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Israeli Military Releases Video From Inside Exposed Tunnel Shaft At Al-Shifa Hospital Compound, Showing Underground Tunnel; Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter Dead At 96. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired November 19, 2023 - 15:00   ET



GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): What did you see in the boxcar?

HILBERT MARGOL, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: Nothing but deceased bodies. We had a little Brownie box camera we had delivered right a couple weeks earlier. So we decided, well, let's go ahead and take a picture of that boxcar, which we did.

TUCHMAN (voice over): The brothers knew nothing about Nazi death or concentration camps, but Hilbert and Howard were among the first American soldiers on the scene. They were the liberators of the Dachau concentration camp, where more than 40,000 people were murdered by the Nazis.

BETTY ANN MARGOL, HILBERT MARGOL'S WIFE: Are we going walking before we eat dinner?

MARGOL: No, I don't feel up to it.

BETTY ANN MARGOL: You don't feel up to it. Okay.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Hilbert and his 94-year-old wife, Betty Ann, had been married for 75 years. For most of those years, he didn't talk about the war, didn't reveal his emotions. But several years ago, he was an honored guest at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and walked through a train boxcar exhibit.

MARGOL: This was a very nice looking boxcar. But when I got in that boxcar to walk through it, that's when I broke down.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Hilbert Margol has since been on a mission to teach and inspire. He speaks to schools and organizations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, let's give a warm welcome for Mr. Hilbert Margol.


TUCHMAN (voice over): Late last week, it was to hundreds of students at Atlanta's St. Pius X Catholic School.

MARGOL: Found out later it was close to 32,000 prisoners in those barracks when we were there that Sunday morning.

TUCHMAN (voice over): But he's never considered his speeches more important than he does today because of what happened in Israel on October 7th.

TUCHMAN (on camera): In all the years you've been back from war and it's been almost 80 years, have you ever seen antisemitism in this country as bad as it is today?

MARGOL: No. I've had some incidents growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, then in business. But nothing, nothing like it's happening now.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Hilbert's son, Jerry, says he's never seen his 99-year-old father struggling with his emotions like he is now.

JERRY MARGOL, SON OF HILBERT MARGOL: He wants to talk about it and go a little deeper, but he can't. It's too painful to think that all this could happen over again.

MARGOL: If it doesn't slow down, if it doesn't change --

TUCHMAN (on camera): The antisemitism.

MARGOL: Right. Then who's next?

TUCHMAN (voice over): Before we left Hilbert Margol, we thanked him for his heroism.

MARGOL: Never considered myself a hero, because to me, the hero, the true heroes of those that didn't make it back. Those are the true heroes.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: Our thanks to Gary Tuchman for that report.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: Hi, everyone, and thanks for joining me this afternoon. I'm Jessica Dean, in for Fredricka Whitfield.

And we begin with some breaking news: Israel Defense Forces just wrapping up a press conference a short time ago after releasing what they say is important new video from Al-Shifa Hospital, which has become a flashpoint of the war in Gaza.

The video shows what the IDF says is a tunnel shaft on the hospital's grounds. Israel has long said that Hamas uses the hospital to cover up what it says is an extensive terror network underground. It's something Hamas and hospital officials have denied.

CNN's Oren Liebermann entered Gaza with the Israeli Defense Forces last night to see the tunnel shaft for himself and what lies beneath there and CNN reported from Gaza under IDF escort at all times, as a condition for journalists to join that embed. Media outlets had to submit the footage filmed in Gaza to the Israeli military for review.

CNN did retain editorial control over the final report.

Oren, we just want to lay that out for everyone so they understand what they're seeing. Walk us through what you saw there on the ground in Gaza.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Of course, and all of that is simply part of embedding with the Israeli military.

We spent about six hours in Gaza. We went in and crossed the border fence at nine in the evening. So the entire time we were there, it was dark. Gaza is and has been without power and we came out crossing the border fence the other way at about three in the morning.

The goal was to get to the Al-Shifa Hospital complex, the largest hospital in Gaza. And there on the ground, we spent about 40 minutes to look at what they had discovered only a day or two earlier and that's the opening of a tunnel shaft and to see its significance, as with this ongoing debate about was Hamas using the hospital for its own purposes with a terror infrastructure below ground as Israel has long asserted.

There is no question Hamas has had tunnels throughout Gaza for years, we've known that and that's been well established. The question is it under the hospital? Here's what we saw.



