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Interview with Mexican Scholar and Public Policy Analyst Viri Rios; Interview with Rivonia Circle Programmes Director Tessa Dooms; Interview with "The Afghans" Author Asne Seierstad; Interview with "The Situation Room" Author, This Week with George Stephanopoulos Host and Good Morning America Co-Anchor George Stephanopoulos. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired June 03, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.


CLAUDIA SHEINBAUM, MEXICO PRESIDENT: Amigas, amigos, muchas gracias por esperarnos.


GOLODRYGA: Mexico elects its first female president in a landslide. But will she bring real change or more of the same? And what does it mean for

relations with the U.S.? We get the latest.

Then --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our people have spoken. Whether we like it or not, they have spoken.


GOLODRYGA: -- history is made in South Africa's elections. After 30 years in power, the African National Congress loses its majority. We look at

what's ahead with Tessa Dooms, head of South African NGO, the Rivonia Circle.

And a closer look at life for women under the Taliban. Asne Seierstad, author of "The Bookseller of Kabul," joins me around her new book, "The


Also, ahead, stories of presidents in crisis. Journalist George Stephanopoulos takes Walter Isaacson inside the White House's Nerve Center

as they discuss his new book, "The Situation Room."

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

It's a breakthrough moment for Mexican women as the nation elects its first female president. Former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum sealing her

place in history as the result was called.

Though her rise is undoubtedly historic, for many she is the continuity candidate. The protege of the popular outgoing president Andres Manuel

Lopez Obrador, also known as AMLO. There are concerns that while she will continue his popular anti-poverty measures, she may also inherit some of

his anti-democratic efforts as well as his failure to reign in violence.

This election season was marred by bloodshed, with dozens of candidates murdered in the last year alone. The president-elect is vowing to confront

such crime, but how? And what will her election mean for the crucial relationship with Mexico's neighbor to the north, the United States?

Joining me now on all of this is Mexican scholar and public policy analyst Viri Rios. Viri, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to the program.

A huge win for the Morena Party, virtually unknown prior to 2018. Obviously, a large part of that attributed to AMLO's popularity. What more

can we expect now from President Sheinbaum and some of her policies as she is expected to step out of his shadows, finally?

VIRI RIOS, MEXICAN SCHOLAR AND PUBLIC POLICY ANALYST: So, the first thing that I'd like to emphasize is that the victory of Sheinbaum is something

that we have never observed in the history of democratic Mexico. She's winning by a 32-point difference. That had never happened before. She

gathered almost 60 percent of the votes and chances are that she's going to win also super majorities in both chambers.

Now, the reason why (INAUDIBLE) to win and her most important mandate is it's to advance labor and social policies that allow Mexicans to increase

their salaries and to reduce poverty levels. The reason why outgoing President Lopez Obrador has been so popular is because he doubled the

minimum wage, he doubled the cash transfer, and also, he caused a historical reduction in poverty and inequality in Mexico.

Now, her main challenge -- Sheinbaum is arriving to a country that does not have enough money. So, her main challenge is going to be fiscal and he's

going to be economic. In order to perform the similar policies to the ones that Lopez Obrador did during his presidency, she's going to have to do a

tax reform. And as you know, tax reforms tend to be unpopular.

Now, a second important challenge is violence too. In the last 15 years, Mexican criminal organizations have diversified their portfolio of criminal

activities, and they have changed from selling drugs to the U.S. to -- selling drugs to the U.S. and performing prostitution performing a very

diversified set of crimes, for example, extortion, racketeering, and many other crimes that affect Mexico. So, Sheinbaum is going to have to face

that crime.


Then finally, I think a third challenge is going to be migration. As you know, there is an increasingly number of Central American immigrants that

are waiting to get into the U.S. in Mexico, right? So, increasingly, you are observing camps of immigrants, not only in the border, but also in the

capital city, in Mexico City, and in many other places of the country. So, she's going to face a challenging environment.

GOLODRYGA: So, this comes -- and I want to get to it in a moment, but just to let our viewers know of news we're expecting to see from President Biden

tomorrow where he's expected to announce an executive order that would at least temporarily effectively shut down the border there. This clearly

coming from a lot of pressure on his campaign as this is seen as a top -- one of the top issues for American voters.

Since you raised it, let me go there first. And how can we expect a Sheinbaum administration to respond to this executive order? What can we

expect this relationship to look like in the next four, five, six months of a Biden presidency and perhaps another Trump presidency?

RIOS: OK. So, the first thing to understand is that Mexico does not set its own immigration agenda. The immigration agenda in terms of policies

implemented in Mexico is defined, designed, and pushed in the U.S., right?

So, Mexico, in that sense, is a follower to the instructions of the U.S. Whenever the U.S. has put pressure in Mexico to close the southern border

of Mexico, whenever the U.S. has put pressure for Mexicans to invest in more security, that has happened, right?

