♪ good morning. we begin the hour with continuing coverage of the passing of the george h.w. bush at the age of 94. a statement announcing his death last night came from his son, former president george w. bush. no cause of death has been given, the 41st president had been battling serious health issues including parkinson's for the last few years. his passing comes a little more than seven months after his wife barbara passed away. the white house flag at half staff as the nation reflects on bush's life and legacy including three decades of public service in which he became one of the more moderate voices in the wing
of the party. he is one of the most experienced public servants in u.s. history. lester holt has more on a life which extended well beyond politics. >> i come before you and assume the presidency at a moment rich with promise. >> reporter: for george bush, becoming president was the capstone of a lifetime of public service that would also include being the father of a president. in fact, the bush family has been among the most prominent in american political history. but while george herbert walker bush grew up in wealth and privilege and went to the best schools, he also learned the importance of serving his country. a navy pilot during world war ii, he was shot down over the pacific and rescued by a passing submarine. the moment incredibly captured on camera. he returned home, married his
sweetheart, barbara pierce, and started a family. moving to texas in 1948 to get into the oil business. they suffered the loss of daughter robin to leukemia, but raised five children. in 1964, the year he turned 40, bush got into politics running for senate. >> i certainly hope and i'll bet you do too, that our children can grow up knowing what freedom really is. >> he lost but later won a house seat and ran for senate again in 1970. this time with help from president nixon. >> and george bush in my opinion is the best man for america. >> when he lost again, nixon appointed him ambassador to the u.n. >> i consider myself a very lucky guy. >> but his next job was chairman of the republican party during watergate. >> you try being chairman of the republican party during the watergate day, you're talking about a ghastly assignment.
>> bush escaped watergate unscathed and nixon's successor gerald ford made him his envoy to china. just a year later an evening bigger assignment. >> director of the central intelligence agency. >> cia, i loved. one year only but i loved defending the culture at a time when everybody was down on it. >> when ford lost to jimmy carter, bush left the cia. >> what he will do next, he didn't say. >> reporter: what he did next was run for president. >> i do pledge a new candor. >> reporter: bush lost the nomination to ronald reagan in 1980 and his political career seemed over until this stunning announcement. >> that george bush be nominated for vice president. >> reporter: for eight years bush was reagan's loyal vice president surviving questions about his role in the iran-contra scandal to become
reagan's heir apparent. >> i am here today to announce my candidacy for president of the united states. >> reporter: bush emerged from reagan's shadow. >> i want a kinder and gentler nation. >> reporter: and made a promise he would later break. >> read my lips, no new taxes. >> reporter: george bush defeated democrat michael dukakis in 1988 and became president of the united states. >> so help me god. >> reporter: the bush years saw epic events on the world stage. the detiananmen square massacre, the fall of the berlin wall, and the collapse of a soviet union itself. >> by the grace of god, america won the cold war. >> reporter: but his president's defining moment was saddam hussein's invasion of kuwait. >> this will not stand, this aggression against kuwait. >> reporter: backed by an
international coalition bush launched operation desert storm and drove iraqi forces out. >> aggression is defeated. the war is over. >> reporter: but saddam hussein remained in power until bush's son toppled him 12 years later. >> i thought saddam hussein would fall of his own weight when the war ended and i thought they'd throw him out of there and they didn't. >> reporter: bush's post-war popularity soared and then sank over economic concerns closer to home. in 1992 he lost to bill clinton becoming a one-term president. >> i had my chance. i gave service to this country. and now i'm perfectly content to let history be the judge. >> george bush enjoyed an active retirement full of grandchildren, fishing, even
skydiving. and he saw his eldest son become president, but he kept his advice to a minimum and his son charted his own course. bush was no stranger to partisan politics but he aspired to a higher ideal as when he teamed up with bill clinton on global relief efforts. >> you can be political opponents and still work together for something more important than your own political future. >> reporter: a former president for decades, he saw a granddaughter jenna bush hager become a "today" show correspondent. >> what is aging like? >> aging is all right. better than the alternative. >> reporter: he saw republicans turn away from the bush brand and the party establishment it represented. >> excuse me one second. >> reporter: rejecting son's jeb's bid for the presidency. and he survived his wife barbara bush and welcomed an outpouring of affection for her. theirs was the longest marriage in presidential history.
throughout his long life george bush was admired as a man of decency. values that to the end reflected what was most important to him. his family. >> i just want to get up into heaven. i don't get there by bragging on myself. my mother told me that years ago. >> i want to bring in andrea mitchell. i know you have been covering this for a few hours. you've been covering george h.w. bush for a few decades. for our audience that joined us, i want your first thoughts on the passing of george h.w. bush. >> it's the passing of an era. he was the best prepared president of the united states in terms of foreign policy experience, cia, china, u.n. ambassador, say nothing of having been a member of congress. he also was the last of a
generation. last of the greatest generation, world war ii veteran. the youngest naval aviator going in at 18. in the middle of the war marrying barbara pierce, the love of her life. 73-year marriage. the oldest american president. lived the longest of any american president at 94. and the stamp that he had on bipartisanship. he was a fierce partisan. we know that from the '88 campaigns and other campaigns, but bipartisanship when it came to solutions. he believed in public service, making tough decisions. i think of the andrew s air fore base agreement in 1991 that pledged no tax pledge and perhaps doomed his reelection
bid. not going into baghdad. hard decisions. believing in multilateralism. the post-war regimes that helped build europe, japan, and the united states by creating markets in asia, creating markets in europe. most importantly perhaps in foreign policy the end of the cold war. the fall of the berlin wall. the reunification of germany. none of this was ordained it was all a matter of diplomacy, intelligence, having the great advice of brent scowcroft at his side and jim baker as secretary of state and other key advisers. barry mccaffrey, a very close adviser to colin powell at the joint chiefs. >> the contrast to where we are today is evident in the passing of george h.w. bush. as i look through peoples comments on social media, there are those who say -- i think they mean it well, they say don't canonize him. give him credit for what he was.
