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Source: Powell had Multiple Myeloma, a Cancer of the Plasma Cells; General Powell Dies of COVID Complications. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 18, 2021 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello everybody and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

We begin this hour with sad breaking news and the most painful reminder of our pandemic reality. Colin Powell has died of COVID complications. General Powell, Secretary Powell was 84.

He was a trailblazer, whose public service spanned four decades the first African American to serve as National Security Adviser, then the first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then the first African American Secretary of State.

As America's top general he was the architect of an overwhelming victory over Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the first Persian Gulf War. But then a dozen years later, as America's top diplomat, Secretary of State Powell was a critical salesman of going to war with Saddam a second time a war that is a glaring stain on an otherwise remarkable career.

Powell's path from the son of Jamaican immigrants in the Bronx to the corridors of global power is that of a determined pioneer. From combat duty in Vietnam to National Security Adviser to President Ronald Reagan, to serving as the youngest and the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs two American presidents and then to Foggy Bottom as the first black Secretary of State.

President George W. Bush this morning in a statement calling Powell "A family man and a friend" that statement framing the four star generals legacy this way, he was such a favorite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice.

With us to share his insights on this somber day is Bill Smullen, and who served as Chief of Staff to the Former Secretary of State, Chief of Staff to General Powell at the Pentagon and was his Principal Advisor. He's a retired Army Colonel with 30 years of active military service.

Bill, it is great to see you on this day, Colonel Smullen it's a sad day. So I'm grateful for your insights and I'm sorry for your loss. But first, just tell us you served alongside General Powell for so long. You were a deputy a staffer, but you're also a close friend. Tell us about the man.

COL. BILL SMULLEN (RET.), FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: Well, he was he was a mentor. He was a boss, he was a friend. He was a rock, a rock, someone who you can trust, which is why everybody wanted him to run for president because they could trust him something that I wish we had today in Washington in politics.

But anyway, he was an incredible man, he was a national treasure. And he will be remembered for many, many things, John, not the least of which is the Powell Doctrine. And it's worth visiting because it's something that we ought to keep in mind as we move forward with regard to our military and diplomatic efforts around the world.

KING: Amen to that, and I'll come back to that in one second. I just this is a shock this morning for everybody watching around the world and just trying to get a sense of--

SMULLEN: Well, it was a shock to me.

KING: --yes. General Powell had - General Powell had - I'm sorry, Go ahead.

SMULLEN: --told me about his disease that he was fighting. But he said, Smullen I'm going to kick it. I'm going to beat it.

KING: I think we just lost Colonel Smullen here. I'd try to get Colonel Smullen back as we do with the controller will tell me when we do have him. Back with me in studio to share their reporting and insights three journalists who were here at CNN who covered Colin Powell extensively at the White House in the Pentagon with me is CNN's Wolf Blitzer, CCN's Jamie Gangel and CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

And again to our viewers, we apologize for the technology. We'll try to get Colonel Smullen back. But Colonel Smullen was making a very important point there you are at the Pentagon, I was an AP Reporter over in the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War.

The Powell Doctrine, which was if you go into war, use overwhelming force, so that you can win and win decisively as Secretary of State. We'll get to this in a moment. It was the Rumsfeld Doctrine, which a smaller force was trying to get in and out as quickly as possible. Secretary of State Powell helped Saudi/Iraq war. But he did not agree with the Rumsfeld approach.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: He certainly didn't. And during the first Gulf War, and I was there at the Pentagon covering the first Gulf War, his strategy was not only you have to have a decisive, overwhelming force, you have to have a plan to win, but then you have to have a quick exit strategy to get out.

And a lot of people forget that to liberate Kuwait after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, then you had months of Operation Desert Shield, which eventually became Operation Desert Storm, January 1991, you had to have an exit strategy to get out as quickly as possible within six weeks the war of the air war than the groundwork, it was over the U.S and its allies, 540,000 troops, six aircraft carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf, did it and got out.

Now during the Iraq War in 2003 I think under 200,000, troops were deployed a lot fewer. And there was really no overwhelming capability to do the job to win and then get out there. The U.S. got stuck there. The U.S. still has troops in Iraq to this day.

KING: And Colonel Bill Smullen is back with us Colonel apologies for the technical issues there. I want to come back to the Powell Doctrine and the legacy of the general in a minute. But you were just talking about that - we know General Powell had a blood cancer, multiple myeloma, which attacks your immune system.

Even though he was fully vaccinated against COVID he got a breakthrough infection because of his he was immune-compromised. What do you know about how all that played out sadly?