So, I think that, in that sense, once we understand the balance of power of Mexico and the U.S., basically, immigration policy is going to be

determined not by Sheinbaum, not by this election, but by the November election in the U.S., right? And that's when we are going to observe if

Trump wins or if Biden remains, you know, that's when we are going to observe, you know, what's the -- what's to follow for Mexico.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and whether in 2026 President Sheinbaum will renew a free trade agreement between -- signed between Canada, Mexico, and the United

States as well. That really delves into the political ramifications and aspects here, but also the populist as well.

If we can get to the issue of crime itself, one of the antidotes that we saw Sheinbaum's predecessor, AMLO, really reinforce is an investment in the

military and handing over policing and any sort of security role to the military, that had been met with wide skepticism. And just judging by the

numbers, it doesn't appear to have been successful.

During this campaign we heard vague answers when Claudia Sheinbaum was asked how her policies would differ if she would keep that same policy

specifically on turning to the military and taking away civilian jobs and giving them to the military. What do you expect to see now that she is in


RIOS: Right. OK. So, that's a very interesting question, and let me answer it in two ways, right? So, the first one is what is -- what happened during

Lopez Obrador term and what she has said, right? So, as you mentioned, there has been a militarization process, basically, using the military to

take control of some civilian activities and also becoming the main federal police of the country, right? I don't think that's going to change with


And the reason is a very simple one, which is that besides the military, there is no other federal police anymore, right? So, given the challenges

that Mexico is facing today in terms of crime, it would be impossible, it would be completely fantastical just to -- you know, like, impossible,

fantasy, right, to pretend that she's going to just get rid of the military and then not have any force to actually enforce and to create rule of law,


Now, the second thing, and one thing that personally, I feel hopeful about is the fact that when we observe Sheinbaum as mayor of Mexico City, she did

not militarize the police in Mexico City. Actually, she did the opposite. She created one of the most functional civilian police of the whole

country. She managed to reduce very significantly crime. She managed to reduce homicides. It was an absolute success in Mexico City, right?

So, what -- we don't know exactly what she's going to do, but chances are that this is going to go in two parts.


On one side, using the military for fighting organized crime and drug cartels. And on the other side, creating maybe a set of functional local

polices that are better funded to -- you know, to go after criminals that commit domestic crimes.

GOLODRYGA: I want to get to one of the controversies surrounding her predecessor, AMLO. Despite his popularity, there had been a lot of concern

about what many describe as democratic backsliding, continuing attacks on the checks and balances of the country, weakening various institutions,

including the electoral body. There is a lot of concern that these policies will continue with this new administration.

What can we expect and what should we be looking out for, specifically now that it appears that both the upper and lower house won the majority for

the Morena Party, which gives them more constitutional control and the ability to change the constitution and amend it, perhaps even introducing a

new Supreme Court justice powers that AMLO himself didn't have?

RIOS: Right. So, a lot of the criticisms of Mexican democracy backsliding came from a misinterpretation of what was actually happening in the

country. Because, indeed, Lopez Obrador, in many instances, he proposed very controversial reforms, but those reforms never passed in Congress.

Those reforms were systematically rejected, either because he didn't have a majority, or because the Supreme Court rejected these reforms for

procedural reasons, right?

So, the idea that Mexican democracy was a backsliding, it was not supported, in fact. In fact, the institutions remain solid and the proof is

that the election -- yesterday's Mexican election was, you know, free, fair, and majority democratically, right?

Now, that does take us to this market, right, and takes us to different Mexico. Because the Mexico that Sheinbaum is going to rule is going to be a

Mexico where she is going to have majorities. She's going to have super majorities to change the constitution and to approve controversial reforms

if she wants to, right?

So, I think that the country is now in a much, I would say, slippery territory. And the international attention should be on analyzing the

specific proposals that Sheinbaum advances. I don't think the agenda of Sheinbaum is to destroy democracy. I think her agenda is much more simple.

Her agenda is just to improve the salaries of people, create better jobs, and reduce poverty.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. I don't -- and I don't think AMLO, correct me if I'm wrong, approached government by saying, I want to destruct democracy as

well. It just seemed that he had the desire, at times, to bend the system and the checks and balances held in place for no other reason than he

didn't have, a supermajority.

So, do we know what a Sheinbaum administration would do if, in fact, policies she's trying to push forward are met with resistance from either

the judicial system or from minority members of Congress?

RIOS: We don't know how she's going to react. But what we do know is that she can react with much more force than Lopez Obrador, right? Because she

has a much more powerful and democratic mandate. And I'd like to reconcile the idea that -- two ideas here in the table, right? On one side, we have a

full democratically elected woman with the largest mandate that Mexican democracy has ever given to anybody, right?

And on the other side, right, we're here discussing the democracy. It's backsliding, right? When -- you know, those two things don't match, right?

So, what we should expect is a Mexico that is a start that pushes the agenda of the (INAUDIBLE). The Sheinbaum -- you know, that she won, the

agenda that made her won, right?

And we need to be careful about the checks and balances. Definitely there is a concern about that, right, and we need to be -- keep observing Mexican

democracy. But right now, I feel that we are on safe territory.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, no doubt a landslide victory. The Morena Party winning up to 61 percent of the vote. And a reminder, the first woman president in

Mexico's history and it's a rather young democratic history as well.


