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U.K. Threat Level Raised to Highest Mark; U.S. President to Meet Pope Francis. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired May 24, 2017 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Isha Sesay.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause, live in Los Angeles, where it's just gone 11:00 pm here on the West Coast.
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST: I'm Becky Anderson in Manchester in the northwest of England, where it is 7:00 am in the morning. And we are learning more on Monday's terror attack here, the deadliest attack in Britain in more than a decade.
Right now the country is at its terror threat level of critical; only two times before has the level reached that high. At least 22 people were killed, including teenagers and an 8-year-old girl when an explosion ripped through a crowd of people outside Manchester Arena on Monday night.
They were leaving an Ariana Grande concert when the blast happened. Dozens more people are wounded. Police identified the suicide bomber as 22-year-old Salman Abedi. They raided at least two locations in the city on Tuesday, including Abedi's home. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack but has offered no proof.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned another may be imminent.
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is now concluded, on the basis of today's investigations, that the threat level should be increased for the time being, from severe to critical.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: Ms. May says investigators cannot discount the possibility that a wider group of terrorists was involved in Monday's attack. Police and military are increasing patrols of key sites such as railway stations and airports.
CNN's Clarissa Ward reports.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The investigation into Monday night's deadly bombing that targeted children and teens intensified today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you move back down, please?
WARD (voice-over): Police conducted two raids in Manchester and named the suspected suicide bomber for the first time.
IAN HOPKINS, GREATER MANCHESTER CHIEF CONSTABLE: The man suspected of carrying out last night's atrocity is 22-year-old Salman Abedi.
WARD (voice-over): This home was stormed by armed law enforcement in connection with the investigation. Police say a 23-year-old man has also been arrested in South Manchester in relation to the terror attack that occurred around 10:30 last night.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god.
WARD (voice-over): The blast was heard inside the Manchester Arena just after an Ariana Grande performance, as many parents waited to pick up their children and crowds were streaming out of the exits.
The explosion, outside the venue near the box office, was so powerful, it can be seen and heard on this dash-cam video from a parked car far from the detonation point.
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The single terrorist detonated his improvised explosive device near one of the exits of the venue, deliberately choosing the time and place to cause maximum carnage.
WARD (voice-over): ISIS has claimed responsibility, but a British counterterror official tells CNN they have seen no links to known terror groups. President Trump was quick to condemn the attack in his own unique way.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will call them from now on losers, because that's what they are. They are losers.
WARD (voice-over): Immediately following the blast, thousands fled the scene, leaping over chairs to escape.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We managed to get through the doors and, how we wasn't crushed to death is a miracle.
WARD (voice-over): This witness described shrapnel injuries reminiscent of previous terrorist bombings.
STEVEN JONES, FIRST RESPONDER: Obviously, when you have seen children like that as well with blood and who were having to pull nails out of their arms and stuff and (INAUDIBLE) little girl's face.
WARD (voice-over): Police are frantically examining the bomb remnants for clues, while experts say this was more sophisticated than the work of a lone wolf.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: How did this bomber learn how to make this?
In general, it's, I think, highly unlikely that he just learned about it on the Internet.
WARD (voice-over): As the United Kingdom reels from its worst attack since 2005, security across the country is stepping up, the prime minister vowing terrorists will not prevail -- Clarissa Ward, CNN, Manchester.
ANDERSON: CNN's Erin McLaughlin is live from the Manchester Royal Infirmary, where so many of the victims were taken after the bombing.
CNN law enforcement contributor Steve Moore joining us from Los Angeles.
Let's start with you, Erin.
What more do we know about those caught up in this terrible, terrible attack?
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Becky, we're learning more about the victims killed in the attack, including 15-year-old Olivia Campbell. In the hours that followed the bombing, her mother and stepfather making impassioned pleas for any information about their daughter but confirming now on Facebook that Olivia Campbell.
Let me just read you some of what her mother, Charlotte, had to say, quote, "RIP, my darling, precious, gorgeous girl, Olivia Campbell, taken far, far too soon. Go sing with the angels and keep smiling, my -- I love you so much."
Now in following the attack when she was speaking to CNN, she said that her daughter had actually called her at 8:05 pm right before Ariana Grande was to take to the stage. She was so excited, she said that she loved the music, thanking her mother for allowing her to attend the concert with a friend.
It's really heartbreaking stories we're hearing. We're also getting more victims identified; 8-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos; 18-year-old Georgina Callander as well as John Atkinson among the dead; 22 killed in all, 59 injured, admitted to some eight hospitals, including the hospital that I'm standing in front of as well as an adjacent children's hospital, 12 children under the age of 16 years old admitted there.
And we understand that many of the victims have life-threatening injuries, in critical condition and will need long-term care -- Becky.
ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. There's some truly awful, awful and tragic stories there.
Nina dos Santos also joining us from outside of 10 Downing Street.
How did the government here explain why they have raised the terror threat level to critical? This is a very big deal for the British government. They've done this very, very rarely and it's not normally a very long period of time.
So what was the reasoning behind this?
NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: Well, you're right in saying that it is a very big deal. We've only seen it done twice before, raised to this critical level, which means that an attack may be imminent from here.
