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INSIDE POLITICS

Senators Mourn Void Left After McCain's Death; Newer Candidates Highlighting Military Service in Campaigns; DOJ Official Bruce Ohr Faces Closed-Door Capitol Hill Grilling; Lieberman Reflects on McCain's 2008 Race. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 28, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- "despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country and in his honor have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his internment."

Now tributes from McCain's longtime colleagues were, of course, more effusive. Senators tearfully bidding farewell to their friend, colleague, and adversary. But a curious theme also emerged, many of them pointing to McCain as a dying breed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: We've all heard our whole lives about the importance of patriotism and self-sacrifice. But we cannot take that culture of commitment for granted. The very notion that some causes really are greater than ourselves only survives because service members and statesmen like John McCain will fight and even die to defend it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: It's just so fascinating to me. We've seen, obviously, over the, you know, last generation. A shift from military service being a requirement for the highest office in the land. It was kind of a no- brainer to starting with obviously Bill Clinton, the first who didn't serve, and then really going up through now.

I mean, we haven't seen somebody in the White House, even though they had opponents who did have military service. What does that say to you guys?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, I think there's clearly a generational difference here that you don't have the people who served in, you know, World War II. You don't have people who served in Vietnam in public life as much anymore. That generation is ageing.

But I also think it's a cultural difference in our politics, this idea that McConnell was referencing that you're serving something that's bigger than yourself. And what he didn't say but I think is the clear implication better than your party. John McCain was a legislator who kind of reveled in that process and in that idea that he was dedicated to some ideals that didn't have to do with the R after his name.

And if you look at the U.S. Senate right now and certainly the House of Representatives, you don't see a lot of that. There -- you know, you see some older members who still have that kind of a take on what their service really means, but that is not the generation of politicians that we're seeing in elected leadership that we're seeing right now.

BASH: I want to read something from John Harris who's a long time D.C. reporter, now the editor of Playbook and Politico. He writes, "In an age in which most political and media elites have no military experience, there does seem to be a romantic longing for what people imagine the military and its values represent. But in real life when people who claimed that their biographies represent such virtues actually face the electorate at the presidential level, the response has been harsh. The reason McCain's death has resonated so deeply is everyone recognizes that Trump is the more authentic representative of the age."

JENNA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: It's interesting, McCain and Trump. McCain was several years older than Trump but they came from kind of the same world. They both grew up in lives of privilege. McCain went into military service. The president had several draft deferments. And now as president, he hasn't been to a war zone.

Talks a lot about the military but, you know, hasn't always immersed himself in that life to try to understand what it means to be in the military, what the real needs of the military are. You know, so as we see our political class get filled with more and more people who don't have a direct tie, they haven't served themselves, their child hasn't served, there is this fear that there's this disconnect between the policies that we're making, the decisions that we're making, and what's actually happening foreign policy-wise.

BASH: That's right. And yet, to be sure, we're talking about the presidency, but on a lower level, it still exists. We talked about Martha McSally. I want to play one quick ad from MJ Hegar, an ad that went viral from Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MJ HEGAR, AMERICAN AIR FORCE VETERAN: I was on a rescue mission in Afghanistan as a combat search and rescue pilot. I heard the windshield crack and realized I'd been shot but we continued the mission and air lifted the patients out. After taking even more fire, we crashed a few miles away. I strapped myself to the skids and returned fire on the Taliban while we flew to safety.

That got me a Purple Heart, and I became the second woman ever awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with valor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: I love that the military -- the vets we've been playing who are running for office, by the way, both are women today. But go ahead, Olivier.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: It's interesting to hear how they talk about their service. That's very interesting. But we have a quite -- actually quite a few combat veterans coming into Congress now, in the Senate, in the House. So that's a function of the fact that we've been at war for 17 years. And so the people who were 18 on 9/11, shortly after 9/11, you know, are now rising up as a political class.