But as you said, we will be watching this closely. Viri Rios, thank you so much for joining us.

RIOS: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Well, Mexico's elections were an endorsement of the government. In South Africa, it was a very different story. In a result that could

dramatically shift the country's future, the African National Congress lost its majority for the first time since Nelson Mandela swept to power 30

years ago. While the ANC still won 40 percent of the vote, they will now have to share power. It is a damning indictment of a party by voters who

are frustrated with the state of the economy and angered by allegations of corruption and violence.

Joining me now to talk about all this is Tessa Dooms, the programmes director for Rivonia Circle, an NGO that aims to foster democracy and

community in South Africa. Tessa, welcome to the program.

So, this isn't a shock given that there's been buildup from the polling that we've seen over the past few weeks. Nonetheless, once it is official,

it is quite jarring to see such a reversal for this party, the ANC Party. Its vote share drops from 58 percent to 40 percent. The ANC held nearly 70

percent vote share at the height of its popularity in 2004. Walk us through the mood in the country right now.

TESSA DOOMS, PROGRAMMES DIRECTOR, RIVONIA CIRCLE: Well, as much as the polls had predicted, a drop in the ANC support below 50 percent, very few

polls went as far as going 40 percent. And I think many people didn't see how that would happen because the big factor in this election that has come

to bear is the re-entrance into the political space of Former President Jacob Zuma under the uMkhonto weSizwe Party.

Which is a breakaway party, once again, as we saw in 2009, with the COPE Party, and then, in 2014, with the EFF, a breakaway party from the ANC that

has surpassed everybody's expectations in terms of what it was able to do, garnering in its first election 14 percent of the vote after only existing

for five months.

And so, while people may have predicted because of the general decline in trust generally in the political system and politicians, but particularly

in the delivery of the ANC, I don't think anyone could have predicted the ways in which it would happen, which is effectively an ANC versus ANC

battle in a very different form.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, these two formal rivals, President Ramaphosa and Former President Zuma. What do you make of the Zuma factor here in the surprising

14 percent, as you said, share that his party has garnered?

DOOMS: Well, certainly it speaks to what looks to be a 15 to 20 factional battle within the ANC that has been brewing for a long time. President --

Former President Jacob Zuma was forced to resign in 2018, a year before his term had ended. And there didn't seem to be in many ways for him to re-

enter into political relevance.

But what we're seeing here is two factors based on the kind of rhetoric that the MK Party has come up with. One is that President Jacob Zuma has

said that this is not a new party that is away from the ANC, but a party that is meant to try and restore the ANC to its former glory, painting the

current ANC as not being aligned with the history of the party.

And so, taking on the name of controversies where is actually to double down on an ANC-ness of this new vehicle. But also, I think the sentiment

has widely been that people have seen this as a protest vote in many cases. I think the ANC has often seen, over the last few years, a decline in its

voter turnout. Voters that are disillusioned either with the party itself or the democratic dividends of our democracy after 30 years, deciding to

stay at home and not vote.

And I think part of what we've seen with the MK Party is certainly the use of a vote in order to send a signal to the ANC of the level of unhappiness,

not only in the country in general, but within its ranks and people have supported it over the last 30 years.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and President Ramaphosa has said, "Our people have spoken." He went on to say, "That we have heard the voices of our people.

We must respect their wishes." And he called it a victory for democracy. Throughout this campaign, there was little that he had to tout other than

ANC's rich history in the country. What does that say about his support as party leader going forward?

DOOMS: Well, I think President Ramaphosa and the ANC at large have been, you know, very good about the way that they've handled this loss. It has

not been -- the rhetoric has not been one that speaks ill of the result even in a climate where there hasn't been kind of just widespread support

for the way in which this election went down.


But I think they've shown that they are going to be magnanimous in this loss. I think what they are sitting with now is having to negotiate how

they form a government as still the largest party by at least 10 percent from where -- actually 20 percent between themselves and the next party,

which is the Democratic Alliance.

I think the ANC leader who would have assumed that he was coming into his second term now faces negotiations -- coalition negotiations that may

include questions about whether or not the ANC should continue with him as president in light of other parties may not -- that may not want to work

with him.

So, it's not a foregone conclusion that President Ramaphosa will continue into a second term, even if the ANC does have a majority in any coalition.

And I think this does weaken his position, but I think the ANC's got many factors it will need to consider in terms of how it forms a government,

both for the stability of the country at large, but also for the sake of having a government that still holds to the values that the ANC has long

said that it serves.

GOLODRYGA: And however this government ultimately is formed, there are -- there's a mountain of list, factors that they've got to deal with, the

issues that really doomed the party, and that is unemployment.

I mean, you look at one statistic, 61 percent of youth are unemployed. 64 percent of black South Africans are living in poverty versus 1 percent of

white South Africans. Some 42 percent of working age South Africans are unemployed. The GDP has shrunk during four of the past 10 years. We have

frequent electrical blackouts. Crime is one of the highest in the world. Inequality has only gotten worse. The gap between the rich and the poor in

South Africa is in -- by some measures, worse than it was in 1995.