Remember that the government does not actually set this particular threat level. It is set by an independent committee. And on that committee we have members of the police force and also the intelligence community.
But you're right, Becky, because even after the Westminster attack just a couple of months ago, we didn't see the level raised to the most serious one, which is critical. It stayed at severe.
The logic behind that was that it seemed as though the individual in that case was working alone. And this is the big question.
Was the perpetrator of the -- suspect behind the Manchester attack working alone or did he have help?
Will there be other copycat attacks?
That is one of the reasons why they decided to raise this to the highest level possible. What this all means for people across the country is that not just in Manchester, across big cities, big events right across the country for the next few days we're going to seen an increased security presence. The army is going to helping to guard certain key locations and events as they take place, especially where a lot of people will be gathering.
And the police, more armed police, will be on the streets. So Theresa May has said this is in order to keep the country moving but also to keep the people safe and she said she believes it's a proportionate response to the security threat that the U.K. is facing, as they try and get more information, as the investigation continues.
By the way, she will be chairing this special emergency meeting about 2.5 hours from now. And they will speak from the steps of nber10 --
DOS SANTOS: -- Becky.
ANDERSON: And, Steve, just very briefly, what are the critical questions that law enforcement will be asking themselves now?
STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: They're going to want to know exactly what type of explosive was used and they're going to want to -- because that would be a signature of different terrorist groups. They're also going to want to identify and locate every single
potential member of any cell that's active here because until they've got them all wrapped up, they do not know that it is safe.
ANDERSON: To all of you, thank you.
I'll be back with much more from Manchester later this hour.
Now let's get you back to Isha and John in Los Angeles.
SESAY: Thank you, Becky.
Time for a quick break here. And after calling the Russia probe a political witch hunt, sources say --
SESAY: -- President Trump is lawyering up for what could follow.
VAUSE (voice-over): Also ahead, Mr. Trump tried to set aside differences with Pope Francis. They had a heated online spat last year. Now they're set to meet face-to-face for the first time. Stay with us. We're back in a moment.
SESAY: Hello, everyone.
As may White House staffers feared, President Trump's problems at home are following him abroad in Rome after a relatively peaceful few days on this five-stop tour.
Sources say he's expected to retain a private attorney to deal with the ongoing probe into his campaign's alleged ties to Russia.
VAUSE: With that in mind, the former CIA director, John Brennan, told U.S. House investigators that Russia's actions during the 2016 election, including active contact with members of Mr. Trump's campaign, amounted to brazen interference, but Brennan would not call it collusion.
The White House quickly seized upon that line as indication (ph).
SESAY: Mr. Trump is set to meet with Pope Francis any moment now. They had something of an online spat last year after the pope criticized Trump for his non-Christian values, his desire to build barriers rather than bridges.
But both say they are entering this might with open minds.
VAUSE: Our Delia Gallagher joins us now live from Rome with more on this. So, Delia, this will be a very, very private meeting between the president and the pontiff.
What are the chances we'll actually find out what they talked about?
Or will they be (INAUDIBLE) bland statements (INAUDIBLE) --
VAUSE: -- full and frank exchange of views?
DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is right, John. That's always the trick, to find out exactly what went on in that room. It's a private conversation, just the pope, the president and a translator because, although the pope understands English. He also prefers to speak in Italian or Spanish. The Vatican sends out a statement afterwards, discussing some of the broad themes that might have been discussed.
But, as you mentioned, it's usually quite sparse and a bit bland. Of course, the president may tweet out a comment or two from his discussions with the pope. But generally, we do not actually know what was said in the meeting between the pope and a president.
What we do see is what happened afterwards, if, as most Vatican observers are suggesting, a good result from this meeting will be if the two can establish a positive rapport for future communications, if they can be -- have phone calls and meetings in the future on certain issues because this is, in a sense, a half an hour meeting. It lasts anywhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes, so it is not really time to get into a lot of the nitty-gritty of some of their differences.
But is a time and it is the first time that they will get to meet face-to-face, size each other and hopefully, as Pope Francis said, find some open doors where they can work together.
I think Pope Francis probably, in a very general way, wants to impress upon the president that now he is on the world stage and the moral consequences of his political decisions, not just for Americans but for the world, are important and particularly for Francis, of course, that includes for the poor.
So there will be a number of issues that the president will also discuss with the Vatican, secretary of state and the foreign minister after he meets with the pope. The U.S. and the Vatican have worked together for a long time on some joint initiatives, like to combat human trafficking, like humanitarian aid throughout the world.
So they also have a number of things in common, which they will want to discuss. The motorcade is arriving right now, driving up the main road. I do not know if you can see those pictures, John, coming up the main street here toward the Basilica. It will go around the end of the Vatican and in through a side gate, because, behind me, people are gathering for Pope Francis' weekly Wednesday audience. This is what he does every Wednesday. So this meeting is at a kind of unusually early hour, 8:30 in the morning local time, to try to fit in both with the president's busy schedule and the pope's schedule as well -- John, Isha.
VAUSE: Well, actually we can now see the motorcade. We can see the president's motorcade following there, pulling up there into Vatican City. As you mentioned, this is an unusual time and it's early, meeting at 8:30 am in the meeting for -- in the morning, rather -- for this meeting between the pontiff and the president.