[12:35:05] Military service is clearly not sufficient, just ask President Wesley Clark. But it clearly is important to the biographies of a lot of these candidates. Maybe not in the way it was for H.W. Bush, right clear war hero. Maybe not perhaps -- but it wasn't enough for John Kerry. And it wasn't enough, for that matter, for John McCain.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: And after McCain, there's only one Vietnam War veteran still in the Senate, and that's Delaware's Tom Carper. I think there are many veterans in Congress and many coming into Congress from the Iraq and Afghanistan War, but it's a different generation. Those wars were not as part of the draft.

BASH: Yes. Well, that's an incredible stat.

OK. Up next, a Guatemalan woman says it is the U.S. Government's fault that her child died.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:12] BASH: Topping our political radar today, a Guatemalan woman is blaming the U.S. Immigration and Customs officials for the death of her young daughter. Attorneys for Yazmin Juarez say her 18- month-old became gravely ill while they were in -- while she was in ICE detention and was given sub-standard care. Now the little girl died six weeks after their release. ICE said in a statement to CNN it's committed to ensuring the welfare of everyone in its custody.

And support appears to be unraveling in the Senate for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Publicly rank and file members seem to be pushing the president toward finding a new attorney general. CNN is told Sessions' team is counting their friends right now because it seems that no one is rushing to the microphone to defend him. Case in point, here's Lindsey Graham on NBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This relationship is beyond repair, I think. The president's lost confidence in Jeff Sessions. And I'm telling you what everybody in the country knows. This is a dysfunctional relationship. We need a better one.

Is there somebody who's highly qualified that has the confidence of the president and will also understand their job is to protect Mueller? Yes, I think we can find that person after the election, if that's what the president wants. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: I think we know what the president wants there.

Up next, a key figure in the conservative case against the Russia probe gets a Capitol Hill grilling.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:45:52] BASH: Intrigue on Capitol Hill this hour surrounding a closed door hearing with a Justice Department lawyer. Right now, Bruce Ohr is facing questions from lawmakers about his involvement in the Russia probe. Depending on who tells the story, Ohr is either a player of relatively little significance or a linchpin in the deep state cabal to stop the President Trump's candidacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I've got over 60 questions that I need answered today. What we see is at every critical juncture when we've been able to see something happen, whether it was Christopher Steele's testimony or interview in Italy, whether it was the opening of the original investigation, whether it was the FISA application. Every single time there was significant contact between Christopher Steele and Bruce Ohr prior to that.

And so, you know, it could be an unbelievable coincidence. I believe not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So Congressman Meadows, you just heard there and other conservatives say that Ohr's action put the soul of the Justice Department at stake, but we haven't seen their evidence or e-mails, text messages, notes penned by Ohr because none of it is public yet.

Now, I want to talk about this with CNN's Sara Murray and CNN Legal Analyst Shan Wu. I want to bring them into the conversation.

Sara, explain what the lawmakers on Capitol Hill are looking to get from this Justice Department lawyer, Bruce Ohr.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think part of the reason they're so interested in Bruce Ohr is because he did have this contact with Christopher Steele. He's this ex-British spy who assembled the now infamous dossier which has all these salacious allegations against then President-elect Trump that (INAUDIBLE) learned about it. Many of these are unproven. And so we've seen that this has been especially politicized on the House side, right among those committees, this whole investigation has been.

So, I think they're looking for any kind of indication that Bruce Ohr is one of these Justice Department officials who had it out for the president, who is trying to get anything on him from day one. But, you know, we have some excellent reporting on our CNN digital site today with all these people who have worked with Bruce Ohr who are shocked that this guy has kind of ended up in the middle of this who've been the target of Republicans. He's been the target of President Trump.

Because they're saying, you know, this guy was a pretty vigilant investigator. He spent a longtime working on organized crime cases. He was very supportive of his colleagues. He was always pushing, you know, to take cases to trial. And they say, you know, this guy was pretty by the book, he knew what he was doing. And so they're kind of stunned to see that he's now at the center of this controversy.