How is this new government, however it's formed, going to be able to address these very, very serious and pressing issues?

DOOMS: Yes, I think that that's been one of the parts of this election that's been really hard to grapple with it. Given all those multiple

crises, the issues just weren't the central focus of this election. This election, unfortunately, veered into a palace politics of sorts. A lot of

politics around personality, around identity, around long-standing political infighting, and a posturing of our politics, rather than a

solving of the issues at the core of this election.

And I think that may have been why we have seen a lower voter turnout than we've ever seen before in South Africa, dipping below 60 percent. Because

South Africans in the main want the issues to be addressed, and have gotten to a point where giving over power to politicians that aren't addressing

those issues really is disempowering for people.

I think what this government, however it is formed, needs to take forward is the idea that a democracy that ticks so many of the boxes of being an

effective democracy must start giving a dividend of development in South Africa. Otherwise, people won't just lose faith in a party, they will lose

faith in the democratic project that we have here.

What is the point of having freedom or the right to vote if it doesn't result in water sanitation and jobs for young people who under the age of

30 have only lived in a democratic dispensation? It is really democracy that was also on the ballot and the politicians that emerged from this must

put that at the center of their governance. The issues must matter, not the politicians.

GOLODRYGA: Such an important point you make, as the whole world has been watching closely to this election. Such an important country as well,

Africa, the continent's largest economy, a real global player in this election, could have wide ramifications in terms of whatever this coalition

government ends up looking like, and whether or not they are able to start addressing these very pressing issues.

Tessa Dooms, programmes director for Rivonia Circle, thank you for your time.

Well, it's been two years now since America's withdrawal from Afghanistan, enabling the Taliban's return to power and resulting in the grave erosion

of women's rights, confined to their homes with no means of working or getting an education. U.N. officials have called the situation a gender

apartheid, having seen what life was like shortly after the Taliban's 2001 fall, and now their rise 20 years on.

Best-selling author and journalist Asne Seierstad's new book, "The Afghans," is based on people she met there, depicting the country's reality

through three different lives. And she joins me now live from Oslo. Asne, thank you so much for joining us.

Before we get to this really important and compelling book, I do want to get your perspective having spent time there in Afghanistan following the

U.S., that messy withdrawal.


You went back after 20 years of not having been in the country in 2022. Talk about what you saw there and reflect upon that, given the fact that

two decades had gone by since your last visit.

ASNE SEIERSTAD, AUTHOR, "THE AFGHANS": It was a depressed city that I landed in in Kabul where it's -- you know, it's Taliban ruling with their

sticks and their whips. And it's definitely no -- there are women in the streets, but they are covered, they go quickly to where they are headed and

then quickly back home. And then, there's also lots of women who don't leave their houses at all. So, it's definitely a tragedy what has happened

after two decades of western presence in Afghanistan, that it came to this.

GOLODRYGA: And what you're able to capture are the real-life ramifications that this has on three very different people that you capture in this book.

And you focus on -- in "The Afghans," you offer pseudonyms for them, but these are based on real Afghans that you spent time with.

Let's start with Ariana. She was in her last year of law school in 2022. All of that obviously changed overnight for her. Talk about the woman that

she is, who she aspire to be and how politics and just an unfortunate timing for her change her life forever.

SEIERSTAD: Well, Ariana is one of those young women that is -- where it really matters the most, because these are the women who had -- or the

young girls who had good education, that were able to learn English. She's fluent in English. And she wanted to fulfill her dream to become a judge, a

female judge in Afghanistan. And then, the Taliban came just as he had one semester left on her first part of that degree.

And she's one of those who were very happy of the western presence. She loved America. She loved everything American. She would watch Netflix. She

would listen to Beyonce and Justin Bieber, and she would see, you know, some of the same serials on TV that my teenage daughter would do. So, this

is -- her story is hard to go by because we can't just say that, oh, you know, Afghanistan, that's how -- they're used to it or they have different

ambitions in life.

Like, when I met Ariana, I just met someone who could have been, you know, my daughter's friend or someone who just had been told her life that you

can do anything, but that was until the Taliban came. And what she says is also her parents, who used to be liberal, let her do all this education.

When the Taliban arrived, they were talibanized, as she said. Meaning, that they suddenly ruled the family as the Taliban did. And for that matter,

what happens to all those young girls is that they're forceful -- they're forced into marriages that many of them do not want.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, to go from a final year in law school to a forced marriage after parents are suddenly Talibanized, as you note and describe. I know

you still stay in touch with Ariana. How is she doing now? Some of the funds from this book are -- you note, are helping her to buy a flat.

SEIERSTAD: Yes, I bought her a flat and I also helped her to -- she has this little secret school. So, nobody knows who she is. So, I can say this.

But she -- secret school in the basement. So, this is to help the neighborhood girls, because after 12 years old, they can no longer go to


So, she and her mother, who's used to be a teacher have this -- all day long, a school that -- you know, through teachers who have lost also lost

their jobs. They have -- you know, on different shifts to get as many as possible of these girls going to school.