he said in his own words i'll leave my legacy to others. there was a modesty about him. yet he was an overachiever. youngest naval aviator. head of the cia. vice president, president of the united states, went to yale. what do you -- how do you put into context who he was given the context of what we've got today? obviously his world view is different than donald trump's. his view of bipartisanship is different. on his own and without the contrast and comparison to today, what is the evaluation of george h.w. bush? >> i think history will be kind to him. i know the flaws. i did, you know, journalistic battle with him at times. he always engaged and understood that that was part of the process. he didn't call people enemies of the people. he, as other presidents, bill clinton, president obama, bush, w. bush 43, this knew there were
fierce fights, partisan battles, adversarial challenges, but they knew that was the system that the founders had envisioned. that was part of the deal. he believed in public service and he, unlike many predecessors and followers, he was humble. that humility was perhaps his political flaw on the campaign trail. he didn't respond always as one would respond. he was a combatant but not the best combatant politically. i admired his humility, his belief in public service, his jen rogenerosity of spirit, des the flaws. he might be the first to acknowledge those flaws, but i think of the letter he left for
bill clinton, his political rival, saying that he wishes him well. his success will be our country's success, and that i am rooting for you. the handwritten note he left on the desk in the oval office for the incoming president to see after the inauguration. those are the qualities of the republican party that he led that ronald reagan led before him. they were rivals before they were colleagues. that's a quality that i miss in our politics. >> he was challenged by conservatives who didn't think he was all that conservative and then challenged by what at the time was a new breed of edgier conservative, a more partisan group that he didn't want to engage in. he almost got squeezed out. he occupied a space in the republican party where he had sort of enemies on both flanks.
>> sure. remember voodoo economics. when he was talking about the dr trickle-down theorys. he had to swallow those words. that was one problem. he was never completely trusted by the hard-liners, certainly not by pat buchanan. certainly the challenge from ross perot on economic issues, but also against the nafta agreement. and think today about nafta. i was in the east room when bill clinton was in 1993 pushing nafta and all the former presidents, you know, all the former presidents came to the east room, republicans and democrats to endorse nafta. and al gore, the vice president engaged ross perot in historic debates carried live about whether or not that trade agreement was good for america. there's certain flaws in nafta which were drying to be addressed but not completely
thrown out and have now been negotiated and signed in the last 24 hours. there's a lot to look at. i think in foreign policy certainly the end of the cold war and the reunification of germany in a peaceful way and the support for foreign aid which helped rebuild post- world war ii europe is a legacy. >> when you think about the gulf war, one of the qualities that will be remembered is the way in which george h.w. bush was prepared to pick up the phone, call world leaders and build a coalition. as we look at the middle east today, the united states has faltered in its leadership role. the middle east is littered with governments that are weak, failed states. how much of that goes back to not finishing the job in the
gulf war that he thought he had finished? >> i don't think we can assess it that way. the decisions actually that his son made to go back to iraq were fateful decisions. i'm not sure those are decisions the father would have made. we know the father's closest political -- sorry, foreign policy adviser, brent scowcroft, his national security adviser, his best friend, brent scowcroft came out against the gulf war and for that was fired by the son. >> yeah. >> extraordinary. in september of 2002 for writing an op-ed in the "wall street journal" arguing against the gulf war. he was fired from his post. so the son went against what his father i think would have done. but my colleague and friend
susan page wrote today one of the sharpest exchanges she had with george bush is when she challenged him about the iraq war, and he said he would never tolerate criticism of his son, not from himself or from our president. he was never publically dismissive, despite all of the reports and rumors of what had happened with the iraq war, the second gulf war. >> andrea, thank you for kicking off this hour with your analysis and the context. >> thank you. all right. next up, more reaction to the passing of america's 41st president. >> i used to worry about death. i don't anymore. i have a feeling there's an afterlife. i have a feeling it's a good one. >> who would you want to see first? >> depends if barbara predeceases me, probably her.
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well, not because it was easy. i mean, the game is all i know. you think back to your draft. it felt like a fantasy. but the second you know you can't compete anymore, you owe it to yourself, to your team, to find a fresh start. so, yeah, that's why i did it. that's why i walked away... from my fantasy league.
in the book that you wrote. i continue to believe it. i think when it comes to foreign policy the work that president george h.w. bush did with jim at his side was as important and as deft and as effective a set of foreign policy initiatives we've seen in recent years. >> president obama praising president george h.w. bush's impact on foreign policy tuesday, hours after meeting with him for what would be the last time. this morning president bush's successors are remembering him and his years of public service. the obamas writing george h.w. bush's life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joy us calling. his son, president george w.
bush said his father was a man of the highest character and the best man a son could ask for. >> and he never stopped serving, i saw him up close working on tsunami relief in asia and home after katrina. joining us now is jois jonathanr and karen also joins us. karen, let's go to george h.w. bush's undoing in the end, he served one term. that was because america was in recession. there were criticisms of him at the time that he was not able to connect with americans over the kitchen table issues that they were struggling with at the time. from as sure-foot ted as he wasn
the international stage, at a very turbulent and dangerous time, he was not quite as certain of himself on domestic policy. so he gets hit by two big problems economically. one is the recession. the other is americans growing concern about the enormous federal deficit. and he was not somebody who was able to inspire the kind of economic confidence that bill clinton could in that '92 election with his message that it's the economy, stupid. and at the same time he was hit by a second candidate, ross perot on the deficit. and that turned out to be his undoing. this is a president who just, you know, a year and a half before had had stratospheri rat.
>> jonathan, i want to remind people about the famous broken promise that george h.w. bush made about taxes. let's listen to that. >> read my lips, no new taxes. >> so history will say his decision to go away from that promise was economically wise, it was politically disastrous. >> that's right. that promise was made at the 1992 republican -- excuse me, the 1988 republican convention when he's running against michael dukakis. in 1980 when bush is running against reagan for the republican nomination, reagan is running on what they called supply side economics, which through some magic theory that's been disproven by history that you could dramatically increase defense spending and still
balance the budget. and it was not plausible. bush called it voodoo economics. then he becomes reagan's vice president. >> he has to walk that back. >> he has to live with this idea that you can never ever raise taxes to close the deficit. he has to own that idea. in order to get the republican nomination in 1988, he has to say i will never raise taxes. read my lips. but he knows in his heart and mind that that is bull. he's probably going to have to raise taxes. he does in 1990 and '91. the republican right, conservatives from that day on they determined they would sit on their hands and that contributed to his defeat mightily in 1992. >> david, president clinton has just had an op-ed published in the "washington post" in which
he praises george h.w. bush's foreign policy. he writes even more important, though he could be tough in a political fight, he was in it for the right reasons. people always came before politics, patriotism before partisanship. to the end we knew we would never agree on everything, and we agreed that was okay. honest debate strengthens democracy. andrea mitchell told me about 20 minutes ago she thinks history will judge george h.w. bush well despite these very clear failings that he had. >> i think andrea is right. i think his rrd ecord on foreig policy was so outstanding. he brought the cold war to a conclusion in a way that made it look almost like a magic trick. here we had a generation of the most bitter rivalry, and president bush saw that the soviet union was coming down.
