Return to Transcripts main page


Press Conference of Former President Jimmy Carter. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired August 20, 2015 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:03] FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: We have a newer farm we got in -- 1904. We still grow peanuts and cotton and corn on the farm.

CARTER: And so my roots are there, and -- and my closest friends are there, and our little church is there, which is very important to me.

So, Plains has just been the focal point of our life. And a good many business who come there every year, about 80,000, I think, on official count. As you know, they come to find out how, out of this little tiny town a future president that have come. They learn about my schooling and things like that.

So, Plains means a lot to me.

QUESTION: Thank you.

CARTER: OK, let's starting adding anybody else to the line.

QUESTION: Thank you.

President Carter, Jesus Juscatare (ph), with Mundo Hispanico Newspaper.

I wonder if you have discussed with your family or closest circle, how do you see this organization in the future? The Carter Center?

CARTER: How do I feel what?

QUESTION: How do you see the Carter Center in the future? Have you discussed that?

CARTER: Well, I think the Carter Center's future will be equal to what it's been in the past.

It's been expanding every year, as far as the number of people we treat for terrible diseases and things of that kind.

I understand in this coming year, we'll treat 71 million people on Earth for diseases so that they won't have afflictions that they've had throughout their lifetimes.

So, we've added -- we've finished 100 troubled elections (ph) to bring democracy and freedom to people. So, we still try to bring peace. So, we concentrate on peace, and human rights, and democracy and freedom, and the alleviation of suffering. And I would say that in every one of those areas, the Carter Center's overall function and plans for the future are still expanding. And in my -- I am completely confident that those plans can be realized without my everyday, you know, constant involvement in different projects.

And I'll still be coming to the trustee's meeting as long as I am able, and meeting with our directors and others who carry out the programs.

QUESTION: And have you received messages from Latin America, where the Carter Center had participation?

CARTER: Well, I've got a lot a messages the last few days from Latin America. I'll be meeting next week -- I (inaudible) don't know if it's next week or next month, with a group from Panama. And I'll -- I've already approved that program on my schedule. So, we maintain a wide range of programs in Latin America, primarily to try to do away with conflicts within the country, the relationship between the news media and the executive branch of government, when they try to stamp out freedom of the press.

And also, peaceful relationships, and we have, still, an ongoing program in six countries in Latin America that just about finished that, to do away with (inaudible). We still have just a small cluster of people, (inaudible), about 25,000, I think, total population on the border between Venezuela and Brazil.

So, we're going to continue to try to work on that. So, we'll continue our work in Latin America.

QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. President. I'm Scott Kemblar (ph), new radio 106.7 here in Atlanta.

As Jason is preparing to take over as chairman of the board of the Carter Center, you have very much been the face of peace negotiations since the time that you left office, as he is continuing the efforts in the -- health and humanitarian efforts of Carter Center, will he also be active, and will you be advising him in future international conflict that the Carter Center may be asked to become a negotiator of the type...

CARTER: Well, the chairman of the board of trustees, and the inter- body of trustees, about 23, I think, they make the final decisions, they make the ultimate choices of what we do, and how much money we spend on how many people we send there, and that sort of thing.

And so, the chairman of the board is very deeply involved in making those ultimate decisions and present it to the board of trustees.

So, I presume that -- Oz Nelson has done in the last few years, superbly, that the new chairman, Jason, will use the best experience that he can derive for all the programs of the Carter Center.

He may not be directly involved in as many direct peace negotiations and so forth, as I -- but he will be going, for instance, to Myanmar for the election the first part of November.

[10:35:03] And he'll be heading up the Carter Center delegation to monitor that very important election.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Maria Saporta, a long-time journalist in Atlanta, with SaportaReport and now the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

CARTER: I know.

QUESTION: You have had such a scope of work in your life. In the time that you have left, what would give you the most satisfaction to see something happen? Peace in the Middle East or eradication of polio or -- what -- what are those things that you hold onto the most that would give you the greatest satisfaction for the world and if you can look at the state of the world and how you've been working in efforts to try and...

CARTER: Well, in international affairs, I would say peace for Israel and its neighbors. That's been a top priority for my foreign- policy project for the last 30 years.

Right now, I think the prospects are more dismal than any time I remember in the last 50 years. The only process is practically dormant.

The government of Israel has no desire for a two-state solution, which is the policy of all other nations in the world, and the United States has practically no influence compared to past years in either Israel or Palestine. So I -- I feel very discouraged, but that would be my number-one foreign-policy hope.