SMULLEN: Well, he clearly was finding it very hard. He had great medical advice and attention through Walter Reed and other ways, but he was a - he was a fighter. And he, unfortunately, his immune system could not resist COVID-19. And that's unfortunate.

KING: We met 30 years ago, during the first Gulf War. Wolf was just discussing about his days at the Pentagon. And I remember walking through the desert with General Powell and then Secretary Cheney in those days and just how the young men and women of color in the military would just light up?

We've had a black president now for two terms. So maybe for a lot of younger viewers, they don't realize this. But at that moment in time, Colin Powell was the black power, if you will this prominent general leader and inspiration. Listen to the defense secretary today, our first black Defense Secretary, General Austin, now Secretary Austin, who of course served under power, listen to him, voice his admiration.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The world lost, one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed Alma lost a great husband. And the family lost a tremendous father. And I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor.

He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me. And I can always go to him with tough issues. He always had great, great counsel. We will certainly miss him. I feel as if I have a hole in my heart.


KING: You hear again, Colonel, like you have personal this is to so many people, but I saw only tiny glimpses of it. You were at General Powell's side when again; people might forget 30 years ago to have a black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

So the architect of the very successful Gulf War, as I said, I would see the young black faces in the desert light up, walk me through that experience back then, and what it meant to him to be such a role model?

SMULLEN: Well, wherever we went, soldiers stopped and saluted and let him know how much they cared for him. From privates to presidents he was someone who you could believe in, you can trust, you can know that he would take you to a good place with an objective in mind.

So he was something very special not just too black soldiers, but to soldiers around the world, all services. And he played a big role in making the Armed Forces feel integrated in the sense that they were all in it for one goal, one mission, and that was to accomplish that mission.

Back to the Powell Doctrine, which is what he will be greatly remembered about four things clear political and military objective. Clearly the support of the American people, you want to have an overwhelming force the right number of troops like we did in the Gulf War, back in 1991 and lastly, an exit strategy.

We have not followed that Doctrine very well since he spoke to it many years ago. An interesting tidbit when we went to the Gulf before the war broke out. He met with Schwarzkopf, Douglas Schwarzkopf, who was the Commander of Central Command.

And he said, norm, what is your plan, and Schwarzkopf outlined what he wanted to do or what he thought would be successful when Powell said, that's not going to work. That is not going to work. So literally, on the back of an envelope, he crafted the strategy that took us to victory in the Gulf.

KING: You mentioned at the top and again, I know this is a personal loss to you, Bill, and I'm grateful for your time on this very tough day. I'm more than I can say. I'm grateful for your time. You mentioned at the top, so many people wanted to run for president.

I remember bothering you in my prior life in 1995 when a lot of people thought he was going to run for the Republican nomination for president. I had a conversation with him in 2009 this was a Reagan Republican who spoke at Bob Dole's Convention in 96 after deciding not to run who then came out and voted for Barack Obama.

We know he had very much held Donald Trump with open disdain for what he thought Donald Trump did as President, both in terms of his global leadership or lack of leadership in general politics view and his views when it came to race issues and things like that. But I want you to listen to your friend a little bit talking about politics.


GEN. COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I have voted democratic over the years, I've voted Republican. I always try to find the person that I think is best qualified for the highest office in the land.

I believe that our country is best serve when there are too strong parties. That's what makes this country great and they can debate those points of view. I think we run into dangerous territory in this country.


POWELL: When the two ends of the political spectrum become so dug in and nasty, and everything is ad hominem, and driven by cable television, and blogs, and all kinds of other things, that our positions get so hard that we can't find a way toward the center, which is where the country is


KING: That was 12 years ago, rather precision to where we are now even worse on steroids in terms of our political conversations. But to the idea of politics, and Colin Powell, he got pretty serious thinking about it, but then decided he didn't want to get in why?

SMULLEN: Well, we went to a five week book tour. Wherever we went, people would stand up in front of him waiting for their book to be signed. Generally we don't care what party because he hadn't declared at the time.

We don't care what party just runs for president. Why? Because they could trust them believe in him. They wanted a man in the White House that they could trust and they could follow. And he, he agonized over his decision.

He lost a lot of weight, and I lost a lot of sleep, wondering what he would do? But he decided it wasn't necessarily because Alma his wife didn't want him to do that. In one of two run, it was because he just didn't have the fire in his belly to run for president.

And, yes, it's unfortunate. But for him, it was the right decision at the time, we didn't - we didn't have time, we finished the book tour 95. And he would have had to run for election in 1996.

And it takes money, it takes staff, it takes a space in which to work and takes an ability to speak to all of the issues. And we just didn't have that capability in our kit bag, so to speak. And that's unfortunate, but he made a decision that in his heart was the right one for him.