And when I visited the school and I talked to those girls, it was not one of them who I was able to tell her story without crying, because I realized

they never really put their stories into word. But when you take school away from an Afghan girl, there's nothing left. It's not that she has any

other activities. She may not even be able to then leave her house because she was able to leave it because she had a school to go to, because an

Afghan girl cannot just wander around in the streets. That's not good.

So, that is something she says makes life worth living to have that school, because for her, it's like education, education, education was everything

and she didn't want a baby. She didn't want a husband. She's -- you know, she was really, you know, early in her 20s. So, some days she doesn't want

to live and we know there's a high rise in suicide in Afghanistan.


I don't think she is a candidate for that, but it's just like, she doesn't see --

GOLODRYGA: The future.

SEIERSTAD: -- the future.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, yes. And good on you. I mean, it speaks volumes the fact that these are not just people who you chronicle, but you invest in

literally and stay in touch with.

I want to turn now to Jamila, because from Ariana, who at least at one point had parents who may have been outliers who supported her quest for

education, for freedom, for doing what she wanted to do above getting married at an early age, you talk to us about Jamila, who, despite the odds

of pressure from her family to not go to school, to only get married and start a family young, she did the opposite and she ultimately had to leave

the country as well. Talk to us about her.

SEIERSTAD: Jamila is one of the strongest women I've ever met. She is a true revolutionary. And she was born into a very conservative family, back

in 1976. So, she's the oldest in the book. And she -- on the first page of the book, she's about to die of a very high fever. And it -- on the next

page, we realized it was polio.

So, her leg becomes limb and paralyzed. And that is what she would later tell me. That is what, you know, shows her path, her course. Because in her

family, the sisters -- or the young girls that were a commodity, they were sold or traded in marriage. But the fact that she was paralyzed with one

leg -- one leg paralyzed, she couldn't be traded in marriage. So, for that reason, she was -- through her struggle, she was able to go to school and

then ending up as the minister, as a deputy minister in the government, in the late government of Ashraf Ghani that she left because of the level of

corruption that government.

But as the Taliban came to power, she had to flee. But what's interesting with Jamila is that she keeps on doing her work. Now, she's in Canada. But

because it's education, but it's also participation in society for women, for disabled, for different groups, no matter who they are. And in -- she's

also a very -- she calls herself an Islamic feminist.

And for her, if -- according to her, if you read the Quran in the right way, it is a text that speaks to men and women equally. And the first word

of the Quran is read. And as she says, God tells us all to read and to learn and seek knowledge, just -- not just men. So, she uses Islam against

the Taliban, who she would say abuses Islam.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, as she points, it's so important to read the Quran the right way. And you note that Jamila left Afghanistan just 11 days after the

Taliban took over again in 2021 with her husband and three children.

So, these are two sympathetic women who you chronicle, who you introduce us to as readers. And then there's a third character, a bit more complex to

say the least, Bashir. He is a Taliban commander who allowed you to observe his life. He had been building bombs since the age of 16. At one point he

acknowledged, through half joke, I guess, that if you had met a year prior, he probably would have abducted or killed you. What made you spend time and

write about him?

SEIERSTAD: Well, I started with Jamila because she first came to Norway before she went to Canada. And when I've, you know, chronicled her story, I

realized I need to go to Afghanistan and find her adversary, to find someone at her level. You know, she had been a deputy minister.

So, I was looking in the high echelon of power of the Taliban and found out that, you know, the biggest shura, like the biggest council, they don't

speak. But Taliban is a military movement. So, I went to the different, you know, military bases and so on. And there I found Bashir.

And he was really interesting in the way that he was very curious. He was - - as opposed to most of the men I've met who were answering questions, but they didn't really engage. He was also very interested in why I had come,

what I wanted to write, why the Taliban, why I'd cover all those wars in Muslim countries. So, he was someone I could really engage with and that

was important.


And then, I asked him very earlier that, you know, we know Taliban as a movement, but we don't know you as private people. So, I said, you know, if

you want to be in the book, I need to see your family. And he said, welcome. And he took me home to his three wives. Two real wives and one he

was just engaged to, his mother, his -- you know, his children, the children of his deceased brothers. And they're taking over this huge house

from the former regime. So, spoils the war goes to them now.

And he didn't let his children go to school, none of them. So, he made this Quran school on the second floor of his house, where the only knowledge

that the children needed were Islamic knowledge and the Quran. And that was done through beating and whipping from the year of four in that school. And

this was -- they were proud about this just. So, this is the new generation. And it will -- you know, it made me really scared to see how

the new Taliban children are growing up and what they believe in.

Like one of them was -- when he had weapons training, was -- he was 12 and he was pointing a gun at me and talked about how his blood was burning

because if he shot an infidel, he would go straight to paradise. He was stopped by the grownups, but I was thinking like the really scary ones that

-- are those who grew up today.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, really eye opening and jarring to hear those details, but so important that you have access like you did to introduce us to these

three people, forever changed three lives, forever changed, scarred by a very bloody and dark chapter in U.S. history, one could note.