As far as the Carter Center's concerned, I would like to see guinea worm completely eradicated before -- before I die. I'd like for the last guinea worm to die before I do.


I think right now, we have 11 cases. We started out with 3.6 million cases. And I think we have two cases in South Sudan and one case in Ethiopia and one case in Mali and seven cases in Chad. That's all the guinea worms in the world, and we know where all of them are. So obviously, that would be my top priority.

MODERATOR: This'll be our last question.

QUESTION: Good morning, President Carter. Christopher King with CBS 46 News here in Atlanta.

You've fought many political battles throughout your career. How tough do you expect this fight against cancer will be?

CARTER: Well, it won't be tough on my part. You know, I just -- I'm more acquiescent and cooperating and patient, and within the bounds of my own judgment, I'll do what the doctors recommend for me to extend my life as much as possible.

So I don't look on this as any hardship on me. They have means, they say, and I trust them completely, to alleviate the aftereffects or side effects of a -- of different treatments. They had a lot of treatments ongoing with different patients, thousands of them in the -- in the world, and so I -- I don't anticipate any -- any troubling pain or suffering or deprivation (ph) on my part.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

CARTER: Thank you all very much for coming, and I appreciate it.

I don't know if we -- (inaudible), you want to add anything or -- if you have any particular questions, (inaudible) correct my mistakes. I'm sorry? OK, I'm leaving.

Thank you all very much.



[10:39:04] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It's just a truly extraordinary historic news conference. I've never witnessed any American president talk so openly and frankly about his health, about a disease that affects so many Americans. Perhaps though it's no surprise the President who chose to do that was Jimmy Carter.

I have met and interviewed Jimmy Carter many times. He is a true gentleman, down to earth. And I just can't express how kind he is.

I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer right now.

I don't know about you, but I think I experienced every emotion humanly possible. I cried, I laughed, I felt hope, I felt despair. It was just extraordinary.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You know, he was so open, so honest, so lucid in discussing what couldn't be a more personal issue. The fact that this cancer has now spread and spread to his brain, the treatment he's going to have to endure over the next several weeks, months -- who knows what's going to happen next.

But it really was, Carol, I totally agree with you, an amazing moment for those of us who remember covering Jimmy Carter while he was president of the United States.

I was a young reporter here in Washington. I remember very vividly those four years he served as president. He spoke a little bit about the ups and the downs of his own presidency. He remembers those 444 days when American -- 50 American diplomats and others were held hostage in Iran.

The U.S. tried to rescue those hostages, failed in that operation. He wished -- he acknowledged right then and there today that he wishes he would have sent some more U.S. military helicopters in that operation. Those helicopters went down, as all of us remember.

Eventually those 444 Americans were freed on the day that Ronald Reagan took office, was inaugurated as president of the United States beating Jimmy Carter in his bid for re-election.

But it was a moment certainly he'll never forget, didn't forget it today. Those of us who remember covering him at that time remember.

And he also spoke very passionately about what was probably his greatest achievement as president of the United States, the Camp David Peace Accords that led to the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Egypt and Israel are still at peace. They still have a peace treaty that exists to this very day -- full diplomatic relations.

And Jimmy Carter brought together Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president and Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister of Israel. They met for 13 days at Camp David in September of 1978, worked out the deal that eventually was signed in March of 1979 on the north lawn of the White House. And that peace treaty still exists between Israel and the largest of all of its Arab neighbors, namely Egypt.

Jimmy Carter deserves an enormous amount of credit for that as well.

It's just a very sensitive moment for all of us who remember Jimmy Carter over all of these years for him to speak so openly about what couldn't be a more personal issue, namely the spread of this cancer.

COSTELLO: And perhaps that's the most important thing he's done yet for the nation, right? Because so many people go through the very thing that he is going through. You heard him say, well, you know what, I have had a wonderful life. God has blessed me. If this is my time, I'm ready to go.

And perhaps that struck me because I just lost my stepfather to cancer a couple of months ago. He said the exact same thing to me. He said it's been tougher on my family than it has been on me, and I can totally understand that. I think a lot of people are worried about what the kind of treatment Jimmy Carter will receive will mean to him. Will it be painful?

So I want to bring in Jonathan Reckford -- actually let's bring Dr. Ken Lichtenfeld first -- right. Dr. Ken, I want to ask you about Jimmy Carter's treatment. He's going to have his first radiation treatment on his brain this afternoon. What will that be like?