the berlin wall was falling. he had the guts to push for the reunification of germany. he wasn't initially confident that was the right thing to do. it consolidated this process of change. there was no going back. he did it in a tough-minded way, advised by brent scowcroft, his national security adviser, and secretary of state baker. that is a moment that could so easily have been mismanaged. i think the reason president george h.w. bush is so beloved is that there's a way in which he took the american story out of the privileged world that he had grown up in. he went west himself to make his fortune in texas. served bravely in world war ii. he became a public servant in the very best sense. he represented for the country
values that we sometimes call pa trish sh patrician, elitest, but generosi generosity, kindness, decency, that's why today everybody feels a special sense of loss that this was somebody that represented not just himself but a whole generation of what was good about our country and politics. >> jonathan, karen, david, thank you all. our coverage will continue. more on the passing of president george h.w. bush next. >> two presidents in one family, that's pretty good. but it would never -- we never have been overtaken by that. we never felt this was the end of the world or aren't we marvelous, something like that. both lucky. lucky to have served. he had two terms as president. he did a great job. of course as a father i'm really
bring you up to date on the latest with the current president of the united states. president trump is in buenos aires attending the g20 summit. he was scheduled to hold a press conference later this afternoon, but moments ago he tweeted he will postpone the press conference until after the funeral for george h.w. bush. in paris thousands of police clashed with protesters. demonstrators for a third week in a row have been protesting fuel prices. they set fires to do so. the rising fuel prices have to do with taxes imposed on those, not the price of oil which has been coming down. up next, more on the life and legacy of president george h.w. bush.
♪ >> i've spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the nation doing good. i will go to the people and the programs that are the better part of light and ask my government to become involved. the old ideas are new again because they're not old. they're timeless -- duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.
>> we're back with continuing coverage of the passing of president george h.w. bush. he passed away last night. he was 94. just a little more than seven months after the passing of his wife, barbara. condolences are pouring in from across the political spectrum as we reflect on some of the crucial decisions he made during his president is he and how he continued to shape his legacy after he left the white house. michael joins us. thank you for being with us. your initial thoughts on the passing of george h.w. bush. >> sad day, but for the most part he had a wonderful life. it was a life of service to this country for 76 years. really from the moment he left boarding school to sign up for the navy, became the navy's youngest flyer in world war ii. >> he often talked about his legacy, he'll leave it for others to judge. there seemed to be a modesty about him. what do you think his legacy will look like?
>> number one, the most important thing he did was preside over the end of the cold war. i think very few other people could have done it. i'm not sure ronald reagan could have done what george h.w. bush did during those years. the cold war had come close to an end, but the berlin wall was still up and eastern europe was still part of the soviet orbit. george bush created this relationship with mikhail go gorbachev and said if you do further things like take down the berlin wall, let germany be reunified within nato, things we never thought could be possible 12, 24 months before then, bush said i will not exploit this and embarrass you, mr. gorbachev. so he did. when these things happened, bush did not take credit. had he taken more credit he might have made himself stronger for re-election. >> it's important to put this into the context of the present
day. george h.w. bush was president at one of the high points in american leadership around the world. he was a noted coalition builder, particularly in his work in the gulf war. his willingness to write handwritten letters to world leaders, pick up the phone and talk to them. we are no in a place where some say america is giving up that leadership role. tell me about the importance of what george h.w. bush was doing at the time in terms of america's role, leadership role in the world. >> it never would have occurred to george h.w. bush to do any of the things that we've been seeing during the last year and a half. this is someone who did his best to build nate o, power around t world. and that the idea of america and the world is that we have a moral dimension to what we do he would have never said morality and human rights are no longer going to be considered in our relations with other nations.
>> criticisms of george h.w. bush. we know about things having do with the economy, the fact that he made a promise he probably didn't want to keep about no new taxes and broke them. what are the fair criticisms of his leadership? >> i think a rough 1988 campaign. george h.w. bush always drew the sharp distinction between campaigning and governing. yes, the 1992 campaign in which actually the economy by the time of the 1992 election was getting better, but bush -- and this is something where he was probably unsuited for the age we're now in, he wasn't able to defend himself and say yes, the economy has been bad, but it's now getting better. i made tough decisions that will lay the groundwork for the prosperity of the 1990s. as its out, that's what happened. >> that's what happened. we went from deficit into surplus. >> as you know better than anyone. you talked about the rough campaign of '88. we think of george h.w. bush as
someone who through his thousand points of light, through his dignity, through his values sort of brought out better angels in the republican party and amongst americans. there were not that many good angels in the '88 campaign. that was willie horton and mike dukakis. >> it was a rough campaign. when you look at any political leader you have to take the bad with the good. history siphons away some things that may be negative. sometimes it emphasizes things that may be a negative. but i think in bush's case, the 1988 campaign is something that embodied the way he approached life, but i would say not. this is a person for most of his life worked hard for civil rights, tried to bring this country together. had values of decency and an
efrtd to rea effort to reach across the aisle. >> this is interesting. he did have an ability to reach across the aisle, which was more common back then than now any way. he had difficulty within his own party. he had conservatives who didn't think he was of them. and he had a new breed of neoconservative who didn't think he was of them. >> right. he was -- though he lived most of his life in texas, he was a new england republican. he was born in massachusetts. grew up in connecticut. you tell me, ali, how many new england republicans are there in federal office right now. >> yeah. that's exactly right. michael, good to see you. thank you. >> great to see you. next up a closer look at president bush's legendary sense of humor. >> i like a colorful sock. i'm a sock man. this is a modest pair here today. subdued, you might say. >> they have been comparing your
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>> president bush is on and he wants to say something. >> he's here now? >> yeah. should i put him through? >> all right. put him in. >> george bush here. i'm watching you do your impression of me, i got to say it's nothing like me. bears no resemblance. it's bad. it's bad. >> well, i'm sorry, mr. president, i think it's a fair impression. >> don't see it. >> you don't? >> it's totally exaggerated. it's not me, those crazy hand gestures. pointing thing. i don't do them. >> dana carvey spent years channeling george h.w. bush on "saturday night live," bush actually grew to love carvey. the two did charity events together and drew laughs at 1993