Asne Seierstad, thank you so much for your time.

SEIERSTAD: Thank you for inviting me.

GOLODRYGA: Well, next to the situation room, the one in the White House, where generations of presidents have sat with their advisers to deal with

all kinds of crises, from important military calls to the aftermath of natural disasters.

In his new book, also called "The Situation Room," TV host and former White House communications director George Stephanopoulos details the countless

dilemmas the nation's past leaders have reckoned with in that space. And he joins Walter Isaacson to recount some of those stories.


WALTER ISAACSON, CO-HOST, AMANPOUR AND CO.: Thank you, Bianna. George Stephanopoulos, welcome to the show.


with you, Walter. It's a treat, my first time on the show.

ISAACSON: You know, this book, "The Situation Room," is actually a book about how decisions are made in times of crisis. How people do it right,

how they do it wrong, how they can, you know, challenge and share information. And yet, you did it through the concept of a room. Why did you

pick the situation room as the framing device for this book?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Because the situation room is the nerve center of the White House, the place where you have these duty officers coming from all

across the government who, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, track everything that's happening all around the world in order to keep the White

House and the president and his top national security advisers informed.

It's also that room where the president and his top advisers meet to make the most consequential national security decisions and where their deputies

meet to try to frame the options before they get to that point. So, it really is the heart of national security decision-making at the White


What helped me frame how did -- I approach the book was something that came from Ambassador Doug Lute who served for both President Obama and President

George W. Bush chiefly on Afghanistan. He said, when you think of the situation room, it's really three things the three P's. It's a place, the

room, it's the people who work there, and it's the process by which the principals reach these decisions. And I tried to use that frame as we

looked at each president.

ISAACSON: You got many chances when you worked for President Clinton to go see the room, and I was amused in the book, you said, you don't even

remember your first time in the situation room. And that's partly because, I remember too, when I saw it, it's like, this is all it is? I mean, you'd

think it's like a Dr. Strangelove movie. And so, I think -- explain that to me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no, for the longest time, it was not much to look at at all. In fact, John F. Kennedy, who insisted the situation room be built

after the Bay of Pigs disaster, they did build it very quickly, $30,000, two weeks.

By the time it was done, he went down there once, said it looked like a pig pen. It really didn't go back much at all. He would take the information

from the room, wouldn't go down there. And for the longest time, certainly through my time, in the Clinton administration it was a pretty unremarkable

physical space. Just -- you know, like a -- I would say, it looked like a conference room in the Poconos. Not particularly impressive, not

particularly high tech, certainly behind the private sector for the longest period of time.

That has changed now. I was able to go back to the situation room last August, just before the new room was unveiled to the world. And now it does

look like 24 or whatever, you know, pick your movie. It is super high-tech, super luxe, mahogany, marble, screens everywhere and it meets now what you

would imagine in your mind's eye.


ISAACSON: You say that it was built after the Bay of Pigs. Kennedy ordered it up, but he never went there, as you mentioned. Lyndon Johnson was there.

all the time. Explain the difference.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Between the two of them, it was night and day. I mean, Johnson moved his favorite chair from the Oval Office down into the

situation room. He was on the phone with situation room duty officers all through 1965, looking all through the night, looking for any scraps of

information about what was going on in Vietnam. And they include those -- the tapes of several of those phone calls in the audio book.

But, you know, he was obsessed, and you know this from his time in the Senate, with using the telephone, scooping up information in a way, that

was his tool of power. That was his implement of choice. It didn't work for him in Vietnam.


LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: What's happening in Vietnam this morning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, nothing since the report we sent up to you at approximately 11:00 last night, sir. We do have some reports on

rolling thunder. We have some buildings damaged and destroyed. But otherwise, it's been fairly quiet.

JOHNSON: That 172nd outfit never did get into action?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir, they haven't. It's been quiet in that Dong Zhuo area all night, sir.


STEPHANOPOULOS: No matter how much information he got about casualties, what was happening in particular battles, that wasn't going to solve the

strategic problem he had. He was trapped and he knew it. So, while Kennedy created the situation room because he believed that information was power,

Johnson -- we learned from the experience of Johnson that information, all the information in the world, doesn't necessarily give you the insight you

need to solve problems.

ISAACSON: You know, Nixon didn't use the room that much, but he had a phrase that sort of explained it, and I think there's a kernel of truth to

it. He said that Lyndon Johnson succumbed to the situation room syndrome.


ISAACSON: What's the downside?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that -- and that phrase actually comes from his alter ego at the time, Henry Kissinger, of course, you -- you've written so

much about Henry Kissinger. And he says -- and his definition of that syndrome was the illusion that you can somehow control the world from this

windowless room in the basement of the White House.

Now, policymakers, including Henry Kissinger, have to act as if they can control the world from that room, but you have to know at the same time

that, you know, the world may have other plans. I think you could almost argue that Nixon and Kissinger overreacted to Johnson's obsession with the

situation room and went very much in the other direction.