Apparently they had to squeeze it in because Rome wasn't originally on the schedule. That was seen as a snub (ph) by the Vatican.
SESAY: Indeed. So let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, to talk about the timing of all of this.
Ben, and to that point and this meeting seems somewhat jammed in, if you will, at 8:30 in the morning between --
VAUSE: On a Wednesday.
SESAY: -- on a Wednesday, as the prince -- as the pope holds his weekly audience with the general public.
What should we make of all of that?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they had to fit him in because of this -- because originally there was no meeting with the pope scheduled, but they managed to fit it in. The Vatican, in fact, saw this as something of a snub initially.
But then there was a rescheduled and they did manage to fit him in. But obviously the pope at 10 o'clock in the morning, Rome time that's in an hour and 45 minutes, has his normal Wednesday audience. So they're a bit cramped in terms of time.
And it will be interesting -- Delia was talking about the amount of time they spend together. Normally, the pope, it is about a 20-30 minute meeting with visiting heads of state, but significantly, in March of 2014, when Pope Francis met with President Obama, they talked for 50 minutes because these two men got along very well.
They saw eye-to-eye on things like climate change and whatnot. And so it's going to be interesting to see how long this meeting lasts between President Trump and Pope Francis, given the rather public disagreement they have had on a variety of issues, like the wall proposed by the president between Mexico and the United States, the question of Muslims and immigrants coming in.
So it is -- it will be interesting to see if they hit it off or the obvious differences that we saw quite publicly during the U.S. presidential campaign also continue now that Mr. Trump is President Trump.
VAUSE: Ben, there will also be this exchange --
VAUSE: -- of gifts.
What more do we know about the gifts?
WEDEMAN: Well, normally Pope Francis will give some of his books to visiting heads of state. One of them is quite clearly a critique of capitalism as it exists in the West at the moment. And that we know that President Trump is not a big reader, so it may simply be a symbolic gift.
He may not be leafing through it as he flies on Air Force One to Brussels for that NATO meeting or later to Sicily for the G7 conference. Now we do not have any idea at this point what gift President Trump, however, will be giving the pope.
SESAY: Ben, as we watch these pictures of the presidential motorcade pulling up there outside the apostolic palace, President Trump shortly to emerge from the limousine there and to enter the palace.
This is a remarkable moment, given that the buildup to this meeting, do we expect that the pope to raise the issues that had divided them up until now?
WEDEMAN: I think we can expect to him to make clear his positions on climate change. The pope does believe climate change is a reality and is a threat to life as we know it.
We also know that he has been a very strong advocate of the need to let refugees in. He is a man who, for instance, has -- went to Greece, went to refugee camps, where, for instance, Syrian refugees were held and brought several back to Rome with him on his airplane.
The pope has been a very strong advocate for refugee rights so I think those issues will figure highly in the conversation.
But keep in mind, of course, between heads of state, very diplomatic language is used. The pope has been blunt in the past as has President Trump, but what we have seen in this nine-day maiden voyage by President Trump, he has been following a fairly strict script when it comes to public pronouncements.
So we may find that this is a continuation of the attempt to sort of rein him in a bit and keep the language as diplomatic as possible.
VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) the president (INAUDIBLE) being greeted as he heads into this meeting with Pope Francis.
I want to bring Delia in because just explain to us what is actually happening right now as far as the protocol, who are the people who are greeting him there on the red carpet, because we also saw the U.S. first lady arrive as well -- Delia.
GALLAGHER: Keep in mind, the Vatican's been doing this for centuries. The protocol is very set. The pope, the president is met by the pope's head of household. He is Don Georg Ganswein. He is also Pope Emeritus Benedict's private secretary and the head of Francis' papal household so he is responsible for greeting guests and bringing them through these Renaissance halls, which are sort of very beautiful but also set the stage for the importance on this meeting and the history of this place.
And I have seen presidents walk through there -- I saw President Obama walking through there, you know, just kind of amazed and trying to take in the great history of the Vatican that he walks through, toward the library, where there is an initial meeting and shaking of hands.
And you now we really read the tea leaves in this kind of a meeting because, again, we do not know exactly what is said between the two during their half-hour conversation.
So we watch the body language. We see if the pope is sort of smiling and relaxed or if he is a bit more stern, who goes toward the other first. We look at all of those smaller signs to get an idea of what is the mood.
You know, I think that Pope Francis, despite their differences, is a very savvy sort of diplomat and will want to try and establish -- I mean, he said so himself -- a good relationship with the president.
He realizes that he needs the president's leadership in the world in order to accomplish some of the things which are important to him; as we mentioned, climate change, immigration, the poor.
So the pope, I am sure, will be taking a very easy way into this with President Trump and really just trying to get the measure of the man and perhaps establish himself as somebody to whom the president can also talk openly. The pope has said he would like a sincere discussion.
GALLAGHER: So I have seen Pope Francis in a number of situations with heads of state. And he always tries to make them feel at ease. So whether he has got differences with them or not, I think his first priority is that this be a good working relationship, the future of the world, he thinks, depends upon it -- John and Isha.
SESAY: And, Delia, to that point, I know you talked about longer term and the hope that they can build a relationship that enables them to pick up the phone and discuss world issue.
