.

CARY: Yes, I think it must be very moving for them. We just so people on top of buildings trying to see this. And this is not a heavily populated part of Texas. So, people clearly drove in for this from other areas. And it must be very moving to see that. I'm sure they were all looking forward, like John said, to exhale and have a bite to eat. I bet they haven't. I bet they're looking out the windows and waving back. Because how could you not react to this.

BASH: Especially if they see I mean, it's hard to see when you're going so fast -- but just the image from Stephanie Elam's vantage point of that one woman who we can see she was overcome with emotion.

BLITZER: Yes.

BASH: And it speaks to what you are saying, John, and what Stephanie was saying, that this is a beautiful American moment. It is just a celebration of somebody who served this country, not just from the White House, but for decades for, you know --

BLITZER: Everybody was overcome with emotion, even Stephanie Elam. She was overcome with emotion as well. All of us have been as we've seen these moments unfold.

We'll take a quick break, resume our special coverage right after this.

[15:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. New today, the head of the North Carolina Republican Party tells CNN that he supports a do-over if allegations of election fraud are proven to be true. The race in question is the ninth congressional district. It's a contest between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris. Harris leads by 905 votes. But someone who worked his campaign is now the focus of this investigation. And our senior investigator correspondent, Drew Griffin, has been closely following this. He is live in Raleigh, North Carolina. And Drew, you talked to Dallas Woodhouse, the state Republican Party chief today. What was he willing to say to you?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's quite a turn of events. Earlier this week, Dallas Woodhouse, the head of the GOP was basically calling all this vote fraud stuff a bunch of malarkey, that they should seek the Republican candidate who won by 905 votes. But over the past three days, myself, a bunch of reporters have been on the ground, uncovering what -- it's slam dunk. It's voter fraud. The question is just how much it is. But there seemed to be a professional ballot stuffing kind of operation going down in Bladen and now Robeson County. And he was watching our report last night and changed his mind. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DALLAS WOODHOUSE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: I was watching it and I immediately went in and threw up. I was very ill. I mean, this has shaken us to the core, and we are as horrified by it as anybody. And, you know, the North Carolina Republican Party never has had a part in these operations. Didn't fund them. Didn't coordinate them. Didn't operate them. Didn't operate them. Didn't know about them. Would never have condoned them.

Clearly if what you reported is verified by the state board of elections, there has to be a new election. And if the allegations as presented by the board of elections rise to a level of turning the outcome in this race or having a substantial likelihood, there has to be a new election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: The state board of elections just on the numbers alone, Brooke, seem to have enough questionable ballots at stake here that it would potentially overturn the 900 votes between the winning Republican and the losing Democrat, but they have not announced any kind of hearing. They're doing it through an investigative process right now.

But again, there is two separate things going on here, the board of elections needs to decide what to do about the actual election of the Congressman from the ninth congressional district. And then you have this criminal investigation that's been going on since January, looking at fellow named McCrae Dowless, who appears to be -- well, he is a convicted felon -- who appears to have gotten a band of employees together to stuff the ballots down in Bladen County. I don't know how else to say it.

BALDWIN: I want to ask about -- this guy with my next guest -- Drew Griffin with the big interview today. Drew, thank you so much.

The "Charlotte Observer" editorial board said the solution to all of this is clear, hold a new election in North Carolina's tainted night district, is how they put it today. [15:50:00] With me now, Taylor Batten. He's the editorial page editor

at the "Observer", North Carolina's largest paper. So, Taylor, thank you so much for being with me. I want to get to your paper's response in a second. But to hear Dallas Woodhouse withdrew there, what did you make of his response?

TAYLOR BATTEN, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER: Well, if Dallas Woodhouse is even opening the door to a new election that says a lot. Because as Drew said, he was adamant in the other direction initially. And so, I think that's just an indication of just how much is gaining steam here, and as more reporting is done, it becomes more and more evident that at the very minimum there are major questions around what happened in Bladen and Robeson counties.

BALDWIN: And so, your paper's position, you want a new election. Tell me why.

BATTEN: Yes, we ran an editorial written by my associate editor, Peter St. Onge, yesterday morning calling for a new election. Because quite simply there's easily enough ballots that could be tainted enough to affect the election. We did not know that initially and so we did not call for a new election right away. But when it became obvious that we were talking about 1,500 absentee ballots that were requested and not returned in Bladen and many more in Robeson County. In a 905-vote race, you know, there are plenty of ballots that need to be reviewed.

In fact, we quickly say this also goes back to the primary. And Robert Pettinger who Mark Harris defeated in the primary, he only lost by 828 votes and loss massively among the absentee votes in Bladen County when absentee ballots in the rest of the district were tied.

BALDWIN: Interesting. Drew brought up this guy's name. McCrae Dowless, the ringleader. As he mentioned, this convicted felon. Who exactly is he, and what was his role here?