white house correspondents dinner. [ applause ] >> what's this? >> this. >> you're like -- we got to bring them together. >> joining me now is jonathan alter, karen is back with me as well from the "washington post." boost of you have smiles on your face about this one. jonathan, there are a couple of things about this that are interesting. one is that he was thought to be self deposition pkate deprecat sense of humor. >> we forgot what it was like to have a president who can laugh at himself, have some sense of humility, which bush did. his sense of humor could be kind of goofy, but that's what made it more endearing in some ways. for instance, he would play horseshoes at the white house. when he was flinging a horseshoe, and he was a
competitive guy, he always wanted to win, he said i would unleash chang. you had to be a political nerd to know what he was talking about in the late '40s and early after china went communist, americans would say we're going to unleash shanghai and retake the mainland of china. and it is a signal that he was going to win. and again, i think most people would go, well what kind of a joke is that? >> right. >> but it was -- it was fun and it was especially effective at places like the white house correspondents' dinner because it was self-efacing. >> and karen, dana carvy captured the president and we have had great comedians that have done that since but that is really a point where there was a guy who made americans see the funniness of their own president. here is dana carvy reflecting on the time he spent with george
h.w. bush. >> it is weird when you get called by the president. this is the white house operator number one, hold for the president. and this is after he lost the election and everyone thought he was really depressed and so i'm talking to him and he's going, well, dana, thought you would come out to the white house and cheer up the troops. he's thinking about his staff and everything. so i was young and naive at the time and i said well where would i stay? to the president. and he goes well, stay right here in the white house. and we did. george bush embraced it. and he had a great sense of humor about it all these years. >> karen, there were serious things about the george h.w. bush presidency. there was a war. there was a recession. there were, as we discussed, there were deficits and tax increases. dana carvy and the president, they helped soften his reputation a little bit. >> they did. and the reason that i think dana carvey was so funny is that he really put his finger on kind of the paradox that was george
bush. here was a man that was a graceful, gifted athlete and educated at yale and comes from this genteel background but he just sometimes couldn't get that out in his words. he was prone to mal props and which we found out from his son is genetic and he -- he especially got uncomfortable when it came time to talk about himself. he seemed almost incapable of taking credit for things. and this was what was so funny about dana carvey because he was able to get to this side of him and how incon ---in con grewous. >> and he was trying to show was with the people of the southwest so he talked about how much he loved country music, i'm sure he
did. but that he ate pork rhines and dana carvey made fun of that and putting his finger on the essence of the bush presidency, the line it wouldn't be prudent. that is the essence of bush. prudence, stability, decency and stewardship of the office, all of the things we're lacking now were at the core of bush. >> let's talk about stewardship and the thousand points of light, karen. it is another side of george h.w. bush. one that has stood the test of time. history remembers his inaugural speech and where he spoke about it. let's listen to that again. we'll bring that back. but that was an important part of the president's legacy where he talked about volunteer organizations and clubs and groups and he wanted not only americans to be involved but he wanted members of his own administration to be involved.
let's play it now. >> this is america, a brilliant diversity, spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky. >> some criticized him for that being a replacement of the government's role in taking care of people, but others have since seen this as a -- his illustration of what healthy civil society looks like and those americans with abilities to share with others do so. >> yeah. and just a few months ago president trump was mocking this concept. but i think it goes to fundamental conservatism. george h.w. bush was not completely opposed to the government helping people out. especially people who were needy, people who were helpless. he passed the americans with disabilities act. but there is a fundamental conservatism to the idea that these sorts of activities should
come bottom up and not top down. not be im -- imposed on people by the government. and it has been a lasting part of his legacy and again that is why it was so surprising, even shocking a few months back to hear president trump mocking that idea. >> jonathan, president george h.w. bush was likeable. so was president george w. bush, for the media that didn't enjoy him for the props and the fact that people said he was fun to be around. that is what they said about george h.w. bush, too. >> yeah, they both -- if you interviewed them as i did with both of them and they would tease you and it was kind of fun. and did they push back? yes. i have a button at home that says vote bush, annoy the media. but there is a big difference between that and calling us the enemy of the people which is something you would never have done. he knew that had his roots in
stalinism and mauism and hitler-ism. >> and the things that he put on a uniform to fight. >> right. and that is what he was fighting. we knew when i was taking real shots at him in my column, we knew there was this core decency and sense of service and true patriotism. >> very good. thank you to both of you. more of the continuing coverage of the passing of george h.w. bush after the break. >> and nada nada, never said it, in all of my years of government service i never once said nagada. and saying, "really?" so capital one is building something completely new. capital one cafes. inviting places with people here to help you, not sell you. and savings and checking accounts with no fees or minimums. because that's how it should be. you can open one from right here or anywhere in 5 minutes.
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learn more at cancercenter.com. cancer treatment centers of america. appointments available now. ♪ ♪ what do you want your legacy to be? >> i want somebody else to define the legacy. i've kind of banned the use of the l-word, legacy word. and that was past and now this is present. and i think -- i think history will get right, i point out the things i did wrong and perhaps some of the things we did right, good morning. welcome back to the life and
legacy of george h.w. bush who died on friday night at the age of 94. in the last hour bill clinton published an op-ed in "the washington post" honoring his legacy and donald trump has canceled his press conference at the g-20 summit in buenos aries quoting that out of the respect of the bush family and george h.w. bush we will wait until after the funeral to have a press conference. joining me now by phone correspondent tom brokaw and acting cia director now nbc news global affairs analyst john mclaughlin and doris kerns goodwin. doris, let's start with you. we just heard the words in which george h.w. bush was talking to his granddaughter. saying that i don't use the l-word. but history will judge me for the things i did and the things i did wrong. how -- we've had some time since he was president. how do you think history judges president george h.w. bush?