LIEBERMANN (voice over): We go in under cover of darkness, as we crossed the border fence, it is lights out across the Gaza Strip. Escorted by a tank, we switch into an armored personnel carrier for the final stretch. Even through a night vision screen, you can see the magnitude of the destruction on the streets of Gaza City.

We offload at the Al-Shifa Hospital, pick our way along Ivansina Street (ph) or what's left of it.

LIEBERMANN (on camera): Pete, watch your feet. Let's go.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): We have to keep our lights off most of the time or risk exposing our position.

CNN reported from Gaza under Israel Defense Forces' escort at all times as a condition for journalists to join this embed with the IDF, media outlets must submit footage filmed in Gaza to the Israeli military censors for review.

Now at the hospital compound, we wait inside a structure to make sure the area is secure before moving the short distance to the exposed tunnel shaft. And here is the entrance. You can see what looks like a ladder accessing to it and as I step over here, it's very difficult to see how far down it goes. But it looks like there's almost a central shaft for a staircase and then the shaft of it disappears then down into the darkness.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): We move around the opening for a better look at the shaft itself. What's clear from here is this is meant to go deep underground.

LIEBERMANN (on camera): Which direction does the tunnel go?

MAJOR NIR DINAR, ISRAELI FORCES SPOKESMAN: We assume that the tunnel goes out and it has another corridor to this way --

LIEBERMANN: Towards the hospital?

DINAR: Towards the hospital, meaning it connects the hospital to outside which implies with the way that Hamas is working, Hamas is going out somewhere, shoot at our forces and going back inside to a safe place.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): We weren't allowed to enter the shaft but the Israeli military sent special gear down to see where this leads. Inside, the video shows a spiral staircase and as the camera orients itself, it moves forward into a tunnel.

The tunnel makes a sharp left turn and at the end of another path, with concrete walls and an arched concrete top, a metal door they say they have not yet opened because they fear it is booby trapped.

IDF spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari says some of the Israeli hostages taken on October 7th were also brought to the hospital. He says the body of Noa Marciano was discovered 50 meters from the compound.

REAR ADM. DANIEL HAGARI, ISRAEL'S CHIEF MILITARY SPOKESPERSON: We have evidence that they were holding hostages in Rantisi, but also we have evidence that they were bringing them to Shifa Hospital. We're still looking for the places they might have held them.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): This is not proof of a Hamas command center or headquarters underneath the hospital, but Israel continues trying to build its case that Hamas uses the sanctuary of the hospital for cover, which Hamas and the hospital officials have denied.

The IDF's ability to continue its operation in Gaza and the credibility of Israel are at stake here as the number killed in the fighting surpasses 12,000 according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health. The IDF says one of its missions is to destroy Hamas, but with international criticism mounting, Israel has to show the terror organization is using Gaza civilians and infrastructure as cover to justify an ongoing war.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): In a statement, the IDF said the tunnel shaft itself that goes down is about 10 meters, so 33 feet, and then once underground, the length of the tunnel going horizontally they said is 55 meters, so more than 150 to 160 feet or so.

They promised there will be more evidence as their efforts to uncover what's underground continues -- Jessica.

DEAN: And Oren, before we let you go, the IDF also showing this video today that reportedly shows hostages from the October 7th attack in Israel taken to Al-Shifa Hospital. What more are officials saying about that particular footage?

LIEBERMANN: So there are three hostages they give more information about. The first of those we just saw, 19-year-old Corporal Noa Marciano. Her body was recovered and brought to Israel several days ago. The IDF says an independent pathological investigation found she was still alive when she was taken in, her captor they say was then killed in fighting and she was injured there.

According to the IDF, she was taken to Shifa Hospital, where she was murdered there. The IDF had already said in the past few days that she was murdered by Hamas, but this is more details. Still, it's unclear who conducted the independent pathological investigation.

Meanwhile, they also put out information about two other hostages who were kidnapped on October 7th, a Nepali citizen and a Thai citizen. There are quite a number of these in Israel who come to work on the farms at different times throughout the year. They were kidnapped the IDF says and they have video of them in Al-Shifa Hospital. They pointed out as more proof that Hamas uses the hospital to conduct its terror activities.

DEAN: All right, Oren Liebermann for us in Tel Aviv tonight. Thanks so much for that reporting.

And I want to talk more about all of this with retired Brigadier General Peters Zwack who is a global fellow at the Wilson Center.

General, thanks so much for being here. We welcome you to the show.