BATTEN: Well, we're still learning about him. McCrae Dowless is a political operative in eastern North Carolina. Very well known in Bladen County and in that part of the state. He has been hired by eight or ten political candidates over the years. He is a convicted felon, and he has been paid a good amount of money to help get out the vote. And so, the question is, you know, how exactly did he get out the vote? And there's a lot of reason to think that there were some suspicious dealings there.

BALDWIN: Taylor Batten, keep digging. Thank you.

BATTEN: Will do it.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, we're following the final journey of George H.W. Bush. Live coverage with Wolf Blitzer in Texas as a very special train prepares to pull into College Station, Texas and Texas A&M, his final resting place.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage, a final farewell to the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from College Station, Texas.

[15:55:00] Right now, a train carrying President Bush's casket is nearing the end of a two-and-a-half-hour journey from the Houston area to where we are at College Station, Texas, where President Bush will be laid to rest. And right next to his wife Barbara who passed away in April, and their 3-year-old daughter Robin at the Presidential library here at Texas A&M University. With us here in College Station, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is here. Our chief national correspondent John King, and former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush, Mary Kate Cary.

And Mary, as this train gets closer and closer to where we are, remind our viewers why the Presidential library of President George H.W. Bush is here at Texas A&M University.

CARY: So, you may recall when he was deciding where to have his library, the then students at Yale University, his alma mater, made it pretty clear that they were not happy with the idea of the library being there. So, he started looking around, and since he was living in Houston, Texas A&M came to him and told him that there are six core values that they stand for here, and they're very well publicized all over on banners, excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, self-less service. And that is George Bush. That appealed to him tremendously.

And you can see, for example, the student activities hall here. There's a big sign that says when you come in, please remove your hat out of respect for those who have served our country.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise --

CARY: Amazing.

BLITZER: Are you suggesting that he originally wanted his presidential library at Yale University?

CARY: Everybody assumed it, yes.

BLITZER: And Yale said no.

CARY: Yes, it was the students were protesting, and so, he said, you know what, no problem I can go elsewhere. And he came here. And it's been a great thing. And we see just out of camera range here, the core of cadets, which is huge here, they're all standing at attention in pouring rain waiting for him. And it's because he stands for values that they stand for, too.

BLITZER: The core, that is the ROTC.

CARY: Right.

BLITZER: And you were just inside that Presidential Library and took a little tour. I'm sure the folks here at Texas A&M were pretty happy he decided to put this library here.

CARY: Absolutely. You're on the board so you can answer that question as a hard yes.

BASH: Yes. For the reasons you just said in all seriousness. Not only -- it's a little bit out of the way, College Station. It's not exactly a major metropolitan city, but it is perfect because of all of the virtues that it espoused, even before George H.W. Bush even thought about coming here. But the way that this library is built to support all of those ideals and to -- to give a history lesson of his presidency, of his life, of his family service, of his service, is really -- is really remarkable.

And look, I mean, Presidential libraries across the country, that's what they are there for, and it's great to see. It's great to see that it is very accessible. It's free, and as you were saying, John, right now in the foyer it's a memorial. I mean, there are pictures that are up that we've seen on the air for the last six days. But are up in sort of banner size around the main area with those condolence books which are being signed and will continue to be signed for the late President.

BLITZER: You know, John, as we see the train, Bush 41, 41, that's the name of the train, getting closer to where we are, it will be here fairly soon. There will be an arrival ceremony with full military color guards and all the honors a President of the United States certainly deserves and certainly this President of the United States, but you were just inside.

KING: Yes.

BLITZER: Tell us about a subject close to my heart. They have a replica I understand of the situation room inside, the Bush situation room.

KING: They do indeed. And there are little screens where you can sit down, and it shows you here's the situation. Here are your options, and you pick the option, and then it tells you if -- if you picked the option that President Bush picked. It's one of the many exhibits in the library that take you through the arc of this incredible consequential life. And a life lived in an incredibly consequential time in the country in the sense that you see the young George Herbert Walker Bush at Kennebunkport. Then you see World War II.

There's a giant Avenger aircraft hanging from the ceiling, the replica of the plane he flew and was shot out of in the skies over the Pacific in World War II. And then you move through, and you move from there, to one of the first spy satellites, a replica of a spy satellite had from when he was a CIA chief, hanging from the ceiling above you. So, you go from this hulking Avenger aircraft to a spy satellite and you're coming through the life he lived and the generational and the technological and remarkable changes in the world. There's a giant section of the Berlin Wall which fell, of course on George H.W. Bush's watch and then the Persian Gulf War, the situation room, and then a lot of personal things that are also quite touching about the relationship in the family. But he lived in a consequential life in consequential times from beginning and throughout his presidency.

BASH: We should also say there's also a replica of that train, of 41, 41.

BLITZER: If you have a chance, visit this library. We're going to continue our special coverage. But right now, "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper begins.