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Some Republicans Cite Pandemic for Skipping COVID Relief Vote but Are Traveling to CPAC Alongside Trump; McConnell Vows to Support Trump if Nominated in 2014 for President After Blaming Him for The Capitol Insurrection; U.S. Sanctions Saudi Force, Former Intel Officer Over Murder of Jamal Khashoggi; Prince Harry Says British Press Was Destroying His Mental Health. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 26, 2021 - 15:30   ET



CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And that will be recorded as voting because they'll be voting by proxy, so I don't it's going to have much of a political impact on them

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Yes, but it really does say a lot doesn't it? You talk about beating the Trump drum. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was pressed about whether he would support Trump if he were the nominee in 2024. Here's his response.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the president was the party's nominee, would you support him?

MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The nominee of the party, absolutely.


HILL: Absolutely, not a hesitation there, but I do just want to remind everybody some of McConnell's most recent comments about the former president.


MCCONNELL: There's no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day, no question about it. As an ordinary citizen unless the statute of limitations is run, is still liable for everything that he did while he's in office. Didn't get away with anything yet, yet.


HILL: That was 13 days ago. Now the top Republican in the Senate who directly tied the president to the insurrection saying very clearly, he's willing to put him back in the White House. The two don't really square. DENT: Yes, the two are incompatible positions. But I think it's very

clear that Mitch McConnell wants a clean break from Donald Trump unlike some of the House Republican leaders he's in a different spot. Now McConnell is in a bit of a pickle. He made a great speech that day, he also voted against conviction. I wish he voted for conviction. But I kind of understood why he did what he did then and if Trump is the nominee, he's the titular head of the party at the moment, he almost has to say yes.

Because if he says no, I suspect, you know, his leadership position will be in jeopardy. And as I've said many times, you know, a leader with no followers is just a guy taking a walk. I don't McConnell wants to be in that position. But he's going to work around the clock I'm sure to make sure Donald Trump is not the nominee in 2024.

HILL: I'll be interested because we're told that Donald Trump is going to make it clear this weekend, right, he still has a strong hold on this party. He is still the head of the Republican Party. He plans to be there in 2024, whether that actually happens remains to be seen. We'll be watching for that this weekend.

I do want to get your take that before I let you go. On a little bit lighter note, former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has reportedly been going a little bit off script when recording the audio version of his new memoir. Axios reporting he says, oh, and Ted Cruz go blank yourself. You were in the House when Boehner was leader. Any of this surprising to you?

DENT: Not one bit, Erica. I've heard Donald Trump -- I mean I've heard John Boehner on many occasions vent about Senator Cruz because Senator Cruz attempted to undermine his leadership particularly during the 2013 government shutdown.

In fact you may remember Boehner said a few years ago that he thought the junior Senator from Texas was Lucifer in the flesh and the most miserable S.O.B. he had ever dealt with in Congress.

And I was asked by another network at that time about it and I said, geez, someone called Lucifer for comment and I heard he was very upset about Boehner's remarks. And then further I would tell you that, you know, I would have never called the junior Senator from Texas miserable after he made that miserable S.O.B. comment, so Boehner has been known to make those comments.

And I understand why he was angry and frustrated because he would -- basically the Senator would work with members at that time of what soon became The Freedom Caucus to help impede Boehner's agenda in the House and it was really very irritating, not just to him but to a lot of us who are actually trying to run the country.

HILL: Charlie Dent, former Congressman, always great to have you with us. Thank you.

DENT: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Our breaking news coverage continues. The U.S. releasing its report on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Candidate Joe Biden promised justice for his death so will President Biden keep his word?



HILL: Breaking news. The U.S. Treasury just issued several sanctions against some Saudi officials and departments for their role in the murder of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Now the sanctions come just hours after the intelligence community declassified its long-awaited report about the 2019 killing.

The summary of the report states very clearly something that the CIA had determined months ago saying, quote, we assess that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

And deeper inside the report is this line, crucial here. The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures, if necessary, to silence him.

The Prince denies any involvement. Its declassification was actually delayed yesterday so President Biden could speak with Saudi Arabia's King Salman. And while that call did take place, the readout provided to the media made no mention of Jamal Khashoggi though it did say they discussed human rights abuses. And because former President Trump largely ignored this international atrocity it makes President Biden's decisions on this all the more crucial in many ways.