KING: Bill, you spent a lot of time on his side and you helped him. He obviously spoke for himself, but you helped him craft his words when he wanted to give big speeches and the like. This happened so suddenly, how would your friend want to be remembered?

SMULLEN: Character, competence, integrity someone who you could believe in someone who loved his comfort. And with a public servant through and through it was part of his DNA and he one would want to be remembered as someone who cared about America more than life itself and God love him. We're just going to miss him terribly, terribly, terribly.

KING: Colonel Bill Smullen I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your time today. I know you did this as a favor to me because of our long relationship on a very difficult day for you. But I'm grateful for your thoughts. And I hope the country is grateful for your thoughts about your friend General Powell. Thank you, sir very much. I appreciate it.

SMULLEN: You bet John. Thank you.

KING: Thank you. You see it right there he said character, loyalty, Colonel Powell inspired loyalty. Bill Smullen was for Colonel, served for more than 30 years, but he would put it through the millet, he would jump in front of a bus for that matter.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I just want to say, you know, we all worked with Bill Smullen. And I think his emotion today, even though he was someone who is obviously one of the closest people to General Powell, represents how many other people felt about Colin Powell? He really connected with people.

I interviewed him a couple of years ago for a documentary we did on President Bush 41. And he was talking about President Bush, what their connection was? But it also he said something that I think he says something bad himself, he said, "There's an old military expression that I think that applies to him, Bush, and I hope in turn will apply to me. And that is, this is a guy; I take on a long patrol."

And they think what you just heard from Bill Smullen on there and what he was saying about Bush 41 is actually how people felt about Colin Powell.

BLITZER: Like you, all of us. I worked with Colonel Smullen, during the first Gulf War, and he was always there. He was always available. But you could see the close relationship you had with General Powell and I always call him General - Secretary of State. To me, he was always General Powell because that's where I got to know him.


BLITZER: But Colonel Smullen was always there. And you could see how emotional he got. I've been speaking to a lot of folks this morning, who were very close with General Powell, and they're all getting emotional.

They're also said, whoever knew him and got to know him, whether working with him in the military, or at the State Department, or in the work that he did for young kids in the years since everybody saw his passion, his excitement.

And I think I speak for all of us, you know, a wonderful family, his wife, Alma, hearts go out to that family, the kids, and the grandkids. And as we say, but he rest in peace, may his memory be a blessing.

KING: We're going to spend a lot more time on this, but to that point, we know the general we know the Secretary of State, you covered him professionally, in our time at the White House together. But you also have a personal connection to General Powell and his family shares some of that we'll talk more lately, but share some of that, that's important SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR: I can understand the just the Colonel's feelings there. General Powell and my father were very close for many years, decades. They both were a part of Howard University. He sat on the board and many social occasions where we had a chance to spend time with him and his wife.

They were very private. But I learned this morning as well, you know, he had a very small inner circle was about six weeks ago that he shared with members of his inner circle that he was not doing well, and that he was having health challenges and that he was concerned that he was not going to be able to communicate effectively in the weeks to come.

And so many people who were close to him did not hear from him recently. But you know that he kind of lit up the room when he was there in any occasion and even in the briefing room when he was with President Bush. How he would kind of survey the room at first before we went at him?

And he would always kind of smile. He was very; very charming and he gave like a little wink before he started. He winked - I don't know if you get that wink job. But I usually got a wink before we started these briefings that didn't work for him but he tried and it was beautiful to see.

KING: Everybody please stand by. We're going to take a very quick break, but we'll continue our conversation about the life and the legacy of American hero General Colin Powell.



KING: Colin Powell was fully vaccinated yet died of COVID complications such severe Coronavirus breakthrough infections are very, very rare. But a source tells CNN Powell had multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that can significantly weaken the body's immune system.

Here to share his insights with us Dr. Peter Hotez, Co-Director of the Center for Vaccine development at Texas Children's Hospital and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Hotez so fully vaccinated, someone who clearly understands he has this cancer so is being very careful. And yet this can happen walk us through it.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT AT TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL, DEAN OF THE NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE AT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, that's a sad day for me as well, John, because you know, when I was in the decade I was Microbiology Chair GW Secretary Powell, General Powell was a pretty frequent visitor to George Washington University.

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg - President then used to invite him quite a bit and I got to know him someone and so this is a - this is tough for a number of us. You know, with multiple myeloma, it's a blood cancer.

It's a cancer of a type of white blood cell called the plasma cell that's involved in producing antibodies. So people don't produce antibodies like they need to in order to fight infection. And of course, that's a major means that we need to fight COVID infection.