But in terms of the immediate aftermath of this meeting, do we expect anything substantive to emerge from this gathering between the pontiff and the president?
GALLAGHER: It's a good point, Isha, because actually it is a bit unpredictable in the sense that Pope Francis sometimes in these meetings likes to take something away. When he met with the Israeli leaders and the president of the Palestinian Authority, he invited them back to the Vatican for a day of prayer.
So sometimes he likes to get a little surprise out of a meeting. Now that might happen in a situation which is already more established. This is really the first meeting so I am not sure that we can expect any kind of immediate announcements of anything in particular from this meeting. It really is to establish this relationship.
That being said, there are a number of issues with which the U.S. and the Vatican work closely together and I would not be surprised if in his meetings with the secretary of state, they do try to come up with some other joint initiatives that they can announce in terms of showing the world that they are establishing this relationship with the Trump administration.
And of course that will also behoove the Trump administration to have a good relationship with the Vatican. You know, the Vatican has hospitals, education systems, charities throughout the world and the U.S. works closely with them.
So I think that would be one area where you could see a lot of common ground and some joint initiatives.
VAUSE: And Ben, just to you, we saw the first lady there, arriving, and she was wearing a veil and was covered. I guess that is part of the tradition and part of the protocol. Some people might point out the fact that she did not wear a head coverage or a headscarf when she visited Saudi Arabia.
WEDEMAN: Yes, I do not know what to read into that, John. Certainly this is the protocol when meeting the pope. They wear a headscarf, a light one, not unusual guy. I think in Saudi Arabia what we have seen is, time and time again, various first ladies and their heads of state, female heads of state, have not worn headscarves, I think intentionally because those are political meetings. They're not of a religious nature, whether or not meetings with religious leaders in Saudi Arabia.
Whereas here, it is the pope, the head of the Catholic Church, and therefore there is a certain protocol when it comes to this sort of thing -- John.
VAUSE: And, Delia, it looks as if the Swiss Guard is escorting the presidential party through the hallways. I don't know if you can see these images, but perhaps you could tell us what's happening inside.
GALLAGHER: Well, I cannot see the images, John, but I know the scene and he walks through what is called the Clementine Hall. These are all different rooms that are named for different pope who contributed to them or are called upon the artist like Raphael to paint the vaulted ceilings. And it's designed for it to awe and intimidation in a certain way because, of course, Pope Francis lives in the Santa Marta, in a small former hotel. So he has these meetings with a heads of state in this grand apostolic palace.
And when we were talking earlier about the protocol of the first lady, wearing black and wearing a black veil on her head, you know, it would have been a big deal had she not done it because that is standard protocol. It is important to the Vatican. It is something that has always been done and would be important that she followed along with that protocol, a sign of respect, in meeting with the pope.
And on the gifts, of course President Obama brought seeds from the White House garden to Pope Francis and that was said to have been especially welcomed by the pope. He likes those kind of simple gestures.
They were planted in the summer residence, not far from Rome in Castel Gandolfo. So we'll see what President Trump brings with him to the pope.
SESAY: So, Delia, as we take in these pictures of this procession, if you will, the president and the first lady surrounded by Vatican officials making their way through the apostolic palace, where are they heading?
Do they meet the pope in a specific room that's set aside for these meetings?
[02:30:07] Tell us about that and those surroundings.
GALLAGHER: So they head down a series of long marble corridors and then they stop. And they wait in a kind of antechamber, a room before the main meeting room, which is called the papal library.
That is where the pope always has formal meetings with heads of state. And there is a small press group that gets the first shot the pope and the president meeting when they come out to shake hands. The president enters through one door; you'll see it in a moment and the pope from another door.
And whether the pope steps out to meet the president, the president comes forward to meet the pope and they have a shake of hands and an exchange of a few words, a few pictures and then go into the library.
We also get to see them sit down for a few minutes and then the doors are closed and they begin their meeting. So this is the traditional place.
Now Pope Francis does not always hold his meetings here; he often holds them near to where he lives, not far from this area near the hotel where he lives. But that would be for a less formal meeting. Formal meetings with heads of state, kings and queens and so on are always held in the apostolic palace, which is the place where popes have lived really since the 5th century. There has been a papal residence here at the Vatican, if you can imagine that. And since the 15th century, this current apostolic palace. But of course Pope Francis, we know, chose to live in a sort of less grand surrounding in the --
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): President here, to the Vatican, for their first face-to-face meeting.
SESAY: Yes, indeed. They are not meeting in the papal library, as Delia had made clear. These two men could not be more different, could they. The point has been made over and over again: the man in white, a man of --
VAUSE: They are very different but they also have some things in common. They both have a tendency to go off script. They both have a tendency to speak their minds.
SESAY: Very much so.
VAUSE: And it should make for a very interesting, what, 30 minutes or so.
SESAY: If it goes that --
VAUSE: If it goes that far.
SESAY: -- when he met with the pope, they only met for 10 minutes. President Obama met for close to an hour. So we will also be looking at the duration of this meeting.
VAUSE: It was interesting, though, to watch the U.S. president as he walked through those gilded halls with the marble and the gold and the history, everything -- he almost -- I wouldn't say seemed intimidated. But I think he certainly was taking it all in.