We just saw this new video that the IDF is saying, shows that tunnel at the Al-Shifa Medical Complex.

As you're watching this and learning about it, what is your biggest takeaway?



My biggest takeaway is virtually that entire part of Gaza is laced with tunnels, and I have no doubt that there are tunnels under the hospital and adjacent buildings and as we've said throughout.

Now, whether it was a command center or not, they're going to have to sort that out. That's still in debate. I think we have to go back to the beginning, where I think Hamas has proven that it will use any type of cover and concealment and use the population for its protection, cover and also for its operations as they scurry through those tunnels.

I think what we've just seen with Oren down there is they have just gone like maybe a hundred, two hundred yards. There are, you know, just dozens and dozens and dozens of miles of these tunnels that as the IDF now starts to begin its push down towards the south in Rafah, these are cleared, and where are the hostages? And they may very well still be in that rabbit warren of tunnels that are still lacing northern Gaza.

DEAN: And it is interesting, as Oren was saying, you see in that video, what they say is that metal door that they are afraid to go into at this moment, they don't want to go into yet because they think it's booby trapped. It kind of underscores what could be down in these tunnels.

ZWACK: Jessica, you're absolutely right. You can expect explosives to be -- Hamas has had time to turn it into a devil's garden down there and have time to dig explosives in the walls and shafts and the unit is small, units go in and the whole thing is blown down on them as they go.

So this is hard, it takes long -- what is significant is while the IDF has seized most of the top ground, it is still a nasty, nasty environment down there were clearly Hamas is still operating and IDF has been careful.

God bless they've reported -- what -- 53 dead, which is a lot, but to really push in there, it is going to take ground forces and infantry. They've tried to do with air power and missiles and the nasty job of clearing those tunnels and getting around the corner and worrying about these explosives and then losses will go up significantly and naturally. And logically, the IDF wants to be as economical as possible, but time is not on their side.

They know it. The whole global media court is out there watching them and much of the global street, so they've got to get this done.

Now when you're in a hurry. Bad things happen when you're in a hurry, and so this requires patience. But they've got to move at the same time with alacrity.

And in the middle of this, where are the hostages? And that is still in play.

DEAN: Yes, and I want to ask you about the hostages because these babies, these children, these women, these elderly people, sick people are still being held hostage.

The IDF releasing video also today that shows what it says are some of the hostages being taken into Al-Shifa Hospital. Why is that important in terms of this video that they're putting out there? And also, what do you make of us hearing from representatives from the NSA saying that they're closer than they've been yet in hopefully getting some of these hostages out?

ZWACK: Well, first of all, God knows what those negotiations involve, and it is a pretty, pretty cold-blooded discussion. I mean, the fact that Hamas is clearly using them as a bargaining tool to get their way, to stall, protect themselves, and the Israelis are on to it.

But you have in Israel and worldwide, a major push to get our hostages out at any cost. As I tried to explain, the more hard and harder and the faster you push, the more ugliness occurs when you're fighting in a teeming civilian population area where already major humanitarian -- yes, I will use the word -- disaster is occurring.


So in many ways, the Israelis are damned if they do, damned if they don't. They want to get the hostages out. They are negotiating hard. And Hamas, I think knows they've got that card.

Now, and Qatar is trying to be the honest broker, but there are just so many pieces. And finally, if you get -- if we get a chunk of the hostages out, that still means we will probably, say hundred come out, there's still a hundred still there as a bargaining chip and this dance of death continues.

So it's the perfect storm. It is -- I can't think of a more diabolical scenario that just occurred in recent military social history where you have an absolutely snarled situation of bad choices, and Hamas is not going to give up those hostages without getting their way, and we are just going to have to see and it is taking time, and the longer it takes -- the time you have the crisis in the tunnels, and you have this gigantic humanitarian crisis going on in Gaza.

And the states that are aligning the area are increasingly edgy and impatient and worried like Egypt and Jordan.

DEAN: Yes, there are --

ZWACK: And then last -- with all of this going on, Jessica, what's happening up in the northern with Hezbollah and all of that, which is sort of still out there.

So, there is so much sadly, where we are far from the end of this thing.

DEAN: There is just so many layers as you just laid out for all of us.

All right, General Peter Zwack, thanks so much for your expertise here. We sure do appreciate it.

ZWACK: Thank you for having me.