But, you know, the episode I write most about in the book, and it's one you know well, is that time during the first Yom Kippur War in October 1973

when Nixon was so out of commission, you know, drinking scotch up in his hideaway in the old executive office building that Henry Kissinger managed

the crisis on his own, and in a remarkable move, basically on his own, ordered the United States nuclear alert up to DEFCON 3, which had only been

done once before during the Cuban Missile Crisis because of fear that the Soviets were trying to exploit that war in the Middle East.

ISAACSON: One of the coolest scenes in your book, or strangest scenes maybe, is when Jimmy Carter is getting a briefing, I think Rosalynn is

there with him, on paranormal, parapsychology, sort of ESP things. But something weird happens. He puts a slip of paper on the paper and hands it

to somebody and says, the hostages. Explain that scene.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This scene was sparked by a one line in Jimmy Carter's diary that I came upon as I was doing the preliminary research for the

book, and it was May 8, 1980. And it said, I had a meeting in the situation room on parapsychology, longitude, latitude, et cetera. I saw

parapsychology in the situation room and wanted to learn an awful lot more.

It was very hard. There hadn't been anything written about it. We went to the presidential libraries. We scoured all the memoirs. We couldn't find

anything. Finally, we came upon a man named Jake Stewart, who was Jimmy Carter's naval aide at the time. He was also the aide who had become the

expert on something that was called Operation Grill Flame. You probably remember what it was.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. government, through the CIA and the DIA., was spending millions upon millions of dollars hiring psychics. People who

would actually sit in a dark room and imagine the world. They called them remote viewers. Imagine things that were happening all around the world.

Jake Stewart was the expert on this in the White House.

Both Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter had been attracted to the paranormal. But of course, the most salient fact about that meeting was the date, May

8, 1980. That was two weeks after the helicopters went down in the desert, effectively ending the Carter presidency. He was absolutely desperate.


So, he was looking for anything that might help him find a way outside of the hostage crisis. So, he brought in Jake Stewart, asked for a briefing on

whether the psychics could figure out, because the hostages had been dispersed, where they might be located at any time. Jake Stewart worked on


He did say that they helped find one of the hostages named Richard Queen, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis and was released, but of course,

all the others we're not released until inauguration day when Ronald Reagan took the oath of office, which is the Iranians final jab at Jimmy Carter.

ISAACSON: I guess the most famous picture of the old situation room is the day of the bin Laden raid. Everybody remembers that. Pete Souza, I think,

was the White House photographer. And they're all sitting around the table in the situation room. Tell me about how the situation room was actually a

player in this, and how you got that -- you reconstructed that whole scene.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the key decision-making meeting was in the situation room, it was on the Thursday before the raid, and that was the meeting

where the president called in all of his top advisers, the principals, who each brought a plus one, a deputy into the meeting as well.

And at this point, you know, they had gone through all the intelligence five ways to Sunday. They had a final, you know, analysis, testing it one

more time. And they had reached the conclusion that there was about somewhere between a 40 to 60 percent chance that this pacer that we'd all

seen in the compound in Abbottabad was actually Osama bin Laden.

And as the meeting began, Obama says, listen, it's just not going to get much better than 50 percent. We have to make the decision based on that

knowledge. He pulled the whole room, almost all of the principles from Secretary Clinton through Leon Panetta, the director of National

Intelligence, of course, Admiral McRaven, who was running the mission were for it. Gates was the most reluctant. Of course, he was haunted by the

memory of Jimmy Carter's failed mission. He was a deputy to Stan Turner at the time. And he -- he'd always remember --

ISAACSON: When the helicopters in the desert crash.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Went down in the desert.



ISAACSON: In the Iran desert. Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, he was the only principal who at first had advocated going for a drone strike and said, the problem with the drone strike is you

would never -- especially in this world where information is so -- it's so hard for people to come together and agree on a set of facts, you would

never be 1,000 percent sure it was Osama Bin Laden. The place would just be reduced to rubble.

So, Obama polled the room. He also polled -- and this was what was unusual. He asked all the plus ones for their opinion as well, polled the room one

more time and then took left and said, I'll give you the decision in the morning and made it overnight. It went off on Sunday.

That famous picture almost didn't happen. That room is actually a little ante room off the situation room. And it was meant to be the place where

the military leaders were going to be in contact with Admiral McRaven, but it wasn't supposed to be the place where everybody was gathering. But once

someone found out, you could actually see the raid in more or less real- time. Everybody drifted into the room and it created that incredibly close, close feeling.

At one point, Tom Donilon, the next security adviser, asked, my favorite character in the book, a guy named Gary Bresnahan, who's a combination of

the MacGyver and the Zelig of the sit room. He set up the communications for every president from Reagan through Obama.

Gary said he told a white lie at that point. He said, I can't move it into the other room. He now tells me, he said, I probably could have, but I was

just so afraid to take any chance that we would lose the feed in the -- in those final moments. Said, I didn't want to do it.