SESAY: And to be fair, I think most people would intimidated by the ornate nature of the surroundings and the protocol. It is the pope that you are meeting. The president himself had said it was a great honor to be getting this audience with the pope.
And again, we look at the body language. That is what we're all looking at now.
VAUSE: Delia said to look at the pope, to see if he was smiling and he certainly did appear to be smiling. And there is the U.S. first lady, I think, waiting outside again. (INAUDIBLE) she is wearing a veil, Delia making the point that this is -- and Ben as well, Ben Wedeman making the point that this is the custom. This is the protocol. It is out of respect to the Holy Father that the first lady is, in fact, wearing a veil for this meeting with the pontiff.
SESAY: And as has been noted, this is a meeting, in fact the first lady is now entering the room, heading, one would expect, to the area that the pope and the president are gathered in.
We should also point out it is Wednesday, of course. In Italy, it is Wednesday there already. And there will be the general audience that the pope holds with the --
SESAY: -- so they've got a lot to get in before the --
VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE). SESAY: -- a busy day for the pope --
VAUSE: But then it is interesting, though, about the timing of this might because we did talk about it briefly when the president and his motorcade arrived because there was no Rome stop initially on the president's schedule.
So do we know what happened?
How did the Vatican get sort of onto the itinerary?
And how did it end up that Donald Trump was meeting with Pope Francis at 8:30 on a Wednesday morning?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If you're asking me, well, the -- because of the schedule, I mean, this is a very packed trip for President Trump, nine days: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy, Brussels, with the NATO meeting, then back to Italy, Sicily for the G7 meeting and also what the White House had in mind with this trip was to sort of touch base with the three major religions, Judaism in Israel; Saudi Arabia, Islam, and of course the Catholic Church here --
WEDEMAN: -- in Rome.
So it became clear that that would have to be one of the parts of this nine-day trip. But of course the timing is a little unusual because, yes, normally the pope does not meet with heads of state at 8:30 in the morning; normally it's later in the day.
But of course today he is busy with his normal Wednesday general audience so that begins in an hour and 25 minutes, so there is a time limit for how long the pope can be meeting with President Trump. But they managed to fit in and so this allows them to say, yes, we are focusing on the three monotheistic religions that began in the Middle East And they've touched base now with the Catholic Church.
SESAY: And, Ben, we want to point out to our viewers that they did indeed just see images there of the first daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner. They, too, are accompanying the president and the first lady on this visit to the Vatican.
They were there; in fact, the president's daughter will also meet with the Catholic community Sant'Egidio to discuss human trafficking, according to the White House.
So Ivanka Trump will also be having meetings at the end of the audience with the pope and the president. So they, too, are going on this and will have business of their own to conduct.
VAUSE: And, Delia, just to the bigger point of the relationship between these two men, huge between U.S. presidents and popes, they're not unheard of. They've happened in the past. They often as not being a very warm or not often that there has been times not been a particularly warm relationship between the leader of the United States and the leader of the Catholic Church but somehow they muddle through.
GALLAGHER: We saw that with John Paul II during the Iraq War. They have their differences. But I have to say I think on the whole, John, there are close relations between the Vatican as a whole and the U.S. as a whole.
The popes have always appreciated U.S. Catholics in their outreach, in their aid, in their enthusiasm, so I think there is a great appreciation from the Vatican in general for American Catholics and even for American presidents, despite whatever policy differences they might have.
I want to say, John, that I think in those initial images that we saw the two sitting down, I saw a very relaxed pope. I think we all did, kind of more easygoing and open, smiling nature as we're sort of reading body language of this meeting.
And of course the people who are traveling with President Trump will have a chance, his family and the U.S. delegation will also have a chance then after this meeting to meet with Pope Francis, so, yes, I mean there is obviously going to be differences.
You're never going to see eye-to-eye. This is not just the Catholic Church. This is the Vatican. They are their own country. So they have their own diplomacy all around the world. They have a great network established through that diplomacy and through the Catholic Church in places on the ground, in Africa, in Asia, in South America. They are a major player in politics as well as in religion.
And we've seen that with Pope Francis. He is a spiritual leader but he is also a political voice in today's world.
And so that's really the significance of this meeting, I think, is for the pope to meet this other major political player and say to him, you know, there are consequences to your decisions and you are now on the world stage and let us think about the larger picture and the larger consequences of some of these issues, on climate change, on immigration and so on, without getting into too much of the differences but making that kind of larger moral point that probably the pope is uniquely placed to make today.
SESAY: And, Delia, just briefly, as we take in these scenes of Vatican officials waiting outside the papal library where President Trump is meeting with the pope, was there an air of excitement there in the Vatican in any way about this meeting of these two world leaders?
We've already explained to our viewers that this was a meeting somewhat jammed into the pope's schedule.
Was there excitement there?
GALLAGHER: Well, the whole back story is very interesting on this because of course up until three weeks ago, it was not clear that the White House was even going to ask for the meeting. And every day we were here asking the Vatican have they called yet, have they called yet.