BASH: When a bureaucrat becomes a superstar or maybe even infamous in his case.

But obviously, just to kind of take it up to 10,000 feet a little bit, what Republicans are doing with this is also, as Sara mentioned, trying to undermine the whole genesis of the Russia investigation because they argue that this dossier was part of it. But we also know that there are other factors that went into launching this probe, right?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, absolutely. And I think unfortunately why this may have a little bit of legs for them is, it is unusual for someone of Ohr's experience to go and have these many meetings with somebody who is no longer an FBI asset. If they're friends, that's perfectly fine. I do that all the time, see friends talk.

But I don't come back and then get debriefed by the FBI about it. And that suggests that somebody was authorizing him to do that. Or each time he meets them, he thinks, well, there's some news here I better tell people about.

So that is going to cause a lot of genuine curiosity about that. So that's probably been a (INAUDIBLE) to that whole inquiry a little bit more traction than it would normally have.

BASH: That's really interesting. OK, before we take a break, I just want to mention a conversation that I had with Rudy Giuliani yesterday who said that they have not heard from Mueller's team in three weeks. About three weeks ago, team Trump sent over another outline of what they would be willing to deal with in a potential, underline potential, presidential interview with Robert Mueller. They haven't heard back. And there's nervousness.

DAVIS: Well, absolutely. I mean, I think there's been nervousness all along, but Rudy Giuliani has been voicing a lot of confidence that in the end they would be able to work out terms in order for this to happen. Of course, he's been saying, you know, that there's -- he's been saying both publicly and privately that there's great peril. And the people around the president think there's a lot of risk in him sitting down with Mueller and his investigators.

[12:50:11] But obviously the key question is what kind of questions he's going to be willing to answer. Mueller and his team did not seem to be happy with the opening gamut that they got from Rudy Giuliani in terms of really narrowing the scope to only things that happened after he, you know, was in office. And so clearly there's a back and forth there that's gone cold because I guess the assumption would be that Mueller is sort of switching tracks now.

BASH: Exactly. And that's the question. What track? In the 15 seconds we have left (INAUDIBLE), what's the other track?

No, I mean, could he be working on a subpoena? Could he be just saying forget it? Or not even bothered.

I'd be a little surprised by a subpoena. But I'll give -- to the other point, you know, Rudy Giuliani, if you call him back today, might say something completely different. So -- I don't want to over commit here.

KNOX: But I'd be a little surprised by a subpoena. You know, these are fights that have happened in other administrations. There was a fight with George W. Bush talking to the 9/11 commission. There was a very long fight between Bill Clinton and the Starr grand jury. Wait and see how this plays out.

MURRAY: And was he calling from the golf course or (INAUDIBLE) from Scotland?

BASH: To be fair, I just got a text because I wanted to check before this segment and Giuliani said, they still haven't heard back from Robert Mueller. So it's a good button for this conversation.

Thanks, everybody. Thanks both of you for your reporting and insights.

And up next, former Senator Joe Lieberman gets candid about the time he was almost John McCain's running mate.

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[12:55:05] BASH: Senator John McCain wrote in his last book "The Restless Wave" about his biggest regrets in life. And he said one of those regrets was not choosing Democrat turned independent Joe Lieberman as his running mate in 2008. I sat down with Lieberman, and he gave me a behind-the-scenes account of their discussions, which went as far as vetting him for the V.P. slot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH He wanted you to be his vice presidential running mate.

JOE LIEBERMAN(R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: So I hear.

BASH: He never told you that?

LIERBERMAN: No, he did. I mean, I'll never forget. Rick Davis, his campaign manager, called me up, I don't know, July or June 2008. Said, John wants to put you on the short list to vet for vice president. I said, you're kidding me. No, no, he's serious. I said, just tell him he doesn't have to do that to thank me for supporting him. I'm proud to support him. So I've been through this already. So -- no, he's serious. So then -- you know, it was typical McCain, and maybe it says something about the dialogue between us as friends.