>> well i think history is already kinder to president bush than the electorate was when he lost that election. i think it is the idea of the kind of leader he was, which performed such a mirror on our own times. you think about a man would was bred to a lifetime of honorable public service and history looks at where we are now and 30 years from now as they look back on him and the idea of public service being honorable and the statements that he made that he wants to do the most good and least harm and learned now to dwell on the great i am that was told from an early age to be humble and never to tout his accomplishments and never reveled if the fall of the soviet union which allowed him to gain the trust of gorbachev and the kind of leadership skills we are missing today. the one leadership skill that was a problem was a public kplungs to explain the budget and understand the pain of the recession but he was a good and decent man with character and
civility and moderation and how we yearn for that today. >> tom brokaw, you have many memories of covering the george h.w. bush presidency. >> i had the privilege of covering him professionally and getting to know him personally. and i've been thinking, not just today, but recently, no other public figure in my lifetime served so honorably in so many positions. he was a world war ii hero and then at yale the captain of the baseball team. and then of course he was a member of congress. he was a chair of his party. he was the ambassador to the united nations and ambassador to china. he had the cia, vice president of the united states with reagan and then president of the united states and through it all he had this public modesty of his place. and yet there is no one in my lifetime that i could think of who served so well, at so many
prominent positions that were critical to where we were. and a lot of times he wasn't treated particularly well by some of his colleagues but he didn't get in a snit about it. henry kissinger tried to keep him out of a meeting with mau in beijing and at that time mr. bush was the ambassador but he managed to get in there and he didn't complain to the press about it. we heard about it from other people that they tried to exclude him from the meeting when he came out therefore he said he had never heard chairman of any party or any country talk the way that mau did and he gave us a very vivid description of what was going on. so that is what really sticks in my mind from a public point of view and then privately i had spent time with him hunting quail down in south texas and he was the same in person as he was in public. he was this modest man, he didn't expect everyone to rise and greet him when he walked into the room, he sat at the dinner table of his partners and
friends like jim baker and al simpson and just one of the guys. so he was so authentic and everything he did, given his accomplishments and even his family background. >> let me ask you, john mclachlin, to the point tom was just making, this man was an institutionalist, a military aviator at a time when his country needed his service and attended yale and headed the cia for a short period of time and ambassador to the united nations and ambassador to china and held political office. contrast that to where we are now where we have an administration and a president that believes these institutions are, in fact, what does he call it, the deep state. it is about as opposite to george h.w. bush as you can be. >> it is totally opposite, tom -- i'm sorry ari. completely opposite.
and he was an institutionalist and he had respect for anyone who worked and served in the government, whether military or intelligence or otherwise and he treated the media with respect even when he was being criticized. this is an enormously decent man. i knew him when he was cia director and i was a very new cia employee. only there a year or two. and i recall for example he would walk the halls, he would meet people, he came into cia at a time when the cia was under great criticism that your other guests may remember, the period of congressional investigation, the first real investigations that led to oversight and the morale was on the floor. he picked it up immediately by being such an open decent individual, available to employees. i recall as a brand new employee he would have the saturday morning coffees with new people.
and i was invited up a couple of times to sit around the table with him with ten or 12 other people and just talk about how things were going and also to brief him on various things. i recall briefing him on communist parties at one point. and then i knew him as president because at that time i had moved on in the agency. i think i was in charge of some of our russian and asian operations at that point. briefed him just two days before his 1989 summit with gorbachev in malta and it is the first time i had been in the oval office and i was -- as anyone is for the first time, contemplating that with some nervousness. and i told him, my opening line i think at the point was describe the situation in eastern europe because he was going to be talking to gorbachev at a moment when you will remember eastern europe was in
revolt and the people in the streets and the government was shaky and things are coming down and two days before the berlin wall was breached and things changed so quickly i told him at the very beginning, mr. president, i've had to tear up my notes three times on the way down here. and he really put me at ease and said, just tell me what you think, young man. and that is exactly what i did. and it was a very rewarding conversation for me. i'll tell you, an anecdote from that that illustrates about his character. i was there with a young analyst and he said would you like a cup of coffee and not knowing what to say, we said, well, thank you very much. of course. thank you. he got up and poured it. which stunned us. we didn't act as though we were stunned but later we said wasn't that remarkable. the other thing i would say is that i briefed him any number of times after he left the presidency because he would frequently come out for a briefing if he was going
somewhere in the world. and again to emphasize his decency he would always receive a handwritten personal note from him saying thank you. i don't -- just never encountered anyone else of senior rank in my government service who did that. other than perhaps madeleine albright with that same habit. >> that is something to remember about him, that he had that personal outreach typical. >> let me underline something else that tom said. i worked with him during the period of time when eastern europe was fallingapart and the soviet union was falling apart and to recall that period now, we think we're in such turmoil in the world and we certainly are, but that is a time when earthquakes were happening politically and this man had to oversee that and if you stop to think about it, the fact that germany came out of that united and germany came out of it not only united but within nato.
it was really a testament to his ability to work with others. you mentioned at the beginning, the institutionalist aspect of his personality, there was also a personality or a competence there when it came to putting together multi-lateral coalitions sharply contrast to the america first that we are in now. >> and doris, to your point about how history will judge him better and probably already does than the electorate did at the time he was defeated. he had seen reparkable success in building international coalition with the falling of the berlin wall and the end of the iron curtain and a gulf war which at the time looked like it had successfully achieved the goal and history showed it hadn't done that. but despite that, he ended up his presidential time with a recession, with growing deficits, with a broken promise about new taxes and with pressure from political
activists who would have been in his own party. what does that tell us? what does that moment in history tell us, that when we look back at his tenure and public service, his decades of public service, we look back at it fondly, at the time americans didn't. >> well, and yet the budget deal that he made, which broke his promise about no new taxes is what set the prosperity in the future there. so i think that will be an important opponent, like a profile in courage. one of the things that will help him in history is the letters that he wrote. i love that book "all the best, george bush" and in some ways he was more comfortable writing letters than in talking. my favorite one was a letter on sex he wrote to his mother and he said kissing is not an obligation a girl owes a boy regardless of how much money he spends. how wonderful to hear that innocence and i had a relationship much less exalted than the other two men, my son joined the army right after 9/11
so he invited us some years later to talk about my son's experiencen iraq and i had done some fundraising for barbara at his house in kennebunkport and it was so simple, i we had klondike crispies and we had such a great time and my husband wore socks like he did and i got stuck in the bathroom on the way out and i couldn't break the lock and he couldn't break it from the outside so he had to take a ham to-- to take a hamme break the lock and when i came out, he said at least you write well. >> tom i heard you tell the stories of your coverage of the berlin wall and the end of the iron curtain and nato. it isn't to be forgotten while ronald reagan set the groundwork for some of the coalitions that were built during president george h.w. bush's time in office, george bush really did move that ball forward. it really did sort of own the leadership that america needed
to own in the world and to john mclaughlin's point we're in the troubled times now where america is not showing that leadership that is required in the world. >> you know, it could not have been a more complicated time not just for america or for the west, but for the entire globe. i remember talking to jim baker afterwards and i said, i was a little surprised that when the berlin wall came down that the president didn't go on television that night to acknowledge what had happened and claim a great victory for the west. and he said we didn't want to make it harder on gorbachev and it was already going to be. and there is not a full appreciation, i think, of the scope of work that the president and jim baker did in cobbling together the new west, united germany after that time for example. working out the role of russia in its relationship to the west. it was very, very sensitive and tricky and they pulled it off. but there was not a full
appreciation of that when it came to american politics. when he ran for re-election, he not only had to run obviously against bill clinton, but people overlooked the fact that almost 20% of the vote was taken, so much of it would have been his from somebody also -- from texas and that was ross perot. and that wound never healed. but he never, ever, publicly complained about it. he lost and he went on with his life. as we look at these pictures with barbara, you just can't overstate how important she was in his life. he was a guy who was always polite but the last time i visited him up in maine, barbara bush said go over and set on the couch with the president, i want to take a picture of you -- the two of you. and so i went over and sat and she said i'm go willing -- i'm release this as the coalition for the elect perry campaign and he quickly said, don't say that. he's a reporter.