So people with multiple myeloma, number one are susceptible to infections in general, both viral and bacterial infections. In fact, infectious diseases are the leading cause of death in multiple myeloma as in Secretary Powell.

And not only do they not respond well to infectious pathogens, they do not respond well to vaccinations overall, it's variable. And it depends how active their disease are? It depends on what kind of chemotherapy they're getting? What type of monoclonal antibody therapy they're getting?

We know at least one study now on COVID-19 vaccination responses and they're not good. So more than half of patients with multiple myeloma do not respond well to either of the two mRNA vaccines, the Pfizer/Biden tech or the Moderna Vaccine so that could explain quite a bit.

So it's not - so the fact that he's older, 84 years old, and often if you're older, you don't respond as well, the fact that he had multiple myeloma. I don't know what the status of his illness is, but we know that more than half did not respond, respond well to the vaccination.

Now that's was looking at two doses. What I don't know is when the information came out from the Food & Drug Administration, about recommending a third immunization, and patients like General Powell, whether he went ahead and got that third immunization, so there's a lot more we'll need to know.

But it's not too surprising. And in no way should this be seen as any kind of condemnation of the vaccinations. The vaccines are working really well. It's just that multiple myeloma patients, especially older multiple myeloma patients, simply do not do well, either with COVID-19 or with COVID-19 vaccinations.

KING: Dr. Hotez thank you grateful for the important insights there. And it's also very important for anybody listening if you haven't been vaccinated, get vaccinated to protect not only yourself, but to protect other people as well.

Here's another painful, a powerful lesson of that. My CNN colleagues who cover General Powell CUNY General Powell are back with me at the table. I say, General Powell. I asked him - I asked him once after he was Secretary of State, which do you prefer and he said general.

And that doesn't mean he didn't diminish his work as Secretary of State but he just like general because he was the general all that time. We were talking earlier - you were talking about the personal part of it.

[12:25:00] KING: Just tell us a little bit more about that by being friends with your dad. In the sense that you know America saw him Americans old enough to remember him you know, when I first came to Washington, he was serving in the Reagan White House and a friend of the Bush family.

Interesting and then a person, who was a staffer, became a very close friend of George H. W. Bush, and then George W. Bush, but for him to rise up and yet become a friend of a president, from a junior officer to a friend of a president told you about the power of the person.

MALVEAUX: Well, one of the things that that General Powell never forgot was that he knew that he was breaking ground that he was an African American that was making history and he did it in a very kind of understated way.

He didn't jump up and down; make a lot of noise about it. And one of the things about being in Washington, D.C. and black professional circles is that it's a small circle, it's very intimate. And so there are many different occasions where people are rubbing each other ribbing each other about which fraternity or sorority you're in or what school you went to?

I mean, his connection to the community was always very strong, and he never lost sight of that. One other things that I had an opportunity to do, which was about three years ago to the day is interview Powell with Secretary Albright together about 90 minute interview at Creighton University.

And one other things that he really emphasized was at the time, the context of it was that you had the Jewish synagogue 11 worshipers who had been massacred. You had these pipe bombs that were being sent to Trump's enemies.

And then also, you know, this, criticism of an infestation that words that were used by Trump of a caravan coming into the country of immigrants. He never forgot where he came from. And he was so proud that he was an immigrant of Jamaican parents and said it was amazing that they could have two children, a teacher and a soldier, and only in America could he do that?

KING: And the decency the upbringing and the decency is what shaped his transformation in politics to go from a Reagan Bush Republican to somebody who said he voted for Barack Obama endorsed Joe Biden had open disdain for Donald Trump because of the way the caustic way Trump did his business.

GANGEL: Yes. Can I just also say he was always humble? He liked to say he was from the Bronx. He liked to say he went to CUNY. And if you had a Volvo, he liked to fix it. Yes. This was he never got too big crawl under a Volvo and fix--

BLITZER: And he was always so available all the years, 30 years now that I've been reporting, going back to the first Gulf War, and all these, whenever I would call him whenever I wanted to talk to him, let's go out to dinner, or give me some background and what's going on? He was, but it wasn't just me. It was everyone and especially U.S. military personnel. He felt such a kinship with those men and women who volunteer this is no longer a draft, volunteer to serve in the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and he was always there. He wanted to inspire them and he did it.

KING: When Barbara Bush passed away General Powell was right here came in, because he wanted to be here to pay tribute to his friend to his friends and the Bush family and wish thank you all. I can't thank you enough.

It's a sad day but it's an important day. It's important day. Coming up for us, is of critical week ahead for President Biden and the Biden agenda Democrats now pushing for the president to take a more forceful role in the negotiations. We'll be right back.