JONATHAN RECKFORD, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: Hi, Carol. This is Jonathan, I'm with Habitat for Humanity. I think we have our camera crossed.

COSTELLO: I think we do have our cross wires. Let's bring in Dr. Ken Lichtenfeld if we could and I'll get right back to you -- Jonathan. Never fear.

Dr. Ken -- are you with me.


COSTELLO: Dr. Len -- oh I'm getting everything right today. I apologize.

LICHTENFELD: Good morning.

COSTELLO: Good morning.

But seriously Jimmy Carter will have his first radiation treatment this afternoon. What will that be like? What will his treatment be like? How will he feel?

LICHTENFELD: It's hard to predict how the President is going to feel. It's obvious -- as you mentioned, we just witnessed an incredibly emotional and frankly spectacular moment with his willingness to sit and share with us what's going on with him at a very difficult moment in his life.

He's going to receive one of the new immunotherapy drugs -- a drug called Pembrolizumab. And he's going to get radiation therapy to the brain. He's going to have some side effects. If there's good news in here, the side effects that he's going to have are probably going to be less than what most people associate with traditional chemotherapy.

The radiation therapy I suspect is going to be very targeted radiation. These lesions in the brain are very small. And there's a very real possibility he could have minimal side effects. Now, that doesn't mean that that's a guarantee, but these newer treatments are more effective and they're also easier to tolerate.

What's interesting, Carol, and for the audience, is that these are treatments where the basic scientific research was started just around the time that Jimmy Carter was president, and it has taken us that long, until very recently, these drugs have just been approved this Pembrolizumab and another drug called Nivolumab have just been approved.

And they've been much more effective in treating the type of cancer, the melanoma, that Jimmy Carter has. So in a difficult moment, there's also reason for hope and optimism that he will do well with this treatment.

[10:45:03] COSTELLO: Well, Doctor, something else that I found difficult to understand. So they found a spot on his liver, right; and now they found melanoma in his brain. So, you know, the liver and the brain are far apart. How does that happen?

LICHTENFELD: Well, let's also understand that melanoma is a skin cancer, and usually we can see a lesion on the skin that's a primary lesion. As the President pointed out, there was no visible lesion that suggested where this cancer actually started. But when melanoma becomes invasive, it can spread, and what makes it so serious as a skin cancer is it can spread to many parts of the body. The liver and the brain being two such locations.

But the important message here and what's so -- also so interesting about the President's situation is that the tumor in the liver is a small tumor that could be completely resected and the tumors in the brain are also very small and the probability is they're going to be effectively treated with radiation.

So when we approach a patient with melanoma, sometimes, unfortunately, this disease is widespread and rapidly growing and sometimes we're able to actually treat or remove all of the cancerous tumors. When we can do that, the prognosis is actually much better. And the President mentioned as well that this was a slow growing cancer.

Someone and one of the questions was, well, if you knew this diagnosis in May or you knew there was a problem in May and you waited until August to have your surgery, isn't that delaying things? And he made the comment the doctors said this was a slow-growing cancer, he could continue what he wanted to do, his surgeon could take a vacation, but the reality is that they have fundamentally removed all visible signs of cancer. Over that four months no additional cancer has shown up, now they're treating him and there are probably cancer cells elsewhere but they're starting a treatment that hopefully will deal with that remaining disease.

COSTELLO: OK. So Dr. Len, stand by. I want to go to Dr. Sanjay Gupta right now. Sanjay, you were inside that room at the Carter Center. Rosalynn Carter, was she sitting nearby?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: She was sitting nearby. Other members of his family were, members of the Carter Center, and often times he obviously referred to his wife Rosalynn and talked about their 69-year marriage. And he was looking right at her when he was making those comments.

It was very touching, Carol, inside the room, very emotional.

COSTELLO: I just wanted to know what you think Mr. Carter's prognosis will be.

GUPTA: Well, you know, he was asked that question and it's always one of those tough things to sort of put into some context because if you look at the numbers for everybody across the board, when you're talking about metastatic melanoma which is what he's describing, melanoma that started somewhere in his body and has spread to his liver and to his brain, it's a very tough cancer to treat, no question.

He's talking about getting a specific type of therapy which is going to boost his immune system to help his immune system better fight the cancer, if you will, and also going to get radiation, but it's very hard to put numbers on this -- Carol. Everybody wants numbers, likelihood of survival in terms of numbers. It's just very hard to do.