and i have kind of kept it privately until just now. >> fair enough, tom. john, let me ask you about the point that tom made. we have taken for granted until a couple of years ago that presidents had a rule book by which they practice american leadership on the world stage. but to tom's point, in that moment that george bush became president, george h.w. bush became president, it was not a given that east germany would work out or a given what russia's role would be at the time and not a given the role nato was going to play in securing the west. talk to me a little bit about the complexity of that. >> well, that was an enormously complex time, ari. just to give you an example of that on the issue of germany, i had been in germany about a month before the wall came down in october of 1989 with the then cia director bill webster. and we traveled about and we talked to senior german
officials, we talked to the german intelligence service and to an individual that is kind of startling to remember this today, to an individual senior german official said that germany would not be united in our lifetime. and yet it was, about a year or 18 months later. and so at that moment, just to give you that as a example of the kind of bee fuddlement that existed in the world about where things were going, the east european countries were essentially coming apart. satellites in the soviet orbit for decades were beginning to strain under protest from the individuals that was to a degree set off by gorbachev's policy of openness, glass nose he called it and so forth. and we saw this particularly in the early stages of hungary as their bureau changed, we saw in
poland, there was an election in 1989 that solidarity won and that sent a message across eastern europe you could get away with this because gorbachev did not stop is so he came in the midst of enormously complex times. >> john mclaughlin and tom brokaw and doris kaerns thank you for joining us for the perspective on the 41st president of the united states. next up, we'll show you how president bush handled the biggest political defeat of his life. >> and i did work hard. i gave it my all. gave it my best and got whipped. i went home. and boy, have they been happy. fwrs shaquem get in here. take your razor, yup. alright, up and down, never side to side, shaquem. you got it?
come on, get back. quem, you a second behind your brother, stay focused. can't nobody beat you, can't nobody beat you. hard work baby, it gonna pay off. you got this. with the one hundred and forty-first pick, the seattle seahawks select. alright, you got it, shaquem. alright, let me see. ♪ the greatest wish of all... is one that brings us together. the lincoln wish list event is here. sign and drive off in a new lincoln with $0 down, $0 due at signing, and a complimentary first month's payment. only at your lincoln dealer. and a complimentary first month's payment. i felt i couldn't be at my best for my family., in only 8 weeks with mavyret, i was cured and left those doubts behind.
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♪ >> it is 12:15 in the morning, the election has come and gone it is hard to describe the emotions of something like this but it is hurt, hurt, hurt and i guess it is the pride, too. and in a competitive basis i don't like to see the poster right at the end and i don't like to see the pundits right, all of those who have written me off right. i was absolutely convinced we would prove them wrong but i was wrong and they were right and
that hurts a lot. i honestly felt until those exit polls started coming in, that i would win the election. i was wrong and they were right. just ponder that for a second. that is a defeated united states president. writing those words to himself shortly after being defeated by bill clinton and george h.w. bush penned that letter to himself, reflecting, reflecting on his loss of a second term as president. bush called clinton a friend, both before and after the election. he wrote clinton one of the most graceful letters, welcoming him into the white house, becoming a model of grace and civility even in the face of defeat and nbc's jonathan allen joins us from buenos aries where president trump is attending the g-20 and back with us karen tumult and analyst jonathan alter. karen, let me read in the entirety the letter that george h.w. bush left for bill clinton in the white house. january 20th, 1993.