DEAN: Just moments ago, President Biden arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, and there he will be meeting with members of the military and their families ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

CNN national security reporter, Natasha Bertrand is joining us now. And Natasha, is the president or his administration saying anything about that video we were just talking about that's been released by the IDF today?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, they haven't reacted yet to that specific video or these specific images coming out from the IDF, but we did ask the National Security Council for comment, and they pointed back to what the administration has said previously about Israeli claims that Hamas is operating command and control centers within Al-Shifa Hospital and underneath it.

And essentially, the US agrees with the Israelis. They have said repeatedly that downgrade in intelligence that they released last week suggests that the terror group has been using Al-Shifa Hospital as a command and control node and as a storage facility for weapons.

And deputy National Security adviser, John Finer, he did speak to this as well this morning and he said that based on the intelligence information that the US has, they still believe that the Hamas is using "Al-Shifa in an unconscionable way as a command and control facility for the planning of terrorist attacks."

So they have not yet commented on this new imagery and video that we have seen of this tunnel shaft on the grounds of Al-Shifa Hospital. Of course, you know, there have been a number of tunnels that have been discovered all across Gaza, of course that Hamas was using.

And the IDF, of course, says that this tunnel that they found, it goes towards the hospital and that it is further evidence that they were using it as that command center.

It remains to be seen, of course, just how extensive the operation that Hamas was conducting within that hospital underneath it actually is and the IDF says that it is going to be releasing more information about that.

But for now, the US standing by Israel in terms of the intelligence suggesting that Hamas has been using hospitals writ large, including Al-Shifa as these command nodes -- Jessica.

DEAN: All right, Natasha Bertrand for us, thanks so much for that update.

And just ahead, Donald Trump is taking his campaign near the southern border today as he escalates his anti-immigrant rhetoric. What the former president had to say. That's after break.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DEAN: We have some sad news to report to you.

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has passed away at the age of 96. The Carter Center confirming her death just a few moments ago. Here is CNN's Wolf Blitzer with a look back at her life.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice over): A soft spoken small town girl, Rosalynn Smith Carter became one of America's most charming First Ladies.

Born in Plains, Georgia on August 18, 1927, she was valedictorian of her high school class, and met, and married Jimmy Carter, when he was in the US Navy.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love and respect and cherish and honor, my wife, Rosalynn.

BLITZER (voice over): When Mr. Carter's father died in 1953, they moved back to Plains to manage the family's peanut farm.

ROSALYNN CARTER, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't want to go home. I was having a good time. I think I had thought I had outgrown Plains, Georgia. I was -- I had gotten a little too big for my britches. I really pouted for about a year after we got home.

BLITZER (voice over): They had four children. Three boys, Jack, Chip, and Jeff and later daughter, Amy. In 1962, Jimmy Carter entered politics and Rosalynn hit the campaign trail.

ROSALYNN CARTER: Campaigning was fun up to a certain point. I got to travel and see the whole country. The most fun are the people you meet.

BLITZER (voice over): She's supported her husband's successful bids to become governor of Georgia and later president of the United States.

JIMMY CARTER: So help me God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.


BLITZER (voice over): Mrs. Carter was actively involved in her husband's presidency, attending Camp David meetings and Cabinet briefings.

She was a strong advocate for equal treatment of the mentally ill.

ROSALYNN CARTER: If they had coverage for their mental illness, then the overall health care costs would come down.

BLITZER (voice over): When the Carters left the White House in 1981, she spearheaded a new challenge, Habitat for Humanity, building houses for the poor.

ROSALYNN CARTER: Whole communities come together to get rid of poverty.

BLITZER (voice over): A year later, they established the Carter Center, a foundation devoted to promoting human rights, resolving conflicts, and eradicating diseases.

Mrs. Carter continued to focus on reducing the stigma of mental illness.

ROSALYNN CARTER: I'm really, really proud I've been very impressed with what you're trying to do.

BLITZER (voice over): Another focus, caregiving, an issue close to her heart as she told a congressional committee.

ROSALYNN CARTER: It's been part of my life since I was 12 years old, and my father was diagnosed with leukemia at age 44.

We lived in a very small town and all the neighbors rallied around, but I still vividly remember going to my secret hiding place, the outdoor privy -- if you can believe that -- to cry. It's way I could be alone.

BLITZER (voice over): In 1999, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter were honored the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest honor for civilians.

JIMMY CARTER: Rose and I have visited now more than 150 nations in the world.

BLITZER (voice over): Mrs. Carter was often irritated that her husband was praised more for his achievements after his presidency than those of his administration, but she accepted that was politics.