And it didn't seem clear that the meeting with the pope --
GALLAGHER: -- was a priority for the Trump administration and sources have said that through some of the back channels in Washington, through some of the Catholic bishops and so on, they tried to impress upon the administration that it would be a good thing. And indeed in public, the pope said and one of the state officials ad the secretary of state said publicly that the pope always meets with the head of state who asks for an audience.
That's their way of saying please give us a call. It would be a good thing for us to talk.
So the fact that this meeting is actually happening is a story in itself. And, yes, I would say that there is curiosity on the part of the Vatican to meet President Trump because of course they've seen him in the campaign. They've heard a lot about him.
And so it is important to be able to meet him face-to-face and really get the measure of what he is all about and what he intends to do. And I think that they hope also to be able to influence that in a good way because they have their agenda, the things that they would like to accomplish.
So it's their opportunity also to get the president's ear as well as of course for the president to listen to the pope, as we talking about earlier.
VAUSE: Delia, Delia and Ben, please stay with us. We want to bring in Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant John Thomas.
So more about the politics of the pope and the president.
So John, to you, how important is it for a U.S. president to have a good relationship with the pope?
Obviously there are a lot of Catholic voters in the United States. But is that all the that's at stake here?
JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: No, it's part of being a leader of the free world. You need to get along with the pope. If I were advising President Trump, if you need reset relations, you start with a compliment. I would start with saying, you've got a nice wall in front of your -- in front of your --
VAUSE: Oh, no.
THOMAS: -- your house. But, seriously, just like he needed to reset relations with the Saudi's, which he did, he needs to do the same thing and it looks, from just us peeping in here, things seem to be going all right so far.
VAUSE: You say reset relations on this trip. It almost seems like an apology, to, in some ways. It's like, well, Holy Father, I am sorry about what I said --
THOMAS: Or perhaps forgiveness that he made some at the pope, made some accusations against the president.
DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's no doubt that this is a big blockbuster event of eyes all across the world are watching right now. You have this massive tension, something from the campaign, where you have a pope who's very much off-the-cuff like President Trump, who also purports to be a person of the voiceless, like Donald Trump.
So you've got this juxtaposition where you've got Donald Trump, who called climate change, a hoax, then you have somebody who supports tackling climate change, you have somebody who supports lifting up immigrant communities, you have somebody who belittles them.
You have you know somebody who is inclusive and bringing in Syrian refugees and at the same time with Donald Trump you've got the Muslim ban.
So I think this will be a really fascinating conversation to sort of see what comes out of it.
SESAY: Indeed, to that point, let's just put it in perspective, how should we be focusing on the mere statecraft here, the images, the optics versus something substantive coming out here?
Let's put it in context.
THOMAS: I would not hold my breath for something substantive coming out because like Dave said, they could not be more different on the policy issues. I think it is really about can Trump and the pope get along and show that America can play well with others?
I think that is really what this is about because a lot of the rhetoric was on the campaign trail that Trump couldn't play well.
VAUSE: So Dave, sorry, what we're looking from the U.S. president here is simply walking into a room, looking presidential and not insulting the pope.
JACOBSON: Precisely, like this is like a pivot opportunity optically. This makes him look like a world leader, it makes him look like a real President of the United States and it pivots away from all the turmoil and the Russia talk going on back home.
THOMAS: What's so surprising that it was not pre-booked on the trip because I think this is a bigger win for President Trump than it is for the pope.
SESAY: -- bearing in mind this pope had such warm relations with the former president, President Obama.
How much does that weigh on this visit for President --
THOMAS: Well, I mean, let's think about it; policy wise, they align more in synch than Donald Trump does. I mean, Republicans often knock to the president that he was the president of the world and not the president for the American people. And Donald Trump is running on an American first agenda.
So you would imagine that Barack Obama would get along better with the pope than Donald Trump.
JACOBSON: And I think fundamentally the pope understands that Donald Trump's probably going to be president, short of an impeachment, for the next four years and so it's a good idea to have an open dialogue and relationship.
SESAY: And he's a very strategic man. He's -- understands the power of images, just as President Trump does, understands the power of the word as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he even said we should focus on building bridges, not walls.
VAUSE: Ben -- is Ben Wedeman still with us?
Actually, at St. Peter's Square, so, Ben, how aware is Pope Francis of the politics here?
He knows that there are a lot of American Catholics out there, who probably voted for Donald Trump and he has to obviously be mindful --
VAUSE: -- of the relationship he has with the U.S. president.
WEDEMAN: Yes, but he is very much involved in terms of the critical issues like climate change, like the rights of refugees; he has been outspoken time and time again about the moral obligation of Christians to take care of those in need and, therefore, for instance, he has been a great supporter of the community of Sant'Egidio, which, of course, Ivanka Trump will be visiting later today. That is an organization that has been very active in helping refugees come to Europe, get settled in and so, certainly, he has very much made it clear that he is a strong proponent of refugee rights. He's spoken out time and time again about the need to address climate change.
So certainly this is a pope that, unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who was more of a cerebral religious thinker, Pope Francis is somebody who's more sort of active in the daily affairs of the world. So he is certainly a very political pope in that sense.
And certainly when it comes to President Trump, they definitely see -- don't see eye-to-eye on the major issues that Pope Francis is a proponent of -- John.
SESAY: Ben, that being said, knowing what we know of this pope, do we expect him or is it within the realm of possibility that he would try and persuade President Trump to maybe see things his way during this meeting?
WEDEMAN: Well, I think diplomatically -- and we should stress diplomatically -- he will try to get his message across. But this is a first meeting, a get-to-know-one-another meeting after some very public disagreements on things like climate change and capitalism and the rights of refugees.
So I think the stress will be on establishing a cordial relationship or trying to do so and perhaps going forward they may communicate with one another on a more regular basis. And I think the pope will try to get his message across.
But you know, these -- in meetings at this level in terms of heads of state, one has to be diplomatic and cannot push too hard when it comes to very different points of view.
VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) maybe just joining us right now, it is 8:47 on a Wednesday morning in the Vatican City, about 25 ago the U.S. president and first lady, his daughter and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, arrive for Donald Trump's first face-to-face meeting with Pope Francis.
Right now that meeting has been underway for, what, about 20 minutes or so. We are expecting it to wrap up. It's scheduled for no more than 30 minutes because the pope has a very busy day.
He is due to hold the audience with the general public in St. Peter's Square. That happens about an hour also from now.
But the next big moment that we're waiting for here, it may be in the next seven or eight minutes will be the exchange of gifts between the Holy Father and the U.S. president.
The pope is expected to have -- give Donald Trump a book, which will be interesting to see how that is received by a president who is not known to read a lot.
SESAY: Well, the format, if you will, of these meetings is very much set. There is a very fixed protocol to these audiences with the pope. So the exchange of gifts is de rigueur. We know that will be taking place. It is worth reminding our viewers that President Obama, when he met with the pope, he gave the pope a chest of seeds from the White House gardens, which was a reference to the pope opening up the Gardens of Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence.
So they got these seeds from the White House garden in a hand-crafted chest and they gave the pope, very interesting to see what President Trump gives the pope. The pope in response to President Obama gave two commemorative medals and a copy of some of his writings, again (INAUDIBLE) --
SESAY: -- that --
SESAY: -- with President Trump.
VAUSE: One thing, of course, is the history between these two men. They went at each other in a very public way during the presidential election campaign. So with that in mind, I'll bring Dave back in.
At the time, I remember clearly everybody saying he went after the pope. He will not survive going after the pope. But yet he did and this -- it says a lot about Donald Trump and his supporters and where he is now today, meeting with the pope as the president.
JACOBSON: If I remember correctly, he called the pope "disgraceful" --
SESAY: He did indeed.
JACOBSON: Yes, I think that was part of Donald Trump's appeal is that he was willing to speak off-the-cuff and be authentic, irrespective of whether or not you're the pope or you are Hillary Clinton or you're Barack Obama or you're Ted Cruz, and I think that was something that really appealed to that, that angry sort of build America --
VAUSE: Nothing was off limits --
(CROSSTALK) JACOBSON: -- come on, this is the guy that dropped the P bomb.
VAUSE: But now, John, you're in a situation where Donald Trump is being face-to-face with the Holy Father and really has to, I guess in some ways, walk back those comments.
THOMAS: Yes, and these are the tests, if there is difference between campaigning and there's a difference between governing. He is the President of the United States, leader of the free world essentially and now he has to rise to the occasion.
And I don't think we're ever going to President Trump apologize to the pope. But I think President Trump needs to and I think he will focus on trying to get along and we even saw that, just in that brief snapshot, where the pope cracked a smile.
So on one-on-one, President Trump is actually quite a jovial person. I suspect that, even on policy issues, the pope and Trump disagree vehemently. But I think interpersonally, they --
VAUSE: -- he is very charming. He is very amicable in person, in these kinds of settings when it is face-to-face.
SESAY: And it is worth putting this meeting with the pope in the fuller context of this trip as a whole for President Trump that he has gone about to engage with the three Abrahamic religions, going to Jerusalem, going to Saudi Arabia and meeting with the pope.
I mean, (INAUDIBLE) this was an awfully ambitious agenda for this president.
VAUSE: And (INAUDIBLE) president on his first overseas trip.
THOMAS: And an opportunity for him to look sane and not like a madman and stable at a time when there is so much chaos and recklessness going on in Washington, with these ongoing investigations and his continuously leaks to show that Donald Trump allegedly, potentially, could be obstructing justice.
So I think ultimately this trip is something that the president desperately needed optically.
Domestically with Congress and the Senate, there is not a lot of things that the present can exclusively control. Foreign policy and diplomatic relations is -- that's the stuff of presidents and it's within Donald Trump's control.
And so really is an opportunity for Trump to go regain the narrative, show that he's the president and actually get past some of those attacks that he couldn't play well in the sandbox with other foreign leaders.
THOMAS: There's a thing that makes a president look more presidential than going abroad and looking like --
SESAY: But let me ask you this, as you go abroad and you take on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. You go to Saudi Arabia, talk to me about the need for consistency of message, in terms of what you're seeing out there and your supporters back home.
JACOBSON: Well, I think the problem is, when it comes to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, is everybody wants peace. That's a bipartisan issue here at home. But the problem is that he minimizes the gravity of the issue. He says, we're going to have peace.