dear bill. what i walked into the office just now i felt the same sense of wonder and respect that i felt four years ago. i know you will feel that too. i wish you great happiness here. i've never felt the loneliness some presidents have describes. there will be very tough times and made difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. not a very good one to give advice but don't let the critics discourage you or push you off course. you will be our president when you read this note. i wish you well, i wish your family well. your success now is the country's success. i'm rooting hard for you. karen, it is hard to believe in 2018 that those words pass the between presidents, but that was the decency of george h.w. bush. >> it was. although he was hurt and for a long time he did kind of disappear. he went home to houston, he would joke about walking the dogs and loaded the dishwasher and certainly there was some vindication eight years later when he and bill clinton are once again on that
inauguration -- the inaugural stand and then it is george w. bush taking the oath of office. so the president did have some time to sort of re-evaluate and take stock again and also had the satisfaction of seeing two of his sons become governors, one of his -- one of them a president and ultimately in doing good works with bill clinton forge a very close personal relationship to the point where the bush brothers would joke about him being their other brother. >> jonathan allen, you have been prolific this morning in your analysis of president george h.w. bush and you -- in one of your stories you sort of describe him as being the end of an era. >> well, absolutely. and thank you for the kind introduction there. really in a lot of ways sort of the last of his kind. i know john meacham has been on
air, the author who wrote about him, described him as the last gentleman. he was also the last president to start, fight and finish a war. and i think most importantly he was a president who represented a moderate brand of republicanism, certainly the last of those that we've seen. there has been an evolution in the republican party, we now see all of the way to donald trump. i can't think of two republican presidents more different than george h.w. bush and president trump and of course there was a bridge in between in george w. bush who had moved more conservative than his mother, who had to do that to become the nominee of the republican party. who talked about his compassion and conservatism and socially conservative than his father who famously had alien ated the economic conservatives in his party but raising taxes as part of the budget deal. >> jonathan alter, there are people who have said this morning, be careful not to
canonize or venerate george h.w. bush. and i hope what we're doing is remembering him accurately. but in the context of the day something that jonathan allen just mentioned, george h.w. bush looked good any way. but it makes him look more good. >> yes. so look at just that handwritten note to bill clinton. it was sometimes said dismissively of george bush that he hand wrote his way to the presidency. he wrote thousands of these personal notes. that is the way he communicated. compare that to tweeting. these notes were gracious. >> thoughtful. >> they were thoughtful. they were friendly. did he make mistakes? yes. some of them were pretty big ones. putting dan quayle, a heartbeat from the presidency, putting clarence thomas on the supreme court and saying afterward he was the most qualified person to be on the supreme court which was not true. i could go on. but those have to be seen in the
context of a man who did have genuine empathy, and he was sometimes unable to express at one point in 1992 he said message, i care. it was like he was reading something from one of his consultants but in his heart i think he did care and that eventually came through and history eventually recognized this. just to give you one example, after his son is declared the victor over al gore in late 2000, after this protracted struggle, he gets -- al gore gets a call from george bush, from the father of the victor and he just says, i know what it's like to lose and how hard it is to lose. and this is something that you can only do if you have a sense of empathy. and the current occupant of that office not only lacks -- not only is different from bush on the empathy scale, he's all the
way at the other extreme. so i think one of the reasons for the veneration of bush that you are seeing is the contrast to donald trump. it is just so clear for anybody who is paying attention. >> karen, economically we talk about the fact that george h.w. bush left us in a recession. conservatives criticized him for raising taxes when he said he wouldn't. in the end, the years of success under bill clinton economically in some part were due to bill clinton and in large part of the things welcome back did. >> that is right. the economy was already beginning to rebound on election day, 1992. people weren't feeling it yet. but the difficult thing he did, which was backing down from his read my lips, no new taxes pledge and agreeing to raise taxes just so enraged the right wing of his party. and one of the great agents of
his undoing with the republican base was a young congressman names newt gingrich who's own rise was fuelled in part by the anger over that. but it did sort of lay some of the building blocks. president clinton has well to do some things to reduce the deficit. >> karen tumult and jonathan allen and jonathan alter. thank you for being with us. karen stay with us. msnbc continuing coverage of the passing of america's 41st president. we'll be back after the break. >> so i don't need to make any more statements. i'm not writing a biography. let the historians decide what i screwed up and what i got right. i hope it comes out in favor of the latter category but who knows and who cares because history is going to do that any way.
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with angela merkel shortly. he was scheduled to hold a press conference but he tweeted it will be canceled out of respect for the passing of the president bush. also this morning, take a look at pictures. thousands of protesters marching in france protesting rising fuel prices in paris protester started fires. police say more than a hundred people have been arrested. this is now the third week in a row of rioting over increased fuel prices. and up next, our continuing coverage of the death of george h.w. bush continues. stay with us. i just got my cashback match, is this for real? yep. we match all the cash back new cardmembers earn at the end of their first year, automatically. whoo! i got my money! hard to contain yourself, isn't it? uh huh! let it go! whoo! get a dollar-for-dollar match at the end of your first year. only from discover. pai'm open to that.medicare? lower premiums? extra benefits? it's open enrollment. time to open the laptop... ...and compare medicare health plans. why? because plans change, so can your health needs. so, be open-minded.
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we continue our coverage of the life and legacy of george h.w. bush, his defining moments in the oval office. a single term that came to end in the throws of a week economy and a presidential legacy that included the negotiation of the north american free trade agreement. that treaty would be signed into law in 1993 but his successor bill clinton with whom it is most associated. but 25 years later replaced by donald trump who was with the leaders of canada and mexico signing this new agreement on friday. joining me now, howard fineman, nbc news and analyst karen tumult of the washington post and joe watkins, a former aid to president george h.w. bush and now a republican strategist. welcome to all of you.
joe, let me start with you. because we often had occasion to talk about decency in politics and humanity and where it has all gone. you always talk so fondly about your time working with the bushes in the white house. >> yeah. what a decent man. what a decent, decent man. he cared about everybody. and when the lights were off and the camera stopped rolling, he cared about you as a person just like when he was in front of the cameras. and i loved that about the president. he cared about everybody. and it was real with him. he used to write little notes to people all of the time. so if somebody remembered the family was sick, he might write a note, heard your loved one was sick and i hope they get better, best, george bush. so sweet and thoughtful. my son came with me one day to the white house and the president took time out of his schedule to talk to my son and then sign a nice picture for him which i thought was so sweet and thoughtful and that is the kind of person he was. i had the highest professional and personal regard for him as a
human being. >> howard, one of the interesting things about george h.w. bush, it might have cost him in the end in his support with some members of the republican party, is that he was -- he had difficulty pinning down his ideology and he had difficulty aligning it to a label. >> well his ideology was service. and it was hard for him in a way. because he had been reared by his rather stern mom, being told not to brag. check your ego at the door. never brag. and he was known as a kid has have half. meaning he was sharing with everybody all of the time. so he was humble by nature. but he also wanted to serve. so he was kind of a humble servant, if you will. that is hard to pull off in politics. and that was more important to him, the idea of public service, lending his skill and his brains and experience to whatever the
problem was that he viewed as his calling, literally his calling. and that was his ideology was service and he did it in managing the decline and end of the cold war and with courage in tackling the budget deficit situation. he did it in reaching out to bill clinton after he had been defeated by bill clinton. that was who he was. and that's what i was so impressed with covering him over the years. >> i'll interrupt you for a second. trump is with german chancellor angela merkel in buenos aries. >> we're talking trade and defense and talking about many things. we have a tremendous trade imbalance but we're going to get that straightened out. it will be better and better as time goes by. our military relationship is very good. i think we all understand each other. and it is an honor to be with the chancellor. she's done an incredible job. highly respected by everybody, including me. so just want to say it's great
honor. >> thank you very much. >> you're welcome. [ speaking foreign language ] >> i want to just continue this conversation with you. just with reference to this, donald trump saying to angela merkel, highly respected by everyone, including me. karen, it is not clear, he has not -- not in the past been very clear about his respect for angela merkel and the deal has respect for her but her world view which is a world view that george h.w. bush helped promulgate at the end of the cold war, she is perhaps one of the last stalwart of that world view in a powerful position. there are other world leaders who share their view of a strong mutual defense association with nato, who wory about the expansion of russia. but the fact is that donald trump and angela merkel do not
share those views. donald trump and george h.w. bush do not share those views about the world. >> yeah, george h.w. bush was such a strong internationalist and it wasn't just -- >> sorry, karen, i'll just stop you because he's now talking about president george h.w. bush. >> we were just talking about it. he's a wonderful man. and you may just explain your little meeting with him. i found it very interesting. >> i was in -- [ inaudible ] george bush and he was the fathers of the unification and we'll never forget that. >> i found that very interesting. so we extended our best wishes and -- he was a very fine man. i met him on numerous occasions. he was just a high quality man who truly loved his family. one thing that came through loud and clear, very proud of his family. and very much loved his family.