Joining me now is CNN national security analyst James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence. Director, as we look at this, these sanctions are specifically against the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force known as the Tiger Squad and the former deputy head of the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency, but there's nothing here having to do directly with the Crown Prince. What's your reaction?


JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Erica, first thing I would like to do is to commend DNI Haines for specifically and the administration generally for complying with the law which the last administration chose not to do.

Now it's kind of a sign of the times that you single out and commend people for complying with the law. With respect to the sanctions, I think what this indicates the difficulty of actually sanctioning Mohammed bin Salman, MBS, himself, since it's very difficult to sort out what is his and what is, you know, generally the property or resources of the kingdom.

And the administration is admittedly in a difficult place here. They are complying with the law, doing the right thing, naming and shaming MBS officially -- although this is not a startling revelation. It's more confirmation of what was surmised at the time. So there's a balancing act here that the administration is going to have to contend with.

HILL: So, I mean, you know, as of 3:40 this afternoon, that balancing act appears to be calling out the Crown Prince but not punishing him.

CLAPPER: Well, that's the dilemma. I think there is -- it's important that he be named and shamed, but there's a needle to be threaded here because you have to acknowledge the importance of Saudi strategically, its economic impact. It can be a force for good in terms of instituting a legal regime to prevent a recurrence.

Reform in terms of rights of women, could a Saudi be influential with the Taliban, for example. These are measurable things that you can gauge in terms of Saudis' behavior, and I think that's what -- hopeful, I think is the hope here that the Saudis will change behavior, and particularly with the legal regimes and the decision- making mechanisms that were supposed to -- that were reportedly reformed after this egregious incident.

HILL: It will be interesting to see, you know, what changes. It's understandably a delicate dance, right, because it's not just about Saudi as an ally. It's about the message that the United States is going to send to both Saudi Arabia and other allies to the region.

But also, you know, globally on a broader plane about, you know, how the United States views atrocities such as this one. You know looking at what we do know, right, from the report, as you pointed out, the report itself is not new, but the Trump administration never released it, despite that requirement from Congress requiring it to be released almost two years ago.

Based on that it's likely that Jared Kushner, who was engaging with MBS had this information, so, I mean, do you think he just overlooked it, just ignored it as he was continuing in those conversations in that engagement?

CLAPPER: Well, I obviously don't know the answer to that, but I surmise, and it was pretty obvious in some of the things that the president said -- notably to Bob Woodward -- that essentially, they were going to ignore the law because in their judgment larger interests were at stake. And so I think this is a case of the stark contrast with the Biden administration who does believe in the rule of law and human rights and concern about human rights abuses. And so I think that's a rather stark contrast between the two administrations.

HILL: James Clapper, always good to have your expertise and insight. Thank you.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Prince Harry opening up now about his split with the royal family talking about who he blames for destroying his mental health and why he says this was never about just walking away.



HILL: Former senior royal Prince Harry opening up about why he and Meghan Markle decided to step away from royal life, telling late night host James Corden the atmosphere in England was simply too toxic.


JAMES CORDEN, CBS HOST, THE LATE, LATE SHOW: It's such a monumental decision to have walked away from the royal family. Why did you feel that that was necessary and the right thing to do for you and your family?

PRINCE HARRY, BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY: It was never -- it was never walking away. It was -- it was stepping back rather than stepping down.

CORDEN: Right.

PRINCE HARRY: You know, it was a really difficult environment as I think a lot of people saw. We all know what the British press can be like, and it was destroying my mental health.

CORDEN: Really.

PRINCE HARRY: This is toxic.


PRINCE HARRY: So I did what any husband and what any father would do. Is like I need to get my family out of here, but we never walked away. And as far as I'm concerned whatever decisions are made on that side, I will never walk away. I will always be contributing, but my life is public service, so wherever I am in the world it's going to be the same thing.


HILL: Omid Scobie is a royal editor at "Harper's Bazaar" and the author of "Finding Freedom, Harry And Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family." Joining us now with more on these revealing comments.

So Omid, we finally have -- he's finally offering in his own words, his reason for leaving the U.K., for leaving royal life behind, to a degree to protect his family, to protect their mental health. Any surprises in what we heard from him? He seemed very open.

OMID SCOBIE, ROYAL EDITOR, HARPER'S BAZAAR: Yes, I think this is Harry obviously in a much better place in his life.


They are now sort of well into the next chapter, and clearly, he's found sort of a place to thrive in. And I think he's been able to speak very openly about some of the things that they dealt with as senior working members of the royal family.

Of course, at the heart of that was their issues with sections of the British media particularly the tabloid press that made his and Meghan's life almost unbearable at times. And, you know, I got to know their team very closely throughout those

periods of time and I know that they really, really did struggle with it. They tried everything they could to change the environment that they're working with, even raising it with members of the royal family. But that royal family never complain, never explain attitude of sort of no commenting on stories was ultimately what stopped them from ever having control over the many untrue stories about them out there.

HILL: You know, Harry said, you know, you know, we all know, in his words, what the British press can be like. I don't know that we actually do know on this side of the pond, right? We hear about the British tabloids and how difficult it can be. But put it into perspective. How different were things for Harry and Meghan versus Will and Kate?

SCOBIE: I think we have to remember that Harry's background with the British press is of course, the life he knows his mother lived, often at the hands of the British press. And so that's something that's always front of mind for him.

But on top of that, he also got to see the treatment of Meghan and of course she was the most important, still is the most important woman in his life and she really came under attack for things that we didn't see Kate criticized for.

I think there was a lot of sort of unpleasant racial slurs, stereotyping, misogynistic behavior in sections of the British tabloids that wasn't just in commentary but also in some of the stories that were put out there.

As much as Harry and Meghan tried to fight against it, they belonged to an establishment that didn't want to take on the press. Ultimately, the royal family needs the British media and there was this very sort of almost unhealthy relationship between the two, where there's this expected give and take.

And if you cast our minds back to the fall of 2019 when Harry and Meghan launched a number of legal lawsuits against British tabloids, Harry said this was a game that his mother played that he doesn't want to. And I think that that ability to have control over their privacy and their freedom is exactly what they needed.

HILL: You know, in these scenes he seems very comfortable. And, you know, it's clear the two have a rapport, he and James Corden. I love that he said though that they zoom regularly with the Queen so she can see Archie. Is he still close with the royal family? And if so, with whom?

SCOBIE: Yes, it's interesting. I think one thing we don't always understand with the royal family is that there are the core family members and then there is the institution of the monarchy that they belong to.

And that machine, the home to, those men in gray suits that we hear about, is where Harry and Meghan really struggled to find their place. Obviously, they're much lower down on the pecking order. They found themselves often almost as sort of sidelined members of the royal family and they knew their power, their status and they wanted a place to thrive.

And so, yes, Harry does have a very close relationship with his grandparents, and I think that it was important for him to put that out there and also to share a warm side to the Queen and Prince Philip. Because I'm sure that are many think that those are people who are to blame for some of the reasons why Harry and Meghan stepped away.

HILL: Yes, and perhaps a view they may have from "The Crown" although as we learn Harry actually watches "The Crown," which was fascinating. Omid Scobie, great to have you with us. Thank you.

SCOBIE: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Our breaking news coverage continues as the COVID stimulus package heads to the House floor tonight. What we learned about some Republicans who decided it was actually more important for them to be in Florida.



HILL: This week, we're launching CNN Heroes for 2021, and celebrating the 15th anniversary of the CNN Heroes campaign, which honors everyday people who are changing the world. And we're kicking it off with an update on someone at the center of the most inspiring moment that you selected last year. A London father and grandfather who rescued a man when protests turned violent.


PATRICK HUTCHINSON, CNN HERO: There was a lot of unrest. There was a lot of frustration. I didn't see color. I just saw somebody who needed help. I just had the presence of mind to just scoop him up, put him on my shoulder.

And I had a message pinging up on my phone from my sister. She said it's gone viral. You've gone viral.

Spoken to the likes of Reverend Al Sharpton, Prince Harry. I've been on the cover of Men's Health, BBC News. I've been on live TV, CNN, CNBC, and received a humanitarian award.

I've had Michelle Obama, write a message on her Instagram. It hasn't stopped and it's still going.

We started United to Change and Inspire. And we call it UTCAI. We're inspiring other people to be the change in the world that you want to see. Go out there and do what's right. Don't stand by and watch certain things unfold when you know that you have the ability to do something about it.


HILL: To learn more about the campaign, logon to CNN

And a programming note, Stanley Tucci explores the city many call the food capital of Italy. Travel to Bologna this weekend with the new CNN original series, "STANLEY TUCCI SEARCHING FOR ITALY," Sunday night 9:00 Eastern and Pacific.