There is no meat on the bones. There's no substance and policy behind that. He makes his broad platitudes and these claims, just like Mexico's going to pay for the wall. But then there's no follow-up. And I think that is the problem, is he creates this facade that everything is going to be OK or that he is the ultimate dealmaker, and then he can't' get it done and that is what hurts his numbers back home.
VAUSE: These images from inside the apostolic palace at the Vatican, as that meeting continues, just (INAUDIBLE) what we're actually looking at right now; we're seeing the Swiss Guard as well. So we're just waiting for this meeting between the pope and the president to wrap up.
SESAY: And in case you're wondering why you're not actually looking at images of the pope and the president meeting it's because there are no cameras in the room. The cameras briefly at the top as the pope and the president met for the very first time and then those cameras and photographers were ushered out.
And then the pope and the president meet in private, the only other individuals in the room are the translators. And that is it.
VAUSE: The situation, though, John, as far as (INAUDIBLE) for Donald Trump goes, to Isha's point, is there's a danger that this is a person who has seen as saying one thing overseas to a certain audience and then having completely a different, total -- completely totally different message to the people back home?
You know, conciliatory; does not mention radical Islamic terrorist when he's in Saudi Arabia, makes nice with the pope, talks about the Israeli-Palestinian peace when he's in Jerusalem; gets home and there's a totally different message and that means that no message has any credibility.
THOMAS: The speeches I saw him give to the Saudis, he did talk about terrorism. Now he didn't call it -- he didn't call it radical Islam and it's a good question.
Will his supporters get angry when he comes back?
I think --
VAUSE: -- he loses credibility --
THOMAS: -- but I think he can make a credible argument saying we need to be able to work with these people to fight terrorism.
I shouldn't insult them to their faces.
SESAY: -- I'm here to be a truth teller, to speak truth to power --
SESAY: -- unlike all the others who have come before me.
THOMAS: Well, I think he's more of a truth teller or abrasive mass speaker then people before him. So I don't -- you're not going to accuse him of too much soft telling (ph). But you are right, he has to walk a fine line. And for Donald Trump, that is not his forte. And let's not forget, like these world leaders have seen international. So they're going to see what happening back here and what he says when he gets back from the trip.
VAUSE: OK, let's go back to Delia at the Vatican.
So, Delia, I guess we're approaching the moment when this meeting is expected to wrap up.
GALLAGHER: That's right, John, probably shortly, although who knows. It's quite up to the pope and the president how long they want to go on. I think one thing that is important to point out is that the pope and the Vatican do not necessarily fall very neatly into U.S. right and left categories because while we talk about opposing points of view, we should also say that the Vatican and the pope are happy with an anti-abortion or anti-euthanasia or religious freedom platforms of the Trump administration.
So they do some things which are important to both sides that they have in common and likely those will also be addressed. What we're looking at now are some beauty shots of inside the Vatican in this beautiful apostolic palace from the 15th century and everybody is waiting just outside the pope's library for the doors open and then the pope will have a chance to meet with the first family and with members of the U.S. delegation before they do the exchange of gifts, which normally, as we said, the pope gives a copy of his encyclical, "Laudato Si," which is his encyclical on the environment as well as some papal medals and rosaries.
So that will be the next appointment for President Trump and then he heads down to the Vatican's secretary of state and the foreign minister, where they will probably discuss some of the initiatives that the U.S. and the Vatican are working.
One of the things that sources here at the Vatican have told me is important to them and the pope himself has mentioned is a kind of deescalating nuclear tensions. The pope on a return flight recently, on the airplane, said that he wanted to see diplomacy and mediation in the North Korean crisis.
Surely that will also be one of the topics of discussion today.
SESAY: And, Ben, to you, just remind our viewers of how we will get any insight, any sense of what was discussed between the pope and the president. What is the formality for how that information is shared with the general public, with us, the media?
WEDEMAN: Well, it really is up to the pope and the president to decide what they want to give out. Normally these conversations, as Delia was saying, are very confidential. It is just that the two men and translators who are in the room.
Now certainly with President Trump we have seen in the past that he does like to put information out on twitter, or rather his point of view, his standpoint on the issues he puts out on Twitter and other forms of social media.
The pope is somewhat less -- somewhat more reticent than that, but that we can perhaps expect some sort of statement. But by and large these conversations are confidential between the two men. And there isn't sort of a detailed readout of what is exchanged between the two of them.
SESAY: Ben, more broadly speaking, as you're in a separate location to Delia, is the president's visit to Rome and this visit with the pope, is it generating any broader excitement, interest among the general public?
WEDEMAN: Because certainly this is a president that -- who has broken the mold in so many ways. He is not particularly well loved in Italy. Most people think he's a bit of a buffoon but, by and large, we have not seen much in the way of protests against President Trump.
Last night we did attend a small demonstration by U.S. citizens living here in Italy but that was maybe 35 or 40 people and Italians who saw this small gathering of Americans chanting against President Trump were bemused, but not particularly engaged or interested in it.
Now this may be different when he goes, President Trump goes to Sicily to attend the G7 meeting we saw. For instance, the G7 meeting in Genoa in 2001, there were violent demonstrations against the leaders in general, but certainly a certain amount of resentment focused on, at the time, President George W. Bush and --