The next time I saw him was just about two or three days later, I was out in the campaign trail, I said, hey, Rick called me and told me you wanted to put my name on the list to be vetted for vice president. I said, are you serious? He said, I am. I said, you don't have to do that. I mean, I don't know how you can do that, as a matter of fact.

BASH: You're not a Republican.

LIEBERMAN: I'm not a Republican.

No, I'm very serious about it. So I said, OK, OK. So I think that what he had in mind was two things.

One is we obviously know each other well, and he trusts me. And we share a lot of values, but not everything. See, we don't agree on a lot of domestic policy, but that didn't matter. We're -- you know, he knows the relationship.

I think the other thing was that John was smart enough -- smarter than I was to realize that if he was going to have a chance to win, he had to do something different. And what would be more different than to have a genuinely bipartisan ticket?

And, you know, he clung to it a longtime even after people in the party were telling him that there would be a walkout of like a third of the Republican delegates because of some of my liberal domestic positions. So -- but it was very kind of him to do it. I actually did get vetted a second time.

(END VIDEO CLIP

BASH: He actually got vetted again, even though he had been thoroughly vetted because he was on the Democratic ticket, of course with Al Gore in 2000. But it's such a story that tells us so much on so many levels about John McCain. He obviously gave in to the understandable political pressures, because there would have been a walkout at the Republican convention to have somebody who's for abortion rights on the Republican ticket.

KAPUR: Right. The big other question of this is Sarah Palin. And I asked Senator McCain multiple times over the years about the Sarah Palin pick. Did he regret it? How did he feel about it?

He always kind of paused to think. He was reflective about it but he never criticized it.

BASH: He would never say it.

KAPUR: He never criticized her, he never disowned her. I think if anything, he blamed himself for some of it. But what he always told me was that, she did what was asked of her, which was to fire up the base. I do think it weighed heavily on him. Some of the force of that campaign unleashed.

BASH: And to be clear, it might sound like a distinction without a difference, but it is. Even in the book he said he regretted not picking Lieberman. He never said he regretted picking Sarah Palin.

KAPUR: Exactly. He didn't blame her.

DAVIS And it's -- you know, it's such an interesting point, too, because clearly the Palin pick and the reason he was advised not to pick Joe Lieberman, in addition to not wanting to have a mess of a convention and also not alienate, you know, a large portion of the Republican Party, which would -- voters which would have happened likely as well. He was envisioning -- the whole point of this was envisioning a presidential ticket that reached across party lines that could afford to alienate a large portion of the Republican Party and draw in independents and even draw in Democrats who liked the idea of a more centrist approach from the presidency. And that just was not to be. I mean, his advisers basically told him that wasn't going to work.

KNOX: You know, let's not imbue the V.P. pick with magical properties though either, right? I mean --

BASH: But it could have negative.

KNOX: Right, it can only -- it's like a college interview. It can only really hurt you.

No, I mean -- but let's not pretend it has magical properties. Yes, it could have hurt him. Yes, you could talk about the benefits from the Palin nomination. I just don't know a lot of American voters who look at the second name on a president ballot and say, aha, this is where I'm going.

JOHNSON: Although, with Sarah Palin, she was one of those names that, you know, for a lot of conservatives who couldn't get that excited about McCain, she fired them up. And --

KNOX: They still weren't excited for John McCain.

JOHNSON: But they were --

KNOX: This is one of the reasons that he was in so much trouble in his last election. They weren't fired up about John McCain. The Tea Party didn't like John McCain. The Trump base still doesn't like -- I mean --

BASH: That's right, but there was a big difference, to your point. I was there between the day before Palin was picked and the day after in terms of the energy. And let's just remember, Joe Lieberman, John McCain best friends during the 2008 campaign when McCain was upset, they gave them Joe Lieberman and they gave him cookies.

All right, everybody. Thank you so much -- which is true -- for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Wolf starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer.