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Trump on Mueller Probe; Star-Studded Funeral for Franklin; A Friend Remembers John McCain. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 31, 2018 - 09:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:31:09] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You made it to Friday. It is the beginning of the Labor Day weekend. And talk heating up that Special Counsel Robert Mueller could drop an August surprise.

This as the president calls the Russia probe an illegal investigation and even issues a warning to the Justice Department, straighten up or I'll get involved.

Lots of headlines to break down today. Here with me now is CNN political analyst and "Daily Beast" Washington bureau chief Jackie Kucinich.

Jackie, great to have you with us.

The president appearing to have a new favorite threat for his DOJ, if you don't get things straight over there, I'll get involved.

What does he mean?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So everything about the Justice Department centers around the president. He hasn't really grasped the fact that it's not there to protect him and he still will not let go of the fact that Jeff Sessions decided to recuse himself. So, you know, at the end of the day, that's his world view and he's not going to let that go. And the fact that this investigation is still going on, he has his lawyers telling him it's almost over, it's almost over. Well, it's not. We don't know how long it's going to go. And we're just going to have to wait and see, which is not what the president is -- is where his strengths lie.

CABRERA: He wants Jeff Sessions to intervene.

KUCINICH: Right.

CABRERA: He's angry that he recused himself from the Russia probe to begin with. He's hinting that when it comes to his AG, he may get the ax. And he appears to have given a deadline for that to happen, an expiration date of sorts --

KUCINICH: Right.

CABRERA: In his "Bloomberg" interview yesterday saying he's safe until the midterms.

KUCINICH: Yes, that's not really a vote of confidence, right, if your boss says I'm not going to fire you for two months. Well, what he's looking at is a Senate that won't be able to confirm an AG. They don't want a fight going into the midterms over confirming a new attorney general. And after the midterm, perhaps in a lame duck Congress, he may have some senators who are on their way out who aren't going to care as much, frankly. So we'll have to wait and see.

What Senator Graham said the other day was, he's become a lot more amenable to the idea of Sessions going out the door. He said he's going to make sure this person promises to protect the Mueller probe, in so many words. I don't have the exact verbiage there right. But that's going to be a really hard promise to make with this president. So whomever the president decides to nominate, should Sessions leave the office, is going to have a really tough confirmation hearing ahead of them.

CABRERA: And do you think that anyone wants that job?

KUCINICH: I'm sure there's someone who wants that job, but they're going to receive certainly more scrutiny than, you know, we've seen some of the other presidents and nominees have. Again, we don't know who that is yet, but it's going to be a tough job no matter who gets the -- who gets the nod.

CABRERA: There's obviously a lot of calculation happening because of the nearing midterms.

KUCINICH: Sure.

CABRERA: And one question that looms is what will Robert Mueller do? We know it's not a rule, but unlikely for him to take any action 60 days before the election. The unofficial cutoff then being Labor Day. So that essentially leaves us today, Jackie.

Do you expect Mueller to deliver an August surprise?

KUCINICH: Oh, man, Ana, are you trying to ruin my weekend?

CABRERA: I'll be here with you.

KUCINICH: Yes, truly. Truly.

We don't know. There is a lot of trepidation, I think, among myself and my colleagues of what could come today say 5:00 or 6:00. But the fact of the matter is, there is a lot going on below the surface. It is an iceberg of an investigation. What we can see is not necessarily what is coming.

So, you know, you and I both are going to be watching the clock today and monitoring the Mueller probe to the very end of the day and probably into the weekend.

CABRERA: Jackie Kucinich, good to see you. Thank you so much.

KUCINICH: Thank you so much.

CABRERA: Moments from now, funeral services get underway in Detroit for the undisputed queen of soul, Aretha Franklin.

[09:35:01] Coming up, we will speak to two of her longtime friends who will pay tribute to Franklin during today's service.

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FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back on this home going for the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin. And inside the Greater Grace Temple, you will see people filling this 4,000 seat sanctuary. We are outside. And this is going to be an incredible day of tributes.

You see people lining the streets in tribute for Aretha Franklin. And inside you will have a day of beautiful speeches, eulogies and song.

Former President Bill Clinton -- you see the lining up of people outside. Former President Bill Clinton will be here. You've got Cecily Tyson. You have many friends of hers. Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, all on the program today.

[09:39:58] And we just got our hands on the program that guests are greeted with when they go inside. You see this beautiful picture of Aretha Franklin. And inside just an incredible colleague of photographs spanning so many different portions of her life, her career. And you see this incredible bio that talks about how her life really spans and how she touched the lives of those in music, in politics, civil rights, American culture and, of course, sports.

And two guests that I have with me right now really can help tell their personal stories of how she personally touched their lives. Gospel singer Shirley Caesar and former Detroit Pistons star NBA great Isaiah Thomas.

And I know your hearts are so heavy just looking at you today. While you are happy to see this incredible outpouring of love for Aretha Franklin, this is a tough day for you, Isaiah.

ISAIAH THOMAS, FRIEND OF ARETHA FRANKLIN SPEAKING AT FUNERAL: It's a very tough day. You know, even though you knew over the last couple of months that she was sick and you knew this day was coming and you thought you would be prepared for it, but, you know, now that it's here, you know, it really is overwhelming.

And I think what's helping all of us is the turnout and the show of love that she's receiving from the world because she found a way to touch so many of us so personally and so intimately that, you know, it takes a big person, you know, to shift the universe and to shift the conscience of the universe. And she was able to do that.

WHITFIELD: And the obvious is how she touched lives through her amazing catalog of music. But what's so extraordinary is how she reached out to people, you among them, when you were a Detroit Piston. Tell the story of how your friendship began. THOMAS: Her family reached out to me the first day that I got here. I

was -- I had just turned 20 years old. I was just, you know, leaving my teenage years coming to Detroit and her family reached out to me and they just embraced me. They brought me into their family. Aretha was always great with advice and wisdom. And, you know, I've known her since 1982. And throughout my years, throughout my life, she's always been there with a personal text, a personal phone call and the many dinners that we shared, the many conversations that we shared, just, you know, how to navigate.

And I remember, you know, some of our last conversations, she just kept telling me, you know, you travel so much, you've got to get out of the hotel room. You've got to start -- you've got to start seeing life a little bit. You've got to start enjoying these places that you're going to. Find time. Always ask for an extra day. You know, so I'm -- I'm going to start doing that.

WHITFIELD: Wow.

And that was a beautiful relationship because you weren't just there, you were really there. When I ran into you in Florida last year, you told me that you were about to go to Europe with Aretha Franklin and Clive Davis.

THOMAS: Yes. Yes, Clive and I escorted her to the Kennedy Honors. And I remember when she asked me to escort her, you know, I was very nervous because I was like, OK, well, how do you escort a queen? How do you escort the queen of soul? Is there -- is there a protocol? You know, I didn't want to -- I didn't want to embarrass her and I didn't want to embarrass myself. So I wanted to do all the right things, you know?

WHITFIELD: No. But there's so many pictures of the two of you and you were right there with her.

THOMAS: Yes, no, she was -- she was, you know, she was a fantastic person and a fantastic friend to me. And I'm going to miss her dearly.

WHITFIELD: And, Shirley Caesar, you and Aretha Franklin were singing together as teenage girls.

SHIRLEY CAESAR, GOSPEL SINGER: Yes, yes. How did you know? Yes, we did. I used to travel with her and her dad. And we would sing. And her father would preach. And when Aretha would finish singing "Never Grow Old," wow. Sometimes he wouldn't even have to preach the anointing (ph) in the churches across the country. It was so great.

And I've been wishing and hoping that I will wake up and that this is just a dream. But out of all of the festivities that they've had, it all comes down to this. And when we've gone the last mile of the way, that's as far as we can go. And it is just -- it's hard for me because we sang together. She would call me. I would pray with her on the phone. In fact, a few weeks -- well, now I guess maybe a couple months she said, Shirley, I'm down to 117 pounds. She said, and I have no appetite. I said, now you know that life is in food. You must eat something, Aretha. And the great cook that she was, yet she could not eat anymore.

[09:45:04] And so there are so many wonderful things. And one last thing I do want to say is that I believe that the reason why I'm sitting here with you all today is because when Albertina Walker needed an extra singer with the Caravans, she asked me if I could travel. I said, well, you'll have to ask my mother. She had Reverend C.L. Franklin to call my mom. And when he called my mom, my mom said, yes. And C.L. Franklin is the father of Aretha. And so it was -- that was the way that I really met the family. And, of course, I was still in my late teens and we've been a friend all -- well, we were friends all these years.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And then fast forward, you would be invited to the Obamas' White House. You and Aretha Franklin.

CAESAR: Yes.

WHITFIELD: So here you are together as teenagers would sing and then you would also sing as seasoned beautiful gospel singers. And it's clear, though, while she would be in the White House and while she would be global, it was the personal relationships that have really been exemplified by your stories, your very personal stories today.

CAESAR: Did you not know -- did you not know that if this had been Queen Elizabeth, there's nothing else that they could add unless it's horses and chariots. But if I tell you that this wonderful family and friends have done such a marvelous job --

WHITFIELD: Beautiful.

CAESAR: And she looked so at peace.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

CAESAR: No more pain and all of that. And she kept her sickness a secret because she didn't want to lose work. And, you know, she knew that if the promoters knew that she was sick, that they would not have her to come.

THOMAS: Yes.

WHITFIELD: It was too soon, 76, pancreatic cancer.

Thank you so much, Shirley Caesar, Isaiah Thomas, thanks so much for sharing. I know it's going to be particularly difficult too once you go inside the temple because --

CAESAR: Aretha is something very --

WHITFIELD: Isaiah, you'll be speaking. I don't know how you put together a eulogy. And Ms. Caesar, you'll be singing. I don't know how you all are able to pull that out, but I know Aretha Franklin is thankful that you are here, as are we.

CAESAR: This is something that she would want us to do.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Beautiful.

CAESAR: OK, God bless you.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

THOMAS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Thank you.

We'll be right back from Detroit after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:52:17] CABRERA: Welcome back.

Just minutes from now, guests will begin arriving at the U.S. Capitol to pay tribute to Senator John McCain. There his casket will lie atop that same wooden platform, that structure that was built for Abraham Lincoln after his death.

And joining us now, a friend of Senator McCain's and part of his campaign team in Arizona who took part in yesterday's ceremony in the senator's home state, Wes Gullett.

Thank you so much for joining us.

WES GULLETT, FRIEND OF JOHN MCCAIN: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: I am so sorry for your loss.

What was going through your mind yesterday as you took part in that ceremony?

GULLETT: Well, you know, we were trying to think about the good things and the fun times we had with John, you know, because otherwise, it was just so sad. I cried like a baby most of the time. So it was -- you know, my wife kept kicking me.

CABRERA: You've spoken about McCain's leadership as something he'll be remembered for. What made him such a great leader?

GULLETT: Well, you know, his empathy and his caring about people and his patriotism and his concern for the country. I think people could see that.

But, you know, John was -- it was a force of personality. So on FaceBook and Instagram, all we see are people putting up pictures of John McCain, pictures that they had, because he took a picture with almost everybody in the state of Arizona at one time or another. And everybody is so proud of those pictures. So we've seen a lot, a lot of pictures that have come up over the last few days. It's been remarkable.

CABRERA: I love all the pictures that you shared with us, your personal trove of photos with family, with McCain. You see the love and the -- just real comradery that you shared. You know, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke on John McCain's last

acts as a senator in trying to change the current culture of Washington. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For all we do today is attack the opposition of both parties, their motives, not the substance of their argument.

The last day John was on the Senate floor, what was he fighting to do? He was fighting to restore what we call regular order, to start to treat one another again like we used to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Wes, why do you think Biden felt it was important to include that in his tribute?

GULLETT: Well, I think that that was -- I think John's speech on regular order, which, you know, I watched, I thought it -- it really brought back what the people of America want. They want a government that works. They don't want a polarized government. They -- and I think John embodied that.

[09:55:08] Even though, you know, he was a tough guy and everybody -- you know, he took -- when he was on an issue, it was very -- he was strong about his arguments. But it was -- but he wanted people to get along. He wanted there to be an opportunity to work across party lines. And, you know, we -- he did that. I watched him do that throughout his career. I was the guy who had to go to the Republican meetings and explain why he was working with the Democrats all the time.

So it -- this is not something new for him. He did it throughout his career. And he felt strongly about it. And I think that having Biden at his funeral, the vice president did a very nice job. And it kind of showed that. It was bringing everybody together, right, so -- and that's what he wants.

CABRERA: Yes.

GULLETT: That's the legacy he's looking for.

CABRERA: Well, Wes Gullett, thank you for being with us, for helping us to remember and honor your friend, John McCain.

GULLETT: Thank you, Ana, for having me.

CABRERA: We are just moments away from another powerful celebration of Aretha Franklin's amazing life and legacy. One last grand show for the queen of soul.

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