ROSALYNN CARTER: It doesn't matter what you do, you're going to be criticized for and so do what you want to do.

BLITZER (voice over): And they were a remarkably close First Couple. Jimmy Carter used to say Rosalynn was much more than his wife.

JIMMY CARTER: It's always Rosalynn, to whom I turn for primary advice and we make the decisions together. She's the matriarch when our 11 grandchildren and our four children have a problem, they call Rosalynn first, because they know that they will get a sympathetic ear.

BLITZER (voice over): She remained by his side, occasionally joining with other First Families, and later supporting each other in their twilight. She with dementia, and Mr. Carter in hospice.

And in the 39th president, Rosalynn Carter got more than just a husband.

ROSALYNN CARTER: My life with Jimmy Carter has been more adventurous than I ever dreamed it with.


DEAN: Rosalynn Carter dead at the age of 96.

And joining me now is Jake Tapper, chief Washington correspondent, and of course, host of "The Lead" here on CNN. Jake, I'm watching that obit piece, and when you think of Rosalynn Carter, you think of her close relationship with her husband, the former president. You also think about all the work she did on behalf of mental health advocacy, and really the role that she played as First Lady and really formalizing that role. What are your thoughts as we get this sad news this afternoon?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (via phone): I think, first of all that as you know, her advocacy for mental health was really decades ahead of its time.

She started that work, after her husband was elected governor of Georgia in 1970. That's when she really started doing it, started -- she was appointed a Governor's Commission to improve services for the mentally and emotionally handicapped, and she did a statewide tour of mental health facilities across the state of Georgia and she described her efforts as her biggest accomplishment there as First Lady of Georgia.

And she kept up that same campaign when she was First Lady of the United States from '77 to '80, and you think about all the efforts that are right now being made for mental health and to bring mental health parity with other forms of health care and you think about how long it has taken for that to happen, and how much of a stigma still exists.

And she was doing this campaign back in the 70s. She testified before Congress on this issue in 1980. She was only the second First Lady in history to testify before Congress. The first one was Eleanor Roosevelt.

It's really remarkable how ahead of the curve she was, and this really -- you know, this remains stigmatized in 2023, and she was doing this and it was kind of risky for her to be doing this.

So I think that as in terms of her public service, is really something to be lauded and then of course there is the love that she and her husband had for each other, which was you know a really remarkable love story.


DEAN: Yes, there is no doubt about it and you're right. You know, you're talking about, she was a woman, a First Lady advocating on behalf of this very stigmatized thing, mental health, which still people fight to get to see a doctor that they need in the mental health space, it's still hard to get to.

And it is remarkable how ahead of the curve she was in that. And another thing that is kind of -- that I always think about when something like this happens is it really is closing a chapter of American history. This was somebody that played a big role, both in her personal life, but also to a lot of Americans.

TAPPER: She did, and she was -- you know, when she and her husband came to Washington, DC, they were kind of shunned for being of the modest means that they were. He was a peanut farmer. They were of humble origins.

And though there were people of modest means that came to the White House after them, certainly the Clintons and the Obamas were of at least originally of humble means.

The Carters were really rural people, and were not the Washington society, and that was something to their detriment in terms of Washington society.

But I have to say, and when I was in college, I was -- I did an internship at the Carter Center, and actually on the topic of Middle East Studies with Dr. Ken Stein, who had a big falling out with Jimmy Carter, with former President Carter over Israel and Palestine, many, many years later.

But the love and the marriage and the romance between President Jimmy and First Lady, Rosalynn Carter was something that I think charmed Americans, even his detractors. I mean, their love was so remarkable.

And several years ago, in 2015, I got to interview President Carter and I asked him what their secret was, how they were able to keep their marriage so strong. And he said, you know, -- he said, a number of things and one of them was, you know, it's really good to -- you have to pick your partner carefully. You have to make sure you pick the right woman or the right man.

Second, he said, you have to give each other space to do your own things. Three, he said, basically, don't go to sleep angry, don't go to bed angry. You have to reconcile before you go to bed at night.

And then fourth, he said, try to find everything you can think of that you'd like to do together. And for them, that was family. So for anybody out there, I mean, I do think that Rosalynn Carter had, she had a wonderful life. She really did have a wonderful life.

I mean, it is a life to be celebrated. It is sad that she has left, but she did have a wonderful life and I think that's one of the things, the great things about the Carters is that they always -- they have always known how blessed they were and they have always celebrated that, and their marriage is something that I think we can all look up to and all take a lesson from.

And so anyway, for anybody looking at them and wondering how did they make it, how did their marriage last so long and how is it so strong? Those were the four lessons Jimmy Carter gave me back in 2015 and I've certainly tried to adhere to them ever since he told me him back in 2015.

DEAN: They are very good lessons and ones we should all aspire to and adhere to.

And you mentioned kind of their modest means when they came here to Washington. And I'm always struck by the fact you know, they returned back to Georgia after he was out of office. They continued to teach Sunday school at their local church. It was just kind of inherently who they are and were. And it seems like they really kept that sense of self through this extraordinary life that she had.

TAPPER: Yes, and it is not like they then built a giant mansion and you know, a golf course and lived this life of luxury.

They returned to relatively modest means and a life of service, setting up you know, their charitable foundations and building homes for people who need homes and Jimmy Carter, obviously, partnering with the man he beat in 1976, Gerald Ford, and they work on a number of projects together including election reform, and then going abroad to try to supervise elections in other countries.

I know we take democracy for granted here in the United States, although we probably should not, but he always was -- has been active and Rosalynn Carter, too, maintaining that same humble lifestyle of -- you know, maintaining -- and Jimmy Carter would praise her as the matriarch of the family, the person who kept the family together with dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren, and he would credit her for holding it all together, holding the family all together.


And it really was a magnificent marriage and a magnificent couple. They really were lovely.

DEAN: It is an incredible life that they built together. Jake Tapper, thank you so much for your reflections there. We really do appreciate it.

I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer, CNN's Wolf Blitzer, of course, host of "The Situation Room" and Wolf, before we had you on, we played for everyone, your beautiful piece that you put together really laying out Rosalynn Carter's life, and all that she accomplished and did both personally and professionally.

What are your thoughts now upon learning this news and your reflections on her and her life?

BLITZER (via phone): Well, I am first of all, very, very sad because she was really a remarkable woman, a wonderful First Lady, a loving mother, a loving wife. She really was a special lady, by all -- by everyone who knew her well, everyone who knew --

I met her on several occasions going back to when I was a young reporter. I remember covering the Camp David Accords when the President Carter was negotiating a peace deal between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Bagan at Camp David and I remember she was also involved in that, and she always worked with him.

She always helped the president and she was directly involved in -- and recently a couple of years ago, when I went down to Plains, Georgia to interview the former president, Jimmy Carter. You know, she was there, we spent some quality time together. And you can see what a special woman she was, especially as they were getting to their 90s and both of them getting sick and suffering from various illnesses. She was always there for him, she was always special for the family and I just feel so sad now that she has passed.

It was just the other day that the Carter Center announced she was beginning hospice care, and then all of a sudden, so quickly, she passes away. It just makes me sad to report this and to hear about it.

DEAN: I know, it went very quickly, and I want to read to you and everyone, a statement from her husband, former President Jimmy Carter that just came out: "Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I accomplished. She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me."

It's a really tender message from President Carter.

BLITZER: A beautiful message and a very honest message indeed.

When I was there in Plains, Georgia, a few years ago where we all had dinner together, and you can see the special relationship that existed even then, as I said, well into their 90s, it was just an amazing relationship. It was so, so wonderful to see that. And I just enjoyed every minute, spending some quality time with them.

DEAN: And Wolf, you've covered so many presidents and first ladies over the years. You know, she really molded that role into something that it ultimately has become in these modern times. She attended, as you mentioned in your piece that she attended Cabinet meeting, she went to Camp David meetings. That was really unique at the time. It was really trailblazing.

BLITZER: It really was and I give her an enormous amount of credit and President Carter, you know, was always so praiseworthy of her.

You know, she was intimately involved in every little detail. She would go to those meetings, she would help him with his speeches. You know, she was always there for him. And even in the final years, she was always there for him. And it was just -- it was just really nice to see that in a couple who have been married -- what -- for so, so, for almost 80 years or whatever.

Yes, it was really, really amazing.

DEAN: And you mentioned you went down to interview them. Can you tell us a little bit about their life down in Georgia? We were talking with Jake about the modest means in which they went into the White House and then they returned back to Georgia after he left the White House and really continued to live the life they'd always known. It was not some fancy jet set life.

BLITZER: And they were both so determined even after leaving the White House to do good and to get involved in all of these important causes that save lives, not only in the United States, but around the world and to help people who are in need, Habitat for Humanity. It was just so important to them and that is why he received so many honors, so many awards. She was upset that he was getting more of these awards for what he did after leaving the White House, than getting these awards while he was the president of the United States and it was just -- for me, it was just an emotional, moving experience to spend that quality time with them just a few years ago even as they were both suffering from various diseases.


They were still a loving couple who are special and then to see their kids who are all adults, of course, but then be with them and cherish them and love them so much. It was just a wonderful family, and I was just -- I feel privileged that I got to know them even a little bit.

DEAN: I know. I'm just reading now that she had -- they had four children, Jack, Chip, Jeff, and Amy. They have 11 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren, so quite a family that they built together.

BLITZER: A beautiful family, indeed, you're absolutely right.

DEAN: Yes. All right, Wolf Blitzer, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts there on this, as we mark this moment. We're going to have more on the life of Rosalynn Carter who has died now at the age of 96 in just a moment. Stay with us.



DEAN: Welcome back. We have breaking news for you.

We have learned in the last few minutes that former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has died at the age of 96. She died at her home in Plains, Georgia. The Carter Center in Atlanta announcing on Friday that Mrs. Carter had entered hospice care. She had been diagnosed with dementia back in May.

Her husband, former President Jimmy Carter began his home hospice care in February of this year following several hospital stays.

And joining me now to talk more about her extraordinary life, presidential historian, Julian Zelizer and Bill Nigut, the co-host for "Politically Georgia" for "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" newspaper, and WABE radio.

Bill, I want to start with you. You have been covering the Carters since 1983. So you have watched them for decades and decades, and it is interesting you started covering them in '83, because they really redefined what a post presidency could look like. They really were so busy and did so much after he got out of the White House.

BILL NIGUT, CO-HOST FOR "POLITICALLY GEORGIA: You know, Jessica, that's a really important point you make.

I came to Atlanta to begin as a political reporter in late '83, and it was still the start of -- the Carters at that point were still recovering from the loss of the White House in his re-election campaign. They were still thinking about what they saw is their future.

There was never any question in both of their minds that they were going to go on, to try to do something meaningful, probably in public health and international affairs and they began talking about the concept of the Carter Center, and raising money to build the Carter Center that didn't finally open for a few more years.

So I got to see them still recovering from the loss, but already beginning to think about how they could build a future.

DEAN: Right. And we've talked a little bit about how they did return back to Plains, Georgia to -- you know, the life -- a life that they had had, it was not a fancy post-presidential life, like we've come to see, in these years. They were really back to where they had started from, but from there, did so much work internationally with Habitat for Humanity. They really ran the gamut.

NIGUT: They have lived in that house in Plaines since 1961, except for their stint in the White House and when Carter was governor in the Governor's Mansion.

One of the things that's important to point out is that when Jimmy Carter went into hospice -- home hospice in February, what a lot of people don't realize is it's in many ways, he did that so he could be there to help take care of his wife, because she at that point, was already struggling with dementia.

And if you talk to people like the grandchildren, about what their life was like from the time he went into home hospice, they would sit together and hold hands. They ate peanut butter ice cream every night together. And in fact, it was Jimmy Carter, who was there to help her as she struggled.

And of course, all these months later, Jimmy Carter is still in home hospice, still surviving at 99, and it is so shocking, that just two days after the announcement that she would go into home hospice, that she has passed away.

DEAN: Yes, it truly is. It happened so quickly it seems like.

I want to bring in Julian to talk about this as well, and Julian, you're a presidential historian. Help people understand, give some context around the role that Rosalynn Carter played in White House history, in the history of the presidency and as a First Lady where she would sit in on Cabinet meetings or go to Camp David and attend meetings. That was really -- that was really different at that time.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: She was extremely important, I think often underrated as a First Lady. And in terms of what she did for the office, starting with the campaign in 1976. She was part of the campaign. I mean, Jimmy Carter very much sold his family and himself as a reason for American voters to turn to him as president and she was pretty integral to his story. And then as First Lady, she was quite influential. She gave advice on many issues, including negotiations between Egypt and Israel. She took a trip, a high-profile trip to Latin America, where she met with many key people and kind of help give a sense of what was going on in the region, and she as counsel on many different moments when he gave high-priority speeches or made decisions.


So it was truly a partnership and I think in doing that, she elevated what the office of the First Lady is all about, and actually helped to make it an office.

DEAN: Right, make it more formalized. And we also saw her really pushing for mental health -- being an advocate for mental health way before its time, and again, as First Lady, as a woman testifying before Congress.

Again, this was not something that we typically saw, and this was a subject matter that was ahead of its time.

ZELIZER: It was and it's hard today to kind of think back for generations who weren't around yet, that this was still something of a taboo issue, and so both the fact she was a First Lady and such a strong advocate of any policy, but then to take on that policy, which has become so important, and so central, is really remarkable.

And, again, it points to what she did and to the partnership they were able to develop where President Carter was more than comfortable and eager to have her as a kind of strong person in that office.

DEAN: And I want to talk to you just about first ladies as they exist in American history and kind of occupy our minds and we look to them. Where do you think she falls within that history? And with her death, what do we take away from what her time and in such a prominent space in the American fabric?

ZELIZER: I think she is a prime example of how, when done well, the first lady can be a pivotal player in national politics as an advocate for policies, as an adviser to the president, and to a figure that the country can look at with pride, especially in the turbulent times of the 1970s, their presence was quite important.

And I think the humble element that they brought to the White House was extremely, extremely appealing to many Americans who were tired of Vietnam, they were tired of Watergate, they were looking to leaders who looked like them, who they could trust, and she was part of that.

DEAN: All right, Julian, I want you to stay with us. I want to go back to Bill Nigut for a second, of course, who I mentioned, at the top has been covering the Carters since 1983.

And Bill, you mentioned a rather touching anecdote about how they ate, I think it was peanut butter and ice cream together every night.

NIGUT: Peanut butter ice cream every night. They sat and they held hands.

DEAN: Yes, peanut butter ice cream, yes, they sat and they held hands and ate peanut butter ice cream every night together and were married for decades and decades and decades.

And when you speak of either President Carter or Mrs. Carter, you can't help but think about the other one. They're so intertwined and interconnected.

NIGUT: That's right.

DEAN: Their stories are. Tell us more about their life together and their love story.

NIGUT: You know, as I learned this news today, this very sad news, it occurred to me that many of us are so caught up in covering this brutal presidential campaign that's unfolding right now and the death of Rosalynn Carter hits us hard, and it reminds us of something much more important than politics, you know, our humanity.

And Mrs. Carter and her husband, Jimmy have always been champions of human endeavor, of human suffering. My colleague at the AJC, Ernie Suggs tells a really kind of remarkable story about the 1970 gubernatorial campaign when Jimmy Carter did win.

He tells the story that Mrs. Carter was campaigning early in the morning, out in front of an Atlanta cotton mill, and an old woman who worked the night shift came out and Mrs. Carter shook her hand, saw how tired this woman was and Mrs. Carter said to her, I hope you'll get go home and get some sleep.

And the old woman said, I would love to, but I have a daughter at home who has mental issues. She is emotionally and mentally challenged, and so I don't get very much rest. And Mrs. Carter said that she thought about that woman all day.

And so when you think about her fight to improve mental health services, she did a lot once they went to the White House, but she was already thinking about that as early as 1970 and her husband was there at her side to support everything she did in that area.

DEAN: Yes, and to do that end, I just want to read again the statement from her husband, President Carter. He said: "Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished. She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me."


And I think that's what anyone who is in any relationship, a marriage or partnership would hope, right, that you feel that way, that somebody loves and support you as long as they're in this world, and it is such a sweet and tender statement that really gives us a window into the relationship that they had together.

NIGUT: Seventy-seven years, always side by side together. I saw them -- it's been a couple of years since I saw them together. They were at a church service with their entire family.

In fact, it was Raphael Warnock -- Senator Raphael Warnock's church here in Atlanta, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and President Carter brought his entire family, children, and grandchildren to the service.

And President Carter and I spoke very briefly, and then he walked me over to Mrs. Carter, and said to her in a very gentle way, do you remember Bill? He's been with us for a very, very long time. And it was already clear at that point that she was beginning to struggle with memory issues at the very least.

But it was an example to me of the fact that he was so caring about her, that he wanted to make sure that I got a chance to say hello or she got a chance to say hello to me as well. Unfortunately for me, it's the last time I've had a chance to talk to either of them.

DEAN: Yes. Well, we are going to keep talking about this. We want to squeeze in a quick break. But I want to say thank you to Julian Zelizer and Bill Nigut. You guys can stick around, please and we're going to have more on the life of Rosalynn Carter in just a moment. Stay with us.