He looked good today. It's going to be a tough treatment on him and I think the next few months will give us a better idea in terms of his prognosis overall. How does he respond to these treatments.

COSTELLO: He seems so positive, too, Sanjay. Will that help?

GUPTA: You know, I think his optimism is really remarkable, and there was a couple things. One is that when he was first told, and this was one of the more remarkable moments in the conference, when he was first told, he said I thought I just had a couple weeks to live at that point and he almost talked about the acceptance that he had around it. You could hear this hush in the audience when he said that.

It was I think tough for him to talk about, but then he pivoted quickly to his optimism saying that he's listening to the advice of his doctors. He is going to follow their recommendations pretty thoroughly and, you know, be aggressive in terms of this treatment.

It is quite remarkable as Dr. Lichtenfeld was just talking about. I asked President Carter about this, that from the time he was first diagnosed to have this mass in his liver to the time of his operation was over two months. Perhaps that didn't make a difference. Generally you want to try and operate as quickly as possible so that you can reduce a chance for future spread.

He said, look, I was on book tour still, my surgeon was on vacation in Spain. So that was the decision, to wait until August 3rd when he had that MRI originally in May. So, again, who knows if that makes a difference. What we do know now is that he is planning on fighting this and being very aggressive with the therapy.

COSTELLO: Absolutely. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

On the phone with me right now is Reverend Jeremy Shoulta, the Maranatha Baptist Church in Planes, Georgia where Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school. Pastor -- thank you for being with me this morning.

[10:50:01] REV. JEREMY SHOULTA, MARANATHA BAPTIST CHURCH (via telephone): Thank you.

COSTELLO: Have you discussed with President Carter his cancer?

SHOULTA: I have. I have spoken with him individually and he spoke with Maranatha Baptist Church this week to let us know essentially what he let others know during the press conference today. But as a community of faith we have spoken with him and we've listened to him and we are prepared to walk alongside him in the coming months as he prepares to receive this treatment.

COSTELLO: You know what many people are wondering. Jimmy Carter has done such great things throughout his life. Why does he get cancer? Why does God let that happen?

SHOULTA: Well, that's one of the questions that theologians of all ages have sought to answer. I think in one breath we can say it is not fair. It's not fair for anyone to have to go through something like this, but at the same time we all realize and President Carter realizes that this is a part of life. It's a part of what all of us will have to deal with at one point or another.

And so given the reality of that, we can just hope to continue to live in a way where we can continue to love one another and to live out our call in the best way we know how. And President Carter will continue to do so even though it may look a little different in the coming months. His responsibilities may shift, and as he turns some responsibilities over, he's going to continue to live out the call that he has received even if in a different way.

So we're looking forward to seeing how he's going to continue to do that even as he goes through this treatment.

COSTELLO: I suspect this will be even more difficult on his wife, Rosalynn, which, of course, she was in church with Jimmy Carter when he told the congregation. Is she doing ok?

SHOULTA: Miss Rosalynn has been in I think very good spirits throughout this process. And for both of them to give the kind of support they give to one another, they both hold each other up as husband and wife but also as a brother and sister in Christ. And they are both strong in their faith. It is something that they have shared together intimately for all of their years.

And so no doubt she is going through some of those difficult times that I think any spouse would when learning about this sort of diagnosis, but at the same time she has been in very good spirits. And I think as you did watch the press conference and as you see President Carter with a huge smile on his face and great optimism and great faith throughout the press conference.

You can see that would bring comfort to her, and so in the times that we have spoken, she is hopeful and optimistic and she is taking this in stride as well.

COSTELLO: All right. Thank you so much, Reverend Jeremy Shoulta for joining me this morning.

And now I want to go to Jonathan Reckford. He's a friend of the former president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity. Welcome back sir. I'm glad you're here with me this morning.

RECKFORD: Thank you -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Why do you think President Carter decided to do this?

RECKFORD: You know, I think it's so consistent with who he is and the way he treats -- has engaged life all the way along and it's a little emotional for me. He's one of my heroes.

I think President Carter is in my definition of integrity one of those people that is the same in all situations. So when he's in very difficult situations or joyful ones, you see the same person. I have traveled with him with heads of state and with some of the poorest people in the world and you always get the same person. So it doesn't surprise me that he has handled this with such grace as well. COSTELLO: I know he's going to try to continue his work at the Carter

Center in a diminished capacity, but I would suppose you fully expect him to do as much as he can.