so he was a terrific guy and he'll be missed and he led a full life and a very exemplary life, i will say. and we've decided as you know we'll have a big press conference which i look forward to because we've made tremendous progress at the g-20 with many nations. >> we'll continue where we left off. karen. >> well george h.w. bush, the contrast of course is that he was an internationalist but with him it was not just an ideology it was based on decades of personal relations with leader as envoy to china and the u.n. and head of the cia. and so when these moments of crisis came, he had that to draw upon. and he would understand that there were times when he, for instance, angela merkel mentions the reunification of germany, that was very tricky and he really had to give the russians a lot of space to do that.
and he understood that. he didn't do it by bluster. often he did it by sort of holding back and letting the process move. >> he specifically said, howard fineman, he let gorbachev know he wasn't going to rub his nose it it but at the time of his re-election and his attempt at being re-elected, the failures in the economy, as would be the case today, seemed bigger and more important than the role that george h.w. bush had to play in the strengthening of nato and the west. >> right. i think his achievements in what i think will be recorded by historians as one of the great one-term presidencies. his achievements were things that would take a long time to bear fruit. whether it was the peaceful reunification of germany and the glory years afterwards in eastern europe as they got out from under the yoke of the old soviet union and the economy, as others have pointed out.
the deal that he made that cost him the presidency on the budget to raise taxes despite his owe promise at the convention to make deals all along the line in terms of cutting spending and so forth, those cost him initially but they created the long boom of the first -- of the following decade. and he didn't reap the political benefits of it but in the end he thought this is what public service is about. >> joe, real quick, president trump listened to what he says when things like this happened because it could go any way with trump but he said george h.w. bush was exemplary and lives an exemplary life and that is music to most people's ears that donald trump thinks so. >> because george bush did live a exemplary life. he was doing what was best for the country even if it cost him a second term in the white house. and i'm proud to have served with him. what he did by raising taxes realizing the long-term gain
that america would reap from it, i thought was wonderful. it tells you who the man was. an exemplary life indeed. >> thanks to all three of you. coming up next, president trump's lifetime of what we were just talking about, service. (burke) parking splat. and we covered it. talk to farmers. we know a thing or two because we've seen a thing or two. ♪ we are farmers. bum-pa-dum, bum-bum-bum-bum ♪
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♪ when i got out of the airplane, i hit my head on the tail of the plane. the chute hung up on the tail of the airplane, ripped some of the panels out of it. the japanese put out a boat from shore to try to pick me up. a u.s. submarine came along and picked me up out of the ocean. had it not happened, the fleet would have gone south and left mccain's command and gone south. that very night. i would have been captured for sure by the japanese. so it was just a dramatic moment in my short -- then short life. i'll never forget it. the plane, the fumes, the smoke, it was terrifying. president george h.w. bush
describing the moment after his plane was head. he was the last veteran of that war to serve as president of the united states. joining with me is army colonel lawrence wilkerson. he served as chief of staff to colin powell. thank you for being here. there is relevance in a continuing time of war to a president understanding service in the way that george h.w. bush did, but also to his very personal experience with it. >> absolutely. there were no bone spurs for h.w. bush, no "other priorities" as dick cheney said. he went in, and he did his service. i think service is the middle name of h.w. bush. >> i want to talk about the gulf war and president bush's reflexes. he made these reflections in all
of 2004. >> we defined the mission. the mission was to end the aggressi aggression. we went to the united nations, we tripped diplomacy. when all else failed, we use word. we did what we want, the liberation of kuwait, and we came home. fast forward, that status quo didn't stay the same, you saw a more massive buildup in iraq. time and time again violations of the no-fly zone, and the president had to take action. so it's a different time, but i don't have any regrets. where i miscalculated is i thought saddam hussein would
fall from his own weight. >> he thought the mission was done and didn't want the loss of american lives in that war was particularly low. but in the end, it didn't go the way president bush had thought it would go. >> and i admire the fact that he put the united nations at its pinnacle. we did something that was right, we reversed an aggression, and he exactly defined it as we fulfilled the mandate and then we left. the fact that he more or less intimated an excuse for his son in the second war, that was strategic in the highest proportion. h.w. bush had restored the balance of power and left the region more or less stable. what we did in 2003, much to my
regret and much to my sadness, is we destroyed that balance of power, and we are living with the results of that today and probably will live with it for another decade or two, and the results are horrible. >> president bush valued the advice of colin powell. tell me a bit about that relationship. >> i think the proof of the pudding there was when powell was selected to be the chaim of the joint chiefs of -- first non-academy graduate, and that was all because h.w. bush had seen him operate as the national security adviser, and in the last year of his second term, and knew what a great american powell was, and wanted him to be his chairman. >> remarkable story. lawrence wilkerson, thank you so much. he served as chief of staff to
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alex witt is coming up. >> well done. >> he's a man that deserves our recollection and remembrance of the life he lived. it's an honor to be doing that for both of us today. it is high tonight in the east, account a.m. out west. >> a new breeze is blowing, a nation refreshed by freedom, stands ready to push on. there's new ground to be broken and new action to be taken. >> coming up, his defining moments in the oval office, chaperoning the fall of the berlin wall and solve yet union. swift victory in the gulf war, and one big promise he could not keep. to his post-presidency, a further life of public service through his foundation.