And that's a good thing because we did get that incredibly iconic photo. It's a good thing for Gary Bresnahan as well, because he was just outside

of the room. So, after it all went down, he got the first fist bump from President Obama, which was fitting tribute to all of his work for so many

presidents over so many years.

ISAACSON: The odd scenes in the situation room, a lot of them, are during the Trump presidency. And he doesn't seem to either care about the place,

as you call it, the situation room, or the people, or the process. And he barely goes in and lets it work, especially during COVID, when the room was

used to coordinate the response to the coronavirus epidemic.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He hardly ever went there. And his reason was not unlike that of Richard Nixon. In some ways, this was not his place and he was

actually very suspicious of those who worked in the situation room. He famously called those people the deep state, and he was a little paranoid

about it. So, he didn't use it that much at all and didn't draw that much on the information from the situation room.

One of the odd things he had, situation room duty officers collect were the banners from news programs, not even the recordings of what was being said

in the news programs, just the banners of what was going on below the screen.


I end up titling that chapter "Postcards from the Edge." It's really just a series of oral histories from the people who served in top national

security positions in the Trump White House. And I think that's one of the most chilling conclusions about the Trump experience in the situation room.

Those who had the highest, most sensitive national security positions from his first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to his defense secretary,

James Mattis, to his White House chief of staff, John Kelly, to his national security adviser, John Bolton, are the ones who have the most

damning critiques of his competence and character.

ISAACSON: When we talk about the situation room and you write about it, you talk about the unsung heroes of the situation room, which are actually

sort of the permanent -- the bureaucrats and the people we don't know that well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, for me, the best part of doing this book was every afternoon, having the chance to talk to these duty officers. I spoke

with more than a hundred of them who served across administrations, who come from every part of the government to serve one to three years in the

situation room, tracking information, synthesizing intelligence, setting up communications for the White House. These are the best of the best from the


And their sense of duty, their sense of patriotism, their rigorous ethic of being a political, serving the presidency, not the president, was so

impressive to me at a time when, you know, so many are deriding the so- called deep state.

You know, I was talking to people from the deep state every single day, and the biggest thing I learned is that they are the most patriotic people in

the government, out there serving their country every single day to the best of their ability, and making it work in the highest-pressure situation

in the White House.

ISAACSON: You talk about people deriding the deep state, of course the person doing that the most, or most prominently, is Donald Trump, as he's

running for re-election. And he says he'll get rid of the civil service protections. He'll try to just root out this entire group of people who

serve different presidents. How dangerous do you think that is?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Huge, huge. And we came close. I talked to one duty officer, Mike Stigler (ph), who was actually serving inside the situation

room on January 6th. When he was in contact with the Secret Service on Capitol Hill, worried that they were losing the vice president and

explaining to me that most people don't know how close we came to losing the vice president that day.

He and his fellow duty officers that day did worry that our institutions were crumbling. And, you know, they even started to implement these

continuity of government procedures, which were designed to ensure that the government survived an attack like a nuclear war was being implemented on

January 6th. Thank goodness. The republic did stand that day, the institutions didn't crumble.

But Mike Stigler (ph), and he's talked to several of his colleagues, is deeply worried to see -- knowing what he had seen inside the situation room

and inside the national security decision-making process during those years, that if -- in a second term, we wouldn't have that kind of


ISAACSON: You've been very eloquent about what's at stake in this election, and you've talked about the concept of the peaceful transfer of

power being at the total core of what a democracy is about. What are you worried about and what do you think journalists should be doing in covering


STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm most worried about how, what is shameful and unconstitutional becoming normalized. I mean, for me, I think it's very

possible to just say that the beginning and end of the conversation should be looking back at what happened on January 6th.

You know, never before in American history has a former president incited an insurrection instead of handing over the reins of power. Never before in

American history has a president continued to lie about that election after being both indicted and impeached. And also, never before has a candidate

for president refused going in to say, I'm not going to accept the results basically if I lose.

The peaceful transfer of power is what's -- you know, is fundamental to our democracy. And what I'm concerned about as we all try to figure out how to

cover this race every single day is how that just becomes one more issue to be discussed, you know, on a par with tax policy or environmental

regulations when it's a wholly another character. It's very difficult to keep that in context. And I think to keep the focus on how dangerous that


ISAACSON: George Stephanopoulos, thank you so much for joining the show.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you, Walter.


GOLODRYGA: And finally, in a league of her own, Simone Biles has won a record extending 9th all around national title at the U.S. Gymnastics

Championships. Biles cruised to victory while dominating the four events, balance, beam, floor exercise, uneven bars, and vault.


Now, back in 2021 at the Tokyo Games, Biles experienced what's known as the twisties, a mental block causing gymnasts to lose track of their body

positions. Well, after taking a two-year break to focus on her mental health, she's now back and ever closer to qualifying for the upcoming

Olympics in Paris. Boy, a champion on the floor and off. We're always rooting for Simone.

And that is it for us for now. If you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episodes shortly after it airs on our podcast. And remember, you can

always catch us online, on our website, and all-over social media.

Thank you so much for watching, and goodbye from New York.