RECKFORD: I do, and obviously his treatment has to come first and we are -- I and all of the Habitat for Humanity family are keeping the President and Mrs. Carter in our thoughts and prayers in the days ahead as he goes through his treatment.

But knowing him, if there's anyone I would bet on, it would be him. And I'm sure he will be doing all he can around the edges to continue to have impact.

COSTELLO: All right. Jonathan Reckford -- thanks so much for being with me this morning. I appreciate it.

I want to bring in Douglas Brinkley right now, a CNN presidential historian. Hi, Doug.


COSTELLO: This was amazing. I have never seen anything like it.

BRINKLEY: Well, there's nothing like it, but it's classic Jimmy Carter. You know, he mentioned the guinea worm disease and that there's some cases. It's one of the things he'd like to get done in his life is eradicate it. Jimmy Carter wars against disease, river blindness, guinea worm -- on and on around the planet.

[10:55:05] And you're going to see him in the coming weeks take on a war against cancer and we're all going to be rooting for him. But the concern that he has is with his wife, Rosalynn, that he always wanted to be her caretaker and that flash of how much time do I have left he wanted to take care of her through her senior years. And that's the only thing that he's not at peace with.

Otherwise he's a man of such a healthy spirit, he may be sick with cancer but his spirit is so healthy and that's what we saw in today's press conference.

COSTELLO: It was still amazing because American presidents don't like to talk about their health, even after they leave office.

BRINKLEY: Well, Jimmy Carter is not typical. Jimmy Carter -- first off, he could have been a doctor. I mean the Carter Center since '82, '83 has been working global health problems all over the planet. He constantly meets with doctors' groups.

What we saw today was Jimmy Carter being really America's great patient. He's showing us how to listen to doctors, to believe in modern medicine, but also keep faith and hope alive and to try to live out your last months of your life with dignity.

So it's an amazing moment because he's teaching us on how to cope with something as heinous as cancer which as you mentioned affected your family and it affects everybody's family. We can't wipe cancer out like guinea worm right now, but if ever the ideas of getting rid of cancer are going to come, it will come from places like the Carter Center working with Emory or working with MD Anderson.

So I'm very proud of Jimmy Carter -- somebody that I loved and he really was just spot on wonderful today.

COSTELLO: Absolutely.

OK. Douglas Brinkley -- thanks so much.

I want to bring back in now Wolf Blitzer. You know, I have met Jimmy Carter myself many times. I met him when I was a very young reporter. He was monitoring some election in some country and I can't recall which one because I got to meet a president of the United States, even though he was former at the time, he was surrounded by Secret Service, right?

About 26 years old. I want a one-on-one with Jimmy Carter. The Secret Service wouldn't let me near him. But Jimmy Carter stopped in his tracks, I was chasing him down the street, and he said to the Secret Service, allow this young lady to ask me a question. And I got my one-on-one.

And I have always appreciated that because it meant so much to me as a young reporter. And, you know, he was doing such great things throughout the world at that time.

BLITZEWR: He's really done amazing work since leaving office in 1981 when he lost his bid for re-election to Ronald Reagan. Over these many years at the Carter Center as Douglas Brinkley and so many others have pointed out, he really has made a difference around the world. He's helped people obviously in South America and Latin America, Central America, Africa, Asia, all over the world. He's traveled.

He's been -- and what we saw today was -- and I agree with Doug, typical Jimmy Carter. This is a man who is not afraid to go out and speak the truth even if it's not pleasant to certain people at certain times and be honest out there. And he certainly was so candid and honest about his own physical condition right now and the spread of this cancer from his liver to his brain and what he's going to have to endure now in the coming days, weeks, and months.

So it's typical -- I wasn't surprised because I would have expected Jimmy Carter to be as honest and bold and courageous in dealing with this particular issue as he has dealt with so many other issues over these past many decades.

COSTELLO: All right. Wolf -- thanks so much. I'm sure you'll be talking much more about this later this afternoon. I appreciate your being with me.

I'm Carol Costello. That does it for me. CNN will continue after this.


[11:00:01] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: I'm John Berman. This is CNN special breaking news coverage.

Just moments ago, candid and incredibly at ease, former President Jimmy Carter opened up about his health and a new serious battle with cancer.

Mr. Carter says that --